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Mike Pence Struggles to Defend Mask, Social Distancing Policies at Trump Rallies

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(Permanent Musical Accompaniment To The Last Post Of The Week From The Blog’s Favourite Living Canadian)

The White House Task Force on the coronavirus pandemic re-emerged from its hyperbaric chamber and met the press again on Friday morning. If you watched the whole thing, you might have noticed that none of them were adhering to CDC guidelines, including wearing masks, and that HHS Secretary Alex Azar tried a little of the old okey-doke involving the Ebola outbreak in the Congo, and that Dr. Anthony Fauci now sounds like a man who has been hauling a barge through the Erie Canal. But all you really needed to see was the last question and the last answer.

Paula Reid of CBS asked this question of the Poser-in-Chief regarding the superspreader events in which his re-election campaign is now engaged.

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You could see Pence visibly reach the absolute frontier limits of his intellect in trying to craft an answer that was not admitting that Reid was absolutely right, and that also would keep Pence from offending the angry toddler for whom he works. What emerged from that frontier was a rhetorical critter unfamiliar to most political taxonomists. Neither fish nor fowl, nor really English, either.

I want to remind you again freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble is in the Constitution of the U.S. Even in a health crisis, the American people don’t forfeit our constitutional rights and working with state officials as we did in Oklahoma and as we did in Arizona, we are creating settings where people can choose to participate in the political process. We will continue to do that. I think it is really important that we recognize how important freedom and personal responsibility are to this entire equation but allowing younger Americans to understand, particularly in the counties most impacted by the challenges we are facing. Their age group, we think is important but it is so important that we recognize that as we issue guidance to reopen America two months ago and has all 50 states are opening up our country again, people are going back to work, everyday life is being restored one step, one day at a time.

Note how quickly Pence, dancing as fast as he can, runs through his stock of conservative Republican cliches. He apparently is unaware that one can speak, laugh, cheer, chant “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” and “USA!”, and otherwise exercise one’s First Amendment rights through a mask. You can talk through a mask. (Ask Batman.) Also, you can peaceably assemble while standing six feet apart. You can model behavior for your fellow citizens. You at least can say the word, “mask.” Pence asked us repeatedly to pray, but refused to ask us to wear masks when we do. God will not understand this at all.


washington, dc   june 25  us rep eleanor holmes norton d dc speaks as dc mayor muriel bowser, rep carolyn maloney d ny, and speaker of the house rep nancy pelosi d ca listen during a news conference on district of columbia statehood june 25, 2020 on capitol hill in washington, dc the house is scheduled to vote on the district of columbia statehood bill tomorrow  photo by alex wonggetty images

Eleanor Holmes Norton, longtime congressional representative for D.C., speaks at a statehood event.

Alex WongGetty Images

The House passage of a bill making the District of Columbia a state is a fine statement and that’s all it is. The Senate won’t even take it up and it would lose there if they did. It rocks the comfort zone of far too many people. Allowing it would put into stark relief the institutional failure of the Senate as a vehicle for self-government. Particularly piquant are the Republican complaints that this is merely a vehicle for two cold-lock Democratic seats. Leave aside the fact that a Republican desire for more Senate seats is the reason we have two Dakotas. By making this argument, the Republicans admit that they have no intention of doing anything for African-American citizens now or in the future. It’s just…too…hard. All of this, of course, makes DC statehood a very good idea.


Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: “I’m Goin’ In The Valley” (Silas Hogan): Yeah, I pretty much still love New Orleans.

Weekly Visit To The Pathe Archives: Here are some young British women playing baseball in 1930. Looks like they’re pretty good, despite the weird headgear and the severe lack of basepaths. History is so cool.


Holy hell. This is amazing. From The New York Times:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter. The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year. Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

Pretty clearly, somebody in the intelligence community wants the administration* to get off the dime here and is using the NYT to raise the heat.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

The dime remains under the presidential* keister.


Is it a good day for dinosaur news, New York Times? It’s always a good day for dinosaur news!

A new study published Wednesday in Nature, showcasing baby dinosaur remains from Mongolia and Argentina, offers a reason: The very first dinosaurs laid soft eggs like turtles do today, and their eggs decomposed long before they could ever turn into fossils.In a second study also published in Nature, paleontologists announced the first known fossil egg found in Antarctica. The egg, also soft-shelled, looks like a deflated football. It’s bigger than any dinosaur egg ever found, and the team that unearthed it thinks it might be the egg of a mosasaur. These rocket-size marine reptiles patrolled the ancient oceans during the dinosaur era and, until now, were thought to give birth to live young, not lay eggs.

