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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

On this week's gold-medal-winning weekly Independent comics page: Apoca Clips listens in as Trumpy talks about the Olympics; Red Meat deals with a pet problem; Jen Sorenson looks at selective free-speech warriors; The K Chronicles finds a $10 bill; and This Modern World examines the ongoing war on objective reality.

Published in Comics

I got a text from my mom flipping out about The Memo—the document assembled by Fresno-area Congressman Devin Nunes and released, despite intelligence agency concerns, on Feb. 2.

She’s smart but not especially political, and her text made it clear that the #releasethememo movement that began as an alt-right rallying cry had now reached the mainstream. “As a teenager you ranted about the CIA (you were right),” she wrote. “Now the FBI. Can we trust any politician or any government office?”

It was a strange moment for me, because, at the same time every mainstream news network in the country was on “Memo Watch,” I was covering a woefully uncovered trial in Baltimore, where the FBI uncovered a vast police corruption conspiracy after they traced some opioids that killed a young woman back to a drug gang and, upon tapping phones, realized the gang was working with a Baltimore Police officer named Momodu Gondo. When FBI agents tapped his phone, they realized that he and other officers were regularly targeting citizens whom they thought had a lot of cash—to rob.

Over the last three weeks of a federal trial—six of the officers pleaded guilty, while two maintained innocence and stood trial—we have learned that, according to testimony, one officer executed a man point-blank in 2009 because he “didn’t feel like chasing him.” According to Gondo’s testimony, a deputy commissioner came out to the scene to coach everyone on what to say: The victim was about to run them over, and he had to shoot. The deputy commissioner announced his retirement immediately following the testimony.

We also learned that during the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, Wayne Jenkins—the ringleader of the elite police task force who was also indicted—came to a bail bondsman with two big trash bags of pharmaceuticals stolen from pharmacies and told him to sell them.

The bail bondsman testified that Jenkins came to him with stolen drugs almost every night. Jenkins, who did not testify, has come across as something like a demon. Even Jemell Rayam, who shot the man to keep from chasing him, thought Jenkins’ actions were excessive. Most of the officers said they were scared of him. He is, in Trump’s language, “high-energy,” and is in many ways the perfect image of Trumpian law-enforcement: If people are poor, or black, or immigrants—unprotected—then they are inherently criminal, and nothing you can do to them is criminal.

Jenkins had been involved in this kind of activity since at least 2010, when he and Det. Sean Suiter—who was apparently murdered in November, the day before he was supposed to testify to the grand jury in the case—chased a “target,” causing a fatal car crash, and then planted drugs in the car. Jenkins, as many people testified, was protected by the local power structure.

But the plodding investigations by the FBI—and prosecutions of the U.S. attorneys—brought down Jenkins’ long reign of terror.

This is similar to the story told by David Grann in last year’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which is about how the newly formed FBI was able to break through the white-power structure of 1920s Oklahoma law enforcement and expose local authorities’ involvement in killing hundreds of Native Americans in order to steal their payments from oil on Osage-owned lands.

Yet the national media—which covered every second of the burning CVS during the riots following Freddie Gray’s death—was largely silent about the vast police misconduct revealed in the trial, even though they dovetailed in some uncomfortable ways with the Memo Watch hysteria.

The Memo’s author, Devin Nunes, worked on Trump’s transition team and had a weird midnight Uber ride and secret White House lawn meeting a few months back. He ultimately alleged that the Steele dossier—source of the “pee tape” rumors—was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and used to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant on former Trump advisor Carter Page.

The Trump team has long alleged that Page, who has done some bragging about his Russian connections, was nothing more than a “coffee boy”—and that this was an attempt by the FBI to take Trump down.

Ultimately, The Memo was a dud, but it does highlight the weird moment where the right is attacking law enforcement agencies, and the left is valorizing them. It’s not hard to find countless examples of FBI malfeasance—the agency’s COINTELPRO is one of the worst incidents of law enforcement over-stepping in American history, as J. Edgar Hoover and his team plotted illegal, Jenkins-esque ways to destroy the black-militant movement.

The rather young and dashing dynamic duo of federal prosecutors in Baltimore—Leo Wise and Derek Hines—come across as champions of Baltimore’s most vulnerable citizens. But as they pulled out a big bag of black masks and clothes that Jenkins used for burglaries, I couldn’t help but think of their colleague Jennifer Kerkhoff, who, an hour down the road in Washington D.C., is still trying to prosecute 59 people for wearing black clothes during Trump’s inauguration, following a protest where a few windows were broken.

Regardless, the Trumpist attempt to undermine the FBI can be seen as an attempt to protect people like Wayne Jenkins—remember that Trump pardoned the super-racist former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio—in the name of “local control” or “states’ rights.” It is part of what Steve Bannon called the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” an attempt to have lawmen—lawmen in whom the president sees himself—seen as above the law.

Just as testimony in the Baltimore trial wrapped up, it came out that the Trump team was trying to plan a big military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Surely, that will elicit massive protests—and may be a great gift to the lagging and fractured protest movement—but I couldn’t help but imagine Wayne Jenkins, with his grappling hooks and stolen drugs, riding with Arpaio at the front of the whole thing as a perfect picture of Trumpian law enforcement.

But Jenkins better not wear his black burglary clothes—D.C. prosecutors might mistake him for an anarchist and charge him with another conspiracy.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

On this week's unseasonably warm weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson wonders what would happen with Watergate in today's media climate; The K Chronicles wonders what's wrong with Philadelphia Eagles fans; This Modern World has a chat with ICE Officer Friendly; Red Meat needs a substitute shortstop; and Apoca Clips critiques the Super Bowl.

Published in Comics

On this week's on-the-verge-of-a-constitutional-crisis weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles gets ideas at a spy museum; This Modern World examines how far back a Deep State conspiracy goes; Jen Sorenson examines up-and-coming cryptocurrencies; Apoca Clips listens in as Nikki Haley gets a cut; and Red Meat turns to the kid to find out why dad has so much stubble.

Published in Comics

On this week's Tide Pods-free weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson looks at the cycle of corruption; The K Chronicles goes sledding; This Modern World watches as the news cycle rolls on; Red Meat feels bloated; and Apoca Clips discovers the real reason why the government shutdown ended quickly.

Published in Comics

On this week's carb-free weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World ponders that new book about Trump; Jen Sorenson looks back at the film Idiocracy; The K Chronicles comes down with pneumonia; Apoca Clips watches as Trumpy plays a game; and Red Meat remains seated.

Published in Comics

I went to bed reading Fire and Fury, which, as you probably know, is Michael Wolff’s ribald and riveting account of the early days of the Trump regime. It quickly became clear in the book that no one involved in Trump’s campaign expected, or wanted, him to win.

That was a horrible thought: Trump and his motley crew of enablers, the doltish adult children, sleazeballs like Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski, fascists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller—they all overestimated the American people.

They thought we were better than we were. They thought they were safe, because we would never elect Donald Trump.

I went to sleep with this somber thought. At some point in the night, I woke up smelling smoke. I got up and looked around and couldn’t find anything. It was 10 degrees in Baltimore that night, so I assumed it was a neighbor’s fireplace.

Around 9 a.m., my wife woke me. “The dog is acting weird,” she said.

The dog was shaking, pawing at us.

“Smoke!” my wife yelled.

I looked over—and smoke was coming up through the floorboards. Then it burst into flame. By the foot of the bed.

Fire and fury ensued. This is the essence of this year.

Ultimately, the fire in my bedroom wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The fire department—Big Government!—was there before the fire destroyed much. They cut through the floor and broke the windows. Most of the damage was caused by the smoke. We were safe, and we didn’t lose anything of real value. We have renters’ insurance, and I’m writing this from a hotel, where I spent a lot of time waiting on the bureaucracy of insurance and disaster mitigation. I bought the audio book of Fire and Fury and listened to the rest of it as I threw out former possessions that were now nothing but junk.

However difficult things were for me, it turned out to be much better than what was going on with many of the people in the figurative conflagration of the book—especially Steve Bannon.

Bannon is the almost Ahab-esque antihero of Fire and Fury, which in many ways charts his rise and fall—at least up until the point that the book’s publication precipitated a further fall. For being such a horrendous pseudo-intellectual schlub, Bannon is also fascinating, a far-right svengali. According to Harvard studies, during the last election, Breitbart was three times as influential as its next-closest competitor (measured in terms of retweets and shares), Fox News. Bannon was at least partly responsible for that—and for getting Trump elected.

That perception, that Bannon orchestrated Trump’s victory—as shown in another book, Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain—was probably the No. 1 factor in his August White House ouster, even more important than the alt-right terror that ripped apart Charlottesville that month.

In Fire and Fury, though, Bannon is correct about how horrible the Trump kids and Jared Kushner are. It was actually beautiful to listen to him (or Holter Graham, who read the audiobook) railing against the idiocy of Jarvanka—Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

And Jarvanka were also right about him and his whack-job far-right Leninism, reveling in the destruction of the world. That circular firing squad is what makes the book so compelling: All of these people are so disastrously wrong about America, but they are pretty correct when they assess each other’s weaknesses. Bannon’s weaknesses are nearly infinite—and the most important ones are intellectual. Sure he’s a slob and all that, but he is a sexist, racist, “nationalist” who created a section of the Breitbart site called “Black Crime.”

After Wolff quoted Bannon saying that Don Jr.’s Russia meeting was treasonous, the president went on the attack with a new epithet, “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon tried to apologize, saying he was really attacking his predecessor as Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. But it wasn’t enough. Bannon was fired first from Breitbart and then from his SiriusXM show (with Fox pre-emptively refusing to hire him). Worst of all, billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who have supported most of his endeavors and funded his nationalist endeavors, cut ties with their schlubby honey badger.

I watched out all of this play out on cable as I tried to deal with the disaster bureaucracy. And it was delightful to see the pundits all talking about Bannon’s terrible week, even if it came for all the wrong reasons.

Bannon, by the way, did not have the worst week in Washington, D.C., during that particular time. That would go to the more than 12,000 Salvadorans who live in the district; the numbers are far larger if you count the D.C. suburbs, which have large Salvadoran enclaves. Ultimately, a Department of Homeland Security directive to end the temporary protected status for people who came to the U.S. from El Salvador following a 2001 earthquake will affect more than 200,000 people who have been in the U.S. for more than 15 years now. It’s almost impossible to imagine how deeply that will affect their communities.

Bannon may be gone, but this is the essence of the dark alignment of Bannon’s alt-right with Jeff Sessions’ revanchist racism and Trump’s big boner for a border wall. So when Trump was meeting with a group of senators and asked why we have so many people coming here from “shithole countries,” like El Salvador, Haiti (which already had its TPS rescinded) and various nations in Africa, it was clear that it didn’t matter whether or not Bannon was in the White House or “in the wilderness” or not.

Trump, Bannon and their crew may have overestimated the electorate in their expectation of losing. We should not make the same mistake and overestimate them. Whatever happens to Steve Bannon, racists now rule the executive branch.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

On this week's stable, genius weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson ponders the meaning of the word "complicit"; The K Chronicles has a disconcerting experience at a sports bar; This Modern World dismisses poverty; Apoca Clips listens in as O.J. threatens to sue; and Red Meat finds something in a storm drain.

Published in Comics

Nearly a half-century ago, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act by a vote of 92-0 in the Senate, and 355-4 in the House. Republican President Richard Nixon said the legislation “provides the federal government with needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage, threatened wildlife. … Nothing is more priceless and worthier of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

As the Trump administration continues to roll back America’s commitment to conservation, we should fear that it will succeed in turning the federal government away from its responsibility to protect species from extinction. The administration recently denied petitions to list 25 wildlife species as endangered.

As Kathleen Hartnett-White, who is a Senate-vote away from becoming the administration’s chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, put it, the Endangered Species Act is “economically harmful” and a “formidable obstacle to development.” So perhaps it should not have come as a surprise when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he would reopen areas of sage-grouse habitat to mining, as well as oil and gas leasing. Zinke, along with the U.S. Forest Service, also plans to revisit the state-federal sage grouse conservation plans that successfully led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide not to list the grouse as threatened or endangered.

Some critics are encouraging a rewrite of the law itself, arguing that the ESA has failed, because relatively few of the already listed species have been brought to “recovery.” Many states also want more control over determining when a species should be listed, or removed, from the list, and in identifying “critical habitat” for the survival of a listed species.

The Endangered Species Act has prevented some important and iconic species from going extinct, including bald eagles, the Yellowstone grizzly and gray whales. The primary impediment to recovery has always been a lack of resources. A recent study found that most listed species with recovery plans received less than 90 percent of the amount of money needed for their recovery, and that overall funding for the act has declined since 2010. Only sufficient funding from Congress—not changes in the law itself—can fix this problem.

Critics also complain that “consultations”—the required reviews of projects that may harm listed species or their habitat—are costly and time-consuming, and that they increase uncertainty in project planning. In December, the Trump administration announced plans to change the rules governing endangered-species consultations and critical-habitat designations. Yet a recent review of all Fish and Wildlife Service consultations from January 2008 through April 2015 found that no project was stopped or extensively altered due to reviews. On average, approvals took only 14 business days. The 10 percent of consultations that required further review took 61 days. In virtually all cases, the agency acted within the time limits set by the law.

Although determining whether a species is in danger of extinction is based solely on biological grounds—as it should be—economic factors are already considered in identifying habitat that is critical for the survival of a species. In 2015, Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead, as chair of the Western Governors’ Association, launched a review of how the Endangered Species Act was working. One outcome was a Western Governors’ policy statement supporting “all reasonable management efforts to conserve species and preclude the need to list a species under the ESA.”

The 2015 Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered illustrates the benefit of this approach. That decision, based on state and federal land-management plans, initiatives by public-land users, and voluntary efforts by private landowners across the remaining 11-state range of the grouse, was a victory for conservation. It proved the wisdom of the authors of the act, who understood that the key to conserving imperiled species was protecting the ecosystem on which a species depended.

As Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee put it: “What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected? It is nothing.”

Yet the act seems to work best when it encourages voluntary measures to protect habitat. The flexibility built into it has permitted innovative conservation measures that benefit the species, the public-land users and the private landowners who implement those measures. In many instances, federal funding and technical assistance is available to help defray landowner costs and encourage collaborative conservation efforts.

As the rate of extinctions and the loss of biodiversity accelerates, the act is essential for keeping vulnerable species alive. Unfortunately, if President Trump’s administration and Republican leaders in Congress have their way, the Endangered Species Act itself could be extinguished.

Jim Lyons is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Published in Community Voices

Donald Trump’s second year in office is beginning like every new Star Wars movie: The Resistance is in tatters, trying to rebuild.

Yes, there is plenty of Internet #Resistance, ranging from insane conspiracy theories to serious commentary and organizing—but this online profusion has resulted in confusion in real life.

The divide is mirrored in the Bernie/Hillary split—but it is also something deeper and something that moves further to the fringes. The divide, in many ways, mirrors the increasing divisions within the far right, where the alt-lite litigiously differentiates itself from the more openly racist alt-right.

Last year, there was the Disrupt J20 protest on Inauguration Day, which led to the prosecution of nearly 200 individuals, identified by the police and the prosecution as anarchists. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets for the women’s march.

There is little sympathy or support between these groups, with many anarchists and hardcore organizers mocking feel-good liberals who #Resist while supporting the FBI, intelligence agencies and Robert Mueller. More mainstream liberals, on the other hand, attempt to distance themselves from anyone further to the left than they are for fear of being tainted by the anarchist stench of “hippies.” As a result, these liberals have been far more concerned about Putin’s abuse of reporters than they have about the prosecution of journalists who were covering the J20 protests. Though these J20 cases have been largely ignored by the mainstream press, they have had an immeasurable effect on the state of protest—creating fear, distrust, and division on the left.

Over the last couple of weeks, some of these tensions have bubbled up, largely in online debates about a real-life rally slated for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The “People’s March on Washington,” also called the “The Impeachment March,” has gained a lot of online support—25,000 are “interested” on Facebook, and more than 2,000 say they are going. It has also gotten a lot of pushback.

The rally was organized by a group called People Demand Action, headed up by a 24-year-old man named Lawrence Nathaniel, who is a big-thinking, marketing-minded millennial leftist who says he worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign and then, after he got over his disappointment following the primary loss, for Hillary Clinton. When Trump won, he began to think about what he could do.

Nathaniel has a long list of sometimes improbable plans and goals, including opening a free, private school in Bamberg, S.C. However, the march calling for the impeachment of the president indeed gained traction. But as interest in the march grew—and organizers began trying to raise money—so did the questions surrounding it.

I first heard questions about the march when Dave Troy, a technologist and writer in Baltimore, wrote to me. Troy is deeply concerned about Russian trolls and “active measures.” When he saw confusion surrounding the event, he initially thought it might be the result of some Kremlin campaign. But after he started to look into it, he attributed the perceived failings of the organizers to inexperience rather than malfeasance.

Nathaniel has set up a number of organizations to promote the march and his various other endeavors. People have been calling them “shell organizations” or “false fronts,” but that seems a little too harsh. The one organization that has filed official papers is called the Presidential House, and it proposes some sort of weird shadow government in Charleston, S.C., with Nathaniel as president. Troy called it “unhinged, fantastical nonsense.”

I called Nathaniel and asked for an explanation.

“When I started the Presidential House I started volunteering for the Obama campaign,” Nathaniel said. He acknowledged that the original scheme was kind of goofy, but said it came from his enthusiasm for Obama. “I was 16 or 17 and was very excited, and so I started something called the Presidential House to get out in my community.”

For Nathaniel, inexperience is part of the point of protest.

“Many of us, especially young people in the political realm, don’t really get our voices heard, because it’s mostly a ‘who has more experience’ type thing versus a protest where we’re able to organize it, either locally or nationally, and our voices can be heard much easier there than working with politics,” Nathaniel said.

However, he said he is still interested in electoral politics and local issues. “My goal was to run for United States Congress this year, but I decided not to because Annabelle Robertson, who is way more qualified than I am, decided to run (against Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson). So I decided to put my action behind her and get out and protest.”

Critics point to the “Rally at the Border,” in San Ysidro, Calif., the only other rally Nathaniel has organized. It failed amid concerns of top-down organizing that didn’t take the needs of the community into consideration, and could have put a lot of people at risk.

Once news of the failed border rally became public, people began demanding to see the permit for the march on Washington. Nathaniel says he has a permit and has met with D.C. police, Park Police, the Secret Service and the FBI.

But for local organizers in San Ysidro and D.C., working with the authorities is precisely the problem: Washington, D.C.’s police department threw more than 70 grenades and emptied hundreds of canisters of pepper spray at the Disrupt J20 protest during the inauguration. At a right-wing rally recently, Park Police claimed to be working with right-wing militias.

“In D.C., we do not like interfacing with police,” Brendan Orsinger, an organizer in D.C., told me. “We don’t like the idea of the state giving permission for us to march. And we don’t need it. … It’s actually much safer not to have police involved in the planning of the march.”

Orsinger has been vociferous in his criticism of the march. But like Troy, he doesn’t see a conspiracy: “There are good intentions here. But one of the things that I learned over the last year is that good intentions are not good enough to make change happen in this country.”

This raises the larger question: What are protests for? The prosecution of the nearly 200 people charged with rioting charges after the inauguration may have had a chilling effect, but it has also shown the effectiveness of protest—if the U.S. Attorney’s office works that hard to shut them down, then they must have some power.

So, the question becomes: How can a larger movement bring together Russiagaters like Troy, local grassroots organizers like Orsinger, and enthusiastic young people like Nathaniel? If people really want to resist and not just #Resist, they need to answer this question while embracing a diversity of tactics and figuring out how to form coalitions.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

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