January 4, 2021

The Park Center for Independent Media circulates the Indy Brief. Subscribe for a weekly selection of news stories from journalists operating outside traditional corporate systems.

The Headlines

Our Stories

Nominations Open for the 13th Annual Izzy Award (Park Center for Independent Media)

U.S. Politics

‘A Huge Relief’: British Judge Rejects Trump Administration Attempt to Extradite Julian Assange (Common Dreams)

Trump Called the Georgia Secretary of State and Demanded that He Find More Nonexistent Votes (Mother Jones)

Economy and Labor

2020’s Legislative Attacks on Gig Workers Will Change Labor Forever (Truthout)

The Case for Wide-Scale Debt Relief (The Nation)

Prison and Policing

COVID-19: Coming to a Jail Near You (The Progressive)

Inside Trump and Barr’s Last-Minute Killing Spree (ProPublica)

COVID-19 Vaccine

Dismally Slow Vaccine Distribution Sets Up A Long 2021 (Talking Points Memo)

People’s Vaccine: Calls Grow for Equal Access to Coronavirus Vaccine as Rich Countries Hoard Supply (Democracy Now!)

Climate Crisis

Many Scientists Now Say Global Warming Could Stop Relatively Quickly After Emissions Go to Zero (Inside Climate News)

Our Stories
Nominations Open for the 13th Annual Izzy Award

Named after legendary journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone, the Izzy Award will be given by PCIM for work published by an independent journalist, outlet, or producer from 2020.

Nominations should be submitted by February 1, 2021, via a brief email that includes supporting web links and/or attached materials to Brandy Hawley at bhawley@ithaca.edu.

PCIM will announce the winner in early spring, with an award ceremony to follow in April 2021.

Find out more on our website

U.S. Politics
British Judge Rejects Trump Administration Attempt to Extradite Julian Assange

Early Monday morning, a British judge rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange to the United States, citing the risk that this move could pose to the WikiLeaks founder and publisher’s life, reports Common Dreams.

Judge Vanessa Baraitser of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court warned that a U.S. prison would put Assange at a “substantial” risk of suicide. While the judge didn’t reject the U.S. request due to the threat extradition would pose to press freedoms, advocates are relieved for the rights of journalists.

The U.S. is expected to appeal the ruling. Pending U.S. appeal, Assange’s lawyers are asking that he be released on bail from London’s notorious Belmarsh prison, where the WikiLeaks founder has been detained since 2019.

Trump Demanded the Georgia Secretary of State Find Nonexistent Votes

Donald Trump’s latest effort to undermine the 2020 election results took place during an hour-long phone call on Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump urged Raffensperger, who is a Republican, to “recalculate” results and “find” enough votes to declare him the victor.

Despite Trump’s attempts to threaten, flatter, and convince with debunked conspiracy theories, Raffensperger declined: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”

Mother Jones covers the Washington Posts’ story, with the full audio recording of the conversation between Trump and Raffensperger.

Economy and Labor
2020’s Legislative Attacks on Gig Workers Will Change Labor Forever

California’s Proposition 22 was the most expensive ballot initiative in the country’s history. Passed overwhelmingly in November, the measure exempts so-called gig workers from many basic labor rights and seeks to create a new subclass of workers.

App companies such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates spent more than $220 million on the campaign.

Prop 22’s passage means that “roughly 8.5 percent of the workforce in California will not be guaranteed a minimum wage, won’t have access to unemployment insurance or overtime pay, will not get paid sick leave or family leave, and will have no protection from discrimination based on immigration status or historical traits tied to race,” reports Truthout.

The measure eliminates required sexual assault training and the obligations of Uber and Lyft to investigate harassment claims; it overrides local ordinances benefitting workers; it prevents legislators from amending the law; and it sets a precedent for similar attacks on gig labor, which are emerging in Illinois and New York.

The Case for Wide-Scale Debt Relief

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, household debt in the United States had reached a record-breaking $14 trillion, resulting from decades of stagnating wages and slashed social services. The pandemic has only exacerbated the structural issue of mass indebtedness.

For The Nation, Astra Taylor argues for widespread cash payments and debt relief. Cancelling federal student debt could boost the economy by up to $108 billion a year, add up to 1.5 million jobs annually, and help close the racial wealth gap.

Similarly, medical bills have piled up since COVID-19—reducing or eliminating related debt “would pull millions away from the brink of insolvency, increase spending in the broader economy, and reduce suffering and stress.”

Prison and Policing
COVID-19: Coming to a Jail Near You

Jails have become immense hazards for the spread of COVID-19. There are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S.—mostly in state and federal prisons where people serve sentences of one year or longer, and turnover is slow. In county jails where people serve less time, there are over 10 million admittances every year.

Most people in jail have not been convicted of a crime, and those who cycle in and out of jails also take COVID-19 back into their homes, infecting Black, brown, and poor white communities. But President-elect Joe Biden’s pandemic plan includes no mention of jails or prisons.

The Progressive offers a case study of three Illinois jails that illustrate the struggle to reverse mass incarceration.

Inside Trump and Barr’s Last-Minute Killing Spree

The Trump administration, in its final days, has trampled legal and practical barriers to execute federal prisoners.

Officials carried out executions in the middle of the night, executed a prisoner while an appeal was still pending, bought drugs from a secret pharmacy that failed a quality test, and hired private executioners that they paid in cash.

While the unprecedented string of executions is often attributed to Attorney General William Barr—and he does play a key role—ProPublica’s review of internal government records shows that Barr did not act alone. “The push to resume federal executions for the first time since 2003 long predates Barr, with groundwork beginning as far back as 2011 and accelerating after Trump took office in 2017.”

The movement was helped by Justice Department lawyers; officials at the Bureau of Prisons; two professors who endorsed the government’s injection method; conservative Supreme Court justices who dismissed final appeals; and Trump himself.

COVID-19 Vaccine
Slow Vaccine Distribution Sets Up A Long 2021

It’s becoming clear that it will take many months until the U.S.’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign reaches the general public. Only 4.5 million Americans have received their first dose, compared to the 20 million the administration promised by the end of 2020.

The data is subject to change, as Talking Points Memo elaborates: vaccination rates could increase thanks to the end of the holidays, distribution kinks getting smoothed, and $8 billion appropriated by Congress for vaccination.

Still, wealthy countries including the U.S. and Britain are contributing to global vaccine supply issues: as much as 90% of the population in dozens of poorer countries could be forced to wait until at least 2022 for the vaccine, because wealthy countries are hoarding.

A growing movement is calling for  the development of a people’s vaccine and the suspension of intellectual property rights to expand access, reports Democracy Now!.

Climate Crisis
Global Warming Could Stop Relatively Quickly After Emissions Reach Zero

In 2020, despite the temporary dampening of greenhouse gas emissions from the paused world economy, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached its highest level in millions of years. Through November, last year was on pace to be the hottest or second-hottest on record for the planet, almost 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Inside Climate News compiles aspects of climate change unexpected in 2020. Among the list is that warming in the Arctic and Antarctic continues to accelerate faster than the global average. Sea levels are also rising significantly: “by 2050, sea level will be about a foot higher, compared to 2000,” says Bill Sweet, a sea level rise expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Research shows that stopping greenhouse gas emissions will stabilize global warming within a decade or two; once CO2 emissions reach net zero, there will be very little to no additional warming.

In Other News

1. UK Covid-19 variant case confirmed in New York (The Independent)

2. The Pandemic Metric to Trust Right Now (The Atlantic)

3. Republicans In Disarray Over Trump’s Effort To Overturn 2020 Election (HuffPost)

4. Qatar: Saudi Arabia embargo ‘to be lifted’ (BBC)

5. Assange ruling confirms US prisons’ grim record, experts say (The Guardian

Read previous Briefs and more from independent media on the PCIM website, and follow PCIM on social media: Facebook | Twitter

The Indy Brief is edited by Jeremy Lovelett.