Voter Turnout Soared In 2020 Thanks To Flexible Options

By Steven Rosenfeld

In the 2020 presidential election, 66 million Americans voted with a mailed-out ballot after most states loosened restrictions on qualifications to vote by mail to make voting safer in the pandemic. Another 36 million people voted in person at an early voting site before Election Day after many states expanded this option.

Together, more than 56 million voters cast a ballot in a different way than in 2016, which was “extraordinary,” as one recent scholarly study said. North Carolina’s increase in using mailed-out ballots, alone, was fivefold. Georgia’s was sixfold. Wisconsin’s was fifteenfold.

The presidential election set a turnout record and has since led to a record number of election administration bills in state legislatures, some preserving last fall’s expanded voting options and others rolling back those choices. Those state-by-state fights have led to some of the highest-profile voting rights battles since the early 1960s. Both parties are claiming that their vision for political representation faces existential threats.

In recent weeks, an influential voice, election scholars, who rely on “observed facts and data,” have begun to weigh in on what was most important, less so, and not at all important with helping 159 million Americans vote last fall. Their findings, while preliminary and sometimes contradictory, provide an important counterpoint to the partisan claims in the state-by-state voting rights battles.

An examination of a half-dozen academic draft papers, policy institute reports, and scholarly articles finds some consensus on which voting options boosted 2020’s turnout. These options include mailing every registered voter in a state or county a ballot and allowing voters to register or update their registration information and then vote. But there were also conflicting data and assessments over specific voting regimes and rules that were suspended to help voters get a ballot into their hands.

Last year, 29 states and the District of Columbia passed 79 laws to institute a grab bag of options centered around using mailed-out ballots and early in-person voting. While lawmakers were concerned about making voting safer, these steps also made voting more convenient and accessible by cutting bureaucracy and extending deadlines.

In many respects, 2020 was an unprecedented and successful experiment in making voting more convenient. While broad findings about these trends are coming in—including some work that has been misreported in the media—further research will explore what options were embraced by voting blocs with historically low turnout rates, such as communities of color and younger voters.

“We are at the very beginning of a period in which academic researchers can study the 2020 election,” said Rutgers University’s Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist who has studied voter turnout issues for more than a decade. “What’s coming out right now is preliminary. A fuller picture has yet to emerge, which is why you are seeing such disparate research designs and findings.”

Contours of Voting in 2020

Nationally, 2020 saw the highest presidential election turnout in 116 years. Almost nobody expected that result last spring, when state and local election officials pivoted to more flexible methods of casting ballots that protected the health of all involved. Notably, 159.7 million Americans or 67 percent of registered voters cast ballots, 23.8 million more voters than in 2016.

The biggest-picture contours of voting options and turnout in 2020’s general election—voting last fall—was the “America Goes to the Polls” report from Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. Nonprofit VOTE works to increase participation. The U.S. Elections Project, founded by the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald, created a national repository of early voting and vote-by-mail data.

In 2020, 45 percent of Americans voted with mailed-out ballots, they reported. Twenty-five percent of Americans voted early at an in-person voting site. The final 30 percent voted in person on Election Day. In 2016, in contrast, 21 percent of the presidential electorate voted with a mailed-out ballot and 60 percent voted at an Election Day poll. The highest and lowest turnout states in 2020 reflected different regimens—from the starting line of voter registration to the finish line of getting and casting a ballot.

“All of the top 10 turnout states either sent all their voters a mail ballot, have same-day registration that allows voters to register or update their registration when they vote, or both,” the Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project report said. “Eight of the bottom 10 turnout states cut off voter registration four weeks before the election or required an excuse [on a separate application] to use a mail ballot.”

Other policy reports and draft academic papers offered more detail on where there was a consensus about what voting options had the biggest impact on 2020’s voter turnout. There was agreement that the states offering a same-day voter registration and voting option, which 24 states and the District of Columbia did in 2020, boosted turnout by 5 percent, as noted in the Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project report.

There also was an affirmation of prior research that mailing a ballot to every registered voter in a state or county boosts turnout. In 2020, the increase, reported by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), averaged 3.9 percent nationwide in the 10 states and the District of Columbia that mailed registered voters a ballot. Of those, the six states and the District of Columbia that did this for the first time in 2020 saw voter turnout increase 4.6 percent.

PPIC’s top finding—based on a working academic paper—was that mailing every Californian voter a ballot led to a 12 percent increase in statewide turnout compared to 2016. Their paper noted that California did other things to encourage turnout, such as offering more choices on how and where to return ballots, adding the ability for voters to track their ballot’s whereabouts and launching an extensive public education effort about the new voting regimen.

Another working paper, from a team at the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; and the University of Washington, noted that its Colorado research, conducted prior to 2020’s presidential election, found turnout increases among several low-propensity voting cohorts:

    Young voters (16.6% increase in turnout),

    Blue-collar voters (10.0%),

    Voters without a high school diploma (9.6%),

    and all low-income voters (8.1%).

The turnout increase among Democrats and Republicans was 8 percent, but it was 12 percent among independents.

Inconsistent Data, Methods, Findings

But there were differences in preliminary research over other absentee voting regimes and their more specific rules—bureaucratic details that are now being removed or revived by some state legislatures. In general, there are four absentee voting regimes, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:

The fine print of these absentee voting regimes, many of which were suspended in 2020, is now being reinstated or toughened in Republican-majority legislatures. These reforms include stricter voter ID requirements and shorter filing timetables.

In most states, registered voters must apply to receive a mailed-out ballot. In 2020, 15 states mailed voters an application, as opposed to leaving that task to voters. Fourteen states suspended their requirement that voters had to satisfy a predetermined “excuse” that they could not vote on Election Day, such as age, infirmity or travel. Four states kept their excuse requirement.

Consider the excuse requirement that 14 states suspended. A Stanford University team found that suspending the excuse led to a 0.8 percent increase in turnout. But the PPIC report found that suspending the excuse led to a 2.7 percent drop in turnout nationwide.

This apparent conflict is an example of where different methodologies yield different results. PPIC’s report offered no explanation for the turnout drop other than a footnote, which academics said was common in preliminary papers. In a follow-up phone call, Eric McGhee, a coauthor of the PPIC report, said that his team’s research and Stanford’s were different. As for the 2.7 percent drop, he said that states made many changes in the voting rules to help voters—some of which voters embraced; others that they apparently did not.

“If some jurisdictions were anticipating a bad outcome [with accommodating voters] and they adopted a particular reform to get ahead of that, and the reform had no effect on it, that could make it appear it was causing a decline,” he said. PPIC’s methodology did not allow his team to delve into this more nuanced scenario, he said.

On another absentee balloting issue, PPIC reported that directly sending voters an application to receive a ballot by mail led to a 1.7 percent turnout increase, which it called “modest.” That turnout increase might seem small to the public or “modest” to cautious scholars, but it was larger than Joe Biden’s presidential victory margin in the states of Georgia (0.23 percent), Arizona (0.30 percent) and Wisconsin (0.63 percent).

Another area where there was disagreement concerned whether voters choose their method of voting based more on convenience—what was more accessible—or more based on coronavirus fears. In 2020, 29 states and the District of Columbia changed their laws to allow people to vote by mail or early due to public health concerns, as noted in an April article in the Journal of Democracy coauthored by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor, and Charles Stewart III, an MIT political scientist who oversees a research lab known for its parsing of U.S. Census data of voters. (In 2020, they created the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, a resource for election officials.)

The Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project team said that 66 percent of voters chose what was “most convenient” when deciding when and where to vote, while 24 percent cited “concerns about coronavirus” as a major influence on their decision. It drew on a Pew Research Center survey of about 12,000 voters in November 2020 asking why those individuals chose to vote early or via a mailed-out ballot. On the other hand, the Persily-Stewart article cited post-election census data and found the opposite response.

“Postelection responses to the SPAE [Survey of the Performance of American Elections] describe the reasons behind the shift to mail balloting,” they wrote. “Overall, 59 percent of respondents who stated that they were very worried about family members catching covid reported having voted by mail, compared to 28 percent who said they had no covid worries.”

Blinders or Not?

Academics have long played an important role in shaping election law and voting rules. Their facts and findings are a counterweight to partisan arguments. But insightful work is not always ready when lawmakers are reforming voting laws. Moreover, the push by some academics and the press to report findings that defy conventional wisdom can lead to premature, if not mistaken, reporting with high political stakes.

A recent episode of high-profile press coverage offers a cautionary tale about the perils of overclaiming about preliminary research and omitting important contexts, and other factors that affect the topic at hand, such as whether turnout alone is the best metric of what contributes to a more representative electorate. In this case, the focus was on which voting options and their associated bureaucracy did or did not boost overall turnout.

In an April 4 analysis, Nate Cohn, a New York Times data journalist and analyst of political trends, sparked a storm in election circles when he wrote that Democrats and Republicans were both mistaken “about whether making it easier or harder to vote, especially by mail, has a significant effect on turnout or electoral outcomes.” He continued, “The evidence suggests it does not.”

Cohn’s blanket assertion mostly relied on a preliminary paper that focused on one bureaucratic hurdle in one version of voting with mailed-out ballots, in 2020. The Stanford study that Cohn drew on mostly looked at Texas, but said that its findings were applicable to 14 statesthat suspended their rule that voters declare why they cannot vote at the polls.

The researchers reported that removing the excuse, alone, boosted turnout by 0.8 percent. But they concluded that increase could be “statistical noise” that did not prove anything about making voting easier and boosting turnout. Cohn’s conclusion, pinned on the preliminary study and older, pre-2020 research—before 45 percent of the electorate voted with mailed-out ballots—struck several nerves.

“The idea that making voting easier *won’t* improve turnout is one of political science’s worst takes,” immediately tweeted Charlotte Hill, a University of California, Berkeley, PhD candidate and coauthor of a 2020 working paper finding otherwise under Colorado’s universal vote-by-mail system. “And to be clear, many political scientists don’t buy it.”

Cohn did not discuss other versions of mail-based voting where 2020 turnout went up—such as the 10 states that mailed every voter a ballot to minimize the health risks. But he cited older research—from before voting with mailed-out ballots more than doubled nationally in 2020—that found, as he wrote, that “[a]lmost everyone who cares enough to vote will brave the inconveniences of in-person voting to do so.”

That assertion offended advocates who applauded election officials’ extraordinary efforts to expand voting options. And it was seen as immoral by organizers who strove to help millions of voters who used these options for the first time, despite ex-President Donald Trump’s attacks on 2020’s expanded options and on the voters using them.

“Voters are more than just numbers on a @Nate_Cohn spreadsheet,” tweeted Fair Fight, a Georgia-based group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams. “They are people. Implying [that] 12-hour lines are not that bad because voters will find a way to make up for lost wages or they’ll vote after they faint is cruel and racist. Turnout would be even higher if not for barriers.”

Cohn, notably, had defenders. Rice University’s Robert Stein, who has studied elections for decades and worked in Texas and elsewhere to expand 2020’s voting options, said that Cohn’s report stayed within the boundaries of the academic research that he cited.

“Nate Cohn did not write what I will call ‘fake news,’” Stein said. “He wrote the right article based on much of the literature on convenience voting… What Nate was writing about was one form of vote by mail, and that is excuse or no-excuse mail-in voting.”

But Cohn’s critics countered that voting in 2020 was so different from prior presidential elections—with 56 million people casting ballots in a new way for the first time—that it was premature to overly rely on new research or on pre-pandemic literature. (The 56 million figure is based on U.S. Elections Project data from 2016 and 2020, and its recent report comparing turnout differences for early and mail voting.)

“The assumption of a continuity in the research findings from studies of absentee voting and the like in the past and this election could be incorrect, certainly at the margins,” said Minnite. “But it is at the margins that elections are won or lost.”

What Doesn’t Turnout Measure?

Voter turnout is the “most basic measure of the success of an election,” Persily and Stewart noted in the Journal of Democracy. But in 2020 that metric “does not inventory the ways in which the Trump administration, allied election administrators and outside groups undermined the execution of the election,” another data scientist commented in his private newsletter. Nor does turnout, alone, address another core issue: if specific voting options helped historically infrequent or low-propensity voters.

“There is an assumption that the more people are participating, then the closer we have gotten to the goal of the electorate being the same as the overall population,” PPIC’s McGhee said. “I think it is true that turnout level and the representativeness [are] certainly likely to be correlated with each other, but they are not the same thing. We have to be really careful about that. And the follow-on question of ‘how does this voting method affect that representativeness?’ is a super important one.”

The equity, or representativeness question, is what researchers like McGhee are now delving into next as they keep studying 2020’s voting options and voter turnout. But in the meantime, other data, including from nonacademics such as political data firms, about the impacts of certain voting options is filtering into 2021’s political fights.

Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located and an election jurisdiction larger than 25 states, operated eight 24-hour voting centers last fall to accommodate voters who could not leave their work or family obligations. It was one of many innovations to make voting more accessible, including drive-through voting sites and mailing voters absentee ballot applications.

A New York Times report in late April said that a majority of those who used late-night voting were people of color, and that the voting hours expansion was targeted by a bill in Texas’ GOP legislature to be barred from future elections. The Times linked to a tweet thread from the Texas Civil Rights Project, which said “56% of voters who voted during late-night hours were Black, Hispanic, or Asian. … Data proves these options offered by @HarrisVotes were popular with voters AND made voting more accessible for everyone.”

