The firefighter union—a top Biden ally— confronts a federal probe + Trump's pardon power

And a prosecutor race that could usher an end to the death penalty in Ohio

I have a new story today at The Intercept about some escalating drama at the International Association of Fire Fighters—the union representing 320,000 firefighters and paramedics across the U.S and Canada.

Their longtime president, Harold Schaitberger, is close ally to Joe Biden. The firefighters union endorsed him for president almost immediately after he announced his candidacy, well before any other labor group got behind him.

Donald Trump didn’t like this. At the time this is what he tweeted:


Earlier this year, the second most powerful person at the IAFF, General Secretary-Treasurer Ed Kelly, came out with allegations against Schaitberger of financial misconduct. Schaitberger and the union denied any wrongdoing, but still opened an internal review to look into the accusations, which largely revolve around pensions and shoddy accounting.

Members of the union then watched as more leaks of board-level deliberations were shared with right-leaning media outlets, and some pointed to Kelly’s COO, Matthew Golsteyn, who was pardoned last year by President Trump for war crimes. In December of 2019 Golsteyn appeared on stage with Trump and another pardoned war criminal—Clint Lorance—at GOP fundraiser in Florida. Kelly, Golsteyn, and Lorance all had lunch together four days later, according to business receipts.


Earlier this month, the Justice Department, a federal agency that over the last four years has gone after the president’s enemies, opened a criminal investigation into Harold Schaitberger. Hanging over all this is an upcoming union election in January and the race for the White House. You can read the story here!

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I also had a piece at The Appeal earlier this week about an upcoming prosecutor election in Hamilton County, Ohio (which includes Cincinnati.) Hamilton County has had the same prosecutor, Joe Deters, for more than two decades, and Deters has sent more people to death row than any other prosecutor in the state.

His opponent, Fanon Rucker, is running on repealing the death penalty — a major shift not only for Hamilton County but also for prosecutors, as prosecuting attorney associations have historically been one of the most organized and powerful groups fighting criminal justice reform.

Death penalty opponents have raised many objections to capital punishment, including that it’s a failed crime deterrent, that too many innocent people have been sentenced to death, that it’s immoral, and that people of color are disproportionately sentenced. 22 states have abolished the death penalty so far, including New Hampshire and Colorado in the last two years. If a right-leaning state like Ohio were to repeal it, advocates think that could really have a domino effect on the region.

You can read about that election here.

Thanks as always for reading, and supporting independent journalism.

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Chadwick Boseman and working with cancer

Educators are returning back to schools to teach 100 percent virtual learning

Hi all,

I hope you’re doing okay. I have two new stories to share on this September eve.

By now you’ve probably heard about the passing of Chadwick Boseman, the brilliant actor who played roles like T’Challa in Black Panther and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. He died of stage 4 colon cancer on Friday, and in an Instagram post the public learned that Boseman had received “countless surgeries and chemotherapy” during and in between filming movies over the last four years.

But virtually no one, including those he worked with closely on set, knew about his illness. For GQ I wrote about what kinds of workplace accommodations are available to cancer patients like Boseman to receive protection and maintain privacy. You can read that here.

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I also published a story last week in The Intercept about educators across the country who are being required to return to their schools to provide 100% virtual learning to students. A lot of teachers are really upset about being asked to take this risk during the pandemic, and feel in many ways it represents a lack of trust, and desire for control. Some would like the option to return to their schools, but feel really uncomfortable about it being mandated.

If you’re confused why a teacher might feel uncomfortable — keep in mind that not all educators have their own classrooms, not all classrooms have windows, many buildings are poorly ventilated, and there are shared meeting spaces like kitchens and break rooms and bathrooms. Plus while many schools have mask policies, educators are finding that enforcement of these rules can vary greatly.

Readers of this newsletter may recall a note I shared from my favorite high school teacher, John Grace, back when we were just three weeks into the pandemic. He read my most recent Intercept story over the weekend, and sent over his thoughts by email, which I’m going to paste mostly in full below.

Lower Merion's John Grace earns University of Chicago's Outstanding Educator Award

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RMC,

It was a surprise, not sure about any other LMSD teachers, but certainly to me, discovering that the word 'remote' applied only to students, but not to teachers and staff.  According to our LMEA union officers, there are several other suburban public school districts across the Delaware Valley following a similar plan to open schools.

