with Mariana Alfaro

Walmart stopped flying Mississippi’s flag at its stores. The NCAA announced that no championship events would be held in the state so long as the Confederate battle emblem remained prominently in its flag, and the Southeastern Conference said it would consider following suit. A star running back at Mississippi State, Kylin Hill, threatened last week to transfer if the state did not change its flag. The Southern Baptist Convention joined the calls supporting change.

The pressure campaign worked. Both GOP-controlled chambers of Mississippi’s legislature voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to pass a bill to become the final state to get rid of the Confederate icon in its flag. A commission will design a new flag, which voters will decide whether to accept with a ballot referendum in November. Some conservative legislators explained changing their position on the hot-button issue by warning that the Magnolia State might otherwise miss out on economic development opportunities.

This historic moment is another significant triumph for African Americans – who in Mississippi have fought unsuccessfully for generations to rid their state of what they have seen as a vestige of oppression and symbol of sedition – amid the national reckoning on race galvanized by George Floyd’s killing in police custody.

In a 2001 referendum, voters chose to retain the emblem by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. Other initiatives in recent years have failed to get traction, and the flag issue was not seen as being in play at the start of this year’s legislative session in the capital of Jackson. The flag, which originally debuted in 1894, still has many passionate defenders.

Gov. Tate Reeves (R) shifted his stance over the past few days, from saying he would only support another voter referendum to announcing on Saturday that he would sign a bill getting rid of the flag immediately because it’s time “to resolve that the page has been turned.” This followed NASCAR banning the display of Confederate flags at its tracks and events.

In addition to protests, a pivotal factor in Mississippi was powerful companies, institutions and prominent white people throwing their weight behind getting the change in a state where African Americans account for nearly 40 percent of the population. “I understand many view the current flag as a symbol of heritage and Southern pride, but we have to realize that this flag is a direct symbol of terror for our black brothers and sisters,” country music legend Faith Hill tweeted on Thursday.

The Mississippi Economic Council, a prominent business lobbying group, said the state must show it is “open for business to everyone” as it launched an advertising campaign called “It’s Time” to support changing the flag. More than 100 business leaders signed on.

Joe Frank Sanderson, the CEO and chairman of Sanderson Farms, one of the state’s largest companies, warned last week of “dire consequences” if legislators punted the question to voters again. “Conventions are not going to come here, people are not going to come to the casinos, people will boycott Mississippi products, jobs are going to be affected,” he told Mississippi Today. “Those are the economic realities.”

This highlights how white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, including C-suite executives at Fortune 500 companies, can use their powerful voices and platforms to effect change in conjunction with protests on the ground. Indeed, Mississippi is just the latest Southern state to change a policy in the face of pressure and boycott threats from Corporate America. North Carolina and Georgia have backed away in recent years from socially conservative policies related to transgender rights and LGBTQ discrimination that became flashpoints amid corporate criticism. This has created tension inside the GOP coalition at times, driving a wedge between the business and religious wings of the party.

Quote of the day

“Medgar’s wings must be clapping,” said Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. She wept when she learned that the bill passed to remove the emblem from the flag. “I can’t believe it,” Evers told MCIR.

The fallout continues elsewhere. A North Carolina racetrack has lost two Carolina Sprint Tour races, and all but two sponsors, after its owner, Mike Fulp, offered “Bubba Rope” for sale last week, days after a noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver in its elite series. The NBA may allow players to wear social justice messages on their jerseys. Last week, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to continue to discuss how players could best use their platforms to fight systemic racism. 

Large companies sometimes take a stand for social justice when enough employees pressure executives. But market forces – the power of the almighty dollar – usually carry the greatest weight. Both factors are driving Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to be less accommodating to President Trump’s incendiary posts on its platform. 

“Facebook is now confronting a mounting advertiser boycott that has pushed down its stock price as companies demand stricter policies against hate speech. Starbucks became the latest on Sunday to say it would hit pause on social media advertising,” Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg and Tony Romm report. “Facebook is also facing a slow-burning crisis of morale, with more than 5,000 employees denouncing the company’s decision to leave Trump’s post that said, ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ up. Bowing to those pressures on Friday, Zuckerberg announced a rash of new policies aimed at better policing content on the site. That includes affixing labels on posts that violate hate speech or other policies — even on those from political leaders.”

A decision day at the Supreme Court

The court struck down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law that would have closed clinics.