Both studies scramble scientific understanding of ancient reptile reproduction. The dinosaur find explains a gap in the fossil record. But it also reveals how natural forces most likely guided the evolution of dinosaur reproduction over time, ultimately leading dinosaurs to evolve a completely different kind of egg-laying ability. At the same time, the Antarctic egg find expands the known size limits that life can reach at birth, inviting questions about how big living things can truly grow.

The phrase “rocket-size marine reptiles” was enough for me. I’ll read any story about rocket-size marine reptiles—even if the story is about the stock market, because rocket-sized marine reptiles lived then to make us happy now.

I’ll be back on Monday, socially distant though I am. Be well and play nice, ya bastids. Stay above the snake-line, and wear the damn mask.

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Minneapolis council puts plan to abolish police in motion

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and AMY FORLITI

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously advanced a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled, following widespread criticism of law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.

The 12-0 vote is just the first step in a process that faces significant bureaucratic obstacles to make the November ballot, where the city’s voters would have the final say. It came amid a spate of recent shootings in Minnesota’s largest city that have heightened many citizens’ concerns about talk of dismantling the department.

The proposed amendment, which would replace the police department with a new “Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention” that has yet to be fully defined, next goes to a policy committee and to the city’s Charter Commission for a formal review, at which point citizens and city officials can also weigh in.

“I hope that the Charter Commission will recognize the moment that we are in and take our offer of support, however we can provide it, to expedite this process so that voters have a chance to have their voices heard on this important question and this important moment in our city’s history,” Council President Lisa Bender said before the vote.

The Minneapolis force has come under heavy pressure since Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Activists have long accused the department of being unable to change a racist and brutal culture, and earlier this month, a majority of the council proclaimed support for dismantling the department.

Jeremiah Ellison, a member of the council, said at a news conference after the vote that the charter is one of three major barriers to “transformative public safety,” along with the city’s police union and the Minnesota Legislature. But the charter provision that requires the city to have and fund a police department commensurate with its population is the one thing that the city council has a say over, he said.

“It would be disingenuous for us to engage with the public about what a new public safety system could look like knowing full well that we can’t implement those things because of the charter provision,” Ellison said.

According to draft language posted online, the new department “will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”

The amendment goes on to say the director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” It also provides for a division of licensed peace officers who would answer to the department’s director.

Council member Felipe Cunningham said they’re committed to a year-long community engagement process to determine how the new agency would work. “We are not starting from scratch. We are not stating with a completely blank slate,” he said, pointing to changes meant to prevent violence at other law enforcement agencies across the country.

Ten years from now, Council member Steve Fletcher predicted, everybody will be looking to emulate the Minneapolis model.

“The path that we’re going to chart will steal the best ideas from everywhere and combine them in away that is uniquely appropriate to our city,” he said.

But the board of the city’s police union, the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said in a statement that it’s “irresponsible and a disservice to all Minneapolis residents to move forward without more clarity about what comes next. … Politicians are good at making promises, but not at following through on them, and voters should be wary of any promises that delivered by the City Council about how they will figure it out when and if the charter amendment passes.”

And a leading activist group, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar, said the amendment would leave power in the hands of the council and mayor’s office, which it said have already failed. The coalition instead supports putting the department under community control via a new elected civilian council with the power to hire, fire and prosecute officers.

Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, a sharp critic of the department, said the move is premature and counterproductive to building trust with the Black community amid the current uptick in crime.

“There are a lot of people in the African American community who are anxious, who are fearful, who are concerned about the irresponsibility of the Minneapolis City Council and the failure to articulate a clear plan of action on what to expect, and they want an opportunity to weigh in on that,” Armstrong said.

Council members who support the change wanted to seize on a groundswell of support for significant policing changes following Floyd’s death. If they don’t get the charter change on the November ballot, their next chance won’t come until November 2021, they say.

Barry Clegg, chairman of the Charter Commission, said that to get the proposed amendment question on the November ballot, it has to be finalized by Aug. 21. He said if the Charter Commission took its final action at its Aug. 5 meeting, there would likely be enough time for it to get passed by the full council, go through a veto period, and then, if vetoed, have time to spare for a possible mayoral veto override. Once on the ballot, the measure would go to voters.

Mayor Jacob Frey doesn’t support abolishing the department but does support deep structural changes, a stance that got him booed off the street by activists who demonstrated outside his house and demanded to know where he stood.

Frey expressed concerns about the draft amendment, including whether the change would eliminate police altogether or allow for a police presence going forward. He also said that when something currently goes wrong, the chief and the mayor are accountable — but under the new plan, accountability would be dispersed among 14 people. Frey questioned whether policing practices would vary, based on ward or other factors.

Don Blyly, whose beloved science fiction and mystery bookstores were destroyed by arson in the unrest that followed Floyd’s death, said if local leaders do something “sufficiently stupid” when it comes to policing, he won’t reopen in Minneapolis.

