Fatal Alec Baldwin film set shooting followed outcry by union crew members over safety protocols

The news of the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on a Hollywood film set intersected with the nationwide surge in labor movement activity Friday, as reports surfaced about unsafe working conditions and protests by union crew members on the set.

As the Los Angeles Times reported late Friday, the accidental shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of "Rust" took place six hours after several union crew members left the location and were replaced by non-union workers.

In the days preceding the shooting, crew members raised concerns about numerous safety issues on the set, including the requirement that employees drive 50 miles from Albuquerque to the filming location near Santa Fe each day after working 12- to 13-hour days, as well as several accidental discharges of prop guns.

On October 16, a stunt double for Alec Baldwin—who fired the shot that killed Hutchins Thursday afternoon—accidentally fired a gun that he had been told was not loaded, prompting one crew member to express concerns to the unit production manager in a text message.

"The backstory about the failure to listen to the union workers who had fought for the set to be safe is vital to know."

"We've now had [three] accidental discharges," said the worker. "This is super unsafe."

Another crew member told the Times that following the accidental firing of the prop gun, producers did not conduct an investigation into how or why it had occurred or review safety protocols with the cast and crew.

The Times reported that Hutchins "had been advocating for safer conditions for her team" during the 21-day shoot.

"The backstory about the failure to listen to the union workers who had fought for the set to be safe is vital to know," tweeted Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, called the incident "a tragedy and a heartbreaking example of why production companies MUST take the safety and protection of our filmmakers more seriously."

Early on Thursday morning, several members of the camera crew reportedly arrived on set and submitted their resignations due to the safety concerns. The workers are represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which nearly staged a work stoppage including 60,000 film and TV crew workers last week over widespread concerns regarding labor conditions in the industry, before reaching a tentative three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

According to Variety, producers called security officers to remove the union crew members who had submitted their resignations and quickly replaced the workers with non-union workers. Hutchins and a Steadicam operator were the only original members of the camera crew left on the film set when the fatal accident occurred.

On Thursday, Baldwin was reportedly told by crew members that the prop gun he was using in a scene was "cold," or not loaded with any ammunition including blanks, but when he fired the weapon a bullet hit Hutchins as well as the film's director, Joel Souza. Hutchins was rushed to a hospital, where she later died, and Souza was briefly hospitalized.

According to Variety, a 911 caller from the film set was heard telling a crew member they were supposed to check the prop guns to ensure they weren't loaded.

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn't the solution you think it is," tweeted author and actress Quinn Cummings.

This 3-minute video explains how Richard Neal turned paid family leave into insurance giveaway

In just over three minutes, People's Policy Project founder Matt Bruenig on Tuesday explained in a video posted to social media how a paid leave proposal put forward in the U.S. House would be a "disaster" for working families—and a boon for the private insurance industry. Produced by the outlet More Perfect Union, the video describes how House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.)—who counts the insurance industry as his top contributor since taking office more than three decades ago—put forward a plan to replace President Joe Biden's straightforward proposal to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents through the Social Security Administration (SSA).


Under Biden's plan, the SSA would provide new parents with cash benefits to cover a portion of their wages for 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child—a modest proposal considering the amount of paid time off parents have in other wealthy countries. Ten countries—including Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and Norway—offer more than a year of paid leave. Neal's proposal, released by the House Ways and Means Committee last month, suggests that the 16-term congressman believes even 12 weeks of partial pay is too generous for workers in the United States. Under Neal's plan, Bruenig explains, the federal government would distribute cash benefits not directly to new parents but to employers, which would then pay insurance companies to provide paid leave to workers—if they meet certain criteria. The proposal, Bruenig wrote in a blog post last month, "is a complicated mess riddled with design problems that could be easily fixed." As Bruenig explains in the video, Neal's plan contains three major flaws:

  • It excludes parents who haven't worked in the three to six months prior to adoption or childbirth, allowing insurers to discriminate against new parents who recently finished school or job training, those with work-limiting disabilities or pregnancies that kept them from working, or who faced unemployment;
  • It includes no minimum benefit level, allowing workers to receive benefits equal to or less than 85% of what they earned, so "low-paid workers who cannot afford to give up 15% of their pay would not be able to access the program"; and
  • It provides 12 weeks of paid leave per parent, so two-parent households are eligible for twice as much leave as one-parent families, and single parents would be left with higher child care bills.
The proposal "needlessly [turns] Biden's paid leave ambitions into a private insurance giveaway," said Bruenig, by allowing insurance companies to reject an estimated one in three new mothers, based on the first provision, and limit the benefits offered to new parents.

"When we make voters feel that government can't deliver, it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

"It would also be a disaster for the federal budget, because businesses that take a below average amount of paid leave would be able to extract money out of the system for their own profit," Bruenig explained in the video. Bruenig noted that Neal's plan has won endorsements from the insurance industry, including Prudential, which praised the proposal as a "partnership between employers, employees, and benefits providers," and Sun Life, one of the nation's largest insurers. As The American Prospect reported last month, "the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), a trade group that lobbied Neal to include private business, praised the final product... thanking Neal for 'the opportunity to partner and for continued dialogue.'" Passing Neal's proposal instead of Biden's straightforward paid family leave plan—like other proposals put forth by right-wing corporate Democrats as lawmakers debate the president's Build Back Better agenda—is likely to harm the Democratic Party in upcoming elections, Bruenig said, as well as failing to help working families who have been demanding paid leave for years. "Passing a poorly designed paid leave proposal is a dangerous political game for Democrats," said Bruenig. "Voters would rightly blame them for the difficult and inefficient program they've now been forced to deal with, wiping away what should have been a political winner." "When we make voters feel that government can't deliver," he added, "it hurts the entirety of the progressive agenda."

New study reveals the group that was crucial in toppling Trump in 2020

Calling into question widespread perceptions of lower-income Americans and their level of political engagement, a new study released Friday detailed the high turnout among poor voters in the November 2020 elections—particularly in battleground states which helped deliver victories for President Joe Biden and Democrats in the Senate and House—following a concerted effort by campaigners to engage with low-income communities regarding the issues that mattered to them in the election.

