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'House of Lords' Democrats who dumped the $15 wage will be held accountable: civil rights activist

Over the week it took the U.S. Senate to deliberate on President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan — and to vote down raising the Federal minimum wage from its $7.25 poverty level to $15 an hour — close to 13,000 Americans died from COVID.

No one knows how many of those 13,000 deaths were of low-wage essential workers or of their family members infected because that worker brought the highly contagious virus home with them. What we do know is that the number of COVID deaths are disproportionately high among people of color, who make up a major percentage of the workforce that doesn't have the luxury of working remotely.

We know that 530,000 of us have died, but as with the U.S. Postal Service, employers are reluctant to publicly disclose their body count for fear of incurring liability. Close to 30 million have been infected, with as many as one third of those survivors experiencing lingering symptoms of varying severity that could lead to permanent disability.

It's estimated that between 27 million and 32 million Americans would have benefited from the raise to the federal minimum wage, which sets a floor for most, but certainly not all, workers nickel-and-dimed in a gig economy, where basic benefits like workers compensation, disability or even unemployment insurance are far from guaranteed while billionaires reap ever-growing profits.

Early on in the pandemic, House and Senate Democrats talked about hazard pay for essential workers. That never materialized even as Republican governors in states like Texas and Florida refused to impose the most basic public health precautions, such as wearing masks which certainly put essential workers in their states at greater risk of getting infected and dying.

Not only did hazard pay never materialize, but the $15 minimum wage was voted down by every Republican senator and eight Democrats: Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana and the "moderate" ringleader, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

After the Senate vote on March 6, President Biden took a victory lap with a short speech from the White House which extolled the virtues of his plan and assured reporters that the bill that emerged from the Senate, without the $15 wage provision was "essentially about the same."

"Over 85 percent of American households will get direct payments of $1,400 per person," Biden said. "For a typical middle-class family of four — husband and wife working, making $100,000 a year total, with three kids — they'll get $5,600 — I mean, with two kids — will get $5,600, and it'll be on the way soon."

Yet that pandemic relief, no matter how generous, is just not the same thing as the lifetime boost in weekly earnings that would have uplifted tens of millions of workers, an issue on which Biden and Kamala Harris enthusiastically campaigned last year. Throughout the campaign, and particularly in states like Georgia, Democrats aligned themselves with the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II's Moral Monday movement and the current iteration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.

Perhaps Biden didn't perceive the jettisoning of the $15 minimum wage as a loss because he had already given up on it before the Senate took up ARP.

"I respect and love President Biden and I preached at his inaugural ceremony, but it was wrong a few weeks ago for him to say he didn't think [the minimum wage] was going to make it into the bill," said Dr. Barber during a phone interview.

"He's the president just like Franklin Delano Roosevelt was, who used his bully pulpit and said in the middle of the Great Depression that any business that did not want to pay a living wage did not deserve to be a business in America. Well, poor and low-wealth people have been in a depression because we know that right now, as you and I are speaking, there are 62 million poor and low wealth workers in this country."

Barber likened the Senate to a "House of Lords" disconnected from the daily experiences of the tens of millions of poor and low wealth Americans. "It took Black people 400 years to get to $7.25 — we can't wait another 400 years," he said. "What they are doing should embolden us and intensify the agitation. If we challenged Trump for using power in the wrong way, then we have to challenge our own 'friends,' the people we voted for. We did not vote for 'normalcy.' We did not vote for the same.

"We voted for folks because they said, 'Elect me and I am going to deal with systemic racism and I am going to pass a living wage of $15 an hour,' which is a compromise in and of itself. We have to hold people to what they said."

According to Barber, 55 percent of poor and low-wealth voters cast their ballot for the Biden/Harris ticket. "We found that poor and low-wealth people make up a third of the electorate. That's 65 million voters, and 35 million voted this time — 6 million more than in 2016 … So that's the only place you can expand the electorate."

As Barber sees it, the abandonment of the $15 minimum by centrist Democrats doesn't just reinforce systemic economic racism, it's political science malpractice.

