Moyers on Democracy

While We Were Distancing

The team at brings you news — some of it good, some of outrageous, all of it important — that’s been covered up by COVID-19

While We Were Social Distancing

For most of Donald Trump’s presidency it seems that the news has come at us like a firehose — spraying information, disinformation and quotable tweets. And that was before the pandemic. Now with mounting deaths, unemployment at Depression-era highs, and daily presidential briefing spectacles, there’s even more news flying under the radar. The team at brings you the news you need to know — some of it good, some of it outrageous, all of it important — that’s been covered up by COVID-19.

Unknown Number

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts announced that state health officials would no longer publicly share the number of workers at the state’s meat packing plants who had tested positive for the coronavirus. According to The Washington Post, “Of the 30 counties in the United States with the highest per capita prevalence of the coronavirus last week, 10 are home to major meatpacking plants. Of those 30 counties, four are in Nebraska.” 

Last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers that high rates of COVID infection among meatpacking workers were a result of “home and social” aspects of the workers’ lives. According to Politico “Azar emphasized the need to keep the plants open, according to the three people on the call. He also theorized that workers were largely not becoming infected at the meatpacking plants, and were instead contracting the coronavirus from their communities….One possible solution was to send more law enforcement to those communities to better enforce social distancing rules, he added, according to two of the lawmakers on the call.”

Meanwhile, NBC News reports that an unreleased White House report shows that coronavirus rates are spiking in the heartland. 

One Vote 

An amendment that would have kept the federal government from surveilling Americans’ internet search and browsing history without a warrant failed by just one vote. According to Recode, “The vote was for an amendment to the controversial Patriot Act, which would have expressly forbidden internet browsing and history from what the government is allowed to collect through the approval of a secret court. Currently, there is no such provision, which means there’s nothing stopping the government from doing so. The government has an established history of using this method to collect certain types of data about millions of Americans without their knowledge.” The amendment needed 60 votes but received just 59. Four senators, Lamar Alexander, Ben Sasse, Patti Murray and Bernie Sanders, didn’t vote on the amendment. 

To The Teeth 

Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. (via Bloomberg)

Democracy RIP 

Vladimir Putin is on track to steal the next election, Franklin Foer reports in The Atlantic. “The Russians have learned much about American weaknesses, and how to exploit them. Having probed state voting systems far more extensively than is generally understood by the public, they are now surely more capable of mayhem on Election Day—and possibly without leaving a detectable trace of their handiwork. Having hacked into the inboxes of political operatives in the U.S. and abroad, they’ve pioneered new techniques for infiltrating campaigns and disseminating their stolen goods. Even as to disinformation, the best-known and perhaps most overrated of their tactics, they have innovated, finding new ways to manipulate Americans and to poison the nation’s politics. Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020”

Electing Donald Trump, Foer writes, wasn’t the end goal, but merely a plot point. “Events in the United States have unfolded more favorably than any operative in Moscow could have ever dreamed: Not only did Russia’s preferred candidate win, but he has spent his first term fulfilling the potential it saw in him, discrediting American institutions, rending the seams of American culture, and isolating a nation that had styled itself as indispensable to the free world. But instead of complacently enjoying its triumph, Russia almost immediately set about replicating it. Boosting the Trump campaign was a tactic; #DemocracyRIP remains the larger objective.” 

Fossil Fuel Discrimination? 

Republican Congress sent a letter to the Trump Administration decrying banks’ decision to reevaluate fossil fuel investments. According to ArsTechnica, “…the letter doesn’t call for any particular action, it repeatedly mentions the assistance offered to banks via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act 9 (CARES Act).” 

They tell Trump “we urge you and your Administration to use every administrative and regulatory tool at your disposal to prevent America’s financial institutions from discriminating against America’s energy sector while they simultaneously enjoy the benefits of federal government programs.’… They also clearly hope that the letter will prompt the Trump administration to find ways of compelling the banks to turn their backs on their own financial analysis of the energy markets….There’s no guarantee that the administration will find a legal means of using the Act’s programs as leverage or will choose to do so at the time. But should the administration do so, this letter will undoubtedly be cited as a reason for the decision.” 

Food Off The Table 

Despite record-breaking job losses, the Trump Administration is pushing ahead with their plan to cut food assistance to vulnerable Americans. Time reports, “On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly issued a notice that it was appealing a judge’s injunction that blocked the cabinet agency from proceeding with cuts to…food stamps. If the USDA wins its appeal, the new requirements would strip 688,000 Americans of their food benefits, according to Department’s own estimates.”

Budget Cut 

More than 50 progressive groups are calling on Joe Biden to pledge a $200 billion per year cut to the Defense Department’s budget during his presidency. “For decades, U.S. foreign policy has been overly focused on confrontation with perceived adversaries and the global projection of U.S. military power,” the groups say in the letter. “Doing so has militarized our response to global challenges, distorted our national security spending priorities, toxified our political discourse, and left us woefully ill-prepared to confront the growing transnational threats to human security we face today that do not have military solutions.”

Follow The  Money

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) was not the only member of his family to sell a significant amount of stock before the market crash in February. ProPublica reports that Sen. Burr’s brother-in-law Gerald Fauth, a Trump appointee to the National Mediation Board, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of stock on the same day as Sen. Burr. 

Burr stepped down as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday as a result of an FBI investigation into these stock trades. 

The New York Times found that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) got a $9 million parting gift from her previous employer. “The parent company of the New York Stock Exchange, which her husband runs, changed compensation terms to give…Loeffler, a top executive, awards worth millions of dollars as she left for Congress.” 

Loeffler turned over documents related to the sale of millions of dollars in stocks owned by her and her husband to the federal authorities on Thursday. 

Fight The Vote 

President Trump’s reelection campaign is expanding its budget to fight attempts to expand remote voting opportunities in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Politico says “The Republican National Committee and Trump reelection campaign are doubling their legal budget to $20 million as litigation spreads to an array of battleground states. With the virus likely to complicate in-person balloting in November, Democrats have been pushing to substantially ease remote voting restrictions — something the Trump campaign and RNC are aggressively fighting in the courts.”

Virtual and Vital 

Katrina vanden Heuvel writes that the Poor People’s campaign led by Rev. William J. Barber II is continuing their vital work in a virtual space. 

“Mobilizing around a call for moral revival, the Poor People’s Campaign has built more than 40 state committees, bringing together poor and low-income people — many now called “essential” workers, faith leaders and citizens of conscience. In state capitals across the country, they spurred the most expansive wave of nonviolent citizen disobedience since the civil rights movement, protesting the skewed priorities of state budgets, the racializing of voter suppression and the cruelty of our immigration system. The group put forth a Poor People’s Moral Budget laying out sensible priorities at the national level. The campaign’s original plan for this year was to bring millions to Washington on June 20 to empower the 140 million people living in poverty in America and lift up their voices. Now, the pandemic has turned that demonstration virtual — but made it even more vital.”

To learn more about Rev. Barber, check out State of Conflict: North Carolina, a documentary produced by Moyers & Company about Barber’s activism and organizing work.