Released by the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR); the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice; and Repairers of the Breach, the study shows that of the 168 million Americans who cast ballots last year, 59 million, or 35%, had an estimated annual household income of less than $50,000, classifying them as poor or low-income.

According to the report, titled "Waking the Sleeping Giant: Low-Income Voters and the 2020 Elections" and written by Kairos Center policy director Shailly Gupta Barnes, those voters were among the Americans that the Poor People's Campaign reached out to last year when it held a non-partisan voter outreach drive across 16 states including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The organization reached over 2.1 million voters, with campaigners speaking with them about "an agenda that includes living wages, healthcare, strong anti-poverty programs, voting rights, and policies that fully address injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy," according to the report.

The Poor People's Campaign found "that the reason poor and low-income voters participate in elections at lower rates is not because they have no interest in politics, but because politics is not interested in them."

"They do not hear their needs and demands from candidates or feel that their votes matter," wrote Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign, in the foreward to the report. "They are less likely to vote because of illness, disability, or transportation issues, not to mention the rise of voter suppression laws—all systemic barriers rather than individual failures."

"Intentional efforts to engage these voter" in the leadup to the 2020 election, contact the groups found, were key to turning out low-income voters in states where Biden's margin of victory was near or less than 3%, including:

  • Arizona, where low-income people represented 39.96% of voters;
  • Georgia (37.84%);
  • Michigan (37.81%);
  • Nevada (35.78%); and
  • Wisconsin (39.8%)

"While the data cannot be used to claim that being contacted by PPC:NCMR was the only factor that drove them to vote, we can say that our efforts to directly reach out to low-income, infrequent voters improved their turnout rates in these states," the report reads.

The groups highlighted the case of Georgia, which was carried by Biden—marking the first Democratic presidential victory in the southern state since 1992. Outreach by the Poor People's Campaign helped encourage more than 39,000 Georgians who didn't vote in 2016 to cast ballots last year—"accounting for more than three times the final margin of victory for the presidential contest in the state."

The racial demographics of low-income voters in Georgia were fairly evenly split between Black and white low-income voters, with 1.9 million low-income white voters casting ballots last year and 1.6 million Black Georgians going to the polls. Another 164,000 low-income voters were classified as Hispanic.

In other states carried by Biden, white people made up a larger share of eligible lower-income voters reached by the PPCNCMR, including in Michigan, where 2.95 million out of 3.8 million poor voters were white; Pennsylvania, where three million of the state's 3.95 million eligible low-income voters were white; and Wisconsin, where 1.8 million out of 2.1 million low-income voters were white.

The statistics present "a challenge to the media-driven narrative that emerged out of 2016 and before, i.e., that white low-income voters are the de facto base of the Republican Party and delivered Donald Trump into the White House," wrote Gupta Barnes.

"While the narrative that white low-income voters are voting not only against their own interests, but also the interests of other racial segments of low-income voters, persisted through the 2020 elections, our analysis suggests something significantly different," the author added. "The findings suggest that, rather than writing white low-income voters off, it is possible to build coalitions of low-income voters across race around a political agenda that centers the issues they have in common."

Though the Poor People's Campaign made an intentional effort in 2020 to reach low-income voters, listen to their concerns, and urge them to turn out in the elections, the report notes that legislative action must be taken to turn last year's high turnout among poor Americans into a long-term reality.

"To realize the potential of the low-income electorate, our voting infrastructure must be expanded to encourage these voters to both register and vote," the report reads.

As Common Dreams has reported this year, the PPCNCMR has campaigned extensively to urge the passage of the For the People Act, which would outlaw partisan gerrymandering, expand early voting, establish a national automatic voter registration system, and take other steps to strengthen the country's election system.

"While mechanisms to increase registration are important for low-income voters, there is an even greater need for policies and legislation that increase their ability to cast a ballot and actually vote," wrote Gupta Barnes.

Additionally, the report says, Democrats must identify—and pass—"an agenda that appeals to important concerns of low-income voters across race, that is, issues like raising hourly wages, stimulus payments, paid leave, housing, and healthcare."

"According to exit polls, 72% of Americans said they would prefer a government-run healthcare plan and more than 70% supported raising the minimum wage, including 62% of Republicans," the report reads. "In Florida, the $15/hour minimum wage referendum got more votes than either of the two presidential candidates."

The report comes as progressives in Congress are pushing back against corporate Democrats' claims that the Build Back Better Act—the spending package which would invest $3.5 trillion in climate action, child care, affordable housing, and other measures to help lower- and middle-income people—is unaffordable.

As Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, the Poor People's Campaign held a press conference on Capitol Hill this week to demand the legislation's passage.

The report, wrote Gupta Barnes, "underscores why the needs and concerns of low-income voters must be brought more fully into our political discourse, platforms, and campaigns—and why candidates who are elected on these platforms must live up to their campaign promises."

'Striketober' in full swing as nearly 100,000 workers authorize work stoppages

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich observed Wednesday that with employees in industries across the spectrum set to strike in the coming days following corporate leaders' failure to meet their demands for fair pay and working conditions, the U.S. is closer than it has been in decades to experiencing a general strike.

"You might say workers have declared a national general strike until they get better pay and improved working conditions," wrote Reich in The Guardian. "No one calls it a general strike. But in its own disorganized way it's related to the organized strikes breaking out across the land—Hollywood TV and film crews, John Deere workers, Alabama coal miners, Nabisco workers, Kellogg workers, nurses in California, healthcare workers in Buffalo."

Labor advocates are calling the nationwide show of union power and worker solidarity "Striketober," as work stoppages across numerous industries are expected in the coming hours and days if unions' demands aren't met.

About 10,000 workers at farm equipment manufacturer John Deere are set to walk out Thursday if the company fails to negotiate a contract that satisfies the demands of the United Auto Workers (UAW) members by 11:59pm on Wednesday. With 90% of members voting on Sunday, 90% voted down a tentative agreement over pension plan changes and what they viewed as inadequate pay raises—boosting compensation by 5 to 6%—considering the company's skyrocketing profits this year, with a net income between $5.7 and 5.9 billion.

