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For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.Four years ago, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senator after Republican senator made floor speeches, issued press releases, and went live on air to argue that in an election year, the American people deserved a chance to weigh in on the next Supreme Court nominee by first choosing their next president.
Now those chickens are coming home to roost.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace grilled Sen. Tom Cotton after the Arkansas Republican said the Senate “will move forward without delay” to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee, who may be announced as soon as next week. Mid-interview, Wallace played back a 2016 clip of Cotton defending the Senate for refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, Merrick Garland. “Why would we cut off the national debate about this next justice?” Cotton asked in the clip. “Why would we squelch the voice of the people? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the makeup of the Supreme Court?”
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“If it was wrong then, nine months before the election, why is it okay now, six weeks before the election?” Wallace asked.
In response, Cotton argued that election results in 2018 gave Senate Republicans a “mandate” to do, well, whatever the hell they want: “In 2014, the American people elected a Republican majority of the Senate to put the brakes on President Obama’s judicial nominations,” he said. “In 2018, we had a referendum on this question—just a month before the 2018 midterms, we had the vote on Justice Kavanaugh. There could not have been a clearer mandate, because the American people didn’t just elect Republicans, they expanded our majority. They defeated four Democratic senators who voted against Justice Kavanaugh. They reelected the one Democratic senator who did vote for Justice Kavanaugh.”
Then Cotton went a step further, claiming that it was a matter of “constitutional duty” to both block Garland in 2016 and confirm a Trump nominee now: “We have a clear mandate to perform our constitutional duty. That’s what the Senate majority will do now. That’s what we did back in 2016, as well.”
“You don’t see any hypocrisy between that position then and this position now?” Wallace asked.
“The Senate majority is performing a constitutional duty,” Cotton repeated, “and fulfilling the mandate the voters gave us in 2016 and especially in 2018.”
It remains to be seen whether accusations of hypocrisy will have any measurable effect on Senate Republicans’ actions now. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said yesterday the Senate should wait for the election winner to pick Ginsburg’s replacement; on Sunday, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she would not vote to confirm a nominee before Election Day. Since Ginsburg’s death Thursday night, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been urging other fence-sitters to “keep their powder dry” and offering justifications —and potential talking points—for why the situation with Ginsburg’s seat is actually, really, not at all like situation with Garland.
For those keeping score, though, be sure to read my colleague Tim Murphy’s long (but not comprehensive) list of GOP senators who, like Cotton, said a Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be confirmed in an election year.

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Thinking about the post-pandemic future and the scenarios that could emerge is as challenging as it is important. One cannot conceive of a more pressing issue for a progressive movement. Finding a workable response is thus of critical importance.Unfortunately, still missing at the moment is a powerful movement that can articulate a clear and convincing message capable of rallying sufficiently large numbers around the globe to the cause.
There is, in my reading, a general tendency on the political left to acknowledge the severity of the coronavirus crisis, but then to shift immediately to the possibilities for a major societal transformation. I find this optimism commendable but not always persuasive. As much of it—understandably—seems oriented as much toward what should be as to what is, I worry about overreach. The discussion too often lacks the kind of strategic thinking we need to get to a desirable future.
To be sure, uncertainty about how the crisis will play out makes it difficult to decide how to respond. The wide range of potential implications makes it all the more important to stand behind the commitments of the Great Transition Initiative, its dedication to social equality and political democracy, in particular. By and large, though, we are engaged in a theoretical discourse embraced by progressive intellectuals and activists, not one widely shared by most people around the world. That could change, but it is not the case at the present time.
Still, there are ongoing practical experiments of strategic relevance for a societal transition. Decentralized eco-communal movements around the world, including urban and rural eco-villages, can offer promising alternatives, foundations on which to scale upwards or launch new experiments. However, these initiatives remain small and relatively uninfluential measured against the size and power of the capitalist mega-machine pushing to return to pre-crisis ways.
As suggested by the authoritarian measures that have been imposed, there is a serious risk of conservative forces prevailing. In any case, these forces will not go away. Given the massive unemployment, major economic disruption, and widespread social anxiety brought by the coronavirus crisis, large numbers of people will unwittingly embrace the paternalist system of a political strongman, first and foremost in the desperate effort to feed their families. In contrast to the older view that people will rise up when things get bad enough, historical sociology shows that this is more likely when lives seem to have gotten better, coupled with new possibilities worth struggling for.
Unfortunately, still missing at the moment is a powerful movement that can articulate a clear and convincing message capable of rallying sufficiently large numbers around the globe to the cause. The program of such a movement needs to include essential elements of democratic socialism, but these ideals and practices have regrettably been discredited by the majority, especially in the U.S. To be sure, Sen. Bernie Sanders generated immense interest in this alternative among young people, but this is not yet the grounds for an emerging revolution.
Arguably, it is more likely that the crisis will set back progressive movements than facilitate them. People worried about their basic safety are not particularly interested in new social experiments. For many, the known system will appear to offer a safer bet. This will certainly be the case for the middle and upper echelons of contemporary society, whose fealty will enable established political and economic leaders to resume their activities with little decisive resistance.
In fact, we already see a rapid return of the old politics and the economic relations it promotes. For example, in San Francisco, the city’s billionaires are fighting the efforts of the local government to address coronavirus-related problems, especially those concerning the large homeless population. In Berlin, the older mainstream lines of political contention are reappearing as the country opens up: Lufthansa gets massively bailed out, but the essential workers, jobless, and social welfare recipients receive only minimal gains.
We need to think positively, but, in the process, we must be careful not to delude ourselves into believing that we are on the cusp of a Great Transition.Globally, we will most likely experience a combination of something resembling the existing capitalist order coexisting with a Fortress World. The great instability and the rhetoric of fear, accompanied by promises of protection, will lead many to support the politics of the strongman. This may result in further Covid-19 setbacks that wipe out whatever progressive gains had been made, President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil offering a sad example.
How should we then orient ourselves? In my view, the best strategy was laid out by the French philosopher and labor activist Andre Gorz. We need to pursue “structural reforms” (or “non-reformist reforms”), strategically moving ahead piece-by-piece where openings present themselves. But, crucially, these moves must be structurally related to a progressive agenda: they need to ensure and facilitate additional steps forward in political pursuit of the progressive agenda.
We need to think positively, but, in the process, we must be careful not to delude ourselves into believing that we are on the cusp of a Great Transition. In a more just world, the coronavirus crisis could well open the way for a major societal transition. But we are not living in such a world and need to think strategically in light of current political conditions, taking advantage of openings that present themselves along the way. As long as we do not lose the vision of the much-needed societal transition, a strategic focus on non-reformist reforms should be a central part of the way forward.
Originally published as part of the Forum “After the Pandemic: Which Future?” by the Great Transition Initiative

