Letter From An American by Heather Cox Richardson

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      December 26, 2022 (Monday)

    One hundred and sixty years ago, on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in American history, the U.S. government hanged 38 Santee men for their actions in Minnesota’s so-called Dakota War.

    The struggle did not involve all of the Santees, but rather those driven to war in August 1862 after the U.S. government, financially strapped by the Civil War, did not appropriate the money necessary to pay for the food promised to the Santees by treaty. Nine years before, in 1851, settlers had poured into the territory demanding land to farm, and the government had forced the Santees onto a reservation too small to feed their people. The government promised the Santees provisions to make up for the loss of their economic base not as a one-time payment but as a fifty-year contract. Then, when Minnesota became a state in 1858, its leaders took even more Santee land.

    But by summer 1862, the Civil War had drained the Treasury, and so-called Indian appropriations fell behind.

    Starving and unable to provide for themselves on the small reservation onto which they had been corralled, some Santees demanded the provisions for which they had exchanged their lands. At least one of the agents who had contracted to provide that food had some on hand but refused to hand it over until he had been paid. Furious, young Santee men considered their agreement broken and attacked the settlers who had built homes on the land the Santees had ceded.

    On August 17, four young Santee men killed five settlers, and violence escalated. By September, both Minnesota militia and U.S. Army regiments were battling the Santees, and the struggles would leave more than 600 settlers, at least 100 to 300 Santees, and more than a hundred soldiers dead before the last of the Santee warriors surrendered to the military at the end of the month. Another 300 Santees—at least—would die from conditions of their imprisonment after the war or from exposure as they fled the state.

    The timing of the military action meant that northerners, and especially Minnesota settlers, interpreted the Santees’ actions as an existential threat to the nation. The war was going poorly for the United States in summer 1862, and many northerners saw the Santees’ attempt to reclaim their land as part of a plan to destroy the United States from within in order to help the Confederacy. Rather than understanding that their neighbors were starving and desperate for the enforcement of a contract into which they had been forced, settlers turned on the Santees with fury. Even as northerners were redefining Black Americans as potential equals, they redefined Santees as unredeemable enemies and fantasized about exterminating them.

    By September 23, most of those Santees involved in the fighting had either surrendered or fled, and on September 27, Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley, who had commanded the state militia troops engaged in the war, ordered a military commission to try those fighters now in custody.

    Over the course of five weeks in the fall of 1862, a military commission tried 393 Santees for their part in the conflict. The prisoners did not have lawyers, and many of them did not speak English. Those who did understand the questions put to them did not understand the legal process that permitted them to avoid self-incrimination; they told the truth about their part in the fighting and thus cemented their convictions. Many of the trials took fewer than ten minutes before the judges reached a guilty verdict: in one two-day span, 82 men were tried.

    In early November the commission convicted 303 Indians of murder or rape and sentenced them to death. Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, expressing his hope that “the execution of every Sioux Indian condemned by the military court will be at once ordered.” But by law, the president had to sign off on executions, and Lincoln refused.

    While the harsh sentences pleased the furious Minnesota settlers, they presented a problem for Lincoln. Personally, he was reluctant to use the government to execute men and frequently commuted death sentences for soldiers convicted of anything other than rape or murder. He recoiled from the idea of executing several hundred men at once, especially since he had little faith in military tribunals, and the Santee trials were obviously predetermined.

    But there was a national, as well as a personal, issue at stake. Lincoln’s primary focus was not on the troubles in Minnesota, but on the successful prosecution of the Civil War. If the United States executed captured Indigenous fighters for killing soldiers in battle, why shouldn’t it do the same to captured Confederate soldiers, who were also attacking the government?

    While there were plenty of people who were willing to follow that logic, it presented a problem: if the Union government could do whatever it wanted to enemy combatants who surrendered, what was to stop the Confederacy from doing whatever it wanted to surrendering Union soldiers? Ultimately, Lincoln’s decision about what to do with the Santee prisoners could determine the fate of the Union men who fell into enemy hands.

    Lincoln negotiated the crisis by distinguishing between soldiers in battle and war criminals. First he demanded to see the Santee trial records and ordered the military judges to separate men who had fought in battles from those who had committed murder or rape against civilians. Then he reviewed the records and concluded that 265 of the Santee had been convicted only of going to war against the United States. Although these men had not been party to a formal declaration of war, the Lincoln administration decided they were nonetheless covered by the traditional rules of war that prohibited the execution of prisoners. Lincoln refused to sign off on their executions, effectively pardoning them.

    The 38 Indigenous Americans who had been convicted of murder or of rape against civilians, though, fell outside the traditional protections accorded to enemy combatants. Their sentences stood.

    And so, on December 26, 1862, the U.S. government hanged these 38 men in a group from a scaffold in Mankato, Minnesota, in what is still the largest mass execution in American history.

    In the aftermath of the hangings, the Lincoln administration continued to develop the concept of war crimes. On April 24, 1863, the administration issued what became known as the Lieber Code after its author, legal philosopher Francis Lieber. It tried to establish rules for wartime, prohibiting the execution of prisoners of war, for example, and outlawing rape and torture. The Lieber Code helped to make up the international Hague Conventions of the turn of the century, which set out to establish rules of war.

    But northerners’ interpretation of the Dakota War had made them push Indigenous Americans outside those rules, and once that principle was in motion, it did not stop. In 1862, northerners supported a mass execution of Santees despite the obviously biased convictions; in 1864, after skirmishes between settlers and Navajos, army officers forced the Navajo people to walk hundreds of miles from their homelands in Arizona to internment at a military fort in eastern New Mexico where a lack of food and shelter led to horrific death rates.

    And later that year, at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado Territory, soldiers would butcher surrendering Cheyennes and Arapahos and take their body parts as trophies.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      December 27, 2022 (Tuesday)

    It turns out that Republican George Santos, 34, who was just elected to represent New York’s Third District, lied about his education, saying he had attended schools he had not, and lied about his work experience, falsely claiming to have worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. He claimed to be the grandson of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust; now he says he meant he was a Catholic with Jewish heritage—although there is no evidence of that, either—and so thinks of himself as “Jew-ish.” He claimed to have lost employees at the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, but when there was no evidence for that, either, he claimed the employees were in the process of being hired.

    Santos also has an outstanding criminal charge in Brazil, where there is evidence he stole an elderly man’s checks—he denies this, although has produced no evidence—and questions about where the $700,000 he apparently lent to his 2022 campaign came from, since he was in trouble over relatively small outstanding debts as recently as 2020. Finally, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out, although Santos claims to have been born in Queens to immigrants from Brazil, it is not entirely clear that he is a U.S. citizen. Former co-workers say he told them he was born in Brazil.

    That point, at least, should be easy to clear up.

    “If I disappointed anyone by my résumé embellishment, I’m sorry,” Santos said in a radio interview but claimed that “a lot of people overstate in their résumés” and such fictions would not hurt his ability to do the job he was elected to do. “I will be sworn in,” he said. “I will take office.”

    Democrats Joaquin Castro of Texas and Ted Lieu of California have called for Santos to step aside, but with the Republican majority in the House resting on five seats, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other sitting Republican lawmakers have been unwilling to speak out about Santos’s lies. McCarthy needs all the votes he can muster to make him House speaker, even if it means overlooking Santos’s fabrications and hoping voters will forget quickly.

    Two incoming Republican representatives have called him out, though, suggesting they are more interested in protecting the future of the party than its current incarnation. If revelations continue to drop, the newbies might have called the situation better than their more senior colleagues.

    Today, in a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld a stay to stop the ending of the Title 42 pandemic rule that prevents much migration into the U.S. out of concerns about disease. Chief Justice John Roberts issued the stay on December 19, 2022, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Title 42 must end on December 21 unless the Supreme Court stepped in. Close to two dozen Republican-dominated states asked it to, and it did.

    Joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Neil Gorsuch backed the Biden administration’s position when he wrote: “The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis.” Gorsuch added: “Courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency.”

    Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented separately from Gorsuch and Jackson, but the four were outvoted by the other five justices. This order does not address whether Title 42 should ultimately stay in place; it establishes that states may intervene in the dispute over pandemic restrictions that is currently in federal court.

    Title 42 is a law that permits the government to keep contagious diseases out of the country, and Trump put it in place in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in part because it enabled him to stop considering migrants for asylum as is required by U.S. and international law (Title 42 had only been used once before, in 1929, to keep ships from China and the Philippines, where there was a meningitis outbreak, from coming into U.S. ports). Extremist Republicans want to keep it as a way to stop immigration to this country, although technically it is an emergency rule that, when revoked, will simply restore the laws in place before it went into effect.

    The Biden administration has called for Congress to pass new legislation to address what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called a “fundamentally broken” system, “outdated” at every level. “In the absence of congressional action to reform the immigration and asylum systems, a significant increase in migrant encounters will strain our system even further,” Mayorkas said in anticipation of the end of Title 42. “Addressing this challenge will take time and additional resources, and we need the partnership of Congress, state and local officials, NGOs, and communities to do so.”

    Earlier this month it seemed that Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) had hammered out a deal that did just that, offering to a path to citizenship for about 2 million “dreamers,” people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without documentation and have never known any home but this one; offering protections for migrant rights by providing up to $40 billion for processing those coming to the U.S. to seek asylum, including more processing centers, more judges, more asylum officers, and more border officers; and continuing Title 42–type restrictions on migrants until the new processing centers were ready.

    But Republicans opposed the dreamer provision—which about 70% of Americans support—and killed the deal. Instead, those like Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted: “With Title 42 ending, our nation is going to be overrun with illegals worse than at just about any other point in history. Remember, this is intentional and all part of Biden’s systematic destruction of America.”

    On Christmas Eve a dramatic illustration of the attempt to politicize the migrant issue took place in Washington, D.C., where the 15°F (–9°C) temperatures marked a historic low for that date. Three buses dropped migrant families from Texas on the street near the vice president’s residence in what White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan called a “cruel, dangerous, and shameful stunt.” Some of the migrants were in shorts and T-shirts. Local relief agencies had expected the migrants on Sunday but responded quickly once they knew of the plan change.

    Appearing to assume responsibility for the unannounced dropoff, a spokesperson for Texas governor Greg Abbott said: "Instead of their hypocritical complaints about Texas providing much-needed relief to our overrun and overwhelmed border communities, President Biden and Border Czar Harris need to step up and do their jobs to secure the border—something they continue failing to do.”

    In response to the Supreme Court’s order, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration “will, of course, comply” as it continues to prepare for the end of the pandemic policy. She continued: “To truly fix our broken immigration system, we need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform measures like the ones President Biden proposed on his first day in office. Today’s order gives Republicans in Congress plenty of time to move past political finger-pointing and join their Democratic colleagues in solving the challenge at our border by passing the comprehensive reform measures and delivering the additional funds for border security that President Biden has requested.”

    The court will decide the case in June.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      December 28, 2022 (Wednesday)

    On the clear, cold morning of December 29, 1890, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, three U.S. soldiers tried to wrench a valuable Winchester away from a young Lakota man. He refused to give up his hunting weapon. It was the only thing standing between his family and starvation and he had no faith it would be returned to him as the officer promised: he had watched as soldiers had marked other confiscated valuable weapons for themselves.

    As the men struggled, the gun fired into the sky.

    Before the echoes died, troops fired a volley that brought down half of the Lakota men and boys the soldiers had captured the night before, as well as a number of soldiers surrounding the Lakotas. The uninjured Lakota men attacked the soldiers with knives, guns they snatched from wounded soldiers, and their fists.

    As the men fought hand to hand, the Lakota women who had been hitching their horses to wagons for the day’s travel tried to flee along the nearby road or up a dry ravine behind the camp. Stationed on a slight rise above the camp, soldiers turned rapid-fire mountain guns on them. Then, over the next two hours, troops on horseback hunted down and slaughtered all the Lakotas they could find: about 250 men, women, and children.

    A dozen years ago, I wrote a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, and what I learned still keeps me up at night. But it is not December 29 that haunts me.

    What haunts me is the night of December 28.

    On December 28 there was still time to avert the massacre.

    In the early afternoon, the Lakota leader Big Foot—Sitanka—had urged his people to surrender to the soldiers looking for them. Sitanka was desperately ill with pneumonia, and the people in his band were hungry, underdressed, and exhausted. They were making their way south across South Dakota from their own reservation in the northern part of the state to the Pine Ridge Reservation. There they planned to take shelter with another famous Lakota chief, Red Cloud. His people had done as Sitanka asked, and the soldiers escorted the Lakotas to a camp on South Dakota's Wounded Knee Creek, inside the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

    For the soldiers, the surrender of Sitanka's band marked the end of what they called the Ghost Dance Uprising. It had been a tense month. Troops had pushed into the South Dakota reservations in November, prompting a band of terrified men who had embraced the Ghost Dance religion to gather their wives and children and ride out to the Badlands. But at long last, army officers and negotiators had convinced those Ghost Dancers to go back to Pine Ridge and turn themselves in to authorities before winter hit in earnest.

    Sitanka’s people were not part of the Badlands group and, for the most part, were not Ghost Dancers. They had fled from their own northern reservation two weeks before when they learned that officers had murdered the great leader Sitting Bull in his own home. Army officers were anxious to find and corral Sitanka’s missing Lakotas before they carried the news that Sitting Bull had been killed to those who had taken refuge in the Badlands. Army leaders were certain the information would spook the Ghost Dancers and send them flying back to the Badlands. They were determined to make sure the two bands did not meet.

    But South Dakota is a big state, and it was not until late in the afternoon of December 28 that the soldiers finally made contact with Sitanka's band. The encounter didn’t go quite as the officers planned: a group of soldiers were watering their horses in a stream when some of the traveling Lakotas surprised them. The Lakotas let the soldiers go, and the men promptly reported to their officers, who marched on the Lakotas as if they were going to war. Sitanka, who had always gotten along well with army officers, assured the commander that the band was on its way to Pine Ridge, and asked his men to surrender unconditionally. They did.

    By this time, Sitanka was so ill he couldn't sit up and his nose was dripping blood. Soldiers lifted him into an army ambulance—an old wagon—for the trip to the Wounded Knee camp. His ragtag band followed behind. Once there, the soldiers gave the Lakotas an evening ration and lent army tents to those who wanted them. Then the soldiers settled into guarding the camp.

    And the soldiers celebrated, for they were heroes of a great war, and it had been bloodless, and now, with the Lakotas’ surrender, they would be demobilized back to their home bases before the South Dakota winter closed in. As they celebrated, more and more troops poured in. It had been a long hunt across South Dakota for Sitanka and his band, and officers were determined the group would not escape them again. In came the Seventh Cavalry, whose men had not forgotten that their former leader George Armstrong Custer had been killed by a band of Lakota in 1876. In came three mountain guns, which the soldiers trained on the Indian encampment from a slight rise above the camp.

    For their part, the Lakotas were frightened. If their surrender was welcome and they were going to go with the soldiers to Red Cloud at Pine Ridge, as they had planned all along, why were there so many soldiers, with so many guns?

    On this day and hour in 1890, in the cold and dark of a South Dakota December night, there were soldiers drinking, singing and visiting with each other, and anxious Lakotas either talking to each other in low voices or trying to sleep. No one knew what the next day would bring, but no one expected what was going to happen.

    One of the curses of history is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to disasters, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability.

    But it is never too late to change the future.

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  • brianluxbrianlux Moving through All Kinds of Terrain.Posts: 38,647
    Great that Heather acknowledge the terrible Wounded Knee Massacre.  I have to admit to not reading the entire letter.  I guess I've read about that incident more times than I care to think.  It's a horrible and shameful incident in American history.
    "I believe in the mystery, and I don't want to take it any further than that. Maybe what I mean by that is love."
    -John Densmore











  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
    brianlux said:
    Great that Heather acknowledge the terrible Wounded Knee Massacre.  I have to admit to not reading the entire letter.  I guess I've read about that incident more times than I care to think.  It's a horrible and shameful incident in American history.

    one of many
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    Not today Sir, Probably not tomorrow.............................................. bayfront arena st. pete '94
    you're finally here and I'm a mess................................................... nationwide arena columbus '10
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    another man ..... moved by sleight of hand...................................... joe louis arena detroit '14
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     December 29, 2022 (Thursday)

    Today, President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan year-end omnibus funding bill passed by the House and the Senate before lawmakers left town.

