Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Keeping the Beer Taps Flowing During the Pandemic

In this latest edition of Random Lengths, we picked up a column by Beer Paper L.A.’s David Mulvihill, “Navigating the Current Normal,” and apt title for how quickly has changed during the pandemic.

In this column, Mulvihill discusses the specific plights of breweries large and small to comply will alcohol beverage regulations during the pandemic on the federal, state and local levels.

Mulvihill also discusses what brewers have been doing with their unsold beer that have aged past their prime. Mulvihill notes brewers have the option of destroying the unsold beer or donating it for the making of sanitizer soap.

Mulvihill, a beer enthusiast and business side support to local breweries, notes that while the reopening of breweries is a more onerous and more complicated thing to navigate during the pandemic. But he does highlight how breweries are making use of outdoor parking lot dining and other ideas to keep the beer taps flowing.

Read Mulvihill’s column here.

“How Trump Stole 2020,” and What You Can Do to Make It Not Come True

By page 3 of How Trump Stole 2020, where our 45th president is labeled as “an orange-stained, gelatinous bag of malicious mendacity, a snorting porcine pustule of bloviating bigot [sic] hinged to grasping little griplets, a bloated ball of gracelessness and cry-baby petulance,” you already know author Greg Palast is neither a great prose stylist nor a bastion of objectivity.

Make it through the next 300+ pages, however, and you’ll be just as sure that Palast is a dogged investigative journalist/activist who’s done a ton of work bringing to light voter-suppression tactics Republicans have expertly applied to win two or three presidential elections (and a helluva lot else) since the turn of the century. And if we’re not vigilant, they’re gonna get the next one, too.

How? By discarding non-White voter registration forms, discounting their ballots, and most of all by purging their names from voter rolls. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but there’s nothing theoretical about it: this is a conspiracy. 

Although sometimes the dots are not connected in the most coherent order, Palast’s outline of voter suppression is clear enough. And while goes as far back as the 2000 presidential election and the 175,000+ ballots that were disqualified in predominantly Black precincts at triple the frequency of disqualifications in predominantly White precincts, it’s 2013 when things really heat up for us now. That’s the year the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling diluted the Voting Rights Act so as to give states relatively free rein  in setting voter ID requirements and deciding how to purge voter rolls. 

From there, it was a surprisingly short trip to Trump and the Congress that’s enabled him. Empowered by Shelby, states like Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, and Wisconsin (I’ll take “Republican-Controlled Swing States” for $1,000, Alex) went on purge-fests. “The Democrat-controlled state of New Mexico,” Palast notes, “purged only two out of every thousand voters, or 0.2%,” while Indiana, which Barack Obama won in 2008, was “wrenched violently into the Republican Red Zone” partly by “pur[ing] a breathtaking 22.4% of its registrants ― one in five voters.”

One of the means to this end was the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a database ostensibly designed to ferret out electoral fraud by compiling potential instances of individual voters’ presence on multiple voter rolls (so uncommon that even the partisan Heritage Foundation can point to only about 300 cases  of duplicate voting or false registration nationwide over the last 30 years combined). The problem ― which Palast better details in his August 2016 Rolling Stone article, “The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters” ― is that on the whole the data were 

  1. unreliable (a Stanford/Yale/Harvard/UPenn/Microsoft study   set the error rate at 99%);
  2. improperly or even illegally used by state legislators (partisan, always partisan) to purge their voter rolls; and
  3. disproportionately targeted people of color, since statistically in the U.S. there is far more name repetition―the main criterion for being flagged as a potential “double-voter” on the Crosscheck list―among people of color than among White people. (Per Palast: 25% of White people share a total of 319 surnames, whereas 25% of African-/Asian-/Latinx-Americans share 43, 41, and 26 surnames, respectively.)

While Crosscheck gets the biggest slice of Palast’s attention, tactics other than “the Purge” are well covered, even if not always with the same assiduousness. As an example of disallowing or disappearing POC voter registrations, Palast reviews how nearly half of 86,000 mostly Black voter applications submitted to the State of Georgia in 2014 by the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project (although Palast doesn’t refer to the group by name) never made it onto the voter rolls. This was on Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s watch, and when you add in the 400,000 voters (yes, most of them Black) Kemp wrongly purged even by Georgia’s own rejiggered standards over the next couple of years, it’s hard not to wonder about the legitimacy of Kemp’s 50,000-vote victory margin over Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Then there’s the old disappearing-ballot trick. For example, remember Michigan in 2016, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes? Largely due to 87 faulty voting machines, roughly 75,000 ballots in Detroit (which is nearly 80% Black) registered no vote for president, as if those folks came out to cast votes for everything but that. 

But Palast says this is nothing compared to issues with provisional and mail-in ballots, nearly 4 million of which went uncounted for one reason or another. Then there are the voter ID laws that prevented over 646,671 people who showed up at the polls from voting at all. “[T]he dirty little secret of American elections,” Palast writes, “is that we don’t count all the ballots ― and we sure as hell don’t allow every citizen to vote.” 

While it’s not always clear where Palast gets his numbers ― unlike his Purge stats, which he successfully sued (e.g., Palast v. Kemp) to obtain and make available―his overall argument that POC are disproportionately disenfranchised at the ballot box is almost universally supported in nonpartisan (not to mention liberal/progressive) circles. And while he offers a long-term prescription for eradicating this sickness (ending purges and gerrymandering, bipartisan electoral oversight in all states, enabling online and same-day registration, requiring paper trails for all balloting, eradicating ID requirements at the polls), the most important takeaway from How Trump Stole 2020, the one that will disallow the title from being a fait accompli, is his Ballot Condom―as in: Protect your vote from a diseased screwing. The steps are simple, but they call for diligence: 

  • Check that you’re registered ― now, no matter how sure you are. 
  • Check the specific voting requirements of your state and county ― then check them again. 
  • If you can, vote in person ― early ― and bring all necessary ID (or more). 
  • If voting by mail, don’t underestimate postage. If you’re not going to the post office, put on more than you think is necessary.
  • Fill out all forms exactly as instructed. If it’s a bubble-in form, don’t make an X. Use only the required marking device. For punch cards, check for hanging chads. (Those pesky fuckers are partly how we got George W. Bush.)
  • Whether you’re voting in person or by mail, read the instructions carefully and follow them precisely, “no matter how berserk.” In Wisconsin you need to include a copy of proper ID. In Minnesota you need a witness signature. In Alabama you need that shit notarized. Stay on your toes.

“PROTECT YOUR VOTE!” Palast exhorts. “REMEMBER: They can’t steal all the ballots all the time.”

Openly polemical, inconsistently argued, and in desperate need of a good editor, How Trump Stole 2020 is not an elegant book, by the author’s own admission peppered with “lame jokes.” But for all that, it’s as factual and serious as cancer, the “metastasizing cancer on our democracy” that is “bigotry in balloting.” 

