Unidentified federal officers are kidnapping protesters from the streets of Portland

Back in early June, as you may recall, we discussed the fact that William Barr’s Department of Justice had deployed federal agents with no name badges and no unit insignia to police the streets of Washington, DC. Well, it seems to be happening again. Oregon Public Broadcasting last night confirmed that U.S. military members in camouflage, absent any agency identification or badges, and driving unmarked rental cars, have been grabbing protestors off the streets of Portland. The story is still developing, but here are few items to be aware of.

Why is this happening in Portland? And why is it happening now, over a month-and-a-half into the protests that have been sweeping across the nation? Some are speculating that the Trump administration may be testing the waters to see what the American people will tolerate. As one Oregon activist said yesterday, “(Trump is) using Portland as a testing ground to see if he can get away with military control.”

update: The Washington Post has talked with one of the men picked up in the seemingly unconstitutional sweep of Portland. Here’s an excerpt.

When several men in green military fatigues and generic “police” patches sprang out of an unmarked gray minivan in front of Mark Pettibone in the early hours of Wednesday morning, his first instinct was to run.

He did not know whether the men were police or far-right extremists, who frequently don militarylike outfits and harass left-leaning protesters in Portland, Ore. The 29-year-old resident said he made it about a half-block before he realized there would be no escape.

Then, he sank to his knees, hands in the air.

“I was terrified,” Pettibone told The Washington Post. “It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”

He was detained and searched. One man asked him if he had any weapons; he did not. They drove him to the federal courthouse and placed him in a holding cell. Two officers eventually returned to read his Miranda rights and ask if he would waive those rights to answer a few questions; he did not.

And almost as suddenly as they had grabbed him off the street, the men let him go.

Pettibone said he still does not know who arrested him or whether what happened to him legally qualifies as an arrest. The federal officers who snatched him off the street as he was walking home from a peaceful protest did not tell him why he had been detained or provide him any record of an arrest, he told The Post. As far as he knows, he has not been charged with any crimes.

His detention, which was first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, and videos of similar actions by federal officials driving around Portland in unmarked cars have raised alarm bells for many. Legal scholars questioned whether the detentions pass constitutional muster.

“Arrests require probable cause that a federal crime had been committed, that is, specific information indicating that the person likely committed a federal offense, or a fair probability that the person committed a federal offense,” Orin Kerr, a professor at University of California at Berkeley Law School, told The Post. “If the agents are grabbing people because they may have been involved in protests, that’s not probable cause”…

update: The ACLU has issued a statement. “Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping,” the civil rights association said. What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the US. These actions are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”

update: Ben Collins raises a great point. What we’re seeing play out on the streets of Portland right now is pretty much what the right wing conspiracy theorists told us was going to happen during the Obama administration. [See Jade Helm.] Now that we’re seeing federal troops stanching people off our streets in the real world, though, they’re nowhere to be found.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 175 Comments

The Trump administration stops the CDC from collecting COVID-19 hospitalization data

Earlier this week, the Trump administration ordered hospitals to stop reporting COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and instead send everything to a private firm by the name of TeleTracking Technologies. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what’s going on here, but it seems as though, while the company had been awarded the contract back in April, no one really knew about it until a few days ago, when word came out from the White House that hospitals were no longer to submit their infectious disease data to the CDC, as they’d been doing for years… And, of course, it’s worth noting that this happened at roughly the same time Trump re-tweeted a post from Chuck Woolery about how the CDC was “lying” about COVID-19 to hurt the President’s reelection chances.

Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the Senate health panel, made the following statement yesterday, upon learning that the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network was essentially being sidelined by a private firm with no relevant expertise, in middle of a deadly pandemic. “C.D.C. has had a system in place for over a decade to track infection data, and hospitals and states know and trust this system,” Murray said. “So it’s entirely unclear why the Trump administration has asked states and hospitals to upend their reporting systems in the middle of a pandemic — in 48 hours nonetheless — without a single explanation as to why this new system is better or necessary.”

Given the Trump administration’s track record relative to transparency, people are understandably concerned, thinking that perhaps, as infection rates are rising across the country, and ICU’s are becoming overwhelmed, this may be an attempt to obscure hospitalization data from American voters in the run-up to the election. [According to the Washington Post, the CDC had been receiving data from about 3,000 hospitals — or roughly 60 percent of the nation’s hospitals — at the point hospitals were instructed to stop sending data.]

