Letter From An American by Heather Cox Richardson

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 17, 2023 (Friday)

    Was happily writing away, and hoo, boy, just hit the wall.

    Will be back at it tomorrow.

    Until then, a fun photo from my favorite beach last weekend. Just like history: layers upon layers...

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 18, 2023 (Saturday)

    Republican leaders are recognizing that the sight of Republican lawmakers heckling the president of the United States didn’t do their party any favors.

    It not only called attention to their behavior, it prompted many news outlets to fact-check President Biden’s claim that Republicans had called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare or even called to get rid of them. Those outlets noted that while Republicans have repeatedly said they have no intention of cutting those programs, what Biden said was true: Republican leaders have repeatedly suggested such cuts, or even the elimination of those programs, in speeches, news interviews, and written proposals.

    Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) told Alexander Bolton of The Hill that Republicans should stick to “reasonable and enduring policy” proposals. “I think we’re missing an opportunity to differentiate,” he said. “Focus on policy. If you get that done, it will age well.”

    But therein lies the Republican Party’s problem. What ARE its reasonable and enduring policies? One of the reasons Biden keeps pressuring the party to release its budget is that it’s not at all clear what the party stands for.

    Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to issue any plans before the 2022 midterm election, and in 2020, for the first time in its history, the party refused to write a party platform. The Republican National Committee simply resolved that if its party platform committee had met, it “would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party's strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration.” So, it resolved that “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President's America-first agenda.”

    Cutting Social Security is a centerpiece of the ideology the party adopted in the 1980s: that the government in place since 1933 was stunting the economy and should be privatized as much as possible.  

    In place of using the federal government to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, protect civil rights, and promote infrastructure, Reagan Republicans promised that cutting taxes and regulation would free up capital, which investors would then plow into new businesses, creating new jobs and moving everybody upward. Americans could have low taxes and services both, they promised, for “supply-side economics” would create such economic growth that lower tax rates would still produce high enough revenues to keep the debt low and maintain services.

    But constructing an economy that favored the “supply side” rather than the “demand side”—those ordinary Americans who would spend more money in their daily lives—did not, in fact, produce great economic growth or produce tax revenues high enough to keep paying expenses. In January 1981, President Ronald Reagan called the federal deficit, then almost $74 billion, “out of control.” Within two years, he had increased it to $208 billion. The debt, too, nearly tripled during Reagan’s term, from $930 billion to $2.6 trillion. The Republican solution was to cut taxes and slash the government even further.

    As early as his 1978 congressional race, George W. Bush called for fixing Social Security’s finances by permitting people to invest their payroll tax themselves. In his second term as president in 2005, he called for it again. When Republican senator Rick Scott of Florida proposed an 11-point (which he later changed to a 12 points) “Plan to Rescue America” last year, vowing to “sunset” all laws automatically after five years, the idea reflected that Republican vision. It permitted the cutting of Social Security without attaching those cuts to any one person or party.

    But American voters like Social Security and Medicare and, just as they refused Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security, recoiled from Scott’s plan. Yesterday, under pressure from voters and from other Republicans who recognized the political damage being done, Scott wrote an op-ed saying his plan was “obviously not intended to include entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security—programs that hard-working people have paid into their entire lives—or the funds dedicated to our national security.” (The online version of the plan remains unchanged as of Saturday morning.)

    Scott attacked Biden for suggesting otherwise, but he also attacked Mitch McConnell, who also condemned Scott’s plan, accusing them of engaging in “shallow gotcha politics, which is what Washington does.” He also accused “Washington politicians” for “lying to you every chance they get.” Scott’s venom illustrated the growing rift in the Republican Party.

    Since the 1990s, Republicans have had an ideological problem: voters don’t actually like their economic vision, which has cut services and neglected infrastructure even as it has dramatically moved wealth upward. So to keep voters behind them, Republicans hammered on social and cultural issues, portraying those who liked the active government as godless socialists who were catering to minorities and women. “There is a religious war going on in this country,” Republican Pat Buchanan told the Republican National Convention in 1992. “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.”

    A generation later, that culture war has joined with the economic vision of the older party to create a new ideology. More than half of Republicans now reject the idea of a democracy based in the rule of law and instead support Christian nationalism, insisting that the United States is a Christian nation and that our society and our laws should be based in evangelical Christian values. Forty percent of the strongest adherents of Christian nationalism think “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while 22% of sympathizers agree with that position.  

    Scott released his 11-point plan because, he said, “Americans deserve to know what we will do when given the chance,” and his plan reflected the new Republicans. Sunsetting laws and tax cuts were only part of the plan. He promised to cut government jobs by 25% over the next five years, “sell off all non-essential government assets, buildings and land, and use the proceeds to pay down our national debt,” get rid of all federal programs that local governments can take over, cut taxes, “grow America’s economy,” and “stop Socialism.”

    But it also reflected the turn toward Christian nationalism, centering Christianity and “Judeo-Christian values” by investing in religious schools, adoption agencies, and social services and calling for an end to abortion, gender-affirming care, and diversity training. It explicitly puts religion above the law, saying “Americans will not be required to go against their core values and beliefs in order to conform to culture or government.”

    The document warned that “[a]n infestation of old, corrupt Washington insiders and immature radical socialists is tearing America apart. Their bizarre policies are intentionally destroying our values, our culture, and the beliefs that hold us together as a nation.” “Is this the beginning of the end of America?” it asks. “Only if we allow it to be.”

    That new worldview overlaps with the extremist wing that is trying to take over the Republican Party. It was at the heart of the far-right challenge to House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). It informs Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s abandonment of small-government Republicanism in favor of using the power of the state government to enforce a “Christian” vision, including on businesses.

    It was also behind Scott’s challenge to McConnell for the position of Senate majority leader. McConnell kept his position and then removed Scott and another extremist who backed Scott, Mike Lee (R-UT), from the Senate Commerce Committee. Scott, anyway, is apparently not backing down.

    The struggle between those two factions is showing up at the Munich Security Conference on global security this week. In the U.S. the extremists have called for cutting our support for the Ukrainians as they try to fight off Russia’s 2022 invasion.

    Their hatred of the liberal democracy that demands equality for all people has put those extremists on the side of authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, both of whom have made attacking LGBTQ people a key feature of their championing of their “traditional values,” a cause the extremists like.

    But the United States has traditionally backed democracies against autocracies. Today in Munich, Vice President Kamala Harris talked of the war crimes and atrocities the Russians have committed in Ukraine and said: “We have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity.”

    Mitch McConnell, who does not usually travel to foreign meetings, went to Munich this year along with more than 50 other lawmakers, the largest delegation the U.S. has ever sent, designed to demonstrate U.S. commitment to global affairs. At a private breakfast on Friday, McConnell promised that the Republicans would not abandon Ukraine. One person there told Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer of Foreign Policy, “To me, the subtext was clear: We’re not the crazies like the small handful of House Republicans you see in the headlines so often.”

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    Not today Sir, Probably not tomorrow.............................................. bayfront arena st. pete '94
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    memories like fingerprints are slowly raising.................................... first niagara center buffalo '13
    another man ..... moved by sleight of hand...................................... joe louis arena detroit '14
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
       February 19, 2023 (Sunday)

    Today in the Washington Post, Nick Anderson showed how the Advanced Placement course on African American studies changed between February 2022, when its prototype first appeared, and February 2023, when the official version was released. One word, in particular, had vanished: the word “systemic.” In February 2022, “systemic” appeared before “marginalization; in April 2022, “systemic” came before “discrimination, oppression, inequality, disempowerment and racism.”

    By February 2023, that word was gone. While the College Board, which produces the AP courses, says it did not change the course in response to its rejection by Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who said it contributed to a “political agenda,” its spokespeople have acknowledged that they were aware of how the right wing would react to that word.

    The far right opposes the idea that the United States has ever practiced systemic racism. Shortly before former president Trump left office, his hand-picked President’s Advisory 1776 Commission produced its report to stand against the 1619 Project that rooted the United States in the year enslaved Africans first set foot in the English colonies on the Chesapeake, and went on to claim that systemic racism had shaped the eventual American nation.

    Trump’s 1776 commission rejected the conclusions of the 1619 Project’s authors and instead declared that “the American people have ever pursued freedom and justice.” While “the American story has its share of missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs,” it asserted, “[t]hese wrongs have always met resistance from the clear principles of the nation, and therefore our history is far more one of self-sacrifice, courage, and nobility.”

    Since Trump left office, far-right activists have passed laws prohibiting teachers from talking about patterns of racism and have worked to remove from classrooms and school libraries books whose subjects must overcome systemic discrimination.

    Today is the anniversary of the day in 1942, during World War II, that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 enabling military authorities to designate military areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” That order also permitted the secretary of war to provide transportation, food, and shelter “to accomplish the purpose of this order.”

    Four days later, a Japanese submarine off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, shelled the Ellwood Oil Field, and the Office of Naval Intelligence warned that the Japanese would attack California in the next ten hours. On February 25 a meteorological balloon near Los Angeles set off a panic, and troops fired 1,400 rounds of antiaircraft ammunition at supposed Japanese attackers.

    On March 2, 1942, General John DeWitt put Executive Order 9066 into effect. He signed Public Proclamation No. 1, dividing the country into military zones and, “as a matter of military necessity,” excluding from certain of those zones “[a]ny Japanese, German, or Italian alien, or any person of Japanese Ancestry.” Under DeWitt’s orders, about 125,000 children, women, and men of Japanese ancestry were forced out of their homes and held in camps around the country. Two thirds of those incarcerated were U.S. citizens.

    DeWitt’s order did not come from nowhere. After almost a century of shaping laws to discriminate against Asian newcomers, West Coast inhabitants and lawmakers were primed to see their Japanese and Japanese-American neighbors as dangerous.

    Those laws reached back to the arrival of Chinese miners to California in 1849, and reached forward into the twentieth century. Indeed, on another February 19—that of 1923—the Supreme Court decided the case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind. It said that Thind, an Indian Sikh man who identified himself as Indo-European, could not become a U.S. citizen. Thind claimed the right to United States citizenship under the terms of the Naturalization Act of 1906, which had put the federal government instead of states in charge of who got to be a citizen and had very specific requirements for citizenship that he believed he had met.

    But, the court said, Thind was not a “white person” under U.S. law, and only “free white persons” could become citizens.

    What were they talking about? In the Thind decision, the Supreme Court reached back to the case of Japan-born Takao Ozawa, decided a year before, in 1922. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Ozawa could not become a citizen under the 1906 Naturalization Act because that law had not overridden the 1790 naturalization law limiting citizenship to “free white persons.” The court decided that “white person” meant “persons of the Caucasian Race.” “A Japanese, born in Japan, being clearly not a Caucasian, cannot be made a citizen of the United States,” it said.

    As the 1922 case indicated, Asian Americans could not rely on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, to permit them to become citizens, because a law from 1790 knocked a hole in that amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment provided that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” But as soon as that amendment went into effect, the new states and territories of the West reached back to the 1790 naturalization law to exclude Asian immigrants from citizenship based on the argument that they were not “free, white persons.”

    That 1790 restriction, based in early lawmakers’ determination to guarantee that enslaved Africans could not claim citizenship, enabled lawmakers after the Civil War to exclude Asian immigrants from citizenship.

    From that exclusion grew laws discriminating against Chinese immigrants, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited Chinese workers from migrating to the United States. Then, when Chinese immigration slowed and Japanese immigration took its place, the U.S. backed the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 under which Japanese officials promised to stop emigration to the United States. The United States, in turn, promised not to restrict the rights of Japanese already in the United States, although laws prohibiting “aliens” from owning land meant Japanese settlers either lost their land or had to put it in the names of their American-born children, who were citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    In 1942, the assumption that Japanese Americans were dangerous and anti-American was rooted back in the earliest years of the country, in the 1790 naturalization law designed to make sure that Africans could not become United States citizens.