“There are legitimate problems with the Minneapolis police, but the way the politicians are going about it is just ridiculous,” Blyly said. “They are pandering to a certain segment of the electorate.”

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House Democrats Pass Bill To Make DC A State, But Trump And McConnell Say They Won’t Let That Happen

The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would make Washington, D.C., a state amid increasing congressional support for the nation’s capital to be granted statehood.

The “Washington, D.C. Admission Act,” which had 227 Democratic cosponsors, was originally introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting at-large representative in Congress, in October of last year. It passed Friday 232-180 without any Republican support.

“My great-grandfather, who walked away from slavery in Virginia, got as far as the District of Columbia – got freedom, but not to equality,” Holmes Norton told NPR’s Ari Shapiro.

Though the bill was all but assured to pass the Democratic House, it is likely dead-on-arrival in the Republican Senate.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likened the D.C. statehood efforts to “full-bore socialism” telling Laura Ingraham in July 2019 that “as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”

President Donald Trump said in a policy statement Wednesday that he would veto the bill if it landed on his desk. (RELATED: President Obama Endorses DC Statehood)

While the District of Columbia would be the smallest state in terms of area, its population of approximately 700,000 is greater than those of both Wyoming and Vermont. Despite D.C. residents paying federal income taxes, they do not have voting representation in Congress.

The license plate of US President Barack Obama’s limo is pictured on January 19, 2013 in Washington DC. Obama’s limousine is now adorned withe “Taxation Without Representation” license plates. The DC government authorized the plates to protest the fact that the District of Columbia does not have a vote in Congress. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

Though Republicans have long objected to D.C. statehood on constitutional grounds, political factors may have played a role as well. The district is overwhelmingly liberal, and would all but guarantee two additional Democratic senators and a Democratic representative in the House.

While Holmes Norton’s bill is unlikely to become law, public support for D.C. statehood has increased. In 2020, 48% of respondents said they favored the measure, according to a Harris poll reported by The Hill. A 2019 Gallup poll that found that only 29% of Americans supported the measure.

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Judicial Watch Obtains Secret Service Records Showing Hunter Biden Traveled to 29 Countries, Including Five Visits to China



Judicial Watch Obtains Secret Service Records Showing Hunter Biden Traveled to 29 Countries, Including Five Visits to China


















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Russian hacker group Evil Corp targets US workers at home

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

One Russian national is accused of carrying out attacks on behalf of the Russian state

A Russian hacking group is launching ransomware attacks against a number of US companies, targeting employees who are working from home due to Covid-19.

Evil Corp hackers have tried to access at least 31 organisations’ networks in order to cripple systems and demand millions of dollars in ransom.

The group’s two alleged leaders were indicted by the US Justice Department in December 2019.

There are concerns that US voting systems could also be targeted.

Last year, US authorities filed charges against Evil Corp’s alleged leaders Maksim Yakubets and Igor Turashev, accusing them of using malware to steal millions of dollars from groups including schools and religious organisations in over 40 countries.

Officials announced a $5m reward for information leading to their arrest, which they said was the largest amount ever offered for a cyber criminal. Both men are still at large.

Image copyright
US Department of Justice

Image caption

Maksim Yakubets (L) and Igor Turashev are accused of running Evil Corp

The threat comes as the majority of Americans have been working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic – 62% according to a Gallup poll.

The US presidential election is also just months away, and federal and local officials have been working to put measures in place to protect voter records as well as manage safe voting practices amid the pandemic.

What do we know about the attack?

Symantec Corporation, a firm that monitors corporate and government networks released a notice warning of the threat it identified on Thursday night.

The attacks used what Symantec described as a relatively new type of ransomware called WastedLocker, which has been attributed to Evil Corp. Ransomware are computer viruses that threaten to delete files unless the ransom is paid. The WastedLocker ransomware virus demands ransoms of $500,000 to $1m to unlock computer files it seizes.

Symantec said the “vast majority of targets are major corporations, including many household names”, and eight targets were Fortune 500 companies. All are US-owned but one, which is a US-based subsidiary.

Most targeted companies were in the manufacturing, information technology and media sectors.

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Media captionTechnology explained: what is ransomware?

Symantec said the hackers had breached the networks of these companies and were “laying the groundwork” for future ransomware attacks that would let them block access to data and demand millions of dollars.

Symantec technical director Eric Chien told the New York Times the hackers take advantage of employees now using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access work systems.

They use VPNs to identify which company a user works for, and then infect the user’s computer when they visit a public or commercial site. When the user next connects to their employer’s system, the hackers can attack.

What’s the context?

There have been a number of recent cyber-attacks on local governments across the US.

Cities and towns in Louisiana, Oregon, Maryland, Georgia, Texas and Florida were hit by ransomware attacks last year.