But although many of its remedies cannot be enacted by this November, Trump wins 2020 only if you don’t “steal your own vote.” It’s not that Palast doesn’t understand the apathy and disaffection that might keep you from the polls. He’s Bernie guy who is no more a fan of the GOP’s “cringing enablers, the see-no-evil Democrats” than you are. But he points out that in your own way you’re rigging the system as much as the Republicans. “I read the news reports about how a University of Wisconsin study that said Trump won the state [in 2016] by 22,000 votes because more than 50,000 African-American and student voters were blocked [from voting] by the new ID law,” he writes, then turns to “an uglier side to this story”:

The professors calculated that, as big as the ID blockade on students and Black voters was, it wouldn’t have mattered but for the decision of at least another 50,000 not to vote because they didn’t like the choice of candidates. […] 

A lot of my closest (ex-)friends said, “If Bernie’s not on the ballot, if they give us that harridan in a pants suit [i.e., Clinton], well, fageddaboutit. I’m not voting.” 

I get it. They even had a Twitter handle, “#Bernie or Bust.”

So, comrades, how’s Bust working for you?

For all things Greg Palast, including his full Ballot Condom and a newsletter with updates on new shenanigans you might encounter in your state, go to GregPalast.com.

Protestors March in Defense of Portland BLM Activists

As a result of the nationwide solidarity marches, federal troops, under Department of Homeland Security control, have agreed to leave Portland. The world watched the escalation of federal troops’ harassment, arrests and beatings of Portland, Ore. protesters, and they responded with one demand: “U.S. troops out of Portland!”

More than 60 demonstrators were arrested and 46 charged with felonies. What began as a racial justice movement became a broader campaign to drive the federal forces from the city.

President Donald Trump and DHS have repeatedly labeled the protesters in Portland and other cities as “violent anarchists.” But protestors formed a “Wall of Moms” that grew to include hundreds of women in yellow shirts linking arms. A “Wall of Dads” in orange shirts included many with leaf blowers to push tear gas away from the crowds. Most recently, there was a “Wall of Veterans.” Many nurses on July 25 even showed up in blue scrubs.

Large demonstrations in Portland gathered for two solid months, increasing local and national support. At the same time, the U,S. government sent federal troops to abduct, threaten and arrest targeted youth.

While the Portland police force and Mayor Ted Wheeler previously collaborated with these troops, they changed their tune and demanded their withdrawal, saying that they incited violence through their actions.

On July 25, the state lost its bid for a restraining order against the four federal agencies. That same day, at least 2,000 demonstrators, primarily young Latinx, protested at Los Angeles City Hall. There was no police presence.

New to these demonstrations were scores of signs by young Latinx and their families demanding justice for Army Spc. Veronica Guillen, who was murdered April 22 by Army Spc. Aaron Robinson. Her remains were just found near the Fort Hood base.

Everyone wore masks and practiced physical distancing.

After speeches deploring cop brutality, and demanding “US feds out of Portland,” a small group led by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party split into its own march.  After more speeches, another group of more than 1,500 marched through downtown Los Angeles, rallied in front of the Los Angeles Police Department and proceeded to the Department of Homeland Security.

At this point, a small group of anarchists, ultra-leftists and undercover cops spray-painted slogans on the U.S. Courthouse building and broke its windows. The majority correctly stayed in the streets, refusing to be suckered into this provocative action.

The march continued to the 101 Freeway entrance, where again the small group of self-proclaimed leaders urged marchers onto the highway ramp to be arrested. But the overwhelming majority refused to move, so as to avoid negative publicity for an otherwise peaceful march. This way, law enforcement wouldn’t have reason to use violence against the protestors. 

Seeing that they failed to involve hundreds, they continued their march, while 95% of the crowd dispersed and left, realizing a confrontation was in store. But some people were intent on having a clash with the police to “Shut the fucker down,” as a woman with a bullhorn proclaimed. They ultimately had their melee and some were arrested.

During the massive protests that have lasted for weeks in many cities, small groups of self-proclaimed more militant demonstrators were unable to carry out these encounters. But as the movement has ebbed and focused on cases of local police brutality, bringing down symbols of the Confederacy, getting police out of the schools, pushing back on all examples of racism inherent in capitalism, face-offs like this, often provoked by police,  can discredit the movement that has involved tens of millions of people throughout this country.

Lessons of prior victorious social struggles like the anti-Vietnam War movement, the civil rights movement, and the labor movement point to the need for continued massive peaceful, legal mobilizations to push back on police brutality. During the protests after the killings of George Floyd, two labor actions, the June 16 ILWU Oakland rally, port shutdowns on the West Coast and the SEIU on July 20, workers strikes and walkouts around the country were effective, unlike the small groups disrupting traffic or trashing buildings.

Keeping the focus on demands to indict law enforcement officers who killed people such as Andres Guardado and Breonna Taylor is imperative for activists, as well as reopening police brutality cases nationally. Demonstrators have shown that demanding troops out of cities and keeping actions peaceful help engage people becoming anti-racist activists.

Coronavirus Myths Explored

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In June 2020, Medical News Today, produced by Healthline Media UK Ltd in Brighton, UK, published a fact check of the top COVID-19 myths. As the coronavirus continues to make the news, a host of untruths has surrounded the topic. In this special feature, some of these myths and conspiracy theories are addressed.

The novel coronavirus, now known as SARS-CoV-2, has spread from Wuhan, China, to every continent on Earth except Antarctica.

The World Health Organization officially changed their classification of the situation from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

The virus has been responsible for millions of infections globally, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. The United States is the most affected country.

As ever, when the word “pandemic” starts appearing in headlines, people become fearful — and with fear comes misinformation and rumors.

Here are some of the most common myths that are circulating on social media.

Myth 1: Spraying chlorine or alcohol on the skin kills viruses in the body.

Truth: Applying alcohol or chlorine to the body can cause harm, especially if it enters the eyes or mouth. Although people can use these chemicals to disinfect surfaces, they should not use them on the skin.


Myth 2: Only older adults and young people are at risk.

Truth: SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, can infect people of any age. However, older adults and individuals with preexisting health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, are more likely to become severely ill.


Myth 3: Children cannot get COVID-19.

Truth: All age groups can contract SARS-CoV-2. So far, most cases have been in adults, but children are not immune. In fact, preliminary evidence suggests that children are just as likely to contract it, but their symptoms tend to be less severe.

On May 15, 2020, the WHO released a commentary about an inflammatory condition, affecting children and adolescents, which may have links with COVID-19. The condition, called a multisystem inflammatory condition, has features similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

Scientists know little about this condition, but research from May 2020 suggests that it is rare, “probably affecting no more than 1 in 1,000 children exposed to SARS-CoV-2.”


Myth 4: COVID-19 is just like the flu.

Truth: SARS-CoV-2 causes an illness that does have flu-like symptoms, such as aches, a fever and a cough. Similarly, both COVID-19 and the flu can be mild, severe, or, in rare cases, fatal. Both can also lead to pneumonia.

However, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious. Different countries have reported different mortality rates, and the case fatality rate in the United States appears to be around 6%.


Myth 5: Everyone with COVID-19 dies.

Truth: This statement is untrue. As we mentioned above, COVID-19 is only fatal for a small percentage of people.

In a recent report, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that 80.9% of COVID-19 cases were mild.