How reliable is this claim, which is drawn from data from TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, according to an attribution on the Texas Civil Rights Project’s tweets? Their raw data is one source among many that is being compared and studied by academics, said Stein, whose students are working on papers about Harris County’s voting using data from TargetSmart and other data firms. But that research will not be done before Texas’ legislature likely passes its 2021 voting reforms, he said.

The 2020 election shows that if politicians give voters more accessible options, some of those options will be used. But beyond the broad trends, the scale and impact may not be quickly known as they pertain to deregulating specific prior mail-based and early voting regimes, and newer accessible options.

That absence of definitive research has not stopped partisan Republicans bent on rolling back last fall’s array of voting options. But it has given a few Republicans pause and led to some of the most draconian proposed rollbacks to be deleted from bills. Many GOP legislators know that their party’s impulse could backfire, as their base, not just Democrats, took advantage of various voting options.

“Once you give voters opportunities to do things, you can’t pull them back,” Stein said. “Their concern is not whether Democrats will vote with [reinstated] voter ID or [more limited] early voting, but whether their voters will show up.”

The Democrats’ “Killer App” Against Voter Suppression Unveiled

By Thom Hartmann

With all their new “voter suppression” laws in the states, Republicans are working to keep and improve a corrupt system that’s put them in power and keeps them in power, despite only representing a minority of Americans nationwide.

That’s why they’re trying to change our election law with little tweaks like making it harder to get a mail-in ballot or preventing people from bringing a drink of water to somebody in line.

This is not about making genuinely new law. The bigger picture, for them, is hanging onto to the power they and their billionaire supporters have already grabbed.

In fact, they’re trying to solidify, cement, deepen and broaden an already corrupted system that got them power in the first place and has kept them in power for the better part of at least two decades since the Supreme Court Bush v Gore decision in 2001 and the later Shelby County decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Billionaires were brought into the act with Citizens United in 2010.

In several states, like Michigan and Wisconsin (among others), the majority of voters in the state vote for Democrats — resulting in Democrats as governors and in other statewide offices — but Republicans, because of the corrupt system that includes things like gerrymanders, still control the state House and Senate as well as sending a majority of Republicans to Congress in DC.

They’re trying to maintain this larger status quo while tweaking and tightening it with these new laws.

Which is why when state officials and even Trump-appointed judges concluded, in Red state after Red state, that the 2020 election was clean, fair and accurate, the GOP decided to do something about the new crisis they now confront.

That crisis is that they repeatedly lost even more elections in 2020.

Georgia lost two Senate seats, numerous formerly Republican states went for Joe Biden instead of the previous guy, and Democrats got elected to state legislatures and as governors.

Republicans lost the House, the Senate, and the White House. Emergency! It’s not supposed to work this way!

The Republican solution to this, of course, is to make it harder to vote, harder to register to vote, and harder to mail-in vote. But while those are the things that get the headlines, the really insidious stuff is rarely mentioned.

It comes in two parts.

The first is that they’re replacing professional, long-term, non-partisan polling officials and election referees with Republican partisan hacks, so they can decide which votes the state is going to count and which votes they’re going to throw out.

The second is that they’re inviting goons into the polling places to harass, intimidate and threaten people whose only crime is that they want to participate in their own democracy. They call these goons “poll watchers,” and in the past such people have shown up with baseball bats, Confederate flags, and even video recording equipment.

This poll-watching thing used to be a big deal across the country before it was first outlawed in 1965: former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist actually got his start in Republican politics in the early 1960s doing this with something called Operation Eagle Eye in Arizona. Mostly it was stopped by the Voting Rights Act, but the US Supreme Court has since gutted that so now the GOP wants to get back to it.

Thus, Republicans are now reviving a pair of strategies that Democrats used to use in the Old South, before 1964/1965 when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which flipped the white-racist vote from Democratic to Republican in a single decade.

Republicans are now trying to stop people from voting — or having their votes counted — pretty much any way they can.

And they’re picking up steam! As of a bit over a month ago, the Brennen Center for Justice noted:

    As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. That’s 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021 — a 43 percent increase in little more than a month.

    These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law. In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).

Democrats, however, have a “killer app” that will stop these Republican voter suppression and election-rigging efforts dead in their tracks.

It’s the first piece of legislation passed out of the House of Representatives and the first put on the floor of the United States Senate, HR1 and SB1, with the official name of the For The People Act.

Outside of reducing the ability of states to mail out absentee ballots, every one of the dozen-plus strategies Republicans are building into their laws to rig the vote would be blocked or outlawed by this legislation.

It’s the giant killer.

It will guarantee that every citizen in this country, regardless of their race or economic status, will have an equal right to vote in all elections that have any federal component whatsoever. (Most Americans don’t realize that there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution, so we need laws like this to protect that right.)

It also means that the small number of billionaires who spend the largest amount of money on our elections will have to identify themselves, something they strongly object to.

As People for the American Way President Ben Jealous noted, in the 2016 election alone, “just 400 political donors gave a combined $1.5 billion — more than five million small donors combined.” This law will will require transparency on their part and give campaigns that rely on smaller donors a boost.

And the majority of the people want it! Multiple studies and polls have shown that when the provisions of the law are explained to voters, an overwhelming majority of Democrats and a solid majority of Republicans are heartily in favor of it.

The For The People Act is also co-sponsored by 49 out of the 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats; the lone holdout is a West Virginia multimillionaire who shows up on Fox News a lot.

It’s a 100% certainty that Republicans will filibuster this legislation, which means 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats need to get together and either end the filibuster or, as I’ve frequently suggested, convert it into a “Jimmy Stewart Filibuster,“ where senators can talk as long as they want and as long as they have 40 colleagues with them on the Senate floor, but when they’re done or their number of colleagues drops below 40, a vote will happen.

It’s unlikely that you or I will have much influence on Joe Manchin (unless you live in West Virginia or are a major campaign donor of his), but we can make our opinions known to President Biden and Senator Schumer, who have a variety of options, both carrots and sticks, when it comes to dealing with recalcitrant or attention-seeking senators. We can also let our own senators know our opinion so they can speak with Manchin.

Global Right-Wing Extremism Networks Are Growing. The U.S. Is Just Now Catching Up.

By Sebastian Rotella

During the past two years, U.S. counterterrorism officials held meetings with their European counterparts to discuss an emerging threat: right-wing terror groups becoming increasingly global in their reach.

American neo-Nazis were traveling to train and fight with militias in the Ukraine. There were suspected links between U.S. extremists and the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group that was training foreigners in its St. Petersburg compounds. A gunman accused of killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 had denounced a “Hispanic invasion” and praised a white supremacist who killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and who had been inspired by violent American and Italian racists.

But the efforts to improve transatlantic cooperation against the threat ran into a recurring obstacle. During talks and communications, senior Trump administration officials steadfastly refused to use the term “right-wing terrorism,” causing disputes and confusion with the Europeans, who routinely use the phrase, current and former European and U.S. officials told ProPublica. Instead, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security referred to “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism,” while the State Department chose “racially or ethnically motivated terrorism.”

“We did have problems with the Europeans,” one national security official said. “They call it right-wing terrorism and they were angry that we didn’t. There was a real aversion to using that term on the U.S. side. The aversion came from political appointees in the Trump administration. We very quickly realized that if people talked about right-wing terrorism, it was a nonstarter with them.”

The U.S. response to the globalization of the far-right threat has been slow, scattered and politicized, U.S. and European counterterrorism veterans and experts say. Whistleblowers and other critics have accused DHS leaders of downplaying the threat of white supremacy and slashing a unit dedicated to fighting domestic extremism. DHS has denied those accusations.

In 2019, a top FBI official told Congress the agency devoted only about 20% of its counterterrorism resources to the domestic threat. Nonetheless, some FBI field offices focus primarily on domestic terrorism.

Former counterterrorism officials said the president’s politics made their job harder. The disagreement over what to call the extremists was part of a larger concern about whether the administration was committed to fighting the threat.

“The rhetoric at the White House, anybody watching the rhetoric of the president, this was discouraging people in government from speaking out,” said Jason Blazakis, who ran a State Department counterterrorism unit from 2008 to 2018. “The president and his minions were focused on other threats.”

Other former officials disagreed. Federal agencies avoided the term “right-wing terrorism” because they didn’t want to give extremists legitimacy by placing them on the political spectrum, or to fuel the United States’ intense polarization, said Christopher K. Harnisch, the former deputy coordinator for countering violent extremism in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau. Some causes espoused by white supremacists, such as using violence to protect the environment, are not regarded as traditionally right-wing ideology, said Harnisch, who stepped down this week.

“The most important point is that the Europeans and the U.S. were talking about the same people,” he said. “It hasn’t hindered our cooperation at all.”

As for the wider criticism of the Trump administration, Harnisch said: “In our work at the State Department, we never faced one scintilla of opposition from the White House about taking on white supremacy. I can tell you that the White House was entirely supportive.”

The State Department focused mostly on foreign extremist movements, but it examined some of their links to U.S. groups as well.

There was clearly progress on some fronts. The State Department took a historic step in April by designating the Russian Imperial Movement and three of its leaders as terrorists, saying that the group’s trainees included Swedish extremists who carried out bombing attacks on refugees. It was the first such U.S. designation of a far-right terrorist group.

With Trump now out of office, Europeans and Americans expect improved cooperation against right-wing terrorists. Like the Islamist threat, it is becoming clear that the far-right threat is international. In December, a French computer programmer committed suicide after giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. extremist causes. The recipients included a neo-Nazi news website. Federal agencies are investigating, but it is not yet clear whether anything about the transaction was illegal, officials said.

“It’s like a transatlantic thing now,” said a European counterterror chief, describing American conspiracy theories that surface in the chatter he tracks. “Europe is taking ideology from U.S. groups and vice versa.”

The Crackdown

International alliances make extremist groups more dangerous, but also create vulnerabilities that law enforcement could exploit.

Laws in Europe and Canada allow authorities to outlaw domestic extremist groups and conduct aggressive surveillance of suspected members. America's civil liberties laws, which trace to the Constitution's guarantee of free speech spelled out in the First Amendment, are far less expansive. The FBI and other agencies have considerably more authority to investigate U.S. individuals and groups if they develop ties with foreign terror organizations. So far, those legal tools have gone largely unused in relation to right-wing extremism, experts say.

To catch up to the fast-spreading threat at home and abroad, Blazakis said, the U.S. should designate more foreign organizations as terrorist entities, especially ones that allied nations have already outlawed.

A recent case reflects the kind of strategy Blazakis and others have in mind. During the riots in May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, FBI agents got a tip that two members of the anti-government movement known as the Boogaloo Bois had armed themselves, according to court papers. The suspects were talking about killing police officers and attacking a National Guard armory to steal heavy weapons, the court papers allege. The FBI deployed an undercover informant who posed as a member of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group, and offered to help the suspects obtain explosives and training. After the suspects started talking about a plot to attack a courthouse, agents arrested them, according to the court papers. In September, prosecutors filed charges of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which can bring a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. One of the defendants pleaded guilty last month. The other still faces charges.

If the U.S. intelligence community starts using its vast resources to gather information on right-wing movements in other countries, it will find more linkages to groups in the United States, Blazakis and other experts predicted. Rather than resorting to a sting, authorities could charge American extremists for engaging in propaganda activity, financing, training or participating in other actions with foreign counterparts.

A crackdown would bring risks, however. After the assault on the Capitol, calls for bringing tougher laws and tactics to bear against suspected domestic extremists revived fears about civil liberties similar to those raised by Muslim and human rights organizations during the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” An excessive response could give the impression that authorities are criminalizing political views, which could worsen radicalization among right-wing groups and individuals for whom suspicion of government is a core tenet.

“You will hit a brick wall of privacy and civil liberties concerns very quickly,” said Seamus Hughes, a former counterterrorism official who is now deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He said the federal response should avoid feeding into “the already existing grievance of government overreach. The goal should be marginalization.”

In recent years, civil liberties groups have warned against responding to the rise in domestic extremism with harsh new laws.

“Some lawmakers are rushing to give law enforcement agencies harmful additional powers and creating new crimes,” wrote Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s national security project, in a statement by the organization about congressional hearings on the issue in 2019. “That approach ignores the way power, racism, and national security laws work in America. It will harm the communities of color that white supremacist violence targets — and undermine the constitutional rights that protect all of us.”

The Pivot Problem

There is also an understandable structural problem. Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have dedicated themselves to the relentless pursuit of al-Qaida, the Islamic State, Iran and other Islamist foes.

Now the counterterrorism apparatus has to shift its aim to a new menace, one that is more opaque and diffuse than Islamist networks, experts said.

It will be like turning around an aircraft carrier, said Blazakis, the former State Department counterterrorism official, who is now a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“The U.S. government is super slow to pivot to new threats,” Blazakis said. “There is a reluctance to shift resources to new targets. And there was a politicization of intelligence during the Trump administration. There was a fear to speak out.”

Despite periodic resistance and generalized disorder in the Trump administration, some agencies advanced on their own, officials said. European counterterror officials say the FBI has become increasingly active in sharing and requesting intelligence about right-wing extremists overseas.

A European counterterror chief described recent conversations with U.S. agents about Americans attending neo-Nazi rallies and concerts in Europe and traveling to join the Azov Battalion, an ultranationalist Ukrainian militia fighting Russian-backed separatists. About 17,000 fighters from 50 countries, including at least 35 Americans, have traveled to the Ukrainian conflict zone, where they join units on both sides, according to one study. The fighting in the Donbass region offers them training, combat experience, international contacts and a sense of themselves as warriors, a theater reminiscent of Syria or Afghanistan for jihadis.