    The $1.7 trillion measure addresses key goals of both parties. It funds the military and domestic programs. It funds public health and science, invests in law enforcement, and funds programs to prevent violence against women. It funds veterans’ services, and it provides assistance to Ukraine in its struggle to protect itself against Russia’s invasion. It updates the Electoral Count Act to prevent a president from trying to overturn a presidential election, as former president Trump did.

    Biden said, “This bill is further proof that Republicans and Democrats can come together to deliver for the American people, and I’m looking forward to continued bipartisan progress in the year ahead.”

    But on his social media platform, Trump took a stand against the bill that funds the government. “Something is going on with [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell [(R-KY)] and all of the terribly and virtually automatic ‘surrenders’ he makes to the Marxist Democrats, like on the $1.7 Trillion ‘Ominous’ Bill,” Trump wrote. “Could have killed it using the Debt Ceiling, or made it MUCH better in the Republican House. Nobody can be this stupid.” Then he went on to blame the deal on McConnell’s wife, Trump’s own Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, using a racist slur.

    This exchange reveals the dynamic dominating political leadership at the end of 2022. Biden and the Democrats are trying to show that the government can produce popular results for the American people. They are joined in that effort by Republicans who recognize that, for all their talk about liberty, their constituents want to see the government address their concerns. Together, they have passed the omnibus bill, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act, the bipartisan infrastructure law, and gun safety legislation.

    This cooperation to pass popular legislation is an important shift in American politics.

    But Trump and his cronies remain determined to return to power, apparently either to stop this federal action Trump incorrectly calls “Marxism” or, in the case of extremist Republicans, to use the government not to provide a basic social safety net, regulate business, promote infrastructure, or protect civil rights—as it has done since 1933—but instead to enforce right-wing religious values on the country. They reject the small-government economic focus of the Reagan Republicans in favor of using a strong government to enforce religion.

    The determination of Trump and his team to dominate the government, and through it the country, has been illustrated powerfully once again today with the release of more transcripts from testimony before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Former White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Griffin recalled how Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, dismissed the idea that the Trump administration should coordinate with the incoming Biden officials over the coronavirus pandemic. “It was the first COVID... meeting that Jared led after [Biden won],” Griffin recalled, “& Dr. Birx... said, "Well, should we be looping the Biden transition into these conversations?" & Jared just said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

    Similarly, in an extraordinarily petty exchange, the chief of staff to former first lady Melania Trump, Stefanie Grisham, recalled that Trump wanted to fire the chief White House usher, Tim Harleth, for being in contact with the Biden team about the presidential transition. (Secret Service agents told Trump about the contact, raising more questions about the role of the agents around Trump.) Melania Trump stopped the firing out of concern for the stories Harleth could tell about the Trump family, but he was let go just before Biden’s inauguration, leaving the Biden’s standing before the closed doors of the White House for an awkwardly long time when they entered for the first time.

    This determination of far-right Republicans to bend the country to their will presents a problem for the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans came around to backing Trump in 2017 after he promised them lower taxes and less regulation, the goals they had embraced since the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

    But Trump managed to stay in power by feeding the reactionaries in the party: those who reject the idea of American equality. Trump’s base is fiercely opposed to immigration and against the rights of LGBTQ Americans, while also in favor of curtailing the rights of women and minorities. Rejecting the equality at the heart of liberal democracy, many of them hope to enforce religious rules on the rest of the country and admire Russian president Vladimir Putin and Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán for replacing democracy with what Orbán has called “Christian democracy,” or “illiberal democracy” that enforces patriarchal heterosexual hierarchies. As Trump encouraged them to, many of them reject as “fraudulent” any elections that do not put their candidates in power.

    Now, as Republican establishment leaders recognize that Trump’s star is fading and his legal troubles seem likely to get worse—his tax returns will be released tomorrow, among other things—they seem eager to cut Trump loose to resurrect their anti-tax, anti-regulation policies. But those Americans who reject democracy and want a strong government to enforce their values are fighting for control of the Republican Party.

    The far right has turned against Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, whom Trump hand-picked and who helped arrange the false electors in 2020. Trump loyalist Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate, is challenging McDaniel. Of more concern to her is the challenge of Harmeet Dhillon, a prominent election denier who has provided legal counsel for Trump in his struggles against the January 6th committee, calling it “a purely political witch-hunt, total abuse of process & power serving no legitimate legislative purpose.” Orbán supporter and Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson and Turning Points USA founder Charlie Kirk are backing Dhillon.

    Kirk, who is a prodigious fundraiser, has warned the RNC that the party must listen “to the grassroots, our donors, and the biggest organizations and voices in the conservative movement” or it would lose in 2024. “If ignored, we will have the most stunted and muted Republican Party in the history of the conservative movement, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations.”

    The far right is also challenging the bid of House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for House speaker, creating such havoc that today former Republican representative, senator, and secretary of defense William S. Cohen and former congressional staff director and presidential senior fellow emeritus at the Council on Foreign Relations Alton Frye published an op-ed in the New York Times warning that “the Republican caucus is dominated by campaigns and commitments that gravely encumber efforts to define common ground in the political center.” They urged House members to recruit a moderate speaker from outside the chamber and to “fortify those Republicans who seek to move the party beyond the corrosive Trump era.”

    They called for a secret ballot, so Republican members won't have to fear retaliation.

    Cohen and Frye suggested that organization of the House by an outsider would allow for “meaningful coalition building,” but the Republicans about to take control of the House have so far indicated only that they intend to investigate the Biden administration before the 2024 election, a throwback to the methods party leaders have used since 1994 to win elections by portraying the Democrats as corrupt.

    Representatives James Comer (R-KY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), who are expected to take over the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, respectively, have already demanded records from the White House. When White House Special Counsel Richard Sauber said the White House would respond to those committees after the Republicans were in charge of them—a position administrations have taken since the 1980s—Comer and Jordan took to social media today to complain that “at every turn the Biden White House seeks to obstruct congressional oversight and hide information from the American people.” (Jordan, of course, refused to respond to a subpoena from the January 6th committee.)

    The year 2022 has seen an important split in the Republican Party. The party’s response to voters’ dislike appears to be either to reject democracy altogether or to double down on the old rhetoric that has worked in the past, although you have to wonder if they have gone to that well so many times it’s drying up.

    In the meantime, the Democrats have worked with willing Republicans to demonstrate that lawmakers in a democracy really can accomplish big things for the American people, and for the world.

    Which vision will win out will be a key political story of 2023.

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    another man ..... moved by sleight of hand...................................... joe louis arena detroit '14
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     December 30, 2022 (Friday)

    Just a year ago, we were focusing on Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine, which the U.S. government and allies recognized as an attempt both to keep Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a longstanding military alliance resisting Russian expansion, and to test the unity of the democratic nations that made up NATO itself. Former president Donald Trump had weakened NATO and vowed to pull the U.S. out of it if he won a second term, demoralizing our allies, but Democratic president Joe Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had worked hard to pull the alliance back together.

    Biden worked the phones and Blinken flew around the world, talking to allies not only to warn them but also to get pledges to pressure Russia, help Ukraine defend itself, and accept refugees if necessary. On one day alone, Biden spoke with leaders from the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Poland, and Romania; the secretary general of NATO; and the presidents of the European Union.

    Biden and Blinken anticipated Putin’s pretenses for an invasion of Ukraine and publicized them, taking away from the Russian president a key propaganda lever. Along with their allies, they warned they would respond to any invasion of Ukraine with heavy economic sanctions that would crush the Russian economy. This was a threat many observers met with skepticism, since sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 invasion and subsequent occupation of Ukraine had not been strong enough to force Putin to a reckoning.

    On February 4, Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping met in Beijing and pledged mutual support and cooperation, issuing a statement saying their authoritarian regimes were actually a form of democracy. On the same day, the Republican National Committee (RNC), meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, censured Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for joining the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. That attack was an attempt to overturn our democratic form of government by installing a candidate rejected by voters, but the RNC defended the events surrounding January 6 as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” and attacked the investigation as “persecution.”

    It appeared that a global authoritarian movement was coalescing for an attack on liberal democracy and that the leaders of the Republican Party were on the side of the authoritarians. The United Nations was formed after World War II to protect the idea of a rules-based international order so that countries would not unilaterally attack each other for their own advantage and start wars. If Russia, a member of the U.N. were allowed to violate the fundamental principle that had preserved relative peace in Europe since World War II, there was no telling what might come next.  

    And then, on February 24, 2022, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, a country that had fought Russian invaders since 2014 but was clearly—everyone knew—no match for Russia’s powerful military. Recent reports show that Russian leaders expected the assault to take ten days. Ukraine’s best hope was to get President Volodymyr Zelensky to safety to preserve the Ukrainian government-in-exile.

    But then, something surprising happened.

    When the U.S. offered to evacuate Zelensky, he said: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” Within days, he and his cabinet had recorded a video from Kyiv, demonstrating that the Ukrainian government was still in Kyiv and would fight to protect their country. Ukrainians defied the invaders as the U.S., NATO, the European Union, and allies around the globe rushed in money, armaments, and humanitarian aid. In Brussels, London, Paris, Munich, Dublin, and Geneva, and across the globe, people took to the streets to protest the invasion and show their support for the resisters.

    In their fight for their right to self-determination, the Ukrainians and their defenders reminded the United States what cherishing democracy actually looks like.

    Meanwhile, at home, the administration and Congress showed Americans that the government could, indeed, help ordinary people. In his first year in office, Biden and the Democrats had passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion package to jump-start the economy after the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic. Together with Republicans, they had also passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, more popularly known as the bipartisan infrastructure law, which invested in long-overdue repairs and extensions to the country’s road, bridges, broadband, and other hard infrastructure.

    But with just 50 votes in the Senate, Democrats had to get all their senators on board for more legislation, and it appeared that they would not be able to do that in 2022. As global post-lockdown inflation hit the U.S., it both made lawmakers cautious about more spending and seemed to give Republicans a ready-made tool to attack Biden and the Democrats before the upcoming midterm election.

    It was at this juncture that the hard work of knowing how to negotiate, something we had become unused to seeing in Washington, paid off. Over the spring and summer, Democrats worked with Republicans when possible to build the economy not through the supply-side theories of the Republicans, which say that freeing capital at the top of the economy by cutting taxes will spur wealthy investors to create jobs, but by creating jobs and easing costs for wage workers.

    They shepherded through Congress the PACT Act, expanding healthcare and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits; the CHIPs and Science Act, to bolster U.S. scientific research and manufacturing, especially of silicone chips; and the Inflation Reduction Act, which makes historic investments in clean energy and finally lets Medicare negotiate drug prices (which will cap insulin for Medicare participants at $35). They passed an expansion of the Affordable Care Act that has dropped the rate of those without health insurance to a new low of 8 percent.

    They passed the Respect for Marriage Act, requiring states to recognize marriages performed in other states, and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, which had languished since 2018. It passed the most significant gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. The administration also announced debt relief of up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants.

    Finally, just yesterday, Biden signed into law an omnibus funding bill that includes a reform of the Electoral Count Act, making it harder for a Trumplike president to use the terms of the law to overturn an election. There were key measures left undone—neither voting rights protections nor the childcare, eldercare, and education infrastructure package Biden wanted passed—but the list of accomplishments for this Congress rivaled that of the 1960s’ Great Society and the 1930s’ New Deal.

    Meanwhile, the reactionary Republicans illustrated exactly what their rule would mean for the country, and it was not popular. On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized reproductive healthcare as a constitutional right. Immediately, stories of raped children unable to obtain abortions and women unable to obtain healthcare during miscarriages horrified the 62% of Americans who supported Roe v. Wade and even many of those who did not support Roe but had never really thought that the U.S. government would cease to recognize a constitutional right that had been on the books for almost 50 years.

    The justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, including the three Trump added to the court, had publicly assured senators they would not challenge settled law—a key principle of jurisprudence—and their willingness to do so indicated they intended for their ideology to replace legal precedent. Just days after the Dobbs decision, in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the court decided that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases because Congress cannot delegate “major questions” to be decided by the executive branch. This doctrine threatens to undermine government regulation.

    The court went on to fulfill a right-wing wish list, deciding a number of cases that slashed at the separation of church and state, expanded gun rights, and so on.  

    At the same time the court’s decisions were making the right wing’s plans for the country clear, the January 6th committee’s public hearings exposed the deliberate plan to overthrow our democracy. Led by chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and vice chair Liz Cheney, the committee used shocking videos and powerful testimony primarily from Trump’s own relatives and appointees and other Republican officials to show how Trump and his cronies planned even before the election to claim that Democrats had stolen victory, and then had used that Big Lie to inflame supporters to keep him in office.

    Inflation, though starting to ease, was still high enough in November that political pundits expected the Republicans would sweep back into control of Congress. Instead, despite gerrymandering and the new voting restrictions many Republican-dominated states had imposed in response to the Big Lie, voters put Republicans in control of the House by only four seats. For the first time since 1934, the president’s party did not lose a seat in the Senate in a midterm election; instead, the Democrats picked one up.

    At the end of 2022, more than 300 days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what seemed a year ago to be the growing power of authoritarianism appears to have been checked. Finland and Sweden took steps to join NATO, while the Biden administration expanded its work with Europe and traditional allies by pointedly nurturing partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and Africa, investing in those regions as both Russia and China have had to pull back.

    At least so far, the rules-based international order is holding. Putin’s military, which a number of right-wing Republicans had championed as more powerful than that of the democratic U.S., turns out to have been poorly trained and ill equipped as Putin’s cronies siphoned money from military contracts to funnel into expensive homes and yachts in other countries. And the Ukrainians turned out to have trained heavily and well, especially in logistics, and to be determined to fight on to victory.

    The Russian economy is reeling from global sanctions, and in its troubles, Russia has turned to Iran, which is also suffering under sanctions and which has provided drones for the war in Ukraine. But Iran, too, is facing protests at home from women and girls no longer willing to obey the country’s discriminatory laws.

    China’s economy is also weaker than it seemed, owing to changing supply chains, a real-estate bust, and increasing dislocations first from a zero-Covid policy that prompted extreme lockdowns, and now from the easing of those restrictions that has turned the virus loose to ravage the country.

    The crisis of democracy in the United States is not over, not by a long shot. Anti-semitism and anti-LGBTQ violence rose this year, along with white supremacist violence and gun violence, while a right-wing theocratic movement continues to try to garner power. Wealth and its benefits remain badly distributed in this country, and the ravages of climate change are getting worse. Those things– and others– are real and dangerous.

    But the country looks very different today than it did a year ago. I ended last year’s wrap-up letter by saying: “It looks like 2022 is going to be a choppy ride, but its outcome is in our hands. As Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten almost to death in his quest to protect the right to vote, wrote to us when he passed: ‘Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part.’”

    The story of 2022 turned out to be how many folks both abroad and at home stepped up to the plate.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      December 31, 2022 (Saturday)

    And so, the sun sets on 2022.

    It has been an astonishing year across the board, and I thank you all for, well, everything.

    May 2023 treat us all kindly.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

    Not today Sir, Probably not tomorrow.............................................. bayfront arena st. pete '94
    you're finally here and I'm a mess................................................... nationwide arena columbus '10
    memories like fingerprints are slowly raising.................................... first niagara center buffalo '13
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 1, 2023 (Sunday)

    I hit “send” on my new manuscript at about 6:00 yesterday evening and have spent the first day of the new year just relaxing and catching up on oh, so many things that did not get done in the last few months.

    Often on January 1, I post about the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln signed on this day in 1863, but had thought perhaps just to post a photo tonight. It feels like we could all use another quiet day.

    But there are three things I didn’t want to let slip by, because they both sum up 2022 and point toward 2023.

    First, as of today, January 1, 2023, the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for Medicare recipients is capped at $35 a month. Insulin in the U.S. costs up to ten times as much as it does in other countries, and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed last August, both enables Medicare to negotiate certain drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and caps the cost of insulin.