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For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), known for defecting from her party to vote against the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, bucked Republicans again to announce Sunday that she would not support the Senate holding confirmation hearings for the next Supreme Court justice until after the election.
“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election,” Murkowski said in a statement. “Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed.”
“I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election—less than two months out—and I believe the same standard must apply,” she added.
On Friday, very shortly before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Murkowksi had said in an interview that if a Supreme Court vacancy were, hypothetically, to come up, she would not vote to confirm a nominee before Election Day. “That was too close to an election, and that the people needed to decide,” Murkowski said on Friday.
Murkowski’s Sunday statement aligns with her prior ones. But she did not spell out as clearly as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) did yesterday whether she believes the Senate should confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee in a lame duck session if he were to lose the election. However, she appears aligned with Collins, who yesterday said the president elected in November should appoint the next Supreme Court justice.
Following the announcements from Murkowski and Collins, Democrats need two more Republican defections to stop the Senate from confirming Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court before the election.

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Less than halfway through the 2020 wildfire season, fires are burning large swaths of the western U.S. As in previous years, these disasters have entered populated areas, damaging drinking water networks. Water systems have lost pressure, potentially sucking in pollutants, and several utilities are warning of possible and confirmed chemical contamination.
We are environmental engineers who help communities affected by disasters, including support for responses to the 2017 Tubbs Fire and 2018 Camp Fire in California. As we concluded in a recently published study of burned areas, communities need to upgrade building codes to keep wildfires from causing widespread contamination of drinking water systems. They also need to act more aggressively to protect residents from possible toxic exposure immediately after fires.
How Wildfires Poison Water Systems
After both the 2017 Tubbs Fire in California’s Sonoma and Napa counties and the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, California, drinking water tests revealed a plethora of acutely toxic and carcinogenic pollutants. Water inside homes was not safe to use – or even to treat.

