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Brennan’s not a target in Durham’s probe of Crossfire Hurricane after all

Will the probe of Crossfire Hurricane turn out to be a bust? NBC News reported on Thursday that John Durham had requested an interview with former CIA Director John Brennan. That looked like a sign that the US Attorney’s investigation of the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane had gone all the way to the top, and that the probe would soon be completed:

The investigation ordered by Attorney General William Barr into how the CIA and the FBI looked into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia’s 2016 election interference operation may be nearing a conclusion, people familiar with it say.

One indication is that the prosecutor in charge, Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, has asked to interview former CIA Director John Brennan, according to a person familiar with the request. Brennan has agreed to be interviewed, and the details are being worked out, the person said. …

Brennan, a vocal critic of Trump and an NBC News analyst, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by Durham. Brennan was director of the CIA from 2013 until the day of Trump’s inauguration. The New York Times reported in December that the prosecutor was reviewing Brennan’s emails, call logs and other records, which was confirmed to NBC News by a person familiar with the matter.

That sounded intriguing … but perhaps too good to be true. An NPR report late yesterday that focused more on the potential for an “October surprise” from the Durham investigation also contained this little nugget (via the Washington Examiner):

Durham has been on the job for more than a year now, leading some lawyers familiar with the investigation to believe he may be close to the end. One such source told NPR that Durham has asked to interview former President Barack Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, confirming a report by NBC News.

That source said both sides are trying to iron out details for the interview, which largely involves technical questions. The source added that Brennan has been told he is not a target of prosecutors.

Emphasis mine. Bear in mind that this is a term of art, something we learned again during the special-counsel probe, and not a fixed label. In any investigation, a person can start off as a witness, turn into a subject, and then become a target. The process can work in the opposite direction, too; this site gives a pretty good overview of the official Department of Justice definitions, while warning at the same time that they’re essentially meaningless. At one time, Donald Trump was told he wasn’t a target in Operation Crossfire Hurricane, but he was at least a subject, and eventually became a target whether the FBI admitted it or not.

At this late date, however, Brennan’s status as a non-target is presumably more static, assuming this report is accurate, of course. Brennan could always leap onto a table and yell, “OF COURSE IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, YOU FOOLS!!”, which could tend to change one’s status in a federal investigation. Short of that, and again assuming NPR’s source is correct, Durham’s not going after Brennan. Attorney General William Barr has already said publicly that Durham’s not going after Barack Obama or Joe Biden, and NBC reported at the link above that James Clapper has been told that Durham’s not interested in interviewing him as part of this investigation.

Who does that leave, if this is true? Probably no one outside the FBI, but perhaps the top man in charge at that time might have reason to sweat. Sally Yates accused James Comey of “going rogue” in his pursuit of Michael Flynn, although she defended the decision to investigate Flynn. She also went after lower-echelon FBI figures for submitting false information on the Carter Page FISA warrants:

In an exchange with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham during a hearing on the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, Yates was asked whether she authorized the FBI’s January 24, 2017, interview of Flynn.

“I didn’t authorize that interview because I wasn’t told about it in advance,” Yates, who appeared remotely, told lawmakers.

Yates said that when she heard about the FBI’s interview with Flynn, “I was upset that Director Comey didn’t coordinate this with us and acted unilaterally.” Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, asked whether Comey went “rogue” with sending agents to speak with Flynn, and Yates responded, “You could use that term, yes.” …

Yates told the Senate Judiciary Committee that had she known the warrant applications submitted to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court contained inaccurate information, “I certainly wouldn’t have signed it.”

“I believe that the Department of Justice and the FBI have a duty of candor with the FISA court that was not met,” she said.

One of the attorneys involved in that process, Kevin Clinesmith, already faces potential prosecution. Inspector General Michael Horowitz made a criminal referral on Clinesmith for allegedly tampering with evidence in order to support the warrant application. The question is whether Durham will find enough to charge others with crimes in the Crossfire Hurricane probe. At this point, it appears that Durham might only be focusing on lower-level figures in the scandal — perhaps as high as Comey, maybe more along the lines of Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe.

If so, that will disappoint many who suspected this went all the way to the Oval Office. Even a Comey indictment wouldn’t be enough to prove a wide-ranging political conspiracy against Trump in the Obama administration, and that seems like a long shot in the Durham probe anyway. However, if Durham feels compelled to write a report laying out a larger narrative, that may indeed have more impact — but Barr has all but committed to sticking to indictments as the only public statements from the Durham probe. Will he stick to that?

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Stimulus stalled: While Washington points fingers, out-of-work Americans feel the pain

And nothing got done.

Bipartisanship that led Congress and the White House to act decisively in the spring to help Americans stay afloat as the pandemic got started feels like a distant dream. Rancor has only increased over what’s needed to help Americans as the virus continues to spread and, as of this week, has claimed more than 160,000 American lives.

The White House is still a trillion dollars short of Democrats’ demands for this fourth stimulus, but Trump wants credit for helping people.

Rather than budge on the top-line figure and pass the big bill, Trump held a last-minute news conference in New Jersey Friday night and, with members of his private golf club looking on in a weird sort of news conference/campaign rally, he promised executive actions to extend expanded unemployment benefits, an eviction moratorium and enact a new payroll tax cut.

If he didn’t need Congress to do these things, one wonders why he didn’t do them before now since the expanded unemployment benefits and eviction moratorium expired last month. The President is scheduled to hold another news conference at his Bedminster golf club on Saturday afternoon, where he can be expected to discuss the failed stimulus negotiations and possible executive actions.

The idea of cutting revenue and spending money without the legislature would seem to violate the Constitution.

But Trump’s not concerned about the legality of the actions he promised, which he said lawyers are “drawing up.”

“No, not at all. No. You always get sued,” he said.

The idea of a legal battle over executive actions will be cold comfort to people struggling and out of work and afraid of contracting a virus that continues to rip through the country, despite Trump’s false promise that it will just go away.

Finding creative ways around Congress has been a hallmark of Trump’s time in office, from enacting a travel ban on certain countries to finding money for his proposed border wall even though lawmakers in both parties refused to give it to him.

Democrats are sure to challenge these executive actions as being insufficient and, in the case of the payroll tax cut, which Trump has fixated on, unnecessary, since it will give money to people currently earning a paycheck and not help those put out of work by the pandemic.

And that is setting aside the fact that payroll taxes fund social security, which is already under stress. A holiday from funding the program could make the entitlement, which helps American seniors make ends meet, run out of money in less than 10 years, according to a new report.
While he didn’t share any specific details on the executive actions (Will he expand the unemployment benefits at the $600 level Democrats want or does he agree with his top economic adviser those payments would be a “disincentive to go back to work?”), he was alleging vast conspiracies are what’s stalled the bill.

For instance, Democrats want to give $1 trillion to states and cities gasping to maintain services despite losing much of their tax revenue due to the pandemic.

In that, Trump sees an effort to bilk taxpayers and bail out mismanaged cities.