“The far right was not a priority for a long time,” the European counterterror chief said. “Now they are saying it’s a real threat for all our societies. Now they are seeing we have to handle it like Islamic terrorism. Now that we are sharing and we have a bigger picture, we see it’s really international, not domestic.”


The assault on Congress signaled the start of a new era, experts said. The convergence of a mix of extremist groups and activists solidified the idea that the far-right threat has overtaken the Islamist threat in the United States, and that the government has to change policies and shift resources accordingly. Experts predict that the Biden administration will make global right-wing extremism a top counterterrorism priority.

“This is on the rise and has gotten from nowhere on the radar to very intense in a couple of years,” a U.S. national security official said. “It is hard to see how it doesn’t continue. It will be a lot easier for U.S. officials to get concerned where there is a strong U.S. angle.”

A previous spike in domestic terrorism took place in the 1990s, an era of violent clashes between U.S. law enforcement agencies and extremists. In 1992, an FBI sniper gunned down the wife of a white supremacist during an armed standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The next year, four federal agents died in a raid on heavily armed members of a cult in Waco, Texas; the ensuing standoff at the compound ended in a fire that killed 76 people.Both sieges played a role in the radicalization of the anti-government terrorists who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people, including children in a day care center for federal employees. Oklahoma City remains the deadliest terrorist act on U.S. soil aside from the Sept. 11 attacks.

The rise of al-Qaida in 2001 transformed the counterterrorism landscape, spawning new laws and government agencies and a worldwide campaign by intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military. Despite subsequent plots and occasionally successful attacks involving one or two militants, stronger U.S. defenses and limited radicalization among American Muslims prevented Islamist networks from hitting the United States with the kind of well-trained, remotely directed teams that carried out mass casualty strikes in London in 2005, Mumbai in 2008 and Paris in 2015.

During the past decade, domestic terrorism surged in the United States. Some of the activity was on the political left, such as the gunman who opened fire at a baseball field in Virginia in 2017. The attack critically wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican legislator from Louisiana who was the House Majority whip, as well as a Capitol Police officer guarding him and four others.

But many indicators show that far-right extremism is deadlier. Right-wing attacks and plots accounted for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the country between 1994 and 2020, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Anti-Defamation League reported in 2018 that right-wing terrorists were responsible for more than three times as many deaths as Islamists during the previous decade.

“There have been more arrests and deaths in the United States caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years,” said Michael McGarrity, then the counterterrorism chief of the FBI, in congressional testimony in 2019. “Individuals affiliated with racially-motivated violent extremism are responsible for the most lethal and violent activity.”

During the same testimony, McGarrity said the FBI dedicated only about 20% of its counterterrorism resources to the domestic threat. The imbalance, experts say, was partly a lingering result of the global offensive by the Islamic State, whose power peaked in the middle of the decade. Another reason: Laws and rules instituted in the 1970s after FBI spying scandals make it much harder to monitor, investigate and prosecute Americans suspected of domestic extremism.

The Trump Administration and the Europeans

Critics say the Trump administration was reluctant to take on right-wing extremism. The former president set the tone with his public statements about the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, they say, and with his call last year telling the far-right Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by.”

Still, various agencies increased their focus on the issue because of a drumbeat of attacks at home — notably the murders of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 — and overseas. The Christchurch massacre of worshippers at mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 caught the attention of American officials. It was a portrait of the globalization of right-wing terrorism.

Brenton Tarrant, the 29-year-old Australian who livestreamed his attack, had traveled extensively in Europe, visiting sites he saw as part of a struggle between Christianity and Islam. In his manifesto, he cited the writings of a French ideologue and of Dylann Roof, an American who killed nine people at a predominantly Black church in South Carolina in 2015. While driving to the mosques, Tarrant played an ode to Serbian nationalist fighters of the Balkan wars on his car radio. And he carried an assault rifle on which he had scrawled the name of an Italian gunman who had shot African immigrants in a rampage the year before.

Christchurch was “part of a wave of violent incidents worldwide, the perpetrators of which were part of similar transnational online communities and took inspiration from one another,” said a report last year by Europol, an agency that coordinates law enforcement across Europe. The report described English as “the lingua franca of a transnational right-wing extremist community.”

With its long tradition of political terrorism on both extremes, Europe has also suffered a spike in right-wing violence. Much of it is a backlash to immigration in general and Muslim communities in particular. Responding to assassinations of politicians and other attacks, Germany and the United Kingdom have outlawed several organizations.

Closer to home, Canada has banned two neo-Nazi groups, Blood and Honour and Combat 18, making it possible to charge people for even possessing their paraphernalia or attending their events. Concerts and sales of video games, T-shirts and other items have become a prime source of international financing for right-wing movements, the European counterterror chief said.

During the past two years, officials at the FBI, DHS, State Department and other agencies tried to capitalize on the deeper expertise of European governments and improve transatlantic cooperation against right-wing extremism. Legal and cultural differences complicated the process, American and European officials said. A lack of order and cohesion in the U.S. national security community was another factor, they said.

“There was so little organization to the U.S. counterterrorism community that everybody decided for themselves what they would do,” a U.S. national security official said. “It was not the type of centrally controlled effort that would happen in other administrations.”

As a result, the U.S. government has sometimes been slow to respond to European requests for legal assistance and information-sharing about far-right extremism, said Eric Rosand, who served as a State Department counterterrorism official during the Obama administration.

“U.S.-European cooperation on addressing white supremacist and other far-right terrorism has been ad hoc and hobbled by a disjointed and inconsistent U.S. government approach,” Rosand said.

The semantic differences about what to call the threat didn't help, according to Rosand and other critics. They say the Trump administration was averse to using the phrase “right-wing terrorism” because some groups on that part of the ideological spectrum supported the president.

“It highlights the disconnect,” Rosand said. “They were saying they didn’t want to suggest the terrorism is linked to politics. They didn’t want to politicize it. But if you don’t call it what it is because of concerns of how it might play with certain political consistencies, that politicizes it.”

Harnisch, the former deputy coordinator at the State Department counterterrorism bureau, rejected the criticism. He said cooperation with Europeans on the issue was “relatively nascent,” but that there had been concrete achievements.

“I think we laid a strong foundation, and I think the Biden administration will build on it,” Harnisch said. “From my perspective, we made significant progress on this threat within the Trump administration.”

This article was produced by ProPublica.

Republicans Are Following Trump Down A Dark Path

By Farron Cousins

Donald Trump famously told his followers during the 2016 election that there would be “so much winning” that they would get tired of winning. Five years later and that promise has aged like milk.

Regardless of what he says, Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, fair and square. The Republican Party also lost control of the Senate in that election (more specifically, the runoff races in Georgia that took place in early January 2021.) Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. And Republicans lost ground in every single special election that took place during Trump’s four years in office. And we can’t forget about the fact that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million votes. In every possible way, Trump was one of the biggest political losers in a generation.

So the Republican Party was given a choice when Trump left office: Either follow Trump and continue to watch their Party slowly die, or let him drift off into obscurity as they attempt to rebuild. They chose the first option.

On the morning of May 12th, 2021, the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to strip Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) of her leadership position as the third-ranking Republican in Congress. Her crime was that she wouldn’t spread the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged and she voted to impeach Donald Trump during his second impeachment in the House. It was during this vote that the Republicans made it clear that they were going to follow Trump down the dark and twisted path that he put them on several years ago, and at that point there was no turning back.

How Did They Get Here?

There is no shortage of speculation about where the Party heads now, but before we can even begin to entertain those possibilities, we have to remember how they got here. You can find volumes of work explaining the slow descent of the GOP to where they are today. Articles abound detailing the how the Iraq War pushed Republicans further to the right or how the rise of the Tea Party Movement allowed some of the more extreme members of the Party to rise to prominence, ultimately paving the way for Trump. And while all of those reasons contributed to Trump’s rise (along with many others) they leave haven’t touched on the biggest problem the Republican Party faced before Trump came along: They needed a hero.

In the decades prior to Trump’s rise, Republicans all clamored to be like Ronald Reagan. He was their mythical savior that helped to put the Party on track after the embarrassing days of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Reagan came in with a bold new economic idea (that ultimately proved to be a farce,) he destroyed unions, attacked social programs, and brought the U.S. out of the Cold War. He was the hero that Republicans needed and the didn’t even know it.

The years after Reagan were spent trying to emulate him. Candidates would routinely invoke Reagan’s name on the campaign trail, even into the 2010’s. But as the real cost of Reagan’s policies came into focus – increasing inequality, multiple recessions brought on by disastrous trickle-down economic policies, and regulatory capture that has given corporations the greenlight to gamble with our lives – Reagan’s name no longer had the same impact on moderate voters that it once held.

The Republican Party needed a new hero. They couldn’t find one in their current ranks. Politicians like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in 2016 offered nothing more than the status quo who wouldn’t actually shake things up and forge a new path the way that Reagan had. And as the Party was so desperate for a savior that they welcomed Donald Trump with open arms.

Except they actually didn’t.

We can’t forget the fact that most Republican politicians at the onset of the 2016 Republican primaries loathed Trump. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham famously tweeted “If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed, and we will deserve it.” Other prominent Republicans expressed disgust at Trump’s brash and fallacious attacks on immigrants and the content of the Access Hollywood tape. But for some reason, none of that mattered to Republican voters, and they propelled him into the White House.

He represented something that the Party hadn’t seen since Reagan. He was an outsider, someone that wasn’t corrupted by the “swamp” of Washington, D.C. He wasn’t afraid to say what he means, even if it was the most racist or sexist thing they ever heard. Even though most didn’t like hearing those statements, they ended up endearing him to them because they thought that he was at least being honest, unlike the rest of the 2016 candidates. He was a larger-than-life figure that drew tens of thousands of people to his rallies, partly because people wanted to see the spectacle. They wanted to see who would be the next target of his rage, what clever insults he would hurl at them, and how he would put those nasty liberals in their place. But the important thing was that they had found their hero, and that was all that mattered.

Almost immediately after Trump took office, things began to fall apart for him. The Mueller investigation and allegations of election interference called the legitimacy of his election into question. He packed the courts with unqualified hacks that the public was not fond of. He got the United States into a trade war that he didn’t know how to manage. He bungled responses to major hurricanes and other natural disasters throughout the U.S. He packed his cabinet with individuals who had no business being in power. He attacked groups like the LGBTQ community and immigrants with a hatred that began to turn off some of his supporters. He was accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least two dozen women. He continued to refuse to release his tax returns in spite of numerous promises to do so. The Ukraine scandal that led to his first impeachment. And this was all before the Coronavirus Pandemic exposed how incompetent he truly was. The “hero” façade fell apart quickly, and sensible Republicans wanted nothing to do with him.

The main problem with this disturbing tale is that there weren’t enough sensible Republicans to make a difference, and the May 12th ousting of Liz Cheney proved it.

What Now?

This all brings us back to the present. The Republican Party chose Trump, even though he cost them so dearly over the past four years. Hero worship can’t explain all of that, so what good reason could the GOP have for sticking with Trump even though the public at large – and even now the majority of Republicans – are unhappy with this decision? That answer is actually easy: Fear.

When Trump left Washington, D.C., he was upset about his second impeachment and the small handful of Republicans who voted to convict. He was so upset that in the early days of his post-presidential life he was meeting with advisers and family about the possibility of starting a new political party to challenge Republicans that he believed were not loyal to him. A move like this would have created a fracture within the Republican base, with loyal Trumpists flocking to his new party while the Republicans were left with the rest of the base. Neither would have had the numbers to win tight districts or states, thereby giving Democrats a major advantage in all future elections. The thought of this happening sent shivers down the spine of Republicans in D.C., so they began holding talks with Donald to find out how to avoid the fight. But the only thing that would appease Trump would be for those who went against him to pay, and we all know what that led to.

This helps to explain why so many Republicans were willing to continue spreading election lies even months after the November election took place. It wasn’t because they believed those lies; it was because they had to keep Trump happy. Liz Cheney was just the first person they could sacrifice to Trump in order to appease him.

That sacrifice came with a cost. Polls and focus groups that have been conducted following Cheney’s expulsion from leadership show that moderate Republicans and swing voters are not happy with where their Party is headed. And more than 100 former Republican officials from both the federal and state levels signed onto a letter demanding that the Party change course away from Trump or THEY would leave to start their own political party. So by trying to save their base from fracturing the Republicans ended up putting the rift on steroids, and they are once again staring down a situation where they can’t hope to keep everyone in their big tent.

Don’t waste any time shedding tears for the Republican Party. They did this to themselves, and they are the ones to blame for their current predicament. They were given every possible chance to reverse course and move on from Trump, but they decided that the future of the Party was forever tied to his desires. They nominated Trump, and though it may have taken a few years, they got destroyed, and they deserve it.  

No Tears For Liz Cheney – She Helped Create The Trump Monster

By Chauncey DeVega

It is a compulsion. It may be an addiction. Whatever the cause, it reeks of desperation. Every day the problem is getting worse.

The American news media is obsessed with Liz Cheney. The hope peddlers and other happy pill-sellers have anointed the Wyoming congresswoman, along with Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as valiant warriors, "responsible" and "traditional" Republicans who will somehow rehabilitate their party from the rise of neofascism and its assault on democracy.

This quest for respectable and honorable Republicans is a function of a profound, pathetic desire to return to a pre-Trump version of "normal," a time before the standing norms and rules of American democracy were shattered by Trump and his political cult.