In August 2020 the Poor People's Campaign and Columbia University researchers released a report entitled "Unleashing the Power of Poor and Low Wealth Voters," which found that in 15 states, including several in the South, getting just 22 percent of poor and low-wealth voters who have not voted before to cast a ballot could be determinative in which party prevailed.

If Democrats fail to deliver on the $15 minimum wage as they promised, Barber warns, they could suffer the same fate in next year's midterm elections that Democrats did in 2016, when a marked decline in African American voter turnout sank Hillary Clinton's campaign and handed Trump the Oval Office.

Meanwhile the news media narrative heralds the imminent return to normal as the day in, day out death toll has become like the background noise at the top and bottom of the hour that includes the weather and stock quotes.

For Rev. Barber, that return to a pre-COVID "normal" that so many crave is a "sign of a kind of spiraling spiritual death" and a willful blindness to the 250,000 poor and low-wealth people that were dying every year due to inadequate or nonexistent health care, even before the pandemic. "We had seven people die from vaping and we had the White House and Congress convening hearings," he said, "while with 750 people dying from poverty and low wealth every day [pre-COVID] you still couldn't get a politician to talk about poverty consistently. Now that death rate has accelerated."

Democrats consistently pay lip service to the systemic racism that's been laid bare by the pandemic, which includes the increasing precarity of so much of the essential workforce, well before COVID came calling. The speed with which they dropped the provision for a $15 an hour minimum wage shows how disconnected they remain with the tens of millions of poor and low-wealth workers that both parties have ignored for generations — and how beholden they are to big corporations.

So far, our nation is four for four in failing to address the living economic legacy of slavery, a through-line from Jim Crow right on through the poverty wages paid to this very day for essential services in the face-to-face work world where millions of people of color work. This 21st-century Grapes of Wrath-class of worker, of course, includes millions of poor whites as well, particularly in the South and rural Midwest, along with immigrants of all races in all 50 states.

There was the reversal of Reconstruction after the Civil War, when the North let the South rise again through draconian segregation, lynching and total voter suppression. Then FDR allowed Southern Democrats to maintain their economically oppressive apartheid by exempting agricultural workers and domestic workers from the landmark 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act and the minimum wage, which lifted so many out of poverty but left so many behind.

In our time there was the Bush and Obama response to the Wall Street heist of the American economy, which bailed out vulture capitalists at the expense of millions of homeowners who lost their homes on Main Street and MLK Boulevard, leading to a loss of household wealth for African Americans of generational consequence.

And now we have the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan, which spends vast amounts of borrowed money to be paid off by taxpayers — and ensures that corporations can continue amassing huge profits while denying tens of millions a living wage.

"Low wages hurt all workers and are particularly harmful to Black workers and other workers of color, especially women of color who make up a disproportionate share of workers who are severely underpaid," reports an Economic Policy Institute fact sheet on the minimum wage. "This is the result of structural racism and sexism, with an economic system rooted in chattel slavery in which workers of color — and especially women of color — have been and continue to be shunted into the most underpaid jobs."

A bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate just voted to keep it that way.

Teachers are terrified that experts don't really know how risky re-opening schools is

Forty-five days into President Biden's term, he and his administration have somewhat improved public health messaging compared to his predecessor's admittedly low bar. But they hit turbulence when they pressed for the return of in person school instruction, and the assertion it wasn't necessary for teachers to be vaccinated first because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed that schools could be relatively safe.

The most high-profile support for this assertion is the New York City public school re-opening, which is being held up as a national model.

"Nowhere in the country has indoor, in-person learning resumed on such a large scale so safely," opined the New York Daily News recently. "And while much remains in allowing high-schoolers to return and letting remote K-8 families opt back in, the city's plan has all but been copied by the CDC on how to do it right."

The newspaper went on to credit Mayor Bill de Blasio and outgoing school chancellor Richard Caranza for the successful return of hundreds of thousands of kids to the classroom "essentially virus free."