    Unfortunately, more than half the diabetics in the U.S. are under age 65 and thus are not covered by Medicare. This amounts to more than 21 million people. Senate Republicans rejected the Democrats’ attempt to apply the cap to private insurers. The vote was 57 to 43, meaning that 57 senators—including seven Republicans—voted in favor of the cap, but the filibuster means that it takes 60 votes to pass most measures through the Senate, so the cap for those covered outside Medicare failed.

    Second, yesterday Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued the 2022 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. It’s an interesting document, not just for what it says, but also for what it doesn’t say. The introduction is dominated by a discussion of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the Warren court overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision and required the desegregation of the public schools. It was a moment in which the Supreme Court’s stance overturned a long history of discrimination and appeared heroic.

    The unstated comparison is to this summer’s decision of the Roberts court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The comparison runs aground on the reality that Brown v. Board expanded equality before the law and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health contracts it, but it is interesting that Roberts feels obliged to use the court’s annual report to defend the court’s actions.

    The report makes no mention of the leak of the Dobbs decision, a leak that the right wing met with fury but that has come to appear to be associated with right-wing Justice Samuel Alito and thus seems to have fallen off their radar screen. The report does not mention popular demands for justices to have a code of ethics—demands heightened by news that Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni participated in attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election but he did not recuse himself from making decisions about that attempt—but it does demand protection for judges for their safety, despite the court’s recent expansion of gun rights. “A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear,” Roberts wrote.

    And third, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, was inaugurated as the new president of Brazil today. Lula replaces Jair Bolsonaro, the right-wing ally of former U.S. president Trump. Traditionally, an outgoing Brazilian president is supposed to pass the presidential sash to the incoming president as a symbol of the peaceful transfer of power. But Bolsonaro for weeks refused to accept the outcome of the election, and as he is now under a number of investigations, he flew to Orlando, Florida, Friday night and expects to stay at least a month while he sees whether the new government will pursue the investigations.

    In his place, a 33-year-old garbage collector, Aline Sousa, representing “the Brazilian people,” presented the sash to Lula and placed it on him. A software developer at the inauguration told New York Times reporters Jack Nicas and André Spigariol, “Lula’s inauguration is mainly about hope…. I hope to see him representing not only a political party, but an entire population—a whole group of people who just want to be happier.”

    Seems like a good note to start 2023.

    Happy New Year.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
       January 2, 2023 (Monday)

    Members are gathering in Washington for tomorrow’s organization of the 118th Congress. The opening of a new Congress is always an exciting time, and this year is particularly interesting.

    It appears that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) still does not have the votes to become speaker when the Republicans take the majority tomorrow, although he has made significant concessions to the 15 or so far-right members who refuse to back him.

    He has agreed to make it a great deal easier for members of the House to throw out the speaker, a concession that will put him at the mercy of the far right, and a concession that he vowed he would never make. He has agreed to put more of the extreme right members on committees, and he has said he will create a select committee to investigate the “weaponization of government against our citizens.”

    He has agreed to cuts to the Office of Congressional Ethics and to forcing the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol to turn over all of its documents to the Committee on House Administration, rather than the National Archives, which has sparked concerns that Republican members will reveal the identities of national security personnel who testified before the committee.

    And yet, it seems the more he concedes, the weaker he looks. On Saturday night, nine members of the far-right congressional delegation, many of whom are implicated in the January 6, 2021, attempt to overthrow the government, indicated his concessions were still not enough. They issued a letter with the warning: “Time to make the change or get out of the way.” The letter complained of “deficiencies” and “dysfunction” and “Republican failures” but was quite vague about what its authors wanted, except perhaps power.

    Meanwhile, after it turned out that his campaign biography was entirely made up, Republican representative-elect George Santos of New York is facing investigations into his finances and his citizenship. Today, Brazilian authorities reopened fraud charges against Santos for a 2008 case in which he apparently stole checks from an elderly man. The case had been dormant because authorities had not been able to find Santos. McCarthy and other Republicans have refused to take a stand for or against Santos; his vote for speaker will be crucial. Santos has denied that he committed a crime.

    “We’re supposed to be hitting the ground running here, but instead it’s just a big belly flop,” a Republican lawmaker recently told Politico. “Believe me, it’s not just members of the Freedom Caucus who are aggravated. As the days and hours trickle on, the more aggravated people become.”

    As the House Republicans’ infighting threatens two chaotic years, the Democratic-controlled Senate will continue to confirm judges who reject the extremism of the Trump-era appointees, working to restore balance and representation in the judicial system. In the first two years of the Biden administration, the Senate confirmed 97 federal judges. Seventy-four have been women—more female judges than the Senate confirmed in Trump’s four years or in George W. Bush’s eight.

    The Supreme Court will be harder to rebalance because of Trump’s three appointments, made possible by the refusal of then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to move forward President Barack Obama’s nominee in March 2016 with the argument that it was too close to a presidential election, and then his rushing through of Amy Coney Barrett in late October 2020 after voting in the presidential election had already started.

    While the House struggles and the Senate focuses on judges, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the administration will greet 2023 by traveling around the country highlighting what the laws passed in the last two years will mean for Americans.

    In that effort, they will be joined by leading Republicans, in what amounts to a rebuke of their far-right colleagues. On Wednesday, January 4, Biden will be in Kentucky with McConnell, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY), and Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) to talk about how the bipartisan infrastructure law is rebuilding the country, providing jobs that don’t need a four-year college degree. Harris will be in Chicago doing the same; Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will be in New London, Connecticut; then-former House speaker Nancy Pelosi will be in San Francisco.  

    The January 6th committee continued to release transcripts over the holiday weekend. Journalists examining those transcripts have uncovered important new information.

    Among that information is that an email on January 2, 2021, from January 6 rally organizer Katrina Pierson shows that Trump’s invitation to supporters to march on the Capitol was not spontaneous; it was part of the plan. By January 2, people knew that Trump would urge his followers to march to the Capitol. To another organizer, Pierson wrote: “POTUS expectations are to have something intimate at the ellipse, and call on everyone to march to the capitol. This actually works out, because Ali [Alexander]’s group is already setting up at the Capitol, and SCOTUS is on the way.”

    After the riot of January 6, Trump advisor Hope Hicks exchanged horrified texts with Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump's chief of staff, bemoaning that the Trump family was now “royally f*cked.” “In one day, he ended every future opportunity that doesn’t include speaking engagements at the local proud boy’s chapter,” Hicks wrote, “And all of us that didn’t have jobs lined up will be perpetually unemployed…. I’m so mad and upset. We all look like domestic terrorists now.” “Not being dramatic, but we are all f*cked,” she wrote.

    Conservative Atlantic columnist Tom Nichols tweeted: “Their concern for the Constitution they swore to uphold is so touching.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 3, 2023 (Tuesday)

    Today, the Republicans took over the House of Representatives.

    The first thing they did was to remove the metal detectors that were installed after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The removal was one of the things Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promised far-right Republicans in hopes of winning their votes to elect him speaker. The House has not yet voted on the rules package that ends "Democrat fines for failure of Members to comply with unscientific mask mandates and security screenings before entering the House floor," but the metal detectors are gone, just three days before the second anniversary of the January 6 attack.

    So far, the removal of those metal detectors is the only concrete outcome of McCarthy’s attempt to woo the extremist members of his conference.

    McCarthy failed today to win the House speakership. For the first time since 1923, the speaker was not decided on the first ballot.

    The reason for the failure is that the Republican conference in the House is feuding internally. On the one hand are the extremists who maintain the reason the Republicans lost ground in the last three elections is that party leadership has not gone far enough in dismantling the government. They are led by lawmakers who were key in former president Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, men like Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Jim Jordan (R-OH). “I stand firmly committed to changing the status quo no matter how many ballots this takes,” Perry tweeted. “If…McCarthy had fought nearly as hard to defeat the failed, toxic policies of the…Biden Administration as he has for himself, he would be Speaker of the House right now.”

    Politico’s Heidi Przybyla recalled that in his 2021 memoir, former Republican speaker John Boehner said of this faction: "What they're really interested in is chaos.… They want to throw sand in the gears of the hated federal government until it fails and they've finally proved that it's beyond saving." And they are tied tightly to right-wing media: "Every time they vote down a bill, they get another invitation to go on Fox News or talk radio," he said. "It's a narcissistic—and dangerous—feedback loop."

    On the other hand are Republicans like the one who spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper last night, saying that the holdouts want “procedural trickery that no one in America gives a damn about, but that might give these few loudmouths just a little bit more of the attention and power they crave…. None of these narcissists—and that’s what they are, pure narcissists—did a damn thing to help us win the majority. Nothing. If anything, many of them were liabilities, requiring outside help from Kevin McCarthy, ironically. So they contribute nothing to the team, and then have the audacity to demand outsize influence and power.”

    The statement is important; equally important is that the source wanted to stay anonymous.

    Before today, there were plenty of signs McCarthy did not have the votes he needed to become speaker. About five extremists had made it clear they would not vote for him, and another bloc of about nine Republicans had waffled. McCarthy tried to bluster his way through the uncertainty, beginning the process of moving into the speaker’s office last night.

    But as former White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted: “politics 101 rule—avoid going into a vote not knowing if you have the votes….” McCarthy revealed that he had not mastered that rule when the House began to vote. It turned out that he was down not just the five promised “no” votes, but a full 19 votes as extremists threw their support to members who share their ideology. Meanwhile, the Democrats united around Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House minority leader.

    The results of the first ballot had Jeffries in the lead with 212 votes and McCarthy second with 203; Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was part of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, had ten votes. Nine votes went to miscellaneous others.  

    A second ballot again saw Jeffries and McCarthy at 212 and 203 respectively. But extremists concentrated around Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), giving him 19 votes.

    A third ballot had Jeffries holding steady at 212, while McCarthy dropped a vote to stand at 202. Jordan picked up that vote to stand at 20. A dropping vote is never a good sign for a frontrunner.

    And with that, the House adjourned about 5:30 p.m., sending representatives off to negotiate behind closed doors.

    At stake is the direction of the Republican Party. While extremists blame their recent losses on the leadership that will not, they insist, go far enough, observers note that Republicans have lost voters who see the party as far to the right of the mainstream. Moving the party farther right is the last thing less extreme Republicans want, especially those 18 new Republican representatives from districts President Joe Biden won in 2020. An extremist House speaker will almost certainly kill their careers as two years of headlines feature members like Lauren Boebert (R-CO) lecturing and Jim Jordan yelling.

    So, as McCarthy’s bid for speaker bogs down, the question is whether they will accept the extremist Jordan—who is deeply implicated in the January 6, 2021, attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election—as speaker, or whether they will work to find a compromise candidate by working either with Democrats or with Republicans who regroup around someone who isn’t Jordan. Former Republican governor of Ohio John Kasich has already called on House Republicans to work with Democrats “to pick a speaker to run a coalition government, which will moderate the House and marginalize the extremists.”

    But which way they will go is unclear. As congressional reporter for Punchbowl News Max Cohen reported tonight, the Republicans still have to defer to their media for direction. Representative Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), who expects to be in the House leadership, said of the 19 voters who swung to Jordan: “We’ll see what happens when Tucker and Sean Hannity and Ben Shapiro start beating up on these guys. Maybe that'll move it.”

    As for the man who sparked this meltdown, NBC’s Garrett Haake tweeted an exclusive story: “Former President Trump declined to say if he's sticking by his endorsement of Kevin McCarthy for speaker tonight, telling me in a brief phone interview he's had calls all day asking for support, and ‘We'll see what happens. We'll see how it all works out.’”

    People are comparing this multiple-ballot contest to that of 1923, when Progressive Republicans forced incumbent speaker Frederick Gillett, a Republican, to accept rules changes that gave them more power before they would put him back in office. Perhaps more instructive, though, was the speaker’s contest of 1855–1856, when a struggle over the future of the country created shifting coalitions that crossed party lines until, after two months and 133 ballots, representatives put Nathaniel Banks, who had ties to most of the different factions, in the speaker’s chair.

    Conspicuously excluded from the talking and visiting on the House floor today was newly-elected George Santos (R-NY), whose lies about his education, employment, financing, and so on would lead any healthy political party to demand an investigation of him before he took office. In this case, though, his vote for McCarthy was too important to pass up, so he sat shunned by his colleagues, alone and silent, except when called on to vote.

    The House Democrats, meanwhile, organized without a hitch, putting together a leadership team that consists of Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Katherine Clark (MA), and Pete Aguilar (CA). With quite a bit of enthusiasm, the Democrats voted as a bloc to give Jeffries more votes than McCarthy, whose party is in the majority.

    The Senate, too, organized easily and with what looked like a good deal of fun. Vice President Kamala Harris swore in the senators, then chatted with families and posed for pictures.

    Tonight, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wrote to the Architect of the Capitol complaining that McCarthy had occupied the office of the House speaker without having been elected. “How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?” Gaetz asked. “Please write back promptly as it seems Mr. McCarthy can no longer be considered Speaker-Designate following today’s balloting.”

    The first day of Republican control of the House of Representatives does not bode well for the next two years.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 4, 2023 (Wednesday)

    The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.

    In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York 212 votes, more votes than McCarthy received but not a majority of the body. When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated Jeffries yesterday, she blew him a kiss and the caucus rose up in a standing ovation.

    Because it is still unorganized, the House technically has no members. No one is sworn in, and so they cannot perform their official duties or hire staff. About 70 new members brought their families to Washington, D.C., to watch their swearing in, and the extra days as the speakership contest drags on are becoming hard to manage.

    The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern. Leaders often have to negotiate in order to take power—Nancy Pelosi had to bring together a number of factions to win the speakership in 2019—but since 1923 those negotiations have been completed before the start of voting.

    Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6,” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

    One story here is about competence. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that Pelosi ran the House with virtually the same margin the Republicans have now and yet managed to hold her caucus together tightly enough to pass a slate of legislation that rivaled those of the Great Society and the New Deal. McCarthy can’t even organize the House, leaving the United States without a functioning Congress for the first time in a hundred years.

    But there is a larger story here about the destruction of the traditional Republican Party over the past forty years. In those years, a party that believed the government had a role to play in leveling the country’s economic and racial playing fields was captured by a reactionary right wing determined to uproot any such government action. When voters—including Republicans—continued to support business regulation, a basic social safety net, and civil rights laws, the logical outcome of opposition to such measures was war on the government itself.

    That war is not limited to the 20 far-right Republicans refusing to elect McCarthy speaker. Pundits note that those 20 have supported former president Trump’s positions, particularly the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They also worked to overturn the 2020 election, challenging the electors from a number of states. But 139 Republicans, including McCarthy himself, voted in 2021 to challenge electors from a number of states and went on to embrace the Big Lie, and McCarthy’s staunchest supporter is extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

    And today, more than 60 prominent right-wing figures, from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort, declared themselves “disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington.” They declared their support for the 20.

    The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

    Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on an old Reconstruction era trope, arguing that social welfare programs and regulation were a form of socialism because they cost tax dollars that were paid primarily by white men while their benefits went to poor Americans, primarily Black people or people of color. In that formula, first articulated by former Confederates after the Civil War, minority voting was a form of socialism that would destroy America.

    When Reagan used this argument, he emphasized its idea of economic individualism over its racism, but that racism was definitely there, and many of his supporters heard it. When he stood about seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Ku Klux Klan members had murdered civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner just 16 years before as they tried to register Black people to vote, and said “I believe in states’ rights,” the racist wing of the old Democratic Party knew what he meant and voted for him.

    In the years since, party leaders cut taxes and deregulated business while rallying voters with warnings that government policies that regulated business, provided a social safety net, or protected civil rights were socialism that redistributed white tax dollars to minorities. In the 1990s, under the leadership of House speaker Newt Gingrich, Chamber of Commerce lawyer Grover Norquist, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, the party purged from its ranks traditional Republicans, replacing them with ideological fellow travelers.