In reality, Liz Cheney and other "respectable" and "traditional" Republicans are wolves in sheep's clothing. She supported almost all of Trump's policies. She did not denounce or otherwise choose to leave the Republican Party out of protest or disgust or principle.

Cheney is no savior or defender of American democracy. Her "traditional" Republican performance is a political gambit, a means to secure more power in the future and perhaps even become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 or beyond. In too many ways, Liz Cheney is best described as a "friendly fascist."

In her much-praised Washington Post op-ed from May, Cheney wrote:

    While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.

Cheney concluded her op-ed by writing, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."

Signaling to her right-wing political bonafides and motivations — using language purportedly meant to repudiate Trump's coup attempt and his assault on democracy — Cheney chose to attack the Democrats for their "ridiculous wokeness." Such language is a racial dog whistle, a coded message that the Democrats "caring too much" about social justice and human rights for Black and brown people.

Predictably, too many of the professional smart people in the mainstream commentariat took the bait.

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait offered an analysis of why other House Republicans are likely to oust Cheney from her leadership position:

There is no hidden agenda at work, no subtext of quiet sympathy for Biden's policies. Cheney believes in right-wing policy and settling control of government at the ballot box.

    The Republican party is sliding into authoritarianism at a terrifyingly rapid clip. To stand by is to let it happen. Republicans who have reservations about this trend have tried quiet hand-wringing for five years. It hasn't worked. Somebody has to fight back, and Cheney has volunteered for the role.

The more complex (and depressing) truth is that the Republican Party's slide into neofascism, white supremacy and racial authoritarianism has been a long process, one that occurred gradually over the course of several decades. Trumpism is not some aberrant outlier, separate and apart from the Republican Party's agenda and orthodoxy. Trump's presidency and his movement are the logical result of that party's downward evolution, a type of endgame where friendly fascism and authoritarian impulses have been replaced with political sadism and outright contempt for democracy.

To elevate Cheney as a defender of American democracy is to fundamentally misinterpret Trumpism and the Republican embrace of neofascism and white supremacy, reducing it to a discrete moment in American political history.

Political scientists have shown that today's Republican Party has more in common with far-right political parties in countries like Hungary and Poland than it does with mainstream democratic parties in Europe. It is also clear that the Republican Party has dragged the Democrats (and American politics more generally) further and further to the right through a process known as "asymmetrical polarization." One obvious result is that the most "liberal" Republican is now far to the right of the most conservative Democrat, which was clearly not true in earlier eras.

As the Republican Party became more anti-democratic and pro-fascist, Liz Cheney actively enabled and contributed to that outcome. In short, she helped to create Trumpism, and should not be allowed to wash her hands of a mess that has stained her permanently.

At the end of President Biden's speech to Congress in May, he and Cheney exchanged pleasantries with one another. When criticized by her fellow Republicans for this gesture toward political normalcy, Cheney responded on Twitter: "We're different political parties. We're not sworn enemies. We're Americans."

That statement is essentially false. Republicans increasingly view the Democratic Party and its supporters as existential enemies. Trump and his followers are so committed to their hatred of the Democrats and multiracial democracy that they launched a lethal assault on the Capitol as part of a coup attempt. The Republican Party as a whole aided, abetted and supported that criminal assault.

The sooner Democrats realize that it is they who are in a literal existential fight for the existence of American democracy, and that today's Republicans have no limits in terms of how far they will go to achieve and keep power, the safer the future of our nation will be.

An old adage suggests that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the case of Liz Cheney, this is simply not true. For the most part, the hope peddlers in the news media will not tell the American people that painful truth. For the sake of American democracy, one can only hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party are not suckered by Liz Cheney's friendly-fascist performance.

An earlier version of this article appeared on

Bill Barr Is The Master Of Covering Up Political Scandals

By Thom Hartmann


George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan were facing the possibility of treason charges. Who did they call? Bill Barr.

That was in the ’80s and early ’90s, but now we discover the Bill Barr really, truly, definitely also lied to America about presidential treason this decade. Shocking.

Mueller laid out 10 prosecutable incidents of Donald Trump committing felony obstruction of justice, all to cover up the assistance he was seeking and receiving from Russian oligarchs and the Russian government that ultimately helped him win the 2016 election.

Looking back now, seeing the actual documents from the time, Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted that Barr’s lies to the American people, to Congress, and to federal judges were “so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.”

In other words, Barr lied through his teeth.

And he did it to avoid prosecuting Trump, who we can now see had clearly committed crimes — particularly reaching out to a foreign power for help — that would’ve landed any other American in prison for decades.

But this is not Bill Barr‘s first time playing cover-up for a Republican president who had committed crimes that rise to treason against America.

Back in 1992, the first time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iron-Contra.”

Christmas day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.

But Bush’s biggest concern wasn’t that he’d have to leave the White House to retire back to Connecticut, Maine, or Texas (where he had mansions) but, rather, that he may end up embroiled even deeper in the Iran-Contra treason and that he and his colleagues may face time in a federal prison after he left office.

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on him and Reagan, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.

Walsh had been appointed independent counsel in 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra activities of the Reagan administration and determine if crimes had been committed.

Was the Iran-Contra criminal conspiracy limited, as Reagan and Bush insisted (and Reagan said on TV), to later years in the Reagan presidency, in response to a hostage-taking in Lebanon?

Or had it started in the 1980 presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter with treasonous collusion with the Iranians, as the then-president of Iran asserted? Who knew what, and when? And what was George H.W. Bush’s role in it all?

In the years since then, the President of Iran in 1980, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, has gone on the record saying that the Reagan campaign reached out to Iran to hold the hostages in exchange for weapons.

“Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan,” President Bani-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013, ”had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

That wouldn’t have been just an impeachable crime: it was treason.

Walsh had zeroed in on documents that were in the possession of Reagan’s former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who all the evidence showed was definitely in on the deal, and President Bush’s diary that could corroborate it.

Elliott Abrams had already been convicted of withholding evidence about it from Congress, and he may have even more information, too, if it could be pried out of him before he went to prison. But Abrams was keeping mum, apparently anticipating a pardon.

Weinberger, trying to avoid jail himself, was preparing to testify that Bush knew about it and even participated, and Walsh had already, based on information he’d obtained from the investigation into Weinberger, demanded that Bush turn over his diary from the campaign. He was also again hot on the trail of Abrams.

So Bush called in his attorney general, Bill Barr, and asked his advice.

Barr, along with Bush, was already up to his eyeballs in cover-ups of shady behavior by the Reagan administration.

Safire ultimately came refer to Barr as “Coverup-General” in the midst of another scandal—one having to do with Bush selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein—because the Attorney General was already covering up for Bush, Weinberger, and others from the Reagan administration in “Iraqgate.”

On October 19, 1992, Safire wrote of Barr’s unwillingness to appoint an independent counsel to look into Iraqgate:

“Why does the Coverup-General resist independent investigation? Because he knows where it may lead: to Dick Thornburgh, James Baker, Clayton Yeutter, Brent Scowcroft and himself [the people who organized the sale of WMD to Saddam]. He vainly hopes to be able to head it off, or at least be able to use the threat of firing to negotiate a deal.”

Now, just short of two months later, Bush was asking Barr for advice on how to avoid another very serious charge in the Iran-Contra crimes. How, he wanted to know, could they shut down Walsh’s investigation before Walsh’s lawyers got their hands on Bush’s diary?

In April of 2001, safely distant from the swirl of D.C. politics, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was compiling oral presidential histories, and interviewed Barr about his time as AG in the Bush White House. They brought up the issue of the Weinberger pardon, which put an end to the Iran-Contra investigation, and Barr’s involvement in it.

Turns out, Barr was right in the middle of it.

“There were some people arguing just for [a pardon for] Weinberger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound,’” Barr told the interviewer. “I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Which is exactly what Bush did, on Christmas Eve when most Americans were with family instead of watching the news. The holiday notwithstanding, the result was explosive.

America knew that both Reagan and Bush were up to their necks in Iran-Contra, and Democrats had been talking about treason, impeachment or worse. The independent counsel had already obtained one conviction, three guilty pleas, and two other individuals were lined up for prosecution. And Walsh was closing in fast on Bush himself.

So, when Bush shut the investigation down by pardoning not only Weinberger, but also Abrams and the others involved in the crimes, destroying Walsh’s ability to prosecute anybody, the New York Times ran the headline all the way across four of the six columns on the front page, screaming in all-caps: BUSH PARDONS 6 IN IRAN AFFAIR, ABORTING A WEINBERGER TRIAL; PROSECUTOR ASSAILS ‘COVER-UP.’

Bill Barr had struck, and, like with Trump and the Muller investigation into his treason, Reagan and Bush’s treason was now buried.

The second paragraph of the Times story by David Johnston laid it out:

“Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger’s private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush’s endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.” (emphasis added)

History shows that when a Republican president is in serious legal trouble, Bill Barr is the go-to guy.

For William Safire, it was déjà vu all over again. Four months earlier, referring to Iraqgate (Bush’s selling WMDs to Iraq), Safire opened his article, titled “Justice [Department] Corrupts Justice,” by writing:

“U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in rejecting the House Judiciary Committee’s call for a prosecutor not beholden to the Bush Administration to investigate the crimes of Iraqgate, has taken personal charge of the cover-up.”

Safire accused Barr of not only rigging the cover-up, but of being one of the criminals who could be prosecuted.

“Mr. Barr,” wrote Safire in August of 1992, “...could face prosecution if it turns out that high Bush officials knew about Saddam Hussein’s perversion of our Agriculture export guarantees to finance his war machine.”

He added, “They [Barr and colleagues] have a keen personal and political interest in seeing to it that the Department of Justice stays in safe, controllable Republican hands.”

Earlier in Bush’s administration, Barr had succeeded in blocking the appointment of an investigator or independent counsel to look into Iraqgate, as Safire repeatedly documented in the Times. In December, Barr helped Bush block indictments from another independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, and eliminated any risk that Reagan or George H.W. Bush would be held to account for Iran-Contra.

Walsh, wrote Johnston for the Times on Christmas Eve, “plans to review a 1986 campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush.” The diary would be the smoking gun that would nail Bush to the scandal.

“But,” noted the Times, “in a single stroke, Mr. Bush [at Barr’s suggestion] swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort, which began in 1986.”

And Walsh didn’t take it lying down.

The Times report noted that, “Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President’s action, charging that ‘the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.’”

Independent Counsel Walsh added that the diary and notes he wanted to enter into a public trial of Weinberger represented, “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The phrase “highest ranking” officials included Reagan, Bush and Barr himself.

Walsh had been fighting to get those documents ever since 1986, when he was appointed and Reagan still had two years left in office. Bush’s and Weinberger’s refusal to turn them over, Johnston noted in the Times, could have, in Walsh’s words, “forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan” through a pattern of “deception and obstruction.”

Barr successfully covered up the involvement of two Republican presidents—Reagan and Bush—in two separate and impeachable “high crimes,” one of them almost certainly treason.

Months later in January of 1993, newly sworn-in President Clinton and the new Congress decided to put it all behind them and not pursue the matters any further.

Will Biden do the same, for both Trump and Barr? He’s publicly said that he’s going to let his new attorney general, Merrick Garland, make those kinds of decisions.

And Garland, it seems, has unleashed the FBI and other investigators in ways that must be sending shock-waves through Mar-a-Lago and the ranks of former Trump officials.

One can only hope.

Biden’s Drug Policies Are A Small Step In The Right Direction

By Phillip Smith, Drug Reporter

On April 1, the Biden administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like with the release of the congressionally mandated “Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One.” The result is a definite mixed bag, with the statement not only focusing on a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery—along with an acknowledgment of harm reduction—and a nod in the direction of racially sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And there is no mention of the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The words “marijuana” or “cannabis” do not appear anywhere in the main statement. That’s perhaps not so surprising, given that in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on April 5, Vice President Kamala Harris said the administration was “too busy” dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to make good on its campaign pledges relating to marijuana reform.

What is on the administration’s mind is “the overdose and addiction crisis.” Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says “addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his [Biden’s]administration.” But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that “President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead.” This might come across as a seemingly humane approach, but it is actually based on an errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts and need treatment when, depending on the drug, only between 5 percent and 15 percent of drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.

Here are the Biden administration’s drug policy priorities, all of which are dealt with in detail in the statement:

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR took note of the administration’s statement without making a comment regarding it.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration’s failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction—it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example—is another indication that the administration is in no hurry to rush down a progressive drug reform path. And the prioritizing of supply reduction by the Biden administration implies continued drug war in Latin America (while working “with key partners… like Mexico and Colombia”) and at home, via support of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and “multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.” Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” issued on Biden’s first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an “interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform.”

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), meanwhile, has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2021 Roadmap for the new administration released in February, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms including ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counternarcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA’s politically attuned language, “overdose prevention centers.”

“We’re glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis—by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications—especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it’s clearly not enough. We need action,” DPA’s Office of National Affairs director Maritza Perez said in a press release while responding to the administration’s statement. “Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the Administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police.”

“And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job—past drug convictions and arrests—we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace,” Perez continued. “It’s time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms.”

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration’s priorities. In their own statement in response to that by the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities like more access to treatment and more research on racial equity. But the group complained that the administration priorities “fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country”—especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

“[T]here are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs,” SSDP said. “Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity.”