The Daily News made no mention of the essential role played by the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and the tens of thousands of staff that implemented a complex and expensive plan that included mandatory testing of 20 percent of all of the staff and students in each school.

An education in COVID-19

Nor did the newspaper make any mention of the steep and deadly learning curve the de Blasio administration had been on from the earliest day of the pandemic when it downplayed the virus before it shut the schools down mid-March. And the de Blasio administration has been anything but transparent.

As The City newspaper reported in May, the city was slow to close down its schools as the virus was getting traction in the community and resisted the United Federation of Teachers' (UFT) call to shift to remote learning, despite mounting evidence the pandemic was starting to take a toll.

"A review by The City of internal emails and interviews with teachers uncovered a pattern of Department of Education officials playing down the threat of COVID-19 in the days before the schools shuttered, during the week teachers were required to come in for training, and even after the start of remote learning," the outlet reported.

What's not well understood outside of the New York City metro market was this "national example" cited by the Daily News was the product of behind-the scenes intense negotiations between union members, their unions and city officials that were forced to scrutinize everything, including existing cleaning protocols and deficient ventilation systems.

All too often the corporate news media's pandemic coverage depicts essential workers like teachers as brave public servants who fall prey to the virus. Such a one-dimensional rendering of them — as victims without agency — ignores the role they and their unions are playing in stopping the spread of the killer virus while resuming essential functions of society like public education.

In fact, all too often the teacher unions have been cast as obstructionists who are only acting in their narrow self-interest.

COVID-19 has hit educators and school support staff hard. For them, the risks of contracting the virus are very real and deadly, and pose a danger to their entire extended family. In insisting on stringent protocols for returning to in-person instruction they are indeed acting in the broader public interest.

No one knows how many have already died nor how many family members teachers and staff may have infected.

According to the American Federation of Teachers, 530 of their members have died from the virus nationally. In New York City, the UFT confirmed that over 70 union members have died from the virus.

"Safe to breathe"

There's an essential backstory to the New York City collaboration between the unions and the de Blasio administration that goes back to the tragic lesson learned by the UFT in the aftermath of the 9/11 WTC attack. The teachers' union went along with Mayor Giuliani's push to repopulate 29 schools in lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn that turned out to be in the hot zone for the killer ambient air that the Bush administration's EPA had falsely claimed was "safe to breathe" to ensure that Wall Street got up and running.

Sound familiar?

At least 1,000 Teachers and support personnel with the Department of Education and thousands of their former students were exposed to the toxic contamination generated in lower Manhattan by the 9/11 attack and the months of clean-up that followed at the World Trade Center site, the union's top occupational expert testified before the New York City Council back in December of 2018.

Ellie Engler, the union's top industrial hygienist at the time of the attack, testified about the role she played, along with city officials, in signing off on repopulating the schools. Years later, she learned that she, like so many others, had contracted a WTC-linked cancer.

"It took years before any of us made a connection and understood the breadth of the health crisis that would befall many," she testified. "Only as first-responders started getting sick, with unusual cancers and multiple respiratory problems, did the real impact become public. The message had not hit home."

She continued. "We were part of clean-up efforts and, along with thousands of Teachers, city workers, students and residents, walked to and from school breathing air that Federal officials only years later acknowledged was not safe. As the years passed, the UFT began hearing from staff who worked in lower Manhattan schools who were now getting sick."

She continued, "Critically, and unexpectedly, students—young men and women in their early 20s—began receiving cancer diagnoses typically affecting people twice their age."

Ms. Engler disclosed at the hearing that among the three employees of the UFT's Health and Safety Department, two, including herself, subsequently were diagnosed with WTC-linked cancers.

The rush to "normal" was costly. And the teachers and students were not alone. Almost twenty years after 9/11, more people have died from their WTC exposure than perished on the day of the attack. Over 60,000 people are enrolled in the WTC Health Program, with one or more cancers or other certified conditions.