"We aren't asking to be millionaires, we are asking for fair wages, a pension, and post-retirement healthcare," one employee told WQAD, an ABC affiliate in Moline, Illinois. "After 30 years or more of giving your body to a company moving 1,000 pound castings around or assembling tractors, it rips your body apart. It's not unreasonable to not want to have that worry in life of 'what if?'"

More than 24,000 nurses and other healthcare workers in California and Oregon also voted on Monday to authorize a strike after contract negotiations with their employer, Kaiser Permanente, stalled. The workers are demanding relief from pandemic-related burnout, 4% annual raises, and increased hiring. After voting to authorize a strike earlier this month, 60,000 film and TV crew workers could go on strike on Monday if the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents hundreds of production companies, fails to offer a contract that allows employees sufficient time off.

Workers frequently work 12-hour days—often without meal breaks—and get only 10 hours off in between workdays, while the lowest-paid crew members earn less than a living wage, according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

"Striketober is a function of greedy bosses trying to recoup the un-recoupable," tweeted Jonas Loeb, communications director for IATSE.

The recent strike authorizations and impending possible work stoppages come as thousands of people are already striking for fair working conditions and pay, including 1,400 Kellogg plant workers in several states; 1,100 miners at Warrior Met Coal, who have been fighting for a fair contract since April; and 2,000 hospital workers in New York.

The nationwide wave of worker solidarity involves "the kind of numbers you don't see anymore," tweeted HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson.

Reich wrote that with frontline workers across the country putting their health at risk over the last 18 months by going to work at companies that have raked in historic profits, "workers are reluctant to return to or remain in their old jobs mostly because they're burned out":

Years ago, when I was secretary of labor, I kept meeting working people all over the country who had full-time work but complained that their jobs paid too little and had few benefits, or were unsafe, or required lengthy or unpredictable hours. Many said their employers treated them badly, harassed them, and did not respect them. Since then, these complaints have only grown louder, according to polls. For many, the pandemic was the last straw. Workers are fed up, wiped out, done-in, and run down. In the wake of so much hardship, illness and death during the past year, they're not going to take it anymore.

"Corporate America wants to frame this as a 'labor shortage,'" wrote Reich. "Wrong. What's really going on is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a healthcare shortage. Unless these shortages are rectified, many Americans won't return to work anytime soon."

As IATSE members' potential strike drew near, the union pointed out that some of its members—stagehands and theater tech workers at North Shore Music Theater (NSMT) in Beverly, Massachusetts—secured livable wages after striking for just one day this month.

"NSMT crew were previously paid 60% less than the industry area average but will now be receiving wages starting at $18 per hour," said the union last week.

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler told The Hill that the Striketober movement shows that with economic inequality "getting worse and worse... unions are the solution."

"This is the capitalist system that has driven us to the brink," Shuler said.

Unite Here, which represents 300,000 hospitality employees, expressed solidarity with the workers taking part in Striketober and urged them to see themselves as in a position of power.

"It is clear that we are in a significant moment for union organizing," said the union. "What we cannot do is lose this moment. The so-called 'labor shortage'—which we know is really just a shortage of jobs that pay us enough to live on—is a powerful bit of leverage workers have over employers right now."

"You know what scares bosses?" added Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. "Worker solidarity. Striketober is terrifying the bosses."

Supreme Court announces date for case directly challenging Roe v. Wade

Abortion rights advocates geared up for a major fight as the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will soon hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case in Mississippi which poses a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade.

The high court confirmed it will consider the case December 1 after months of speculation regarding when it would take up the dispute over Mississippi's ban on most abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The question before the court, as the Center for Reproductive Rights explains, is "whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional." In the landmark 1973 Roe decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the right to abortion care before fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks.

"The fate of Roe v. Wade and legal abortion is on the line," tweeted Rewire News Group, which reports on reproductive rights.

Mississippi's restriction makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, only allowing abortion care "in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality." Providers who administer abortions in violation of the law could have their medical licenses revoked and face fines.

The court will hear the case three months after it refused to intervene in Texas, allowing that state's six-week abortion ban to take effect at the beginning of September. The Texas law allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person to obtain abortion care after that point, with plaintiffs who prevail in court entitled to $10,000 and recovery of their legal fees. Republican governors in several other states have said since the Texas law was permitted to go into effect that they plan to seek similar legislation.

The Texas case has led reproductive rights advocates to warn that the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect Roe.

NARAL Pro-Choice America noted that the Mississippi case will be the first abortion case the court hears since Justice Amy Coney Barrett—one of three anti-choice judges appointed by former President Donald Trump—joined the court, resulting in a 6-3 right-wing majority.

The court's announcement on Monday followed the filing of an amicus brief in the Mississippi case by nearly 900 state legislators who support reproductive rights and justice.

"Since so many state legislators have been leading the assault on reproductive rights, it only makes sense that state legislators be the first to defend them," Arizona Democratic Rep. Athena Salman said in a statement. "By adding my name to this amicus brief, I join hundreds of powerful, strong reproductive freedom champions standing up for the rights of all."

The National Women's Law Center (NWLC). was among 72 organizations that filed a separate amicus brief following the Supreme Court's announcement.

"In our brief, we explain that the devastating impact of allowing a pre-viability abortion ban to stand—or overturning the right to abortion explicitly—denies the liberty and equality of women and all people who can become pregnant," NWLC said.

To avoid 'spoiling' hungry children, Wisconsin school district opts out of free meal program

Hundreds of families and educators in Waukesha, Wisconsin are calling on the city's school board to reverse a decision it made earlier this year to opt out of a federal meal program that was introduced at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, offering free food to students regardless of income.

As the Washington Post reported Friday, Waukesha is the only school district in the state to reject funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Seamless Summer Option program, which was praised by economists and beneficiaries alike for destigmatizing the need for public assistance and eliminating red tape.

