By Robert A. Vella
We’ll kickoff this week with angry and violent confrontations ripping the social fabric of America apart. Because about one-third of the country is obsessed with supporting a cultish right-wing extremist ideology and a destructive madman who currently occupies the White House, the nation finds itself at the precipice of a second Civil War. The decisive 2020 presidential election, still over three months away, cannot come soon enough.
In what I’m calling the “Battle of Portland,” Donald Trump’s fascist paramilitary goon-squad – which has invaded Oregon’s largest city in an obvious attempt to shift public attention away from the President’s failed coronavirus pandemic response by provoking urban violence – is being met with growing resistance from community residents. Over the weekend, a group of mothers shielded racial injustice protesters from weaponized attacks by interposing themselves between the unidentified federal forces and the demonstrators. These select militia forces, formed from disparate organizations within the Department of Homeland Security, are being directed by temporary appointed officials in the DHS which have not gone through the required Senate confirmation process.
The raging COVID-19 contagion is triggering virtual battle-lines over school reopening plans for the fall season which are similarly contentious. Trump and some Republican governors loyal to him are pushing hard for a full return to normal activities despite the serious public health risks and widespread resistance from education and medical professionals.
In other news, whistleblowers were reportedly silenced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who were trying to expose his corrupt behavior, and two family members of an Obama-appointed federal judge (who is presiding over a Jeffrey Epstein case) have been shot in New Jersey (one was killed).
The Battle of Portland
At least 30 mothers on Saturday gathered in Portland, Ore., to form a barrier between federal agents who have descended on the city and protesters.
The women stood as part of a crowd of approximately 400 people at the federal courthouse in the city for hours, chanting “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” before federal agents fired tear gas and flash bangs into the crowd, according to Buzzfeed News.
“We are about protecting peaceful citizens’ right to protest,” Bev Barnum, a 35-year-old content marketer who organized the “Wall of Moms” demonstration, told the news outlet.
Barnum told Buzzfeed she was inspired to organize the protest by viral footage of unidentified federal officers pulling a Portlander into an unmarked vehicle.
The Department of Homeland Security, at the center of some of the administration’s most controversial and political actions from immigration restrictions to an aggressive response to protests in Portland, Oregon, is mostly run by temporary officials, skirting the scrutiny that comes from putting leadership through confirmation.
The department’s leadership in acting positions has repeatedly found itself pursuing Trump’s agenda. In the last three years, DHS has rolled out some of the most stringent immigration policies, and most recently, deployed personnel to respond to protests, some of them violent, after George Floyd’s death — nearly all under leadership that hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate.
“The President has fired or forced out nearly every Senate confirmed leader in DHS. Those remaining are neither accountable to Congress nor empowered to push back against unreasonable political pressure,” said Carrie Cordero, a senior fellow at Center for a New American Security and CNN legal analyst.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled that it was unlawful to appoint Ken Cuccinelli to lead USCIS, the agency responsible for processing US immigration requests. Cuccinelli continues to serve in that role, while also performing the duties of the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security — demonstrating how thinly spread the department’s leadership is.
School reopening battle-lines
Florida’s Covid-19 outbreak is “totally out of control,” according to a Democratic representative, and the mayor of Los Angeles said his city is “on the brink” of new restrictions, comments that suggest the country’s months of trade-offs between the health of the community and the economy are far from over.
Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Donna Shalala called for a lockdown of the third most-populous state and dismissed talk about reopening schools as “ridiculous.”
“It’s terrible,” said Shalala, whose South Florida district sits within Miami-Dade County, one of the hardest-hit parts of the state.
On the Pacific coast, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he’s considering another stay-at-home order for Los Angeles but emphasized that the city still had room in its hospitals and had been testing aggressively. Schools won’t hold in-person classes until the city records at least 14 consecutive days of case decline and is removed from the state’s watch list, Garcetti told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Some cities hit hard by Covid-19 are warning more drastic measures could lie ahead as officials try to contain a virus spreading more rampant than ever.
Last week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also discussed his proposal to the state’s governor for a two-week shutdown due to the rise in cases. He said the city needed to “reset,” especially as leaders begin conversations about reopening schools.
But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said a statewide lockdown is not happening.
Eighty-seven doctors signed a letter to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey urging the state leader to keep schools shut for at least the first quarter of the academic year.
“Many of us are also parents of school-age children,” the letter says. “The tremendous pressure to return to in-person schooling in August is ill advised and dangerous given the uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 in our community.”
The letter comes in response to an order issued by the governor last month which limits the amount of funding for schools who don’t open for in-person instruction for at least five days a week.
The letter refers to Arizona as one of the “worst-hit regions” in the country and the world, and says the state can expect to see “substantial community spread for at least the next few months.”
The warning comes about a week after dozens of school board members asked state officials to keep schools closed until at least October.
Some Republican governors have been holding regular conference calls to complain about President Trump and swap ideas on how to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, reported The New York Times.
In recent months a number of Republican lawmakers have broken with the president to back measures to restrict the coronavirus as it spreads through GOP heartlands.
Trump has continued to downplay the significance of rising infection rates across the country, and has refused to unequivocally back simple preventative measures such as mask wearing.
Related story: Bahamas bans tourists from US, cites coronavirus concerns
Pompeo whistleblowers silenced
A State Department whistleblower attempted to warn the agency’s Office of Legal Affairs about “questionable” activities involving Secretary Mike Pompeo but was “blocked” from doing so, according to the complaint.
McClatchy reported Sunday that the complaint, made public through a lawsuit filed by the watchdog group American Oversight, alleged the unnamed employee and other “eyewitnesses” were prevented from sharing concerns about Pompeo’s activities in the U.S. and abroad with superiors and legal authorities at the agency despite repeated attempts.
The State Department declined McClatchy’s request for comment on the whistleblower complaint. However, in explaining redactions made to the whistleblower complaint, the agency’s lawyers revealed that Pompeo still remains the target of at least one active investigation despite arranging the firing of the agency’s Inspector General in May.
Judge’s family shot
A gunman shot the son of a federal judge at her home in New Jersey on Sunday, according to an official with knowledge of the situation. The Associated Press reported that he had died and that the judge’s husband also had been shot.
The judge, Esther Salas, was home at the time of the shooting at her residence in North Brunswick, N.J., but was not injured, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the authorities had not made any public statements.
President Barack Obama nominated her to the United States District Court for New Jersey in 2010. She had previously served as a magistrate judge and an assistant federal public defender.
Last week, Judge Salas was assigned to a class-action lawsuit a group of investors filed against Deutsche Bank, contending that the firm failed to flag questionable transactions that were made from the account of the financier Jeffrey Epstein, who died last August while in jail awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.