"The UFT has a long history of protecting educators and students from potential health dangers where they work and learn," Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in response to a Salon query. "We advocated for school communities during the asbestos crisis in the '90s. We fought for educators, students and residents of Lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 health crisis."

Mulgrew continued. "We relied on those experiences, and the long-standing relationships we developed with medical experts, to craft the health and safety protocols, and testing and tracing requirements, during the COVID pandemic. With these guidelines in place, we were able to safely open New York City public schools. We knew from experience that educators would have to demand these safeguards. They weren't going to happen otherwise."

Setting precedents as you go

In New York City it was not just the teachers' union challenging the city, but activist union members willing to challenge both sides. Should teachers be expected to just "suck it up" and risk returning to the classroom without vaccines, just so the market economy can get back up and running? Logically, teachers challenged school administrators, as well as local and state elected officials, on what seemed like expedience.

"We can't do everything to make sure everyone is one hundred percent safe and we can't do everything to make sure everyone is one hundred percent free — there has to be a balance," said Michael Kane, a proud UFT member who teaches special education in Queens. Kane started New Yorker Teachers for Choice, a union caucus against "forced medical mandates," after it became known school staff and students were going to be subject to random, mandatory COVID testing.

"If we did not agree to it, we would be placed on unpaid leave, so this led me to a number of questions—the first one being, 'is my specimen protected? Is it guaranteed that my specimen will be destroyed?'" Kane recalled. For a month, Kane and his colleagues were ignored, until the group hired noted civil rights attorney Michael Sussman. Sussman petitioned the city for answers, and when officials weren't sufficiently forthcoming, sued the city.

Ultimately, the city agreed to guarantee the destruction of the specimens after they were evaluated for COVID, ensuring the testing company could not build out their genetic library with the specimens from the mandatory testing.

"In maintaining safety, there are going to be some civil liberties that are going to be sacrificed to a certain extent, but they just can't be thrown out the window and just not cared about at all," said Kane whose group opposes mandatory vaccine but believes that teachers who want the vaccine before they are ordered back into the classroom should get it. "I believe teachers should have access and I understand people saying they want access to it before they go back into the classroom,

No sure thing

Government officials' public health guidance has changed repeatedly during the pandemic, which hasn't helped give clarity to teachers. Rather, it has heightened an anxious situation.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared Feb. 21 on NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked him what level of risk an unvaccinated teacher was taking right now by going back into the classroom for in person instruction.

"You cannot give a numerical figure to that," said Dr. Fauci. "You can't say what is the risk — give me a number. I mean obviously being in school is very similar to being in the community so the risk of a teacher being infected in school is very likely very much similar to what you would see in the community. But we don't know that yet."

When Todd pressed him to say if he would be "comfortable" going into a school as a teacher, Dr. Fauci said he "understood the concern that people have." He noted that his daughter was teaching in a classroom "in a city far from Washington, DC" where he and his wife live.

Teachers deserve more definitive answers. Their unions must press for them, and members have to be engaged enough to hold their unions and elected officials accountable.

Donald Trump's a traitor — and we shouldn't cut him the same slack we gave Jefferson Davis

Presidents Day originated in 1885 to honor the birthday of George Washington, who as our nation's first president established the pattern and practice of a peaceful transition of power. That endured up until Donald Trump and his Jan, 6 insurrection that left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

Forty-three Republican U.S. senators voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald J. Trump of inciting the insurrection that was witnessed in real time by the entire world on live TV. Last month, 197 House Republicans voted against impeaching Trump for the second time.

It's important to contextualize their abdication with the reality that our nation is in the throes of a mass death event likely to kill a half-million Americans and infect 30 million with a life-threatening killer virus by the end of the month, all while food and shelter insecurity spreads across the land.

Unlike their Senate colleagues Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump, keeping his political aspirations alive, did not want to jump into the breach that had already proved fatal to Officer Sicknick.

That dozens of people of such privilege and rank, like the congressional Republicans who opposed holding Trump accountable, opted to instead protect their own partisan political position, has ample precedence in our history.