"The Waukesha School Board's decision isn't just cruel, it's an attempt to punish children from families with lower incomes who are disproportionately Black and brown."
—Sarah Godlewski, Wisconsin state treasurer

In previous years the district has participated in the National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced-price meals to students depending on their families' income and requires parents or guardians to fill out applications for approval. During the 2018-2019 school year, 36% of Waukesha's 14,000 students qualified for the program. Students who live below the poverty line in the city are disproportionately Black and Latino. The school board members' stated reasoning for forgoing the universal program ranged from an alleged concern that students who use the National School Lunch Program in future years wouldn't have their applications filled out if the Seamless Summer Option was offered to everyone this year, to a desire to "get back to whatever you want to believe normal means," to some comments that garnered an outraged response from locals as well as social media users. School board member Karin Rajnicek said families would "become spoiled" if the universal program continued, while Darren Clark, an assistant superintendent in the district, said an "addiction" to the aid could arise in the community. "You see, the poor kids may become addicted to food if we feed them," tweeted HuffPost journalist Andy Campbell sarcastically. The Wisconsin Democratic Party called the board's decision—which was made in June and is being discussed on Monday at a meeting following outcry in the community—"a vile attack on our children," particularly children of color.
"The Waukesha School Board's decision isn't just cruel, it's an attempt to punish children from families with lower incomes who are disproportionately Black and brown," said state treasurer Sarah Godlewski. Following the board's decision in June, hundreds of parents and teachers in the district connected on social media and began a public pressure campaign, calling on the district to offer meals to all children without requiring proof of income. "We're determined to make Waukesha as good as it can be, starting with something as easy as feeding kids," Dave Drigenberg, a parent in the district, told the Post on Friday.

Planned expansion of facial recognition by US agencies called 'disturbing'

Digital rights advocates reacted harshly Thursday to a new internal U.S. government report detailing how ten federal agencies have plans to greatly expand their reliance on facial recognition in the years ahead.

The Government Accountability Office surveyed federal agencies and found ten have specific plans to increase their use of the technology by 2023—surveilling people for numerous reasons including to identify criminal suspects, track government employees' level of alertness, and match faces of people on government property with names on watch lists. The report (pdf) was released as lawmakers face pressure to pass legislation to limit the use of facial recognition technology by the government and law enforcement agencies. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (D-Ky.) introduced the Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act in April to prevent agencies from using "illegitimately obtained" biometric data, such as photos from the software company Clearview AI. The company has scraped billions of photos from social media platforms without approval and is currently used by hundreds of police departments across the United States. The bill has not received a vote in either chamber of Congress yet. The plans described in the GAO report, tweeted law professor Andrew Ferguson, author of "The Rise of Big Data Policing," are "what happens when Congress fails to act." Six agencies including the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Interior, and Treasury plan to expand their use of facial recognition technology to "generate leads in criminal investigations, such as identifying a person of interest, by comparing their image against mugshots," the GAO reported. DHS, DOJ, HHS, and the Interior all reported using Clearview AI to compare images with "publicly available images" from social media. The DOJ, DOD, HHS, Department of Commerce, and Department of Energy said they plan to use the technology to maintain what the report calls "physical security," by monitoring their facilities to determine if an individual on a government watchlist is present. "For example, HHS reported that it used [a facial recognition technology] system (AnyVision) to monitor its facilities by searching live camera feeds in real-time for individuals on watchlists or suspected of criminal activity, which reduces the need for security guards to memorize these individuals' faces," the report reads. "This system automatically alerts personnel when an individual on a watchlist is present." The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the government's expanded use of the technology for law enforcement purposes is one of the "most disturbing" aspects of the GAO report. "Face surveillance is so invasive of privacy, so discriminatory against people of color, and so likely to trigger false arrests, that the government should not be using face surveillance at all," the organization told MIT Technology Review. According to the Washington Post, three lawsuits have been filed in the last year by people who say they were wrongly accused of crimes after being mistakenly identified by law enforcement agencies using facial recognition technology. All three of the plaintiffs are Black men. A federal study in 2019 showed that Asian and Black people were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified by the technology than white men. Native Americans had the highest false identification rate. Maine, Virginia, and Massachusetts have banned or sharply curtailed the use of facial recognition systems by government entities, and cities across the country including San Francisco, Portland, and New Orleans have passed strong ordinances blocking their use. But many of the federal government's planned uses for the technology, Jake Laperruque of the Project on Government Oversight told the Post, "present a really big surveillance threat that only Congress can solve."

Vaccine regrets multiply as Delta surges 'like a tsunami' among unvaccinated

As Covid-19 cases surge in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, stories of unvaccinated Americans expressing deep regrets from their deathbeds are spreading across social media, with healthcare workers facing the excruciating task of telling some patients that it's too late to help them.

On Friday CNN reported the story of Travis Campbell, who has been in a hospital in Virginia for two weeks battling Covid-19—which has caused him to develop pneumonia and left him with a partially collapsed lung—after putting off getting vaccinated not because of stubborn "vaccine hesitancy," but due to a move and knee surgery.

"I messed up big time, you guys—I didn't get the vaccine," 43-year-old Campbell said in a video he posted to Facebook on Wednesday in hopes of convincing people in his circle to get vaccinated.

Campbell's story follows that of Micheal Freedy, who was not opposed to vaccination in general but wanted to wait until the vaccines had been available for a year to ensure they were safe, and who texted his fiancee, "I should have gotten the damn vaccine" from an intensive care unit in a Las Vegas hospital last month before succumbing to the illness.

Campbell's illness and Freedy's death are just two illustrations of the crises healthcare workers are coping with in areas with low vaccination rates, particularly across the South.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer for Mississippi—where the vaccination rate is the lowest in the country, with 44.3% of people fully inoculated—told reporters on Thursday that the Delta variant is "sweeping across [the state] like a tsunami," accounting for 90% of new cases and packing intensive care units even in children's hospitals.

The state reported more than 3,000 new cases in a single day on Thursday. In neighboring Louisiana, officials are currently reporting a daily average of 4,300 cases—the highest per capita rate of cases in the country. Just over 47% of Louisiana residents are vaccinated, according to the New York Times, but fear of the Delta variant has reportedly pushed more people to sign up for vaccinations in recent weeks.

The Times reported that demand for the shots has nearly quadrupled in recent weeks amid reports that unvaccinated people in their 20s and 30s are becoming seriously ill and even dying.