“It was the first chance for a court reinforced by President Trump’s two conservative appointees to reconsider its abortion rights jurisprudence. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court’s liberals in striking down the law, saying it was required by the court’s decision overturning a Texas law in 2016,” Robert Barnes reports. “The question was whether Louisiana’s 2014 law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. Practitioners have said it has proven impossible for most of the doctors to acquire the privileges, leaving only one eligible to perform the procedure. It is almost identical to the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, which said the requirement did not have a medical benefit. Now-retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the court’s four liberals to form a majority in what was its most important endorsement of abortion rights in 25 years.”

“The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike,” Roberts wrote in concurring with the decision. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”

The court also said it will not hear a case concerning death penalty procedures.

“The Supreme Court will not take up a challenge to new federal death penalty protocols proposed by the Justice Department, which wants to resume executions as early as July for the first time since 2003,” Barnes reports. “The court, without comment, declined Monday to take up the lawsuit filed by four death row inmates. As is customary, it gave no reason. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have accepted the case.”

In another win for Trump, the justices gave the president more power over the CFPB. 

“The justices ruled, 5-4, that the Constitution requires the president have unfettered discretion to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. However, the high court rejected arguments that the entire agency should be shut down,” Politico reports. “All the court’s Republican appointees backed the decision eliminating restrictions on dismissal of leaders of so-called single-member agencies, while all the Democrat-appointed justices said they would have left those limitations in place.”

The Trump presidency

Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in American deaths.

“Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. In each of those years, several service members were also killed by what are known as ‘green on blue’ hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces, which are sometimes believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban,” Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and John Hudson report. “The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March … The meeting led to broader discussions about possible responses to the Russian action, ranging from diplomatic expressions of disapproval and warnings, to sanctions …  

“The disturbing intelligence — which the CIA was tasked with reviewing, and later confirmed — generated disagreement about the appropriate path forward … The administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, preferred confronting the Russians directly about the matter, while some National Security Council officials in charge of Russia were more dismissive of taking immediate action … John Ullyot, an NSC spokesman, said that ‘the veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.’ … Among the coalition of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the British were briefed late last week on the intelligence assessment, although other alliance governments were not formally informed. The New York Times first reported the existence of the bounty program on Friday evening. … The primary controversy in Washington over the weekend revolved around denials by Trump and his aides that the president was ever briefed on the intelligence.”

  • “Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019,” the Times reports.
  • British security officials confirmed the reports about the plot are true, Sky News reports from London.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for the administration to provide Congress with an explanation. “This is as bad as it gets," she said, criticizing Trump for trying to bring back Russia into the Group of 7 industrialized nations. 
Some Trump allies are pushing for a campaign shakeup to revive the president’s reelection bid.

“So far, the campaign has settled only on incremental changes — such as hiring and elevating a handful of operatives who worked on Trump’s upset victory in 2016 — and has yet to settle on a clear message for his reelection. Campaign officials and other advisers are also still struggling with how to best focus their attacks on [Joe] Biden, which so far have been scattershot and have failed to curb his rise among voters,” Ashley Parker, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey report. “Numerous national polls show Trump losing significant ground with seniors and among white voters, including those with and without four-year college degrees. … But many Trump allies remain deeply skeptical of the public polling — pointing to 2016 polls in key states that underestimated Trump’s support — and say the internal polling and modeling they’re sharing with the president is less grim than the public surveys. Multiple campaign and Republican officials also asserted that they have seen no serious erosion in Trump’s political base. …

“Trump has polled advisers on whether he should make changes to the campaign, and several White House and campaign officials said there were ongoing discussions on how to improve the president’s political standing. Trump has responded to the turmoil by emphasizing his nativist and base instincts, attempting to rally his core supporters through controversial comments and tweets. The latest example came Sunday, when Trump retweeted a video that included a supporter proclaiming ‘white power' in response to counterprotesters and calling his backers in the Florida retirement community where the demonstration occurred ‘great people.’ Trump later deleted the tweet, and a White House spokesman said the president had not heard the ‘white power’ shout. … 

Trump has recently been asking advisers whether he should stick with his current nickname for Biden — ‘Sleepy Joe’ — or try to coin another moniker, such as ‘Swampy Joe’ or ‘Creepy Joe.’ The president is not convinced that ‘Sleepy Joe’ is particularly damaging, and some of his advisers agree and have urged him to stop using the nickname. In a tweet on Sunday, Trump tried out yet another variant: ‘Corrupt Joe.’ Some advisers are also concerned that the campaign’s attacks on Biden’s mental acuity might alienate older voters, and that they also inadvertently set a low bar for gauging Biden’s performance. Trump’s team has deployed the hashtag #HidenBiden, intended to highlight that it’s been nearly three months since Biden has held a regular news conference and pressure him into more public appearances." 