Luckily, for us, the original framers were more visionary in spirit and put the potential of our democracy, not yet fully conceived, above their own personal fortunes, with the awareness that if they did not "hang together" they would surely "all hang separately."

Incredibly, the Republican leader in the Senate concluded that holding Trump accountable should be left to the country's civil and criminal justice system. This provided a procedural fig leaf for the GOP caucus' 'Don't be a snitch' culture, which actually works to undermine the Constitution that serves as the foundation of our criminal and civil law.

By choosing to avoid holding accountable the bully and his mob they fear, Republicans memorialized their subjugation.

"When the holding and keeping of power is the organizing principle then everything else becomes a means to that end," observed biographer and historian Jon Meacham on MSNBC this past weekend. "It may be politically rational, but it is constitutionally derelict."

After the acquittal vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted that Trump's actions that resulted in the storming of the Capitol for several hours were "disgraceful" and "a dereliction of duty."

"Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor," McConnell said. "They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president."

The Kentucky Republican observed that Trump's "unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began," adding that "whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day … whatever reaction he says he meant to produce … by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world."

McConnell continued. "A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!"

In the minority leader's own words, Trump then had crossed that "Rubicon" line from being the inciter of the riot to an actual participant-by-proxy, with his own vice president now on the run.

"Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger … even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the president sent a further tweet attacking his vice president," McConnell said.

What was established in the U.S. Senate trial, and supported by a 57-43 bipartisan vote to convict, is a fact pattern far more treacherous and lethal than a bid to delay the certification of the Electoral College. Rather it was a near-successful bid to murder the two elected officials in the direct line of succession after the president.

Add into this crucible the recent disclosure that when the Trump-activated rioters breached the Capitol and sent Pence scrambling for safety, his entourage, which that was sent into rapid retreat, included an Air Force officer who carried the "nuclear football" — a suitcase that contains the nuclear weapon launch codes.

As the House managers' prosecution of the case against ,Trump demonstrated, facts can move minds which accounts for the decision by seven Republicans to go against their party's partisan interests to vote with their Democratic colleagues.

What was clear was that for a number of those senators, it was what Trump did not do after the Capitol riot got underway that helped convince them of his guilt.

What we need now is for the Secret Service to be compelled to disclose publicly what its agents knew, when they knew it, how they sorted it out in real time and whether they saw this coming.

For a few hours there, we had one executive security detail protecting Pence while another was protecting Trump — who, even after he learned Pence was on the run, used his tweet artillery to further incite the mob that was pursuing him.

In terms its trajectory the Jan. 6 insurrection bears a striking similarity to the strategic arc of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. That plot also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Secretary of State William Seward, who survived a gruesome knife attack.

When Johnson took office after Lincoln's death, he ordered that the several suspects in the conspiracy be tried not by an Article III court, but by a military tribunal.

Four people were hanged for their participation in the conspiracy. (Booth refused to be captured alive and was shot dead by Union soldiers. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, a former senator from Mississippi, who became the so-called president of the so-called Confederacy, was arrested and charged with treason in May of 1865. He was never tried.

Two years later, Davis was released on bail raised mostly by prominent Northern abolitionists, including Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, who all "advocated for a speedy trial or release of Davis in order to heal the country."

Ultimately, federal prosecutors blinked and never pursued the treason case against Davis for fear that he "would either prove to a jury that secession was legally permitted under the U.S. Constitution or he would be transformed into a martyr if convicted and executed."

Davis remained resolute that his course of action was correct, telling the Mississippi Legislature in 1884, "It has been said that I should apply to the United States for a pardon. But repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented. … If it were all to do over again, I would again do just as I did in 1861."

In the final analysis it was the North that blinked: In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation passed by Congress that restored Davis' U.S. citizenship.

In substance we know that from Andrew Johnson onward, the federal government would betray the nation's enslaved African Americans and their descendants by letting the South, driven by its racist paranoia and passion, dismantle the ephemeral gains of Reconstruction.