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Water pipes buried underground and inside of buildings were extensively contaminated. Both fires destroyed fire hydrants, water pipes and meter boxes. Leaks and ruptured hydrants were common.
After the fires passed, testing ultimately revealed widespread hazardous drinking water contamination in areas affected by both fires. Evidence suggests that the toxic chemicals originated from a combination of burning vegetation, structures and plastic materials.
Chemicals in the air may have also been sucked into hydrants as water pipes lost pressure. Some water system plastics decomposed and leached chemicals directly into water. Toxic chemicals then spread throughout pipe networks and into buildings.
Limited water testing by state and local agencies showed that benzene and naphthalene were present at levels that could cause immediate physical harm. These chemicals, as well as methylene chloride, styrene, toluene and vinyl chloride, exceeded limits for longer-term exposure.
All of these substances are volatile organic compounds – chemicals that readily evaporate into the air at room temperature. Many of them cause cancer. All can cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea after a brief high-concentration exposure.
Simply running a cold water faucet can release volatile organic compounds from tap water into the air. Heating water for showers or cooking makes them enter the air even faster, creating a more severe inhalation risk. Some can also be absorbed through the skin.
Protecting the Public
In our view, agencies should not underestimate health hazards posed by fire-damaged drinking water systems. Just in the past month, after the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned parts of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, California officials and a water utility issued and reissued an advisory allowing children to bathe in potentially contaminated drinking water. Five days later, when limited test results became available, both organizations recanted and said no one should bathe in the water.
To avoid this kind of error, we recommend issuing “Do Not Use” orders in the wake of major fires to protect the public before water testing results are available. We believe it is acceptable to use water for fire fighting and toilet flushing, but not for purposes that involve ingestion, skin exposure or inhalation, such as bathing or cooking.
Under no circumstance should people be told to smell the water to determine its safety, as officials recommended for months after the Camp Fire. Many harmful chemicals have no odor, so only testing can determine safety.
Advisories to boil water should not be used, since boiling speeds up the release of toxic chemicals into the air. Nor do we recommend “Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” advisories, which allow bathing in contaminated water.
Before agencies lift or modify advisories, we believe they should be required to carry out thorough chemical screens of water systems. Too often, officials charged with protecting public health fail to take this step, exposing people to needless risk. More typically, they act like California’s San Lorenzo Valley Water District, which lifted a post-wildfire “Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” order in parts of its territory on Sept. 7, 2020 with a notice to ratepayers that “If test results reveal anything harmful, you will be advised promptly.”
Agencies also need to test buildings for water contamination. Home drinking water quality can differ from room to room, so reliable testing should sample both cold and hot water at many locations within each building.
While infrastructure is being repaired, survivors need a safe water supply. Water treatment devices sold for home use, such as refrigerator and faucet water filters, are not approved for extremely contaminated water, although sales representatives and government officials may mistakenly think the devices can be used for that purpose. While survivors wait for safe water to return, government agencies should ensure that reliable emergency water supplies are available.
Update Building Codes for Future Fires
Our research underscores that community building codes are inadequate to prevent wildfire-caused pollution of drinking water and homes.
Adopting codes that require builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation would help prevent infrastructure from burning so readily in wildfires. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite. Some plastics may be practically impossible to make safe again, since all types are susceptible to fire and heat.
Installing one-way valves, called backflow prevention devices, at each water meter can prevent contamination rushing out of the damaged building from flowing into the larger buried pipe network. Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps should exist at every water meter box. Sample taps can help responders quickly determine water safety.
As the past several years have shown, many communities need to be better prepared for wildfires. Two years after the Camp Fire, the town of Paradise, California is still clearing and repairing its water system, at an estimated cost of up to US$150 million. We believe the time to upgrade in other towns is now.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Aug. 3, 2020.
Disclosure statement:
Andrew J. Whelton receives funding from the US National Science Foundation, Paradise Irrigation District, US Environmental Protection Agency, Paradise Rotary Foundation, and Water Research Foundation.
Caitlin R. Proctor receives funding from US National Science Foundation, Paradise Irrigation District, US Environmental Protection Agency, Purdue University, and Paradise Rotary Foundation

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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For months, one postal worker had been doing all she could to protect herself from COVID-19. She wore a mask long before it was required at her plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. She avoided the lunch room, where she saw little social distancing, and ate in her car.
The stakes felt especially high. Her husband, a postal worker in the same facility, was at high risk because his immune system is compromised by a condition unrelated to the coronavirus. And the 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service knew that her job, operating a machine that sorts mail by ZIP code, would be vital to processing the flood of mail-in ballots expected this fall.
By mid-August, more than 20 workers in her building had tested positive for the coronavirus. Then, in a list of talking points on her supervisor’s desk, she spotted a reference to a new positive case at the plant. She had heard that someone she’d worked with closely a few days earlier was out sick, but no one at USPS had told her to quarantine, and no contact tracer had reached out to her. Although USPS’ protocol is to tell workers when they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, that didn’t happen, she and another postal worker familiar with the case said.