    As their policies threatened to lose voters by concentrating wealth upward and hollowing out the middle class, Republicans increasingly warned that minority voters wanted socialism and were destroying the nation to get it. Trump rode that narrative to power, and now tearing down the current government is the idea that drives the Republican base.

    Just last night, in his apparent realization that the party is moving beyond him, Trump launched a new attack on Black Georgia election worker Ruby Freeman, falsely accusing her once again of delivering suitcases of fraudulent ballots in the 2020 presidential election to steal victory from him. Trump said he is fighting “the evils and treachery of the Radical Left monsters who want to see America die.”

    That Republicans now have a wing openly determined to destroy the federal government is not a function of a few outliers who have wormed their way into Congress; it is the logical outcome of this worldview. Lawmakers like Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) are clearly enjoying the power they are currently wielding, but their larger project is the one the party has advertised since they were children: stopping the government from any of the actions it has called “Marxist” or “socialist,” burning it all down to make white Americans free.

    Destruction doesn’t take skill at governance; it only requires obstruction. The 20 are good at that.

    But a new era is pushing the Reagan era aside. Plenty of Republicans who want to deregulate business and cut taxes recognize that it is our democratic government and the rule of law that protects their investments, and that maintaining the government will take basic laws and the skills to negotiate and pass them.

    At the same time, after two years of Democratic control, Americans have seen that government can work for them, and they appear to like the new laws that have created jobs—including in manufacturing—and invested in social services and are rebuilding infrastructure. Republicans who want to get reelected are moving away from the extremists to take credit for the laws passed under the Democrats. Just today, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Ohio governor Mike DeWine, and former Ohio senator Rob Portman—all Republicans—joined President Joe Biden, Democratic governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear, and Democratic Ohio senator Sherrod Brown in Covington, Kentucky, to visit the Brent Spence Bridge between Covington and Cincinnati, Ohio. The bridge is on one of the country’s busiest freight corridors and is being rebuilt with money from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021.

    In Ohio yesterday, Jason Stephens, a Republican promising to stop far-right policies, joined with Democrats to snatch the speaker’s chair from a far-right Republican who focused on religion and opposing abortion rights and who believed he had sewn up the necessary votes in his party. A Democratic state representative told Morgan Trau of ABC News, "Speaker Stephens led a coalition of moderate lawmakers from across the aisle, who will now focus on delivering the common sense solutions that Ohioans sent us here to deliver…. Now we can work on investing in our communities, on public education and workforce development."

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 5, 2023 (Thursday)

    After 11 ballots, the Republicans remain unable to elect a speaker and thus unable to organize the House.

    After passing comprehensive laws on a wide range of issues with a similarly small House majority under Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during the last Congress, the Democrats remain united behind Hakeem Jeffries. They have delivered 212 votes for him 11 times.

    The contrast is stark.

    Throughout the day, the allies of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) negotiated with the 20 extremists who refuse to back him, apparently offering them more and more power to win their votes. McCarthy has allegedly agreed to their demand that a single person can force a vote to get rid of the speaker, a demand that puts him at their mercy and that he had previously insisted he would never accept. He has also apparently offered members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus two spots on the House Rules Committee, which decides how measures will be presented to the House, and given them control over appropriations bills. He is also said to be considering letting them choose committee chairs, jumping over those with seniority.

    This will not sit well with the rest of the conference. Lawyer and Washington Post columnist George Conway wrote, “I'm no political scientist, but it does strike me that a guy who negotiates by giving stuff up and and getting nothing in return probably wouldn't make a good leader of a legislative body.”

    If McCarthy does eventually win the speakership, he will have empowered a small group of extremists to control the House, and the next two years will be a constant fight as this tiny minority can hamstring the government. One of the extremists, Ralph Norman (R-SC), who wanted Trump to declare martial law in 2021 in order to retain the White House, said that McCarthy will get his vote only if he agrees not to raise the debt ceiling and will instead shut down the government and default on the national debt.

    Bulwark podcast host Charlie Sykes told Alex Wagner Tonight, "There is no Republican establishment…. [W]hoever becomes the speaker is going to preside over the chaos that has been building for years. He or she is going to be the mayor of Crazytown."

    As the Republicans look incompetent and irresponsible, and will almost certainly make sure nothing much gets done in the 118th Congress, President Joe Biden is working to make sure people understand just how much the Democrats got done in the past two years.

    At a cabinet meeting today, he told reporters that the country has made real progress and that the administration is now focusing on implementing the recently passed “big laws” so Americans feel the benefits of them. He noted that the $35 cap on the cost of insulin for those on Medicare went into effect only this year, along with other medical benefits like free vaccines for Medicare recipients. He also pointed out new tax credits for making homes energy efficient, and noted that government officials need to get the message out that the laws are out there.

    Biden talked about both public and private investment in manufacturing, which will create jobs, and his conviction that the administration’s approach to building the economy from the bottom up is “off to a pretty darn good start.”

    In a later set of remarks, the president and Vice President Kamala Harris explained that with Republicans having scuttled the bipartisan agreement on revising immigration laws that senators were working on in the last Congress, the administration is also stepping up to address the influx of migrants to the border. Today it announced new measures.

    Biden explained that, currently, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Haitians make up a large percentage of those trying to come to the U.S. across the southern border, while the patchwork system of different rules at the border, along with the lack of asylum officers, means the system is broken. Former president Trump used Title 42, the public health rule, at the start of the pandemic to reject most migrants, but that rule imposes no penalties on those trying repeatedly to get into the country, significantly inflating the numbers of people apprehended at the border.

    So, until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration plan to fix the system completely, the administration is working to stiffen enforcement for those who come to the U.S. without a legal right to stay, and also to speed up the process for those who do have that right. Those seeking asylum can schedule an appointment with an asylum officer through an app, to see if they qualify. Others can apply for admission if they have a U.S. sponsor, and then pass a background check, at which point they can enter the U.S. to work legally for two years. The U.S. will welcome 30,000 people a month from these four countries. But here’s the kicker: if they try to enter the U.S. without that paperwork, they are barred from entry in the future.

    Since the U.S. applied this program to Venezuelans in October, undocumented crossings of Venezuelans have dropped about 90%. The administration is now expanding the program to include people from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti.

    Immediately after Biden spoke, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas followed up. He began by refuting the Republican refrain that Biden’s attempt to end Title 42 will mean open borders, reiterating that “Title 42 or not, the border is not open.”

    He provided some statistics on a system he calls “broken, outdated, and in desperate need of reform.” Currently, he explained, “It takes four or more years to conclude the average asylum case, immigration judges have a backlog of more than 1.7 million cases, and we have more than 11 million undocumented people in our country, many of whom work in the shadows, pay taxes, are our neighbors, attend our places of worship, work on the frontlines, and farm the food on our tables.” Once again, he begged Congress to update our immigration laws.

    On Sunday, Biden will go to El Paso, Texas, to meet with local officials and community leaders to hear what they say they need, make it public, and try to convince Republicans to do something about it, rather than using the immigration issue as a political cudgel.

    When asked why he is going now, when for two years Republicans have been demanding that he go, Biden made it clear he did not intend to respond to political stunts and wanted a visit to be tied to the impending end of Title 42. But there is no doubt this is an excellent political moment to respond to the Republicans’ drumbeat complaints that Biden is ignoring a border crisis.

    Tomorrow, on January 6, Biden will honor people who distinguished themselves by protecting the country during the 2020–2021 attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, awarding them the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the United States. Recipients include Capitol Police and law enforcement officers, election workers, and elected officials who withstood pressure to lie for Trump.

    One of those getting a medal, posthumously, is U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died on January 7, 2021, after a series of strokes. Today, Sicknick’s estate asked for $10 million in damages from former president Trump, suing him for assault, negligence, violating Sicknick’s civil rights, and wrongful death, saying Trump incited the violence of January 6 that contributed to Sicknick’s death.

    And on that note, two years after the January 6th insurrection, it is notable that Trump’s name has barely been mentioned during the fight over the House speakership. After McCarthy had lost three ballots, Trump urged the 20 extremists, some of whom have been his staunchest supporters, to “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.” They ignored him. And for all the threats that the Republicans would make Trump himself House speaker, so far he has gotten just one vote.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
       January 6, 2023 (Friday)

    Two years ago today, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the counting of electoral ballots that would put a Democrat in the White House. There was no doubt Joe Biden had won: his majority in the popular vote was more than 7 million and he won the electoral college by 306 votes to 232, the same margin that the incumbent Republican had called a “landslide” four years earlier when it favored him. But supporters of that incumbent, Donald Trump, believed that Democrats could not possibly have won fairly and that if they had, it simply meant their voters were illegitimate.

    Their worldview had its roots in opposition to the New Deal of the 1930s when Democrats, led by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, created a new kind of government in the United States, one in which the government worked to level the playing field between workers and employers and to provide a basic social safety net. Their new government included—imperfectly, but included—Black and Brown Americans and women. And it paid for the new programs with higher taxes on the wealthy.

    When the new system shored up the economy, preserved democracy, and enabled the U.S. to help destroy European fascism, most Americans—Republicans as well as Democrats—supported the new system. Over time, they expanded it, and they also began to use the government to protect civil rights. The shared belief in this active government became known as the “liberal consensus” and was so popular that most Americans never imagined it might be dismantled. Social Security, for example, the Voting Rights Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency were all simply part of the air we breathed.   
     
    But from the start, those who hated the New Deal argued that it was essentially socialism because it took money from wealthy people and redistributed it through government programs to poorer Americans, especially Black people, people of color, and women. They warned white men that they were losing control of the country as they were being outvoted by lazy minorities and demanding women.

    Gradually, those people who wanted to go back to the world of the 1920s took over the Republican Party. They purged it of those Republicans who believed in the liberal consensus, calling them “RINOs,” or Republicans in name only, even though it was Republicans who had put in place many of the crucial pieces of the liberal consensus, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    As the old racist wing of the Democratic Party, those who hated civil rights laws, swung to the Republicans, the Democrats increasingly became the party of minorities and women, and they defended the laws that had made the government more responsive to the needs of all Americans. As they did so, Republicans, determined to destroy the liberal consensus, turned the generic word “liberal” into something close to “communist,” which actually refers to someone who believes the government should take over the means of production.

    They worked to convince voters that Democrats were leftists using the government to steal from hardworking white men, and warned that letting them have a say in the government would destroy the country. When voters still elected Democrats, Republicans started to manipulate the electoral system, restricting the vote and gerrymandering districts. After 1993, when Democrats made it easier for people to vote by enabling them to register at their local Department of Motor Vehicles and other government offices, Republicans began to insist—without any evidence—that Democrats won only because they cheated.

    The attack on the U.S. Capitol was the logical outcome of this rhetoric. The rioters believed they were saving the country from what Trump called “emboldened radical-left Democrats” who had stolen the election. They believed they were patriots defending the country and the Constitution from Democrats, whose policies, Trump told them, “chipped away our jobs, weakened our military, threw open our borders, and put America last.” Biden would be an “illegitimate president,” “voted on by a bunch of stupid people.” “[Y]ou'll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told them. “You have to show strength and you have to be strong…. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”

    The rioters did not act alone. They were aided and encouraged by radicalized Republican leaders who had bought into the idea that the liberal consensus must be destroyed. Late on the night of January 6, 2021, after the riot, 147 Republican members of Congress voted to contest the slates of electors, reinforcing the idea that the election was fraudulent, although they knew as well as anyone that election officials, judges, and even Trump’s own campaign and White House staff had dismissed those claims.

    After the insurrection, Republican leaders—including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California—initially condemned those who participated in it, but quickly came around to protect those who had simply taken their own ideology to its logical extreme.

    And now, two years later, voter suppression and gerrymandering have enabled their voters to give those same people control of the House of Representatives, where their quest to dismantle the liberal consensus has been on display. Twenty of the most extreme Republicans refused to back McCarthy for House speaker until he gave them enough power essentially to make up a third bloc in the House. McCarthy could easily have reached out to the Democrats rather than cave to the extremist right, but he refused to compromise the quest to get rid of the very legislation the Democrats—and most Americans—want.

    Today saw the number of House roll call votes for speaker rack up to an astonishing 14, as McCarthy gave the extremists more and more power. By midnight, after the 14th failed vote had led Mike Rogers of North Carolina to lunge at extremist ringleader Matt Gaetz of Florida, it was clear McCarthy’s bargaining would win him the seat he so badly wanted in a 15th ballot early the next day. Scott Perry (R-PA), who was a key figure in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, told CNN’s Manu Raju that among the many promises McCarthy made to get them on board was that he would not agree to raise the national debt limit without significant concessions.

    The extremists wanted this control because they seem to believe that if the U.S. stops funding the government, the programs they hate will die. To kill off the government built by the liberal consensus, they are threatening to do as Trump has advocated: take the government into default.

    That is, a few extremists are willing to take our government hostage to get their way, just as extremists did on January 6, 2021.

    On that day the rioters attacked law enforcement officers, hunted down elected officials, and smeared feces in the building that symbolizes self-government in order to overturn an election and overthrow our right to choose our leaders, the principle that sits at the heart of democracy, and they did it believing that they were the ones defending America. “We have overwhelming pride in this great country,” Trump told them. “Together, we are determined to defend and preserve government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    But they were not the ones defending democracy that day. Those defending democracy were the law enforcement officers who held back the mob even at the cost of their health and even their lives, people like Daniel Hodges, Michael Fanone, Harry Dunn, Caroline Edwards, Aquilino Gonell, Eugene Goodman, Howard Liebengood, Jeffrey Smith, Billy Evans, and Brian D. Sicknick.

    Those defending democracy were the election workers who protected our system even at the cost of their jobs, their safety, and their peace of mind, people like Ruby Freeman, Shaye Moss, and Albert Schmidt. They were elected officials who refused to cave to pressure to throw the election, people like Jocelyn Benson and Rusty Bowers.

    When Biden awarded these fifteen people the Presidential Citizens Medal today, he reminded the audience that on this day in 1941, FDR delivered the famous “Four Freedoms” speech.

    In that speech, FDR told the country that “The nation takes…much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 7, 2023 (Saturday)

    Early this morning, shortly after midnight, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California won enough votes to become speaker of the House of Representatives. Not since 1860, when it took 44 ballots to elect New Jersey’s William Pennington as a compromise candidate, has it taken 15 ballots to elect a speaker.

    The spectacle of a majority unable to muster the votes to elect a speaker, while the Democratic opposition stayed united behind House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), raised ridicule across the country. McCarthy tried to put a good spin on it but inadvertently undercut confidence in his leadership when he, now the leader of the House, told reporters: “This is the great part…. Because it took this long, now we learned how to govern.”

    But there is no doubt that the concessions he made to extremist Republicans to win their votes mean he has finally grasped the speaker’s gavel from a much weaker position than previous speakers. “He will have to live the entirety of his speakership in a straitjacket constructed by the rules that we’re working on now,” one of the extremist ring leaders, Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told reporters. Gaetz later explained away his willingness to accept McCarthy after vowing never to support McCarthy by saying “I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for.”

    In his acceptance speech, McCarthy first thanked the House clerk, Cheryl Johnson, who presided over the drawn-out fight. Johnson was chosen by Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) when she became speaker in 2018, and has served since 2019. Her work this week was impressive.

    McCarthy promised that the Republicans recognized that their responsibility was not to themselves or their conference, but to the country, but then went on to lay out a right-wing wish list for investigations, business deregulation, and enhanced use of fossil fuels, along with attacks on immigration, “woke indoctrination” in public schools, and the 87,000 new IRS agents funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to enforce tax laws. Somewhat oddly, considering the Biden administration’s focus on China and successful start to the repatriation of the hugely important chip industry, McCarthy promised that the Republicans would essentially jump on Biden’s coattails, working to counter communist China and bring jobs home. McCarthy promised that Republicans would “be a check and provide some balance to the President’s policies.”

    It was a speech that harked back to the past 40 years of Republican ideology, although he awkwardly invoked Emanuel Leutze’s heroic 1851 painting of Washington crossing the Delaware to suggest that America is a land in which “every individual is equal” and “we let everybody in the boat.” Despite the language of inclusion, just as the Republicans have since 1980, he emphasized that the Republicans would center the “hardworking taxpayer.” The Republican conference repeatedly jumped to its feet to applaud his promises, but it felt rather like listening to a cover band playing yesterday’s hits.