"One of the great mistakes we have made in the country historically is that in the aftermath of the Civil War we did not hold insurrectionists — rebels — accountable for what they did," observed Meacham on MSNBC.

That's precisely the thought I had when I saw an FBI flyer depicting the Trump insurrectionist who carried the Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol, something that had never happened before Jan. 6.

We have no bandwidth to make that mistake again.

Trump's coup attempt and the worsening pandemic are not separate stories — they're aspects of the same chaos

It's a new year, but our once-in-a-century mass death event continues. In my home state of New Jersey, the COVID death toll closes in on 20,000, while our national government remains in the kind of turmoil we might associate with a nation without a long tradition of the peaceful transition of power.

A nation with the mightiest and most high-tech military in the world has been cornered by a deadly virus — and by predatory leadership that's trying to exploit a public health crisis to perpetuate its hold on power.

As with so much during the Trump administration, what was promised in federal pandemic support to the states has failed to materialize in spectacular fashion, with the outgoing administration falling far short of its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.

CNN reported that only 2.1 million people have gotten the vaccination, just a tenth of the goal of Trump's "Operation Warp Speed." This speed bump, which anyone who knows Donald Trump could have predicted, came as several states confirm cases of the newest COVID strain from Britain, which scientists say is no more lethal than the original — but far more contagious.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease physician, has said that 80 to 85 percent of the nation's population would need to be inoculated for us to achieve so-called herd immunity. That would be more than 260 million Americans.

"At the current rate, it would take the United States approximately 10 years to reach that level of inoculation," warned Washington Post columnist Leana Wen. "That's right — 10 years. Contrast that with the Trump administration's rosy projections: Earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that every American will be able to get the vaccine by the second quarter of 2021 (which would be the end of June). The speed needed to do that is 3.5 million vaccinations a day."

While the United States, the world's wealthiest nation and sole remaining superpower, represents just 4 percent of the world's population, it has reported almost 20 percent of the earth's 2 million COVID-19 deaths.

Here in New Jersey, with more than 200 COVID deaths per 100,000 people, we account for 5.7 percent of the deaths but are just 2.77 percent of the nation's population. "Put another way: if it were a country, the Garden State would have the highest COVID-19 per capita death toll in the world," reported NJ Advance Media on Dec. 14.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, President Trump has played red states off against blue states even as he downplayed the seriousness of the virus, consistently misleading many Americans into believing that the highly contagious and deadly virus was like the flu.

Rather than coordinate the nation's pandemic response, Trump installed political operatives in the CDC twisted its public health messaging to suit the presidential campaign calendar, undermining the critical agency's credibility when the nation's states were looking to it for science-based leadership.

Just as with Trump's reckless campaigning, this added to the body count and helped accelerate the spread of the virus, which at various times people in the White House suggested was the administration's goal, in pursuit of herd immunity.

The November election was, if anything, a referendum on this unprecedented betrayal of the public trust, whose deadly consequences will be felt by American families for generations to come. More than 81.28 million Americans voted for Joe Biden, blowing past the previous record for the most votes cast for a single presidential candidate, set in 2008 when Barack Obama garnered 69.49 million votes.

Despite the certification of the states' returns, a sizable faction of the Republican Party, including New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018 before switching parties during Trump's impeachment, want to end-run the will of the American people as and have the votes thrown out from swing states that went for Biden.

On Wednesday, well over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives, along with about a dozen members of the U.S. Senate, are planning to protest the formal certification of Biden as president, even though all the lawsuits alleging voting fraud filed by Trump and his allies have been rejected by every court, including the nation's highest.

Moreover, despite the Trump campaign's post-election challenges in the contested states, Biden's victory in those states survived the labor-intensive process of hand recounts, which also produced no evidence of voter fraud.

On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to throw out the certified vote tallies from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, based on the claim that the mail-in ballot processes adopted by those states amid the COVID pandemic violated the law and were subject to widespread fraud.