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Asking around, she learned that a colleague she’d partnered with to load mail into the sorting machine had been infected. She phoned her doctor, who advised her to quarantine and get tested. Later that week, she tested positive and began suffering body aches, a sore throat and fatigue.
“They should’ve told anybody who worked with him, ‘You need to go home.’ What is it going to take, somebody to die in the building before they take it seriously?” said the worker, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In recent weeks, furors over Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s cost-cutting initiatives, and over President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated warnings of voter fraud, have overshadowed a significant threat to the Postal Service’s ability to handle the expected tens of millions of mail-in ballots this fall: a rapid rise in the number of workers sidelined by COVID-19.
The total number of postal workers testing positive has more than tripled from about 3,100 cases in June to 9,600 in September, and at least 83 postal workers have died from complications of COVID-19, according to USPS. Moreover, internal USPS data shows that about 52,700 of the agency’s 630,000 employees, or more than 8%, have taken time off at some point during the pandemic because they were sick, or had to quarantine or care for family members.
High rates of absence could slow ballot delivery in key states, especially if there’s a second wave of the coronavirus, as some epidemiologists predict. Twenty-eight states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, require mail-in ballots to arrive by Election Day to be counted.
Even in a normal year, absentee levels of this magnitude “would have a dramatic effect on the mission of the postal service,” said Alan Kessler, an attorney who served on the Postal Service’s Board of Governors during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, including as chairman from 2008 to 2011. “When people ask me about November, my biggest concern right now is exactly that — the on-time delivery of mail.” Kessler is a former finance vice chair of the Democratic National Committee.
What vacant positions have been filled at USPS have been filled by less experienced temporary workers. Restrictions on overtime pay under DeJoy may have prevented full-time workers at some facilities from adding hours to pick up some of the slack. While USPS has nearly $14 billion in cash, it reserves some of that funding to pre-pay employee pensions, and it is projected to run out of money next spring. On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington state temporarily halted operational changes that have slowed mail delivery, finding that “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
As the St. Paul worker’s case illustrates, the Postal Service’s half-hearted precautions against COVID-19 have contributed to the problem. Its efforts to limit the virus’s spread in the workplace fall short of recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike Amazon, which relies on USPS to help deliver its packages, the Postal Service doesn’t test workers or check their temperatures, depending instead on self-reporting. When employees get sick, USPS sometimes neglects to tell co-workers, and its efforts at contact tracing have been inconsistent and understaffed.
Reflecting these shortcomings, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has received more than 250 coronavirus-related complaints against the Postal Service since March, more than twice the number filed against private employers in the same industry like Amazon, FedEx and the UPS. Amazon, which has almost 250,000 more workers than the postal service, had 117 complaints. The complaints against USPS paint a worrisome picture. They typically allege failures to maintain social distancing, enforce mask wearing or inform workers when colleagues have the virus.
The tally doesn’t include open complaints yet to be made public, including one by another worker in the same St. Paul building. That July complaint, obtained by ProPublica, accused USPS of “not communicating and informing employees that may have potentially been exposed to positive COVID-19 employees,” as well as inadequate ventilation and six other hazards. The Postal Service responded to OSHA that it traces contacts of all employees who test positive and encourages ailing employees to stay home. Nevertheless, OSHA told the complainant that it will inspect the facility as soon as possible.
The Postal Service has been adamant that it can handle a nationwide increase in voting by mail in the general election. Even a mass shift to mail-in ballots would represent a small portion of its overall volume.
Still, DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, acknowledged in congressional testimony last month that COVID-19-related absences had upended mail service. “Across the country, our employee availability is down 3 to 4% on average,” DeJoy said. “But the issue is in some of the hot spots in the country, areas like Philadelphia and Detroit — there’s probably 20 [other areas] the averages cover — they could be down 20%. And that is contributing to the delivery problem that we’re having.”
The Postal Service referred us to an April 30 statement on its website. Its COVID-19 leadership team “is focusing on employee and customer safety in conjunction with operational and business continuity during this unprecedented epidemic,” according to the statement. “We continue to follow the strategies and measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health departments.”
Among its initiatives, the statement said, the Postal Service is supplying its more than 30,000 locations with masks, gloves and cleaning supplies. Employees who can’t maintain social distance must wear masks. The service has reduced employee contact with the public by eliminating a rule that customers must sign mobile devices for deliveries, and it has updated its leave policy to allow workers to take extra time off for illness and child care.
Postal workers who test positive are supposed to tell their supervisor, who should alert a nurse responsible for contact tracing. But communication is sometimes lacking. “They have the occupational nurse doing the contact tracing, but sometimes there’s no contact with the worker. And some managers don’t report [the case] to the tracking. Some managers tell people, ‘You don’t sound sick, come to work,’” said Omar Gonzalez, western regional coordinator at the American Postal Worker Union. “So we don’t really know what to rely on.”
One reason that the system breaks down is a shortage of contact tracers. USPS, which does not provide medical care to workers, employs about 160 nurses. Alongside other administrative duties, they are supposed to register COVID-19 cases and interview workers when they get sick. In the New York district, one nurse has been responsible for contact tracing for about 8,200 employees; in Detroit, the ratio is two nurses per 11,600 workers; and in Atlanta, one for 12,500. Facilities in all three districts have seen coronavirus outbreaks. USPS has reemployed 10 former agency nurses to assist with contact tracing, according to a spokesperson.
“To use the word contact tracing is a joke,” said Jonathan Smith, president of the New York metro area’s postal worker union.
Coronavirus outbreaks in several areas have correlated with slower delivery times. First-class delivery has slowed since March, with notable lags in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Southern California, according to data from GrayHair Software, which tracks postal analytics.
COVID-19 has “caused severe disruptions to on-time delivery in many parts of the country,” the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs reported this week. In late March and early April, it found a spike in cases in Michigan, “especially in the Detroit area,” led to a “notable drop in on-time delivery.”
In Philadelphia, where more than 235 postal workers have tested positive, local media outlets reported unsorted mail piling up in postal facilities and carriers unable to complete routes even after working extra hours. Some residents said they went two to three weeks without receiving mail. In April, COVID-19-related delays in Detroit facilities slowed delivery of primary ballots for parts of northwest Ohio, prompting Ohio’s secretary of state to call for in-state processing of all ballots. In Michigan’s August primary election, more than 6,400 residents’ votes weren’t counted because they arrived after the deadline, though it’s not clear whether COVID-19 was a major factor.
Internal USPS data from its southern region in mid-August shows the impact of the coronavirus on workers. In Atlanta, more than 900 postal workers had been infected with COVID-19 or had to quarantine. More than 550 workers were affected in Houston and an additional 485 in South Florida.
COVID-19 outbreaks have strained postal offices that had inadequate staffing even before the pandemic, said Michael Caref, national business agent of the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “Now you’re seeing crisis levels in some areas.”
In March, the Postal Service donated 500,000 N95 masks “in excess of our needs” for distribution to hospitals and other critical workers, according to a draft letter from the Board of Governors to members of Congress that was made public by American Oversight. However, the service doesn’t provide N95 masks, which are considered especially effective at filtering out virus particles, to most of its own employees. A Postal Service spokesperson said USPS supplies N95 masks to employees who require them. Other workers receive surgical masks.
The CDC and OSHA have both released guidance on how employers should protect workers, though it does not carry the power of law. According to the CDC, “businesses and employers can prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace.”
The CDC advises employers to “consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g., symptom and/or temperature screening) of employees before they enter the facility.” The Postal Service doesn’t conduct those checks. The onus falls on workers to stay home if they notice symptoms, get tested, report back on results and recall whom they were in contact with.
At Amazon, which has also been criticized for failing to protect its employees during the pandemic, precautions are more stringent. According to an Amazon spokesperson, the company does daily temperature checks and has installed thermal cameras at some of its sites. When an employee is exposed, the company “immediately kicks-off contact tracing to determine if anyone was exposed to that individual, and we inform those employees right away and ask them to quarantine for 14 days with pay,” the spokesperson said.
FedEx’s protections also appear more robust than the Postal Service’s. FedEx checks temperatures of employees at some of its sites, and it has expanded testing to 43 locations since July, according to a company spokesperson.
The CDC advises employers to collaborate with local and state health departments on contact tracing. According to its guidance, employees who are asymptomatic but have been within about 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time should self-isolate and quarantine for 14 days. Often, contact tracing is needed to identify those employees.
But even when USPS employees report positive tests, supervisors don’t always follow through. In August, an asymptomatic employee in Flint, Michigan, tested positive for COVID-19 and told a supervisor as well as a few co-workers. The worker stopped coming in, but the supervisor didn’t inform USPS’ medical unit until four days later — after the exposed workers had told their union, which in turn reported the case to management. Michael Mize, the local postal union president, said he pushed the supervisor to report it. A USPS nurse started contact tracing on the fifth day.
“That’s way too slow,” said George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine.
Because most people infected with COVID-19 often begin shedding large amounts of virus four or five days after they’re exposed, even if they’re asymptomatic, co-workers in Flint might have transmitted the disease before the nurse contacted them, Rutherford said. “That’s why you gotta get on this stuff quickly.” According to CDC guidance, exposed co-workers should be contacted and tested within 24 hours.
USPS and union officials had a Zoom call to discuss what went wrong in Flint, Mize said. “Luckily we don’t have any major outbreaks because of any failures that happened,” he said. “If things aren’t handled appropriately, you’re relying on good fortune.”
Roscoe Woods, a Detroit-area postal union president, said that USPS sometimes lacks up-to-date contact information, complicating the task of contact tracers. In addition, employees often don’t know the surnames of exposed co-workers. “You’re trying to trace down eight people and all their contact information is bad,” said Woods, who has stepped in to help with contact tracing in the past.
When employees are sidelined because of the coronavirus, USPS can fill in some of the gaps by hiring employees who aren’t in the union. But the Postal Service has long had trouble hiring and retaining temporary or non-career employees, and union representatives say the Postal Service has been slow to fill these roles during the pandemic.
In February, the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General faulted the agency for failing to recruit and retain nonunion workers. In 2019, the annual turnover rate for non-career employees, who constitute 21% of the workforce, was 38.5%; the average tenure for workers who left their jobs was just 81 days. One of the top reasons for leaving: Workers said that supervisors didn’t treat them with respect. The jobs filled by these workers are physically strenuous, pay about $17 an hour, lack benefits and often require an inconsistent work schedule. It can take weeks to hire and train them.
“The hiring process is really slow,” Caref said. “And if you have a person that says they want to work, the person is not prepared for a month after they’ve been hired. They really need to figure that out.”
Virus-related OSHA complaints from around the country reflect some of the dangers and frustrations postal workers have faced throughout the pandemic.
“The station and the vehicles have not been cleaned and sanitized. Bleach spray bottles were provided at one time but the employees were not provided material to wipe down surfaces and the bottles have since broken,” reads a complaint filed from Houston on June 18. “Employees in the vehicles do not have hand sanitizer or another method to cleanse hands while away from the station.”
In a postal facility in Smithtown, New York, “the air conditioning has not been working properly for the last 3-4 weeks (blowing 81 degrees at the vent) which has made working in the building uncomfortable and may be contributing to employees not wanting to [wear] their masks,” a complaint stated in mid-July. It’s unclear what action, if any, OSHA took on the Houston and Smithtown complaints, which are now closed.
Since the worker in St. Paul began quarantining in mid-August, there have been at least 11 COVID-19 cases at her workplace, according to Postal Service emails obtained by ProPublica. Overall, at least 33 out of more than 1,000 workers have tested positive at the building since the start of the pandemic.
In USPS’ Northland District, which covers Minnesota — including the St. Paul plant — and western Wisconsin, at least 148 workers have tested positive. “We had a record breaking day with COVID-19 positive cases today. 18 employees must be quarantined. This is not a good record,” reads an Aug. 25 email from USPS management to unions regarding the Northland District.
“We had 4 new COVID-19 cases reported today. Things aren’t getting any better,” management said in an email two days later.
No one replaced the St. Paul postal worker while she was out. She returned to the job this month, even though she was still recovering and low on energy, because she needed the money. After two weeks of sick leave, her days off were unpaid, and her husband hasn’t worked for four months because of an unrelated health condition. Plus, the situation at the plant has improved somewhat: Social distancing has become mandatory in the break rooms, and employees were warned that not wearing masks could jeopardize their jobs.
She also felt a civic obligation, because she’ll be responsible for processing thousands of ballots in the upcoming election.
“That’s another reason why I want to go back to work,” she said. “I want to make sure the ballots get run.”
Jack Gillum and Rachel Glickhouse contributed reporting.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