Among those organizations sounding the alarm is the National Governors Association, which issued a statement today requesting more time for hospitals to switch over to the new reporting system, and urging that the aggregated hospitalization data remain publicly available. “To ensure the accurate reporting of this data, governors are requesting a 30-day delay of these new requirements, in order for hospitals to learn a new system, as they continue to deal with this pandemic,” the statement said. “In addition, governors urge the administration to make this information publicly available.”

Again, there may well be a good reason for changing systems. If there is, though, it has not been clearly articulated. And no one, as far as I can tell, has explained why this switch had to happen now, in the middle of a pandemic that has already cost over 136,000 Americans their lives. Given this, I think it’s completely understandable why people are skeptical… and why, earlier today, when people went to the CDC site to check on infection rates, and found the page taken down, they freaked the fuck out.

[note: The CDC later in the day, brought their website back online, but did so with notice that they’ve been told to stop collecting data themselves.]

David Simon, I think, said it best. “This is national insanity. Your federal government is demanding you send your child into groups of 20 to 25 others during a pandemic, but denying you the data to make an informed decision as to whether by complying you risk the health of that child and your entire family.”

Speaking of putting our kids back into school, when White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked today about Donald Trump’s instance that schools reopen, replied, “The science should not stand in the way of this.” [In her defense, McEnany, perhaps realizing what she’d said, later added, “The science is on our side here,” but it was clearly an afterthought. When she said, “The science should not stand in the way of this,” you can tell that she meant it.]

Posted in Health, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

What would you want from an Ypsilanti vending machine?

My friend Dave, having a pretty good sense of what might interest me, just sent me the following image from a local free weekly in Portland about a vending machine that, starting tomorrow, will be used to distribute vegan fare from an organization called Meals for Heels, a startup that initially launched to deliver food to the city’s community of sex workers.

I’m still trying to put all of the pieces together, but it sounds as though this specific machine, called the Pix-O-Matic, has, over the past several weeks, been used to distribute pieces of pie, crème brûlées, and macarons, along with an assortment of things like cans of tinned fish and rolls of toilet paper, on the street outside a Portland pastry shop by the name of Pix Pâtisserie. And, now, the owner of the machine is starting to use it as a pop-up to sell the the culinary work on area chefs, starting with Nikeisah Newton, the founder of Meals for Heels. For those of you within walking distance of 2225 East Burnside Street in Portland, here are the two dishes from Meals for Heels that will be available starting tomorrow.

GTP (GETTIN’ THAT PAPER) – Tom kha roasted cauliflower, sweet potato noodles, Asian pickled cucumbers, togarashi truffled tomatoes, mint, Thai basil, cilantro, Asian herb sweet saambal drizzle, toasted coconut & veggie furikake. $12

Freegan Vegan – Oven roasted yams, plantains sweet potatoes & apples, sautéed mushrooms, “green” brown rice, topped w/salsa lizano (no heat, hella savory) crispy quinoa, & sweet-n-salty spiced almonds, walnuts and toasted coconut. $12

I don’t know that anything like this would work in Michigan, given our laws surrounding the sale of food, but I like the idea a lot, and I’ve spent the past hour searching for vending machines, thinking about where we might put one in downtown Ypsi, and what we might put in it. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment.

And, for those of you who would rather not talk about vending machine fare, the President of the United States took the time today — in the middle of a pandemic that’s already claimed the lives of 135,000 Americans — to pose for a photo surrounded by an assortment of packaged beans.

Posted in Art and Culture, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Woolery good. Fauci bad.

Today, the President of the United States shared a tweet claiming that the CDC and other public health officials are “lying” about COVID-19 in order to hurt his chances of winning reelection. It wasn’t clear from the tweet, which was authored by second-rate conservative conspiracy theorist Chuck Woolery, the former host of the syndicated daytime gameshow Love Connection and co-author of the 1968’s execrable “Naturally Stoned,” what exactly these scientists have been lying about, but I don’t suppose that really matters to Trump’s followers. [Is COVID-19 not really contagious? Are people not really dying from COVID-19? Is it the masks that are killing us?]