Trump might be running for reelection because he’s afraid of being remembered as a one-term “loser,” the Daily Beast reports. “The president has told me [on multiple occasions] that he is determined to not be a one-termer, and says that history forever remembers them as ‘losers,’” a former senior Trump administration official said. Trump, another source said, has specifically referenced former President Jimmy Carter as an example of a modern political “loser,” saying “you never want to be that guy.”

The Trump campaign is drawing Barack Obama out of retirement. 

“Mr. Obama is nothing if not protective of his legacy, especially in the face of Mr. Trump’s many attacks. Yet interviews with more than 50 people in the former president’s orbit portray a conflicted combatant, trying to balance deep anger at his successor with an instinct to refrain from a brawl that he fears may dent his popularity and challenge his place in history,” the Times reports. “That calculus, though, may be changing in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by the police in Minneapolis. As America’s first black president, now its first black ex-president, Mr. Obama sees the current social and racial awakening as an opportunity to elevate a 2020 election dictated by Mr. Trump’s mud-wrestling style into something more meaningful — to channel a new, youthful movement toward a political aim, as he did in 2008. He is doing so very carefully … 

“He is not planning to scrap his summer Vineyard vacation and is still anguishing over the publication date of his long-awaited memoir. But last week he stepped up his nominally indirect criticism of Mr. Trump’s administration … Mr. Obama speaks with the former vice president and top campaign aides frequently, offering suggestions on staffing and messaging. Last month, he bluntly counseled Mr. Biden to keep his speeches brief, interviews crisp and slash the length of his tweets, the better to make the campaign a referendum on Mr. Trump and the economy, according to Democratic officials. … Some in Mr. Obama’s camp suggest he wants to avoid overshadowing the candidate — which Mr. Biden’s people aren’t buying. ‘By all means, overshadow us,’ one of them joked. …

“Mr. Obama eventually came to the conclusion that [Trump’s presidency] was a historic inevitability, and told people around him the best he could do was ‘set a counterexample.’ … Mr. Obama was, then as now, so determined to avoid uttering the new president’s name that one aide jokingly suggested they refer to him as ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ — Harry Potter’s archenemy, Lord Voldemort. … Mr. Obama felt one of the best ways to safeguard his legacy was by writing his book … The process has been a gilded grind. … [An] associate, who ran into the former president at an event last year, remarked at how fit he looked. Mr. Obama replied, ‘Let’s just say my golf game is going a lot better than my book.’ It was not especially easy for the former president to look on as his wife’s book, ‘Becoming,’ was published in 2018 and quickly became an international blockbuster. ‘She had a ghostwriter,’ Mr. Obama told a friend who asked about his wife’s speedy work. ‘I am writing every word myself, and that’s why it’s taking longer.’”

Bob Mueller’s overabundance of caution led to missed opportunities in the Russia investigation.

“Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal,” the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin writes in a new piece. The former special counsel did not demand to see Trump’s taxes or examine the roots of his affinity for Vladimir Putin and Russia. Most importantly, Toobin reports, Mueller declined to issue a subpoena for Trump’s testimony and didn’t present a conclusion that Trump had committed crimes, because he was convinced that he was never going to face an actual trial. By leaving the disclosure of the report and its conclusions entirely up to Attorney General Bill Barr, the piece concludes, Mueller brought this disaster on himself and his hard-working staff.

The coronavirus

As the U.S. soared past 2.5 million cases, Vice President Pence finally urged Americans to wear masks.

“At an event in Dallas, Pence commended Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his ‘decisive action’ in reopening the state’s economy in early May. But with the state’s hospitals experiencing a surge in patients amid skyrocketing infection rates, Pence praised Abbott for scaling back some reopening measures, including ordering bars to close and restaurants to reduce occupancy,” Felicia Sonmez, Siobhán O’Grady and Derek Hawkins report. “The virus has killed more than 123,000 people in the United States, and U.S. cases make up by far the largest share of the worldwide caseload. In Texas, coronavirus-related hospitalizations reached a record high for the 16th day in a row on Saturday, with 5,523 patients being treated. ‘It’s a good time to steer clear of senior citizens and to practice the kind of measures that will keep our most vulnerable safe,’ Pence said at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where he was joined by Abbott, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. All four were wearing face masks … But earlier Sunday, a ‘Celebrate Freedom’ rally Pence attended at First Baptist Church in Dallas featured a large choir that did not wear masks while singing, despite evidence that some choir practices have served as ‘superspreader’ events…. 