"The public is finally hearing how bad it has gotten," Dr. Robert C. Peltier, the chief medical officer for North Oaks Health System near Baton Rouge, told the Times.

Campbell is among those who are now trying to use their personal experiences to urgently persuade others to get vaccinated without approaching them in anger.

"I'm not trying to talk down to you. I'm trying to talk to you so you understand that I don't want to go to your funeral and I don't want you to come to mine," Campbell said in the video he posted. "The new delta strain … will get you down so fast you are not going to get back up."

Campbell's tone is a far cry from some politicians who have accused unvaccinated people of "letting us down," as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey did in recent weeks. Ivey, a Republican, initially expressed skepticism about public health measures when the pandemic began.

Widespread anger over people's hesitancy to get vaccinated—due to misinformation or other reasons—has given way to harsh approaches by policymakers as they resort to punishing those who haven't yet.

Economist Justin Wolfers and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have both floated the possibility of charging people more for health insurance—a proposal denounced as "not only cruel but reckless" by Natalie Shure at The New Republic on Friday.

While vaccine mandates, like the one introduced in New York City this week, have been shown to be effective—successfully increasing vaccination rates by 40% in New York after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the rule—they have "appreciable limits," Shure wrote:

Even in liberal strongholds like New York City, mandates have sparked protest, such as SEIU 1199's demonstration in front of New York Presbyterian Hospital. But that's nothing compared to the political hostility marshaled against mandates in more conservative areas—which are often places with comparatively low vaccination rates that ostensibly need mandates the most.
[...]
All of this points to a frustrating fact about vaccine mandates: You can't lean too hard on them simply because you're throwing in the towel on persuasion, because the same political and social forces that result in low vaccination rates also make mandates less feasible. And where mandates are implemented, their effectiveness will still rely on broad social support.

In the Times on Friday, columnist Bryce Covert wrote about efforts to make vaccines more accessible by deploying mobile clinics at community gatherings and reaching out in practical ways to people facing food insecurity—as unvaccinated people are three times as likely to be—or people who have difficulty taking time away from work to get a shot.

"Missing out on a few hours of work seems very easy to us, but in fact it could be the matter of having food for the family versus not," Ann Lee, chief executive of the nonprofit Community Organized Relief Effort, told Covert. "The wages are going to win out."

To make vaccination more practical and enticing to people, Covert wrote, organizers in communities across the country have turned not to mandates but vaccine drives at public housing complexes, construction sites, and fields where agricultural laborers work long hours.

"They wanted to get vaccinated. There was just no way some of these day laborers were going to take off of work and maybe get sick," Lee said.

Shure suggested frustrated, vaccinated Americans direct their anger at "a Congress that held up state and local vaccination funding for months, to such a degree that the money only reached public health departments in early February—months after the vaccine debuted."

The funding lag has made it more difficult for officials in many parts of the country to implement "creative, proactive strategies that bring ease, accessibility, and ubiquity to the cause," Shure wrote, "which could reach people who are just beyond the reach of institutions and outside the grasp of any mandate."

Climate experts shocked at severity of floods in Germany and Belgium

Climate scientists on Friday were stunned by the intensity of flooding in Germany and Belgium that killed at least 120 people and damaged tens of thousands of homes, with experts saying they did not expect such extreme weather to result from the human-caused climate crisis as rapidly as it has.

More than a dozen records for rainfall were set across Western Europe, including in Cologne, where officials recorded six inches of rainfall in just 24 hours on Wednesday into Thursday morning—nearly double the monthly average for July. The city's previous record for daily rainfall was only three inches.

"This week's event is totally untypical for that region," Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told The Guardian.

Aerial footage of Ahrweiler in Rhineland Palatinate showed fallen trees, abandoned cars, and indundated roads.

According to the European Severe Weather Database, Reifferscheid saw more than eight inches of rainfall in just nine hours, leading to extreme flash flooding.

"We are still waiting for a definitive toll, but it could be that this flood becomes the most catastrophic our country has ever known."
—Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo

On Thursday night, officials reported that as many as 1,300 people were still unaccounted for, noting that the high number could be related to power supplies and cell phone networks being disrupted and some areas being difficult for rescue crews to reach.

Gerten expressed shock at the severity of the disaster.

"We seem to be not just above normal but in domains we didn't expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed," Gerten said.

Climate scientists have warned for years that the continued extraction of fossil fuels is causing numerous changes in the climate, including extreme heat, drought, and more frequent and heavy rain—which has been linked to the warming of oceans and increased amounts of water evaporating into the air.

"With climate change we do expect all hydro-meteorological extremes to become more extreme. What we have seen in Germany is broadly consistent with this trend," Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, told The Guardian.

But as the BBC reported, scientists said Friday they "failed to predict the intensity of the German floods" as well as the extreme heat which enveloped the Western United States and Canada in recent weeks, killing hundreds of people.

"The obvious acceleration of the breakdown of our stable climate simply confirms that—when it comes to the climate emergency—we are in deep, deep shit," Bill McGuire, a professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, told the BBC.

The effects of the torrential downpour stretched across Western Europe, with officials in Belgium saying Friday at least 23 people were confirmed dead and at least 19 were missing, and experts in the Netherlands and Switzerland expecting more inundation on Friday.

"We are still waiting for a definitive toll, but it could be that this flood becomes the most catastrophic our country has ever known," said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Friday.

On social media, progressive organizer Doyle Canning of Oregon, where temperatures reached 116 degrees earlier this month, responded to a video of flash flooding in one German city.

"This is your climate on fossil fuel," said Canning as she reshared the footage.

The flooding came days after the European Union unveiled a plan to transition away from fossil fuels by 2030 as part of its plan to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Armin Laschet, the governor of one of Germany's hardest-hit states and a candidate to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor in the September elections, said the rising death toll and damage to communities across Germany demonstrated that "we need to continue Germany's path toward climate neutrality even faster."

Scientist says BC heat wave caused over 1 billion tidal creatures to cook to death

It's "a frightening warning sign," said one observer.

"Heartbreaking," another commented.

"Can we now mobilize en masse to save all Earthly beings?" asked another.

Those were some of the responses to new reporting by the CBC on how last week's extreme heatwave that gripped British Columbia may have led to the deaths of over one billion intertidal animals like mussels and starfish that inhabit the Salish Sea coastline.

Christopher Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia, told the outlet about how he had noticed a foul odor from dead intertidal animals on rocks at Vancouver's popular Kitsilano Beach as the city experienced record heat. Harley then set off with a team of researchers to gather data on nearby coastlines.

What the researchers noticed, CBC reported, were "endless rows of mussels with dead meat attached inside the shell, along with other dead creatures like sea stars and barnacles."

They tracked temperatures too, recording 50°C (122°F) on rocky shoreline habitats, well above the high 30s (around 100°F) mussels can endure for short spurts. Harley likened a mussel on the rock enduring the scorching temperatures to "a toddler left in a car on a hot day"—stuck "at the mercy of the environment" until the tide returns. "And on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, during the heat wave, it just got so hot that the mussels, there was nothing they could do."

The heat wave was deadly for humans too.

Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia's chief coroner, announced Friday that from June 25 to July 1, the province's death toll was 719—three times higher than normal—and said heat was likely "a significant contributing factor to the increased number of deaths." The heat wave was also blamed for dozens of deaths in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.

The recent heat wave's deadly impact on shellfish was noted in the U.S. Pacific Northwest as well.

The Daily Mail reported last week on comments from the family-run Hama Hama Oyster company in Washington. "The epic heatwave is something no one has seen and then we had a low tide that was as far as it has been in 15 years and it happened mid-day," the company said.

The clams "look like they had just been cooked, like they were ready to eat," the company told the outlet.

In a June 30 Instagram post sharing an image of heat-impact clams, the company had a clear message: "Please vote for politicians who are brave enough to address climate change."

'It's about damn time': FBI begins arresting people accused of assaulting journalists on January 6

Press freedom advocates on Saturday were encouraged by news that the U.S. Department of Justice has begun making arrests related to attacks on journalists at the Capitol on January 6, when hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump violently breached security measures to try to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election results.

In addition to attacking some members of the Capitol Police—including one who later died of his injuries—and stalking lawmakers, some of those who attempted the insurrection targeted members of the media by damaging their equipment, assaulting them, and trying to chase them away from the Capitol.

"January 6 showed that what the administration says about the media does matter, words do matter, and can have very negative, very real [impacts] on reporters and their ability to do their jobs safely."
—Katherine Jacobsen, Committee to Protect Journalists

Starting last week, the Washington Post reported Saturday, the FBI began arresting people who were violent towards journalists during the riot and who prevented them from reporting at the scene. At least five people have been charged so far, and authorities expect more arrests.

"The vilification of the media that we saw from the previous administration was incredibly concerning, and that played into a longer arc of rising anti-press sentiment across the country," Katherine Jacobsen, a researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told the Post. "January 6 showed that what the administration says about the media does matter, words do matter, and can have very negative, very real [impacts] on reporters and their ability to do their jobs safely."

Advocates began calling for those who targeted journalists at the Capitol to be held to account shortly after the attack.

"The violence displayed toward the media during the assault on the United States Capitol has no place in a democracy," said Carlos Martinez de la Sern, a program director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, two days after the riot. "Individuals who threatened and assaulted journalists must be held accountable for their actions."

The FBI is charging the people in question with "committing violence in the restricted grounds of the Capitol, or destroying property on the Capitol grounds," the Post reported, because there are no federal laws specifically barring attacks on journalists.

Those charged so far include Shane Jason Woods of Illinois, who allegedly tackled a cameraperson with a news outlet to the ground; Sandra Weyer of Pennsylvania, who allegedly filmed and encouraged a group of men to attack a New York Times photojournalist; and Chase Kevin Allen, who was reportedly filmed stomping on reporters' equipment.

"It's about damn time," Detroit-based journalist Martina Guzman tweeted.

During the riot, the phrase "murder the media" was scrawled on a door inside the Capitol and a mob destroyed equipment owned by Associated Press reporters, reportedly tying some electrical cords from the cameras into a noose.

The attack on the Capitol and attempt to stop the democratic process came as Trump and other Republican lawmakers made false claims about the legitimacy of the election results and claimed the election had been stolen—and followed years of attacks by Trump on the media, which he referred to as "the enemy of the people" at rallies, prompting outcry from U.S. press freedom groups as well as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

Following years of hostility toward journalists coming from the White House, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press said the recent charges "send a very clear message that the Justice Department will protect journalists who are doing their jobs to keep us informed."

"We welcome the Justice Department's steps to hold people accountable for assaulting journalists and damaging their equipment as they documented one of the worst attacks on our democracy in recent times," said Bruce Brown, the group's executive director.

'I'm running': Progressive Democrat Charles Booker aims to unseat Rand Paul

A year after his narrow Senate primary loss to an ultimately unsuccessful centrist candidate hand-picked by Democratic leaders, former Kentucky state legislator Charles Booker announced Thursday that he will again challenge assumptions about how the Democratic Party can win elections in the state, launching his 2022 campaign against Sen. Rand Paul.

"I grew up in the West End of Louisville, and for years, I lived in the poorest zip code in the Commonwealth... I've lived the struggle other politicians just talk about." —Charles Booker

Booker released a video announcement on social media Thursday morning ahead of a rally at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in West Louisville, a majority-Black neighborhood he says the Democrats have historically neglected and taken for granted during elections.

The progressive leader's message in the video centered on freedom—which "so many people across Kentucky and across the country" have fought for while being governed by "politicians who have been free to exploit us."

Lawmakers like Paul have "freedom to rob us, freedom to tell us that we don't deserve better and all we can ever afford to have are politicians who don't care whether we live or die," said Booker. "That's not freedom."

Booker's primary campaign last year was largely ignored by the Democratic establishment, while progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) endorsed his campaign to represent Kentuckians "from the hood to the holler."

His opponent, former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, was recruited by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N,Y.) and beat Booker by less than three points after out-raising him 40-to-1—only to lose to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by nearly 20 points despite McConnell's open disdain for the needs of his constituents amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison was quick to offer support to Booker in April when he announced he was forming a Senate campaign exploratory committee. The committee raised more than half a million dollars in its first month.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro, the Sunrise Movement, and the Working Families Party also quickly threw their support behind the progressive candidate.

So far, Booker has taken aim at Paul for voting against coronavirus relief legislation which would have sent millions of dollars of relief to Kentucky residents last year, holding up an anti-lynching bill, and making false claims of election fraud.

In an email to supporters on Thursday, he highlighted how his own lived experience has given him far more commonalities with average Kentuckians than Paul.

"I grew up in the West End of Louisville, and for years, I lived in the poorest zip code in the Commonwealth," Booker wrote. "I've rationed my insulin to have money to feed my family. I've lost people I love to gun violence. I've lived the struggle other politicians just talk about, but I've also seen the incredible kindness, strength, and resilience of our state."

"And the policies Rand Paul has fought for—like tax cuts for the top 1%—did nothing to help me or the people in my community," he added. "I'm running for Senate because I know our state deserves a real fighter."

Booker supports a Green New Deal to transition away from a fossil fuel economy while providing a just transition and union jobs to millions of Americans—a proposal the nation's largest coal miners' union signaled support for in April—Medicare for All, universal basic income, and other far-reaching progressive policies.

As HuffPost reported, beating Paul, who 47% of Kentucky voters said they would support in a February poll, will be an uphill battle. It's been three decades since a Democrat won a Senate race in the state and more than 10 years since the party came within 10 points of winning a Senate seat there.

Booker believes his goal of turning out every possible voter across the state—"from the hood to the holler," engaging with people of color in urban areas as well as mostly white communities in Appalachia—is the key to a Democratic victory, instead of pushing a centrist message and simply assuming Black voters will support the party.

"Folks may be inclined to vote Democrat, but we don't go talk to them," Booker told HuffPost. "We just expect that they're going to vote the way we think they will."

In his campaign video Thursday, Booker told supporters he aims to "make freedom ring true" as a U.S. senator.

"We can make it ring for everyone," he said. "We can build a future where Breonna [Taylor]'s door isn't kicked in. We can make freedom mean that every community across Kentucky is thriving... that we're not just working to struggle less but that we're owning, we're creating, we're building pathways to wealth all over Kentucky."

"It's with that understanding that we have to lead ourselves that I'm going to run for United States Senate," he said.

Watchdog says insurrectionist lawmakers -- including Trump -- should be barred from public office

Calling on election officials across the U.S. to recognize that the nation "is at a critical crossroads," a non-profit legal advocacy group on Tuesday cited the 14th Amendment as it demanded Republicans who aided the January 6 insurrection—including former President Donald Trump—be barred from holding public office in the future.

The democracy watchdog Free Speech for People sent letters to the secretaries of state of all 50 states as part of its 14point3 campaign, calling attention to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states:

No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

"If you want to be elected president, you have to be 35 years old, you have to be a natural-born citizen, and you cannot take an oath of office and then turn around and incite an insurrection," said Ben Clements, board chair and senior legal advisor for the organization. "We are asking state election officials to do their job and follow the mandate of the Constitution."

"We are urging [election officials] to make clear that insurrectionists such as President Trump are barred from ever again holding public office."
—Alexandra Flores-Quilty, Free Speech for People

The organization launched the campaign amid signs that Trump is preparing another presidential run in 2024, with rallies planned in key states this summer. At his first event over the weekend, Trump repeated the baseless lie that President Joe Biden was not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, calling it "the scam of the century and the crime of the century."

Should Trump attempt to seek another term, Free Speech for People said, state election officials are duty-bound to ensure his name is left off ballots because he incited hundreds of his supporters to wage a violent attack on the Capitol building on January 6 as lawmakers were preparing to certify Biden's victory.

"Secretaries of state have a duty to ensure that candidates who seek to appear on their state ballots meet the constitutional qualifications for serving in public office," said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, the group's campaign director. "We are urging them to make clear that insurrectionists such as President Trump are barred from ever again holding public office, as is required under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

While the former president explicitly told his supporters on January 6 to "stop the steal" and to go to the Capitol and demonstrate against the certification of the election results, other Republicans including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) faced backlash for their roles as well.

Both senators amplified false claims that the election had been stolen and objected to the counting of votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. They persisted in obstructing the democratic process even after the insurrection, in which five people were killed and more than 140 were injured.

Hawley also drew ire after a photograph of him raising his fist in support of the insurrection went viral. The two senators were joined by 145 other Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to overturn the election results hours after the chaos at the Capitol had been brought under control.

"Formerly elected officials who engaged in the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, or who gave aid or comfort to the insurrectionists must be held accountable," said Free Speech for People president John Bonifaz, "and if they seek to appear on the ballot again for any public office, secretaries of state and chief election officials must be clear: The Constitution bars it."

Dems introduce Abolition amendment to scrap Constitution's 'slavery clause'

Backed by a coalition of dozens of human rights organizations, Democratic lawmakers on Friday reintroduced legislation to do away with the constitutional loophole which has allowed forced labor to persist in the United States for more than 150 years—the 13th Amendment.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) led two dozen of their colleagues in introducing the Abolition Amendment, which would strike the "slavery clause" from the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Adopted in January 1865, the amendment bans enslavement in the U.S., except as a form of punishment for criminal activity.

The lawmakers introduced the Abolition Amendment a day after President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth—the anniversary of the day Black people who had been enslaved in Galveston, Texas learned that the Union had won the Civil War and slavery was abolished—a federal holiday. Williams said doing away with the slavery clause is the next step in working to achieve equal justice in the United States.

"By deciding we cannot allow any exception to the prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude to persist in the Constitution, we stand on the shoulders of giants whose legacies call upon us today to make our union ever more perfect, more equal, more inclusive, and more free."
—Elizabeth Wydra, Constitutional Accountability Center

"States are amending their constitutions to finally abolish slavery in all forms, and Congress will lead the way and finally abolish involuntary servitude in America," Williams said in a statement. "We are in a period of reckoning with our country's history and a lot of that history is marked with racism and systems of oppression. Eliminating the loophole in the 13th Amendment that allows for slavery is another opportunity to do that."

More than 20 states still include slavery clauses in their constitutions, but three—Utah, Nebraska, and Colorado—have recently put the question to voters regarding whether to strike slavery clauses from their state constitutions. Large majorities in each case approved the measures, including 80% of voters in Utah.

After it was ratified, the 13th Amendment allowed southern states to adopt "Black Codes," which drove the over-incarceration of Black men for perceived infractions such as not yielding to white people on sidewalks. Sheriffs then placed inmates in convict leasing programs in which they were forced to work for wealthy landowners—sometimes on the same plantations where they had been enslaved.

As Merkley explained in a press statement, by 1898, nearly three-quarters of Alabama's state revenue came from renting out the forced labor of Black Americans.

"At the moment that we are celebrating, if you will, the 13th Amendment and the end of slavery and its eventual announcement ... we should at the same time recognize that the 13th Amendment was flawed," Merkley said. "It enabled states to arrest people for any reason, convict them, and put them back into slavery."

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," the senator added. "To live up to our nation's promise of justice for all, we must eliminate the slavery clause from our constitution."

Bianca Tylek, executive director of the nonprofit Worth Rises, which is "dedicated to dismantling the prison industry," said the 13th Amendment as written significantly impacts people who are incarcerated today.

"We're talking about people who can be beaten for not working. People can be denied calls and visits, contact with their family," Tylek told the Associated Press. "People can be put into solitary confinement. People can take hits on their long-term record."

The slavery clause represents "a huge stain on our culture, on our Constitution, on our nation to say 'No slavery except,'" Tylek added. "We have to be able to say no slavery—no exceptions."

"This effort to pass and ratify the Abolition Amendment joins a proud, centuries-long struggle to bend the arc of America's Constitution further toward progress," said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. "By deciding we cannot allow any exception to the prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude to persist in the Constitution, we stand on the shoulders of giants whose legacies call upon us today to make our union ever more perfect, more equal, more inclusive, and more free."

Constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate and must be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures.

Williams expressed hope that the issue would not be viewed as a partisan one but would be embraced by all members of Congress.

"I am willing to work with you as long as you are willing to work around making sure that everyone in this country—regardless of their background, their ZIP code, or their bank account—has access to the full promise of America," Williams said. "That includes making sure we rid involuntary servitude in this country in our Constitution."

'Egregious': Facebook allowed pro-Trump group to pose as leftists to split the Democratic vote

Reporting on Friday revealed that Facebook knowingly allowed a digital marketing firm tied to a pro-Trump group to release a series of ads purporting to be from a fake left-wing organization ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, while election officials failed to investigate the group at the time.

As The Guardian reported, a right-wing marketing firm called Rally Forge ran a $5,000 ad campaign beginning just days before the 2018 election, showing ads promoting Green Party candidates in an effort to split the Democratic vote and help Republicans in several close races. The ads were purported to be placed by a group called America Progress Now and expressed support for democratic socialism.

Facebook launched an investigation into the ads just after the election and quickly determined that America Progress Now's official page on the platform was run by the same three men—Jake Hoffman, Connor Clegg, and Colton Duncan—who were administrators for Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump college organization.

To the alarm of a number of Facebook employees, The Guardian reported, the company did not find Rally Forge or Turning Point USA to be in violation of any of its policies.

One product manager at the time said a case could be made for Rally Forge and Turning Point USA having engaged in voter suppression through the ads, and asked, "Can we strengthen our ads transparency policies so that political ads are indeed transparent to the user?"

After the election, Facebook deactivated several other right-wing accounts run by the administrators, but the move did not stop Rally Forge from establishing a "troll farm" out of Phoenix, Arizona in 2020. Working for Turning Point Action, a group linked to Turning Point USA, the firm hired teenagers to post pro-Trump messages on social media, some of which cast doubt on the integrity of the election system.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who participated in the investigation of the fake Green Party ads, wrote on Twitter Friday, "One wonders if [Rally Forge] would have escalated to troll farms, had FB deterred them in 2018."

"This is egregious," tweeted the women's rights group UltraViolet on Friday.

Beyond Facebook's decision to allow the firm to remain on Facebook after determining the ads were fraudulent, the ads "appeared to violate federal laws that require independent expenditures to be filed with the [Federal Election Commission] and include proper disclosures on advertisements," The Guardian reported.

"This is an example of why disclosure is so important in elections: swing state voters who saw 'America Progress Now' ads promoting Green party candidates would've had no idea that they were the handiwork of Republican political operatives," Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at CLC, told The Guardian.

The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the FEC in 2019 over America Progress Now and the administrators' failure to disclose the true source of the Facebook ads, only to have the case dismissed before the FEC could conduct an investigation.

The election commissioners declined to look further into the complaint after a man named Evan Muhlstein contacted them to take full responsibility to the ads, claiming he alone had failed to file the ad expenditures with the FEC and saying his "inexperience" was to blame.

"The FEC's job is to enforce the transparency laws and protect voters' right to know who is trying to influence them, but the agency here failed to conduct even a minimal investigation," Fischer said.

According to former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel, who served on the commission from 2013 to 2017, Muhlstein's admission to the FEC appeared to amount to "clear fraud," as he never disclosed to the officials that the ads had been the work of Rally Forge.

At the time, though, Muhlstein's claim was enough to convince at least one FEC commissioner, James "Trey" Trainor, that the CLC had engaged in "wild speculation" by filing a complaint.

"This case wasn't about a 'fake political group … exploit[ing] Facebook rules … and hid[ing] spending from the FEC,'" Trainor wrote. "In fact, APN was established by an unsophisticated individual trying to show his support for several third-party candidates, but he got tripped by the myriad regulations governing online political speech."

Zhang denounced the FEC for failing to contact Facebook regarding Muhlstein's claim to verify that he'd administered the America Progress Now page—a cursory investigation which would have immediately revealed the true owners of the page.

"It's quite possible that FB would have blown the FEC off," Zhang said. "But many employees were upset over this case, and may have come forward if asked. I would likely have if I'd known."

"In the end, this is a story about Facebook, the FEC, and broken systems," she added. "Now it's time for the FEC to prove that perverting justice has consequences."

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