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Over the last couple of years, the term “antifa” has been moved from its historic role describing a type of militant anti-fascist organizing to a codeword for any militant, left-wing protest by right-wing ideologues bent on manipulating white anxiety. As a new wave of Black Lives Matter protests began in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a frantic far right in the U.S. has accused every demonstration as being orchestrated by “antifa,” despite no antifascist organization being in the driver’s seat and the protests being an organic mass uprising. Donald Trump has accused antifa “outside agitators” as being responsible for riots and looting, and Attorney General William Barr has suggested that antifa is staging a revolutionary war in the streets of the U.S. Many on the right, from Fox News to Sen. Ted Cruz, intimate that anti-fascists are responsible for all things lawless, and despite the lack of evidence for any of these claims, the rhetorical abuse continues.
This has prompted social media and crowd-funding platforms to attempt to regulate how their platforms are used by radical political organizations. Recently, Facebook decided to shut down a number of far right pages and groups, including those associated with the right-wing conspiracy theory “QAnon.” In an effort to be “balanced,” Facebook also closed a number of pages they labeled as “antifa,” though this simply meant anarchist news outlets like It’s Going Down and Crimethinc (as well as the PNW Youth Liberation Front, a group involved in organizing the anti-brutality protests in Portland, Oregon). This raised condemnation since there seemed to be no logic to the left-wing and radical antiracist pages that were taken down, but instead the vague belief that antifa was staging violence (and that these pages must also be antifa) that led to their closure.
Social media companies aren’t the only platforms retaliating: The print-on-demand t-shirt company Teespring decided to temporarily deplatform a long-time account holder, Antifa International, which organizes the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund. The organization sold t-shirts through Teespring to raise money for victims of far right violence or for those facing legal repression for antifascist activism, which they distribute from the Fund. On August 6, organizers of the Fund say they received an email from Teespring saying that their shirts were deleted from the website for “copyright violations.” The Fund organizers say they own the trademark on their logo, and responded with documentation. Teespring replied explaining that the shirts were removed for using the word “antifa.”