    After the 1923 Thind decision, the United States stripped the citizenship of about 50 South Asian Americans who had already become American citizens. One of them was Vaishno Das Bagai, an immigrant from what is now Pakistan who was born into a prosperous family and who settled in San Francisco in 1915 with his wife and three sons to start a business. Less than three weeks after arriving in the United States, Bagai began the process of naturalization. He became a citizen in 1920.

    The Thind decision took that citizenship away from Bagai, making him fall under California’s alien land laws saying he could not own land. He lost his home and his business. In 1928, explicitly telling the San Francisco Examiner that he was taking his life in protest of racial discrimination, Bagai died by suicide. His widow, Kala Bagai, became a community activist.

    World War II changed U.S. calculations of who could be a citizen as global alliances shifted and all Americans turned out to save democracy. From Japanese-American internment camps, young men joined the army to fight for the nation. In 1943, the War Department authorized the formation of Japanese-American combat units. One of those units, the 442d Regimental Combat Team, became the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history. Their motto was “Go for Broke.”

    Congress overturned Chinese exclusion laws in 1943 and, in 1946, made natives of India eligible for U.S. citizenship. Japanese immigrants gained the right to become U.S. citizens in 1952.

    “[S]elf-sacrifice, courage and nobility” definitely enabled people like Thind, Vaishno Das Bagai and Kala Bagai, and the soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team to assert “the clear principles of the nation.” But it’s hard to see how a teacher can explain “missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs” from 1942 that were rooted in a law from 1790 without using the word “systemic.”

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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
  • Halifax2TheMaxHalifax2TheMax Posts: 33,067
    mickeyrat said:
       February 19, 2023 (Sunday)

    Today in the Washington Post, Nick Anderson showed how the Advanced Placement course on African American studies changed between February 2022, when its prototype first appeared, and February 2023, when the official version was released. One word, in particular, had vanished: the word “systemic.” In February 2022, “systemic” appeared before “marginalization; in April 2022, “systemic” came before “discrimination, oppression, inequality, disempowerment and racism.”

    By February 2023, that word was gone. While the College Board, which produces the AP courses, says it did not change the course in response to its rejection by Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who said it contributed to a “political agenda,” its spokespeople have acknowledged that they were aware of how the right wing would react to that word.

    The far right opposes the idea that the United States has ever practiced systemic racism. Shortly before former president Trump left office, his hand-picked President’s Advisory 1776 Commission produced its report to stand against the 1619 Project that rooted the United States in the year enslaved Africans first set foot in the English colonies on the Chesapeake, and went on to claim that systemic racism had shaped the eventual American nation.

    Trump’s 1776 commission rejected the conclusions of the 1619 Project’s authors and instead declared that “the American people have ever pursued freedom and justice.” While “the American story has its share of missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs,” it asserted, “[t]hese wrongs have always met resistance from the clear principles of the nation, and therefore our history is far more one of self-sacrifice, courage, and nobility.”

    Since Trump left office, far-right activists have passed laws prohibiting teachers from talking about patterns of racism and have worked to remove from classrooms and school libraries books whose subjects must overcome systemic discrimination.

    Today is the anniversary of the day in 1942, during World War II, that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 enabling military authorities to designate military areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” That order also permitted the secretary of war to provide transportation, food, and shelter “to accomplish the purpose of this order.”

    Four days later, a Japanese submarine off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, shelled the Ellwood Oil Field, and the Office of Naval Intelligence warned that the Japanese would attack California in the next ten hours. On February 25 a meteorological balloon near Los Angeles set off a panic, and troops fired 1,400 rounds of antiaircraft ammunition at supposed Japanese attackers.

    On March 2, 1942, General John DeWitt put Executive Order 9066 into effect. He signed Public Proclamation No. 1, dividing the country into military zones and, “as a matter of military necessity,” excluding from certain of those zones “[a]ny Japanese, German, or Italian alien, or any person of Japanese Ancestry.” Under DeWitt’s orders, about 125,000 children, women, and men of Japanese ancestry were forced out of their homes and held in camps around the country. Two thirds of those incarcerated were U.S. citizens.

    DeWitt’s order did not come from nowhere. After almost a century of shaping laws to discriminate against Asian newcomers, West Coast inhabitants and lawmakers were primed to see their Japanese and Japanese-American neighbors as dangerous.

    Those laws reached back to the arrival of Chinese miners to California in 1849, and reached forward into the twentieth century. Indeed, on another February 19—that of 1923—the Supreme Court decided the case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind. It said that Thind, an Indian Sikh man who identified himself as Indo-European, could not become a U.S. citizen. Thind claimed the right to United States citizenship under the terms of the Naturalization Act of 1906, which had put the federal government instead of states in charge of who got to be a citizen and had very specific requirements for citizenship that he believed he had met.

    But, the court said, Thind was not a “white person” under U.S. law, and only “free white persons” could become citizens.

    What were they talking about? In the Thind decision, the Supreme Court reached back to the case of Japan-born Takao Ozawa, decided a year before, in 1922. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that Ozawa could not become a citizen under the 1906 Naturalization Act because that law had not overridden the 1790 naturalization law limiting citizenship to “free white persons.” The court decided that “white person” meant “persons of the Caucasian Race.” “A Japanese, born in Japan, being clearly not a Caucasian, cannot be made a citizen of the United States,” it said.

    As the 1922 case indicated, Asian Americans could not rely on the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1868, to permit them to become citizens, because a law from 1790 knocked a hole in that amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment provided that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” But as soon as that amendment went into effect, the new states and territories of the West reached back to the 1790 naturalization law to exclude Asian immigrants from citizenship based on the argument that they were not “free, white persons.”

    That 1790 restriction, based in early lawmakers’ determination to guarantee that enslaved Africans could not claim citizenship, enabled lawmakers after the Civil War to exclude Asian immigrants from citizenship.

    From that exclusion grew laws discriminating against Chinese immigrants, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that prohibited Chinese workers from migrating to the United States. Then, when Chinese immigration slowed and Japanese immigration took its place, the U.S. backed the so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 under which Japanese officials promised to stop emigration to the United States. The United States, in turn, promised not to restrict the rights of Japanese already in the United States, although laws prohibiting “aliens” from owning land meant Japanese settlers either lost their land or had to put it in the names of their American-born children, who were citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    In 1942, the assumption that Japanese Americans were dangerous and anti-American was rooted back in the earliest years of the country, in the 1790 naturalization law designed to make sure that Africans could not become United States citizens.

    After the 1923 Thind decision, the United States stripped the citizenship of about 50 South Asian Americans who had already become American citizens. One of them was Vaishno Das Bagai, an immigrant from what is now Pakistan who was born into a prosperous family and who settled in San Francisco in 1915 with his wife and three sons to start a business. Less than three weeks after arriving in the United States, Bagai began the process of naturalization. He became a citizen in 1920.

    The Thind decision took that citizenship away from Bagai, making him fall under California’s alien land laws saying he could not own land. He lost his home and his business. In 1928, explicitly telling the San Francisco Examiner that he was taking his life in protest of racial discrimination, Bagai died by suicide. His widow, Kala Bagai, became a community activist.

    World War II changed U.S. calculations of who could be a citizen as global alliances shifted and all Americans turned out to save democracy. From Japanese-American internment camps, young men joined the army to fight for the nation. In 1943, the War Department authorized the formation of Japanese-American combat units. One of those units, the 442d Regimental Combat Team, became the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history. Their motto was “Go for Broke.”

    Congress overturned Chinese exclusion laws in 1943 and, in 1946, made natives of India eligible for U.S. citizenship. Japanese immigrants gained the right to become U.S. citizens in 1952.

    “[S]elf-sacrifice, courage and nobility” definitely enabled people like Thind, Vaishno Das Bagai and Kala Bagai, and the soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team to assert “the clear principles of the nation.” But it’s hard to see how a teacher can explain “missteps, errors, contradictions, and wrongs” from 1942 that were rooted in a law from 1790 without using the word “systemic.”

    Snowflakes.
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 20, 2023 (Monday)

    We awoke this morning to news that President Joe Biden was in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he pledged “our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.” Air raid sirens blared as Biden and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky walked through the streets during the U.S. president’s five-hour stay.

    As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters, Biden’s visit was the first time a U.S. president has visited “the capital of a country at war where the United States military does not control the critical infrastructure”…in other words, an active war zone. Biden traveled in a special mission plane from Germany to Poland, then took a train from Poland to Kyiv. To make sure there would be no attacks, the U.S. notified the Russians that Biden would be in Kyiv, but a Russian MiG 30 flew from Belarus during Biden’s visit, triggering air raid sirens.

    According to Sullivan, Biden felt it was important to visit Kyiv at the anniversary of the 2022 Russian invasion. The image of Biden and Zelensky standing together sent a message to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as David Rothkopf put it in the Daily Beast: “I am here in Kyiv and you are not. You not only did not take Kyiv in days as some predicted, but your attack was rebuffed. Your army suffered a humiliating defeat from which it has not recovered.”

    Just under a year ago, the global equation looked very different. On February 4, 2022, Chinese president Xi Jinping hosted Russian president Vladimir Putin on the opening day of the Winter Olympics. The two men pledged to work together in a partnership with “no limits” in a transparent attempt to counter U.S. global leadership and assert a new international order based on their own authoritarian systems.

    At the time, Russia was massing troops on its border with Ukraine but fervently denied it was planning to invade. On February 24, 2022, Russian tanks rolled across the border and Russian planes covered them in the air. Biden remembered that Zelensky called him and said he could hear the explosions as they spoke. “I’ll never forget that,” Biden said. “The world was about to change.” When Biden asked what he could do to help, Zelensky said: “Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.”

    And over 50 nations stepped up to make sure the rules-based international order in place since World War II, which prevents one country from attacking another, held. Those backing Ukraine against Russian aggression have squeezed Russia with economic sanctions and supported Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid. As Biden said today, standing next to Zelensky: “Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

    Biden pledged another $460 million in aid to Ukraine, emphasizing that U.S. support for the country is bipartisan.

    Biden mourned the cost Ukraine has had to bear, but championed its successes. “Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map,” Biden said, but “Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Russia’s military has lost half its territory it once occupied. Young, talented Russians are fleeing by the tens of thousands, not wanting to come back to Russia. Not…just fleeing from the military, fleeing from Russia itself, because they see no future in their country. Russia’s economy is now a backwater, isolated and struggling.”

    “Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided,” Biden said. He remembered telling Zelensky that Putin was “counting on us not sticking together. He was counting on the inability to keep NATO united. He was counting on us not to be able to bring in others on the side of Ukraine.” While Biden didn’t say it, Putin had reason to think those things: the four years of the Trump administration had seen the U.S. offending allies and threatening to pull out of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that stands against Russian aggression.

    “He thought he could outlast us,” Biden said. “I don’t think he’s thinking that right now…. [H]e’s just been plain wrong. Plain wrong.” A year later, Biden said, “We stand here together.”

    “You and all Ukrainians…remind the world every single day what the meaning of the word ‘courage’ is—from all sectors of your economy, all walks of life. It’s astounding. Astounding.
    You remind us that freedom is priceless; it’s worth fighting for for as long as it takes. And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President: for as long as it takes.”

    Zelensky answered, “We’ll do it.”

    The world could stand behind Ukraine as it has because Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have held a coalition together and presented a united front with Zelensky and allies and partners in defense of democracy.

    In contrast today, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) explicitly called for dividing the nation. She tweeted: “We need a national divorce. We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talk to says this.” For once I will spare you my usual lecture on how elite southern enslavers in the 1850s made this same argument because they resented the majority rule that threatened their ability to impose their will on their Black neighbors.