I agree with the teachers quoting some pretty lame reasons to bring teachers into schools by ourselves.  With the volumes of words devoted to all the elements big and small devoted to planning for returning to school we have all read, and which you have explored well in your writing all summer, the surprise of a definition of remote that splits the community-  to students and parents at home, with teachers and staff in the building seems aligned really with some sort of effort on the part of a school board to control teacher professional behavior.

However, there are some other elements that are part of the LM example.

The Lower Merion Education Association, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association jointly hosted a Zoom meeting for all teachers and staff last week.  About 500-600 members attended.


One of the unexamined, but critical elements to this story was in their joint effort to convince the Pennsylvania legislature, presumably the governor and, by extension, the LMSD board to guarantee continued payment to all staff and teacher members.  The Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf agreed with this proposal originally in March, but guaranteed it only until the end of the 2019-2020 school year, 6.30.20.

Our union leaders communicated how important an issue it was for them, and of course for all of us, for this guarantee to extend to the new school year, despite all the uncertainties of how to return to school.


I am grateful to them.  Sure, I have been an LM teacher for nearly nineteen years and enjoy whatever protections of my job our contract includes.  But, we are also a merged local, one of only a very few across the state, and so there are lots of young folks- listen to me!- in every type of job needed to staff a public school whose lives would be turned upside down like so many other unfortunate folks unemployed if the LMSD no longer guarantees employment.

So, I can live with the surprise announcement, which I might link to this larger, but less scrutinized issue.


So, where does all this stuff leave me?

I plan to be in my classroom, alone I guess, on Tuesday, September 8.  My opening day 'uniform' will be what it has been for many years... I will wear an aloha shirt, Hawaiian shirt for the novice crowd.  I like a blue one for the first day- and I will wear them until the temperature in the morning dips below 60.  I might wear khaki pants, but I might wear khaki shorts.  I get to be old, and just a bit rogue, at the same time.

Why should I see my life as a teacher any differently?


After that certainty, I really have no idea what to expect or what I will encounter.  I know only that there will be about 130-135 LM 10th grade students stuck at home, starting school but in a way no one really wants, and I sure as hell better be great on the first day, don't you think?

Year 43 beckons.

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🚨USPS updates🚨 (+ 2 stories)

While I try to keep this mostly just a vehicle to share my reporting, I’m going to start today with general updates on the Postal Service, since that’s really become one of the most alarming political stories.

If you missed the last newsletter, on July 29 I wrote about new worrying policies being implemented at USPS — among which included directives urging postal staff to leave behind mail at distribution centers, announcements that USPS would be looking to cut overtime and transportation, and the announcement of a new pilot program that would prohibit carriers from sorting any mail in the morning before they hit the streets. All these together raised serious questions about whether mail delivery would be significantly delayed.

At the time, the most outspoken member of Congress was Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey who was raising alarm about how this could impact vote-by-mail in November. Since then, a whole lot more lawmakers have started speaking out, as even more new policies have come down.

On Wednesday at a press briefing Donald Trump said he wouldn’t approve $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service. “They don’t have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can’t do it, I guess,” Trump said. “Are they going to do it even if they don’t have the money?”

The next morning in a Fox Business interview Trump said, “Now, they need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

Trump’s been denigrating absentee voting for months, even though he and many of his closest aides have exercised their right to vote-by-mail in years past.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of USPS developments since my story:


Members of Congress are now considering coming back from recess to investigate all this, and Elizabeth Warren also requested an Inspector General review into the new policies, which they’re going to do.


Does this mean you shouldn’t vote by mail?

This is a question a lot of people are asking themselves. Earlier this week Anthony Fauci said people should be able to vote safely in-person, as long as election sites use the same sorts of social distancing guidelines as grocery stores. And I know some states are looking at setting up polling sites outside and in stadiums which have the advantage of better ventilation. (The L.A Dodgers stadium is going to do this in November.) But a lot of it might depend on how long the lines on Election Day are. You might want to find out details about your particular location, and also if you want to vote in-person, look to see if early in-person voting is an option which could be less crowded. But regardless there are going to be lots of people who don’t feel comfortable taking the risk and who want to vote by mail.

I’ve seen a few smart things online about this situation. One near-term suggestion is pressuring states to change their deadlines so that voters can request (and receive) their absentee ballots earlier. If you can mail your ballot back sooner, then delivery delays may not be as much of a problem.