    Immediately after his victory, McCarthy thanked the members who stayed with him through all the votes, but told reporters: “I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning…. He would call me and he would call others…. Thank you, President Trump.”

    Aaron Rupar of Public Notice pointed out that “McCarthy going out of his way to gush over Trump at a time when his influence is clearly diminished & political brand is more toxic to mainstream voters than ever—especially on the anniversary of the insurrection—is notable & indicative of who he'll be beholden to as speaker.”

    I would go a step further and say that embracing Trump after his influence on the Republican Party has made it lose the last three elections suggests that, going forward, the party is planning either to convince more Americans to like the extremism of the MAGA Republicans—which is unlikely—or to restrict the vote so that opposition to that extremism doesn’t matter.

    Yesterday, Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, signed into law a series of changes in election law that include requiring a photo ID rather than permitting people to use other government documents or utility bills, shortening the time for returning ballots and fixing errors in them (called “curing”), prohibiting curbside voting, and limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county.

    Also yesterday, a panel of three federal judges ruled that South Carolina’s First Congressional District is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Following the 2020 census, the Republican-dominated legislature moved 62% of the Black voters previously in that district into the Sixth District, turning what had recently been a swing district into a staunchly Republican one that Republican Nancy Mace won in November by 14 percentage points. District Judge Richard M. Gergel said: “If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know someone put it there…. This is not a coincidence.”

    In contrast to McCarthy stood Minority Leader Jeffries, who used the ceremonial handing over of the speaker’s gavel from the Democrats to the Republicans to give a barn-burning speech. He began by praising “the iconic, the heroic, the legendary” former House speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the greatest speaker of all time,” and offering thanks to her lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC).  

    He reviewed the laws the Democrats have passed in the past two years—the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, gun safety legislation, the CHIPS & Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, among others. “It was one of the most consequential congresses in American history,” he said, accurately. He called for Democrats to continue the fight for lower costs, better paying jobs, safer communities, democracy, the public interest, economic opportunity for all, and reproductive freedom.

    “As Democrats,” he said, “we do believe in a country for everyone…. We believe in a country with liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law, free and fair elections, and yes, we believe in a country with the peaceful transfer of power.

    “We believe that in America our diversity is a strength—it is not a weakness—an economic strength, a competitive strength, a cultural strength…. We are a gorgeous mosaic of people from throughout the world. As John Lewis would sometimes remind us on this floor, we may have come over on different ships but we’re all in the same boat now. We are white. We are Black. We are Latino. We are Asian. We are Native American.

    “We are Christian. We are Jewish. We are Muslim. We are Hindu. We are religious. We are secular. We are gay. We are straight. We are young. We are older. We are women. We are men. We are citizens. We are dreamers.

    “Out of many, we are one. That’s what makes America a great country, and no matter what kind of haters are trying to divide us, we’re not going to let anyone take that away from us, not now, not ever. This is the United States of America….

    “So on this first day, let us commit to the American dream, a dream that promises that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to provide a comfortable living for yourself and for your family, educate your children, purchase a home, and one day retire with grace and dignity.”

    In this moment of transition, he said, the American people want to know what direction the Congress will choose. The Democrats offer their hand to Republicans to find common ground, Jeffries said, but “we will never compromise our principles. House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy…

    “benevolence over bigotry, the Constitution over the cult, democracy over demagogues, economic opportunity over extremism, freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, hopefulness over hatred, inclusion over isolation, justice over judicial overreach, knowledge over kangaroo courts, liberty over limitation, maturity over Mar-a-Lago, normalcy over negativity, opportunity over obstruction, people over politics, quality of life issues over QAnon, reason over racism, substance over slander, triumph over tyranny, understanding over ugliness, voting rights over voter suppression, working families over the well-connected, xenial over xenophobia, ‘yes, we can’ over ‘you can't do it,’ and zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation. We will always do the right thing by the American people.”

    The torch has indeed passed to a new generation, at least of Democrats. Between them and the extremists in his own ranks, McCarthy has his work cut out for him.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 8, 2023 (Sunday)

    Today, in Brazil, supporters of former president Jair Bolsonaro attacked the presidential palace, congress, and supreme court, insisting that the country’s October election, in which voters replaced Bolsonaro with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was fraudulent. For months, Bolsonaro supporters have called for the military to stop Lula, as he is known, from taking office. Today, they attacked the government and called for military intervention to remove Lula from office. Many of them wrapped themselves in the Brazilian flag.

    Lula was visiting flood victims 500 miles from the capital, Brasilia, when the attack occurred.

    Bolsonaro is a far-right leader who launched attacks on LGBTQ people, women, and democracy. He said he was “proud to be homophobic” and “in favor of torture,” and that “[t]he Congress today is useless…let’s do the coup already. Let’s go straight to the dictatorship.” In July 2022, when polls showed him running significantly behind union leader Lula, he threatened to cancel the election altogether.

    At first, Bolsonaro refused to concede the election, and then when Lula took office on January 1, he refused to attend and perform the rituals signaling a peaceful transition of power. Instead, he took off for Florida. At the time, reporters suggested he left to get out of reach as Lula’s prosecutors decided whether to pursue the many investigations of him that were underway, but now it seems reasonable to wonder if he was giving himself plausible deniability for today's violence.

    On Twitter tonight, Bolsonaro distanced himself from the attacks but compared them to “those practiced by the left.” He rejected the idea he had anything to do with today’s events.

    The scenes of far-right insurrectionists, radicalized by leaders who refuse to accept the outcome of elections, were eerily reminiscent of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol almost exactly two years ago that was a last-ditch attempt to keep then-president Trump in office. Indeed, Bolsonaro was Trump’s protégé in Brazil, and Trump supported Bolsonaro in his quest for reelection.

    “‘Tropical Trump’ as he is affectionately called, has done a GREAT job for the wonderful people of Brazil,” Trump said on his social media outlet. “When I was President of the U.S., there was no other country leader who called me more than Jair.”

    The far right in the U.S. saw the Brazil elections as crucially important to advancing the power of the global right. On his webcast War Room, for example, Steve Bannon, a key ally of former president Trump, insisted the election was stolen and urged Bolsonaro’s supporters to resist Lula’s inauguration. Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo is part of Bannon’s right-wing organization, “The Movement.” In a statement, the younger Bolsonaro promised to “work with him to reclaim sovereignty from progressive globalist elitist forces and expand common sense nationalism for all citizens of Latin America.” Eduardo has also been seen in Florida with Trump aide Jason Miller.  

    Political scientist Brian Klass observed that “[p]olitical scientists have a name for what’s happening in Brazil: ‘authoritarian learning.’ It’s when autocratic playbooks spread across borders. Trump taught the world how to do January 6th. Brazil won’t be the last one.”

    President Joe Biden said: “I condemn the assault on democracy and on the peaceful transfer of power in Brazil. Brazil’s democratic institutions have our full support and the will of the Brazilian people must not be undermined. I look forward to continuing to work with [Lula].”

    Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said: “Everyone must stand up and condemn the attack on Brazil’s Congress, Presidency, and Supreme Court. We stand with democracy and with the people of Brazil and against the demagogues who deny election results.”

    House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said: “The violent attack on the heart of the Brazilian government by right-wing extremists is a sad but familiar sight. We stand with the people of Brazil and democracy.”

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “We condemn the attacks on Brazil's Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court today. Using violence to attack democratic institutions is always unacceptable.”

    International democratic leaders, including Secretary-General of the U.N. António Guterres and  President Emmanuel Macron of France, condemned the rioters in Brazil. Macron said: “The will of the Brazilian people and democratic institutions must be respected! President Lula da Silva can count on the unconditional support of France.”

    As of 11:00 tonight, neither House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) nor Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had any comment on the events in Brazil.

    By Sunday night, Brazilian police had retaken control of the vandalized buildings and arrested 170 rioters.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 9, 2023 (Monday)

    The crisis in Brazil knocked my weekend into the week, but I'm going to post a picture tonight and get some rest to face the week.

    I'll see you tomorrow.

    [Photo of the sunrise after this week's snowstorm, by Buddy Poland.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 10, 2023 (Tuesday)

    National security scholar Maria W. Norris of Coventry University, who is covering events in Brazil, reports that today, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva gathered around him the president of the supreme court and the governors or vice-governors of each state, the senators, the attorney general, and congressional representatives, all of whom condemned the coup. Many had been staunch supporters of f6ormer president Jair Bolsonaro, but since the coup failed, they have thrown their lot behind Lula. After they declared their support, Lula led them through the vandalized buildings, symbolically reclaiming them.

    Lula and his administration say that police worked with the rioters, and a judge has approved warrants for the arrest of two key law enforcement officials close to Bolsonaro: Anderson Torres and Colonel Fábio Augusto Vieira. Police have also searched Torres’s home. Pro-Bolsonaro groups have been camped near military posts and buildings since the election; it appears the insurrectionists’ plan was to induce the military to join them.

    In the wake of the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government, Bolsonaro supporters are claiming that the attack was by leftists who infiltrated a peaceful protest. Police have so far arrested about 1500 participants.

    Bolsonaro left Brazil for Florida before Lula took office, while he was still president. That status apparently enabled him to enter the U.S. on an A-1 visa, reserved for heads of state. That visa is normally canceled when the person holding it leaves office, but since he is already in this country, it is not clear what its status is. Normally, anyone on an A-1 visa who is no longer on official business must leave the country within 30 days, but if Brazil tries to extradite him, the process could stretch on, putting the Biden administration in an awkward position.

    In contrast to the Bolsonaro supporters running from the coup, from his perch in the U.S., former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, who insisted all along—without evidence—that the election in Brazil was fraudulent, remained adamant that Lula must be replaced. “I’m not backing off one inch on this thing,” he said to Politico. Bannon is close to Bolsonaro’s son, who has been seen hobnobbing with Trump-affiliated people, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

    Observers have noted the many similarities between the attack on the Brazilian government on January 8 and the attack on the U.S. government almost exactly two years earlier. But there are differences, too, and one of the big differences is that power had already changed hands in Brazil, and President Lula has compelled other leaders into a show of support even as the government is arresting rioters.

    In the U.S., Trump was still in office when his supporters tried to overthrow the government, and there was neither a house cleaning nor a demand for lawmakers to declare their support for the duly elected government.

    Many of those who supported Trump in the events of January 6, 2021, are still in Congress. At least six Republican congress members asked Trump for a preemptive pardon, and four of them are still in office. They make up the core of the far-right Republicans House speaker Kevin McCarthy had to bargain with to win the speakership: Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) was also part of the group that pressured McCarthy, and he, too, appears to have been deeply involved in the events of January 6: just days afterward, Trump awarded Jordan the Presidential Medal of Freedom with a somewhat generic citation that raised questions about why Trump was really giving Jordan the award.

    Today the House voted on the rules package McCarthy promised to the far-right Republicans. As expected, it contained a threat to McCarthy: any single member can force a vote to toss out the House speaker. This rule was in place in 2015, when then-representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) invoked it against Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who resigned rather than face a vote.

    The deal cut with the far-right group gives them plum committee assignments, including a number of seats on the House Rules Committee. The deal required McCarthy to permit a number of symbolic votes on things important to that far-right group, and it appears to have promised to cap government funding at 2022 levels, worrying both those who want more defense spending and those who want to protect Social Security and Medicare. It also appears that McCarthy said he would not agree to raising the debt limit—that is, honoring the debts the country has already incurred—without “fiscal reforms.” That promise seems to hold the threat of a showdown over a national default.

    And there are rumors of a secret agreement that has not been disclosed, an unfortunate start for the Republican majority, which promised to be transparent. Even some Republicans are demanding more information.

    One of the things McCarthy did agree to was the creation of a select subcommittee in the Judiciary Committee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government.” By a party line vote, the House today approved that committee to investigate what Republicans insist is an anti-Republican bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice. Jim Jordan will chair the committee, which theoretically can review ongoing criminal investigations, pretty clearly to protect Republicans in trouble. Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance points out that the Department of Justice will never allow such a thing but dealing with the committee will waste time and resources. The Democrats will not boycott the select committee as the Republicans did the January 6 committee, suggesting that Jordan will not reign unchallenged.

    Republicans clearly intend the committee to spread a narrative that will undermine the one established so powerfully by the Mueller investigation, the Trump impeachment committees, and the January 6 committee. The modern Republicans have always been closely tied to right-wing media, and nothing made that clearer than Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity’s broadcast tonight. He did his show from the Rayburn Reception Room of the House of Representatives, “interviewing” Republican congress members so they could repeat talking points.

    Yesterday, news broke that in November, President Joe Biden’s lawyers found “a small number” of classified documents from his vice-presidential years in a locked closet in Biden’s former office at Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. They immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration, which retrieved the documents the same day. Biden said that he did not know the documents were there and that his lawyers “did what they should have done” when they called NARA. Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, John R. Lausch Jr., to see if he should appoint a special counsel.

    Trump and his supporters immediately tried to suggest Biden was getting better treatment than he did, but journalist Matthew Miller notes that classified documents often get taken from government facilities by accident. Those errors are reported, the documents recovered, and a damage assessment made to determine whether further action needs to be taken.

    In Trump’s case, NARA repeatedly asked him simply to return the documents it knew he had. He refused for a year, then let them recover 15 boxes that included classified documents, withholding others. After a subpoena, his lawyers turned over more documents and signed an affidavit saying that was all of them. But of course it wasn’t: the FBI’s August search of Mar-a-Lago recovered still more classified documents. Trump is being investigated now for obstruction and violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to withhold documents from a government official authorized to take them.

    Today, New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan sentenced former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to five months in jail at New York’s Rikers Island complex and five years probation after he pleaded guilty to 15 felonies in a scheme to provide Trump Organization employees direct benefits to avoid paying taxes. Weisselberg was the key witness in the trial last fall of the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation for tax fraud and falsifying records. A jury found the entities guilty of all charges, meaning the Trump Organization has been found guilty of criminal conduct, likely impacting its ability to do business and hurting Trump’s defense in other cases.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 11, 2023 (Wednesday)

    Watching the news today, I suspect I am not always going to report all the twists and turns of the House Republicans for the next two years. They campaigned in the midterm elections on so-called kitchen-table issues—inflation, primarily—but upon taking control of the House, they instantly reverted back to the culture wars that are their bread and butter. This is largely performative for their base, since the Democratic-led Senate will never pass their extreme measures.

    On Monday evening the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service that the previous Congress included in the Inflation Reduction Act, funding intending to add workers to clear a big backlog of unprocessed returns, overhaul technology, and improve customer service. Republicans insist that funding the IRS will send bureaucrats to hassle ordinary Americans, but in fact, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has directed that none of the new resources will be used to increase audit rates for small businesses or households with an annual income below $400,000.

    If the House measure were to become law—which it will not because the Senate will not pass it—it would add significantly to the deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the Republicans’ bill would increase the deficit by nearly $115 billion over ten years.

    The Biden administration has focused on tax evasion among the wealthy and has sought since the beginning of Biden’s term to crack down on tax cheats.

    The administration responded to the House measure with uncharacteristic saltiness. “With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe,” responded the Office of Management and Budget.

    “That’s their agenda; not lowering costs or cutting taxes for hard working Americans—as President Biden has consistently advocated. If the President were presented with H.R. 23—or any other bill that enables the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to cheat on their taxes, while honest and hard-working Americans are left to pay the tab—he would veto it.”

    Today the House followed up on its IRS bill with two antiabortion measures. With only three Democrats joining the Republicans, they adopted a resolution condemning attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups and churches.” Democrats pointed out that abortion providers and women seeking to obtain abortions have suffered deadly attacks, including the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller of Kansas.

    Mini Timmaraju, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America said: “If you’re going to put a resolution out on violence against churches and fake pregnancy centers, why are we not also addressing violence against abortion providers and violence in general?”

    The second measure is called the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and requires doctors to care for infants who survive an abortion. Opponents of the measure point out that such a scenario is exceedingly rare and that doctors are already required to do what the bill requires. The new measure adds new penalties for doctors.