The Texas AG was joined by the attorneys general of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia.

One hundred twenty-six Republican House members, including Van Drew, aligned themselves with that Texas challenge, which was unanimously rebuffed by the Supreme Court. Yet, this faction, with an eye on their own ambitions, have chosen to embrace Trump over abiding by their sworn duty to "support and defend the Constitution … against all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

In President-elect Biden's Dec. 14 speech, given after the certification of the election returns, he described the Texas lawsuit as an effort to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans, a "position so extreme, we've never seen it before, a position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution."

Biden went on to proclaim that the November results meant that "faith in our institutions prevailed" and that "the integrity of our elections" remained intact while suggesting now was the "time to turn the page as we've done throughout our history, to unite, to heal."

But as Trump and his junta have repeatedly demonstrated throughout the pandemic, they have no interest in uniting and healing, even in the midst of a once-in-a-century mass death event — if fostering division will help tighten their grip on power.

Their self-serving antics, pulled on a weary nation aching for a shred of normalcy in a sea of misery and uncertainty, need to be framed for posterity as the opening line of their obituaries.

America is a failed state -- and Trump leaving the White House won't suddenly change that

In the waning days of the Trump presidency, there's a steady drumbeat coming from the corporate news media and its pundits: the suggestion that, come Jan. 21, everything will suddenly and magically return to "normal."

Never mind the mounting COVID death toll, which on several days this month has spiked above 3,000 a day.

The projection of normalcy is essential to preserving the existing economic order, to organize our self-image as the noblest of nations built on the wisdom of great white men, the landed gentry, who — with the exception of their reliance on slavery — were divinely inspired when they wrote the Constitution.

After four years with Donald Trump at the helm, one would have to be a comatose ancestor worshipper not to see how Trump exploited the shaky 18th-century architecture of patriotism for his own family's enrichment.

A man who failed to win the majority of the popular vote in 2016 had carte blanche to turn state against state in a COVID civil war that produced a body count that may end up rivaling that of the Rwandan civil war of the 1990s, when actual weapons were used to kill 800,000.

The Trumpian internecine conflict tore the nation asunder at the granular level. Millions of once close-knit extended families have become alienated from each other over arguments as to the efficacy of wearing a mask or socially distancing.

And the legitimate public health remedy of social distancing and limiting in-person communication only encouraged the stratification of our society that was already well underway, thanks to late-stage vulture capitalism and its acceleration of wealth concentration.

Trump, by pitting red against blue, robbed the entire country of its most essential defense: cohesion. But Trump was not happy with that alone. He dug deeper, like the sadist he is, fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia that existed in volcanic fissures just below the surface of our nation. He hoped to ride that lava flow of ash and burning cinder to realize his ambition.

But to finger Trump alone for our miserable situation fails to not fully grasp the awful truth that's been decades in the making. That true narrative reads more like science fiction than like the accurate, if bleak, recounting of our post-9/11 history it is.

As the world's wealthiest nation, we invested vast sums in the deadliest and most ecologically destructive weapons known to man. We cut public health spending and closed hospitals in rural and urban areas where the poor lived.

Life expectancy declined in the U.S. three years in a row, just as it did around the time of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Two decades into the 21st century, millions of American households either had no health care insurance or were underinsured. Thus, well before the onset of the pandemic, we had a significant population of Americans beset with chronic disease and with inadequate medical care. Even though we also have the most expensive health care system in the world.

In pre-COVID America, the vast wealth inequality we were seeing rivaled what we had experienced during the Great Depression. Now, in the jaws of this killer virus, the daily experience gap between those who are privileged enough to work from home, and those forced by economics to go out in the world to earn their daily bread, harkens back to the era of feudalism: the nobility safe in the castle, while the "essential" serfs must face bandits, wolves and weather outside the walls.

"There are the college-educated knowledge-based workers, who can continue to work insulated in their homes, who are served by the essential workers in transit and retail sectors who have to be out in the world to serve them," observed Dr. Harriet Fraad, a New York psychotherapist who focuses on the intersection of family life and the economy. "This means during this pandemic that it's the poor and working class, made up primarily of women and people of color, who are more likely to die."