The WHO also reports that around 80% of people will experience a relatively mild form of the disease, which will not require specialist treatment in a hospital.


Myth 6: Cats and dogs spread coronavirus.

Truth: There have been several reports of pet cats and dogs being infected with the virus, including in the United States. In most cases, the pets became sick after coming into contact with people with COVID-19.

Scientists are debating the importance of these cases to the outbreak. For instance, Jonathan Ball, a professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, said, “We have to differentiate between real infection and just detecting the presence of the virus. I still think it’s questionable how relevant it is to the human outbreak, as most of the global outbreak has been driven by human-to-human transmission.”


Myth 7: Face masks always protect against coronavirus.

Truth: Healthcare workers use professional face masks, which fit tightly around the face, to protect themselves from infection.

Disposable and cloth masks can protect against droplets, but neither can protect against aerosolized particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from asymptomatic people and those who do not know that they have contracted it.

Surgical masks and N95 respirators provide greater protection, but these are reserved for healthcare workers only.


Myth 8: Hand dryers kill coronavirus.

Truth: Hand dryers do not kill coronavirus. The best way to protect oneself and others from the virus is to wash the hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.


Myth 9: SARS-CoV-2 is just a mutated form of the common cold.

Truth: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, all of which have spiky proteins on their surface. Some of these viruses use humans as their primary host and cause the common cold. Other coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, primarily infect animals.

Both Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, began in animals and passed into humans.


Myth 10: You have to be with someone for 10 minutes to catch the virus.

Truth: The longer people are with a person who has it, the more likely they are to catch the virus themselves, but it is still possible to catch it in under 10 minutes.


Myth 11: Rinsing the nose with saline protects against coronavirus.

Truth: There is no evidence to suggest that a saline nose rinse protects against respiratory infections. Some research suggests that this technique might reduce the symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections, but scientists have not found that it can reduce the risk of infection.


Myth 12: You can protect yourself by gargling bleach.

Truth: People should never put bleach in their mouths. There are no circumstances in which gargling bleach might benefit a person’s health. Bleach is corrosive and can cause serious damage.


Myth 13: Antibiotics kill coronavirus.

Truth: Antibiotics only kill bacteria. They do not kill viruses.


Myth 14: Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus.

Truth: Thermal scanners can detect whether or not someone has a fever. However, other conditions, such as seasonal flu, can also produce a fever.

In addition, symptoms of COVID-19 can appear 2–14 days after infection, which means that someone who has the virus could have a normal temperature for a few days before a fever begins.


Myth 15: Garlic protects against coronaviruses.

Truth: Some research suggests that garlic might slow the growth of some species of bacteria. However, COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and there is no evidence to suggest that garlic can protect people against COVID-19.


Myth 16: Parcels from China can spread coronavirus.

Truth: From previous research into similar coronaviruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS and are similar to SARS-CoV-2, scientists believe that the virus cannot survive on letters or packages for an extended period of time.

The CDC explains that “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.”


Myth 17: You can catch coronavirus from eating Chinese food in the United States.

Truth: No, you cannot.


Myth 18: You can catch coronavirus from urine and feces.

Truth: It is unlikely that this is true, but the jury is currently out. Professor John Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, said, “It isn’t a very pleasant thought, but every time you swallow, you swallow mucus from your upper respiratory tract. In fact, this is an important defensive mechanism. This sweeps viruses and bacteria down into our gut where they are denatured in the acid conditions of our stomachs.”

However, it is worth noting that some research concludes that viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 might persist in feces. A recent research letter in JAMA also concludes that SARS-CoV-2 is present in feces.


Myth 19: The virus will die off when temperatures rise.

Truth: Some viruses, such as cold and flu viruses, do spread more easily in the colder months, but that does not mean that they stop entirely when conditions become milder.

As it stands, scientists do not know how temperature changes will influence the behavior of SARS-CoV-2.


Myth 20: Coronavirus is the deadliest virus known to humans.

Truth: Although SARS-CoV-2 does appear to be more serious than influenza, it is not the deadliest virus that people have faced. Others, such as Ebola, have higher mortality rates.


Myth 21: Flu and pneumonia vaccines can protect against COVID-19.

Truth: As SARS-CoV-2 is different than other viruses, no existing vaccines protect against infection.


Myth 22: 5G helps SARS-CoV-2 spread.

Truth: As the world becomes more connected, some regions are rolling out 5G mobile technology. One of the most recent theories to emerge is that 5G is responsible for the swift spread of SARS-CoV-2 across the globe.

Some people claim that 5G helps viruses communicate, often citing a paper from 2011. In this study, the authors conclude that bacteria can communicate via electromagnetic signals. However, experts dispute this theory and SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, not a bacterium.

Wuhan was one of the first cities to trial 5G in China, which helps explain the origin of some of these theories. However, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou also rolled out 5G at a similar time.

It is also worth noting that COVID-19 has significantly impacted countries with very little 5G coverage, such as Iran.


Myth 23: You can catch coronavirus in swimming pools.

Truth: According to the CDC, there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 spreads between people through the water in swimming pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds. If these facilities disinfect their water with chlorine or bromine, this should inactivate the virus.

That said, as with all public areas, people can still catch the virus from others who attend these facilities. The virus can spread through inhaling respiratory droplets in the air and coming into contact with surfaces.

People who operate pools should take extra care to clean and disinfect all facilities.

What should be done?

The CDC recommends these simple measures to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2:

• Avoiding close contact with people who appear to be sick

• Trying not to touch the eyes, nose, or mouth

• Staying at home if sick

• Sneezing into a tissue, then throwing it in the trash, or sneezing into the crook of the elbow

• Using standard cleaning sprays and wipes to disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

• Washing hands with soap regularly, for at least 20 seconds

• Wearing a cloth face-covering — in stores, pharmacies and other public settings

Black is King

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s gift to the world

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

My assignment is to mount an expedition deep into the heart of Black is King, the just-released musical film and visual album by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and return with the answers to the questions that these days weigh so heavily on the minds of white people — you know, whether black lives matter, and why that should matter to someone living a white life. Yeah, those questions. Sweet assignment.

Or it might be, except that Black is King was never intended to answer white questions. Its music, visuals and message were conceived, created and calibrated so as to reach Africans throughout the diaspora.

Black is King was not green-lighted to sort and organize white supremacy’s rusty old parts, arranging the whats, hows and whys in a way that makes clear its simple, enduring machinery. Beyoncé was looking forward as she created this companion piece to The Lion King. With Black is King, she is advancing the story, encouraging and celebrating the future, lifting and being lifted by possibilities far beyond the small minds and cramped comfort zones that allow the legal tools and institutions from the days of slavery to continue to support white supremacy.

Black is King wasn’t intended to clarify why so many white people have taken to the streets in alliance with the cause of Black Lives Matter, although I would venture to say that the movement’s legions of supporters understand that “black lives matter” isn’t a rallying cry against white people, but a statement of affirmation against American institutions that state otherwise.

Reports from the entertainment industry are describing Black is King as an urgent passion project, needed now, in this moment, more than ever before. 