    The first of these measures is not a law; the second will not pass the Senate. Still, both are much less extreme than what Republicans planned to offer when they expected the 2022 elections to go their way.

    A week ago, Bloomberg’s editors blamed the Republican Party’s dysfunction on the fact that the party has ignored public policy. “After a campaign in which culture-war issues took the place of an actual governing agenda—and in which the GOP nominated numerous on-message candidates who were clearly unfit for office—House Republicans have found themselves in power without a plan,” they wrote.

    Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin today called out the elephant in the room when she wrote that “there are no moderate House Republicans.” The positions of the extremist Republicans in the fight over House speaker often made people talk of the rest of the party as “moderate,” but in fact, as Rubin points out, they all supported Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for speaker, and McCarthy is an election denier. They also voted for the extremist rules package that threatens to bring the country to the unthinkable: a financial default.

    Rubin pointed out that with the House as closely divided as it is, a few of these so-called moderates could defeat the radicals and force the party closer to the mainstream. So far, though, they have shown no inclination to do so.

    But there has been a sign that a new crop of Republicans might someday demand the party clean itself up (which doesn’t sound like much, but a fight against corruption was what launched Theodore Roosevelt’s political career in 1884). Today, four new Republican representatives from New York called on Representative George Santos (R-NY) to resign. During his campaign, Santos lied about his education, work experience,  and also apparently about his finances, which could involve him in legal trouble.

    Republican officials in New York’s Nassau County also demanded Santos resign, saying: “This scandalous behavior does damage to all of our reputations because there is a part of our public that is cynical about politicians and public officials.”

    But Republican House leadership, including McCarthy and Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who is the third most powerful Republican in the House and was a key endorser of Santos, have stayed silent. For his part, Santos vows to stay in office.

    As I say, I may well not follow all the performances of House members going forward unless a performance seems like it will change the larger story of the country, in part because I worry that letting them take up all the oxygen will crowd out other crucial stories, like this one:

    Since late last year, California has been pummeled by storms traveling in what are known as “atmospheric rivers,” powerful bands of water-filled clouds that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes as “rivers in the sky.” These storm systems have created floods and mudslides, especially on land scarred by recent fires, and brought 70-mile-per-hour winds to Sacramento, knocking out power for more than 345,000 people.

    More than 4.5 million Californians have been under flood watches, and at least 17 people have died. According to San Francisco area meteorologist Jan Null, this has been the third rainiest period in San Francisco since the 1849 Gold Rush.

    On January 4, California governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and Biden issued an emergency declaration on January 8.

    The warming climate is intensifying both droughts—which feed fires—and storms like those currently creating such destruction.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 12, 2023 (Thursday)

    After news broke yesterday that President Joe Biden’s lawyers had found a second batch of documents in his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney General Merrick Garland today appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. After law school, Hur clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and then served as special assistant to Christopher Wray—then an assistant attorney general, now FBI director—before being appointed by former president Trump as the U.S. attorney in Maryland. Since he left office in February 2021, he has been in private practice.

    Accepting the post, Hur said: “I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment. I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”

    The appointment of a special counsel seemed inevitable considering what Garland called “extraordinary circumstances”—likely a reference to the fact that former president Trump is being criminally investigated for his own handling of documents marked classified—and it serves to reinforce the idea that the Department of Justice treats everyone the same. This is a good thing.

    But it presents a problem for MAGA Republicans. Unable to attack Biden for having documents marked classified in his possession without also faulting Trump, Republicans have tried to suggest that Biden was being treated differently than Trump is. The appointment of a special counsel undermines that. It also takes away from House Republicans the publicity they could get by investigating the issue themselves. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this morning that he did not “think there needs to be a special prosecutor,” and that Congress should conduct its own investigation.

    This evening, Republicans appear to have settled on the talking point that Hur is tainted by his time at the Department of Justice under Wray—although Wray was appointed to the FBI directorship by Trump—and that his appointment is further evidence of the “political weaponization” of the FBI and the Justice Department.

    (Just to be clear: people writing about these cases keep referring to “documents marked classified” rather than “classified documents” because classification status can change, as Trump argued when he said he had declassified the materials found in his possession despite their markings. It’s awkward phrasing, I know, but it marks an important distinction.)

    So far, anyway, Biden’s possession of documents marked classified appears very different from Trump’s. Biden’s team offered up to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) the information that Biden had documents in his possession, has apparently been zealous about searching for them, and is apparently cooperating with the Justice Department.

    Here’s the story Garland laid out today: On November 2, Biden’s lawyers found a batch of documents from the time of the Obama-Biden administration when they were cleaning out Biden’s office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, the Washington, D.C., think tank where Biden worked after his time as vice president. They immediately contacted NARA, which took possession of the documents the next morning. On November 4, NARA’s inspector general contacted the Justice Department to notify it of the document exchange, and on November 9 the FBI began to assess whether Biden had illegally mishandled classified information.

    According to journalist Matthew Miller, classified documents often get taken from government facilities by accident. Those errors are reported, the documents recovered, and a damage assessment made to determine whether further action needs to be taken, all of which took place here.

    On November 14, Garland assigned U.S. Attorney John Lausch, a Trump appointee, to consider whether Garland should appoint a special counsel. Meanwhile, Biden’s team had continued to search for more documents, and on December 20, Biden’s lawyer told Lausch they had found more documents with classification markings at Biden’s Wilmington home. On January 5, Lausch told Garland he thought it was a good idea to appoint a special counsel.

    Finally, on January 12, Biden’s lawyer told Lausch that Biden’s lawyers had found one more document, apparently in his personal library, but that a thorough review had turned up nothing else. This afternoon, the White House counsel said: “We have cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel.”

    While there is still a great deal we don’t know about either case, there are obvious and key differences between Biden’s and Trump’s handling of documents.

    In Trump’s case, NARA repeatedly asked him simply to return the documents it knew he had. He refused for a year, then let NARA staff recover 15 boxes that included documents marked classified, withholding others. After a subpoena, his lawyers turned over more documents and signed an affidavit saying that was all of them. But of course it wasn’t: the FBI’s August search of Mar-a-Lago recovered still more documents marked classified. Even now, none of Trump’s lawyers will certify that they have turned over all the documents they are required to.

    Trump is apparently being investigated for obstruction and for violations of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to withhold documents from a government official authorized to take them.
     
    On his social media network today, Trump wrote: “Merrick Garland has to immediately end Special Counsel investigation into anything related to me because I did everything right, and appoint a Special Counsel to investigate Joe Biden who hates Biden as much as Jack Smith hates me.” In a different post, he called Smith an “unfair savage.”

    Garland’s appointment of Special Counsel Jack Smith came only after Trump declared he was running for president in 2024, an announcement Trump likely made because he thought it would shield him from potential indictments. But news is coming daily that Smith’s subpoenas have been far ranging and widely spread, and that those who have testified before the grand jury found the questioning “intense.”

    Meanwhile, arguments began today in the trial of five Proud Boys for their actions associated with the events of January 6, 2021. This is the third trial for seditious conspiracy associated with those events. Nine indicted Oath Keepers had to be broken into two groups because there was no courtroom in Washington, D.C., big enough for all of them. In the first Oath Keepers trial, a jury found five of the defendants guilty of various crimes, and two of them guilty of seditious conspiracy. The second Oath Keepers trial is going on right now.

    The Proud Boys defendants are charged with a variety of charges, including seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to prevent federal officers from performing their duties.

    Roger Parloff of Lawfare, a legal correspondent who is covering the January 6 cases closely, writes that this trial “could well be the most important and informative of all.” The Justice Department today argued that the Proud Boys led the attack on the Capitol, while defense attorneys in turn argued that their clients were being used as “scapegoats” for Trump. “He is the one who unleashed that mob at the Capitol on January 6,” the lawyer for Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio said.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 13, 2023 (Friday)

    Yesterday, Russia released an American whom it had held since April in Kaliningrad, a slice of land held by Russia between Poland and Lithuania. Taylor Dudley had been backpacking in Europe and gone to Poland for a music festival. “At some point,” as accounts have it, he crossed into Kaliningrad and was picked up by Russian authorities. The State Department told reporters that it could not comment on the release because of a law giving control of information to the individual involved, rather than to the State Department.

    Former New Mexico congress member and governor Bill Richardson, who now focuses on negotiating for the freedom of Americans detained overseas, said: “It is significant that despite the current environment between our two countries, the Russian authorities did the right thing by releasing Taylor today.”

    In other good news, between 2012 and 2019 the rates of cervical cancer dropped an astonishing 65% among women in their early 20s. This is the first cohort to be eligible for vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV). It appears that enough people have been vaccinated to begin to offer herd immunity, as rates have dropped among unvaccinated women as well.

    New numbers yesterday show that falling gas prices and airfares meant falling inflation rates last month. Overall, inflation is slowing down significantly, although rising wages are still driving greater costs.

    In other economic news, the federal budget deficit fell significantly in 2022. In 2021 it was $2.6 trillion; in 2022 it was $1.4 trillion. The deficit is the difference between how much the government takes in and how much it spends in a year; it is not the same thing as the debt (although it adds to the debt), which is the total amount the government owes. Right now the debt is above $31 trillion, and it has increased under both Republicans and Democrats (it grew by about 40% under Trump).

    The Republicans now in charge of the House of Representatives seem to have spent their time so far voting on issues important to their base and taking “own-the-libs” stands on Twitter, but they are about to have to prove they can govern responsibly. Today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the United States will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday, January 19, and urged congressional leaders to increase the debt limit or suspend it altogether.

    The so-called debt ceiling is a weird holdover from World War I when Congress got tired of specifying the instruments the Treasury should use to raise money and instead just said it could borrow money up to a certain amount. It is not about future spending; it is about paying bills Congress has already run up. But while Congress raises that limit consistently when a Republican president is in office, Republican congress members frequently threaten to send the country into default when a Democrat is in office in hopes of forcing cuts to policies they don’t like.

    This is playing with fire. As Yellen wrote, “failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability.”

    McCarthy apparently promised the extremists in his conference that he would not agree to a clean debt ceiling increase and would instead demand cuts in spending before agreeing to any such increase.

    Tonight, Jeff Stein, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer of the Washington Post reported that the House Republicans are preparing an emergency plan to breach the debt limit. It would enable the Treasury to continue to pay interest on the debt but not to pay other government debts owed to citizens, “things such as Medicaid, food safety inspections, border control and air traffic control, to name just a handful of thousands of programs.”

    The government spends about $5 trillion a year, of which revenue covers about 80%. The idea is to cut off that other 20%, but the programs the Republicans are most likely to cut are ones that the American people like, want, and need. An obvious way to make up the difference between revenue and expenditures would be to increase revenue by stopping tax evasion and raising taxes on the very wealthy. This the Republicans are adamant they will not do, preferring instead to cut services.

    Aside from being logistically impossible and politically suicidal, their attack on the public credit amounts to holding the federal government hostage, a tactic the country firmly rejected in 1866 when it wrote in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution that “[t]he validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

    Yellen told McCarthy that the Treasury can operate until June with the same sort of extraordinary measures it has used in the past. This includes, among other things, raiding government pension accounts, but those must be made whole again when this crisis is resolved.

    The House Republicans will have to prove they can manage this crisis. So far, they are not off to a stellar start, grabbing headlines for, among other things, Representative George Santos (R-NY), who lied about most aspects of his biography during his campaign. Tonight, Nicholas Fandos of the New York Times broke the story that a number of Republicans knew of his lies but declined to challenge him. Fandos also noted that some of them wondered if Santos’s marriage to a woman when he is openly gay might have been “for immigration purposes,” which seems to be a delicate way to allude to a so-called “green card marriage,” which is a federal crime.

    And yet, Santos seems to have found a home in the Republican Party by siding with the extremists: yesterday, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) interviewed Santos on Trump ally Steve Bannon’s podcast. Gaetz defended Santos as a “fighter” who is being unfairly attacked.

    Former president Trump is also in the news today as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan fined two entities within the Trump Organization the maximum penalty of $1.6 million for a tax fraud scheme that led to their conviction on 17 counts last month. The big deal here is less the fine than that a conviction and penalty will make it hard for the corporation to get bank loans in the future. The Trump Organization says it will appeal.

    Another lawsuit is also causing trouble for Trump. His sworn deposition in E. Jean Carroll’s rape suit against him has been released. It shows him saying that he doesn’t know Carroll, that he thinks she’s “mentally sick,” and that “she loved it.” Carroll has sued Trump under the New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which provides a yearlong window for lawsuits over sexual assault that had previously been outside the statute of limitations. Trump tried to argue that the law violates the state constitution by depriving him of his rights of due process. Today a judge dismissed his claim as “absurd.”

    Trump’s ally Jair Bolsonaro continues to be in the news as well. Late today, Brazilian supreme court justice Alexandre de Moraes approved prosecutors’ request to investigate the former president for his role in inspiring the January 8 attack on Brazil’s presidential offices, congress, and supreme court. Bolsonaro spent much of his campaign and its aftermath claiming the election had been stolen, and he flew to Florida just before his term ended, leaving his successor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to take office without the traditional symbols of peaceful transfer of power.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 14, 2023 (Saturday)

    Today is officially Ratification Day, the anniversary of the day in 1784 when members of the Confederation Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War and formally recognized the independence of the United States from Great Britain.

    It almost didn’t happen.

    On September 3, 1783, negotiators John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay for the United States, and David Hartley for Great Britain, had signed the document establishing the United States as an independent and sovereign nation.

    British officer Lord Cornwallis’s surrender of 8,000 men to General George Washington on October 19, 1781, after the Battle of Yorktown had made it clear that Britain would have to agree to the independence of its former colonies, but the representatives of those colonies didn’t have a lot to bargain with to shape the peace in their favor. What they did have was the ability to play different European powers off against each other, for the American Revolution, after all, was only a piece of a global conflict that included Great Britain, France, Spain, the Dutch Republic, Jamaica, Gibraltar, and India.

    Peace negotiations began in Paris in April 1782 and stretched on through the summer and into the fall. The United States were allied with France, which in 1778, just two years after the Declaration of Independence, had come to the rescue of the fledgling nation in its struggle with Great Britain. Spain and the Dutch Republic, too, sided with the Americans, hoping they could carve their way out from under King George, thus weakening Great Britain and enabling the European nations to take more global territory.

    With all these parties involved, negotiations were slow and sticky, especially as Spain wanted to continue to fight until it could capture Gibraltar from the British. (The Great Siege of Gibraltar, which took more than three and a half years, was actually the largest battle of the war in terms of combatants.) At the same time, French foreign minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, was frustrated with the continuing cost of the American war and, in fall 1782, proposed a plan that would offer independence to the United States but offer Spain something it would value as much as Gibraltar: more land in North America. Essentially, the plan would keep the new nation hemmed in where it already was, dividing the land around it between Britain and Spain.

    U.S. negotiator John Jay, who as minister to Spain during the war had been instrumental in convincing Spain to loan money to the United States, immediately turned to the British to negotiate without France and Spain. British prime minister Lord Shelburne saw an opportunity to split the new country off from France and set it up as a trading partner until—as would most likely happen—its radical new government fell apart and Britain could reassert control.

    The document was a testament to the negotiating skills of the U.S. team. They got independence, of course, as well as a promise “to forget all past Misunderstandings and Differences that have unhappily interrupted the good Correspondence and Friendship which they mutually wish to restore.”

    All prisoners of war would be repatriated, no reparations would be demanded, and state legislatures were urged to provide restitution for the confiscated lands of British subjects (a provision that the U.S. government had no power to enforce). The treaty left Britain in possession of Canada but threw out Vergennes’s suggestion and established the western boundary of the new nation at the Mississippi River, although it left the northern and southern boundaries of the new nation vague. It then gave both Americans and British the right to transport goods along that watery highway. It also gave the United States exceedingly valuable fishing rights on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  

    But then it said: “The solemn Ratifications of the present Treaty expedited in good & due Form shall be exchanged between the contracting Parties in the Space of Six Months or sooner if possible to be computed from the Day of the Signature of the present Treaty.”  