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden pledged "to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify" and who will seek to "heal and restore the American soul."

That presumes America had a soul before the pandemic.

A fully honest examination of the struggles of tens of millions of American households before COVID, and how they have fared during the pandemic, suggests we have yet to find it.

An election that lays bare America's soul — and the rot goes well beyond Trump

As we stand on the precipice of election night, with the shadows of yet another deadly wave of COVID looming over us, our sense of collective dread continues to build.

How did it come to be that our president is himself sowing the seeds of fear and division, turning red states against blue states as the virus' death toll mounts across them all?

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Atlantic City has a warning for the nation: Donald Trump brings ruin and despair

With just days to go before the general election the nation is amidst another wave of a once-in-a-century pandemic, with a president who has refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power, even if his opponent gets more votes.

How did New Jersey — my home state — go from being the "Crossroads of the American Revolution" to being implicated in our republic's disease-ridden authoritarian dead-end?

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This issue is staring America in the face -- will Biden and Trump even discuss it?

When Donald Trump and Joe Biden take to the debate stage in Cleveland on Tuesday night, they will be standing astride America's great socioeconomic fault line. Since the outbreak of COVID, that has become an abyss into which hundreds of thousands of Americans have fallen and hundreds of thousands more are likely to follow.

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Cannon fodder: Workers have never been more expendable than they are now

For hundreds of thousands of essential workers, the potential swearing-in of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, will have come too late to save them.

It's kind of surreal, but even as the corporate media celebrates the role of essential workers, it's clear that the lives of the workforce — and by extension their families — have never been more expendable.

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Federal police are in the streets — but they couldn't protect a federal judge's family

The murder last Sunday of the Daniel Anderl, the 20-year-old son of a federal judge from North Brunswick, New Jersey, and the serious wounding of her husband comes along with the news that President Trump has sent armed federal agents to Portland,, Oregon to apprehend leftist protesters off the street and hold them illegally, apparently to avenge graffiti on a federal courthouse.

Judge Esther Salas has presided over high-profile trials like that of the former "Real Housewife" star Teresa Giudice and the suit brought by Deutsche Bank investors looking to hold President Trump's bank accountable for failing to monitor "high-risk" customers, including convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

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An eviction and foreclosure crisis is looming

Come autumn 2020, the convergence of disease, death and economic misery across our wounded nation will likely be without living precedent.

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By undoing Obama’s nursing home regulations, Trump opened the door for the deaths we're seeing

Years before the nation's nursing homes experienced a heavy COVID-19 death toll, the Trump administration rolled back the federal rules and regulations put in place by the Obama administration aimed at improving infection control in these kinds of facilities.

In an October 2016 edition of the Federal Register, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services published rules and regulations requiring long term care facilities "to develop an Infection Prevention and Control Program that includes an Antibiotic Stewardship Program and designate at least one Infection Preventionist"

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Trump opened the door for the deaths we're seeing

Years before the nation's nursing homes experienced a heavy COVID-19 death toll, the Trump administration rolled back the federal rules and regulations put in place by the Obama administration aimed at improving infection control in these kinds of facilities.

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Families of essential workers killed by COVID-19 face loss of health care

Two months into the pandemic, there's a secondary humanitarian crisis playing out for the families of health care workers, first responders and essential workers who have perished of COVID-19.

Many of these grieving families now face the prospect of losing their health insurance — even as they themselves battle the deadly virus, or live in fear contracting it.

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Trump loyalist Chris Christie has moved on to cable news -- but the effects of his corrupt regime linger on in New Jersey

When former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman decided to prosecute the 2013 "Bridgegate" scandal — when political appointees of then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie ordered lane closures that provoked massive traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge — his pursuit of the case provided a fig leaf of sorts that obscured the true extent of the rot at the heart of New Jersey's political culture.

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