The Department of Homeland Security is looking into safeguarding voter registration databases ahead of November 3’s general election. In February, the agency’s head of cyber-security said this was a key election security concern.

These attacks by foreign cyber-criminals are far from a new threat.

During the impeachment inquiry last year, former White House security adviser and Russia expert Fiona Hill testified that “Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election”.

In 2018, the justice department charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections, using spear phishing emails and malicious software.

The hackers also stole data on half a million voters from a state election board site. Moscow has said there is no evidence linking the 12 to military intelligence or hacking.

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Minneapolis council puts plan to abolish police in motion

By AMY FORLITI and STEVE KARNOWSKI

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis City Council on Friday unanimously approved a proposal to change the city charter to allow the police department to be dismantled, following mass public criticism of law enforcement over the killing of George Floyd.

The 12-0 vote is just the first step in a process that faces significant bureaucratic obstacles to make the November ballot, where the city’s voters would have the final say. And it came amid a spate of recent shootings in Minnesota’s largest city that have heightened many citizens’ concerns about talk of dismantling the department.

The proposed amendment next goes to a policy committee and to the city’s Charter Commission for a formal review, at which point citizens and city officials can also weigh in.

“I hope that the Charter Commission will recognize the moment that we are in and take our offer of support, however we can provide it, to expedite this process so that voters have a chance to have their voices heard on this important question and this important moment in our city’s history,” Council President Lisa Bender said.

The Minneapolis force has come under heavy pressure since Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died May 25 after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Activists have long accused the department of being unable to change a racist and brutal culture, and earlier this month, a majority of the council proclaimed support for dismantling the department.

Jeremiah Ellison, a member of the council, said after the vote that the charter has been a barrier to the kinds of changes that citizens have demanded.

Draft language of the amendment posted online would replace the department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention, “which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”

The amendment goes on to say the director of the new agency would have “non-law-enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches.” It also provides for a division of licensed peace officers, who would answer to the department’s director.

Council members who support the change are looking to seize on a groundswell of support for significant policing changes following Floyd’s death. If they don’t get the charter change on the November ballot, their next chance won’t come until November 2021, they say.

Barry Clegg, chairman of the Charter Commission, said the process feels rushed.

“As I understand it, they are saying, ‘We are going to have this new department. We don’t know what it’s going to look like yet. We won’t implement this for a year, we’ll figure it out,’” Clegg said. “For myself anyway, I would prefer that we figured it out first, and then voted on it.”

Clegg said that to get the proposed amendment question on the November ballot, it has to be finalized by Aug. 21. He said if the Charter Commission took its final action at its Aug. 5 meeting, there would likely be enough time for it to get passed by the full council, go through a veto period, and then, if vetoed, have time to spare for a possible mayoral veto override. Once on the ballot, the measure would go to voters.

Mayor Jacob Frey doesn’t support abolishing the department, a stance that got him booed off the street by activists who demonstrated outside his house following Floyd’s death and demanded to know where he stood.

Frey expressed concerns about the proposed amendment as currently drafted, including whether the change would eliminate police altogether or allow for a police presence going forward. He also said that when something currently goes wrong, the chief and the mayor are accountable — but under the new plan, accountability would be dispersed among 14 people. Frey also questioned whether policing practices would vary, based on ward or other factors.

“There is a significant lack of clarity. And if I’m seeing a lack of clarity, so are our constituents,” said Frey, who has said he supports deep structural change in the existing department.

Fletcher said under the new agency when someone calls 911, there will always be a response that’s appropriate, including the option for a response by employees authorized to use force. But he said the vast majority of calls that police officers currently take will be answered by employees with different expertise.

Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Visions, criticized the proposed amendment for creating a division of licensed peace officers at all. She said it “would give current and former police way too much power to shape public safety in Minneapolis.”

Steven Belton, president and chief executive of Urban League Twin Cities, said the way some council members went forward without a concrete plan is “irresponsible.”

“The problem that needs to be stated up front, from my perspective, is racism. … I’m not sure what they are trying to fix here,” he said.

Don Blyly, whose beloved science fiction and mystery bookstores were destroyed by arson in the unrest that followed Floyd’s death, said if local leaders do something “sufficiently stupid” when it comes to policing, he won’t reopen in Minneapolis.

“There are legitimate problems with the Minneapolis police, but the way the politicians are going about it is just ridiculous,” Blyly said. “They are pandering to a certain segment of the electorate.”

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The Best Memes of 2020 So Far

Although 2020 is far from over, it’s already in the books as a year that won’t soon be forgotten, in the midst of life-changing events like the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the world and a global uprising of protests against racism and police brutality. Due to social distancing orders, most of us have turned to the Internet for everyday interactions like communicating with co-workers or staying in touch with friends and family.