    (I will note, though, that former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) helpfully reviewed “some of the governing principles of America” for Greene, tweeting: “Our country is governed by the Constitution. You swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Secession is unconstitutional. No member of Congress should advocate secession, Marjorie.”)

    What Greene had to say next is of more interest in this moment. The Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest gathering for international security discussions, has just reported that the Russian war on Ukraine is a war of authoritarianism on a rules-based international order. At that conference, Vice President Kamala Harris said the U.S. had determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity and noted that the bipartisan U.S. delegation to the conference was the largest we have ever sent. The U.S. president has just entered a war zone to declare U.S. support for democracy and is now in Poland, where he will speak with the leaders of the nine countries that make up NATO’s eastern flank and will deliver a speech that Blinken has described as “very significant.”

    In contrast, Greene echoed authoritarian leaders Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Putin himself when she called for splitting the nation over “the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats” and “the Democrat’s [sic] traitorous America Last policies.” Authoritarian leaders insist that the equality that underpins liberal democracy threatens traditional society because it means that LGBTQ people, women, and minorities should have the same rights as white men. Greene appears to be taking the same position.

    Meanwhile, Fox News Channel personalities, including Tucker Carlson, are trying to spin Biden’s visit to Ukraine as proof that he doesn’t care about the train derailment in Ohio. Scholar of disinformation behavior Caroline Orr Bueno noted: “There’s a narrative being planted here; watch how support for Ukraine is framed as incompatible with US national interests.” She notes that a similar narrative in Canada argues that support for Ukraine hurts Canadian veterans.

    A filing in Dominion Voter Systems’ lawsuit against FNC for defamation revealed last week that FNC personalities knowingly lied to their viewers about the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, acting as a propaganda outlet for Trump. This information is a handy backdrop for the news reported today by Mike Allen of Axios, who says that House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has given to FNC host Carlson—who figured prominently in the election fraud lies—exclusive access to 41,000 hours of footage from the U.S. Capitol of the January 6, 2021, attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. According to Allen, Carlson’s producers have already begun going through it to see what they can use on his show.

    Putin is scheduled to address the Russian Federal Assembly tomorrow. Billboards in Russia proclaim: “Russia’s border ends nowhere,” but observers believe that he was hoping for a major victory on a battlefield in Ukraine before the speech. Instead, Russian forces have taken severe losses in their recent stalled offensive in eastern Ukraine near Bakhmut.

    Biden’s speech in Poland will follow later in the day.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 21, 2023 (Tuesday)

    Speaking at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, today, President Biden continued to define this global moment as one in which democracies are defending their way of life against rising authoritarianism.

    Biden’s speech followed his surprise visit to Kyiv yesterday, a visit that demonstrated for the world that Putin has failed to take the city in a year of brutal assaults. It built on Vice President Kamala Harris’s speech to the Munich Security Conference saying that Russian atrocities in Ukraine are crimes against humanity. And it built on the fact that the U.S. sent the largest delegation ever to the conference and that the delegation was bipartisan.

    Biden began his speech noting that a year ago “the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv.” But he had just come from there and could report: “Kyiv stands strong! Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most important, it stands free.”

    The 2022 Russian invasion tested the world’s democracies, Biden said, and they stood up for national sovereignty, for the right of people to live free from aggression, and for democracy. Putin “thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracies were soft,” Biden said, but he “found himself at war with a nation led by a man whose courage would be forged in fire and steel: President Zelenskyy.” A year later, “President Putin is confronted with something today that he didn’t think was possible a year ago. The democracies of the world have grown stronger, not weaker. But the autocrats of the world have grown weaker, not stronger.”

    “A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never be able to [erase] the people’s love of liberty,” he said. “Brutality will never grind down the will of the free. And Ukraine—Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never. For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”

    Biden said it’s time to decide what kind of world we want to build. Looking at the coalition that supports Ukraine, he said: “We need to take the strength and capacity of this coalition and apply it to lifting up—lifting up the lives of people everywhere, improving health, growing prosperity, preserving the planet, building peace and security, treating everyone with dignity and respect. That’s our responsibility. The democracies of the world have to deliver it for our people.”

    It’s time to choose “between chaos and stability,” he said. “Between building and destroying.  Between hope and fear. Between democracy that lifts up the human spirit and the brutal hand of the dictator who crushes it. Between nothing less than limitation and possibilities, the kind of possibilities that come when people…live not in captivity but in freedom. Freedom. Freedom. There is no sweeter word than freedom. There is no nobler goal than freedom.  There is no higher aspiration than freedom.”

    “Americans know that, and you know it,” Biden told his Polish audience. “And all that we do now must be done so our children and grandchildren will know it as well.

    “Freedom. The enemy of the tyrant and the hope of the brave and the truth of the ages.

    “Freedom.

    “Stand with us,” Biden said. “We will stand with you.”

    During his speech, Biden thanked Poland for taking in 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, then turned to the United States. “The American people are united in our resolve as well,” he said. “All across my country, in big cities and small towns, Ukrainian flags fly from American homes. Over the past year, Democrats and Republicans in our United States Congress have come together to stand for freedom. That’s who Americans are, and that’s what Americans do.”

    The line drew applause, and indeed, five Republican lawmakers met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv today. Led by Representative Mike McCaul (R-TX), the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, they pledged their support for Ukraine.

    But extremist Republicans stand against continuing Ukraine aid. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and ten other Republican representatives recently introduced to Congress a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution calling for an end to U.S. aid to Ukraine and urging “a peace agreement,” a position that accepts Russia’s invasion as legitimate.  

    Right-wing media has been trying to spin Biden’s trip to Kyiv and speech in Poland as proof that he doesn’t care about the derailment of the train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. In fact, Republican governor Mike DeWine initially rejected federal help when Biden offered it, saying he didn’t see the need for it.

    The right wing has also gone after Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg for the accident, although it was the Trump administration that weakened safety regulations put in place under Barack Obama that could have mitigated the crisis, and railroad personnel cuts that left the train understaffed. Before the accident, train workers had worried that the 151-car train, 9,300 feet long and weighing 18,000 tons, was too long and too heavy to travel safely.

    But Buttigieg is answering his Republican critics. After Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for Buttigieg’s resignation, Buttigieg responded: “I can’t help but notice the last time this agency heard from him on rail regulation was his signature being on a letter that was pretty obviously drafted by industry, calling on us to weaken our practices around track inspection.”

    Concerns about train safety seem warranted: on Monday, four train cars derailed in Riverbank, California, and another train of 31 cars carrying coal derailed today in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Unlike in Ohio, in neither case were there injuries or, apparently, hazardous spills.

    Buttigieg has called for a three-pronged push to improve safety and hold the freight rail industry accountable for accidents. Among those proposals are calls for safer cars, paid sick leave for railroad workers, and larger crew sizes, some of the very things railroad workers wanted last fall. After Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) tweeted that Buttigieg should “[s]how up, do your job and stop playing politics with every crisis you find,” Buttigieg responded with his proposals and wrote: “If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.”

    As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post spelled out today, right-wing figures like Fox News Channel (FNC) personality Tucker Carlson and newly elected Ohio senator J.D. Vance are now spinning the Ohio disaster as an issue of racial malice, portraying it not as a result of weakened safety regulations under former president Trump, but as proof that the Biden administration is throwing white people overboard to focus on Buttigieg’s idea that “we have too many white construction workers.”

    In fact, Buttigieg’s comments addressed the problem of creating opportunities for minority construction workers when white workers are brought in to work on construction projects in minority communities, and the Biden administration has passed expansive legislation that is bringing jobs to poor white communities, legislation most Republicans opposed. But the race baiting has gone so far that, Sargent notes, right-wing personalities are accusing the Biden administration of “spilling toxic chemicals on poor white people.”

    Knocked out of the news by the flurry of activity around the past several days has been the filing in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case against FNC. The texts and testimony in that filing establish that the FNC is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

    That information is important as we grapple with House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) apparent release of the U.S. Capitol video clips from January 6, 2021, to Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson. According to Politico, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger, who has oversight responsibility for those files, did not learn of this deal until he heard it on the news. The Capitol Police have been leery of permitting indiscriminate release of the footage out of concern it reveals safety information.

    It remains unclear how—or, perhaps, if—this permission was actually granted. Carlson publicly described his access as “unfettered,” but McCarthy isn’t commenting, and the three-person Capitol Police Board, including Manger, that oversees security decisions would likely have had to sign off on the exchange. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has told House Democrats he and his team are still trying to learn the details.

    There is lots of buzz today about comments from the foreperson from the Georgia grand jury investigating the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Emily Kohrs said the grand jury had recommended a number of indictments and suggested that people would not be shocked to hear the names on the list. Actual indictments are in the hands of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

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  • brianluxbrianlux Posts: 38,828
    Heather's letter tonight (not posted by Mickey yet) is a doozy.  The last three paragraphs leave me wanting to go out to the garage and (as Henry Rollins once put it) "break some shit."  Egads!
    "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: 27,959
       February 22, 2023 (Wednesday)

    Last week’s court filing in the Dominion Voting Systems case proved that Fox News Channel personalities knew full well that Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. They pushed Trump’s Big Lie of voter fraud anyway, afraid they would lose viewers to right-wing networks that were willing to parrot that lie.

    Since the 1980s, Republicans have relied on a false narrative to win voters. To get rid of the active government put in place after 1933 to put guardrails around the unfettered capitalism that had led to the Depression, they argued that government regulation, the social safety net, civil rights, and investment in infrastructure were socialism and were undermining traditional America.

    Their argument was that business regulation gave the government control over the way a man ran his business, and that taxes to support government bureaucracy, social services, and public investments redistributed wealth from white men to minorities and women. Real Americans, they suggested, must be willing to defend themselves and the country against the “socialist” national government.

    Lately, this determination to get rid of the New Deal government has taken the shape of cutting Social Security and Medicare, which led to the brouhaha over President Biden’s charge during the State of the Union address that Republicans would cut those programs. After Republicans booed him and called him a liar, he backed them into agreeing they would take cuts off the table.

    But former vice president Mike Pence brought it up once more this morning on CNBC, saying, “While I respect the speaker’s commitment to take Social Security and Medicare off the table for the debt ceiling negotiations, we’ve got to put them on the table in the long term,” because they were facing “insolvency.”

    Reversing 40 years of Republican tax cuts would also address financial shortfalls, but that approach does not fit the Republican narrative that cutting taxes promotes growth and raises revenue.

    As their policies became increasingly unpopular, Republicans ramped up that narrative until we have the extraordinary scenario we saw last night: former president Trump telling a campaign audience that the United States has blown right past socialism and is now a communist, Marxist country. That, of course, would mean that the people’s government owns the means of production: the factories, services, and so on.

    Instead, as President Biden pointed out today in response to right-wing attempts to blame his administration for the Ohio derailment, deregulation has moved money upward and compromised Americans’ safety. He noted that he has committed the federal government to make sure Ohio has all it needs to address the crisis. Then he added: “Rail companies have spent millions of dollars to oppose common-sense safety regulations. And it’s worked. This is more than a train derailment or a toxic waste spill—it’s years of opposition to safety measures coming home to roost.”

    That narrative has also enshrined the idea that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, originally intended to limit the federal government’s power over state militias but now interpreted to mean that individuals have a right to own whatever weaponry they want, defines the nation. After a number of right-wing congressional lawmakers have taken to wearing assault rifle lapel pins, Representative Barry Moore (R-AL) this week introduced a bill to make the AR-15 the “National Gun of America.” Moore claims that “The anti–Second Amendment group won’t stop until they take away all your firearms.”

    From February 17 through February 19, there were ten mass shootings in the United States. According to Grace Hauck of USA Today, there were “two mass shootings in Georgia and Missouri and one each in Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi.” Thirteen people were killed and 46 injured. At least 15 of the victims were under 20. Mass shootings are up in 2023 compared to 2022: 82 this year, compared with 59 at the same time last year.  