Black is King was released on July 31 as a visual companion to the 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, a tie-in album curated by Beyoncé for the 2019 remake of The Lion King. After watching the musical film, a few thoughts came to mind.

Black people of African descent everywhere have long sought to center our origin story in a way that’s truthful, and nurturing to our psyche and spirit and intentionally forward looking. It’s the reason we reflect the idea that our origins come from royalty and power, something not defined by slavery and humiliation. Given the  number of films  that use the African savannah as a backdrop, it’s amazing how rare it is for black folks to be the center of those stories. That’s even true of the original animated feature The Lion King, Walt Disney Animation Studio’s first original story not based on an existing work.

It used to annoy me that whenever I saw stories set in Africa, the stories were about the animals, or human stories of indeterminate cultures were told through anthropomorphized animals. Rarely did I see stories about Africa from Africans from an African perspective.

This Disney animated feature follows the young Prince Simba, the heir of his father Mufasa. Simba’s wicked uncle Scar plots to usurp Mufasa’s throne by luring father and son into a trap, but Simba escapes and only Mufasa is killed. Simba returns as an adult to take back his homeland from his uncle with the help of his friends.

The filmmakers have said that the story of The Lion King was inspired by the lives of Joseph and Moses, from the Bible, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Black is King follows the same script, except that the entire album takes a afropunk and afrofuturist visual and sonic aesthetic, opening up the story to invite conversations about the origins of the African diaspora, and the future of black people the world over. Despite all the various moving parts, the film holds together tightly and with intention.

The film opens with a scene that references the story of Moses and his mother spiriting him away down the river  in a watertight basket. Beyoncé sings Bigger, a song that seemingly prophesies the future of her newborn son. The recentering of this story in West Africa, also recalibrates the focus of the Abrahamic faiths to include animism — the belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. Potentially, animism perceives all things — animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork and perhaps even words — as animated and alive.

When Black is King transitions from the first song to the second, Find Your Way Back, the scene is reminiscent of the birth of Jesus when a black child from heaven comes to earth. From the beginning until this point, it’s clear that this film does more than just center black people within The Lion King, it recenters black women and black womanhood within The Lion King. Here and in other places in Black is King, Beyoncé pushes a vision of shared power, shared responsibility and shared possibility balancing the role of women and men while pushing back against the most toxic aspect of black masculinity and patriarchy.

Immediately after the release of Black is King, the work was panned as capitalism draped in African aesthetics. Some have assigned the critique as being a charge of cultural appropriation. The point can be argued, but I’m not sure it would get much traction. Black is King, on its own, was reminiscent of Tyler Perry’s inspirational words at the 2019 BET Image Awards, when he recounted how his life’s work has been about “getting others across.”

“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross,” Perry said. “While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’ Because what I know for sure is that if I could just build this table, God will prepare it for me in the presence of my enemies.”

Referring to the name of the award he was receiving, Ultimate Icon Award, Perry said, “rather than being an icon, I want to be an inspiration. I want you to hear this, every dreamer in this room. There are people whose lives are tied to your dream. Own your stuff, own your business, own your way.”

Black is King is undeniably that table, feeding black hunger for an identity not associated with racist tropes and trauma porn. Indeed, in Black is King, Africans throughout the diaspora are getting to feast including songwriters, poets, producers, choreographers, dancers, actors and recording artists from urban markets across the African continent to North America.

The most telling was the Mood 4 Eva scene in which young Simba (played by 7-year-old South African actor Folajomi Akinmurele) is napping and an Alice in Wonderland dream sequence or vision takes place. I saw one review that refers to Mood 4 Eva as an “ode to decadence.” I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.  Another way of looking at this scene is as an ideation of black power and spiritual and material fulfillment — if you can dream it you can build it.

Random Letters: 8-6-20

COVID-19 Hits Long Beach Leadership

It is with deep sadness that I share that my mother, Gaby O’Donnell, has passed away due to complications from COVID-19. My brother and I are heartbroken. Our mother was the kindest and most compassionate person we’ve ever known. She immigrated from Peru to the United States in search of the American Dream—and she found it. She became a healthcare worker, caring for thousands of patients over her career and assisting nurses and doctors who she loved dearly. She loved to help people and lived a happy and joyous life. She will always be our guiding light and the center of our lives. My brother and I want to thank the incredible team at Long Beach Memorial for taking care of our mom during her last days. They are heroes and we are forever grateful. My stepfather, Greg O’Donnell, is still in the hospital and on a ventilator. We pray and hope for a full recovery.

Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach


Melville, Mythology, Madness, Just Not So Nuanced

Excellent editorial as usual. (At Length “Good Trouble and Bad–Capt. Ahab, confronted by naked white Athena in Portland, retreats” July 23, 2020).

Wonderful Melville, mytho- logy and madness but it is not as nuanced as you state.

This bellicose, cruel and half-asleep former(?) slave state is just getting what it deserves.

In the months to come we can rid ourselves of this pestilence and begin the long and arduous repair work.  Maybe voting does matter, maybe black lives do matter, maybe we should love our brothers and sisters.

Warm regards to you and the talented staff at RL.

Robin Doyno, Los Angeles


The Truth about Antifa

In the July 23 edition of Random Lengths News, Senior Editor Paul Rosenberg’s story, “The Truth About Antifa,” received the second highest amount views in our last issue but received the most  responses, mostly negative attention from sympathizers and supporters of President Donald Trump. While this newspaper has never shied away from reporting through a progressive lens, we do aim to be fair and thorough on all that we report. In this space, we chose to reprint the comments we’ve received in response to “Truth About Antifa” to illustrate the work that still needs to be done on media literacy and helping our readers decipher the difference between information from credible sources versus an echo-chamber recycling conspiracies theories and outright falsehoods. Here’s a sampling of the mostly one line snipes.

Lisa Bennett 07/24/2020 @ 1:37 pm

This entire article is propaganda. On the street, ANTIFA is a violent Marxist group that assaults any perceived “enemy.” They are thugs.

AvatarSarah F 07/28/2020 @ 9:16 pm

This article is factual. Your words are pure fear mongering propaganda. No evidence Antifa are “Marxist thugs.” Fascism is the enemy of any freedom-loving, rational person.

Cheryl 07/25/2020 @ 2:22 am

PAUL, your superiority complex interferes with your facts and hightens [sic] your lack of ethics. It is sad that you can not describe various hate groups without insulting the President every chance you get. I don’t appreciate your inability to report the news without your opinion smeared in our faces.

Artemis Gordon 07/28/2020 @ 9:33 pm

If stating the facts about Trump’s Antifa conspiracy bs “insults the President” you really think Paul is to blame? That’s some twisted logic.

Mike 07/27/2020 @ 2:24 pm

Wow, the propaganda is real. The author of this article is a terrorist, nice try. Americans are catching. You are the Nazi

Reply- AvatarYouDumb 07/28/2020 @ 5:35 am

Pure garbage. Why are people so stupid? Paul Rosenburg [sic] must be a drooling idiot going by the drivel in this stupid article.