    That is, Congress had six months from the September 3 signing to get the treaty across the Atlantic Ocean, ratify the agreement, and get it back across the ocean to England. The voyages alone could take as much as two months each way.

    That put pressure on Congress to act quickly, but the Congress that represented the United States in that era was organized under the Articles of Confederation, a weak and loose agreement of “a firm league of friendship” that the thirteen original states adopted on November 15, 1777. That national government had little power, and those lawmakers interested in real power worked in their own states to build new governments.

    Congress was supposed to convene at the Maryland State House in November, but it was a terribly cold winter, and delegates trickled in. As late as January 12, only seven of the thirteen states were represented, and Congress needed nine states to ratify the treaty. Finally, a delegate from Connecticut arrived. Then, on January 13, Richard Beresford of South Carolina, who had been ill in Philadelphia, finally made it to the gathering. Congress had a quorum, and it approved the treaty on January 14.

    “By the United States in Congress assembled, A PROCLAMATION,” read the document the Congress had printed to spread the news of the treaty. It reproduced the terms of the agreement, then said, “AND we the United States in Congress assembled, having seen and duly considered the definitive articles aforesaid, did…approve, ratify and confirm the same.”

    Seeming to recognize the extraordinary significance of their actions, the congressmen continued: “[W]e have thought proper…to notify…all the good citizens of these United States…that reverencing those stipulations entered into on their behalf, under the authority of that federal bond by which their existence as an independent people is bound up together, and is known and acknowledged by the nations of the world, and with that good faith which is every man’s surest guide…they carry into effect the said…articles, and every clause and sentence thereof, sincerely, strictly, and completely.”

    The document was signed by the president of the Congress, his excellency Thomas Mifflin, a name few people now remember, for while the long, difficult, and meticulous negotiations and then the fitful energies of Congress had achieved an agreement that the former colonies were now independent, it would not be until the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788 that the new nation finally began yet another long difficult journey to become the United States of America.  

    ["Treaty of Paris" by Benjamin West (1783), Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, image in public domain. This is the American delegation; the British delegation refused to pose for the painter, who could not complete the work.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
     January 15, 2023 (Sunday)

    You hear sometimes that, now that we know the sordid details of the lives of some of our leading figures, America has no heroes left.

    When I was writing a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, where heroism was pretty thin on the ground, I gave that a lot of thought. And I came to believe that heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings, choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them.

    It means sitting down the night before D-Day and writing a letter praising the troops and taking all the blame for the next day’s failure upon yourself, in case things went wrong, as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did.

    It means writing in your diary that you “still believe that people are really good at heart,” even while you are hiding in an attic from the men who are soon going to kill you, as Anne Frank did.

    It means signing your name to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence in bold print, even though you know you are signing your own death warrant should the British capture you, as John Hancock did.

    It means defending your people’s right to practice a religion you don’t share, even though you know you are becoming a dangerously visible target, as Sitting Bull did.

    Sometimes it just means sitting down, even when you are told to stand up, as Rosa Parks did.

    None of those people woke up one morning and said to themselves that they were about to do something heroic. It’s just that, when they had to, they did what was right.

    On April 3, 1968, the night before the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist, he gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1966, King had tried to broaden the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality into a larger movement for economic justice. He joined the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were on strike after years of bad pay and such dangerous conditions that two men had been crushed to death in garbage compactors.

    After his friend Ralph Abernathy introduced him to the crowd, King had something to say about heroes: “As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.”

    Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. “Now, that’s a strange statement to make,” King went on, “because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice.

    He knew he was in danger as he worked for a racially and economically just America. “I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter…because I've been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

    People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left.

    Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

    Wishing you all a day of peace for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2023.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 16, 2023 (Monday)

    A quiet day today, and a quiet night tonight. Would love to predict a quiet week ahead, too, but that seems to me unlikely.

    Still, let's take our calm when we can get it.

    I'll see you tomorrow.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 17, 2023 (Tuesday)

    Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him.

    Now they are collecting.

    Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was removed from committee assignments in the last Congress for her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as her encouragement of violence against Democrats, has a spot on the Homeland Security Committee. Such spots are usually filled by those with experience in either the military or intelligence, neither of which she has. And security is an odd fit for her: voters in her district tried to get her disqualified from running in 2022 because of her participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

    Greene has not just that plum assignment, but another on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. That committee manages investigations and has emerged as a coveted spot for the far right as its members prepare to go after figures in the Biden administration. It now includes right-wing figures Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Gary Palmer (R-AL), all of whom refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election.

    Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who was removed from committees two years ago after threatening Democratic lawmakers on social media, is now back on the Natural Resources committee. He also is now on the Oversight Committee.

    The elevation of newer representatives over their more senior colleagues caused hard feelings. Tara Palmeri of Puck reported today that Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who was in line to become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, confronted McCarthy for putting McCarthy ally Jason Smith (R-MO) in the spot instead. “You f*cked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me,” Buchanan told McCarthy.

    There were rumors that Buchanan would consider resigning over the slight, and McCarthy cannot afford to lose any Republicans. His desperation is clear in his embrace of George Santos (R-NY), whom McCarthy appointed to two committees: the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Santos is facing pressure to resign as his campaign lies appear to include shady financing.

    But in an op-ed today at NBC News, Santos’s fellow New York representative Democrat Ritchie Torres noted: The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention,” but the Republican Party will not disavow him because “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every vote he can get, and he needs George Santos to remain in power.”

    House Republicans also appear to be prepared to move forward with an impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. This is part of the Republican focus on applications for asylum at the southern border despite their recent refusal to consider updating legislation, as Mayorkas has repeatedly asked them to. Only once before has a Cabinet secretary been impeached—in 1876—and he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others resigned before impeachment votes were taken, the most recent in 1932.

    Greene has her sights set even higher. She called today for the impeachment of President Biden, advising him on Twitter to “resign now.”

    McCarthy also agreed that he would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion in spending for next year, a demand that amounts to taking the nation and the world economy hostage to overturn measures that Congress has already agreed to. Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending, it is about paying the debts Congress has already incurred. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means the United States will default, wreaking havoc on international markets and our own global standing.

    But the right wing appears willing to burn down the global economy and to destroy our place in it to impose their will on the country.  

    Emboldened, the far right is already insisting it will not raise the debt ceiling. Today, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was involved in the planning for January 6, tweeted, “We cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They've made their bed, so they must lie in it.”

    In fact, the national debt skyrocketed under Republican president Donald Trump even before the pandemic, thanks to the big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase deficits by almost $2 trillion over eleven years. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the debt had grown to $22 trillion. Trump called it a crisis, but his budget that year increased the debt to $23.2 trillion. The CBO warned that the U.S. had never seen deficits so large in a time of high employment.

    And then the coronavirus hit, and the debt jumped to $27.75 trillion.

    At 5.2% of GDP, the growth of the deficit under Trump was third largest in our history, behind only that under Presidents George W. Bush—who launched two unfunded wars after passing a tax cut and thus presided over deficit growth of 11.7%—and Abraham Lincoln, whose Treasury had to invent a way to pay for a civil war out of whole cloth, resulting in the deficit growing by 9.4% of GDP.  

    Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the Treasury will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday but  can extend extraordinary measures to keep functioning until June. McCarthy has called for Democrats to talk with him about a plan that will permit an increase in the debt limit while cutting Medicare, Social Security, and federal agencies.

    Biden and administration officials say they will not negotiate with the right-wing Republicans who are trying to get their way not through normal legislative channels, but by holding the government—and the global economy—hostage.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 18, 2023 (Wednesday)

    One of the promises House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made to the extremist members of the Republican conference to win his position was that he would let them bring the so-called Fair Tax Act to the House floor for a vote. On January 8, Representative Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) introduced the measure into Congress.

    The measure repeals all existing income taxes, payroll taxes, and estate and gift taxes, replacing them with a flat national sales tax of 30% on all purchased goods, rents, and services (which its advocates nonsensically call a 23% tax because, as Bloomberg opinion writer Matthew Yglesias explains their thinking: “if something sells for $100 plus $30 in tax, then it’s a 23% tax—because $30 is 23% of $130”). The measure abolishes the Internal Revenue Service, leaving it up to the states to administer the tax.

    The bill says the measure will “promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity.” But a 30% sales tax on everything doesn’t seem to do much for fairness or economic opportunity for all, since it would, of course, hit Americans with less money to spend far harder than it would Americans with more money to spend. And the end of income, gift, and estate taxes would be a windfall for the wealthy.

    Such a bill is not going to pass this Congress, and if it did, President Biden would not sign it. Two days after Carter introduced the measure, Biden said to the press: “National sales tax, that’s a great idea. It would raise taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items from groceries to gas, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.” He promised he would never agree to any such legislation.

    But the measure is illuminating. It explicitly rejects the position, and the principles, of the original Republican Party.

    Members of the Republican Party invented the U.S. income tax during the Civil War, and they created the precursor to the IRS to collect it. To find money to fight the war, they raised tariffs on common products but immediately turned to the novel idea of an income tax, and a graduated one at that, to make sure that “the burdens will be more equalized on all classes of the community, more especially on those who are able to bear them,” as Senator William Pitt Fessenden (R-ME) put it.

    Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT) agreed. “The weight [of] taxation must be distributed equally,” he said, “Not upon each man an equal amount, but a tax proportionate to his ability to pay.”

    The Republicans then quite deliberately constructed a national system for collecting the new taxes. In the midst of the Civil War, they urged their colleagues to imagine what would happen if a disloyal state were permitted to manage the collection itself. A Democratic legislature could simply refuse, and the government might perish for lack of funds to support the troops. The government had a right to “demand” 99 percent of a man’s property for an urgent necessity, Morrill said. When the public required it, “the property of the people…belongs to the Government.”

    Today’s Republicans are taking a position opposite to the one that the men who formed the Republican Party did during the Civil War. They want to get rid of the income tax and put state governments in charge of the nation’s revenue system. Wording in the measure suggests that this change is because state governments have expertise in sales taxes, but it is no accident that the plan dismantles the federal system that Civil War Republicans accurately noted gives Americans “a sense of personal responsibility in the safety and stability of the nation.”  

    This radical tax bill strikes a blow for state’s rights, much as the southern leaders the original Republicans stood against did in the 1860s. It is far easier for a minority to take over a state and impose its will on a majority there than it is to do the same at the national level. And Republicans are definitely working to cement their control in the states.

    In The Nation yesterday, Joan Walsh pulled together some of the many stories of voter suppression that have come lately from Republican-dominated states. Former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler recently noted that her state’s 2021 law cutting way back on mail-in ballots helped elect Republicans: Walsh points out that mail-in ballots dropped by 81% between 2020 and 2022, and Black voter turnout dropped.

    Robert Spindell, an election commissioner in Wisconsin who was one of Trump’s fake electors in 2020, wrote an email to about 1700 people saying that Republicans “can be especially proud of the City of Milwaukee (80.2% Dem Vote) casting 37,000 less votes than cast in the 2018 election with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.” Senator Ron Johnson won reelection in that race over Democratic candidate Mandela Barnes, who is from Milwaukee, by about 27,000 votes.

    In Florida, Missouri, and Ohio, Republican lawmakers are trying to make it harder for citizens to use ballot initiatives, as progressive policies like Medicaid expansion, the legalization of marijuana, hikes in the minimum wage, abortion rights, and redistricting by independent commissions have all turned out to be popular.

    And on Monday, in New Mexico, Solomon Peña, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the state legislature last year, was arrested for allegedly hiring men to shoot at the homes of four Democratic elected officials.

    By taking control of the states, Republicans can impose their will. Centering taxation there, rather than the federal government, is one more way to try to make people conform to their worldview.  

    Tucked inside the proposed tax measure is an extraordinary extension of government oversight of a state's poorer citizens. It provides an option for “qualified” families to get a rebate, but each member of the household must be registered annually with the state. Every member of the family over the age of 21 must certify in writing that all family members have been listed, that they are all legal residents of the U.S., and that none “were incarcerated on the family determination date.” Incarceration is defined as anyone “incarcerated in a local, State, or Federal jail, prison, mental hospital, or other institution.”

    This measure will not pass in this Congress, but it is striking proof that the modern Republican Party has abandoned not only its original principles, but even its more recent philosophy of “freedom” from an intrusive government.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 19, 2023 (Thursday)

    As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned would happen today, the U.S. hit the debt ceiling, although it can avoid default for a few months with what Yellen calls “extraordinary measures." These consist primarily of suspending government pension investments, which will have to be made whole again when the ceiling has been increased or suspended.

    Most of the media discussions of the crisis this morning focused on whether the Democrats would agree to negotiate with the hard-right Republicans, who want cuts to domestic spending before they will agree to raise the debt ceiling to access money that Congress has already appropriated.

    It jumped out at me that virtually no one was talking about the fact that there are two ways to deal with unwanted deficits: cutting expenditures, yes, but also…raising revenue. Indeed, raising revenue to pay for appropriations has historically been the first option. And yet, since 1981, the Republicans have made cutting taxes the centerpiece of their economic policy, arguing that putting more money in the hands of the “makers,” rather than the “takers,” will enable those makers to invest in production and hire more workers, thus expanding the economy.

    But forty years of so-called supply-side economics have demonstrated that this system does not, in fact, create extraordinary economic growth. Instead, it moves wealth upward, really quite dramatically, and creates deficits. Indeed, one of the reasons we need an increase in the debt ceiling is that the 2017 Trump tax cuts, especially the cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, dramatically increased the deficit without promoting growth. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2018 that the tax cuts would increase the deficit by about $1.9 trillion over 11 years.
     
    It seems like repealing those 2017 tax cuts, at least, would be factoring into discussions of addressing the deficit.

    Today the Supreme Court released a statement about the investigation it was conducting into the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision last May. That decision overturned Roe v. Wade, which recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and provoked a firestorm when it was published in Politico on May 2. The court vowed to find the leaker.

    At the time, right-wing activists blamed their opponents for the leak, but pro-choice observers noted that the leak was more likely to have come from the right as part of an attempt to make sure the justices felt locked in to what was a more extreme position than some of them had indicated they wanted to take. Indeed, the final decision did not significantly change the leaked draft.

    In November, news broke that the Reverend Rob Schenck, once an antiabortion activist, had told Chief Justice John Roberts that he learned in advance of another decision important to evangelicals, the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision denying that employee health plans had to include contraception. In that case, the information came to him after a colleague had dinner with Justice Samuel Alito and his wife. Alito wrote the Hobby Lobby decision. He also wrote the Dobbs decision.

    That information suggests that any investigators eager to get to the bottom of the leak should have talked to the justices themselves, but it is unclear if anyone did. According to the statement, this investigation focused on “Court personnel—temporary (law clerks) and permanent employees—who had or may have had access to the draft opinion….” The report implies that the leak came from an employee, although employees voluntarily turned over their phones, which showed nothing relevant. An examination of their computer searches also turned up nothing “suspicious or relevant.” Each employee signed a sworn affidavit, under threat of perjury, that they did not leak the decision, although some admitted they had told their spouse what it said.

    After 126 interviews with 97 employees, the report says, the investigation turned up no leads on who the leaker was, although it did establish that the leak did not come from an external hack of the court’s electronic systems.

    Although the source of the leak remains unknown, right-wing figures continue to imply it came from an opponent of the decision. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted, “Someone ought to resign for this,” and former president Trump called for throwing the reporter who published the story in jail until they identified the leaker. “Arrest the reporter, publisher, editor—you’ll get your answer fast.”

    White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded: “The freedom of the press is part of the bedrock of American democracy…. Calling for egregious abuses of power in order to suppress the Constitutional rights of reporters is an insult to the rule of law and undermines fundamental American values and traditions.”

    Also today, Judge Donald Middlebrooks of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida hammered Trump, his lawyer Alina Habba, and her law firm Habba Madaio & Associates with a bill of $937,989.39 for attorneys’ fees and costs after they filed a lawsuit the court found to be “completely frivolous” and a bad-faith use of the court system.