    The idea of strangling government programs and saving tax dollars has gotten to the point that we had the extraordinary scene in Alaska earlier this week of Republican state representative David Eastman, who attended the January 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C., suggesting that children dying of child abuse would save the state money in the social services those children would otherwise need.

    The Republican narrative to attract voters, as warped as it has become, has now begun to drive the government itself. Today, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post reported that after the 2020 election, Arizona’s then–attorney general, Mark Brnovich, concealed a report produced after 10,000 hours of investigation by his own staff, that said virtually all the claims of fraud leveled against the 2020 Arizona election were unfounded.

    Brnovich was running to win the Republican nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He kept the report hidden and instead released an “Interim Report” saying that his office had found “serious vulnerabilities.” He continued to circulate hints that the vote was off, somehow, despite fact checks disproving those allegations. His office put together a document refuting the idea the election was stolen and saying that none of the people making that accusation produced any evidence. Brnovich did not release that summary.

    In a later memo summarizing their work, investigators noted that none of those making outlandish claims about the election were willing to repeat those claims to agents, when they would be subject to a state law prohibiting them from lying to law enforcement officers.

    Brnovich was involved in the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee case, decided in July 2021 by the Supreme Court, that made it much harder to challenge voting restrictions that make it harder for minorities to vote. Voters replaced Brnovich this year with Kris Mayes, a Democrat, who shifted Brnovich’s “Election Integrity Unit,” which focused on fraud, to address voter suppression.

    The attempt to maintain the Republican narrative is now deeply embedded in the government itself. House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has apparently given to Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Channel exclusive access to more than 44,000 hours of video taken within the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. This amounts to “one of the worst security risks since 9/11,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said in protest today, “a treasure trove of closely held information about how the Capitol complex is protected.”

    Carlson has repeatedly challenged the official accounts of the riot, blaming the federal government for launching the attack and claiming that FBI agents were behind it. Carlson is also one of the key conspirators in the Fox News Channel promotion of the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election, even though they dismissed that notion privately. The expectation is that Carlson will hack whatever videos he can into a version of the Republican narrative.

    But there is more: McCarthy is fundraising off his release of the videos to Carlson, claiming he is delivering “truth and transparency over partisan games” and asking “patriots” to “chip…in” to help House Republicans.

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  • Halifax2TheMaxHalifax2TheMax Posts: 33,067
    brianlux said:
    Heather's letter tonight (not posted by Mickey yet) is a doozy.  The last three paragraphs leave me wanting to go out to the garage and (as Henry Rollins once put it) "break some shit."  Egads!
    I don’t know Brian, seems paragraph 11 is the most egregious. Maybe repubs can campaign on, “beat your kids to death, save your taxes?”
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 23, 2023 (Thursday)

    At Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service today, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke on “The CHIPS Act and a Long-term Vision for America’s Technological Leadership.” She outlined what she sees as a historic opportunity to solidify the nation’s global leadership in technology and innovation and at the same time rebuild the country’s manufacturing sector and protect national security.

    Congress passed the CHIPS and Science Act in August 2022 by a bipartisan vote, directing more than $52 billion into research and manufacturing of semiconductor chips as well as additional scientific research. Scientists in the U.S. developed chips, and they are now in cars, appliances, and so on. But they are now manufactured primarily in East Asia. The U.S. produces only about 10% of the world’s supply and makes none of the most advanced chips.

    That dependence on overseas production hit supply chains hard during the pandemic while also weakening our national security. The hope behind the CHIPS and Science Act was that a significant government investment in the industry would jump-start private investment in bringing chip manufacturing back to the U.S., enabling the U.S. to compete more effectively with China. In the short term, at least, the plan has worked: by the end of 2022, private investors had pledged at least $200 billion to build U.S. chip manufacturing facilities.

    Today, Raimondo framed the CHIPS and Science Act as an “incredible opportunity” to enable the U.S. to lead the world in technology, “securing our economic and national security future for the coming decades.” In the modern technological world, “it’s the countries who invest in research, innovation, and their workforces that will lead in the 21st century,” she said.

    Raimondo described the major investment in semiconductor technology and its manufacture as a public investment in the economy that rivals some of the great investments in our history. She talked of Abraham Lincoln’s investment in agriculture in the 1860s to cement the position of the U.S. as a leader in world grain production, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman’s investment in scientific innovation to develop nuclear technology, and John F. Kennedy’s investment in putting a man on the moon.

    Each of those massive investments sparked scientific innovation and economic growth. Raimondo suggested that “the CHIPS and Science Act presents us with an opportunity to make investments that are similarly consequential for our nation’s future.”

    The vision Raimondo advanced was not one of top-down creativity. Instead, she described the extraordinary innovation of the silicon industry in the 1960s as a product of collaboration between university scientists, government purchasing power, and manufacturing. Rather than dismissing manufacturing as a repetitive mechanical task, she put it at the heart of innovation as the rapid production of millions and millions of chips prompted engineers to tweak manufacturing processes a little at a time, constantly making improvements.

    “This relentless pace of lab-to-fab[rication] and fab-to-lab innovation became synonymous with America’s tech leadership,” she said, “doubling our computing capacity every two years.” As the U.S. shipped manufacturing jobs overseas, it lost this creative system. At the same time, inability to get chips during the pandemic hamstrung the U.S. economy and left our national security dependent for chips on other countries, especially China.

    Reestablishing manufacturing in the U.S. will spark innovation and protect national security. It will also create new well-paying jobs for people without a college degree both in construction and in the operations of the new factories. With labor scarce, Raimondo called for hiring and training a million women in construction over the next decade, as well as bringing people from underserved communities into the skilled workforce to create “the most diverse, productive, and talented workers in the world.”   

    Raimondo warned that the vision she laid out would be hard to accomplish, but “if we—as a nation—unite behind a shared objective…and think boldly,” we can create a new generation of innovators and engineers, develop the manufacturing sector and the jobs that go with it, rebuild our economy, and protect our national security.

    Just “think about what's possible 10 years from now if we are bold,” she said.

    Later, Raimondo told David Ignatius of the Washington Post: “This is more than just an investment to subsidize a few new chip factories…. We need to unite America around a common goal of enhancing America’s global competitiveness and leading in this incredibly crucial technology.… Money isn’t enough. We all need to get in the same boat as a nation.”

    Part of the impetus for the bipartisan drive to jump-start the semiconductor industry is lawmakers’ determination to counter the rise of China, which has invested heavily in its own economy. As the U.S. seeks to swing the Indo-Pacific away from its orientation toward China, Raimondo will travel to India next month to talk about closer economic ties between the U.S. and India, including collaboration in chip manufacturing as India, Japan, and Australia are launching their own joint semiconductor initiative.

    For the Biden administration, the investment in chips and all the growth and innovation it promises to spark, especially among those without college degrees, is also an attempt to unite the nation to move forward. Theirs is a heady vision of a nation that works together in a shared task, as Lincoln’s United States did, or FDR’s, or JFK’s.

    Their orientation toward the future, growth, and prosperity is a striking contrast to the vision of today’s Republicans, who look backward resolutely and angrily to an imagined past. In the short term, many of them continue to relitigate the 2020 presidential election, long after the Big Lie that Trump won has been debunked and the rest of the country has moved on.

    In the New York Times yesterday, Luke Broadwater and Jonathan Swan reported that one of the reasons House speaker Kevin McCarthy handed access to more than 40,000 hours of video from the U.S. Capitol from January 6, 2021, to Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson was that McCarthy had promised the far right that he would revisit that event but did not want to have the Republican Congress tied to the effort. His political advisors say swing voters want to move forward.

    In the longer term, today’s Republicans are out of step with the majority of Americans on issues like LGBTQ rights, climate change, gun safety, and abortion. Although Republicans are pushing draconian laws to end all abortion access, today Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, released a report showing that 64% of Americans say that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 25% say it should be illegal in most cases and only 9% say it should be illegal in all cases. Less than half the residents in every state and in Washington, D.C., supported overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, as the Supreme Court did with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision of last June.

    In a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) echoed Trump’s “American Carnage” inaugural address with his description of today’s America as one full of misery and hopelessness. Florida governor Ron DeSantis traveled this week to New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago to insist those Democratic-led cities were crime-ridden, although as human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid pointed out, Florida has a 19% higher rape rate, 66% higher murder rate, and 280% higher burglary rate than New York.

    Another study released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, which specializes in civil rights law, noted that domestic extremist mass killings have increased “greatly” in the past 12 years. But while murders by Islamic extremists, for example, have been falling, all the extremist killings in 2022 were committed by right-wing adherents, with 21 of 25 murders linked to white supremacists.

    President Biden’s poll numbers are up to 46% in general and 49% with registered voters. Perhaps more to the point is that in Tuesday’s four special elections, Democrats outperformed expectations by significant margins.

    There are many reasons for these Democratic gains—abortion rights key among them—but it is possible that voters like the Democrats’ vision of a hopeful future and a realistic means to get there rather than Republicans’ condemnation of the present and vow to claw back a mythological past.

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  • brianluxbrianlux Posts: 38,828
    brianlux said:
    Heather's letter tonight (not posted by Mickey yet) is a doozy.  The last three paragraphs leave me wanting to go out to the garage and (as Henry Rollins once put it) "break some shit."  Egads!
    I don’t know Brian, seems paragraph 11 is the most egregious. Maybe repubs can campaign on, “beat your kids to death, save your taxes?”

    Ouch!  Yes indeed!  Sickening!
    "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."
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
       February 24, 2023 (Friday)

    “One year and one week ago—on February 17th, 2022—I warned this council that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations Security Council Ministerial Meeting on Ukraine Sovereignty and Russian Accountability today.

    “I said that Russia would manufacture a pretext, and then use missiles, tanks, soldiers, cyber attacks to strike pre-identified targets, including Kyiv,” Blinken continued, “with the aim of toppling Ukraine’s democratically elected government. Russia’s representative—the same representative who will speak today—called these, and I quote, ‘groundless accusations.’

    “Seven days later, on February 24th, 2022, Russia launched its full-scale invasion.”

    When Putin’s initial attack failed to give him control of Ukraine, Blinken continued, “he called snap referenda in four occupied parts of Ukraine, deported Ukrainians, bussed in Russians, held sham votes at gunpoint, and then manipulated the results to claim near unanimous support for joining the Russian Federation.”

    “Over the last year,” Blinken said, “Russia has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children; uprooted more than 13 million people from their homes; destroyed more than half of the country’s energy grid; bombed more than 700 hospitals, 2,600 schools; and abducted at least 6,000 Ukrainian children—some as young as four months old—and relocated them to Russia.

    “And yet, the spirit of the Ukrainians remains unbroken; if anything, it’s stronger than ever.”

    Blinken’s remarkable speech told the history of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, then highlighted that the world community has come together to stand behind Ukraine and the principles of the United Nations Charter that make all countries safer and more secure: “No seizing land by force. No erasing another country’s borders. No targeting civilians in war. No wars of aggression.”

    He noted that the war had caused hardship around the globe, but the “vast majority” of states in the United Nations have condemned Russia’s violations of the U.N. Charter, including 141 who voted for a resolution along those lines just yesterday.

    When Putin tried to use hunger as a weapon to end sanctions, more than 100 countries stepped up to bring down world grain prices; when Putin tried to use energy as a weapon, the rest of the world redirected national gas supplies so that the countries he was targeting could keep their people warm, and Europe worked hard to end its dependence on Russian energy.

    Blinken said that if we do not defend the basic principles of the U.N. Charter, “we invite a world in which might makes right, the strong dominate the weak. That’s the world this body was created to end.”