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“Teespring says they removed anything with the word ‘antifa’ in it [because] of a lot of recent campaigns being set up promoting violence and using the word ‘antifa’ — both for and against anti-fascism,” says Walter Tull, an organizer with the Fund. “But we have a history with them taking a very heavy hand and unreasonably removing anti-fascist campaigns going back at least two years.”
Teespring had earlier taken down a shirt that raised money for Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Action in 2018, as well as a shirt with Mjolnir, Thor’s Hammer, that says “This Hammer Smashes Fascists” on the back.
While the Fund is not an anti-fascist group that does on-the-ground organizing, a big question has been raised as to why it was deplatformed, particularly since Teespring had maintained accounts that are selling images associated with far right politics, many of which have been traced to verifiable acts of violence.
“The whole idea is that anti-fascists put themselves in dangerous situations and when they run into trouble, all antifa need to stand with them in solidarity,” says Tull. “That means we help bail antifa out of jail, help them get proper legal representation, help them pay off fines, help pay their medical bills, help them relocate if they’re no longer safe where they live, etc. But we don’t use the money we raise to fund other antifa projects or operations — ‘violent’ or otherwise.” The Fund’s assistance includes providing financial support to survivors of the Charlottesville attack in 2017, and other donations of about $83,000 to over 500 people in 22 countries.
The Fund documented a number of shirts that Teespring had kept on the site over the years, including Proud Boys and Three Percenter militia shirts, both of which have been tied to dozens of acts of violence.
Several far right pages are still active on Teespring at the time of this writing. This includes pages for QAnon, a conspiracy theory tied to acts of violence that claims that the Democrats are running a Satanic cabal of pedophiles. Truthout found numerous Three Percenter shirts, which represent one of the largest far right militia organizations in the country. There were also “anti-antifa” shirts still available, including one using the far right meme “pantifa.” There are still numerous items depicting far right conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate, and “God Emperor Trump” images popular with members of the “alt-right” or white nationalists. Truthout also found shirts with the Nazi “Waffen SS” on it; shirts for the neo-fascist “identitarian” movement; the far right slogan “It’s Okay to Be White”; and the nationalist slogan “America First.” Teespring had previously caused controversy by hosting a shirt that mentioned lynching, selling a shirt that celebrated Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, and offering “white pride” shirts, which were taken down after this writer sent a message to the company inquiring about them.
Much of these inclusions can be explained by Teespring’s model of print-on-demand, where the company may not give a great deal of attention to each design coming in. This has changed, however, as certain politicized terms are being identified as potential problems, such as anything mentioning “antifa.” This leads many to wonder why antifa is getting the specific treatment while the same has not been universally applied to far right movements.
The Antifa International Defence Fund inquired with Teespring to ask if antifa-themed products were being disproportionately targeted, or if the company had more allegiance to the far right. “Teespring is not a fascist company. Due to the recent increase of violent Antifa content, we have removed all Antifa related listings until we are able to review the intent behind the designs. We have reviewed your content and it has been re-enabled,” said Teespring in its email to the Fund, which did not cite any specific “violent Antifa content.”
After they first learned of the take-down, the Fund started posting their questions publicly, encouraging supporters to reach out to Teespring to ask what happened. The incongruency in the policy on political organizations felt glaring, and Teespring responded by reinstating the Fund’s account. While the company said in its email to the Fund that it “removed all antifa related content,” it is unclear if this means that other anti-fascist organizations are likewise going to be reinstated if they have been banned.
Teespring press relations representative Daisy Leigh responded to Truthout’s request for comment with a prepared statement:

It has come to our attention that some violent content surrounding the anti-fascist protest movement Antifa has been circulating on Teespring. As soon as the word Antifa was flagged in our system, we took listings down for both pro & anti supporters, until we were able to review the intent behind the designs. If the content (containing the word Antifa) does not violate our policies we will re-enable the listing in due course.

Leigh, however, did not indicate what “violent content” the company was responding to. “The company invests in both human and machine review technology to flag content which violates our policies and community guidelines, which are in place to both support and protect our creators and customers alike. We categorically do not support the promotion of any offensive, unlawful or violent activity on the platform, and are continually striving to perfect this reviewing process,” the statement concludes.
Teespring is not the only tech company trying to adapt to changing user-generated content and figure out what does and does not violate acceptability standards, and it is likely that similar controversies will erupt as public pressure mounts for these companies to address problematic political behavior.
Antifa International has decided to not continue working with the company, and to instead use other avenues for their fundraising. “Since we went public about Teespring, we’ve received multiple offers from other shirt-printing operations, so we’re taking a close look at them to figure out which is the best one to go with,” says Tull. “Happily, selling antifa t-shirts is just one of many ways we raise money for the Defence Fund. We still have dedicated monthly contributors, crowd-funders, private donations and fundraising events that together comprise a much larger portion of the fundraising efforts than t-shirt sales.”
It is unclear if anti-fascist organizations will continue to be deplatformed, from Facebook to pay services to print-on-demand options like Teespring. Much of the claims about “antifa” are based on hyperbole and conspiracy theories, putting many of these organizations and projects at further risk of losing platform access and revenue. This may only increase as the Republican Party and right-wing media outlets continue to use “antifa” as the new “Red Scare” boogeyman in an effort to trump up their “law and order” bona fides. As we have seen with the increased police violence at protests and the repression activists are facing, this kind of rhetoric has real consequences, and deplatforming is only the beginning of them.

Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Tasos Katopodis/Getty

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.This weekend, President Donald Trump vowed to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat by nominating a woman as soon as “next week.” But in a Sunday morning appearance on ABC News’ This Week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t rule out any options—including impeachment—to run out the clock on seating Ginsburg’s replacement.   
“We have our options,” Pelosi told George Stephanopoulos when he asked her about speculation that the House could impeach Trump or Attorney General William Barr to delay the Supreme Court confirmation process. “We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now.”
Pelosi said she was uninterested in using the threat of a government shutdown to stall the confirmation. But everything else, it appears, is on the table: “We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of the American people,” she told Stephanopoulos with a smile. “Protecting our democracy requires us to use every arrow in our quiver.”
Pelosi also did not answer when asked if she would consider expanding the number of justices on the court next term, if Democrats were to win the Senate. “We should be very calm, we should be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” she said. “She was brilliant, and she was strategic, and she was successful.”

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The international community is pushing back against U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Saturday night claim that United Nations sanctions on Iran have been restored—the administration’s latest attempt to escalate tensions with the country—by noting that President Donald Trump ditched the related nuclear deal two years ago.”Whether this is mere bluster or portends a potential October surprise remains to be seen but anyone opposed to more reckless wars should be on high alert.”—Jamal Abdi, NIAC
“With a track record of failure on Iran, the Trump administration’s spin machine appears to be going into overdrive heading into November,” Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), declared in a statement Saturday. “Whether this is mere bluster or portends a potential October surprise remains to be seen but anyone opposed to more reckless wars should be on high alert.”
“The administration’s claims that it has successfully snapped back U.N. sanctions on Iran this evening are a farce that defy the international community and a basic comprehension of facts,” he said. “Having been rejected repeatedly by our erstwhile negotiating partners at the U.N. Security Council, the Trump administration wants to pretend that U.N. sanctions are back in place. They seem to have deluded themselves, but the real world will remain unconvinced.”
Putting Pompeo’s stunt into the context of the administration’s Iran policy, Abdi added that “ultimately, Trump’s efforts to kill the deal by a thousand cuts have been defeated—for now—because he never had a realistic alternative and never listened to and entertained the views of close allies. The administration simply thinks diplomacy is accomplished through brute force, which has only secured their isolation on an issue the U.S. has historically had significant multilateral support.”