While spending more time online can be both exhausting and enthralling during this time, there’s no doubt that it’s the main way we’re connecting with each other these days — and as a result, it means that Internet culture is moving faster than ever, producing a wealth of memes, both humorous and pithy, that reflect the moment we’re living in.

From Michael Jordan finding amusement on an iPad to the challenges of learning to use Zoom, here are the best memes of 2020 so far.

My Plans/2020

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year of many uncertainties and unexpected changes. From the coronavirus pandemic to the cancellation of major events like the Olympics, countless people have had to adjust not only their daily routines but their plans and hopes for the future. Leave it to the Internet to approach the situation with some dark humor with a meme tweet that compares plans for the future with the reality of 2020.

Michael Jordan Looking at iPad

When ESPN released The Last Dance, its 10-part series on Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls this year, Jordan’s hyper-competitive spirit was the clear star of the show. This was never more evident than in an episode when Jordan was shown an iPad with commentary from longtime rival Isiah Thomas. In the clip, Jordan watches the iPad footage with amusement and a pair of raised eyebrows, which became instant meme fodder for the Internet. Yet another clip with Jordan looking at iPad, while laughing uproariously at former opponent Gary Payton confirmed that whenever Michael Jordan was looking at an iPad it was a hit with the Internet. It also nicely provided an obvious successor to his seemingly ubiquitous “Crying Jordan” meme.

Zoom Meetings

Thanks to social distancing orders, working from home became the new normal for many, with Zoom meetings replacing IRL check-ins. Video calls, once a process reserved for check-ins with faraway loved ones, soon became de rigueur for everything from a work status to an after-work happy hour. As might be expected, there were limitations and challenges — but surprisingly, some unanticipated benefits like being able to change the background of a video call or a boss appearing as a potato (thanks to a filter) during the entirety of a meeting or hiding bed head during an early morning chat made using Zoom a new diversion to a time of uncertainty. These factors and more became the inspiration for countless memes about the new form of connecting in 2020.

Karen

The term “Karen” has been bandied about for a couple years as the punchline of jokes about the privilege of suburban white women of a certain age, but it’s definitely no laughing matter. It became Internet shorthand this year for the menacing racism and blatant abuse of privilege exhibited by white women. While the meme picked up traction with viral instances of specific white women defying COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the most glaring example of this in 2020 (and a major reason for how Karen went viral this year, bringing a global dialogue about privilege to the forefront) was the case of Amy Cooper, a white woman who called the cops on a Black man who was bird-watching in Central Park. The case incited national outrage, leading to Cooper eventually losing her job (her company issued a statement about the incident, saying that they “do not tolerate racism of any kind”) during the same time that George Floyd’s death spurred a reckoning for racial justice worldwide. It also solidified a “Karen” as synonymous with an entitled woman who stops at nothing, especially racist acts, to get what she wants.

Gossip Girl Title Remixes

One of the stranger yet hilarious memes of the year riffed on buzzy exchanges of ritzy Upper East Siders Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf in the soapy teen hit show Gossip Girl. Using a split screen of the glamorous, but at times ditzy Serena asking Blair, a decisive and scheming queen bee, a common question, the meme’s humor lies within Blair responding with a caption made out of the Gossip Girl title motif. The familiarity of teen drama and the absurdity of the humor and form gave the Internet a chance to flex their anagram skills to really tickle funny bones.

Bernie Sanders Saying “I Am Once Again Asking”

Ahead of 2020, then-Democratic nominee hopeful Bernie Sanders released a video where he asked his followers to donate to his campaign. While a campaign advertisement is nothing out of the ordinary, Sander’s request, “I am once again asking for your financial support,” seemed to strike a chord with the Internet, who not only used a screenshot of Sanders’ ask to express their own need for financial support, but for any other occasion when they might be asking a favor of someone.

Tiger King

During the initial weeks of social distancing orders in the United States, Netflix debuted Tiger King, a docuseries about eccentric and shady exotic animal enthusiasts, starring a big cat owner with an even bigger personality named Joseph “Joe Exotic” Allen Maldonado-Passage. Joe’s flashy fashion sense, outrageous antics, and distinctive mannerisms made him an Internet sensation, while his seeming nemesis, animal sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, became the target of conspiracy theories and villain jokes — especially when viewers discovered that her former husband mysteriously went missing. She repeatedly denied the rumors and spoke out against the portrayal of events. Of course, the series became an instant lightning rod for memes. However, the series took a dark turn when Joe’s bizarre and deep-seated antipathy towards Baskin evolved into something nefarious: he was sentenced to 22 years in prison early this year for his role in a murder-for-hire plot against her. According to federal prison records, he’s currently serving his time at the Fort Worth Federal Medical Center in Texas.

Nancy Pelosi Ripping Trump’s SOTU Speech

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is no stranger to her spirited displays in Congress becoming memes and it appears that 2020 is no exception. At this year’s State of the Union address, Pelosi made headlines when she was spotted ripping up a transcript of Donald Trump’s speech for the occasion. As might be expected, the Internet wasted no time in making it a meme, which was fitting for anytime one might want to show distaste or disapproval for something.

Bong Joon-ho Making His Oscars Kiss

You’d be remiss to find someone more gracious or charming to sweep the Oscars than Bong Joon-ho, who made history as he took home the biggest awards of the night (including best picture, best director, and best original screenplay) for his film Parasite. However, it was the Internet who also gained a win when Joon-ho not only gazed with delight at his Oscar on stage, but then posed for portraits after the ceremony with his Oscar statuettes, mirthfully making them kiss. The sweet, irreverent moment of victory became one of the purest memes of the year and ensured that Joon-ho not only made Oscars history, but viral history.

Billie Eilish’s Oscars Confused Face

Billie Eilish has had some major wins in 2020, namely taking home five Grammys at this year’s ceremony, but one of her most memorable moments yet was her epic reactions at the 2020 Oscars. The camera during the awards show caught her making a confused face during Eminem’s surprise belated (and bizarre) performance of “Lose Yourself” that summed up relatable feelings for many of the attendees and viewers at home. While we’re unable to know whether or not Eilish was reacting to the performance or just the cameras being focused on her, Eilish’s reactions were definitely a highlight of the year’s awards show circuit. It also gave us one of the first — and best — memes of the year.

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston Holding Hands at the SAG Awards

Those looking for a hit of nostalgia at the start of a new decade got it when exes Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were momentarily reunited at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards. In a picture-perfect moment, Pitt grabbed Aniston’s wrist as she walked past him on the red carpet, reigniting a rush of hope for romantics online who noted that the key players in the most notorious celebrity split of the early-aughts were now both single. The image became a viral sensation for anyone who’s ever had a relationship run its course.

Write to Cady Lang at cady.lang@timemagazine.com.

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President Trump Has No Second-Term Agenda, Sean Hannity’s Question Shows

What is the Republican plan to expand healthcare coverage to all Americans? The Trump administration is currently backing a suit that would strip it away from tens of millions while offering no alternative. What is the Republican plan to deal with monopoly power, which is distorting markets and harming consumers and workers? What is the Republican plan to boost wages, beyond ethereal talk of Economic Growth that will benefit all, even if all that growth of the last few decades has mostly benefited the few? What is the Republican plan to make college more affordable? What is the Republican plan to fix the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure? What is the Republican plan to address the climate crisis, an existential threat to human civilization as we know it?

All of these issues remain, even if they’ve been pushed to something beyond the back-burner by the three generational crises now battering the country. Donald Trump, American president, doesn’t have much of a plan for those, either—and they threaten to subsume his campaign for re-election. But even before the pandemic, and the accompanying economic turmoil, and the massive movement for racial justice that has sprung up in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department, the president didn’t have an agenda. His argument for re-election wasn’t really about what he’d do, it was that the other side are insane socialist anarchists in league with the Deep State, or whatever.

Nothing much has changed now, something Sean Hannity of the Fox News Channel unwittingly exposed via one of many softball questions he served up to the president Thursday night. Hannity’s servitude might be at the point where he rode with the president on Marine One on their way to this little engagement, but there’s no such thing as a softball when the hitter’s brain is broken.

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How in the hell did we get to John Bolton? (And of course, Hannity used this product of the president’s randomly firing synapses to muse about whether the power of the Justice Department should be wielded against a political dissident, no matter how odious Bolton might be.) The answer is primarily that Trump has nothing else to say.

He has basically given up on fighting the pandemic, and it’s spreading like wildfire in states across the country—many of which he’ll need to win in November. He and his party are set to allow the current boosted unemployment benefits—which Congress appropriated to meet the economic turmoil—to expire. That won’t be good for his prospects. Senate Republicans have a criminal-justice bill that would encourage local police departments to do better, but offers few mechanisms of accountability for wrongdoing. It’s nowhere close to meeting the demands of this moment.

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The fact is that the Republican Party hasn’t been much interested in governing the country for some time. They want to deregulate industries whose executives pay the campaign bills, and cut taxes on the donor class, and knuckle immigrants, but the idea of drawing up a comprehensive set of policies to make life better for the broader American public has long been anathema. (The Democrats often govern incompetently, and with too much regard for the preferences of powerful interests over those of working people, but they do seek to govern the country.) Trump is merely the most garish expression of this, turning the nation’s highest governing office into a rolling circus act while shredding the institutions of democracy, and while the termites of the state go to work behind the scenes.

It’s hard not to feel like he’s run out of steam, that he’s sick of doing this job he never really wanted anyway. But then you remember that, thanks to our idiotic system, he could be re-elected despite losing the popular vote by as much as six percent. What would his agenda be then?

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Trump administration urges end to ACA as pandemic surges

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and MARK SHERMAN

WASHINGTON (AP) — As coronavirus cases rise in more than half of the states, the Trump administration is urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The administration’s high court filing at 10:30 p.m. Thursday came the same day the government reported that close to half a million people who lost their health insurance amid the economic shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 have gotten coverage through HealthCare.gov.

The administration’s legal brief makes no mention of the virus.

More than 20 million Americans could lose their health coverage and protections for people with preexisting health conditions also would be put at risk if the court agrees with the administration. Nothing will happen immediately. The case won’t be heard before the fall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the administration’s latest move in a partisan battle over “Obamacare” that has stretched on for a full decade since the law’s passage in 2010. Pelosi is planning a floor vote early next week on her own bill to expand the ACA, sweetening its health insurance subsidies so more people will be covered.

“There is no legal justification and no moral excuse for the Trump administration’s disastrous efforts to take away Americans’ health care,” she said in a statement.

Just as the nation seemed to be getting better control over the virus outbreak, states including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Texas are reporting a surge in cases. Overall, more than half the states are seeing case increases and some are tapping the brakes on reopening plans.

Anger over problems with “Obamacare” was once a winning issue for Republicans, helping them gain control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. But the politics of the issue flipped after President Donald Trump failed to deliver in 2017 on his vow to “repeal and replace” the health law and provide lower-cost coverage for everybody. Democrats were energized by their successful defense of the ACA, and that contributed to their winning back the House.

In the case before the Supreme Court, Texas and other conservative-led states argue that the ACA was essentially rendered unconstitutional after Congress passed tax legislation in 2017 that eliminated the law’s unpopular fines for not having health insurance, but left in place its requirement that virtually all Americans have coverage.

Trump has put the weight of his administration behind the legal challenge.

If the health insurance requirement is invalidated, “then it necessarily follows that the rest of the ACA must also fall,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote Thursday. It’s the third time the court is being asked to undo “Obamacare.” Two previous attempts failed.

At the White House on Friday, there was no turning back.

“A global pandemic does not change what Americans know — Obamacare has been an unlawful failure,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said Friday in a statement. He said it limits choice and “forces Americans to purchase unaffordable plans.”

Other prominent Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, have said Congress didn’t intend to bring down the whole law by striking the coverage penalty.

Alexander, who leads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, has repeatedly said there’s no way Congress would repeal protections for people with preexisting conditions. He says senators intended to repeal the penalty for people who go without coverage, and that’s all.

The Trump administration’s views on what parts of the ACA might be kept or replaced if the law is overturned have shifted over time. But in legal arguments, it has always supported getting rid of “Obamacare” provisions that prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against people on account of their medical history.

Nonetheless, Trump has repeatedly assured Americans that people with preexisting conditions would still be protected. Neither the White House nor congressional Republicans have specified how.

The government report showing rising sign-ups for health coverage under the ACA amid the coronavirus shutdown came from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The figures are partial because they don’t include sign-ups from states that run their own health insurance marketplaces. Major states like California and New York are not counted in the federal statistics.

An estimated 27 million people may have lost job-based coverage due to layoffs. That means they would be eligible for a special sign-up period for subsidized plans under the Obama-era law. Many may also qualify for Medicaid.

Thursday’s report from the government showed that about 487,000 people signed up with HealthCare.gov after losing their workplace insurance this year. That’s an increase of 46% from the same time period last year.

It’s unclear from the government numbers how many of the new enrollees lost their coverage because of layoffs due to the pandemic. CMS also made no estimate of how many people will ultimately seek coverage through the Obama health law as a result of economic shock waves. Generally there’s a 60-day window to apply after losing coverage.

However, the report found a clear connection. “While the magnitude may be unclear, job losses due to COVID-19 have led to increased enrollments on HealthCare.gov,” it said.

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Electric mail trucks get a big boost in Democrats’ infrastructure bill

For months, Democrats in Congress have focused on immediate recovery from the coronavirus, saying they would turn to long-term stimulus when the time is right.

The time is apparently right. This week, House Democrats unveiled their Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill. It is capacious: $300 billion for repair of existing infrastructure, $100 billion for public transit, $100 billion for affordable housing infrastructure, $100 billion for broadband, $100 billion for high-poverty schools, $70 billion for upgrades to the electricity grid, and many, many smaller items.

The bill contains multitudes, but it is just an opening bid. It will eventually make its way to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is certain to bargain it down and try to strip out anything he sees as “green,” if he brings it to a vote at all.