“They’re really just interested in one thing and that is protecting people that have not done a good job in managing cities and states and nothing to do with Covid or little to do,” he said.

Influencing the election

Trump also made the wild accusation that “The Democrats are cheating on the election” by trying to pass this new stimulus bill.

“Because that’s exactly what they’re doing. If you look at what they’re doing even with these negotiations. That’s an influence, and an unfair influence, on an election,” he said.

It was an awkward charge since it came the same day a US intelligence official issued a statement confirming that Russia is, yet again, attempting to “denigrate” the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden in this case. But it also said China “prefers” that Trump doesn’t win.
The warning was lacking and the public doesn’t know the scale of efforts to influence the election, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who wrote in the Washington Post that he’s seen frightening classified information about Russia’s efforts and that the administration is trying to keep them hidden from public view.

“I was shocked by what I learned — and appalled that, by swearing Congress to secrecy, the Trump administration is keeping the truth about a grave, looming threat to democracy hidden from the American people,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote.

Democrats say the White House needs to budge

Where Trump sees conspiracies holding back the stimulus bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer see intransigence on the part of the White House.

“Meet us in the middle — for God’s sake, please — for the sake of America, meet us in the middle,” Schumer said Friday as talks stalled again.

He and Pelosi pointed the finger at White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for refusing to budge.

“We believe we have a responsibility to find common ground,” Pelosi said. “We’ll come down a trillion and you go up a trillion and we can figure out how we do that without hurting America’s working families,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, Schumer said the math of getting a bill that can pass requires the White House to add more money.

“The House doesn’t have the votes to go south of $2 trillion, the Senate Democrats can’t go south of 2 trillion, so that’s what compromise is all about,” Schumer said. “Because there are 20 Republicans who don’t want to vote anything that doesn’t mean the whole thing should shift in their direction. You have to meet in the middle.”

Nobody is meeting anywhere at the moment, since there are no more talks currently scheduled, according to Meadows.

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Trump Vows to Use Executive Order to Extend Jobless Benefit

President Donald Trump said he would use executive action to extend the pandemic unemployment benefit, along with other measures, vowing to break the deadlock on Capitol Hill over a clutch of pandemic relief measures.

Trump made the remarks during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on August 7. Calling the enhanced unemployment benefit one of the key issues of the talks between White House and congressional negotiators, who have so far failed to reach an agreement, Trump said his administration would extend the jobless benefit through the end of the year.

Known as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, this is the additional federal benefit of $600 per week over and above regular and state unemployment insurance payments and other forms of pandemic unemployment assistance. Established by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, the FPUC benefit expired on July 31, with lawmakers and White House negotiators broadly in agreement on the need for an extension but at odds over its size and duration. Democrats have pushed for a full, $600-per-week extension through January 2021, while Republicans have called for something more modest, arguing that its current level is so generous as to disincentivize employment and so disproportionately hurt small businesses.

Asked during Friday’s presser about whether Trump was considering extending the full $600-a-week benefit, the president said, “I won’t say that yet. You’ll see when it happens.”

He was also asked where the money would come from to pay for the extension given congressional power of the purse, Trump insisted that “we have plenty of money.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Aug. 7, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump also vowed executive action to advance such issues as payroll tax deferment, continuing the evictions moratorium, and relief for indebted students.

“What we’re talking about is deferring the payroll tax for a period of months until the end of the year,” Trump said, adding that deferment of the payroll tax would be retroactive until July 1 and that it may be extended at the end of the year.

The president also promised to defer student loan payments and forgive interest until further notice, and extend the eviction moratorium.

“My administration continues to work in good faith to reach an agreement with Democrats in Congress that will extend unemployment benefits, provide protections against evictions. A terrible thing happens with evictions. Not fair. It wasn’t their fault that we were infected with this disease from China,” Trump said.

Trump said he might sign the relevant executive orders by the end of the week, adding that while he acknowledges the likelihood that “we’ll get sued,” the president said he wasn’t worried about an unfavorable outcome.

“No, not at all, no. Well, you always get sued. I mean, everything you do, you get sued. I was sued on the travel ban and we won. I was sued on a lot of things and we won,” Trump said, adding that he would also take executive action requiring health insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions.

“This has never been done before,” Trump said.

Friday’s last-ditch effort by negotiators on Capitol Hill to break through in talks on pandemic relief collapsed in disappointment, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying, “Unfortunately we did not make any progress today.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the White House rejected an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to curb Democrat demands by about $1 trillion.

“We’ll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion,” Pelosi said in a news conference on Friday, arguing that she offered a major concession to Republicans.

A spokesman said Pelosi is in general terms seeking a “top line” of perhaps $2.4 trillion since the House-passed HEROES Act is valued at $3.45 trillion. Republicans have said their starting offer was about $1 trillion but have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House offer higher.

Schumer urged the White House to “negotiate with Democrats and meet us in the middle. Don’t say it’s your way or no way.”

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How judge in Michael Flynn case did an about-face on prosecutorial misconduct

Sydney Powell, the lawyer for FBI perjury-trap target Michael Flynn, used to think she was on the same side as the judge who now refuses to let FBI misconduct stand in the way of prosecuting her client.

In her 2014 book “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice,” she praised District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan as someone who holds the government accountable for any wrongdoing in prosecutions.

Now she laments Judge Sullivan’s refusal to dismiss the Justice Department’s criminal case against Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served as President Trump’s first national security adviser.

Ms. Powell called the judge’s actions a “huge personal disappointment.”

She said Judge Sullivan previously had always valued Brady material or exculpatory evidence prosecutors must turn over to the defense, such as the evidence of an FBI setup of Flynn that prosecutors concealed.

“I always felt like he was the best champion on that,” Ms. Powell said of Judge Sullivan’s record on protecting defendants’ rights.

In the Flynn case, Judge Sullivan pressed to proceed with the prosecution after the Justice Department asked to drop it over alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
On Monday, Judge Sullivan’s bid to continue the case goes before a full panel of the Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals.

The exculpatory evidence — FBI notes revealing misconduct by Obama-era officials in surveillance of Mr. Trump’s campaign staff and associates — is the crux of the Trump Justice Department’s decision to drop the charges against Flynn.

“The government made it all up. They made up the basis to surveil [Flynn] to begin with — I think we are going to learn the surveillance went back to 2014,” said Ms. Powell.

She sat down recently with Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, for a public discussion about alleged wrongdoing at the Justice Department and FBI during the Obama administration.

Ms. Powell said the Obama administration was spying on Flynn as well as three other Trump officials only because they had Russian contacts, though Flynn was just doing his job as part of the transition team when he had phone conversations with then Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

It was his phone call during the transition, when he was acting as an incoming national security adviser, that the feds said Flynn lied about his contacts with Russians.

Ms. Powell dismisses the allegation, saying there is no recording from the FBI of their conversation with Flynn and he was forthcoming with agents.

“There was absolutely nothing wrong with those phone calls even [former FBI Director James Comey] admitted they were legit,” she said. “Everything that has come out has been exculpatory of General Flynn.”

Flynn pleaded guilty initially during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign and alleged conspiracy with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election, but Flynn later withdrew his plea after alleging government misconduct, saying the federal agents ambushed him during their interview.

Mr. Trump’s Attorney General William Barr also moved to drop charges in May after his department reviewed the case against Flynn, saying the agents’ questioning of the former national security adviser was unjustified.

But Judge Sullivan, in an unusual move, has not permitted the Justice Department to drop the charges and instead has gone to court to prolong the prosecution of Flynn.

A three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Flynn earlier this summer, saying the executive branch must have authority over who it chooses to prosecute, suggesting that Judge Sullivan overstepped his role.

But the judge appealed and the full circuit court in Washington, D.C. will consider the legal battle Monday. The hearing will be before 10 of the 11 judges on the circuit court.

Judge Gregory Kastas, whom Mr. Trump appointed to the appellate court in 2017, recused himself because he had previously worked in the White House counsel’s office and helped prepare its response to Mr. Mueller’s probe.

Of the remaining judges, seven were appointed by Democratic presidents while the remaining three were Republican appointments.

Among the notable judges on the panel are Judge Merrick Garland, a President Clinton appointment whom Republicans successfully blocked from having a hearing to be named to the Supreme Court and Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed last year Mr. Trump.

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Opinion | I Observed Joe Biden at Close Range for 20 Years. Here’s How He Wins—and Loses

With less than 90 days to go until the election, polls indicate the likelihood of a Biden win. But as a campaign operative, I can envision several scenarios that could dictate either a Biden victory or a Biden loss.

How Biden Can Win

Stay on message. A Biden victory will depend on the ruthless discipline of his campaign’s message narrative, which should be built around the intersection of the health and economic ramifications of the Covid-19 virus and the seismic effects of George Floyd’s killing on the conscience of our country. These are Trump’s biggest liabilities and should be a relentless focus of the Biden campaign.

The daily message should showcase Biden’s innate ability to project empathy, strength and knowledge in addressing these issues. Let the vice presidential nominee and other surrogates talk about everything else.

I realize Biden had to produce a lot of detailed policy plans to help him unite with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but talking policy (see Walter Mondale in 1984) will not get Biden over the finish line. Talking policy is just ammo for Trump to depict Biden as out of the mainstream for voters who dislike Trump, but need to be convinced that Biden shares their mainstream values. Biden can talk about policy when he is in the Oval Office.

Watch the map. The Biden path to victory follows both an Electoral College map and a Covid map. Four states that have seen large spikes in Covid-19 cases this summer—Florida, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina—were all lost by Hillary Clinton by roughly 5 points or less. Those states represent 81 electoral votes.

This is a math game for the Biden campaign and it needs to deploy resources judiciously. Trump beat Clinton with 306 electoral votes to her 232. If you add in the three states where Trump won by less than 1 percent—Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) and Michigan (16 electoral votes)—any combination of them and the Covid map that nets Biden 38 electoral votes would make him the next president, as long as the rest of the map stays the same.

Staying on the best path to 38 electoral votes should be the prime focus of the campaign, its deployment of resources and the candidate’s scheduling. Biden feels a deep loyalty to Democratic officials and activists around the country, for whom he was a frequent point of contact in the White House and a campaign surrogate. But he must resist their entreaties to target states that do not offer the best path for 270 electoral votes, which would deplete resources and dilute the focus of the campaign. Campaigning hard in Georgia might make sense because two U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. If Biden can help take one of them, then Georgia makes sense as a target. However, if by mid-September both those Senate seats seem out of reach, Biden needs to concentrate on the best trajectory to 270 electoral votes even if it doesn’t include Georgia.

Focus on the present. Biden began his campaign promising to restore normalcy, but the remaining days of the race are about convincing voters that he knows how to fix what is broken. The former VP has a penchant for discussing the past—he should stop doing that. At 77, his age is also an issue for some voters and Trump has already begun the smear of painting Biden as too old, out of touch and cognitively challenged.

Biden should not talk about the past other than to having been vice president under Obama, and keep even those references to a minimum. Obama’s involvement in the campaign should be enough of a reminder of that part of Biden’s past, and Obama is not on the ballot. The Biden candidacy should not be viewed by voters as the third Obama term, which would give Trump an opportunity to relitigate the mistakes of the Obama administration.

For the past four months of Covid, the race has indeed been Trump vs. Trump. Trump has badly mishandled the coronavirus response, resulting in more than 160,000 deaths and severe disruption to the economy and record unemployment. Trump also owns his disgraceful actions surrounding the killing of George Floyd, which have driven a wedge through the nation.

Left with few options at this stage in the campaign to shift the focus from coronavirus to Biden’s vulnerabilities, Trump and his team are beating the drums to open the schools, painting Biden and the Democratic Party as bad for the economy, wrongly suggesting that Biden supports defunding the police, and claiming that Biden is not up to the job. Trump may be bad, but he plans to make Biden seem like a worse alternative by Election Day.

Winning campaigns have a better understanding of the strengths and liabilities of their opponents than the opponents themselves do. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager said it best recently when he suggested that the Biden campaign should be looking hard at all the ways they could lose this election.

The reality is that Biden has not had a tough election since his upset win for the Senate in 1972. His campaigns for president in 1988 and 2008 were not ready for prime time. This is Biden’s moment to show he knows how to win a competitive race against someone like Trump who can never be underestimated or counted out until the last votes are tallied.

How Biden Can Lose

Drop the ball on voting itself. One way to lose the election is to let Trump steal it from you. Trump is already laying the groundwork by casting absentee ballots and voting by mail as the next massive fraud created by the Democrats. In all the battleground states, the campaign needs to ensure that its top surrogates and legal team do not allow the Trump campaign to suppress the vote.

As an example, what happens to facilitate or impede the ability of people to vote in Atlanta and surrounding communities in Fulton County will determine whether Biden really has a chance to win Georgia, and whether the Democrats have any real opportunity to win one or both of the U.S. Senate seats up for grabs there.

Getting all the votes counted in Georgia should be a full-time job between now and Election Day for the Biden campaign. And standing in the way will be Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who, in his former job as secretary of state, was accused of suppressing the vote in order to assist his gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams in 2018. The current Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who oversees the process for determining voter eligibility and the numbers of polling places across the state, could follow Kemp’s lead. These types of efforts are not confined to any one state, but are of a piece with the Trump campaign’s messaging nationwide.

Trump, like he did in 2016, is already casting doubt on the validity of the 2020 election and even floated the idea of delaying the election. That suggestion landed like a lead balloon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, usually Trump’s ally, stating that Election Day will remain November 3. However, it is likely that “election night” will turn into “election week” due to counting absentee ballots and votes by mail. Unless Biden wins in a blowout, like Ronald Reagan did in ousting President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Biden should expect Trump’s election night speech to be about how the election was stolen from him. Biden and his surrogates need to prepare now to mount a counteroffensive to this part of the Trump strategy.

Cede the narrative to Trump. Trump is a master at controlling the news, and another way Biden could lose is by letting Trump and his campaign dictate the focus of the campaign. The former vice president should memorize the findings of The New York Times poll on why 6 percent of 2016 Trump voters in six bellwether states will not vote for Trump in 2020 under any circumstances.

These voters say Biden would be better at unifying the country and they disapprove of Trump’s handling of race relations in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. They also trust Biden to do a better job managing the coronavirus, health care and immigration. These issues should be the core of Biden’s message from now until Election Day. Message discipline has never been the hallmark of Biden in any of his previous presidential campaigns, but he must be rigorous in sticking to his key points this time around.

Trump’s personal attacks on Biden and his family are likely to increase the more desperate Trump becomes. Biden should understand that Trump’s attack on Biden’s son Hunter for serving on the board of the Russian energy company, was just a warmup. Trump and his campaign will soon level unsubstantiated personal attacks on Biden and his family as well as outright lies about Biden’s overall health and fitness for the job.

But thanks to Mary Trump’s book on the dysfunction of the Trump family, Biden can still be the candidate of family values, a role he is uniquely suited to play. He should speak in the affirmative about his family, including the loss of his son Beau Hunter’s struggle with addiction, his relationship with his grandchildren and the loving relationship he shares with his wife, Jill. Biden’s family is like most American families—nothing is ever perfect and dealing with loss is part of life.

Biden’s family history of losing his first wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972 and raising his two sons as a single parent, while serving as a newly elected U.S. senator, is a part of the Biden persona that showcases his empathy, care for others, and ability to recover from loss.

Let it feel personal. Biden grew up in the age of politics when you could disagree on the substance of issues, but would never make it personal. If Biden now feels betrayed by someone like Lindsey Graham, his former friend and Republican colleague in the Senate, but now a Trump attack dog, for his investigation of Hunter Biden’s service on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, that is a problem. Biden needs to prepare himself for several weeks of vicious and untrue allegations about him and his family. He can’t wait for the attacks—he must develop a plan for how to handle what is likely coming at him.

Fail to fight back. The former VP is in a street fight with a bully from Queens. Politics is different in Queens than in Delaware. Biden needs his own guy from Queens at his campaign table to help him anticipate the low blows from Trump and how to fight back. There is no one smarter and tougher than Andrew Cuomo, a son of Queens, who has shown his leadership during the Covid crisis and rightly earned national praise as America’s governor. Cuomo has already shown during the Covid crisis how to handle Trump, with a combination of faint praise and searing criticism. Biden should call Cuomo today and get him involved in the campaign at a high level.

The Next Big Challenge: The VP Choice (and Cabinet)

In Biden’s own account of why he accepted Obama’s offer to join him on the ticket in 2008, he said the decision was largely based on the role Obama promised him, their shared sense that their differences were complementary, the compatibility they felt, and the fact that Biden believed he could help Obama govern.

However, Biden’s own selection of a running mate is a different, more complicated matter. For starters, Biden’s age is an issue for some voters and Trump will play this up. Second, Biden has described himself as a transitional figure and bridge to the future. Third, even though he has refused to pledge to serve only one term, the likelihood that Biden will be a one-term president, spoken or not, places enormous pressure on his running mate. She will be scrutinized and vetted like no other nominee for vice president.

Biden, however, puts a premium on personal chemistry and loyalty to those who’ve served him for a long time. Reports indicate that Susan Rice is a finalist for the VP slot because of her close working relationship with Biden from the Obama administration. Biden is reportedly very comfortable with Rice because he knows her the best of all the vice presidential contenders on his list. But the decision of whether Rice, who is very competent and smart on all matters of foreign policy, is the best choice should not just be based on her previous close working relationship with Biden.

After all, Biden hardly knew Obama until they were on the debate stage together during the 2008 campaign. That’s not to say Biden should pick someone with whom he fails to have chemistry—rather, Biden has to make sure that his comfort zone stretches beyond those with whom he has worked previously. The traditional vice presidential selection admonition of “do no harm” still holds, along with the strong consideration devoted to that person’s ability to take over as president.

There is one other important announcement that could be made before the convention—that being who would be Biden’s first choice for secretary of State. The former vice president knows better than anyone how fragile the world’s alliances are as well as the military threats from Russia, North Korea and Iran. The economic and foreign policy challenges with China get more complicated every day.

There is just one person for this job and it is Mitt Romney. Just picture Biden as the Democratic president and Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president, reassuring world leaders that America is once again united and ready to take the lead in solving the world’s problems.

Romney is very smart (he flagged Russia as the primary threat in 2012), honest and a patriot. Given the damage that Trump has done to America’s leadership position in the world in less than four years, a team of Biden and Romney could restore America’s position of international leadership by the end of his term. And it would send a signal to voters that a Biden administration would work across the aisle to get things done that are in the interest of the American people.

The Final Wild Card: Biden’s Stutter

There is one last difficult challenge for Biden and it deals with his stuttering. I have witnessed firsthand the challenges my older brother has faced since the age of 7 to overcome his stuttering. His courage and determination have resulted in significant progress—but not a complete end to his stuttering.

The in-depth article in the January/February Atlantic by John Hendrickson, a life-long stutterer, told the story of how hard Biden has worked his whole life to overcome his stutter. But, in the eyes of Hendrickson and others, it is present today in certain circumstances, most notably in the Democratic primary debates.

The so called Biden gaffes, mangling of certain words, looking down when he speaks—all point to an occasional, present-day struggle with stuttering. Yet Biden avoids acknowledging the stutter in the present tense. One can understand the importance of Biden’s narrative of how he overcame his stutter, but the stakes here are way too high not to acknowledge that his stutter still occasionally exists.

Issaac Bailey, who has also struggled with stuttering, wrote in Nieman Reports in March 2020 that when he watched Biden squeezing his eyes during a debate, Bailey recognized that “this type of facial tic is common to stutters who have to, in a split second, decide to struggle through a speech block or quickly substitute words on the fly.”

It can look, said Bailey, “like a moment of forgetfulness—or cognitive decline when it leads to a nonsensical-sounding sentence.” Bailey concludes with “what to the untrained eye looks like evidence of cognitive decline might not be.” Yet Trump and some journalists are making the case that such moments are evidence of Biden’s cognitive decline. Biden cannot let that false narrative continue.

Trump’s already vicious advertising makes Biden appear out of touch, with cognitive difficulties, while it reminds voters about his age. This remains Trump’s best chance to cast an unflattering light on Biden and make him appear unworthy of the presidency.

Biden has an opportunity to put an end to any questions about his mental capacity and cognitive capabilities by publicly acknowledging that he still occasionally stutters. Otherwise, questions about his cognitive abilities will continue to come at him from Trump and the media.

Trump’s last chance to take Biden down will be the three debates. If voters are aware that Biden may stutter in one or more of his answers in these debates, the American people will understand that he may have occasional difficulties with some words and phrases and not view Biden’s stuttering as evidence of cognitive decline. They will also think more highly of Biden for having the courage to be on that stage.

If Biden deals with this now, on his terms, and tells his personal story about occasional stuttering, Americans would see yet another aspect of Biden’s inner strength. And if Trump is then left to defend his record instead of succeeding in falsely portraying Biden as too old, cognitively challenged and unfit to be president, then Joe Biden is likely to be the next president.

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Robin Williams’ stand-up bit about ‘rambling’ Joe Biden resurfaces, goes viral on Twitter: ‘That’s perfect’

A 2009 clip of Robin Williams ripping into Joe Biden during a stand-up routine has resurfaced online, and fans are loving it.

Just days before Biden came under fire for his remarks about African American and Latino diversity, an old video from Williams’ HBO special “Weapons of Self Destruction” was posted to Twitter in which he calls the then-vice president out for his infamous flubs at speaking events.

“We still have comedy though, we still have great comedy out there. There’s always rambling Joe Biden. What the f–k,” Williams cracks to a crowd. “Joe says s–t that even people with Tourette’s go, ‘No, no. What is going on?'”


An old clip of Robin Williams poking fun at Joe Biden went viral on social media this week.

He joked: “Joe is like your uncle who is on a new drug and hasn’t got the dosage right.”

Fans were doubled over with laughter in response to the now-viral clip and claimed that if Williams were still alive today, he’d have even more material to work with.

“I’m telling you all right now, you may love the packaging, but the present inside is the same guy Robin Williams skewered, as I was reminded today. He’s still cranky, hostile to questioning, anti-progressive, jail-filling, law-hardening, not Trump,” one Twitter user reacted.

“He’d have even more ammunition with Joe Biden at present, as the guy cant keep it together at the rallies. But yes miss Robin Williams humour,” another tweeted.


“This pretty much sums it all up. The D in Democrat stands for dementia,” one quipped.

Others called Williams’ past analysis of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee “absolutely great” and said the late “Mrs. Doubtfire” star “just SAVAGES” Biden.


“I love this clip and miss Robin Williams!” another wrote.

Amid several fans declaring that Williams’ impression of Biden was spot-on, a few reminded the Twitterverse that Williams formerly took cracks at President Trump, too.


One fan shared a past clip of Williams who joked onstage that Trump “plays Monopoly with real f—ing buildings” and called him “The Wizard of Oz on acid.”

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Coronavirus outbreak at Seagoville Texas prison is worst in federal system

Russ soon got another call: James, a 65-year-old inmate with diabetes and HIV, had tested positive for the virus himself. Within days, he was rushed to a hospital as his oxygen levels plummeted. A few weeks later, after his condition deteriorated and he was placed on a ventilator, he was dead.

Five Seagoville inmates told CNN in phone interviews from behind bars that they feared for their lives as the virus rushed through the Dallas-area prison, and that the crowded conditions made it all but impossible for them to stay socially distanced.

“It came through here so fast that it’s out of control,” said Bobby Williams, an immunocompromised inmate who has about three years left on a more than two-decade drug sentence. He said he came down with severe pneumonia after contracting Covid-19 in June. “We’re packed like sardines.”

As the BOP has scrambled to stanch the spread of the virus in its facilities, the toll at Seagoville and elsewhere raises questions about whether the Trump administration is doing enough to release elderly and medically vulnerable prisoners — even as several high-profile inmates like former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and the rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine have been released from prison to home confinement.

The BOP declined repeated requests for an interview with officials at Seagoville or national officials involved in setting coronavirus policy. A spokesperson said the agency distributed cloth masks to every inmate and guard, began mass testing of inmates in the prison by late June and stepped up sanitation procedures, among other policy changes.

But the low-security men’s prison — which once held Japanese and German detainees during World War II, among others — is now a cautionary tale for how quickly the coronavirus can take deadly hold in correctional facilities.

Since the beginning of May, when there was only a single coronavirus case at Seagoville, the number of inmates who have tested positive has soared to 1,333, according to BOP data (including prisoners at a minimum-security camp next to the prison). Twenty-eight of the roughly 300 prison employees have also tested positive.

The outbreak means that the facility has more coronavirus cases than about 85% of the counties in the US.

Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for New York City’s jail system, who has inspected federal prisons’ coronavirus response plans, said outbreaks at Seagoville and other prisons were like “popcorn kernels popping off over an extended period of time.”

“There are many facilities that either have gone through the same thing or will,” he predicted. “This is really a tragic situation that’s playing out all over the country.”

Early release programs fall short

Prisoner rights advocates say that the BOP has fallen short on the most effective way to save inmate lives: reducing the number of vulnerable people inside the prisons.

Federal inmates have two paths to early release during the pandemic. The BOP is evaluating inmates for home confinement, which is granted based on factors like inmates’ age, risk factors for Covid-19, the seriousness of their offense and their conduct in prison. Manafort and several other high-profile inmates were released under this method, which was expanded under the CARES Act earlier this year.
The agency has released 7,444 inmates to home confinement nationwide over the last four-and-a-half months, according to data released by the agency, out of the more than 157,000 total in the federal system. A spokesperson declined to provide specific numbers for Seagoville or other individual prisons, citing “the fluid nature of the pandemic situation.”
Inmates can also apply for compassionate release, a procedure that was streamlined with the passage of the First Step criminal justice reform act in 2018. Inmates with health issues can ask a judge to reduce their sentence; they can also apply to their warden for the federal government to file a court motion for release on their behalf. So far, roughly 900 additional inmates have been released through that track this year, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a criminal justice reform group that has helped recruit attorneys to represent inmates in coronavirus cases.

But criminal justice experts call the releases so far a drop in the bucket compared with the vast numbers of elderly and medically vulnerable people in federal custody. Kevin Ring, the president of FAMM, said federal officials had been arguing in court against many inmates who have petitioned for compassionate release.

“It’s been disappointing because most of these people were elderly and sick and now they’re the most at risk from this disease,” Ring said, arguing that the Trump administration “should have been clearing these people out.”

Instead, he said, officials were “slow to react” when the coronavirus started its deadly march through prisons around the country. “We’ve watched it hop from facility to facility — when it hits one, it ravages it,” Ring said. “It has been terrifying to watch.”

Nationally, more than 10,000 federal inmates and 1,300 BOP employees have tested positive for coronavirus, while 111 inmates and one staffer have died.