This sums up Trump’s #Iran Policy, an embarrassing failure.
We’ve become so numb to the insanity of this admin that extraordinary headlines go unnoticed, but the world siding with Iran as the US creates an alternate reality is pretty striking. pic.twitter.com/n9BMkCYoKa
— Assal Rad (@AssalRad) September 20, 2020

In May 2018, Trump ignored warnings from anti-war advocates and foreign policy experts about the potential global consequences and announced that he was pulling the United States out of the  Iran nuclear agreement. Since then, his administration has made several moves to ratchet up tensions between Washington and Tehran, from imposing more sanctions and harassing a civilian plane over Syrian airspace to assassinating Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in January, which a top U.N. expert has determined was a violation of international law.
Officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal was negotiated under former President Barack Obama. Early voting has already started for the next U.S. general election, in which Trump faces Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president, who has said he would return to the JCPOA.
Pompeo, in addition to playing a lead role in the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran as the the United States’ top diplomat, made an unprecedented decision to attempt to aid in the president’s reelection effort last month by delivering a speech to the Republican National Convention from a rooftop in Jerusalem while he was there on official government business.
The administration in August also made another move in its campaign against Iran: trying to trigger a sanctions “snapback” mechanism in U.N. Security Council resolution 2231—which enshrined the nuclear deal—by notifying the council about Iran’s alleged “significant non-performance of its JCPOA commitments.”
This notification, Pompeo claimed in a lengthy statement Saturday, started a 30-day process leading to the restoration of previously terminated U.N. sanctions that took effect at 8 pm ET Saturday. His claim, which other world leaders swiftly refuted, was paired with a threat that the U.S. will retaliate against countries that don’t comply:
The United States expects all U.N. Member States to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures. In addition to the arms embargo, this includes restrictions such as the ban on Iran engaging in enrichment and reprocessing-related activities, the prohibition on ballistic missile testing and development by Iran, and sanctions on the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related technologies to Iran, among others. If U.N. Member States fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of U.N.-prohibited activity.

The secretary also claimed the supposed snapback was “a step toward international peace and security,” vowed the administration will soon announce “additional measures to strengthen implementation of U.N. sanctions and hold violators accountable,” and reiterated his commitment to the maximum pressure campaign.

Hard to express how utterly absurd and embarrassing this is. UN sanctions haven’t returned, the UN rejected US efforts to reimpose them, so now the administration is just sanctioning other countries for not agreeing with us. Total rogue state behavior. https://t.co/b6IA8FTfcI
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) September 20, 2020

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as among those who pushed back against Pompeo’s announcement. Referencing his response to the administration’s August notification, Borrell said “the U.S. unilaterally ceased participation in the JCPOA” in 2018 “and has subsequently not participated in any JCPOA-related activities. It cannot, therefore, be considered to be a JCPOA participant state and cannot initiate the process of reinstating U.N. sanctions under the U.N. Security Council resolution 2231. Consequently, sanctions lifting commitments under the JCPOA continue to apply.”
“As coordinator of the JCPOA Joint Commission,” he added, “I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all. The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global non-proliferation architecture, contributing to regional and global security as it addresses Iran’s nuclear program in a comprehensive manner. I call on all to do their utmost to preserve the agreement and to refrain from any action that could be perceived as an escalation in the current situation.”

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The London pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi (Arab Jerusalem) reports that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, voted down a proposed basic law introduced by Yousef Jabareen on behalf of the Joint List. It aimed at altering the constitutional basis of the Israeli state, requiring democratic principles, cultural pluralism, and complete equality for all citizen on both civil and national levels.The bill aimed at providing existential and democratic human rights, especially complete equality and the recognition of the Palestinian-Israeli ethnic identity.
What follows is a paraphrase of the article with a few comments by me. One comment by me to begin with: Israel has all along had a choice between being a democratic state for all its citizens or being an ethno-nationalist oligarchy with second-class citizens at home and Apartheid subjects in the West Bank. This is not the first Knesset vote to demonstrate forcefully that the Israeli majority wants the latter.
The bill aimed at providing existential and democratic human rights, especially complete equality and the recognition of the Palestinian-Israeli ethnic identity. Israelis of Palestinian heritage comprise about 21% of Israel’s citizen population.
The Knesset roundly rejected the bill, with both the Likud-led far-right coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White bloc of his foreign minister and sometime rival, Benny Gantz, voting against it.
The bill specified that “Israel shall be a democratic state, guaranteeing equality in rights, and concentrating on the principles of human dignity, liberty, and equality, in accord with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.” It further said that “the state will provide equal legal protection to all its citizens, and will guarantee completely national, cultural, linguistic, and religious privacy to the two national groups within it, the Jews and Arabs.”
The law specifies that “Arabic and Hebrew are the two official languages in the state, and the two languages have an equal position in all the functions and work of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.”
It sought to guarantee “to the aboriginal Palestinian Arab minority the just right to be represented and to be influential in all the branches of government in the state, in public institutions, in every setting where decisions are made,” and that “the Palestinian Arab minority in the state will have the right to establish its own institutions in the realms of education, culture and religion and will be authorized to manage these institutions via representative bodies chosen by Arab citizens.”
Jabareen, who has law degrees from Hebrew University and the American University and has taught law at Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa, noted that international laws and instruments specify the protection of these rights of aboriginal minorities and that some countries, such as Canada and Australia, also guarantee them.
Canada recognizes special rights for the First Nations (what U.S. tribes tend to call Indians, a term disliked among Canadian tribes). These rights are generic and specific:
“Generic rights are held by all Aboriginal peoples across Canada, and include:
Rights to the land (Aboriginal title);
Rights to subsistence resources and activities;
The right to self-determination and self-government;
The right to practice one’s own culture and customs including language and religion. Sometimes referred to as the right of “cultural integrity”; and
The right to enter into treaties;

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