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the policies of the Biden administration are looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step. Its policy prescriptions still seem like they are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps the administration can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

Pesticide Linked To Brain Damage In Children May Finally Be Banned

By Reynard Loki

A federal appeals court has ruled that unless the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can prove that the pesticide chlorpyrifos is safe, it must be banned. The chemical, which has been widely used on agricultural crops for more than 50 years, has been linked to neurological development issues in children, with mounting evidence implicating its role in autism, ADHD, motor and loss of IQ. In the 2-to-1 ruling on April 29, judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit gave the federal government 60 days to either rescind all uses of chlorpyrifos related to food or to show evidence that in certain cases it is safe for public health.

In the majority opinion in the case League of United Latin American Citizens v. Regan, which was filed in 2007, Judge Jed Rakoff, a Clinton appointee, wrote, “[T]he EPA has spent more than a decade assembling a record of chlorpyrifos’s ill effects and has repeatedly determined, based on that record, that it cannot conclude, to the statutorily required standard of reasonable certainty, that the present tolerances are causing no harm,” adding that “EPA’s egregious delay exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos.” Rakoff was joined by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, an Obama appointee.

​​​​​“Yet, rather than ban the pesticide or reduce the tolerances to levels that the EPA can find are reasonably certain to cause no harm, the EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties,” Rakoff wrote in the opinion, in which he stopped short of requiring the agency to ban the chemical, but left little room to keep it on the market. “The EPA must act based upon the evidence and must immediately revoke or modify chlorpyrifos tolerances.” Pregnant women and their fetuses, young children and farmworkers are particularly at risk from chlorpyrifos, which was first registered for use in 1965.

“There are numerous studies showing that exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb harms children’s brain development,” said Dr. Warren Seigel, chair of New York State American Academy of Pediatrics. “The science is clear, and this pesticide should have been banned years ago.”

The ruling “virtually guarantees” that the EPA will revoke food-related applications of chlorpyrifos, according to dissenting Judge Jay Bybee, a George W. Bush appointee, who argued that his colleagues overreached and “misread” the agency’s obligations to review specific uses of the chemical that it had previously determined were safe. He criticized the majority, saying that it “substituted its own judgment for EPA’s decision.”

The EPA is reviewing the ruling, saying in a statement that the agency is “committed to helping support and protect farmworkers and their families while ensuring pesticides are used safely among the nation’s agriculture. … EPA will continue to use sound science in the decision-making process under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act” (FIFRA).

The ruling comes nearly two years after the Trump administration rejected a proposed Obama-era ban of the controversial pesticide, keeping it on the market despite aggressive calls against its continued use by public health and environmental groups. The Trump EPA decision, made in July of 2019, was a major gift to Dow Chemical, the maker of the pesticide, in what appeared as an act of quid pro quo. On December 6, 2016, less than a month after Trump’s election, the agrochemical giant donated $1 million to his inaugural committee. Then, on January 17, 2017, just three days before Trump was sworn into the Oval Office, Dow filed a petition with the EPA to reject the Obama-era proposal to ban the pesticide. On March 29, 2017, then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced his decision to cancel the proposed ban.

“This is what we now know is the modus operandi of Trump and his EPA: corruption couched as policy,” said Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, following Pruitt’s decision. “Trump and his political appointees at the agency show nearly every day that they are not there to protect Americans’ health but to cater to the whims of polluters. If you’re looking for evidence of corrupt collusion with sinister interests, here it is in plain view.”

What a difference a new administration makes. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the EPA to review the Trump administration’s decision to deny the 2007 petition to ban food-related chlorpyrifos. It is unlikely that the Biden EPA will fight the appellate court ruling.

Environmental and farmworker groups applauded the court’s decision. “Today, we celebrate this huge victory alongside the men and women who harvest our food, who have waited too long for a ban on this pesticide,” said Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, in a statement. “We are relieved that farmworkers and their families will no longer have to worry about the myriad of ways this pesticide could impact their lives.”

The ruling could bring more attention to the public health and environmental risks of other harmful pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, which are deadly to bees and other pollinators that are key to crop pollination. Friends of the Earth, a nonprofit, has launched a public petition urging Americans to tell their congressional representatives to co-sponsor the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act, introduced in 2020 by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

The bill seeks to strengthen the EPA’s authority under FIFRA to regulate the distribution, sale and use of pesticides, and ban some of the most toxic pesticides used across the nation, including all neonicotinoids, organophosphates (a class of phosphorus-based insecticides that includes chlorpyrifos) and paraquat, an herbicide that has been linked to renal, hepatic and respiratory damage, and which is already banned in 32 countries.

Are pesticides even necessary? Some experts believe that, while there are obvious trade-offs to spraying toxic chemicals on crops, using pesticides properly can actually protect some parts of the environment. Pesticides “allow us to maximize production on the smallest footprint of land. This is called ‘land sparing,’” said Tim Durham, a professor of agronomy and agricultural sciences at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia. “If we decided to [forgo] pesticides, we’d need to appropriate a much larger chunk of land to do the same job and land that happens to be the most biodiverse and at-risk.” Durham, who is also part of his family’s vegetable farm on Long Island, New York, adds, “Pesticides provide some measure of predictability in the otherwise unpredictable world of farming, helping to stabilize commodity prices and keeping prices low in the grocery aisle.”

However, some advocates of organic farming, which is committed to zero pesticides, or limited pesticide use under National Organic Program standards, say that conventional industrial farming that is heavily reliant on chemical use isn’t necessary to feed the world’s population.

“The myth that organic food can’t feed the world isn’t just wrong, it’s downright counterproductive,” according to the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit based in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, that supports organic agriculture research. “Organic can compete with conventional yields and outperform conventional in adverse weather. Small farmers using organic methods have huge potential to expand global food production. And only organic methods actively regenerate resources and protect the environment from pollution and toxic waste. For a healthy future, we can’t afford anything less.”

How to Make Forced Arbitration of Investment Disputes More Fair and Equitable for Retirees and Parties

You could be the solution by becoming an arbitrator, adding to your practice without even having to look for new clients.

By Michael Bixby

Trial by jury is essential. It’s “a privilege of the highest and most beneficial nature,” the guardian “of public and private liberty.”[1] But where the defendant is a financial advisor accused of causing loss by making irresponsible or fraudulent investment recommendations, defrauded investors almost never see a jury, because nearly every brokerage account agreement includes a mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clause in front of FINRA, the private financial industry-designated arbitration forum.

FINRA arbitrators play a powerful and unique quasi-judicial function, acting as judge and jury over the entirety of the arbitration proceeding. It’s a prestigious post, and most arbitrators only serve on a part-time basis and are able to set the schedule of the proceedings. FINRA claims to protect investors and safeguard market integrity as the private self-regulatory organization of the financial industry. However, FINRA has a clear conflict of interest baked into its design: the same Wall Street firms FINRA regulates are the ones paying its bills.

Why do brokerage firms force their customers into FINRA arbitration? The reason is simple; these firms know they have a much better chance of limiting their liability in FINRA arbitration. FINRA is the same arbitration forum that repeatedly exonerated the “Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort.[2] While some improvements have been made over the last 20 years, the FINRA arbitration forum is still tilted heavily in favor of the financial industry. In 2020, only 32% of Customers who tried their cases to a final arbitration award recovered even a dollar.[3] The numbers continue to get worse: as of Mid-May 2021 only 30% of Customers received any award of damages.[4] Even in the rare cases where FINRA Arbitrators award damages, the average amount awarded is typically 50 cents on the dollar or less.[5]

You might think the reason the industry usually wins cases is because liability is doubtful. Yet the industry frequently wins even where claims involve financial advisors who are in jail, are permanently barred from the industry, were fired for policy or rule violations, or are repeat offenders with multiple complaints.

Take a recent example involving an industry professional. He had been: (1) fired for violating firm policy and lying, (2) permanently barred from the financial industry , (3) criminally charged by the SEC, (4) pled guilty to bank fraud and (5) sent to prison.[6] Despite all that, FINRA arbitrators entered awards for investors as low as 5 cents on the dollar, every arbitration award was pennies on the dollar, and no arbitration panel awarded punitive damages.[7] If investors and their attorneys cannot get justice against an overwhelmingly disgraced convict in arbitration, perhaps the arbitration forum is not exactly fair.

My belief is that the slant in favor of the industry flows directly from the industry slant of FINRA arbitrators themselves. In-depth reports by organizations like the Public Investors Advocacy Bar Association have long pointed out substantial flaws and gaps in FINRA Arbitrator recruitment and the lack of diversity across the board among FINRA Arbitrators.[8] FINRA has made some headway in updating procedural rules in FINRA arbitration to be more fair and balanced for investor claimants, but the pool of FINRA-approved arbitrators is still far too often (1) filled with industry-connected members (retired stockbrokers, supervisors, defense counsel); (2) lacking qualified members in some geographic areas, which results in arbitrators traveling from other states that may be unfamiliar with state-specific laws or less sympathetic to its residents; and (3) lacking diversity in age, gender, race and occupation, resulting in an arbitrator pool that does not reflect the diversity of investor claimants.

To improve the system FINRA needs good, fair-minded individuals, to help fill the missing ranks in the existing pool of available arbitrators all around the country.  I encourage you to consider applying as an arbitrator. Becoming an arbitrator is a great opportunity to grow professional skills and to help make FINRA arbitration more fair and equitable for all parties including retirees and investor claimants.

Benefits of Becoming a FINRA Arbitrator:


No previous arbitration, securities, or legal experience is required to apply.   All you need is five years of paid work experience, and two years of college-level credits.   There are 71 primary hearing locations.  FINRA arbitrators are assigned to the hearing location closest to their primary residence.

As a practitioner in the FINRA Arbitration Forum, I encourage you to consider becoming a FINRA Arbitrator to help provide a more equitable forum to advance the mission of protecting investors and retirees. FINRA has staff to assist applicants in finalizing their applications. You can begin your application online at For more information and assistance from FINRA directly, please contact Sitara Ahmed, a FINRA Recruiter and Trainer at (212) 858-4377.  

  1. Justice William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765).
  2. See, e.g., FINRA Arbitration No. 94-03557 (Award Dated March 21, 1996), FINRA Arbitration No. 93-01645 (Award Dated Feb. 1, 1995).
  3. See FINRA, Dispute Resolution Statistics, available at (last accessed May 16, 2021).
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. See FINRA BrokerCheck Report of Jose Ramirez, available at (last accessed May 16, 2021).
  7. Id.
  8. Jason Doss, THE IMPORTANCE OF ARBITRATOR DISCLOSURE: A Report By Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association (PIABA) Shows That The Cornerstone of FINRA Arbitration Has Serious Flaws And That The Forum Is Unfair To Investors, 21 PIABA B.J. 3, 437 (2014).

Search Features Law Firms Often Miss

By Steve Erlich,  COO & Director of Search at Digital Law Marketing, Inc.

The search results have been evolving very quickly over the last few years, and it has become more important than ever before to keep track of all the updates and changes. The features reviewed in this article will make your law firm stand out in the search results like never before. Some of these, such as featured snippets, can increase your search traffic to the linked pages exponentially. Most of the features discussed are free to use with the exception of Local Service Ads, which is a pay-per-lead service provided by Google. But first, the freebies.

Position 0 / Featured Snippet / Short Answer Results

One of the more obvious changes over the last few years is Google inserting a box of content above the search results to directly answer your question. You may have seen these when asking Google a question. (One of the early adoptions of this provided song lyrics.) This is Google’s attempt to immediately answer a query and show the user a portion of the answer.

Law firms can get featured snippets, too! In addition to positioning your law firm above the search results, this is a good way to start optimizing for voice search as well. When you ask Google a question via your phone or Google Home device, the answer you receive is often from a featured snippet.

You can’t control exactly what portion of content Google determines to use for a featured snippet, but there is a formula if you want to have a shot at the featured snippet. Some of the simpler tips are to answer the question as directly as possible and pay close attention to the format of whoever holds the featured snippet. If a bullet list is currently showing, such as for the query shown above, there’s a good chance Google is looking for a list. If the answer is in paragraph form, Google believes this is the best response. Keep track of your featured snippets as Google may change their preferred format at a moment’s notice.

FAQ Results

FAQ results are a great free search feature that really make a listing stand out in the search results. Much like the featured snippets discussed earlier, these are an attempt by Google to answer users’ queries immediately. Like featured snippets, they are very query specific, and they will not always show up. FAQs only appear on page one of the search results.

One distinct difference between featured snippets and FAQ results is that you can control exactly what text shows up in an FAQ result, as long as that text is also represented on the page. An additional link can be added as well that calls the user to the page for more information.

Jump Links

Jump links are a really great feature, especially when you have a long piece of content. Keep in mind that Google will not show FAQ results and jump links like these at the same time, but if your page isn’t built for FAQ or you’re just not seeing the FAQ show up as often as you like, jump links are a good replacement. Clicking any of the jump links will take the user directly to the section of the page they are requesting, saving them from reading the entire page.

People Also Ask

Getting into this section is not easy. The formula is similar to featured snippets, but it does tend to be dominated by larger legal websites. The “people also ask” section provides questions that are similar to the query, in this case “Most Dangerous Roads in Tennessee?”

When users click a question, the questions expand to show the result. Then the section expands to provide additional related queries within the responses.

Review Stars – Reputation Management

Gone are the days where you could give your website 5-stars just above your description without violating Google’s guidelines, but independent review sites as well as Google knowledge panels still show stars. It is important to monitor your reviews at places like Yelp and Avvo because someone may be seeing very basic search results or even a 1-star instead of a 5-star review from a source you weren’t monitoring. This happens all the time.