    While everyone—especially Ukraine—wants peace, he said, that peace must be durable, not simply an excuse to let Russia rest, rearm, and relaunch the war. As Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has outlined, any peace must honor Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Putin has rejected this condition out of the box, saying that Ukraine must accept his “annexation” of Ukraine’s territories.

    Blinken reminded his listeners that not everything in the world has two sides. “In this war, there is an aggressor and there is a victim,” he said. “If Russia stops fighting and leaves Ukraine, the war ends.  If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends. The fact remains: One man—Vladimir Putin—started this war; one man can end it.”

    When Russia and its defenders say the ongoing war is diverting resources from others in need, Blinken said, “look at Moscow’s actions” and look at the numbers. Last year, the U.S. contributed $13.5 billion in food aid and funded more than 40% of the World Food Program’s budget. Russia pays less than 1% of that budget.

    Blinken went on: “Based on the latest UN figures, the United States donates over nine times as much as Russia to UN peacekeeping.  We donate 390 times as much as Russia to UNICEF.  We give nearly a thousand times as much as Russia to the UN Refugee Agency.”

    Blinken reminded his listeners that the atrocities we are seeing Russians commit in Ukraine are not normal. “Bucha is not normal,” he said. “Mariupol is not normal. Irpin is not normal. Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings to rubble is not normal. Stealing Ukrainian children from their families and giving them to people in Russia is not normal.

    “We must not let President Putin’s callous indifference to human life become our own.”

    Today, the leaders of the international Group of Seven, known as the G7, met virtually with Zelensky. The G7 includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Union.

    The statement they issued echoed Blinken’s speech, then went on to pledge to continue food and humanitarian aid as countries suffer from the war, and to continue to design sanctions to make sure those countries continue to have access to food and fertilizers. The G7 leaders expressed “profound sympathy” for those affected by the “horrifying earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria” and pledged continued support.

    “Above all,” they said, “our solidarity will never waver in standing with Ukraine, in supporting countries and people in need, and in upholding the international order based on the rule of law.”

    The Biden administration today announced $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including drones, communications equipment, HIMARS rockets, and 155-millimeter artillery ammunition, while the G7 has increased its 2023 support for Ukraine to $39 billion, and both Germany and Sweden committed to sending more Leopard 2 tanks.

    The deputy chair of Russia’s security council, former president Dmitry Medvedev, said today that Russia planned to “push the borders of threats to our country as far as possible, even if these are the borders of Poland.” Poland is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), meaning an attack on it would be an attack on the rest of NATO, including the United States.

    At a press conference in Kyiv today, Zelensky said: “Victory will be inevitable. I am certain there will be victory.”

    “We have everything for it. We have the motivation, certainty, the friends, the diplomacy. You have all come together for this. If we all do our important homework, victory will be inevitable.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     February 25, 2023 (Saturday)

    Yesterday, the chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, James Comer (R-KY), the chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce, Pete Sessions (R-TX), the chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, Glenn Grothman (R-WI), and the chair of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation, Nancy Mace (R-SC), along with seventeen other extremist Republican members of Congress, sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

    The letter complained that the federal government had not responded effectively to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. It referred to a preliminary report by the “D[epartment] O[f] T[ransportation]’s National Transportation Safety Board” and demanded Buttigieg provide “[a]ll documents and communications regarding NTSB’s progress on the cause of the derailment.”

    The NTSB is not part of the Department of Transportation.

    The NTSB is part of the government, but it is an independent agency, charged with investigating civil transportation accidents. It is also in charge of investigating the release of hazardous materials during transportation. Congress deliberately set it apart from the Department of Transportation to guarantee unbiased investigations.

    A 150-car Norfolk Southern train was traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania on Friday, February 3, when 38 cars derailed at about 8:54 p.m. Those cars caught fire, and 12 cars that had not derailed also caught fire. The NTSB responded immediately and, the following afternoon, held a press conference explaining that it was collecting perishable evidence to determine what caused the accident and to make appropriate recommendations for safety upgrades if such recommendations were warranted.

    Nine NTSB investigators and four engineers in labs have been involved in the accident review. They have reviewed footage of the derailment, interviewed train staff, and examined the train event recorder, a device similar to a black box on an airplane.

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal agency in charge of responding to the release of hazardous substances and leading cleanup efforts. Its personnel were at the site by 2:00 on Saturday morning, about five hours after the derailment. It has had six staff and 16 contractors on the ground since the crash.

    The Department of Transportation has two agencies that are appropriate to deploy for this kind of an accident. The Federal Railroad Administration enforces safety regulations for railways, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration enforces safety regulations for hazardous materials. Those agencies have deployed ten staff to help NTSB investigate. They will figure out if Norfolk Southern ignored any regulations.

    This letter is not about the derailment itself, or the dangers, or the cleanup, or even the history of deregulation.

    It is about the careful way generations of Americans have tried to create a government that could support progress while also guaranteeing oversight, and it is about the lawmakers who wrote the letter to Secretary Buttigieg.

    Either 21 Republican lawmakers charged with oversight of our government don’t know how the government works and didn’t care to find out, or they are deliberately misleading their loyalists.

    We are becoming accustomed to certain Republican lawmakers saying ridiculous things. Just two days ago, in a now-deleted tweet, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) claimed that “6 billion” people have illegally crossed the border since President Biden took office. (There are slightly fewer than 8 billion people on earth.)

    But the letter these representatives wrote shows such a profound disinterest in how our government works that it suggests these representatives have no real interest in the job they were sent to Washington to do, and instead are weaponizing the government to mislead their followers into believing things that are not true.

    Buttiegieg responded: “I am alarmed to learn that the Chair of the House Oversight Committee thinks that the NTSB is part of our Department. NTSB is independent (and with good reason). Still, of course, we will fully review this and respond appropriately.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 26, 2023 (Sunday)

    Lots of cold and snow in the past few weeks in our part of the world, but the changing light makes it pretty clear that winter won't be with us too much longer.

    Going to take a rest tonight and get back to it tomorrow.

    [Photo by Buddy Poland]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     February 27, 2023 (Monday)

    Another filing today in the defamation lawsuit of Dominion Voting Systems against the Fox News Network has revealed more of the machinations behind the construction of the Big Lie that former president Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

    A previous filing showed that Fox News Channel hosts knew full well that Biden had won and that Trump loyalists saying the election was fraudulent had no evidence. Personalities like Tucker Carlson continued to push the Big Lie, though, apparently out of fear that they would lose their audience to Newsmax and other right-wing outlets that continued to parrot the idea that Trump had won the election.

    Today’s filing shows that executives at the highest levels of the Fox Corporation and the Fox News Network knowingly permitted Fox News Channel personalities to spread false conspiracy theories about the election in order to protect their profits. It includes testimony from Rupert Murdoch, the chair of the Fox Corporation, showing that Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chair and chief executive officer of the Fox Corporation, as well as Suzanne Scott, the chief executive officer of Fox News Media, were all deeply involved in the question of how to deal with Trump’s lies and with the personalities who were echoing those lies, without losing viewership.

    Rupert Murdoch spoke with Scott frequently, and testified: “I’m a journalist at heart. I like to be involved in these things.” Lachlan Murdoch, as well, was in the loop with his father and Scott. Ultimately, although they knew that claims of massive election fraud were unfounded, they decided to give the lies airtime anyway to stop their audience from abandoning them for other channels. Fox board member and former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) warned them “that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories,” but they ignored him.

    Murdoch also revealed FNC’s role as a wing of the Republican Party when he testified that he “provided Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, with Fox confidential information about Biden's ads, along with debate strategy… (providing Kushner a preview of Biden's ads before they were public).”

    Political writer Rick Wilson summed it up: “They knew Trump lost. They knew there was not then (nor is there now) a scintilla of fraud. They knew, and lied. Over, and over, and over. They chose guests they knew were lying. They allowed story meetings promoting a massive, dangerous lie that reduced faith and belief in the American system. The entire top level of Fox management knew their lies were leading to danger for this nation…. They knew the lies were lies. They fed and fed the beast.”

    The Big Lie has become central to the worldview of far-right Republicans. On February 23, in Arizona, newly elected Republican, conspiracy theorist, and election denier Liz Harris hijacked a hearing of the House and Senate election committees to feature a speaker who talked of election fraud and made wild and unsubstantiated accusations that state lawmakers and judges are taking bribes from a Mexican drug cartel.

    When another election denier, state senator Wendy Rogers, said the hearing was “not the appropriate venue” to talk about potential criminal activity, one of her own supporters accused her of being “compromised,” and another said that revolution was now “inevitable.”

    Also in the news today was the death of Gleb Pavlovsky, former top political consultant to Russian president Vladimir Putin, after a long illness. Before quietly turning away from Putin,  Pavlovsky helped to engineer his rise through a concept called “political technology,” a system that uses technology to manipulate voters into rubber stamping the election of favored political leaders.

    According to historian and political scientist Andrew Wilson, who specializes in Eastern Europe, “political technologists” in the post-Soviet republics created a virtual political reality by blackmailing opponents, abusing state power to help favored candidates, sponsoring “double” candidates with names similar to those of opponents in order to take their voters, creating false parties to create opposition, and, finally, creating a false narrative around an election or other event that enabled them to control public debate.

    Under such manipulation, usually delivered in a firehose of outrageous and competing stories, people lost the ability to tell what was real and lost faith that they could have any effect on the political system.

    In the hands of political technologists, democracy was no longer about voters choosing their representatives, but was simply a way to legitimize manipulation by corrupt politicians to keep themselves in power.

    After House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave exclusive access to 41,000 hours of video from the U.S. Capitol to Tucker Carlson of the Fox News Channel, news organizations CBS News, CNN, Politico, ProPublica ABC, Axios, Advance, Scripps, the Los Angeles Times, and Gannett have asked the speaker for equal access to the material.

    “Without full public access to the complete historical record,” attorney Charles Tobin wrote, “there is concern that an ideologically-based narrative of an already polarizing event will take hold in the public consciousness, with destabilizing risks to the legitimacy of Congress, the Capitol Police, and the various federal investigations and prosecutions of January 6 crimes.”

    Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to try to restore faith in the government. The Commerce Department will announce tomorrow that any company that hopes to get one of the new federal subsidies for semiconductor manufacturing under the CHIPS and Science Act must make sure its construction workers and employees have access to affordable, high-quality childcare. Such companies will be able to use some of the government money to build new childcare facilities, subsidize care at existing facilities, or find other solutions.

    The measure is designed to ease the labor shortages by enabling women currently unable to find affordable childcare to enter the workforce. It will also leave the establishment of more childcare facilities in the hands of private companies, thus avoiding another round of fights over Biden’s so-called soft infrastructure bill that emphasized childcare, elder care, education, and so on.

    Using government contracting to enact social change is a long-standing practice, and the call for childcare is not new. The report from the President’s Commission on the Status of Women declared: “Child care services are needed in all communities, for children of all kinds of families who may require day care, after-school care, or intermittent care. In putting major emphasis on this need, the Commission affirms that child care facilities are essential for women in many different circumstances, whether they work outside the home or not.”

    The kicker of that statement is that the president who convened the Commission on the Status of Women was not Biden. It was John F. Kennedy, and the commission issued its report in 1963, sixty years ago.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      February 28, 2023 (Tuesday)

    Republican control of the House of Representatives has fed a changing dynamic. After decades of playing defense, the Democrats are going on offense.

    Today, President Joe Biden visited Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he talked about protecting Medicare and Medicaid. He was careful—as he always is—to differentiate between “an awful lot of really good Republicans” and the “MAGA Republicans.” “There’s kind of like, in my view, sort of two Republican Parties.”

    The MAGA Republicans, he said, “want to eliminate a lot of healthcare coverage,... increase costs for millions of Americans, and make deep cuts in programs that families and seniors depend on.” He spelled out that these cuts would mean that more than 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions would lose coverage, and millions could lose basic services like maternity care, which the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover. Up to 3 million young adults would get kicked off their parents’ insurance, and the cost of premiums in general would go up.

    Biden was getting ahead of what seems likely to be the Republican proposal to cut the budget dramatically in the new Congress and the more recent promise of House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to put the U.S. “on a path to a balanced budget” within ten years. Biden noted that Republicans have voted more than 50 times to change or repeal the Affordable Care Act since it passed 13 years ago. He also pointed to the fact that the chief budget consultant for the House Republicans is Trump’s former budget director Russell Vought.

    Now that Republicans have committed to taking cuts to Social Security and Medicare off the table, Vought has a plan to cut $9 trillion from domestic programs over the next ten years by cutting more than $400 billion from food stamps, cutting hundreds of billions from education, cutting in half the State Department and the Labor Department, and cutting $2 trillion from Medicaid and more than $600 billion from the Affordable Care Act.

    “America cannot be saved unless the current grip of woke and weaponized government is broken,” Vought says in his proposal. “That is the central and immediate threat facing the country—the one that all our statesmen must rise tall to vanquish…. The battle cannot wait.”

    But, as Jeff Stein, Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf of the Washington Post point out, Vought’s stand is a little awkward, since he oversaw the explosion of the national debt as director of the Office of Management and Budget under Trump. In his first year as director, the debt grew by $1 trillion; in his second, by $4 trillion. Now he claims that the Biden administration is abusing its power by arresting people who participated in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and so must be reined in.

    Vought’s proposal promises to balance the budget in ten years, but it also predicts the number of working people in the U.S. will increase by 14.5 million more people than the Congressional Budget Office says will enter the workforce. That surge—if it were to come—would push the economy to grow faster, thus reducing the deficit by an additional $3.8 trillion. But where the people will come from is a mystery.

    One former Republican official told Stein, Dawsey, and Arnsdorf that Vought was “selling conservatives a fantasy, which is achieving a balanced budget without cutting anything popular. We’re going to balance the budget by ‘ending woke?’ Give me a break.”

    Biden continues to push House Republicans to come up with a budget that will show the American people what they intend to cut. It’s hard to see how they can do that, with much of their conference refusing cuts in defense and with them now on the record as refusing cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The math of balancing the budget through cuts to other programs without raising taxes simply doesn’t work.

    As G. William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington and a former GOP congressional staffer, said: “I’d be the last person to say you can’t find savings from improved efficiency or the elimination of some programs…. But there’s no way on God’s green earth you’re going to balance the budget in 10 years unless you’re talking about increasing revenues and slowing the rate of growth in some of our major entitlement programs.”

    Today, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) pointed out that the Republicans had added 25% of the U.S. debt under Trump and emphasized the economic successes of the Biden administration.

    “In 2021, Biden and the Democrats got to work and passed the American Rescue Plan, which fueled a strong, equitable economic recovery with historic reductions in unemployment, poverty, and economic hardship,” Raskin said. “Real GDP increased by 5.7% that year, substantially surpassing pre-ARP forecasts by the Fed. By January 2022, the unemployment rate had decreased to 4%, again surpassing pre-ARP forecasts. Wages increased by 5.7% from the prior year, with the highest increases going to the lowest wage workers. Democratic policies have allowed the U.S. to absorb the shock of rising inflation engulfing the globe since 2020, a phenomenon that economists attribute to coronavirus supply chain disruptions and Russia’s bloody war of aggression in Ukraine.”

    Democrats are also on offense as the extremists now in the majority are exposing their lack of understanding of how the government works. Both Raskin and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called out Republicans today for basic errors in drafting legislation, and witness Colin Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, embarrassed Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in a hearing about aid to Ukraine after the congressman apparently thought he had found a “gotcha” story in the Global Times.

    “I’m sorry, is this the Global Times from China?” Kahl asked. Gaetz said no, then checked and said yes, it was, asking if that made it untrustworthy. “As a general matter, I don’t take Beijing's propaganda at face value,” Kahl answered. Gaetz answered: “Fair enough.”   

    Raskin also called out Republicans for a “grammatical error”: their long-standing habit of using “Democrat” as an adjective as if it is an insult. Noting Colorado Republican representative Lauren Boebert’s reference to a “Democrat solution,” Raskin pointed out that “Democrat” is a noun, and Republicans should, in such cases, be using the adjective: “Democratic.”

    He said he was beginning to suspect that this word usage was intended to be “an act of incivility”—as of course it is—and he turned the tables. Their grammatical error was “as if every time we mentioned the other party, it just came out…like: ‘Oh, the Banana Republican Party,’ as if we were to say that every time we mentioned ‘the Banana Republican member’ or ‘the Banana Republican plan,’ or the ‘Banana Republican conference.’” (The term “banana republic” refers to a country that is corrupt and badly governed.)

    “But we wouldn’t do that,” he said. “So, out of pure political courtesy, when it’s an adjective, refer to the ‘Democratic’ congresswoman or the ‘Democratic’ member.”

    The pressure on the Republicans is not going to let up. Biden has promised to release his budget on March 9, putting down “in detail every single thing—every tax that’s out there that I’m proposing…and what we’re going to cut, what we’re going to spend…. Just lay it on the table.”

    “Republicans,” he said, “should do the same thing: lay their proposal on the table.  And we can sit down, and we can agree, disagree. We can fight it out.”

    But, divided as they are, can Republicans craft a budget they can agree on? And if so, will Americans like what they see? Biden seems to doubt it, and to have confidence that his plans more closely reflect what people want. Today, he promised: “When I introduce my budget, you’ll see that it’s going to invest in America, lower health costs, and protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare while cutting the deficit more than $2 trillion over the next 10 years.”

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  • Halifax2TheMaxHalifax2TheMax Posts: 33,067
    Love this from Raskin, who must be feeling froggy under that bandanna. I might have to use it. Can’t spell bandanna without banana.

    He said he was beginning to suspect that this word usage was intended to be “an act of incivility”—as of course it is—and he turned the tables. Their grammatical error was “as if every time we mentioned the other party, it just came out…like: ‘Oh, the Banana Republican Party,’ as if we were to say that every time we mentioned ‘the Banana Republican member’ or ‘the Banana Republican plan,’ or the ‘Banana Republican conference.’” (The term “banana republic” refers to a country that is corrupt and badly governed.) 
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 1, 2023 (Wednesday)

    Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced today that it will cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, bringing costs for people with private insurance and those without insurance who sign up for Lilly’s copay assistance program into line with the $35 cap for Medicare recipients Congress imposed with the Inflation Reduction Act last August.

    Republicans all voted against the Inflation Reduction Act and explicitly stripped from it a measure that would have capped the cost of insulin at $35 for those not on Medicare. They continue to oppose the measure. On February 2, 2023, newly elected House Republican Andy Ogles (TN) introduced his first bill: a call to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, claiming it “took a gigantic step toward socialized medicine.” The bill had 20 far-right cosponsors.

    At the time he introduced the bill, Ogles presented himself as an economist with a degree in international relations from Middle Tennessee State University. Since then, an investigation by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville revealed that he took one course in economics and got a “C” in it, and that his resume was similarly exaggerated across the board. Ogles won a seat in Congress after the Republican state legislature redistricted Nashville to make it easier for a Republican to win there.

    Lilly’s announcement in the face of Republican support for big pharmaceutical companies is a bellwether for the country’s politics. Biden has pressured companies to bring down the price of insulin—most notably by calling for such legislation last month during his State of the Union address—and is claiming credit for Lilly’s decision. But there is more to it.

    The astronomically high price tags on U.S. insulin compared to the rest of the world have become a symbol of a society where profits trump lives, and there is growing opposition to the control pharmaceutical companies have over life-saving drugs. A number of other entities, including a nonprofit company in Utah called Civica Rx, the state of California, and a company run by billionaire Mark Cuban, have all promised to produce generic insulin at a fraction of what pharmaceutical companies are currently charging. Lilly's announcement is likely a reaction to the changing moment that has brought both political pressure and economic competition. The company’s leaders see the writing on the wall.

    The administration continues to work to create positive change in other measures important to ordinary Americans. This month ends temporary increases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously referred to as “food stamps.” At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress boosted SNAP payments, keeping as many as 4.2 million people out of poverty. Congress ended those extra benefits late last year through the Consolidated Appropriations Act that funded the government. About 42 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, and the end of that boost will cut those benefits by $90 a month on average.

    Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote an op-ed at CNN today, promising that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, will do its best to protect families losing the expanded benefits. It will work to adjust benefits to rising prices, expand school lunch programs, and promote access to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

    “Our country was founded to support the prosperity and potential of Americans in every corner of the nation,” Vilsack wrote. “Under President Joe Biden’s administration, we’re making good on this promise.”

    Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it off to the states for ratification, but they imposed on that ratification a seven-year deadline. Thirty states ratified it within the next year, but a fierce opposition campaign led by right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly eroded support among Republicans, and although Congress extended the deadline by three years, only 35 states had signed on by 1977. And, confusing matters, legislatures in five states—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Kentucky, and South Dakota—voted to take back their earlier ratification.

    In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify the ERA since 1977. Then Illinois stepped up, and finally, in 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, putting it over the required three quarters of states needed for the amendment to become part of the Constitution. But now there are legal challenges to that ratification over both the original deadline and whether the states’ rescinding of previous ratifications has merit.

    The Senate hearing was designed to examine whether the deadline could be separated from the amendment to allow the amendment to be added to the Constitution, but it was far more revealing than that.

    Faced with the possibility that the ERA might become part of the Constitution, right-wing leaders insisted that the ERA has “just one purpose left,” as the Heritage Foundation put it: “Abortion.” They claim that since, in their view, women are now effectively equal to men across the board in employment and so on, women’s current demand for equality before the law is simply a way for them to capture abortion rights.

    Catholic bishops of the United States have written to senators to express “alarm” at the ERA, warning it would have “far-reaching consequences” with “negative impacts to the common good and to religious freedom.” They claim it would require federal funding for abortions and would prohibit “discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ and other categories.” “We strongly urge you to oppose it,” they wrote, “and any resolution attempting to declare it ratified.”

    This fight highlights that the attempt to stop government protection of individuals is really about imposing the will of a minority. A piece by Megan O’Matz in ProPublica today explored how an anti-abortion law firm has been sowing doubts about the 2020 presidential election as part of a long-term strategy to end abortion rights. Led by former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline, whose law license was suspended a decade ago for ethics violations, lawyers at the Thomas More Society worked to restrict access to the vote and to stall President Joe Biden’s inauguration in order to keep Trump in office.

    Their efforts thrived on disinformation, of course, and the echoes from the testimony released recently in the defamation case of Dominion Voting Systems against the Fox Corporation continue to reverberate in the fight against public lies. In that testimony, both Fox News Channel hosts and top executives admitted that they knew Trump’s claims of victory in the 2020 presidential election were lies but spread them anyway to keep their viewers from abandoning them for another channel.

    Now House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has given exclusive access to 44,000 hours of video from the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, to one of those hosts, Tucker Carlson.

    Today, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) did an end run around McCarthy to address the problem of disinformation directly at the source. They sent a letter to Rupert Murdoch, chair of the Fox Corporation, and other top Fox executives, reminding them of their damning testimony and reminding them that “your network hosts continue to promote, spew, and perpetuate election conspiracy theories to this day.”

    They wrote: “We demand that you direct Tucker Carlson and other hosts on your network to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.”

    It is an important marker, and if the Fox Corporation can read the writing on the wall as well as Eli Lilly can, it might shift the focus of the Fox News Channel, which already seems to be trying to pull its support for Trump and give it to Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

    But that protest is unlikely to change the behavior of right-wing members of Congress. Yesterday, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Mark Green (R-TN) blamed the Biden administration for the deaths of Caleb and Kyler Kiessling from fentanyl poisoning after their mother, an attorney and conservative activist, testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security. But the young men, along with 17-year-old Sophia Harris, died in July 2020, when Trump was president.

    When senior CNN reporter Daniel Dale asked Green’s office why she had blamed Biden for the deaths, her congressional spokesperson, Nick Dyer, “responded by saying lots of people have died from drugs under Biden and ‘do you think they give a f*ck about your bullsh*t fact checking?’” Dale also asked him to comment on Greene’s lies about the 2020 presidential election yesterday. Dyer answered: “F*ck off.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     March 2, 2023 (Thursday)

    It's commonly understood that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the electoral votes from three contested southern states in 1876 and thus took the presidency by promising to remove from the South the U.S. troops that had been protecting Black Americans there. Then, the story goes, he removed the troops in 1877 and ended Reconstruction.

    But that isn't what happened.

    On March 2, 1877, at 3:50 in the morning, the House of Representatives finally settled the last question of presidential electors and decided the 1876 election in favor of the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, just two days before the new president was to be sworn in.

    The election had been bitterly contested. Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden appeared to have won the popular vote by about 250,000 votes, but broken ballot boxes and terrorized Black voters in three southern states made it clear the count was suspect. A commission of fifteen lawmakers tried to judge which of the dueling slates of electors from those states were legitimate. In the end, the commission, dominated by Republicans, decided the true electors belonged to Hayes.

    To make sure the southerners who were threatening civil war over the election did not follow through, leading industrialists and lawmakers made promises to southern leaders that a Republican president would look favorably on federal grants to southern railroads and would not fill government positions with Republicans in the South, giving control of patronage there to a Democrat.

    But what did not happen in 1877, either before or after the inauguration, was the removal of troops from the South.

    That legend came from a rewriting of the history of Reconstruction in 1890 by fourteen southern congressmen. In their book "Why the Solid South? Or Reconstruction and Its Results," they argued that Black voting after the Civil War had allowed Black people to “dominate” white southerners and virtually bankrupt the region and that virtuous white southerners had pushed them from the ballot box and “redeemed” the South. Contemporaries had identified the end of Reconstruction as 1870, with the readmission of Georgia to the United States. But "Why the Solid South" identified the end of Reconstruction as the end of Republican rule in each state.  

    In 1906, former steel baron James Ford Rhodes gave a date to that process. In his famous seven-volume history of the United States, he said that in April 1877, Hayes had ended Reconstruction by returning all the southern states to “home rule.” In his era, that was a political term referring to the return of power in the southern states to Democrats, but over time that phrase got tangled up with what did happen in April 1877.

    During the chaos after the election, President U.S. Grant had ordered troops to protect the Republican governors in the Louisiana and South Carolina statehouses. When he took office, Hayes told Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana that he could no longer let federal troops protect their possession of their statehouses when their Democratic rivals had won the popular vote.

    Under orders from Hayes, the troops guarding those statehouses marched away from their posts around the statehouses and back to their home stations in April 1877. They did not leave the states, although a number of troops would be deployed from southern bases later that year both to fight wars against Indigenous Americans in the West and to put down the 1877 Great Railroad Strike. That mobilization cut even further the few troops in the region: in 1876, the Department of the South had only about 1,586 men including officers. Nonetheless, southerners fought bitter congressional battles to get the few remaining troops out of the South in 1878–1879, and they lost.

    The troops did not leave the U.S. South in 1877 as part of a deal to end Reconstruction.

    It matters that we misremember that history. Generations of Americans have accepted the racist southern lawmakers’ version of our past by honoring the date they claimed to have “redeemed” the South. The reality of Reconstruction was not one in which Black voters bankrupted the region by taking tax dollars from white taxpayers to fund roads and schools and white voters stepped in to save things; it was the story of an attempt to establish racial equality and the undermining of that attempt with the establishment of a one-party state that benefited a few white men at the expense of everyone else.

    Certain of today’s Republican leaders are engaged in an equally dramatic reworking of our history.

    When Florida governor Ron DeSantis last March signed the law commonly called the “Don’t Say Gay” law, he justified it by its title: the “Parental Rights in Education” law. It restricted the ability of schoolteachers to mention sexual orientation or gender identity through grade 3, and opponents noted that its vagueness would lead teachers to self-censor.

    Under the guise of protecting children, DeSantis echoed authoritarians like Hungary’s Victor Orbán and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who claim that democracy’s principle that all people are equal—including sexual minorities—proves that democracy is incompatible with traditional religious values. Promising to take away LGBTQ Americans’ rights offered a way to consolidate a following to undermine democracy.

    DeSantis sought to shore up his position by mandating a whitewashed version of a mythic past. At his request, in March the Florida legislature approved a law banning public schools or private businesses from teaching people to feel guilty for historical events in which members of their race behaved poorly, the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act.

    In July the Florida legislature passed a law mandating that the books in Florida’s public school cannot be pornographic and must be suited to “student needs”; a state media specialist would be responsible for approving classroom materials. An older law makes distributing obscene or pornographic materials to minors a felony that could lead to up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Unsure what books are acceptable and worried about penalties, school officials in at least two counties, Manatee and Duval, directed teachers to remove books from their classrooms or cover them until they can be reviewed.

    In January, DeSantis set out to remake the New College of Florida, a public institution known for its progressive values and inclusion of LGBTQ students, into an activist Christian school. He replaced six of the college’s thirteen trustees with far-right allies and forced out the college president in favor of a political ally, giving him a salary of $699,000, more than double what his predecessor made.

    On February 28, right-wing activist Christopher Rufo, the man behind the furor over Critical Race Theory and one of DeSantis’s appointees to the New School board, tweeted: “We will be shutting down low-performing, ideologically-captured academic departments and hiring new faculty. The student body will be recomposed over time: some current students will self-select out, others will graduate; we’ll recruit new students who are mission-aligned.”

    Then, this Tuesday, the board voted to abolish diversity, equity and inclusion programs at the school. DeSantis has promised to defund all DEI programs at public colleges and universities in Florida.  

    The attempt to take over schools and reject the equality that lies at the foundation of liberal democracy is now moving toward the more general tenets of authoritarianism. This week, one Republican state senator proposed a bill that would require bloggers who write about DeSantis, his Cabinet officers, or members of the Florida legislature, to register with the state; another proposed outlawing the Democratic Party.

    DeSantis and those like him are trying to falsify our history. They claim that the Founders established a nation based on traditional hierarchies, one in which traditional Christian rules were paramount. They insist that their increasingly draconian laws to privilege people like themselves are simply reestablishing our past values.

    But that’s just wrong. Our Founders quite deliberately rejected traditional values and instead established a nation on the principle of equality. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they wrote, “that all men are created equal.” And when faced with the attempt of lawmakers in another era to reject that principle and make some men better than others, Abraham Lincoln called it out for what it was. “I should like to know,” he said, “if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?”

    To accept DeSantis’s version of our history would be a perversion of our past and our principles.

    But it is not unimaginable.

    The troops did not leave the South in 1877.

    [Photo: Matthew Brady, Rutherford B. Hayes taking the oath of office, March 4, 1877, Library of Congress, public domain.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 3, 2023 (Friday)

    Today the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee demonstrated that they will actively fight back against Republicans’ false narratives. House Republicans, led by Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-OH), have insisted they had evidence of the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation against Republicans. Jordan has claimed to have “dozens and dozens of whistleblowers…talking about what is going on, the political nature at the Justice Department.”

    These allegations that Republicans are victims of a “deep state” follow Trump’s insistence that the FBI’s investigation of the ties between his 2016 campaign and Russian operatives was “a witch hunt” led by Democrats. Jordan and other Republican members of Congress developed that same theme in their performances defending Trump during his first impeachment trial. Trump defenders continued to say on television and other media that they were victims of the FBI investigation of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

    But now, in charge of the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, established under the Judiciary Committee, Jordan and the Republicans actually have to produce evidence of their allegations. So far, they have held one hearing. It was a fiasco as the Republicans’ witnesses, including Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), made rambling statements that rehashed old grievances without presenting any new evidence, and Democrats repeatedly accused Republicans of trying to use the powers of the government to advance political talking points.

    Recently, Republicans have begun to release pieces of the private interviews they conducted with those claiming they could prove the FBI was persecuting Republicans. Rather than permit them to establish a false narrative, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and the top Democrat on the weaponization subcommittee, Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), today released a deeply researched and footnoted 316-page report that shreds the Republicans’ story.

    The report reveals the Republicans’ “dozens and dozens of whistleblowers” are, so far at least, three witnesses—whistleblower is actually a specific category and they do not meet that standard—who have left the FBI and have complained that the agency is biased against “conservatives.” Two of them lost their security clearances before they left, and while committee Republicans refused to show Democrats the men’s suspension notices, one revealed in his testimony that the notice arrived after he had improperly accessed documents from the FBI’s classified system. All three embrace a number of conspiracy theories. Under oath, they provided only right-wing accusations of bias without being able to attest to any first-hand knowledge of the things they alleged.

    The witnesses did not come forward on their own; they were identified by former administrators in the Trump administration, including fervent Trump loyalists Kash Patel and Russell Vought. Patel provided money and legal services to two of the witnesses and found one of them a job at Vought’s right-wing think tank, the Center for Renewing America, after he left the FBI.

    The witnesses were all fervent Trump supporters who were sympathetic to those involved in the January 6th attack. One of them claimed that the January 6th attack was a “set-up” and that it was “a larger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI.” He described the FBI as “the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC,” a reference to Nazi Storm Troopers. Another has repeatedly called for the FBI to be “defunded,” “dismantled,” “dissolved,” “aborted,” “abolished,”  and “completely eliminated and eradicated from the federal government.”

    In a section of the report titled “An Analysis of Witness Testimony Shows That Committee Republicans Are Working to Advance a Politically Motivated Messaging Campaign Unsupported by the Evidence,” Nadler and Plaskett show how the witness testimony directly rebutted the Republicans’ talking points. Under examination, the witnesses disproved that the Department of Justice was trying to pad its case numbers regarding domestic violent extremism, that it had diverted resources from child abuse cases to pursue January 6 offenders, and that the FBI had overreacted to threats of violence against school administrators and local political officials, all Republican talking points.

    The Democrats provided extensive evidence to suggest that Patel was egging on the witnesses to help push Trump’s fight against the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Biden administration. Now, they said, it appears that he and his allies are trying to use the subcommittee in this same effort. The Democrats expressed “serious concerns” about the possible coordination between Patel and the Republican committee members.

    They explained: Patel is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America (CRA), a MAGA think tank that pushed the House Republicans to establish the subcommittee. The CRA was founded by Christian nationalist Russell Vough—now working with the Republicans on their budget plan—and is funded by the Conservative Partnership institute (CPI), which is run by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and former senator Jim DeMint (R-SC).

    Axios author Jonathan Swan described CPI as “a who’s-who of Trump’s former administration and the ‘America First’ movement,” “the hub of the hard right in Washington.” Their headquarters is where the right-wing extremist “Freedom Caucus” meets, and the notoriously stingy Trump authorized a $1 million donation to the CPI in 2021.

    In short, the Democrats are suggesting that the House Republicans who established the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government are themselves trying to weaponize the government to advance the interests of Trump and the MAGA Republicans. Nadler and Plaskett quoted Jordan’s statement at the August 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference, when he promised that his investigation would “frame up the 2024 race when I hope and I think President Trump is going to run again and we need to make sure that he wins.”  

    The official Republican House Judiciary Twitter account responded vaguely: “Cherry-picked leaks. Partial transcripts. All to disparage brave whistleblowers. Democrats should be ashamed.”