    The lawsuit, filed last March over the “Russia Hoax,” alleged that Hillary Clinton and a number of the other people Trump generally attacked in his rallies had “orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hope of destroying his life, his political career, and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election in favor of Hillary Clinton.”

    The lawsuit was dismissed and the defendants filed for sanctions. “This case should never have been brought,” the judge wrote. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.” The judge laid out the “telltale signs” of Trump’s “playbook”: “Provocative and boastful rhetoric; a political narrative carried over from rallies; attacks on political opponents and the news media; disregard for legal principles and precedent; and fundraising and payments to lawyers from political action committees.”

    Judge Middlebrooks wrote: “Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.” The sanctions against Trump and Habba were intended to discourage similar behavior in the future.

    Also today, in the ongoing saga of Representative George Santos (R-NY), a drag queen in Brazil has recently identified Santos as drag queen Kitara Ravache, who performed in Brazil about ten years ago. Although Brazilian drag queen Eula Rochard has provided pictures, Santos calls the allegations “categorically false…. The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results,” he said.  

    Finally, today, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced a constitutional amendment to the House to overturn the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for dark money to swamp our elections. The proposed amendment protects freedom of the press but permits Congress and the states to impose nonpartisan regulations on political fundraising, support public campaign financing, and “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”

    I am struck today by how language—its silences, obfuscations, truths, lies, and hopes—shapes our world.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 20, 2023 (Friday)

    Tonight’s letter was supposed to be a photo, but then it turned into just a few things I didn’t want to miss, and now it’s a sort of roundup of a whole lot of stories. TGIF, I guess.

    After last night’s sanction of almost a million dollars in a frivolous lawsuit, Trump dropped a similar lawsuit today against New York attorney general Letitia James. That lawsuit has been widely interpreted as his attempt to make James abandon the $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization. But it, like the one that yesterday cost him and his lawyer close to a million dollars, was assigned to Judge Donald Middlebrooks, and as MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin put it, Trump “folded. That decision was perhaps driven by lawyers who can’t afford a massive sanctions award either reputationally or financially. But it’s weird to see Trump basically concede.”

    Trump also backed off on his previous threats to use the debt ceiling to extract concessions from Democrats. Yesterday, he released a video warning House Republicans not to cut Social Security or Medicare, although those are the main things Republicans have thrown on the table. Trump is clearly bowing to popular support for those programs, but he is abandoning House Republicans after pushing them to take this stand.

    The troubles of the House Republicans continue to mount. Just as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced the House would end proxy voting, Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) fell 25 feet from a ladder at his home and is now in the hospital, cutting McCarthy’s already slim majority.

    Representative George Santos (R-NY) is still in Congress, for the moment anyway, and he continues to embarrass the Republicans. After insisting that reports he was a drag queen in Brazil were lies, it turns out that Santos himself apparently posted that information on Wikipedia. The party that has spent months grabbing headlines by attacking drag queens is now represented by one in Congress.

    In the same Wikipedia article, he appeared to claim he was an actor on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana.

    Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), an award-winning physicist who holds a PhD from Harvard, trolled Santos today in a way that powerfully demonstrated the current difference between the two parties. In response to the news that House speaker Kevin McCarthy has put Santos on the House Science Committee, Foster tweeted: “As the only recipient of the Wilson Prize for High-Energy Particle Accelerator Physics serving in Congress, it can get lonely. Not anymore!... I'm thrilled to be joined on the Science Committee by my Republican colleague Dr. George Santos, winner of not only the Nobel Prize, but also the Fields Medal—the top prize in Mathematics—for his groundbreaking work with imaginary numbers.”

    Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) has celebrated his elevation to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee with a flurry of requests to the Department of Justice for information about the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the investigation of the events of January 6, 2021, in which Jordan himself was implicated. But a response today from the DOJ reminded Jordan that the department could not share information about ongoing investigations and that it would need clear information about what, exactly, he hoped to investigate rather than blanket demands. Then Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte assured him that the department “stands ready to provide expertise as the Committee considers potential legislation,” an apparent suggestion that Jordan recall what his constituents elected him to do.

    “The Administration’s stonewalling must stop,” Jordan tweeted after receiving the letter, but it is notable that Jordan himself refused to answer a subpoena from the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. McCarthy ignored one too.

    The White House today followed up on McCarthy’s posturing over the debt ceiling with a statement that while Biden “looks forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy to discuss a range of issues,” “raising the raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Congress has always done it, and the President expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable.”

    It went on to say that while the president looked forward to learning more about the Republicans’ plans to cut Social Security and Medicare and impose a 30% national sales tax, he was interested in telling McCarthy and his allies about strengthening retirement plans, investing in key priorities, and funding it all by “making the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.”

    “We are going to have a clear debate on two different visions for the country—one that cuts Social Security, and one that protects it,” the White House said, “and the President is happy to discuss that with the Speaker.”

    Finally, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Africa for a ten-day visit during which she will urge greater connection between African countries and the U.S., hoping to build stronger ties with the continent than it develops with China or Russia. Africa has about 30% of the world’s reserves of minerals that are crucial to helping the modern world transition to green energy. So far, the Biden administration’s offer of partnership appears attractive, especially in the face of what appears to be a more exploitive model exercised by China and Russia. Both countries have sent representatives to travel around the continent while Yellen is there.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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    another man ..... moved by sleight of hand...................................... joe louis arena detroit '14
  • Halifax2TheMaxHalifax2TheMax Posts: 32,674
    mickeyrat said:
      January 20, 2023 (Friday)

    Tonight’s letter was supposed to be a photo, but then it turned into just a few things I didn’t want to miss, and now it’s a sort of roundup of a whole lot of stories. TGIF, I guess.

    After last night’s sanction of almost a million dollars in a frivolous lawsuit, Trump dropped a similar lawsuit today against New York attorney general Letitia James. That lawsuit has been widely interpreted as his attempt to make James abandon the $250 million civil lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization. But it, like the one that yesterday cost him and his lawyer close to a million dollars, was assigned to Judge Donald Middlebrooks, and as MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin put it, Trump “folded. That decision was perhaps driven by lawyers who can’t afford a massive sanctions award either reputationally or financially. But it’s weird to see Trump basically concede.”

    Trump also backed off on his previous threats to use the debt ceiling to extract concessions from Democrats. Yesterday, he released a video warning House Republicans not to cut Social Security or Medicare, although those are the main things Republicans have thrown on the table. Trump is clearly bowing to popular support for those programs, but he is abandoning House Republicans after pushing them to take this stand.

    The troubles of the House Republicans continue to mount. Just as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced the House would end proxy voting, Representative Greg Steube (R-FL) fell 25 feet from a ladder at his home and is now in the hospital, cutting McCarthy’s already slim majority.

    Representative George Santos (R-NY) is still in Congress, for the moment anyway, and he continues to embarrass the Republicans. After insisting that reports he was a drag queen in Brazil were lies, it turns out that Santos himself apparently posted that information on Wikipedia. The party that has spent months grabbing headlines by attacking drag queens is now represented by one in Congress.

    In the same Wikipedia article, he appeared to claim he was an actor on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana.

    Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), an award-winning physicist who holds a PhD from Harvard, trolled Santos today in a way that powerfully demonstrated the current difference between the two parties. In response to the news that House speaker Kevin McCarthy has put Santos on the House Science Committee, Foster tweeted: “As the only recipient of the Wilson Prize for High-Energy Particle Accelerator Physics serving in Congress, it can get lonely. Not anymore!... I'm thrilled to be joined on the Science Committee by my Republican colleague Dr. George Santos, winner of not only the Nobel Prize, but also the Fields Medal—the top prize in Mathematics—for his groundbreaking work with imaginary numbers.”

    Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) has celebrated his elevation to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee with a flurry of requests to the Department of Justice for information about the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the investigation of the events of January 6, 2021, in which Jordan himself was implicated. But a response today from the DOJ reminded Jordan that the department could not share information about ongoing investigations and that it would need clear information about what, exactly, he hoped to investigate rather than blanket demands. Then Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte assured him that the department “stands ready to provide expertise as the Committee considers potential legislation,” an apparent suggestion that Jordan recall what his constituents elected him to do.

    “The Administration’s stonewalling must stop,” Jordan tweeted after receiving the letter, but it is notable that Jordan himself refused to answer a subpoena from the bipartisan House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. McCarthy ignored one too.

    The White House today followed up on McCarthy’s posturing over the debt ceiling with a statement that while Biden “looks forward to meeting with Speaker McCarthy to discuss a range of issues,” “raising the raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos. Congress has always done it, and the President expects them to do their duty once again. That is not negotiable.”

    It went on to say that while the president looked forward to learning more about the Republicans’ plans to cut Social Security and Medicare and impose a 30% national sales tax, he was interested in telling McCarthy and his allies about strengthening retirement plans, investing in key priorities, and funding it all by “making the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share.”

    “We are going to have a clear debate on two different visions for the country—one that cuts Social Security, and one that protects it,” the White House said, “and the President is happy to discuss that with the Speaker.”

    Finally, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Africa for a ten-day visit during which she will urge greater connection between African countries and the U.S., hoping to build stronger ties with the continent than it develops with China or Russia. Africa has about 30% of the world’s reserves of minerals that are crucial to helping the modern world transition to green energy. So far, the Biden administration’s offer of partnership appears attractive, especially in the face of what appears to be a more exploitive model exercised by China and Russia. Both countries have sent representatives to travel around the continent while Yellen is there.

    A decade, probably more, of brilliant brilliance in all its brilliancy, not to mention so much winning. What a clown car in search of a ring in a circus.
    09/15/1998, Mansfield, MA; 08/29/00 08/30/00, Mansfield, MA; 07/02/03, 07/03/03, Mansfield, MA; 09/28/04, 09/29/04, Boston, MA; 09/22/05, Halifax, NS; 05/24/06, 05/25/06, Boston, MA; 07/22/06, 07/23/06, Gorge, WA; 06/29/08, 06/30/08, Mansfield, MA; 08/18/08, O2 London, UK; 10/30/09, 10/31/09, Philadelphia, PA; 05/15/10, Hartford, CT; 05/17/10, Boston, MA; 05/20/10, 05/21/10, NY, NY; 06/22/10, Dublin, IRE; 06/23/10, Northern Ireland; 09/03/11, 09/04/11, Alpine Valley, WI; 09/11/11, 09/12/11, Toronto, Ont; 09/14/11, Ottawa, Ont; 09/15/11, Hamilton, Ont; 07/02/2012, Prague, Czech Republic; 07/04/2012 & 07/05/2012, Berlin, Germany; 07/07/2012, Stockholm, Sweden; 09/30/2012, Missoula, MT; 07/16/2013, London, Ont; 07/19/2013, Chicago, IL; 10/15/2013 & 10/16/2013, Worcester, MA; 10/21/2013 & 10/22/2013, Philadelphia, PA; 10/25/2013, Hartford, CT; 11/29/2013, Portland, OR; 11/30/2013, Spokane, WA; 12/04/2013, Vancouver, BC; 12/06/2013, Seattle, WA; 10/03/2014, St. Louis. MO; 10/22/2014, Denver, CO; 10/26/2015, New York, NY; 04/23/2016, New Orleans, LA; 04/28/2016 & 04/29/2016, Philadelphia, PA; 05/01/2016 & 05/02/2016, New York, NY; 05/08/2016, Ottawa, Ont.; 05/10/2016 & 05/12/2016, Toronto, Ont.; 08/05/2016 & 08/07/2016, Boston, MA; 08/20/2016 & 08/22/2016, Chicago, IL; 07/01/2018, Prague, Czech Republic; 07/03/2018, Krakow, Poland; 07/05/2018, Berlin, Germany; 09/02/2018 & 09/04/2018, Boston, MA;

    "If you're looking down on someone, it better be to extend them a hand to lift them up."

    Libtardaplorable©. And proud of it.

    Brilliantati©
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,377
      January 21, 2023 (Saturday)

    Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that for the first trimester of a pregnancy, “the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated. If that decision is reached, the judgment may be effectuated by an abortion free of interference by the State.”

    It went on: “With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the ‘compelling’ point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to [prohibit] abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

    The wording of that decision, giving power to physicians—who were presumed to be male—to determine with a patient whether the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated, shows the roots of the Roe v. Wade decision in a public health crisis.

    Abortion had been a part of American life since its inception, but states began to criminalize abortion in the 1870s. By 1960, an observer estimated, there were between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal U.S. abortions a year, endangering women, primarily poor ones who could not afford a workaround.

    To stem this public health crisis, doctors wanted to decriminalize abortion and keep it between a woman and her doctor. In the 1960s, states began to decriminalize abortion on this medical model, and support for abortion rights grew.

    The rising women's movement wanted women to have control over their lives. Its leaders were latecomers to the reproductive rights movement, but they came to see reproductive rights as key to self-determination. In 1969, activist Betty Friedan told a medical abortion meeting: “[M]y only claim to be here, is our belated recognition, if you will, that there is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until we assert and demand the control over our own bodies, over our own reproductive process….”

    In 1971, even the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention agreed that abortion should be legal in some cases, and vowed to work for modernization. Their convention that year reiterated the “belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves” but also called on “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

    By 1972, Gallup pollsters reported that 64% of Americans agreed that abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans, who had always liked family planning, agreed, as did 59% of Democrats.

    In keeping with that sentiment, in 1973 the Supreme Court, under Republican Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a decision written by Republican Harry Blackmun, decided Roe v. Wade, legalizing first-trimester abortion.

    The common story is that Roe sparked a backlash. But legal scholars Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel showed that opposition to the eventual Roe v. Wade decision began in 1972—the year before the decision—and that it was a deliberate attempt to polarize American politics.

    In 1972, President Richard Nixon was up for reelection, and he and his people were paranoid that he would lose. His adviser Pat Buchanan was a Goldwater man who wanted to destroy the popular New Deal state that regulated the economy and protected social welfare and civil rights. To that end, he believed Democrats and traditional Republicans must be kept from power and Nixon must win reelection.

    Catholics, who opposed abortion and believed that "the right of innocent human beings to life is sacred," tended to vote for Democratic candidates. Buchanan, who was a Catholic himself, urged Nixon to woo Catholic Democrats before the 1972 election over the issue of abortion. In 1970, Nixon had directed U.S. military hospitals to perform abortions regardless of state law, but in 1971, using Catholic language, he reversed course to split the Democrats, citing his personal belief "in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn.”

    Although Nixon and Democratic nominee George McGovern had similar stances on abortion, Nixon and Buchanan defined McGovern as the candidate of "Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion," a radical framing designed to alienate traditionalists.

    As Nixon split the U.S. in two to rally voters, his supporters used abortion to stand in for women's rights in general. Railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, in her first statement on abortion in 1972, activist Phyllis Schlafly did not talk about fetuses: “Women’s lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women’s libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career, make them feel that they are ‘second-class citizens’ and ‘abject slaves.’ Women’s libbers are promoting free sex instead of the ‘slavery’ of marriage. They are promoting Federal ‘day-care centers’ for babies instead of homes. They are promoting abortions instead of families.”

    A dozen years later, sociologist Kristin Luker discovered that "pro-life" activists believed that selfish "pro-choice" women were denigrating the roles of wife and mother. They wanted an active government to give them rights they didn't need or deserve.

    By 1988, radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh demonized women's rights advocates as "feminazis" for whom "the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur." The complicated issue of abortion had become a proxy for a way to denigrate the political opponents of the radicalizing Republican Party.  

    Such threats turned out Republican voters, especially the evangelical base. But support for safe and legal abortion has always been strong. Today, notwithstanding that it was overturned in June 2022 by a Supreme Court radicalized under Republican presidents since Nixon, about 62% of Americans support the guidelines laid down in Roe v. Wade, about the same percentage that supported it fifty years ago, when it became law.

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    Not today Sir, Probably not tomorrow.............................................. bayfront arena st. pete '94
    you're finally here and I'm a mess................................................... nationwide arena columbus '10
    memories like fingerprints are slowly raising.................................... first niagara center buffalo '13
    another man ..... moved by sleight of hand...................................... joe louis arena detroit '14
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