But that’s not the worst of it. Not only is Trump sharing harmful conspiracy theories about public health officials “lying” in relation to COVID-19, at a time when, one would think, he should be encouraging everyone in the country to follow the guidance of our contagious disease experts. [Remember, 138,247 Americans have already lost their lives to COVID-19, and new cases are spiking across the country.] But, at the same time, he’s apparently given the word to White House staff to start questioning the competence of the nation’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

It would appear as though, over the past few days, several members of the White House staff have been reaching out to members of the press in what seems to be a coordinated attack against Fauci. Here are just a few of those instances that have been recorded thus far. As for why this is happening, one can only assume the Donald Trump has decided that Fauci should take the blame for his own incompetence. [Make no mistake, this is more about Donald Trump’s self-preservation that it is about the health and wellbeing of the American people, and always has been.]

As Senator Chris Murphy said, having “White House staff sending reporters opposition research on their own top infectious disease doctor in the middle of a worsening pandemic that has already killed 130,000,” is “nuclear grade bananas.” But that’s where we are, my fellow Americans. Instead of expending effort to stop the spread of this disease, and urging every American to wear a mask, the White House is mobilizing against its own top infectious disease expert — a move that will undoubtedly lead the deaths of more Americans.

When asked about all of this today, Ben Sommers, a doctor who teaches public health at Harvard, had the following to say. “When the president is calling the guidance wrong and endorsing the view that these public health experts are lying, it makes it incredibly difficult for the public to know what to do,” he told The Washington Post. “It erodes the long-term ability of our government to provide one of its basic goals which is to protect the public safety.”

Nuclear grade bananas indeed.

update: Woolery, days after posting the above tweet about public health officials lying about COVID-19, shared that his son had been diagnosed with the disease. He then suspended his Twitter account.

Posted in Health, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Florida ramps up the negligent homicide bodycount in the run-up to the GOP convention

In early June, North Carolina officials informed the Republican Party that, given the COVID-19 pandemic, they would be requiring those attending the GOP convention, which had been scheduled to start August 24 in Charlotte, to follow certain public health safeguards. This apparently did not sit well with Donald Trump, who, according to multiple sources, told North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50 percent empty.” And, with that, the administration began looking for a venue that would allow them to hold their convention in a packed arena, without any consideration of social distancing. Ultimately, the GOP decided to hold their event in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis, an ardent Trump supporter, was steadfastly refusing to consider the scientific evidence and issue a shelter-in-place order. Here’s DeSantis in April bragging about how he’d handled the pandemic so much better than his Democratic counterparts by essentially doing nothing.

Well, here were are, five weeks out from the Republican National Convention is Jacksonville, and Florida just broke a new record, confirming 15,300 coronavirus cases in one day. That’s the highest single day increase any state has seen since the onset of the pandemic. [New York hit their peak of 12,274 cases on April 4.]

In spite of this, DeSantis is still refusing to make mask wearing mandatory in public spaces. Not only that, but he’s still pushing to open Florida’s schools next month. This morning, he said, “If you can do Walmart,” then “we absolutely can do schools”, apparently not understanding the difference between stopping by a near-empty hardware store to pick up a gallon of paint, and sitting in an overcrowded classroom of coughing, mask-less first-graders for 40 hours a week.

Speaking of reopening schools, here’s Michigan’s Betsy DeVos attempting to answer why she’s mandating that schools reopen in fall when no federal action has yet to be taken to prepare them, and Nancy Pelosi responding that DeVos is guilty of “malfeasance and dereliction of duty.”

So, shall we start an office pool and try to guess how many public schools Betsy DeVos will visit during once they start opening back up? My guess is zero.

As for the image at the top of the post, it took over 125 days, and 137,782 dead Americans, but Donald Trump finally did the right thing, followed the advice of public health officials, and did what any real leader would have done from the outset. He put on a fucking mask, like an adult. Had it happened earlier in the spring, when he was instead encouraging his followers to “liberate” their states from those seeking to save their lives, it might have made a difference. As it is, it’s probably too late.

update: Oh, and here’s what DeSantis looks like today.

Posted in Health, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 210 Comments

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