Reply- AvatarSarah F 07/28/2020 @ 9:27 pm

Natasha Lennard wrote:

“Antifa practices understand that the desire for fascism is not something based on reason, so it is not something to be reasoned out of.”

The lack of reason in the comments here underscore the truth of her statement.

Reply- AvatarAntifa are the real fascists 07/30/2020 @ 6:37 am

All these ads for IQ tests on this page are pertinent, I definitely feel dumber after reading this drive

Republicans’ Revolt

COVID-19 denials, conspiracies and distractions

I was stopped on the sidewalk the other day by one of our well known personalities who accused me of abetting in the cover up of the truth behind the pandemic. She told me that, “She knows a lot of people in town and more on Facebook, and not one of them knows a person who has been infected nor died of COVID-19.”

Neither had I at that point, but I told her I had reason to believe that the Los Angeles County Health Department stats were reasonably accurate and you can’t cover up 150,000 deaths. She stormed off in a huff.

I finished drinking my coffee thinking that people just don’t believe what they don’t personally experience. Their truths are only experientially referenced.

I suppose this is part of the universal human condition — individuals bundling together political beliefs, personal prejudices and cultural preferences to form one perspective through which to judge life and others. This only changes when you hit one of those brick walls in life like going to war and coming back wounded, ending up homeless or having a near death experience or getting infected with COVID-19. Sooner or later, life will give you a scar that alters your perspective.

Since that sidewalk conversation, I ran into the woman who hosted the infamous party out at Trump National golf course back in March — the one with all the Palos Verdes Republicans thinking that the coronavirus was a hoax and refusing to socially distance. Only later did it come out that a man who attended the party was infected and died.  I’ve learned that since that party, the gracious host also became ill from COVID-19, but survived.

She looked a lot worse for wear, but she is no longer denying the existence of COVID-19.  However, her personal truth has been expanded to include hydroxychloroquine as a cure.

The problem is that in this small corner of Los Angeles County, the San Pedro Harbor Area (not unlike many other parts of California or the nation), the ratio of infections to total population is small like .009 percent, fortunately. This, I might add, is about the same number of homeless people in our community, except the homeless are much more visible than the infected. We should not be complacent.

And as much as I hear people complain about “some people not wearing masks,” it appears as though we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping this pandemic in check here, while the rest of Los Angeles County is surging with infections and parts of Orange County are quickly approaching the brick wall of reality (think of our neighbors in Huntington Beach). Over the past week, Orange County has averaged 462 new cases and 10.3 new deaths per day. The number of confirmed infections is currently doubling every 52.1 days, according to the Orange County Health Department. So much for the anti-maskers.

Yet, I recently received this message from Justin Clark, political director of the Los Angeles Republican Party, which states:

With each passing day life feels more and more like a dystopian novel. We live in a time where we are being conditioned by large swaths of society to think it is selfish and dangerous to protect your freedom and God given rights. The consequences of this are already being realized.

In California, we are rolling back the reopening of our economy. The talking points are simple: lockdowns save lives. If you dare question this doctrine you are labeled anti-science or must think the virus is a hoax. These claims are outlandish and a smoke screen. They are meant to distract you from the very clear reality that this was never about safety. This is, and always has been, about control.

Now I’m not going to take the time to deconstruct this small piece of political propaganda for you as it is readily evident to anyone who can read. But clearly, when he gets to “protect your freedom and God given rights,” Mr. Clark is pushing knee jerk emotional truth buttons.

Yet, even he later admits that “Mask usage, social distancing, limiting capacity, are a lot more digestible than simply closing everything down.”  This is a far cry from the original “it’s all a hoax” or a “Wuhan conspiracy” or that “it will magically disappear by April” myths. The PV Republicans should take heed of this —wear a mask and consider voting by mail.

What Mr. Clark and others are actually arguing for is that we get back to normal as fast as possible, open up schools, get these “lazy” unemployed people back to work and get this economy rolling again just to make you-know-who look great again. It doesn’t matter who or how many get infected.

But quickly getting back to normal is just not in the cards. This is true in all of the red states that have taken this rapid reopen approach. Those states now have surging infection rates — most notably Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Arizona and expanding into more rural populations with less health care services than Los Angeles. The dead bodies are stacking up in Brownsville, Tex., reports say. What stands out amongst all of these late-comers to the COVID-19 party is California — in particular Southern California. Here our leaders took the threat seriously earlier than most and stayed locked down longer than many. Yet, here we are, living in this dystopian novel. But who is actually the author? We still are not out of this pandemic and may not be for some while.

The tides are beginning to turn against the MAGA man even in parts of the Golden State that are traditionally red. Those places are starting to turn blue for Joe Biden, who now has the support of 67% of respondents in the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, while Donald Trump has fallen to 28%.  Not that this is a battleground state that will decide the national election, but it may be the one that crushes the Republican revolt.

However, the election is getting desperate as Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) writes, “My Republican opponent just tweeted out a fake photoshopped CNN poll showing the president leading former Vice President Biden. He called the poll “new” and “Embarrassing for the Democrats.” What’s embarrassing is that the poll wasn’t new. It wasn’t even real.”

And you can bank on the Republicans to become even more irate and irrational the closer to  election day and the closer Cyrus Vance Jr., the New York District Attorney gets to revealing the MAGA scandal behind the taxes of the man corrupting the White House and the nation.

The Art of Change

An Artist Uses Her Work to Inspire Social Justice

On May 29, Jane Gainer-Talbott took the day off from work, stood at the intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Madrona Avenue and held a sign that read, “Am I next?” It was four days after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.

“I personally felt like I could not go on without standing up for the fact that this man was just murdered,” Talbott said. “Another black man was murdered by the police.”

It was a very emotional stance. So much so that she couldn’t help breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably while holding her sign. Many people who drove by honked at her.

Talbott brought a canvas with her in case she was inspired to paint. She is an artist and has been teaching art for more than 20 years.

She returned to the same spot on Torrance Boulevard for a much larger protest, and she participated in the protest in San Pedro that was sponsored by the NAACP and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Her son went with her for her first protest, because he wanted to protect her. Her husband, who is white, joined her for the second protest, even though he is a very private man.

“He’s not a very loud, verbal man,” Talbott said. “But I said, ‘If not now, then when? When do you stand up? What is [a] good enough time, when a people group are being annihilated, do you stand?’”

In his book Artists in Times of War, historian Howard Zinn asked if artists say war or other social issues are not their business, then whose business are they?

“Does that mean you are going to leave the business of the most important issues in the world to the people who run the country?” Zinn writes. “How stupid can we be? Haven’t we had enough experience historically with leaving the important decisions to the people in the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, and those who dominate the economy?”

Zinn wrote that artists should be transcendent of the framework of society. He said they should think for themselves outside of what the government says, and should not be afraid to comment on social issues.

Talbott uses her artwork as an outlet to address social issues when her words are not enough.

“People are tired of hearing black words,” she said. “I know they are. My Facebook page shows me that. People don’t want to hear me be sad or … ask for help. They don’t want to hear how I’m sad about injustice, or how I wish there was change.”