Keeping tabs on your name and brand and how you appear in the search results is very important for your law firm’s online reputation.

Local Service Ads

Pay-per-click has been around a long time and its appearance has evolved throughout the years. Pay-per-click ads are the ads at the top and bottom of the search results, marked with the little “Ad” box. Those are not what we are discussing today.

The Local Service Ads (or LSAs) are found at the very top of the search results, above even the pay-per-click ads, and are marked “sponsored.” There is a screening process to get listed here which takes a few weeks; screening includes a background check, so it does take some time to setup. However, the screening process is free, and once they are approved LSAs are a great way to gain top positions in the search results. Unlike the pay-per-click model, calls are recorded by Google and you are only charged if the type of call falls under your practice area. Some practice areas are broken down more granularly than others. This is more a traditional pay-per-lead model offered directly by Google. Remember, too, to keep tabs on your Google My Business reviews, as those will pull into the LSA results as well and have a strong impact on visibility and conversions.

Stand out in the crowd!

The search results, especially organically outside of the 3 pack, can be dull and blend together. So these opportunities make a really big difference, from improving brand recognition to driving a lot of additional leads to your law firm. The search engine optimization team at Digital Law Marketing has extensive experience helping firms obtain and keep track of all these search features that give you an edge on the competition. Give us a call now and experience the difference.

The Post-Pandemic Plaintiffs’ Law Firm: Successfully Adapting to a Changing Legal Environment

By Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. & Kimberly Gomlak, MBA | Counsel Financial

As the legal system continues to be subject to changes brought about by the global pandemic, many law firms are looking ahead and acknowledge that some adaptations are here to stay. We explore how contingent-fee law firms have navigated the current state of the legal system and their outlook moving forward.

Having surpassed the one-year mark of COVID-19 regulations and closures impacting the court system, almost every firm has modified their operations over the last year and a half. The fate of the traditional office environment remains to be seen. Though some law firms have opened their workplaces on a limited basis and courts have resumed varying levels of activity, many are still uncertain as to what the office dynamic will be once the preventative health and safety measures associated with COVID-19 are fully lifted.

The Traditional Office 

Brick-and-mortar office space has historically been deemed a necessity—especially in the field of law. Law practices now may find that their attorneys and staff can, and have been, as productive if not more so, working from home. Though the need for a centralized, physical office location may never become totally obsolete, firms may be able to reduce the square footage necessary to maintain a successful practice, thereby reducing a significant law firm expense.

Colliers International reported that as of the summer of 2019, the average gross rent per square foot of office space leased by law firms had risen by 6.5% as compared to data from 2017. Examples given in the 2019 Law Firm Service Report regarding gross rent per square foot in North America ranged from $25.10/sq. ft. in Birmingham, Alabama to $88.50/sq. ft. in New York City.

We recently spoke with Hunter Linville, Esq. about how his firm Linville Law Group operates—and has since well before the pandemic hit—a successful remote law firm.

“I started Linville Law Group in July of 2019 and right away started looking at office space. However, while I was looking, I was working from my house and my home sort of became the center of operations for the firm. As I hired new people, we worked in my home office for a few days and then they worked independently from their homes. We continued to get together once weekly to plan and discuss our projects, but I felt our communication was just as good on the days we were not physically working in the same space, and the visibility of our work was better than I had ever experienced.

As many attorneys are aware, office space is a big commitment and I hadn’t seen anything that I really liked. I wasn’t going to rent an office just for the sake of it when our current system was working. In the end, I talked with my team and it became apparent that people were happy and productive working from home, so I decided not to disrupt what we had. There are a lot of upsides to working in an office setting—it’s great seeing people and having that personal interaction—but what I think a lot of people are seeing now that most people are still working from home is that there are some downsides to traditional offices. I’m not saying that my firm will never go back to a traditional office setting, but until I see that this current system isn’t working, we are going to stick with a remote work setting.”

Company culture went from just a “buzzword” to a virtue that employees value substantially over the past decade. With the transition to remote work, maintaining company culture has never been more imperative. As firms navigate moving forward in a post-pandemic environment, flexibility is likely to become an expectation.

Stringent work schedules may not be as practical as they were in the past. Many have recognized that family and other obligations can be managed while still maintaining a full workload by being productive before or after hours. Law firms will need to stay ahead of the “new” perception of the “work day” as people slowly return to the office.

Kristy Arevalo, Esq. of McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP discusses how her firm is looking ahead as the country works toward reopening, and what she sees as COVID-related adaptations that may become permanent.

“COVID has massively changed my personal work schedule. Looking back, I was traveling for work, if not every week, then every other week, crisscrossing the country for depositions, meetings and court appearances. To be honest, I was almost reaching a burn out point with the constant travel and intense work. After almost a year of no travel, and relying on virtual methods for meetings and depositions, it’s amazing to me all the time that was wasted on airplanes and in airports.

In this age, where everything can be done online so easily you have to stop and think, why do we have to follow this antiquated routine of going into an office for a set time? I think if you’re hiring quality people and you can trust them, why not let them work from home with a more flexible schedule? When people are working from home, and I know I’ve seen this with myself, they are more focused when they are working because the typical distractions of the office setting aren’t there, like ringing phones and people stopping in to chat or ask a question.

I think most people will apply a hybrid method as things calm down over time. I think people will start traveling more and courts will start demanding in-person appearances again. However, I do think that Zoom depositions will be here to stay and that people will not be returning to the same level of travel as before because it’s truly unnecessary.

For our firm, I think once everything gets back to more “normal,” we will be implementing a hybrid policy where we are giving people the option of working from home a few days a week and coming into the office the other days.”

New Hiring Practices

Similar to the expectation of a physical office space, most firms have traditionally hired associates and staff either in their local area, or those who were willing to relocate.

Working remotely has opened many firms up to the idea of expanding their search for the best and the brightest. Forward-thinking firms may take on partners residing in different states or employ new associates or clerks from across the country. Having tackled the obstacle of managing teams that can’t be physically present in one place allows for much greater flexibility in building a strong team.

Ms. Arevalo adds, “After seeing how well our team works remotely, we have been able to take on new attorneys who live outside our geographic area   who   will   continue to mainly work remotely even after the pandemic is over. So, before the pandemic, we really wouldn’t consider hiring someone who lived in another city or who lived too far away from the office unless they were willing to relocate. Now because working remotely is an option, we have a much larger talent pool to hire from.”

Similarly, Mr. Linville states, “I think being remote has allowed me to look beyond geographical parameters for team members. I live in Atlanta where for most people traffic is an obstacle at the start of each day, so if I was running a traditional firm with a central office space, I would have to consider people’s commute time during the hiring process. That’s not a concern with a remote office—I can hire the right people that fit our firm and they can live anywhere in the country.”

Effective Communication

Even with its advantages, remote work comes with numerous challenges that must be managed in order for a firm to maintain a seamless working environment. One of the biggest   hurdles   can be communication. With the lack of in-person interaction, communication within a law firm, and within the legal system as a whole, has become a task in and of itself. Hunter Linville shares his thoughts on this.

“I think it’s easy to feel isolated working from home and to feel less involved with our coworkers. To be successful working remotely, a team needs excellent communication. The success of any project starts and ends with precise articulation and accurate interpretation of our plan of attack, so we rely heavily on maintaining real-time technical documentation.

Like everyone these days, we utilize video conferencing as much as we can in order to get that much-needed face time with each other. We start each morning with a short 10-minute meeting to say hello and get visibility on any roadblocks. This gives everyone the opportunity to see what their co-workers are focused on and offer help if possible, and it creates a shared understanding of what the firm as a whole is working towards. By keeping everyone informed, it becomes easier to shift people from one project to another when necessary, because everyone has a general idea of the facts of each project and what we are trying to accomplish.

We communicate regularly, and everyone is encouraged to share their ideas, interests and humor. Our culture is full of unique, creative individuals and they keep me and others in the organization feeling fresh and energized.”

Despite the obstacles, there also exist silver linings. Kristy Arevalo explains how the changes have imparted a positive impact on her associates.

“What’s really been interesting for me is that we hired a new associate while we’ve been remote and initially, I worried a little bit about how I was going to be able to mentor her and help her learn without being in the same office together. So, I told her to jump on any Zoom depositions I have and just observe. Six months into her employment, she has told me that she learned so much by observing me and, had this been before COVID, she never would have had the opportunity to be involved in meetings and depositions with me because I would have been in another state taking them.”

It remains to be seen to what extent the global pandemic will permanently alter the concept of a plaintiffs’ law firm. Almost certainly, there will be positive impacts that arise from this difficult circumstance facing the entire world. For attorneys, every day presents a new opportunity to redefine the contingent-fee law firm and continued change is likely to be seen.

How Important Are Google Search Rankings Anyway?

(Answer: Probably More Than You Think)

By Steve Nober

Before the late nineties, searching for a local business, like a law firm, was a lot simpler. Maybe you had a referral from a friend or family member, or you saw an ad on TV or a magazine. Maybe you went to the yellow pages and picked the law firm that had the biggest ad or whose name came up at the top of the alphabetical list.

In today’s digital world, a customer’s journey to your firm is likely to begin with a web search. And as the most used search engine for decades, Google will likely be the source of your next client.

Google’s setup is not all that much different than the yellow pages. You’ll see both paid ads as well as non-paid listings, arranged in an order that you can scroll through. The difference is that they’re no longer just listed by alphabet.

Who gets the top spots can be mysterious to those who don’t delve in the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and understand the complex and ever-changing algorithms that Google has established to rank content on search.

So, you may be thinking, ‘our firm has a great reputation; we’ve won lots of cases in our area; people know us and respect us; therefore, our listing must be in those top spots.’ Unfortunately, this may not be the case.

Many lawyers who Google their firms by commonly used keywords or phrases, such as 'personal injury lawyers near me' may be dismayed to discover much lower rankings in search results than they had expected. They may also be surprised, as they move throughout their town or city, to see how their listings vary from place to place and get lower the farther they get they get from their home office location.

And if you’re thinking that Google search results aren’t that important, consider this—statistics show 93% of online experiences begin with a Google search. In fact, studies show 75% of users never scroll past the first page of search results.

This means if you’re not in the Top 3 of search results, you’re losing clicks to firms that are. Each of those lost clicks means one less potential client for you and one more for your competitor across town.

The Map Pack: Your Friend (or Foe)

When a potential client Googles law firms close to their location, they’ll find local results in what is commonly referred to as the Google Map Pack. This is an interactive map of the area they’re searching or based on the location of a mobile device. The Map Pack displays the Top 3 listings that Google determines are the best match for a search.

How does Google determine the best match? Local rankings are based on a combination of three factors: relevance, distance, and prominence. At times, the algorithms may determine a law firm that is located farther away might be a better match, which would mean a higher ranking for that firm.

Getting into the Map Pack Top 3 is not the same as buying Pay Per Click ads. If you’re not there already, however, you’ll find that by taking certain targeted measures, you can rise in the listings organically. It won’t happen overnight, but if you can plan and execute a targeted SEO strategy, your firm can rise in the listings.

You can take some of these actions on your own; however, it is incredibly helpful to have an expert working with you who understands the nuances of Google’s rules and algorithms. This will ensure you’re moving up in the listings the right way; and to avoid any shortcuts, which could lead to your firm being penalized and moved lower in the listings.

Consumer Attorney Marketing Group (CAMG) has several top-notch SEO experts on staff who know the right way to optimize your website and content to get your firm higher in search, so you can reap the benefits of many more leads.

Keywords, Backlinking, Mobile Optimization and More

Identifying and targeting the right types of keywords are essential components of a successful search strategy. Writers incorporate these keywords into content on your website, including webpage copy, blogs, articles, papers, and other content. If done properly, this can increase search rankings.

At CAMG, our team is focused on keywords that matter, avoiding “exact match long-tail keywords” used in other agencies that pump out a high volume of blogs. Our team is dedicated to deliberate, high-quality long-form content creation, which gives you an advantage.

Another strategy we avoid is “keyword stuffing” or overusing keywords to rank higher in search. Google’s algorithms have been set up to recognize this tactic. Providing high-quality, relevant content is essential to Google’s rankings, as the search engine’s goal is to highlight best content first. Therefore, the content you publish should be useful for potential clients and other attorneys practicing in your field.

Mobile optimization is yet another way that Google ranks your site in search, rewarding websites with faster load times with higher search positions. In fact, Google recently rolled out its Core Web Vitals update, which boosts sites that adhere to its technical and speed requirements. CAMG’s SEO experts are well versed in these new requirements and are working with clients to ensure their websites are optimized for the new requirements.

Another way to improve your ranking in search is through backlinking. Google looks at the number of these links, the quality/reputation of the sites linking to you, and how you have setup your internal links throughout your site. The more properly set up backlinks of other sites linking to yours, the higher your listing will rank in search.

Black Hat vs. White Hat

In the world of SEO, there are several ways that you can cut corners to increase your rankings in search. Some of these we already mentioned such as keyword stuffing, as well as producing low quality content, linking to low quality sites and even guest posting or purchasing backlinks. Although these may result in a quick bump in your search rankings, they can come back to haunt you in the long run, especially if Google’s algorithms or employees catch you using these techniques. Law firm websites that don't follow Google's search quality algorithm updates will see a significant drop in both traffic and leads.