I also saw a friend on Facebook post this as an alternative to mailing your absentee ballot back in.

1. Request a mail-in ballot.
2. When it arrives, fill it out but do not mail it.
3. Google your supervisor of elections to see where you can drop off your ballot. (All states have drop-off locations, though it’s often
not your designated polling place.)

By doing this you won’t be relying on USPS to get your ballot back in on time, you can avoid potentially long lines, and you just have to travel to the drop-off location. Some states may have additional rules, but after you drop it off you should be able to track it online to make sure it was processed.

I’d encourage people to keep following these issues over the next few weeks, and begin figuring out what voting plan makes the most sense for you. If you have other ideas or suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.
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Okay! Two new stories to share.

I wrote last week about momentum in the Senate to make phone calls from prison free. Even though we know keeping in touch with loved ones is so crucial for families and incarcerated persons, and during the pandemic in-person visiting isn’t really an option, some states make the costs of prison phone and video calls so exorbitantly high that it becomes just untenable. I looked at some new developments around this issue in the FCC and Congress. 

San Francisco also announced last week that it would end the practice of profiting from prison phone calls, which is good news, but we should have nationwide standards around this.


And lastly I have a story on another Congressional primary in Massachussetts, where a 36-year-old progressive physician named Robbie Goldstein is taking on nine-term incumbent Stephen Lynch, who is the most moderate member of the Massachussetts delegation. Unlike in the Kennedy/Markey race, there really is a clear policy contrast between the two candidates in this election, but it’s been hard for Goldstein to get traction, in part because allies are very focused on the Markey race, and another House race in the state, between Alex Morse and Rep. Richard Neal. The primary for all these contests is September 1.

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"We understand the need for them to academically grow. But we also understand the need for them to live.”

Demanding safe school re-openings, major changes at the Postal Service, and a look at the strangest Democratic primary this cycle

Happy…August?

Hope everyone’s doing okay. I have a few new Intercept stories to share, as well as a great update on a previous article I sent out.

  • Yesterday, in cities across 25 states, educators, parents, students and community allies staged in-person and virtual protests to demand safe school reopening plans. I’ve been getting annoyed with some of the media coverage of this issue, which has too often presented it as if everyone wants to go back to school except teacher unions, and that somehow they’re the main impediment to things returning back to normal. This is certainly false, and we know from polling that majorities of parents and school administrators have deep concerns about the risks of going back. Congress hasn’t allocated the level of funding many think will be necessary for schools to afford PPE and sanitation, many schools have dreadful ventilation systems and windowless classrooms, there’s expected staff shortages as older and immunocompromised teachers may stay home and substitute teacher pools dwindle, and what we thought we knew about COVID-19 transmission among children has continued to evolve, and now no one is super confident they can’t carry + transmit the virus.

    As one school occupational therapist said to me, “You can spend an entire year asking kids to walk in the hall, and yet we somehow expect them to wear masks for six hours? It’s a joke.”

    It’s a genuinely terrible situation, and had we invested in things like school infrastructure and smaller class sizes, some of the incredible problems leaders are dealing with now might look very different. I wrote about the National Day of Resistance that was held yesterday for school re-openings, and you can read about what they’re demanding, and how they feel.

    As a bonus: Paul Abowd, a journalist and filmmaker who works at The Intercept, created a powerful 8-minute video of D.C. educators who were organizing in July around schools re-openings. They included it at the top of my story and I’ll post it here too:


    Last week I wrote about worrying changes at the US Postal Service. In mid-June Louis DeJoy, a big whig businessman in the logistics industry from North Carolina, who is also a top donor to Trump and the Republican Party, became the new USPS Postmaster General. He’s the first postmaster general in over two decades to have never worked at USPS. The outgoing postmaster general was appointed in 2015 and had been a career-long USPS employee, beginning as a letter carrier in Pennsylvania.

    Since DeJoy started, USPS has begun implementing new policies that have alarmed postal workers and they say will invariably lead to slower mail delivery. I wrote about some of these changes and why workers fear this is the first step to privatizing the Postal Service, which is something Trump is on record saying he wants to do. People are also nervous this could affect vote-by-mail in November, if mail delivery slows down and/or people lose trust in USPS and don’t vote at all. (For what it’s worth USPS is one of the most highly trusted federal agencies.)

    This is a really big story that people should be paying attention to, and I know postal worker unions are planning to fight back, and pressing Congress to hold hearings in the fall. If you want to get involved and stay informed on some of the advocacy around protecting USPS, check out US Mail: Not For Sale and you can read my USPS story here.

  • And lastly for new stories, this was one was fun to work on, with The Intercept’s Akela Lacy. We wrote about the Democratic Senate primary in Massachusetts between Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III — which is going down on September 1. It’s a weird primary all around, with close to $20 million being poured into a safe blue seat where the candidates themselves are pretty ideologically aligned. Markey, the incumbent who has been in Congress for over 40 years, is running as some kind of grassroots underdog and Kennedy, the grandson of Bobby Kennedy and a man with the most famous last name in Massachusetts, has also positioned himself as some kind of insurgent. We interviewed both men and tracked some of the evolving points of their records. You can read that here.

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Now for a cool update:

Back in May, I reported on a crazy situation playing out at the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest government-owned power provider which serves 10 million people across seven southern states. The TVA was created in 1933 during the Great Depression, and part of its mandate is to provide economic development to the Tennessee Valley region. Yet despite this, and despite the 30 million U.S workers filing for unemployment since the pandemic began, TVA management announced plans to outsource hundreds of federal IT jobs to overseas companies.

Unbeknownst to me, my story caught the attention of a lobbying organizing that focuses on outsourcing and offshoring of U.S. tech jobs and in July they began running TV ads and applying pressure on the Trump administration about their hypocrisy on “America First”. You can watch the 30-second TV spot here, which features my story at 16 seconds in.


Due in large part to this group’s efforts over the last month to elevate the issue, Trump caved and signed an executive order yesterday calling to end the outsourcing of TVA jobs! In response TVA very quickly said they’d reverse course.

I texted Gay Henson this morning, she’s a TVA worker of 35 years and the current president of Engineering Association (EA)/Local 1937, which has been leading the fight to save the TVA jobs since last fall. She thought some of the outsourcing was an attempt to undermine their union, and as she has been emphasizing for months, their existing staff was wholly capable of doing the tech work well themselves. Management had never identified any issues with it, and management even admitted the outsourcing wasn’t spurred by a desire to cut costs.

These kinds of labor fights normally don’t have happy endings so I’m just gonna share her response because it’s nice.

😭😭😭😭

Thanks as always for reading and supporting this work,

School choice activists are excited about all the new homeschooling parents during COVID

And what Kim Gardner's Circuit Attorney primary means


Before COVID, an estimated 4 percent of families with school-aged children homeschooled their kids. Now with the pandemic, after having dealt with the stress of remote learning throughout the spring, and fears about sending kids into buildings with other children and teachers in the fall, an unprecedented number of parents are considering or planning to homeschool. School choice advocates are trying to capitalize on this shift — they see their best opportunity frankly ever to push for federal funding for homeschoolers in the next stimulus package. (Right now homeschool families receive no federal $$.) You can read my story on the politics and implications of all this in Bloomberg Businessweek.

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Beginning in 2016, a new wave of prosecutors campaigning on platforms of criminal justice reform started to run and win elections. Elected prosecutors— who have job titles like District Attorney, Circuit Attorney, and State Attorney—wield immense discretionary power, and the vast majority tend to be very “tough-on-crime.” Some so-called progressive prosecutors who have taken office over the last four years include Kim Foxx in Chicago, Rachael Rollins in Suffolk, County Massachusetts, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, and Kim Gardner in St. Louis. Most recently José Garza won his race in Travis County, Texas by a huge landslide.

So far, Kim Foxx is the only one of these prosecutors to win re-election, but Kim Gardner is facing her next primary on August 4. (The same day Missouri will also vote on Medicaid expansion.) Gardner, St. Louis’s first black Circuit Attorney, is facing off against Mary Pat Carl, someone she ran against in 2016, who then had the endorsement of the outgoing prosecutor as well as the police union. But the political landscape has shifted a lot in St. Louis and across the country in four years, and Mary Pat Carl’s language has changed a lot between then and now. She’s now going after Gardner for things like not ending cash bail, and is saying it’s she who is the progressive prosector. I spoke with activists in St. Louis about what they think Gardner’s last four years, and what they make of Carl’s new bid for office. You can read that story in The Appeal.

Thanks for reading,

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