Several other federal prisons have also faced dramatic outbreaks, although none that infected as many inmates as Seagoville’s. In Ohio, a judge ordered officials to release or transfer more than 800 vulnerable inmates at another federal prison ravaged by the virus, saying the conditions in the facility had possibly reached the level of “cruel and unusual punishment.” But an appeals court struck down that order in June, finding that the inmates did not prove the BOP was “deliberately indifferent” to the risks presented by Covid-19.
Some Democrats in Congress have pointed to Manafort’s release to argue that the administration isn’t treating inmates equally. If the coronavirus was “deadly enough of a virus that you needed to protect the former campaign manager, why not all of these Americans who also are vulnerable and have at-risk conditions?” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, asked Attorney General William Barr at a House hearing last week. Barr said he had nothing to do with the decision to send Manafort home but noted that the department had released thousands of inmates.
Federal inmate George Reagan, who has tested positive for Covid-19, and his wife Tabitha Wheeler-Reagan.
All five of the Seagoville inmates interviewed said they had been denied compassionate release or home confinement, and some said their families were planning to go to court. In a message denying his request for compassionate release, the prison’s warden wrote that “at this time COVID-19 is not considered extraordinary compelling circumstances” under the BOP’s compassionate release policy, inmate George Reagan told CNN.

The BOP spokesperson said the agency didn’t comment on specific inmates’ requests for early release.

For some inmates, the potential of early release came too late. Giannetta, a Massachusetts native who was serving a 14-year sentence for selling methamphetamine and other charges, applied for an early release from the warden and was denied, according to a filing by his court-appointed lawyer. The lawyer submitted an expedited motion for compassionate release on July 3, after he had already tested positive and been sent to a hospital. A judge dismissed the petition as moot after Giannetta died at the hospital on July 16.

Giannetta’s older brother Russ, a physics professor at the University of Illinois, said in an interview that he had sent medical documents outlining his brother’s myriad health issues to officials at the prison and even wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but his pleas for help didn’t seem to have any effect.

The Seagoville facility was a “petri dish,” Russ said. He said James knew even before he tested positive that he was in real danger: “He had a pretty good premonition that this was not a place that was going to be able to contain this virus if it broke out.”

Prison struggles to respond to outbreak

In interviews, inmates at Seagoville described a chaotic response to the outbreak by prison officials, whose efforts to slow the spread of the virus were hampered by delayed test results and a lack of enforcement of mask-wearing policies.

Bobby Williams, who has skin cancer and takes medicine that reduces his immune response, said he came down with pneumonia after testing positive for the virus. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I was passing out, I couldn’t breathe.”

He said doctors at the prison gave him steroid shots and a nasal spray that helped, but over a month later, he still feels the impact from the virus. Williams, 56, has been in federal prison for 22 years and has about three-and-a-half years left to go on drug and money laundering convictions.

Venters, the former New York jail medical officer, has conducted dozens of inspections of coronavirus response efforts in prisons and jails around the country, including BOP facilities. He said that while he hadn’t inspected Seagoville, the numbers and stories shared by inmates were troubling.

Bobby Williams, center, an inmate at FCI Seagoville who has tested positive for coronavirus, with his parents, Bobby and May Belle, in 2012.

“What I’ve found over and over is there is no special protections or special surveillance for high-risk patients,” Venters said. In many BOP facilities, he said, “I have observed very large numbers of people in very close quarters, which makes the spread of this virus inevitable once somebody becomes sick.”

One difficulty has been the delay in getting test results. Curtis Severns, a Seagoville inmate scheduled to be released next year after an arson conviction based on disputed evidence, said that he and other inmates faced a four-day delay between taking a test and getting the result last month — which meant that the prison didn’t move some positive inmates out of the general population until it was too late.

The BOP spokesperson said Seagoville was using a rapid 15-minute test machine as well as commercial lab tests that have turnaround times of three to 10 days.

Severns, who tested positive and was mostly asymptomatic, said he is now living with five roommates — all of whom have also tested positive — in a small former TV room converted to housing.

“I was amazed just how fast (the virus) went, once it started going,” he said. “I think everybody here’s going to get it.”

Mask wearing has been spotty among both guards and inmates, several inmates said, although they added that more people in the prison are now wearing masks regularly in the last week or two as cases have shot up.

Joseph Perrone, who said he is scheduled to go to a halfway house in a few weeks after about a decade in prison for selling cocaine, said he suffered headaches, a loss of smell and the worst muscle aches of his life after testing positive. “It felt like somebody beat me,” he said.

Perrone, 55, who said he worked in the prison’s food service at the beginning of the outbreak, said most of the guards overseeing him weren’t wearing their masks at the time and “they didn’t make us wear ours.”

Jails can spread coronavirus to nearby communities, study finds

“I was going to work and I’m sure I was infecting people,” he said.

Now, as the cases have reached a level that could result in a form of herd immunity in the prison, officials are starting to move operations back to normal, according to a memo to inmates that several described to CNN. Coronavirus-positive inmates who are symptom-free for 10 days will be considered recovered in most cases, and they will start to be moved back to their original housing locations soon, the memo said.

According to BOP statistics, 1,287 inmates at the prison have recovered from Covid-19, while 46 still have active cases.

Beyond the prison walls

Visitation has been shut down at Seagoville and other federal prisons for months — but outbreaks behind bars can still spread to local communities as guards and other employees go back and forth to work.

Correctional officers at the facility say they’re scared to walk inside the prison’s walls, especially because while the agency has tested most of the inmates, it hasn’t done the same for the prison’s 283 employees.

Anthony Simon, a case worker at the prison and a representative for the local union, said he had appealed to the management for broader testing. When he comes home from working at the prison or attending to inmates at a local hospital, Simon said, he strips off his clothes, puts them in a bag and showers before even greeting his wife.

“Everyone’s worried they could bring it home to their family,” Simon said. “But you’re still required to go to work — we can’t leave the inmates by themselves and say we’ll come back later.”

The BOP spokesperson said the agency couldn’t require employees to get tested, but it’s providing staff who come in close contact with Covid-19-positive inmates a letter to public health departments that can help them get prioritized for testing.

Research has suggested that prison coronavirus cases can seed broader outbreaks in their local communities. A study of Chicago’s Cook County Jail found that inmates going in and out of the jail may be linked with more than 15% of all the virus cases in Illinois as of April.

Still, local officials in Dallas County said they didn’t think that Seagoville was having a major impact outside the prison itself. The prison outbreak “has not strained our local health resources as the facility has handled their own response and contact tracing,” said Lauren Trimble, the chief of staff for the Dallas County Judge, the county’s top executive.

Family members of inmates have organized several protests in front of the prison in recent months. One of the protest organizers, Tabitha Wheeler-Reagan, a Dallas entrepreneur and activist whose husband is a Seagoville inmate, said she thought people in the community weren’t paying enough attention to the human suffering in the prison.

Her husband George Reagan, 55, who is scheduled to be released from a more than 5-year drug sentence next year, was sharing a cell with another inmate who got coronavirus in late June, she said. Reagan tested negative twice, so the prison didn’t isolate him from the other inmates, Wheeler-Reagan said.

147 Vermont inmates in Mississippi prison test positive for Covid-19

Then, early last month, Reagan called his wife with ominous news: he had lost his sense of taste. She said she immediately called the prison and demanded he get tested again. Once he did, he tested positive.

Wheeler-Reagan said she thinks the prison leadership didn’t take the outbreak seriously enough early on and the guards didn’t have proper training about how to respond. She was confused why prison officials rejected her husband’s bid for home confinement during the pandemic, especially considering he has heart disease and he’ll likely be eligible to go to a halfway house later this year, she said.

“I one hundred percent don’t think that the federal government cares at all,” Wheeler-Reagan said. “This is one of those situations where they can’t blame anybody but themselves.”

CNN’s Collette Richards contributed to this report.

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‘Poster Child Of Rogue Prosecutors’: Jodey Arrington, 16 House Republicans Call On Barr To Investigate Kim Gardner

Republican Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington joined 16 other House Republicans in calling for an investigation Thursday of St. Louis County’s “rogue prosecutor,” Democratic Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

The letter, which was sent directly to Attorney General William Barr at the Justice Department, urged an investigation into Gardner — particularly regarding her decision to prosecute Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis-based attorneys who were charged with felonies after they carried firearms to confront protesters who had illegally entered private property.

It read, in part:

Sadly, these God-given rights bestowed upon all citizens of the United States were trampled by the McCloskeys’ very own local officials, who are responsible for upholding the law. Their firearms were confiscated, and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged them with felonies, carrying penalties of up to four years in prison.

This decision is not only an abuse of power, it is a reckless assault on all citizens’ right to bear arms. As police are being told to stand down by feckless and fearful politicians, upstanding citizens across the nation have watched their neighborhoods and communities burn to the ground.

Arrington spoke to the Daily Caller about the letter, calling Gardner “the poster child of rogue prosecutors” and saying that she had prioritized the prosecution of two law-abiding American citizens over violent and destructive protesters. (RELATED: Gov. Mike Parson: Over 100 St. Louis Murders Go Uncharged While Kim Gardner Charges McCloskeys)

“The streets of our cities are on fire and innocent people are being murdered,” Arrington explained. “If people think this is ‘bass ackwards,’ as we say in Texas, wait until we have the scenario where we have a Democrat Congress and President.”

Arrington went on to say that, while those on the far left did not have a majority in Congress — and certainly not across the nation — he felt that they had been intimidated into going along.

“The left extremists don’t have the numbers, but they have certainly co-opted that party. We would have this wholesale across the country,” Arrington said, adding, “When local leaders hamstring the police and local prosecutors will not prosecute the criminals, you get the twin towers of evil.”

Citing Portland as another example — where violence and riots have gone on almost continuously for two months — Arrington brought up the Insurrection Act and said that it was time for President Donald Trump to consider getting involved.

“If you get to a point where the obstruction of justice is such that it’s impractical to enforce the law, if police are unable to do their jobs without being injured or killed, if that’s the case the president is completely justified and empowered to independently use federal resources to act,” Arrington explained. “It’s appropriate to show restraint for some time period, but after 60 days and the violence has been unabated, we have reached the point where it is impractical to enforce the law.”

“After two months it’s irresponsible to use the local control argument. If the will was there at the local level that would be different,” he concluded, adding, “2020 is a battle for the ages, what could be done and undone.”

The fellow House Republicans  who signed Arrington’s letter are as follows: Scott Perry (PA), Jody Hice (GA), Tom Tiffany (WI), Jeff Duncan (SC), Dan Bishop (NC), Doug Collins (GA), Brian Babin (TX), Tom Rice (SC), Dan Crenshaw (TX), Randy K. Weber (TX), Greg Murphy (NC), Paul Gosar (AZ), Alex Mooney (WV), Andy Biggs (AZ), Ron Wright (TX) and Andy Harris (MD).

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Covid’s next casualty — American restaurants (opinion)

“That’s no joke. That’s the real deal,” attests Donnie Madia, co-owner of Chicago’s beloved Blackbird, which was forced to shut its doors forever. “It was heartbreaking to make this decision.”
That heartbreak is increasingly common as independent restaurant owners face an economic apocalypse. Together, they make up a half million small businesses across the country, directly employing 11 million Americans, with an economic impact that is felt up and down the supply chain, from farmers to fishermen.
Most survived on small profit margins before the Covid-19 crisis compelled many to temporarily close, and re-open at 25% capacity, operating with skeleton crews doing takeout and serving food outdoors when the weather permits. Now, they’re trying to convince Congress to throw them a much needed lifeline in the form of the Restaurants Act, a bipartisan bill to establish a $120 billion grant program distributed through the Treasury Department.

“When you have John Cornyn and Elizabeth Warren co-signing, you know you have something — everyone knows this is a life-or-death struggle,” famed restauranteur Tom Colicchio told me. “Every dollar we take in, 90 cents going out the door — we’re not doing stock buybacks or bonuses to executives. So, putting stimulus dollars to work in the restaurant industry is a great investment …This will help keep commercial real estate afloat — this will help stimulate the economy.”

But despite one-third of Congress co-sponsoring the bill, it has not been taken up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as negotiations for a new round of relief drags on. One of the bill’s original co-sponsors, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker said in a statement to CNN that, “The growing momentum for the Restaurants Act in the Senate and the House is something that should be considered as the next recovery package comes together …This relief is also critical for other businesses in the restaurant supply chain like farms, bakeries, beverage distributors, and truckers.”

That supply chain is now breaking, with small family farms feeling the pain. “It’s nearly impossible to plan what we need to grow, how much seed to buy, or when we should start growing given the current situation,” said third-generation farmer Kate McClendon from Peoria, Arizona. “Farms like ours don’t have the connections to grocery chains and other businesses that might help us get through this. We depend on independent restaurants.”

This is a test of Congress’ responsiveness to small businesses, the unsung heroes and real backbone of the American economy, which often get short shrift when bailouts are being doled out to big businesses. While Wall Street has bounced back strongly after its sharp fall at the start of the pandemic — in which over 160,000 Americans have died — Main Street has been feeling the pain.
Unemployment rose to 30 million, and the GDP numbers saw their worst quarter ever recorded.
The US food system is killing Americans
Restaurants are the anchors of Main Street, pumping money back into their respective communities. The Restaurants Act’s sponsors believe their bill will reduce the unemployment rate by more than 2 percentage points — given the fact that restaurant and bar workers made up a staggering 60% of initial unemployment claims when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Restaurants are anchors of our neighborhoods, providing continuity with the past for residents and tourists alike. At a time when many Americans fear crime is rising, there are other ancillary benefits from restaurants. “Without restaurants on the ground floors, a lot of communities become unsafe,” Colicchio said. Think about it for a second and you know it’s true: It’s the light on an otherwise dark street, a safe and vibrant place that’s open late.
In addition to federal action, cities and states can help keep small businesses afloat through local initiatives, like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s directive to reduce and disclose the percentage that food delivery services like GrubHub and Uber Eats charge from restaurants. Other ways to reduce pressures on struggling restaurants could include temporary but automatic renewal of liquor and sidewalk café licenses as well as ensuring that business interruption insurance covers Covid-19.
In the case of historic restaurants — like San Francisco’s 171-year old Tadich Grill, which has just closed its doors — municipalities should consider tax breaks for owners who maintain culturally significant businesses. Whatever the prescription, more needs to be done to lighten the burden on these small businesses.

“Things right now are really on the edge,” Michael Shemtov of the Butcher & Bee restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina told me. “Just about everyone is at the end of their (federal Paycheck Protection Program) funds …This is the moment, and so many people are waiting and watching and they’re going to make the decision whether they are going to fight or fold based on what Congress does.”

This is a jump-ball moment for our local restaurants and the communities they serve. Once the weather turns cold, the outdoor seating work-arounds will no longer be operative — and without a vaccine, many will be forced to close their doors forever. You can’t un-ring that bell: Those closed storefronts will make our communities less safe and less distinctive. But if Congress acts, it can help these small businesses survive and thrive.

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The Right Needs Their Own Boycott: Social Media

This photo illustration taken on March 22, 2018 shows a woman looking at Social Networking applications Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Twitter, Messenger and Linkedin on a smartphone in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo by Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP) (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Usually we have to wait until the end of Lent for the torrent of articles by journalists flagellating themselves over their social media addictions. Easter came early (or is it late?) this year, however. Over at The Spectator USA, columnist Bridget Phetasy published an article aptly titled, “Twitter Has Stolen My Life.” In it, she meets her aged self on her deathbed. Bridget the Elder asks, “How do you feel about the time you spend on Twitter?” Bridget the Younger gives a mixed report. On the plus side, much of her professional and personal success is owed to social media. She’s an expert at promoting her “personal brand” in the digital age.

But there are downsides:

Well. Where do I begin? Like everyone, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. To be honest, I’ve always been skeptical of it and never really wanted to join in. Twitter is my fix, but you can insert any other social media platform you’re addicted to and what I’ll say will probably be true with minor variations.

The downside is that it robs me of joy.

That was my experience, too. I couldn’t have said it better myself: Twitter robbed me of my joy. That’s why, about three or four years ago, I decided to delete all of my social media accounts.

I haven’t looked back.

I’ve written about my opposition to Big Tech here and elsewhere. In short: social media makes you mean, stupid, impatient, and depressed. It takes a serious toll on your social, physical, and mental health.

Even the upsides given by Ms. Phetasy are cyclical. Sure, Twitter allowed her to flourish as a journalist in the Age of Twitter. But wouldn’t it be better if there was no Age of Twitter at all?

When it comes to social media, we all suffer from a weird kind of Stockholm Syndrome. We accept Twitter as a given and dare not imagine life without it. The most we can do is thank Big Twit for occasionally showering us with its favor. It’s like hearing some apparatchik say, “Yes, the Communist Party killed hundreds of millions of people and stole my humanity. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have gotten that cushy job in the Politburo without it!”

These confessions by social media addicts are always well-received by their readers. Ms. Phetasy’s article is currently the second-most read article on the Speccie website, and I expect it will overtake the first before it disappears into the blogosphere’s vast elephant graveyard. It’s obvious that many (perhaps most) Americans resent social media. But it’s as if they’re stuck in an abusive relationship: they want out, but they’re too afraid to change the locks.


Now, if this were only a matter of personal wellbeing, I’d be happy to keep playing up my Luddite schtick. The problem is that Big Tech, having successfully privatized the public square, uses its power to advance the progressive agenda.

Like the averse health effects of social media, this isn’t exactly breaking news. From censoring campaign ads to biased “fact-checking” to curating search results, Silicon Valley is openly working to undermine conservative and Republican causes. Surely, then, the sane thing for conservatives and Republicans to do would be to boycott social media.

And yet we don’t. We have voluntarily handed them the right to censor our political discourse. We know it’s wrong, both for ourselves and for our country. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything about it.

This is why—despite my admiration for folks like Josh Hawley and Elizabeth Warren, who want to break up the Big Tech monopolies—I can’t endorse their efforts. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram aren’t really monopolies. They don’t use price controls to maintain their market dominance. The service they offer is totally, completely, 100 percent free to consumers.

What Senators Hawley and Warren (like Ms. Phetasy) actually resent is Americans’ total lack of self-control. Almost three-quarters of American adults use social media. If they wanted to, they could simply walk away. But they won’t. They lack the willpower.

Every time I turn on some right-wing television channel or log onto some right-wing website, I hear the conservative masses wailing at the lack of “free speech” on these social-media sites. Guess what, folks? Facebook and Twitter are private companies. So far as they’re concerned, you have no free speech. They’re not bound by the First Amendment. They have no Constitutional duty to represent your “viewpoint.” That’s like walking into a Catholic Church and demanding the freedom to give a sermon praising same-sex marriage. It’s like sitting down at a vegan restaurant and insisting on the right to BYO filet mignon. Private property doesn’t go away just because you find it inconvenient.

In fact, Jack Dorsey could ban Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Ben Shapiro from Twitter if he so chose. Why not? It’s his website. If that awesome power alarms you—and it absolutely should—then deactivate your account.

Herein lies the bitter truth. Conservatives lack any whiff of self-discipline. That’s why we can’t organize a boycott to save our lives, even though progressives have been delivering our business leaders’ heads on silver platters for at least sixteen years. It’s why we completely gave up the fight for traditional marriage the moment Obergefell v. Hodges was handed down. (In fact, Dear Leader has been assiduously marketing himself to the LGBT voting bloc in the runup to 2020.) We’re all sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Let’s draw a line in the sand. If we conservatives can’t bring ourselves even to delete our Twitter and Facebook accounts, we deserve to lose. If we can’t reclaim the public square from progressive oligarchs, then they ought to rule the day. If we can’t break the ties that bind us to those Silicon Valley moguls—at no cost to ourselves—then we’ll get what we deserve.

“I have not yet begun to fight!” cried John Paul Jones in 1779. Nor have we. We’ve not allowed ourselves to suffer the slightest inconvenience in the defense of our way of life. If we continue giving our implicit consent for the Dorseys and Zuckerbergs to police our political discussions, then we may as well surrender now.

If you God-fearing, freedom-loving patriots really wish to “reclaim the narrative” from the Left, then stop giving them carte blanche to set the parameters of acceptable opinion. And don’t switch to some “alternative” platform, like GAB or Parlor. Stop choosing the lesser of two evils. Make a rule for yourself now: no evil, at any time, for any reason.

Then, delete your accounts. Swear off social media forever. If we can’t make this one small sacrifice—not only for our own good, but for the good of our country—we will lose battle after battle in the Culture Wars. And we will deserve every humiliating blow.

Michael Warren Davis is the editor of Crisis Magazine. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind (Regnery, 2021).