These so-called black hat practices go against what Google and other similar search engines want on their site, which is links to quality, well-constructed content that will inform an audience of customers or professionals. Google is constantly updating its algorithms with the goal of providing better content that matches with their customers’ inquiries. These black hat quick wins fly in the face of their goals and they are known to penalize offenders by sending them way down in the rankings.

That’s why CAMG only uses white-hat SEO practices, which comply with Google’s rules and goals for content quality. Although results may take a little longer to actualize, your content and listings will stay in the top results for the long run, ensuring a better return on your investment.

User Experience

Each website and practice area has different needs. However, there are some rules that are very important to follow in terms of user experience (or, as it’s sometimes called, UX). Good UX starts with a well-constructed website that is easy to navigate and contains lots of useful and relevant content. This is the main way that you can ensure that your website starts to rank higher in search.

It’s also very important that your website’s code is error-free. If Google crawls your site and finds errors in code, it’s likely that it will miss out on some of the great content that you’ve been creating for your readers.

Getting to the Top

When coming up with your SEO plan, take some time to look at what the competition is doing. Look at those sites that rank high in search and compare their content, design and overall useability against your firm’s site and other sites that rank lower in search. Find out what topics they’re writing about and look at how they are incorporating keywords and backlinks. Check out their site on mobile and see how well it loads and runs.

Most importantly, note the way that they present information. Is it a blog; a newsletter; white papers; case studies? There are a lot of different types of content and different audiences will react differently to each one. Take some time to figure out what your clients are likely to read. Tone, topic and length are all important considerations when looking to boost your website in search rankings.

Finally, when you are ready to make a commitment to having the best SEO-enabled site in your market and to lead in local search listings throughout your area, give CAMG a call. Our experts will work with you to create a comprehensive SEO plan. Our team will not only focus on improving your website but will also build a solid content plan, integrating with your social media, paid search (pay per click), mobile optimization, and other components of an effective digital strategy.

I encourage readers to reach out to us to take advantage of a complimentary three-point SEO audit to learn what we can do for you.

As part of the audit, our SEO team will review three of the following areas:

Visit our website at and reach out to us today.

About Consumer Attorney Marketing Group

As an agile and media-agnostic marketing agency that works exclusively with the legal industry, Consumer Attorney Marketing Group (CAMG) has the tools and human resources to help you succeed in an increasingly complex marketing ecosystem.

As media preferences continuously change, we’ve kept pace with online and offline advertising, including mobile and placed digital, display, paid social and search, and traditional media campaigns (including TV, our exclusive informercial, radio, out-of-home, streaming, and more.) With consistent tracking, analysis, and optimization as a brand pillar, we can dig into consumer response to online and offline media plans to close the loop between past and present learnings and run the most efficient campaigns possible that help connect you with clients.

The PRO Act Is A Game Changer For Labor And The Economy

By Sonali Kolhatkar

Among the many reasons behind the recent failure of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union was their employer’s intimidation tactics about what a union would mean for workers. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in its response to the disappointing vote against unionization released a statement saying, “Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election.” RWDSU Union head Stuart Appelbaum claimed that the retail giant “required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union.”

Although the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of workers to collectively organize without fear of retaliation from employers, most of Amazon’s tactics were technically legal. With a nearly endless source of money to fund its barrage of misinformation and fearmongering, Amazon will likely manage over and over again to convince its workers that unions, not management, are their enemy.

While several unions represent Amazon’s European workers, no group of Amazon workers in the United States has thus far managed to win the right to unionize, suggesting that there is something unique about our approach to labor organizing that stands in the way. And, in legal challenges, the US Supreme Court has often sided with corporations over workers. Given the court’s current conservative dominance, this is unlikely to change.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The US House of Representatives in early March passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which, among other things, would make it much harder for companies like Amazon to misinform their workers. The PRO Act, which has been introduced several times before, “makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership.”

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, explained to me in an interview that “if the PRO Act was law today, it would mean that some of the union-busting tactics that Amazon is employing around the country would be illegal.”

The PRO Act would also upend the so-called “right-to-work” laws in many states around the country, including Alabama, that Mitchell calls “horribly regressive.” One might imagine based on the name that such laws ensure workers have the right to employment. If only that were so. Instead, “right-to-work” laws, deliberately named so as to confuse workers, are part of an aggressive GOP-led push over the past decade to undermine the financial power of unions by making it illegal for unions to mandate dues.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which for years has championed “right-to-work” state laws, calls the PRO Act “a litany of almost every failed idea from the past 30 years of labor policy,” as if the Chamber was ever concerned about the interests of labor. Warning that if passed it would “undermine worker rights, ensnare employers in unrelated labor disputes, disrupt the economy, and force individual Americans to pay union dues regardless of their wishes,” the Chamber pretends to care about workers rather than corporate profits..

In the fantasy world of the organization, there are two forces vying for dominance: earnest corporations versus “Big Labor.” Such a narrative invokes an Orwellian vision of benevolent corporations and the Chamber of Commerce stepping in to gallantly defend vulnerable workers from tyrannical unions. In fact, the only time pro-business institutions and conservatives ever appear to care about protecting workers’ rights is when workers are on the verge of actually winning more rights.

One basic fact throws cold water on the anti-union claims of “Big Business” and its allies: unionized workers—even though there are fewer of them thanks to anti-union efforts—make significantly more money than non-union workers.

According to Mitchell, the PRO Act is, in a nutshell, about “creating a level playing field for workers to be able to organize their labor.” He offered a more accurate depiction of our current economic reality: “Organized capital has captured government, and in many ways captured our lives. This [PRO Act] allows us to use the only thing that could counterbalance organized capital: organized labor.”

For years, US labor organizations have thrown unconditional support behind the Democratic Party and had little to show for it as unionization levels have fallen precipitously. It is no coincidence that as unions shrank, wealth and income inequality rose. In backing the PRO Act and doing all it can to pass it into law, the Democratic Party can prove it is truly a friend of organized labor, and by extension, American workers. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the bill “a game changer,” and asserted that “[i]f you really want to correct inequality in this country—wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power—passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that.”

After all, as Mitchell said, the left has “won the debate over neoliberal capitalist policies,” and even President Biden openly admitted as much during his recent address to Congress. “[T]rickle-down economics has never worked and it’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out,” said Biden in a surprising pronouncement.

So far, there are hopeful signs as all but one of the House Democrats voted “yes” on the bill (Texas Representative Henry Cuellar voted “no,” citing Republican talking points about supporting his state’s “right-to-work” law and claiming without evidence that the PRO Act would destroy thousands of jobs).

President Joe Biden, who overtly expressed support for the unionizing efforts among Amazon workers in Alabama, also urged the passage of the PRO Act in his address to Congress. He said in clear terms, “I’m calling on Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act—the PRO Act—and send it to my desk so we can support the right to unionize.”

Mitchell explained to me, “We have a limited window for us to create the type of transformative change that is on the agenda that so many people voted for,” referring to the two-year period in which Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress before the 2022 midterms potentially change the equation. With the House passage of the PRO Act and the White House signaling it fully supports the bill, it falls into the purview of one of the most undemocratic branches of government—the U.S. Senate—to pass this critical bill.

So far 45 Senate Democrats and two independents have signaled support for the bill. This number surprisingly includes Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has emerged as an obstacle to other progressive-leaning bills but who was apparently convinced by the PRO Act. Now, only three Senate Democrats remain on the fence: Virginia’s Mark Warner and both of Arizona’s senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema.

A large coalition of labor organizations and progressive activist groups like Mitchell’s Working Families Party is waging a fierce campaign to urge those three senators to support the PRO Act. In late April, according to Politico, “Union leaders told the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in a private call Wednesday not to expect them to back lawmakers in upcoming elections unless they coalesce behind” the bill.

This is precisely the type of hardball politics that the American left needs to play in order to push through the relatively modest reforms in the PRO Act so that American workers can enjoy the same standards of their non-American counterparts. With the relentless class war that corporations and wealthy elites have managed to successfully wage against the nation’s middle and working classes for decades, there is little left to lose.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

Nestle Makes A Killing As California Dries Up

By Farron Cousins

You could ask a dozen plaintiff’s lawyers who they believed was the most diabolical company on the planet and you’d probably get a dozen different answers. Exxon, Phillip Morris, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, any number of pharmaceutical companies – they would all be on the list. But there is one company that routinely gets overlooked, in spite of all of the harm they have caused to people all around the globe. That company is Nestle.

From continent to continent, the Nestle corporation has moved like a swarm of locusts, devouring vital resources and leaving local populations with little recourse. The company has engaged in everything from egregious human rights abuses to environmental destruction, and their trail of devastation is not limited to far off countries that we only read about in the news. Some of their worst behavior is taking place right here within the borders of the United States.

Nestle In California

The state of California has been in a semi-permanent state of drought for the past decade. The wildfires that have ravaged the state during that time are a prime example of how climate change is impacting the United States at this very moment, and the droughts that literally added fuels to those fires are exactly what climate scientists predicted. The state has gone through multiple periods where they have had to ration the use of their water to make sure there was enough to go around, and parts of the state are once again preparing to ration this precious resource that is necessary for human survival.

But for decades, Nestle has been treating the state of California like an open bar, and leaving the state to pick up the tab. The company bought out a smaller bottled water company, Arrowhead, in 1992, and that’s when they acquired the rights to tap into groundwater reserves at the edge of the San Bernardino National Forest. The rights to this water are a dysfunctional maze of laws and regulations going all the way back to the 1800’s, and water has been steadily pumped from this area on a “first come” basis since that time. Laws from that era that are still on the books today, and that has compounded the problems for California residents.

The problem with Nestle’s permit (originally obtained by Arrowhead) is that it had expired in 1988. That permit set specific guidelines on how much water Nestle was allowed to take each year, and set the cost of extraction at a mere $524 per year. Not a bad price considering the company pulls in roughly $7.5 billion per year from selling bottled water across the globe, though obviously not all of that is from California.

During this time that the permit was expired, Nestle routinely pumped more water out of the ground than was legally allowed even when the permit was active, sometimes pulling more than three times the legal amount in a given year, but the story and its connection to the California droughts went largely ignored until a small California paper called The Desert Sun ran a massive expose in 2015 explaining what was happening. The expired permit has now been renewed (at a tiny cost of $2,000) but there have still been no government-run environmental evaluations performed to determine the impact this extraction is having on California. So Nestle continues to pump.

In spite of the lack of a real government evaluation, the results in any given year can be witnessed with the naked eye. Part of the water being extracted by Nestle feeds into a body of water called Strawberry Creek. In recent years, due partly to lack of precipitation, the creek has been well below what is considered to be healthy levels. The creek runs to southern California where it feeds into aquifers and other bodies of water, which also see a major reduction when the creek levels drop.

This isn’t rocket science: Less water running to southern California means dryer conditions which then breed catastrophe. And as long as Nestle is allowed to continue their extraction unabated, the areas fed by the aquifers being drained are going to suffer.

Nestle’s PR Machine

When you’re a massive, multi-billion dollar corporation, you can pretty much write your own ticket in the United States. And even when your dirty deeds are exposed, you can afford to just rewrite the narrative.

Nestle has a slick PR machine that has been running nonstop since the Desert Sun story broke in 2015. They even have their own webpage dedicated to attacking the truth about what they are doing in California. From that page:

Even though Spring water is a renewable resource – its use needs to be managed responsibly.

Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water has been sustainably sourced and bottled from the springs in Strawberry Canyon, in what is now the San Bernardino National Forest, for more than 124 years. Our team of engineers, hydrologists, biologists, and geologists consistently monitors and cares for the springs and local environment.

We never collect more water than is naturally available, which means, if the environment yields less, we collect less. We diversify our collection among the springs we source from to avoid overreliance on any one spring, and to support long-term sustainability and healthy habitats.

The page contains plenty of other claims that the company attempts to “debunk,” but it really just shows how desperate they are to prevent any further negative publicity. But their claim about taking less water when less water is available doesn’t exactly stand up to reality, because the company continues to pump the allowable amount (and yes, sometimes even more than that) even during the driest years.

Not Just California

Nestle’s water extraction isn’t limited to California. They operate wells all over the United States and Canada, and they are rapidly expanding their operations.

Just recently, the company was granted rights to expand a well near the Suwannee River in Florida, in spite of the fact that the local community submitted numerous complaints trying to block the project. The Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board, appointed by the Republican governor of Florida, decided that the project outweighed the risks that the public was concerned about and gave the greenlight for them to continue. And yes, Nestle has already set up a new web page to muddy the waters with their propaganda regarding their Florida operations.

The company also has production facilities that syphon off and export water from the basin of the Great Lakes. They were actually issued a cease and desist order for this operation by a judge nearly two decades ago, but it was overturned on appeal.

In total, Nestle has 27 production facilities scattered across North America to allow them to extract our most precious resource and either sell it back to use at an astronomical markup, or send it overseas for an even bigger profit.

More Than Bottled Water

In order for Nestle to truly earn the title of one of the most evil corporations on the planet, they have to go even further than taking bottled water from drought-stricken communities. That’s basic villainy 101, and they aren’t the only perpetrators there, either.

What really makes Nestle stand out are the other abuses they’ve been accused of or convicted of across the globe. Here is a sample of what we’re dealing with:

In the 1970’s, Nestle moved to less-developed countries across the world and began an aggressive marketing campaign to convince new mothers that their baby formulas were better for children than breastmilk. Doctors and nurses who were believed to have been paid by Nestle also encouraged new mothers to use the formula instead of breastfeeding. They would give the mothers enough formula that by the time it ran out, they had stopped lactating and were forced to rely on the formula in areas where clean water wasn’t readily available.

In 2014, following international outrage, Nestle promised to launch an investigation into the working conditions of fisherman in Thailand that the company employed to catch the fish used in their Purina brand of pet foods. The fisherman in the area said that the industry was dangerous and that many men died, but the company continued to push them to work harder and dead bodies were simply tossed overboard and disappeared into the sea. Following their own investigation, Nestle promised to do better (but not before making it clear that other companies are doing the same thing in Thailand.)

The company has been engaging in deforestation in Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

They were implicated in a massive international chocolate price-fixing scandal.

Their infant milk products were banned in China in 2008 after they were found to contain melamime which caused all manners of problems in infants.

They have been accused of running one of the most aggressive “greenwashing” campaigns to cover up their environmental destruction.

They did business with dictators like Robert Mugabe.

Each one of these events is a story in itself, but the picture is very clear about who this company is choosing to be.

And that’s the point – the company is consciously choosing to be this way. They could still make billions a year doing everything by the book. They don’t have to engage in any of these deceptive practices or employ a team of propagandists to get people to buy their products. But the culture of greed that has permeated nearly every business on the planet has driven Nestle to the extreme, and they’ve been engaging in many of these behaviors for nearly fifty years that we know of. So the next time you think of the most evil corporations on the planet, maybe its time to give Nestle the credit that they deserve.

Class Is In Session: Trial School Is Making A Big Impact On The Legal Profession

By Farron Cousins

The practice of law is constantly evolving. The pandemic has put that evolution on steroids and helped to turn everything that we thought we knew upside down. Navigating the evolution of the legal practice can be tricky, especially if trial lawyers try to do it on their own.

Major corporations in the United States have massive networks of lobbyists, defense lawyers, politically-connected groups that help give them the upper hand when fighting off lawsuits, whereas most trial lawyers have their small team to take on the biggest corporations in the country.

But all that is changing. We don’t have to be stuck in the “David vs. Goliath” mentality that has been common for trial lawyers for far too long. We can now build off of the wealth of experience that so many great lawyers have built up over decades thanks to Trial School.

Trial School is an innovative new program that offers lessons from some of the top lawyers in the country on everything from jury selection to closing arguments. The greats are offering up their knowledge for lawyers all over America, giving up-and-coming trial lawyers – and even seasoned veterans – tips and skills that they may have never even thought of.

I recently had the honor to talk with Rich Newsome, a founder of Trial School, who explained how the program started and why it is so important to the practice of law today. Here is that conversation.

Farron Cousins:

Let's start at the very beginning. How did the idea for Trial School develop?

Rich Newsome:

The background actually started about 10 years ago. There's a great jury consultant by the name of Jay Burke. Jay is legendary, especially here on the east coast for developing what he called the “cause is king” method for picking juries. And so there was a case that I tried up in north Florida about 10 years ago. It was an incredibly sad case involving a 19-year old paraplegic. And Jay Burke was my consultant and we did focus groups, we practiced the voir dire because it was a very conservative jurisdiction. We went through hundreds of jurors to pick a jury over the course of several days. And at the end of it, we got a jury and Jay was very pleased with the method. We had done it exactly according to Jay's algorithm which was a very precise method for getting the jurors to talk about a bias and then to have challenges for cause developed as a result of that.

So we went to trial, we took the jury, and at the end I got floored out. I lost the case and I was devastated. Devastated for the client, devastated for my ego and just really wondering what happened. But I really felt like we had a bad juror and the results proved that the foreman was a guy we never should have allowed on the jury. And a couple of things happened. There's a great lawyer named Alex Alvarez who has done a lot of important work in the area of jury selection. And there's another, a good friend and a great lawyer who's the managing partner of the Spence law firm in Wyoming, who was one of the lead faculty members for the Trial Lawyers College and through conversations with them and another named Joey Lowe, who's another faculty member at the Trial Lawyers College, it was apparent to me that there were different ways of picking juries, different methods, different approaches that I wanted to learn about.

And so four years ago, we basically had a laboratory here in central Florida, where we got these different lawyers from across the country together to curate method, to talk about it, to, to explain the very specific approaches to voir dire, the theories behind it, and then to demonstrate it to each other. And so we had a series of mock juries brought in where we tested a lot of different methods and a lot of different approaches. And we all learned a lot from each other. And some of us walked away believing that there is a way to continue this experimentation, this curation of method from great lawyers, that if these lawyers would share, be willing to share their method with each other, really good things could happen.

And then after that, we started of course, trying to experiment more, to practice it. And then we realized, well, gosh, there's other great methods that we could curate as well for opening statement, for the structure of a trial, for evidence, for depositions, for closing arguments. And so we started holding regular meetings, first in person here in central Florida. And then we started reaching out to some of our other friends across the country who had great methods. John Gomez in San Diego did a really great job of curating pieces on closing statement. Troy Rafferty, on opening statements - Troy did an entire a program on pulling together different methods, visuals, rules of the road for opening statements. And then other faculty members as this thing started to grow and to really gain momentum, it became a collaborative effort that we started even before COVID because some of these lawyers of course, are from all different parts of the country. We started using Zoom and trying to hold these monthly meetings where we would have small group gatherings of what we call chapters.


So what happened as these chapters began to grow?


We had a Pensacola and we had a central Florida chapter, a South Florida chapter and other chapters across the country. Pete Flowers up in Chicago, started a chapter. So we had about a dozen or so of these local group meetings where we would stream content. The great Mike Kelly out of San Francisco was one of the pivotal, early members of this thing. Chris Stombaugh, who is a great lawyer, who's done a lot of really important experimental work in personal state. So all of these lawyers were sort of collaborating and then COVID hit. Actually in 2019 before COVID, we had our second in-person event where it was again, another laboratory workshop, retreat, whatever you will, but where we brought in different thought leaders in these various pieces of trial to try to curate method in a protected way where it's only lawyers who represent people, that was always our big criteria. And to always make it available for free so that we may charge to cover the overhead, but it's a not-for-profit organization that we created. And we started to call it Trial School.


So is this the goal of Trial School – To get these legendary lawyers to teach new generations their skills and to pass along this knowledge?


The mission of Trial School was first of all, to collaborate with each other, to curate the best methods for trying cases and through that collaboration to learn, to experiment and to advance the state of the art for trial advocacy, and then to share those teachings, those lessons with other lawyers who represent people and to do it for free, to do it in a way that's not for-profit. And so that's what happened with Trial School. So after that second retreat, we had all these local workshops planned, we had more retreats or laboratories people would plan, and then COVID happened.


You have got a lot of heavy hitters that you’ve mentioned so far. These are people that most trial lawyers have heard of, and they couldn't even dream in the past, really of being able to sit down with these individuals to learn from these individuals. You see them speak at the conferences and that's wonderful, but that's not the same thing as these lessons. And I've gone through the website, I've watched many of these programs that you have, and they're wonderful. And you do get that one-on-one feeling like this person is talking directly to you and it's such an amazing tool. So, I did want to ask, how are people responding to this because I have to imagine, everybody would be fairly excited to be able to get these lessons from these legends of trial law.


It’s been an incredible reception. Since COVID happened, we started doing everything virtually. We've gone from about 800 members to now almost 5,000 members and growing like crazy because the mission has drawn in, to your point, some of the best teachers, some of the best thought leaders, people like Rick Friedman, people like Joe Fried, Carl Douglas, Zoe Littlepage, Lisa Blue, Randy McGinn. Amazing teachers, amazing faculty members who've said, “you know what, this is the not-for-profit. We want to help. We want to pass the torch to younger lawyers who need these instructions.” And so now that COVID is over, we hope to go back to more in-person events where we can continue to learn, continue to teach best methods. And one of the things, Farron, that distinguishes Trial School from, I think every other approach out there is, we're intentional about the curriculum.

A traditional CLE with a state trial lawyers or a national trial lawyers organization will typically be, you have some spectacular faculty members, but you also have some that really are just okay, who may be great trial lawyers, but don't teach that well. And then you have some horrific, terrible teachers who are boring or just teaching bad method. And that's because the curriculum directors for the typical legal CLE for plaintiff lawyers is, who's friends with the person setting up the program, who has given money or who is a big donor to the organization that we need to let speak. And it's just sort of a hodgepodge of method. Now, there are a few individuals CLE programs, Don Keenan's program, for example, is spectacular. And that it's Don's specific method, his approach that he teaches. Jerry Spence, Trial Lawyers College, same thing. it's Jerry's method, Jerry's approach.

S0 what we seek to do is to combine the best of both types of CLE, where we apply, or we have different practitioners, different experts, different thought leaders speak, but we're very intentional about the content. We want to really make sure that we're not just asking people to participate because they may have a big name or they're friends with whomever: There's a very intentional curation of method so that when we teach this and we tell a young lawyer, Hey man, here is a program to teach you how to do opening statements or jury selection. It's intentional. And we've been very purposeful in trying to present methods that a young person or an inexperienced lawyer, even someone who's got experience, but wants to up their game can take what are the best methods today. The way that people like me and Troy Rafferty, when we were coming up in law school trial team programs or trial advocacy programs, the ways that I was taught to pick a jury 25 years ago were very, very, very different from the best methods today, and same with opening statements.

And so that's what we've tried to do is we've tried to cull through that and be very intentional about teaching best method and to also curate some of the little secret pockets of goodness. For example, Troy Rafferty was talking to me one day about this thing they call a theme grid at his law firm, as if I was supposed to know what that was. I'm like, "What is it?" He goes, "Oh, it's this thing, Mike Papantonio and I came up with." I'm like, "What?" And so I asked Pap and Troy to give presentations on theme grid. And it was truly a groundbreaking tool that their firm had developed. And there's other examples of that. There's Joe Fried, I'd heard Joe was trying three week cases and boiling it down to three or four days. I called him up and said, "Joe, Hey man, what are you doing?"

He goes, "Well, I'm doing this thing and I'm just trying to make it faster. And I've got some ways that work." I said, "Well, would you mind sitting down with me and let's really try to distill that into a template that we can share with our members." He said, "Of course." Joe is an incredibly giving guy. So I flew up to Atlanta. I spent a lot of time with Joe. He just sort of talked about this method on a video. And then we kind of crunched it down and distilled it into a template that any young lawyer can use. And it is a spectacular new tool and it was something new, so we called it, we came up with a name, we decided to call it Speed Trial. But we actually distill Joe's method down into a very specific template that we've provided to our members. And those are just a couple of examples.

And so for me, the most important pieces of Trial School personally has been through this collaborative effort of great trial lawyers who are thought leaders, who have come up with new tools, new approaches, better ways of trying cases that we, through Trial School, this collective of brilliant faculty members, have collaborated with each other to share, to advance the state of the art and help all of our members get better at trying cases to win bigger verdicts for our clients.


I keep thinking about legacies of trial lawyers. I’ve done work with the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame, I’ve interviewed many of the members personally – met with them at conventions. And so many have now passed on, leaving their knowledge with their law partners and friends. Trial School is also an opportunity for these legends to leave their knowledge to young lawyers for generations.

That knowledge lives on and a good message too is, you can't take it with you. So it is best to be able to do what you can to pass it on. And that's a great lasting legacy for some of these folks.

Rich Newsome:

Well, that's one of the reasons why we've made sure that we keep the motives pure, because I think unlike some of the other trial advocacy programs that are presenting online content, we are a pure not for profit. Every single dollar that we bring in from sponsors or from contributions goes to promoting content. All of the faculty members do this for free for the good of the order. I got a call from ... that changed the direction of the program and really took it from something small to what it is today. I got a call from Mike Papantonio and he said, "Hey man, I like what you guys are doing." And Troy, obviously Mike's partner had already been involved. Troy was really one of the principles of the Trial School, along with Mike Kelly and Andrew Finkelstein.

But Pap called me and said, "Hey, man, I love what you're doing. Troy's told me about it. I've got a daughter, Sarah, who's graduating. This is right up her alley." He said, "So how can we help?" And of course, Mike is the best marketer mind on the planet, right up there with the best of the best and lent his resources along with Troy of the firm. And we got Sharon Booth involved and really ignited this thing in terms of growth and putting form and an organization together that's able to really continue this mission of curating a best method and sharing it with younger lawyers.


So what’s in store for the future of Trial School?


I think this thing's going to continue to grow. I mean, we've got so many exciting plans for the future. One of the things that I would encourage anyone reading or who hears about this program, if you'd like to get involved, it's completely free to join. You just go to, you have to fill out an application. You've got to put down your bar number. You have to sign our joint prosecution agreement because we are very, very serious about the work we do. There's a lot of shared information about specific cases that we work on together about really confidential trade secret approaches to trying cases. And so we're very serious about the ethics of this and that if anyone, we've had to have this happen a couple times where lawyers try to get in who do defense work. If you do any defense work at all, if you represent any corporations you're not allowed in, it's just that important.

And we take that mission very, very seriously, because if we can have that bubble of confidentiality, we can truly share work product in a safe environment and know that we're not going to have it used against us by some defense lawyer who represents a corporation. So if you are a lawyer who only represents human beings, visit, fill out the application. we will vet and you have to put down references. We will vet you. But if you only represent people, we'd love to have you. It's completely free. And man, just join our group because I promise no matter your level of experience, you will learn, you'll get better and you'll hopefully be able to better represent your clients to win verdicts.

For more information, including how to get involved and to help spread your knowledge to others, visit