Talbott has relatives who are not people of color who do not want to talk about controversial topics, such as the killing of George Floyd.

“Because I can’t say things with words, I can say it with art,” Talbott said.

Talbott said artists have a responsibility in this climate to speak with art so that people who are numb to words will hear it.

“We’ve been speaking words for 400 years,” Talbott said. “We’ve been saying, ‘Stop killing us, stop killing us,’ and trying to get people to believe us that they’re killing us.”

Men who spoke out for the black community, like Malcolm X, were killed. Leaders that made a difference used their words; Talbott uses her art.

She’s not alone. Felix Quintana, an artist based in southeast Los Angeles who has taught Slanguage workshops, recently took part in a six-month campaign to spread awareness to different social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the unfair treatment of essential workers and asking for rent freezes during the pandemic.

“A lot of these themes are pretty much thinking about art as action,” Quintana said about the project, which was coordinated by the San Jose nonprofit Working Partnerships USA, “and thinking about community identity as well.”

Quintana’s artistic goal is not to get his work exhibited in a gallery. Instead, he is finding ways to rethink where his art will be seen. This includes sharing his work on social media, and conceiving web-based projects, as well as social practice projects that involve the community. 

Talbott is similarly engaged.

She is creating a piece — its working title is either Our History or Three Screams; she’s still deciding — that depicts three people screaming. Two are black silhouettes and one has a hand around his throat.

“I look at this and it’s me being angry,” Talbott said.

Her next project will be on a black canvas with a black image.

“I want them to look at this canvas and I want them to say it’s black,” Talbott said. “But I want them to look at it and see that, oh wait a minute, there’s so much more here. Because that’s reflective of how I feel.”

She is also working on a piece consisting simply of an elegant, beautiful black woman in a dress. She based it on a photograph she found.

“It’s just something I’d never seen before,” Talbott said. “Black kids especially, and you know what, I’ll even say, black men and women and adults, they need to see us portrayed without all the drama, that’s portraying beauty and dignity. We are a people of beauty and dignity and strength and resilience. And yeah, that came from our ancestry as slaves and our history in the United States of America as an oppressed people.”

When Talbott was in high school and elementary school, she was taught about the classification of different races and taught that black people were lazy and hyper in their tone.

“Growing up, there wasn’t a lot of information about me, and people with my skin,” Talbott said. “The information they gave you was Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman and then Malcolm X. The media was very biased, the school was very biased.”

Talbott said she has experienced so much pain from not having a history and not seeing art where black people were portrayed positively. Instead, she only saw art of black people being worn out and broken down.

“The paintings in the museums were white, and [in] church you saw white Jesus,” Talbott said. “It’s hard to actually develop an identity as a black young girl that was positive.”

However, while studying art at El Camino College, she learned that black people were alive and well during the Renaissance, and present in that period’s artwork.

“I was taught that we literally had paintings about us, with us as topics in the paintings, main characters, kings and queens,” Talbott said. “But a lot of the paintings … were covered over, painted over with white faces, so that black people would never get a sense of identity, or any type of pride was stripped away.”

Talbott learned of Saint Maurice, a black man who was the leader of a Roman legion in the third century, as well as Dido Elizabeth Belle, a black British heiress from the 18th century.

“You realize when you have history that you don’t have to pretend, it’s right there on paper that you come from a strong, resilient people,” Talbott said. “And, that’s what art does, it shows us our history.”

Talbott recently attended an exhibit at the Broad Museum called Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which includes the work of black artists from 1963 to 1983. She saw impressionist-style murals of activists like Malcolm X and Angela Davis.

“That was the art of revolution,” Talbott said. “We need art of revolution again.”

Talbott saw pictures at the exhibit that portrayed the hatred of the Ku Klux Klan, but she would like to see more depictions of the love that emanates from the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There’s a lot of people who are trying to love … who are protesting who don’t have my skin color,” Talbott said. “There’s a lot of people who are trying to do good and who are doing things politically on paper to try to stand up for black people.”

Many people were blind to the struggles of black people, Talbott said.

“It’s almost like things were suppressed for so long, and they’re finally able to come to surface,” Talbott said. “People see because of social media how black people have been feeling for years. When they saw George Floyd die, when they saw him murdered, they felt that pain too. They felt that injustice too.”

So many people’s eyes have been opened compared to 10 or 15 years ago and Talbott would like to see art reflect that.

Quintana said that the pandemic created a need for art as a launch pad for social change.

“In general, a lot of my colleagues, artists, friends and community who are just creative individuals, when the pandemic hit, they saw that there was like a big need for art (and) for people just to organize and mobilize and … fight for an issue,” Quintana said.

Quintana said that his friends and colleagues looked at his work and saw it unfold alongside legislative action that was taken, including paid sick leave and rent relief.

“The response has been really positive, especially … given the time, people are paying much more attention to the artwork that’s really supporting … a lot of these movements,” Quintana said.

For Quintana, because of the length of the campaign, he was able to be at the forefront of the conversation, and really have a say in how he wanted to use his voice and his artwork.

“People who aren’t really used to … going to see art in a gallery setting, they were able to open up their email or go to this campaign website and see, you know, the artwork front and center,” Quintana said.

Working on the campaign involved lots of collaboration. Quintana was able to respond to current social issues as they became prevalent. In one case, the campaign was working on a project and had to put it aside because paid sick leave legislation was gaining traction.

“In that way, the work was very much responding to the time,” Quintana said. “Moving more into it, when there was more downtime, I was able to … think about what projects had precedent, and also, you know, given the time frame … of my residency which ones could I really flesh out.”

Quintana has also been working on a series called Los Angeles Blueprints. For the series, he takes pictures from Google Maps, tints them blue, and draws on them. The idea of the project was to highlight specific neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Quintana intends the series to point to big corporations, in this case Google, which does a lot of surveillance of neighborhoods. The series explores the idea of representation, or misrepresentation of a neighborhood.

Even before he worked on the campaign, social justice issues were already present in his work, but not as direct and straightforward as they were in the campaign.

Quintana pondered how he could keep his artistic momentum going now that the campaign was over.

“Now it’s not so much about art, for me it never really was,” Quintana said. “Art was just kind of a tool to talk about, you know, my community and try to … talk about these issues facing my community.”

Stress-Testing Democracy

Trump is heading toward an epic loss

The second quarter gross domestic product in the United States was announced July 30: a disastrous, unheard of 32.9% annualized drop, dwarfing anything on record. It was a catastrophe both for America, and for Donald Trump’s bid for re-election as president: the economy, bizarrely remains his sole strong suit. So he did what he does best: he tweeted bombastic lies, attacking mail-in voting, claiming fraud in all caps, and hysterically suggesting postponement of the election — something only Congress can do, and that’s never happened before. Not during the Civil War. Not during World War II. Not ever.

It was just the latest in a cacophony of threats to disrupt the electoral process — threats that  a bipartisan group of top government, political and academic experts called the Transition Integrity Project warns could lead to violence and potentially a stolen election, and that a coalition of grassroots organizations, Protect the Results, is preparing to defend against.

Emily Phelps, of Indivisible.

“As we saw from Trump’s comments today and last week, he’s actively working to sow doubt about the results,” Emily Phelps, of Indivisible and Ryan Thomas, of Stand Up America (the organizations that founded Protect the Results) told Random Lengths via email. “Democrats and Republican officials quickly spoke out against his lies and refuted his false claims about delaying the election,” they said. “But we’ll continue to do the work needed to ensure our elected leaders continue speaking out against any attempt by Trump to contest the results or declare victory while votes are still being cast.”

Since its founding in June, more than 30 organizations have joined.

“The reason we’re partnering with such a large coalition of organizations — which include progressive groups like MoveOn and conservative groups like Republicans for the Rule of Law — is because we intend to be as prepared as possible for an all-hands on deck moment: from lawmakers to election officials to activists,” Phelps and Thomas explained.

Other partners include Communications Workers of America, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Public Citizen, Supermajority and United We Dream.

Ryan Thomas, of Stand Up America.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned in the Trump era, it’s that we have to be prepared for all possibilities,” said Shane Larson of the Communications Workers of America in a joint press release. “If Trump in his escalating efforts to turn this country’s democracy into a one-man show refuses to leave office, we are ready to mobilize our members and take to the streets to protect the integrity of our elections.”

But Phelps and Thomas point out that the work begins now.

“We’re building a broad coalition of grassroots organizations, good government groups, voting rights advocates, and labor unions to educate the public about Trump’s efforts to undermine the election,” they said. “Each of these groups has organizers and experts with different expertise to help us plan how to best mobilize the public if Trump contests the results or refuses to step down.”

Their focus is primarily, “on being a convener of grassroots organizations, but we’re also engaging with legal experts and scholars from across the country to be able to inform those plans.”

Nor is their coalition alone in raising alarms. The Transition Integrity Project was co-founded by Rosa Brooks of Georgetown Law School and Nils Gilman of the Berggruen Institute. They conducted a war-game exercise with 67 former government officials, political professionals and academic students of government, including former heads of both the Democratic and Republican National Committees — the parties’ governing bodies. The exercise involved four different scenarios — ranging from a landslide Joe Biden win to a near 2016 repeat, with Trump winning the electoral college while losing the popular election by 5 million votes.

“All of our scenarios ended in both street-level violence and political impasse,” Brooks told The Boston Globe, which first reported the story. “The law is essentially … it’s almost helpless against a president who’s willing to ignore it.”

She summarized the dynamics more precisely in a Twitter thread:

1. Here’s how Trump & his team work:

• Announce something outrageous and illegal. Followers act on it. Critics scream & go to court. Court says “stop.”

•  Trump team announces some new variant, also outrageous and illegal. Same happens.

•  Trump Team does the same thing, over & over.

2. Each time, critics challenge his words/acts. Each time, his followers (in & out of gov’t) act on his directives. Each time, court challenges conclude at least some of what he’s doing is unlawful. But each time, he retreats on one outrage and advances on another…

As a cumulative result, Brooks explained:

3. Trump keeps “losing” and having to retreat. But meanwhile, he is winning, because each time, some damage is done: his directives cause real harm that cannot be undone by subsequent rollbacks.

4. That is what he is doing now and will do through the election. Example: legally, can he delay the election? Of course not. Will this stop him and his allies from trying it? Of course not. Will, whatever he does cause just enough confusion to prevent some voting? Yup.

5. Trump formula: repeat x 1,000, on every single issue.

Expect it. Prepare for it.

And she warned:

6. Don’t be lulled into complacency by the people saying, “But he can’t do X, it would be clearly illegal!”

They are right but also miss the point. Trump does not need to prevail in court to achieve his goals — he just needs to keep chipping away, causing chaos & fear.

7. Slowing things down on the margins, changing a few people’s behavior on the margins, causing confusion on the margins, hurting a few people on the margins. Over time, it adds up.

8. Presidential elections are often decided by the slenderest margins in swing states. That’s why we can’t just dismiss Trump’s outrageous statements. Need to build a counter-strategy premised on recognizing how and why Trump’s approach often succeeds, despite illegality, etc.

If the strategy Brooks describes is unprecedented, the foundation it’s built on is not: tried-and-true practices like purging voters from election roles, reducing the number of polling places and challenging ballots to get them thrown out. This is all backed up by a drum-beat of baseless claims about widespread voter fraud — fraud that no Republican administration — not Trump, not George Bush, not any state governor, attorney general, or secretary of state — has ever been able to find any trace of.

In fact, that fruitless search has caused significant damage, including the U.S. attorneys scandal, which resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2007. The refusal to pursue flimsy voter fraud charges was the most common thread in the politicized firings at the core of that scandal.

Significantly, prior to Trump, the main focus was on in-person voting, and demands for strict voter-ID laws. But an exhaustive 2012 investigation that turned up 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 showed that “while fraud has occurred, the rate is infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.”

Just 10 cases were found. Mail-related cases were more common, with 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud — another minute number, compared to the number of ballots cast, since the vast majority were individual cases.

There are rare exceptions, such as a recent case in a Patterson, New Jersey City Council election. But the full story weakens Trump’s assertions, rather than strengthening them.

“We’ve known for a long time that on a small scale absentee ballot fraud is something that can happen,” election law expert Rick Hasen said on MSNBC on Aug. 1. “These tend to be small-scale events and they tend to be found out because there are all kinds of procedures in place to make sure that people are not cheating. This was discovered when someone tried to submit a few hundred ballots through the mail,” he said. “To try to do something like this on a large scale, involving the presidential election, would be practically impossible.”

What’s more, headlines about the Patterson election said that 20% of ballots had been thrown out.

But “Those weren’t ballots that mostly were thrown out because of fraud,” Hasen pointed out. “Those were ballots that were thrown out because people didn’t follow directions.”

Mail-in ballots have complicated procedures to prevent fraud, which end up disqualifying large numbers of legitimate voters who simply make innocent mistakes — yet another form that de facto voter suppression can take.

Such voter-suppression strategies have been crucial to Republicans winning elections in the past and Trump is not only pushing to intensify them but adding new complications as well — such as crippling the U.S. Postal Service at a time when the need for safe mail-in voting has skyrocketed due to COVID-19. He first refused to allow money for a bailout as part of the COVID-19 stimulus package, and then installed a campaign donor, Louis DeJoy, as postmaster general, who is now cutting services, causing service delays that threaten to prevent millions of mail-in votes from being counted.

While the experts Brooks and Gilman convened know a great deal about politics today, a new book by LSU political scientist Nathan Kalmoe sheds light on significant historical parallels and the deeper, darker dangers that exist. With Ballots and Bullets: Partisanship and Violence in the American Civil War provides a detailed examination of American politics at the time of its closest approach to collapse, and in doing so, reveals things that cannot otherwise be known, simply by studying less stressful conditions.

“My work in this area is motivated partly by the worry that modern Americans — including political leaders and scholars — think violent political conflict is in the past and couldn’t happen again in some form today, and they don’t recognize the partisan dynamics of that conflict in the past. I worry we are unprepared for where we may be headed because of that blindspot,” Kalmoe told Random Lengths.

“The biggest risk factor for conflict then and now involves the fusion of social identities including partisanship.” The threat is “greatest when race, religion and other identities align with party,” he explained. On top of that, “Elections concentrate political stakes into a single moment. Those times tend to produce the most conflict and the greatest risk for violence,” he said. “The Civil War began when Southern Democrats refused to accept the election of a Republican as president. The parallel concern for violence today is that one party refuses to accept the election result. Republicans are already baselessly alleging fraud to undermine legitimate election administration.”

But another factor is crucial as well, Kalmoe noted.

“One of the main takeaways in my book — and in public opinion research generally — is that leaders matter, including those elected, those in the community and even those in peer groups,” he said. “People tend to follow those they trust. Leaders have the power to mobilize people in directions that are healthy for democracy and in ways that are hostile to it.”

Thus, it was a good sign when journalists pressed Republican senators after Trump suggested postponing the election, and they almost uniformly rejected it, with only one or two waffling a bit.

“What’s striking about this one, of course, is that it got a lot of bipartisan pushback,” Gilman said on Democracy Now! “But what’s striking is how many of his tweets don’t get bipartisan, or at least Republican, pushback. So, when he says that, you know, mail-in ballots are going to be fraudulent, there’s no pushback against that from the Republicans.”

The real problem will be what happens over time — as Brooks described above. That’s what Protect the Results and others of like mind need to defend against. Indivisible and other groups in the coalition have considerable experience in mobilizing fast and pressuring politicians when they’re dragging their heels. There was virtually no such organizing 20 years ago, in the wake of the stolen 2000 election.

“We cannot predict what Trump might do after the election, but we can prepare the infrastructure to respond to his attempts to undermine the results,” Phelps and Thomas wrote. “Folks should join us at ProtectTheResults.com, and we’ll keep them up-to-date on what’s going on before, during and after the election.”

As dangerous as this threat may be, it shouldn’t distract from normal kinds of political objectives. “We, at Indivisible San Pedro, will be ready to respond should other steps be called upon to end the Trump administration,” said Peter Warren, who’s worked with the group since its founding in early 2017.

In the meantime, “We are focused on running several phone banks a week for Katie Porter in Orange County,” Warren said. “And, we are connecting people to texting, phone banking, writing to voters in the Payback States to oust the GOP senators and vote against Trump in swing states.” (“The Payback States,” Warren explained, “are those where GOP senators who voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment are seeking reelection.”)

“We are writing and calling our members of Congress to vote for the Heroes Act and other relief measures to help Americans, the post office, small businesses, school districts, hospitals, cities and states short of cash, to assist frontline healthcare workers or those ill and beset by COVID-19, as well as to oppose Trump legislation. That is our work now,” he added.

As for the future, “No one who is paying attention expects a good-faith response from Trump or his administration to the election results. What happens after the balloting ends is speculative. We have 2000 as one ugly model. Regardless, our efforts now are focused on winning and ensuring the flaws exposed in the recent primary voting in LA County are fixed.”

The threat Trump poses to our democracy is chillingly real. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s built upon a myriad of earlier threats to and flaws in our democracy — such as the ones Warren points to, and ones Kalmoe exposes in his book.

There is some good news, he explains. The threat of all-out war is significantly less, now. “The geography of partisanship today is reassuring. It is much harder to imagine regional secession movements that would fuel violent conflict,” Kalmoe pointed out. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in most of the South, but there are no such shutouts today.

“Stark urban/rural divides are more of a concern today,” he noted. “But they do not correspond with state administrative capacities, which were key to multiplying the Civil War death toll.

“The most reassuring aspect of both eras is that one party is broadly committed to actively advancing democracy, which has not always been the case.“

The same day Trump tweeted out his attack on the election, former President Barack Obama vividly underscored what Kalmoe was talking about. Eulogizing civil rights legend John Lewis, Obama said that Bull Connor and George Wallace may be gone, but…:

… we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick.

In short, Republicans are playing a very old game, with some new wrinkles here and there, just as there have always been. Although Bull Connor and George Wallace were both Southern Democrats, Republicans have owned that game since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” first rolled out. This year, with a majority of whites now endorsing Black Lives Matter, it may finally be possible to shut that game down — but no one should expect it to be easy.

Historic Liberty Hill Plaque Thieves Arrested

One plaque recovered; two others still missing

On Dec. 5, 2019, surveillance cameras at the Port of Los Angeles caught the image of a single figure removing the historic brass plaques off of the Liberty Hill and Joe Hill monuments on Fifth Street near Harbor Boulevard and loading them onto an unusual pickup truck. The video didn’t catch the license plate.

A week later, a reader of this newspaper called the office to report the theft, which was confirmed by Mary Jo Walker of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and then the port police. Port detectives have been on the case ever since.

The first break in the case came a few weeks later. A metal theft investigator from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department alerted detectives, referring them to a recycling plant in Carson. Sure enough, it was one of the three plaques — but it was badly damaged.

From there, the port police tracked down the person who sold the metal as scrap. With the help of the Los Angeles Police Department, Alexa “Brisa” Chavez, a homeless woman from Wilmington, was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. Chavez claimed the property was “given to her.”  Arturo Liviano was also arrested on the same charge and for outstanding warrants for auto theft. Both were arraigned in the Long Beach court charged with felonies for receiving stolen property under California Penal Code Section 496(a) as the value of the three plaques were valued at over $2,800.

The charges were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors and for an unknown reason the judge dismissed the case against Chavez but the prosecutors are continuing against Laviano for auto thefts. Both defendants insist that they weren’t the ones who actually stole the plaques. This seems to be the case, according to Detective Roberto Redondo, who says that they eventually found the owner of the pickup truck and arrested him for the Department of Motor Vehicles fraud, because he used stolen license plate tags on the truck in the video. To further complicate things, this defendant claims that it was someone else who actually did the deed.

“We are still hopeful to find the original perpetrator,” said Lt. Rosario Ferrara of the port police. “We’re still actively investigating this crime but are not optimistic about recovering the other plaques.”

They say that this isn’t “the crime of the century,” but that they know the value of these items to the community.

The latest break in this case is that the last suspect in the Liberty Hill thefts was located in the L.A. Sheriff’s Wayside detention center held on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon or ADW in police lingo. As of press time he hasn’t been interviewed on this case.

The ILWU Southern California Pensioners, who raised most of the money for these historic plaques have regained possession of the one returned and are considering using the same brass to make new ones. They will have to raise donations to pay for the recreation.

The first Liberty Hill plaques were placed on the monument stone at Liberty Hill Plaza in 1991 to commemorate the 1923 incident in which the famous author of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, was arrested by the LAPD for reading the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights to striking dock workers. This event is commemorated annually with a reading of the Bill of Rights by local activists.

The irony of the police now investigating the theft of these First Amendment plaques that document past police abuse doesn’t go unnoticed.

The investigation continues and if anyone has any tips regarding this case they are urged to call the port police at 310-732-3599 and ask for Det. Redondo or Lt. Ferrara.