“The event comes as Texas, Florida and Arizona have emerged as the country’s latest epicenters after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row. It also comes as some testing centers in those states have become overwhelmed by an influx of patients, with residents reportedly waiting several hours in their cars or on foot to receive a test. … Pence’s spokeswoman, Katie Miller, appeared to dispute reports that the vice president would cancel upcoming trips to Arizona and Florida over virus concerns, saying on Twitter that Pence will still travel to both states this week."

Houston hospitals hit 100 percent of their ICU capacity. Then they stopped reporting data. Texas Medical Center hospitals, which together constitute the world’s largest medical complex, “reported Thursday that their base intensive care capacity had hit 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic and was on pace to exceed an ‘unsustainable surge capacity’ of intensive care beds by July 6,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “Then, after reporting numerous charts and graphs almost daily for three months, the organization posted no updates until around 9 p.m. Saturday, sowing confusion about the hospitals’ ability to withstand a massive spike in cases that has followed [Abbott’s] May decisions to lift restrictions intended to slow the virus. When the charts reappeared, eight of the 17 original slides had been deleted — including any reference to hospital capacity or projections of future capacity."

Putin claimed Russia has the virus in retreat, and he said anyone who says otherwise will face harsh crackdowns. As experts around the nation are forced to backtrack on their data-backed claims that the virus is spreading, questions have been raised about the manipulation of statistics. (Robyn Dixon)

Florida's case count increased fivefold in two weeks. “On Saturday, for the second straight day, Florida crushed its previous record for new coronavirus cases, reporting 9,585 infections. Another 8,530 were reported on Sunday,” the Times reports. “One-third of all patients admitted to [Miami’s] main public hospital over the past two weeks after going to the emergency room for car-crash injuries and other urgent problems have tested positive for the coronavirus. Six-hour lines formed in Jacksonville over the weekend as thousands of people flocked to get drive-through tests. Orlando has seen an explosion of coronavirus: nearly 60 percent of all cases diagnosed in that county came in just the past two weeks. Much of Florida’s new surge in cases appears to follow from the reopening of beaches, bars, restaurants and other social activities. The state’s beaches are full and throngs of revelers pack its waterways on boats.” 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) ordered bars closed in seven counties, including Los Angeles, following an outbreak. “Los Angeles County public health officials reported 2,542 more cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, the county’s second-highest daily total of new cases since the pandemic began,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The alarm over the rising case numbers extends across California, where statewide cases topped 215,000 on Sunday. Hospitalizations and infection rates are also rising, and officials cite several likely factors including reopenings, private social gatherings and the recent protests.”  

A country concert in Petros, Tenn., drew a tightly packed audience that did not appear to be wearing masks. Musician Chase Rice played at venue that allowed a maximum of 4,000 people. “We back,” Rice wrote in a video of the event. Tennessee reported its highest single-day increase in cases on Friday – 1,410. (Stereogum)

New York state, once the epicenter of the virus, is seeing deaths and hospitalizations fall to their lowest numbers since March. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said only five coronavirus-related deaths had been reported over the past 24 hours on Sunday, the lowest single-day death toll since March 15. (Antonia Farzan)

A CBS News-YouGov poll found most Americans don’t feel like their state was too fast to reopen: 41 percent felt that their state moved at the right pace, while 39 felt that state leaders moved too quickly. Only 20 percent believe it happened too slowly. Still, 49 percent said they expect the outbreak to worsen over the summer. And only 47 percent said they always wear a mask when going out in public. (Farzan

The families of those lost in one of Maryland’s deadliest nursing home outbreaks held a memorial.

“They sat in front of 46 crosses at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in La Plata and took turns remembering the residents of Sagepoint Senior Living, less than two miles away. Sometimes speaking through masks, they told stories of grief — of not being able to see their loved ones in their final moments and not being ready to say goodbye — but also of better times, including of the women in the dementia wing whose eyes lit up when they sang hymns, the tomatoes that one longtime resident grew and the 80-year-old who was reprimanded for driving his motorized wheelchair too fast,” Rachel Chason reports.