If it does come to a vote, there will be more to discuss. For now, I just want to focus on one tiny gem in the bill that has made me — and the dozens (?) of other people obsessed with this issue — very happy.

To wit: The Moving Forward Act contains money to electrify mail trucks!

Making the US Postal Service a vanguard for electric vehicles

Back in April, I wrote an in-depth post on why replacing the US Postal Service’s fleet of delivery trucks with electric vehicles is a good idea, why now is the perfect time to do it, and where the process stands within the USPS.

To summarize: USPS trucks are old and janky. They get poor gas mileage, have no air conditioning, regularly burst into flames, and are imposing huge and rising fuel and maintenance costs on the already-struggling agency. Replacing them with electric delivery trucks would radically reduce those costs, improve driver health and performance, and reduce air and noise pollution in districts across the US.

USPS mail carrier Lizette Portugal poses for a portrait in front of her truck before departing on her delivery route amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 30, 2020, in El Paso, Texas.
Paul Ratje/AFP via Getty Images

The USPS says it needs about $6 billion to replace its vehicles and about $25 billion overall to save itself from financial ruin. Well, if you scroll way, way down in the Moving Forward Act to Division I, Sec. 50001, you find this:

Authorizes $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service for the modernization of postal infrastructure and operations, including through capital expenditures to purchase delivery vehicles, processing equipment, and other goods. The section reserves $6 billion for the purchase of new vehicles.

Then Sec. 50002 gets more specific about how the $6 billion for vehicles must be used:

Requires the Postal Service to use any of the authorized funds to purchase electric or zero-emission vehicles to replace its current right-hand-drive vehicles to the maximum extent practicable. However, at least 75 percent of the new fleet must be such vehicles. The section would also require that the fleet of medium and heavy-duty trucks consist of at least 30 percent of electric vehicles by 2030 and that any vehicle purchased after 2040 be electric or zero-emission.

A minimum of 75 percent electric vehicles: that’s awesome. Beyond the immediate health benefits and the long-term savings for the USPS, this would be an incredible marketing coup for electric vehicles generally.

The Postal Service is the US public’s favorite government agency. It is a friendly, reliable presence in every community in the nation. If the familiar, boxy mail trucks were replaced with electric trucks, every American who interacts with a postal carrier — which is nearly every American — would have a chance to see an electric vehicle with their own eyes, in a workaday, non-political context.

It would do more to raise awareness of electric vehicles than any conceivable amount of marketing. And there’s evidence that electric vehicles, much like solar panels, are “contagious,” meaning that people who see them in their own community are more likely to buy them. The Moving Forward Act would spread EVs like a contagion across the country (a good contagion for once).

Using post offices to kickstart electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Speaking of acting as a vanguard, there is one other intriguing provision in Sec. 50002: “The section would require the Postal Service to provide at least one charging station at each publicly accessible facility it owns or leases by 2026 and ensure that it has adequate charging facilities to keep its fleet operating.”

Every analyst agrees that one of the major challenges facing electric vehicles is the lack of charging infrastructure. It creates a perpetual chicken-and-egg problem: the infrastructure doesn’t make sense without the cars; the cars don’t make sense without the infrastructure.

The research consultancy Brattle Group put out a report this week projecting that EVs in the US will grow from today’s 1.5 million to between 10 and 35 million by 2030. Part of what will enable (or constrain) that growth is charging infrastructure. Out of the $75 to $125 billion in investments in the electricity system Brattle estimates will be needed to support EV growth, about $30 to $50 billion need to go to charging infrastructure.

ev charger needs

Brattle

Nothing would do more to increase consumer confidence in EV charging infrastructure than having an EV charger publicly available at every post office. It could finally break the chicken-and-egg stalemate: It would make EV chargers a familiar part of public infrastructure, prompting more consumers to choose EVs, prompting more investment in chargers.

Given the amount of federal spending needed to pull the US economy out of a nosedive, $25 billion for the USPS isn’t much, and $6 billion for electric postal trucks is peanuts. But it’s a smart investment that would return itself many times over in health, economic, and social benefits.

“This provision is a win all the way around,” California Rep. Jared Huffman told me. “We can slash emissions from one of the largest vehicle fleets in the world, boost clean vehicle manufacturing in this country, build out EV charging infrastructure, and help the USPS save money on wasted fuel and maintenance costs for an aging fleet.”

The provision was drawn from Huffman’s Federal Leadership in Energy Efficient Transportation (FLEET) Act, for which he has been fighting a lonely battle since 2014. He is cautiously optimistic about its chances.

“Good legislation has a tendency to die at Mitch McConnell’s hand,” he says, “but I hope he’s smart enough to see how much this will benefit the country and doesn’t leave it on the cutting room floor.”


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