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Here's what Bill Barr's DOJ can — and can't — do to disrupt the 2020 race

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By Independent Media Institute

Attorney General William Barr’s “slavish obedience” to President Trump, including attacking the validity of millions of absentee ballots now being cast in the 2020 general election, prompted a federal prosecutor, Phillip Halpern, to publicly resign on October 14. He is the third to publicly criticize Barr.

“This career bureaucrat [Barr] seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” wrote Halpern in a San Diego Union-Tribune column. “There is no other honest explanation for Barr’s parroting of the president’s wild and unsupported conspiracy theories regarding mail-in ballots (which have been contradicted by the president’s handpicked FBI director).”

Halpern’s resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney after 36 years at the Department of Justice (DOJ) raises the question of what a politicized DOJ could do to assist Trump’s re-election.

Barr’s “parroting” the false claim that mailed-out—or absentee—ballots are a pathway for large-scale voter fraud was akin to becoming one of the “super-spreaders of disinformation,” as Emily Bazelon discussed in the October 18 New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story. But could the Justice Department intervene in the process where returned absentee ballots are accepted or rejected by local and state election officials, or go further and disrupt the counting of votes? In short, it cannot.

“They really don’t have any authority,” said Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general who led the DOJ’s voting rights enforcement in the Obama administration, speaking of administering elections. “The actual disruption, if it is going to come, will come from campaigns or private parties, but not from the DOJ.”

“I know of no federal law that allows the federal government to intervene in a state-based process, under state law, of counting and certifying election results,” said David Becker, who was a senior trial attorney in the DOJ’s Voting Section for seven years, and now runs the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“There is a requirement under federal law that all [election] materials, including ballots, be maintained for 22 months,” Becker said, referring to a 1960s civil rights law that was intended to help prosecutors build voting rights cases. “That is largely for evidence gathering and after-the-fact review, if there might be some issue. That’s actually useful.”

No Authority to Interfere

The Justice Department has no legal authority to intervene in …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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This single sentence from a federal court's ruling exposes the dark right-wing view of voting

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick

Three judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday stayed an injunction by a lower district court that sought to protect the voting rights of Texans voting by mail.

The majority decision, written by Judge Jerry E. Smith, blocked the lower court’s orders to Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that would have required officials to notify Texans whose mail ballots were rejected because of an apparent signature mismatch and give them an opportunity to address the issue. Under current law, election officials can reject a mail ballot if they determine that the signature does not match the voter’s signature on file; officials must notify the voter of the rejection within 10 days. But even then, the voter may not be given an opportunity to fix the problem.

As the result of an ongoing lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ordered Hughs to adopt procedures that would allow voters to address a signature mismatch, or to stop rejecting ballots based on signature issues altogether. Judge Orlando Garcia said the existing policy “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights.” But the Fifth Circuit rejected this injunction, saying Hughs should follow the law as written — rejecting ballots without necessarily giving voters any due process.

In a remarkable sentence encapsulating the emerging right-wing view of voting rights, the decision explained:

Because Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote, we stay the injunction pending appeal.

While this may sound like dry legalese, it’s a dramatically bold and unambiguously dangerous idea. The court’s claim is that “any burden” on the right to vote can be justified if it is meant to restrict the opportunity for voter fraud.

This notion sounds like a farcical caricature of Republicans’ views on voting, but it’s an actual statement from right-wing judges defending a right-wing administration. It falls apart under even the mildest scrutiny though. While preventing voter fraud is surely a legitimate interest of the state, there must be some reasonable limits on how far the government can go in trying to prevent it. Is it reasonable to, say, create so many obstacles to voting that 10,000 fewer ballots will be cast in an election if doing so will also stop a handful of fraudulent ballots?

The answer should obviously be “no.” The …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Why Do Witches Ride Brooms? The History Behind the Legend

October 19, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

From pagan fertility rituals to hallucinogenic herbs, the story of witches and brooms is a wild ride.

The evil green-skinned witch flying on her magic broomstick may be a Halloween icon—and a well-worn stereotype. But the actual history behind how

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

By the time of Edelin’s “confession,” the idea of witches riding around on broomsticks was already well established. The earliest known image of witches on brooms dates to 1451, when two illustrations appeared in the French poet Martin Le Franc’s manuscript Le Champion des Dames (The Defender of Ladies). In the two drawings, one woman soars through the air on a broom; the other flies aboard a plain white stick. Both wear head scarves that identify them as Waldensians, members of a Christian sect founded in the 12th century who were branded as heretics by the Catholic Church, partly because they allowed women to become priests.

WATCH: Ancient Mysteries: Dark History of Witches on HISTORY Vault

Flying Witches Linked to Pagan Ritual?

Anthropologist Robin Skelton suggests the association between witches and brooms may have roots in a pagan fertility ritual, in which rural farmers would leap and dance astride poles, pitchforks or brooms in the light of the full moon to encourage the growth of their crops. This “broomstick dance,” she writes, became confused with common accounts of witches flying through the night on their way to orgies and other illicit meetings.

Illustrations of witches on broomsticks, c. 1440.

Broomsticks were also thought to be the perfect vehicles for the special ointments and salves that witches brewed up to give themselves the ability to fly, among other depraved activities. In 1324, when the wealthy Irish widow Lady Alice Kyteler was tried for sorcery and heresy, investigators reported that in searching Kyteler’s house, they found “a pipe of ointment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thicke and thin.”

Pharmacologist David Kroll writes in Forbes that alleged witches in the Middle Ages were thought to concoct their brews from such plants as Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), Mandragora officinarum (mandrake) and Datura stramonium (jimsonweed), all of which would have produced hallucinogenic chemicals known as tropane alkaloids.

According to some historical accounts, rather than ingest these mind-altering substances by eating or drinking, which would have caused intestinal distress, witches chose …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Trump lashes out at Dr. Fauci with a petty and personal smear

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson

On Monday, President Donald Trump fired off tweets attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci — who has sounded increasingly critical of the president. Fauci has earned widespread trust from the public as one of the top government officials in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, while Trump is seen as an unreliable source of information on the crisis. But Trump decided to attack Fauci — in the last weeks before an election, no less — not simply about policy disagreements but on a petty and personal level.

During an interview for CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday night, Fauci candidly said that he wasn’t surprised that Trump was recently infected with COVID-19 and that he wishes the president had been more careful. Trump, Fauci emphasized, could be doing a lot more to promote the use of protective face masks. Fauci has also said, as news outlets have reported, that he’s been prevented from appearing before the media on numerous occasions.

Trump apparently wasn’t happy with these remarks, tweeting on Monday: “Dr. Tony Fauci says we don’t allow him to do television, and yet I saw him last night on @60Minutes, and he seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope. All I ask of Tony is that he make better decisions. He said ‘no masks & let China in.’ Also, Bad arm!”

Trump has previously claimed that Fauci opposed the restrictions the president placed on travel from China in late January (he also exaggerates the effectiveness and importance of this move, which quite clearly did not stop the virus from coming to the United States.) But Fauci was on the record in support of the restrictions at the time. It’s true that Fauci, like most of the public health community, was slow to realize the importance of widespread mask-wearing and even discouraged its use by ordinary people at the start of the pandemic. But that was the unanimous position of the administration’s public health agencies, which Trump oversees, so he cannot escape blame for this grave error. And since public officials changed their minds and advocated universal mask-wearing, Trump himself has continued to cast doubt about the measure and demonstrably discouraged his followed from taking this vital precaution.

The “bad arm” part of the tweet was a baseball reference. Although the 79-year-old Fauci is a Brooklyn native, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Trump touted a major new factory — but all Wisconsin got was ‘empty promises and empty buildings’: report

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson

President Donald Trump and his supporters were hoping that a deal with the Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn would create 13,000 new manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin, guaranteeing that he would win the state this election year and convince voters that he made good on his promise to bring new jobs to the Rust Belt. But the Foxconn deal, journalist Josh Dzieza emphasizes in an article for The Verge, has been a flop — and the LCD plant that was promised never materialized. Instead of a manufacturing renaissance, all Wisconsin got were “empty promises and empty buildings,” according to The Verge.

“Hopes were high among the employees who joined Foxconn’s Wisconsin project in the summer of 2018,” Dzieza explains. “In June, President Donald Trump had broken ground on an LCD factory he called ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’ The scale of the promise was indeed enormous: a $10 billion investment from the Taiwanese electronics giant, a 20 million-square-foot manufacturing complex, and, most importantly, 13,000 jobs.”

In a press release touting the factor in 2017, the White House employed the hard sell.

“This $10 billion investment will create thousands of new American jobs,” it claimed. “The construction of this facility represents a major advancement in regaining America’s place in advanced electronics manufacturing.”

And the White House didn’t hesitate to criticize others who were critical of these grandiose claims.

“While pundits have said for years that electronics manufacturing in the U.S. was a lost cause, the policies and focus of President Trump’s administration are producing results that show America can eventually re-emerge as a dominate country in advanced manufacturing,” it said. “The new Foxconn plant has the potential to be one of the largest non-energy manufacturing job creators in modern U.S. history, and powerfully illustrates that nothing is beyond America’s capabilities.”

Trump himself boasted: “”Foxconn joins a growing list of industry leaders who understand that America’s capabilities are limitless and that America’s workers are unmatched, and that America’s most prosperous days are just ahead.”

These words now ring quite hollow.

According to Dzieza, the building in Wisconsin that Foxconn “calls an LCD factory” is “about 1/20th the size of the original plan” and “is little more than an empty shell.” And in September, Dzieza adds, Foxconn “received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage.”

The Foxconn debacle, Dzieza laments, not only failed to create the 13,000 jobs that were promised, but also, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Why I'm on a hunger strike to stop Donald Trump

October 19, 2020 in Blogs

By AlterNet

by Ted Glick

I am on a 30-day, water-only hunger strike until Election Day to defeat Donald Trump. My mission is not so much to convince conservatives they should have a change of heart (though that would be great), but to convince progressives who may still harbor some hesitations about going all out for Biden. They don’t just need to vote for him, they need to work for him.

I’m trying to dramatize that the possibility of a Trump reelection poses an existential threat to democracy, public health, the climate, and everything progressives hold dear.

So if you’re in the left wing of the Democratic party, if you supported Sanders or Warren, if you embrace the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, and even if you weren’t happy when Biden emerged as the nominee and found him too moderate, it’s time for you to put yourself on the line to get him and Harris elected.

Likewise, if you’re an independent voter like me who finds some of Biden’s positions problematic, it’s time to get clear that Trump is such a threat to the country, it’s appropriate and necessary to overcome your hesitation and throw your support behind Biden.

Donald Trump has been a disaster for the climate, democracy, the rule of law, people of color, women, low-income people, truth, civility, and human decency. His response to the indictments of 13 far-right, Trump-supporting extremists for plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been to repeatedly criticize Whitmer, and not the extremists. In fact, he’s clearly appealing to extremists to disrupt this election. While trailing in the polls, Trump refuses to say he’ll accept a peaceful transition of power if he loses, continues to undermine mail-in voting, and repeats his call for his supporters to descend on polling places on November 3.

I’m motivated by all these things, but especially by the climate emergency. I’m a lifelong progressive activist, and ran as the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate from New Jersey in 2002. Since 2003 the primary focus of my work has been the climate crisis. Seventeen years ago, it felt like I and other climate activists were the proverbial voices crying in the wilderness. Today, a majority of Americans agree with us. They support climate action, including transitioning rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy and battery storage.

Trump and his supporters are a …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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6 Famous Curses and Their Origins

October 19, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Dig into the superstitions that surround King Tut’s tomb, the Hope Diamond and more.

Throughout history, people have promoted stories of curses for a variety of reasons. To sports fans, curses can help explain their favorite team’s loss. When a cause of death is misunderstood, curses can provide an explanation. For an imperial nation, curses can betray anxiety about being punished for colonizing and taking artifacts. And sometimes, curses come about because someone just wanted to make up a story.

Here are some prominent curses in history.

1. King Tut’s Curse (and Other ‘Mummy’s Curses’)

The burial mask of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

In February 1923, a British archaeological team opened the tomb of Tutankhamun, or “King Tut,” an Egyptian pharaoh during the 14th century B.C. Two months later, when the team’s sponsor died from a bacterial infection, British newspapers claimed without evidence that he’d died because of “King Tut’s curse.” Whenever subsequent members of the team died, the media dredged up the alleged curse again.

King Tut’s curse and other famous “mummy’s curses” were invented by Europeans and Americans while their countries removed priceless artifacts from Egypt. After the Titanic sank in 1912, some newspapers even promoted a conspiracy theory that the ship had sunk because of a “mummy’s curse.”

READ MORE: The Craziest Titanic Conspiracy Theories, Explained

Though it’s not clear how many people actually took these “curses” seriously, these stories became extremely popular subjects for horror movies like The Mummy (1932) and its many iterations, as well as comedies like Mummy’s Boys (1936) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955).

2. The Curse of the Polish King’s Tomb


Casimir IV Jagiellon.

In 1973, a group of archaeologists opened the tomb of the 15th-century Polish king Casimir IV Jagiellon in Kraków, Poland. As with the opening of King Tut’s tomb 50 years before, European media hyped up the event, and the researchers involved allegedly joked that they were risking a curse on the tomb by opening it.

When some of the team members began to die shortly after, some media outlets speculated it was due to a curse. Later, experts discovered traces of deadly fungi inside the tomb that can cause lung illnesses when breathed in. This was the cause of their deaths.

3. The Hope Diamond Curse


Evelyn Walsh McLean, one of the owners of the famous Hope diamond, c. 1915.

In the 1660s, the French …read more

Source: HISTORY