More on America's racial reckoning

A photographer died after a shooter opened fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Louisville. 

“The suspected shooter is in police custody and has been identified as 23-year-old Steven Lopez,” Josh Wood, Robert Klemko, Roman Stubbs and Ava Wallace report. "Police said video showed Lopez shooting into a large crowd of people who had gathered Saturday night to protest police brutality and the death of Breonna Taylor. Several bystanders shot in Lopez’s direction, according to an arrest warrant, wounding him in the leg. … Lopez has been charged with murder and first-degree wanton endangerment. … Robert Schroeder, Louisville’s interim police chief, said Lopez had been arrested several times in recent weeks and had been asked to leave the park by other protesters because of his ‘disruptive behavior.’ Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (D) identified the victim as Tyler Gerth, whose family said in a statement that he was a photographer capturing images of the protests.”

  • A peaceful protest in Detroit turned violent after a police SUV plowed through a group of protesters, striking multiple people. The driver accelerated multiple times as protesters surrounded the SUV. The Detroit Police Department said the officer tried to escape. “He just floored it. He went super fast,”said Jae Bass, a demonstrator. (Detroit Free Press)
  • Police in Aurora, Colo., arrested three protesters and used pepper spray on demonstrators demanding justice for Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old black man who died following an altercation with police almost a year ago. (CBS Denver)
  • The Times documented 70 other cases in which people died in law enforcement custody after saying “I can’t breathe,” the same final words as George Floyd and Eric Garner: “The dead ranged in age from 19 to 65. The majority of them had been stopped or held over nonviolent infractions, 911 calls about suspicious behavior, or concerns about their mental health. More than half were black.”
Minneapolis shows how unions remain one of the biggest obstacles to police reform. 

“Police and city leaders have repeatedly adopted changes, only for these efforts to run headlong into two formidable and interconnected forces: veteran officers who resist these efforts and the powerful unions fighting discipline. This combination can make it difficult for departments to evolve, even after they publicly pledge increased training and greater accountability,” Kimberly Kindy and Mark Berman report. “Minneapolis’s experience shows how difficult it can be to change a police department. Last year, after police there used fatal force in two high-profile encounters that led to protests, Mayor Jacob Frey felt he had to do something bold. Frey announced the nation’s first-ever ban on ‘fear-based’ and ‘warrior-style’ police training … The rebellion from the police union was immediate. The group’s brash president, Lt. Robert Kroll … made his own announcement: Free lessons in the aggressive, military-style policing methods were available for every Minneapolis police officer who wanted them. … The response highlighted what experts say are pivotal barriers to improving policing across the country, even as momentum grows for rethinking and reforming law enforcement practices.”

The four former Minneapolis officers charged in relation to Floyd’s killing are scheduled to make another court appearance today. Prosecutors appear to be moving to try them in one trial, a move likely to be opposed by defense attorneys who claim that their clients are already at risk of facing an unfair jury. Ben Crump, the Floyd family’s attorney, told the Star Tribune that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) told the family that a single trial will be scheduled for March 8, with a pretrial hearing set for Sept. 11. (Holly Bailey)

CNN liberal commentator Van Jones has ladled praise on Trump’s policing “initiative,” drawing criticism from the left. But it turns out that he helped the White House craft it. A White House source told the Daily Beast that Jones and human rights attorney Jessica Jackson, co-founders of prison-reform group #Cut50, “actively participated with law enforcement officials and White House staffers to help fashion the order and guide the politics of the discussion to what they considered ‘the sweet spot’ between law enforcement and ‘the reasonable middle’ and ‘the reasonable left.’”

Social media speed read

Trump was harder on the New York Times than the Russians after the paper reported the Kremlin's agents offered bounties for the killing of U.S. soldiers:

Trump's former envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, who resigned when the president threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in 2018, noted the president's talking points echoed those of the Russian Foreign Ministry:

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 in House GOP leadership, posed some good follow-up questions:

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), laying the groundwork to potentially run for president in 2024, campaigned for former White House doctor Ronny Jackson in Texas:

A couple pointed guns at protesters passing outside their home in St. Louis:

And nature is healing, cont.:

Videos of the day

John Oliver previewed the coming evictions crisis:

Hasan Minhaj talked with Minnesota's attorney general about the prosecution of the officers charged in Floyd's killing:

And Trevor Noah introduced a “macho” mask for the folks who worry that wearing a mask will make them less manly: