September 4, 2020

The Park Center for Independent Media circulates the Indy Brief, a weekly selection of news stories from journalism outlets operating outside traditional corporate systems and news organizations.

The Headlines

PCIM Exclusive

Indy Journalists Talked Reporting and Investigation at IC (Park Center for Independent Media)

U.S. Election

‘A Fiasco Is Clearly Foreseeable’: USPS Watchdog Probe Found 1 Million Primary Ballots Likely Delivered Too Late to Count (Common Dreams)

Racial Justice and Police Reform 

“Defund Police” Doesn’t Mean Hire Private Guns — But Cities Are Doing Just That (Truthout)

Trump Threatens to Defund NYC and Other Cities He Deems “Anarchist” (Truthout)

Did an L.A. Sheriff Deputy Kill a Teenager as Part of Police Gang Initiation? (Democracy Now!)

California Police Officer Charged with Shooting Dead Black Man in Walmart (Democracy Now!)
WATCH: Voices From the Ground: ‘The Protests Are Not All Riots’ (Colorlines)

Corrupt COVID-19 Relief 

The Trump Administration Is Backing Out of a $647 Million Ventilator Deal After ProPublica Investigated the Price (ProPublica)

The End of Oil? Pandemic Adds to Fossil Fuel Glut, But COVID-19 Relief Money Flows to Oil Industry (Democracy Now!)

Education and Housing

Cornell University to Reopen this Fall Despite Opposition from Community (The Progressive)

Tenants Just Won a Nationwide Eviction Ban. They’re Still Fighting to Cancel Rent. (In These Times)

Corporate Surveillance

Corporations Like Amazon Hire Union-Busting Labor Spies All the Time (Jacobin)

Leaked Documents Reveal What TikTok Shares With Authorities — In The U.S. (The Intercept)

PCIM Exclusive
Indy Journalists Talked Reporting and Investigation at IC

Prominent voices in indy media have spoken at Ithaca College through PCIM, including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, authors Jeremy Scahill and Naomi Klein, and many more. Watch Jeremy Scahill tackle the mercenary group Blackwater in discussing his book, Naomi Klein on disaster capitalism in “The Shock Doctrine,” or Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald defining the need for incisive journalism in a corporatizing world.

Watch our recent webinar, Journalism in Times of Pandemic and Protest, and view the archive of PCIM speakers on our YouTube page.

U.S. Election
1 Million Primary Ballots Likely Too Late to Count

The U.S. Postal Service’s internal watchdog issued a report this week detailing several concerns about the USPS’s preparedness for the November election, in which a record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail.

The audit found that 1.6 million pieces of election mail, 8%, “weren’t delivered on time from April through June, and over 1 million primary ballots were at ‘high risk’ of not getting back to election boards on time to be counted,” writes Common Dreams.

This audit was conducted even before “Trump campaign megadonor” Louis DeJoy took charge as Postmaster General and forced changes to the USPS slowing mail processing.

Racial Justice and Police Reform
Cities Defund Police, Hire Private Guns

In June, protests against the police killing of George Floyd prompted votes from Minneapolis’ City Council to disband the city’s police department. Other cities followed suit, cutting police department budgets.

But, as Truthout reports, some of the same cities that have voted to cut police funding have also experienced an influx of private security guards in recent months. In Minneapolis, for example, council members spent $4,500 per day to hire guards for their own protection after voting to disband municipal police.

Private security firms are even more difficult to hold accountable than public police, as they aren’t obligated to disclose records, nor are they held to the same (already insufficient) standards.

Policing approaches in the “private sector are likely to simply exacerbate economic inequality and the already violent and racist culture of public policing as the industry expands.”

The movement to reinvest police budgets into community health and safety was reinvigorated by last week’s unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But late Wednesday, Donald Trump’s justice department released a memo “that would restrict federal funding to U.S. cities determined by Attorney General William Barr to be so-called ‘anarchist jurisdictions’”—cities aiming to defund police departments, writes Truthout.

The move aligns with the Trump campaign’s anti-dissent “law and order” message.

California Officers Face Charges for Fatal Shootings

The family of a Salvadoran American teenager shot dead in June has sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over his killing. Eighteen-year-old Andres Guardado died after a police officer shot him in the back five times. Guardado, working as a security guard at an auto body shop, had started running after one of two approaching police officers drew a gun.

A whistleblower in the Sherriff’s department says the deputy who shot Guardado was a prospective member of a violent police gang called the Executioners, whose members get inked for killing civilians.

In San Leandro, California, officer Jason Fletcher has been charged with felony manslaughter for shooting 33-year-old Black man Steven Taylor inside a Walmart on April 18. Within 40 seconds, Fletcher shot Taylor with a Taser, then in the chest with his gun. Taylor, whose family said he was homeless, was trying to leave the store with a tent and a bat.

According to the Alameda County district attorney, “Mr. Taylor posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to defendant Fletcher or anyone else in the store.”

‘Protests Are Not All Riots’

Colorlines shares perspectives from Portland, Oregon, which “has been one of the most surprising cities to fight for Black lives, with protesters marching on the grounds for more than 80 days.”

“With the Black population dropping in a historically racist city, it is a huge risk for Black and brown people to lead protests in Portland—they are twice as likely to be arrested than white protestors.” The Portland uprising has also faced violence and abduction from law enforcement and white supremacists, with media often framing protesters as the instigators.

But demonstrators like DeAndre Marquise, also known as Sol Luna, have captured footage of dozens of instances on the ground showing police using brutal force on peaceful protesters.

Corrupt COVID-19 Relief
The Trump Administration Botched a $647 Million Ventilator Deal

The federal government is backing out of a controversial $646.7 million deal to buy ventilators from Royal Philips N.V., acting before the company had delivered a third of the order. ProPublica’s reporting prompted a congressional investigation finding “evidence of fraud, waste and abuse” in the acquisition of the Philips ventilators.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing the deal and a House Subcommittee is expanding investigations to other coronavirus deals made by the Phillips deal point man, Peter Navarro.

The congressional investigation determined the deal would have had the government overpaying for ventilators by as much as $500 million. Though the U.S. paid Phillips millions a decade ago to develop low-cost, rapidly deployable ventilators for a pandemic stockpile, Navarro’s team negotiated to pay four times the original price.

Pandemic Adds to Fossil Fuel Glut as Relief Money Flows to Oil Industry

As the pandemic contributes to a fossil fuel overabundance, environmental groups like Greenpeace are calling on Democratic nominee Joe Biden to ban fossil fuel interests from his campaign and, if he wins the election, his administration.

Meanwhile, Biden recently announced at a campaign stop that he won’t ban fracking. To discuss the politics of fossil fuels, Democracy Now! brought on reporter Antonia Juhasz, who says the pandemic has left the oil industry “at its weakest since its inception,” even though there were “7,000 oil and gas companies receiving as much as $7 billion in Paycheck Protection Program money.”

Education and Housing
Cornell University Reopening Despite Community Opposition

Cornell University is the only Ivy League school still set to conduct in-person classes for the fall semester. Affected communities, such as Ithaca and Tompkins County residents and Cornell employees, including resident assistants on strike, have been resisting the decision to limited effect, reports The Progressive.

Already, a cluster of nine student COVID-19 cases have been traced to a maskless, non-distanced gathering. If the campus remains open, Cornell anticipates 1,200 cases throughout the fall semester.

“As of August 24, Tompkins County reported a total of 242 COVID-19 cases, in a population of just more than 100,000; residents suspect the return of Cornell students, and their anticipated 1,200 cases, could cause that number to spike.”

Tenants Fighting to Cancel Rent After Nationwide Eviction Ban

With rent due for tenants nationwide on September 1, the Trump administration announced a sweeping moratorium on residential evictions through the end of the year.

The move saves millions of renters who had run out of options, in a “stunning move from a president who began his career in a family business synonymous with housing discrimination—and an unmistakable pivot meant to draw voters’ attention away from the Trump administration’s disastrous mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Center for Disease Control issued the order, which will likely be challenged in court. But for now, all tenants who make less than $99,000 per year appear to be covered through December, when they still face an “eviction cliff.” For that, Democratic measures—which this move far surpassed—will be insufficient. In These Times elaborates on the need to cancel rent.

 Robert Reich with the tweet of the week:
Corporate Surveillance 
Corporations Like Amazon Hire Union-Busting Labor Spies All the Time

On Tuesday, Amazon posted two job listings for intelligence analysts to monitor threats that included labor organizing. “The company immediately yanked the listings, claiming they were made in error,” but screenshots remain of the company looking for experts to collect “actionable intelligence” on “organized labor, activist groups, hostile political leaders,” among others.

Jacobin explains that Amazon doesn’t, and works to never, have unions; CEO “Jeff Bezos would not be the richest man in the world if he weren’t versed in the fundamentals of profit maximization, suppressing labor costs, and dodging regulations chief among them.”

Amazon is another in a long line of anti-worker corporations that pays to spy on activists and critical politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.

Leaked Documents Reveal What TikTok Shares With U.S. Authorities

Donald Trump issued an executive order banning Americans from using TikTok for concerns that the company could hand over user data to Chinese authorities. But recently hacked documents published in the BlueLeaks trove show the information the company has shared with U.S. law enforcement in dozens of cases, underscoring that data privacy issues extend beyond China.

The Intercept writes that experts familiar with law enforcement requests say what TikTok collects and hands over is in line with what companies like Amazon, Facebook, or Google regularly provide, “but that’s because U.S. tech companies collect and hand over a lot of information.”

In Other News

1. Engineers say part of Trump’s border wall is about to collapse, as he claims 8.4% unemployment rate ‘better than expected’ (The Independent)

2. The Pandemic Has Created a Class of Super-Savers (The Atlantic)

3. Suspect In Shooting At Portland Protest Is Killed By Police (HuffPost)

4. US unemployment rate falls below 10% as firms rehire staff (BBC)

5. Trump cuts oil and gas drillers’ rent on public lands, as state budgets suffer (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.