    But, just as they did with the Republicans’ reluctance to show the American people their budget plan, the Democrats are calling the Republicans’ bluff. “We urge Chairman Jordan to schedule the public testimony of these individuals without delay,” Nadler and Plaskett wrote. “The American public should be able to judge for themselves whether these witnesses or their allegations are remotely credible.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     March 4, 2023 (Saturday)

    Winter has at last caught up with us, but it's behind schedule. Snow has arrived with enthusiasm in New England at the same time the longer days make it clear that Spring is on its way.

    Going to get a real winter night's sleep tonight, but will be back at it tomorrow.

    [Photo, Blizzard, by Peter Ralston.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     March 5, 2023 (Sunday)
     
    President Joe Biden spoke this afternoon in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when law enforcement officers tried to beat into silence Black Americans marching for their right to have a say in the government under which they lived. Standing at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which had been named for a Confederate brigadier general, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator who stood against Black rights, Biden said: “On this bridge, blood was given to help ‘redeem the soul of America.’”
     
    The story of March 7, 1965, commemorated today in Selma, is the story of Americans determined to bring to life the principle articulated in the Declaration of Independence that a government’s claim to authority comes from the consent of the governed. It is also a story of how hard local authorities, entrenched in power and backed by angry white voters, worked to make the hurdles of that process insurmountable.

    In the 1960s, despite the fact Black Americans outnumbered white Americans among the 29,500 people who lived in Selma, Alabama, the city’s voting rolls were 99% white. So, in 1963, local Black organizers launched a voter registration drive.

    It was hard going. White Selma residents had no intention of permitting their Black neighbors to have a say in their government. Indeed, white southerners in general were taking a stand against the equal right of Black Americans to vote. During the 1964 Freedom Summer voter registration drive in neighboring Mississippi, Ku Klux Klan members worked with local law enforcement officers to murder three voting rights organizers and dispose of their bodies.

    To try to hold back the white supremacists, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, designed in part to make it possible for Black Americans to register to vote. In Selma, a judge stopped voter registration meetings by prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people.
     
    To call attention to the crisis in her city, voting rights activist Amelia Boynton traveled to Birmingham to invite the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city. King had become a household name after the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, and his presence would bring national attention to Selma’s struggle.
     
    King and other prominent Black leaders arrived in January 1965, and for seven weeks, Black residents made a new push to register to vote. County Sheriff James Clark arrested almost 2,000 of them on a variety of charges, including contempt of court and parading without a permit. A federal court ordered Clark not to interfere with orderly registration, so he forced Black applicants to stand in line for hours before taking a “literacy” test. Not a single person passed.
     
    Then, on February 18, white police officers, including local police, sheriff’s deputies, and Alabama state troopers, beat and shot an unarmed man, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was marching for voting rights at a demonstration in his hometown of Marion, Alabama, about 25 miles northwest of Selma. Jackson had run into a restaurant for shelter along with his mother when the police started rioting, but they chased him and shot him in the restaurant’s kitchen.
     
    Jackson died eight days later, on February 26. Black leaders in Selma decided to defuse the community’s anger by planning a long march—54 miles—from Selma to the state capitol at Montgomery to draw attention to the murder and voter suppression.
     
    On March 7, 1965, the marchers set out. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and other law enforcement officers met the unarmed marchers with billy clubs, bullwhips, and tear gas. They fractured the skull of young activist John Lewis and beat Amelia Boynton unconscious. A newspaper photograph of the 54-year-old Boynton, seemingly dead in the arms of another marcher, illustrated the depravity of those determined to stop Black voting.
     
    Images of “Bloody Sunday” on the national news mesmerized the nation, and supporters began to converge on Selma. King, who had been in Atlanta when the marchers first set off, returned to the fray.
     
    Two days later, the marchers set out again. Once again, the troopers and police met them at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but this time, King led the marchers in prayer and then took them back to Selma. That night, a white mob beat to death a Unitarian Universalist minister, James Reeb, who had come from Massachusetts to join the marchers.
     
    On March 15, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a nationally televised joint session of Congress to ask for the passage of a national voting rights act. “Their cause must be our cause too,” he said. “[A]ll of us…must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” Two days later, he submitted to Congress proposed voting rights legislation.
     
    The marchers were determined to complete their trip to Montgomery, and when Alabama’s governor, George Wallace, refused to protect them, President Johnson stepped in. When the marchers set off for a third time on March 21, 1,900 members of the nationalized Alabama National Guard, FBI agents, and federal marshals protected them. Covering about ten miles a day, they camped in the yards of well-wishers until they arrived at the Alabama state capitol on March 25. Their ranks had grown as they walked until they numbered about 25,000 people.
     
    On the steps of the capitol, speaking under a Confederate flag, Dr. King said: “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
     
    That night, Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother of five who had arrived from Michigan to help after Bloody Sunday, was murdered by four Ku Klux Klan members who tailed her as she ferried demonstrators out of the city.
     
    On August 6, Dr. King and Mrs. Boynton were guests of honor as President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson recalled “the outrage of Selma” when he said, "This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies."
     
    The Voting Rights Act authorized federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented. Johnson promised that the government would strike down “regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote.” He called the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men,” and pledged that “we will not delay, or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same right as all others to share in the process of democracy.”
     
    But less than 50 years later, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby County v. Holder decision opened the door, once again, for voter suppression. Since then, states have made it harder to vote. In the wake of the 2020 election, in which voters handed control of the government to Democrats, Republican-dominated legislatures in at least 19 states passed 34 laws restrict­ing access to voting. In July 2021, in the Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision, the Supreme Court ruled that election laws that disproportionately affected minority voters were not unconstitutional so long as they were not intended to be racially discriminatory.

    When the Democrats took power in 2021, they vowed to strengthen voting rights. They immediately introduced the For the People Act, which expanded voting rights, limited the influence of money in politics, banned partisan gerrymandering, and created new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Republicans in the Senate blocked the measure with a filibuster. Democrats then introduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would have restored portions of the Voting Rights Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act, a lighter version of the For the People Act. Republicans blocked both of those acts, too.

    And so, in 2023, the right to vote is increasingly precarious.

    As Biden told the crowd gathered in Selma today, “The right to vote—the right to vote and to have your vote counted is the threshold of democracy and liberty. With it, anything is possible. Without it—without that right, nothing is possible. And this fundamental right remains under assault.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 6, 2023 (Monday)

    The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) met in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, sparking speculation over the 2024 Republican presidential field. Hard-right figures like Donald Trump and his loyalists Mike Lindell, the MyPillow entrepreneur, and Kari Lake, who lost the 2022 race for Arizona governor, attended, along with House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) and right-wing media figure Steve Bannon, but many of those testing the 2024 presidential waters gave it a miss.

    CPAC started in 1974, and since then it has been a telltale for the direction the Republican Party is going. This year was no exception.

    CPAC was smaller this year than in the past, and it showcased the Republican extremism that is far outside the mainstream of normal American politics. “Feels like MAGA country!” Donald Trump, Jr., told the crowd.

    The headliner was former president Trump, twice impeached, deeply involved in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and embroiled in a range of criminal investigations. In his speech, Trump embraced his leadership of those hardening around a violent mentality based in grievance that echoes that of fascist movements.

    “In 2016, I declared: I am your voice,” he said. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.”

    He claimed that he and his followers are “engaged in an epic struggle to rescue our country from the people who hate it and want to absolutely destroy it…. We are going to finish what we started. We started something that was a miracle. We’re going to complete the mission, we’re going to see this battle through to ultimate victory. We’re going to make America great again.” After listing all the “villains and scoundrels” he and his followers would “demolish,” “drive out,” “cast out,” “throw off,” “beat,” “rout,” and “evict,” he continued: “We have no choice. This is the final battle.”

    Other Republican hopefuls are waiting in the wings. Trump has, in fact, never won the popular vote, and his leadership has brought historic losses for the party, but his control over his voting base makes him the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

    Other candidates seem to be hoping that criminal indictments will knock Trump out of the race and open space for them without making them take a stand against Trump and thus alienate his followers. It seems likely that if such an indictment were forthcoming, they would blame Democrats for Trump’s downfall and hope to ride to office with his voting bloc behind them, without having to embrace that voting blocs’ ideology.

    That hope seems delusional, considering the increasing emphasis of the Trump Republicans and their imitators on violence. The Republicans are hitting on a constant refrain that crime is on the upswing in the U.S. Since crime does not, in fact, seem to be rising, it seems worth noting that an emphasis on crime justifies the use of state power to combat that crime and normalizes the idea of violence against “criminals,” a category the Republican Party is defining more and more broadly. This will be an extremely difficult genie to stuff back into a bottle, especially as leading Republican figures are increasingly talking in martial terms and referring to the U.S. Civil War.

    That emphasis on violence corresponds with something else on display at this year’s CPAC: how completely the Republican Party now depends on a false narrative constructed out of lies.

    CPAC fact checkers had their work cut out for them. Linda Qiu of the New York Times found Trump repeated a number of things previously identified as incorrect as well as adding some new ones. Politifact fact checked other speakers and found they, too, continued to develop the idea of a country run by those who hate it and are eager to undermine it. Various speakers said the Department of Justice is calling parents worried about their kids’ educations “terrorists” (false), fentanyl will kill you if any of it touches your skin, thus putting us all at deadly risk (false), cartels have “operational control” of the U.S.-Mexico border (false), and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has said he wants America’s “sons and daughters to go die in Ukraine” (again, false).  

    Right-wing media amplifies this narrative. Depositions in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the Fox News Corporation made it very clear that both Fox News executives and hosts work closely with Republican operatives to spread a Republican narrative, even when it is based on lies—in that case, in the lie that Trump won the election, which they privately agreed was ridiculous. So, when House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave to FNC personality Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 44,000 hours of video from the footage from the Capitol on January 6, 2021, he indicated the Republicans will continue to try to garner support with a false narrative.

    Carlson’s coverage of the videos started tonight, with him depicting the rioters as “sightseers” and claiming that other media outlets have lied about the violence on January 6. In reality, Carlson simply didn’t show the many hours of violent footage: more than 1,000 people have been arrested on charges relating to their actions surrounding January 6, more than half have pleaded guilty, and around one third of those charged were charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding police officers.

    McCarthy’s desperation to maintain the party’s narrative shows in his unilateral decision to give Carlson exclusive access to that video. A wide range of media outlets are clamoring for equal access to the footage while congressional Democrats are demanding to know on what authority McCarthy gave Carlson that access. The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol had arranged to transfer the films to the National Archives, but when the Republicans rewrote the rules in January, they instead transferred the video to the House Administration Committee.

    McCarthy did not consult the committee when he gave access to the films to Carlson. Nor did he consult House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who has noted that releasing the films without consultation with the Capitol Police is a security risk. Instead, McCarthy apparently coordinated with Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight. Loudermilk led a tour of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021.

    Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), ranking member of the Oversight Subcommittee, told Justin Papp of Roll Call that McCarthy “totally went around, not just the subcommittee, but the entire committee…. I hope Ethics will have something to say about this. I think it needs to be investigated on all different levels.” In contrast, House Administration Committee chair Bryan Steil (R-WI) appeared unconcerned with the end run around the responsible committee, saying that “the key is that we’re balancing the transparency that’s needed for the American people with the security interests of the House.”

    Republicans are planning to take this disinformation campaign across the nation. Despite their insistence that they want to slash government spending, Republican leaders are in fact urging their colleagues to engage in “field hearings” that will take their “message” straight to voters at a time when they are not managing to accomplish much of anything at all in Washington. Jordan’s Judiciary Committee has requested a travel budget of $262,000, more than 30 times what it spent on travel last year and 3 times what it spent before the pandemic, and it is not just the Judiciary Committee that is hitting the road.

    As Annie Karni and Catie Edmondson of the New York Times noted today, this also means that they speak at the plants of Republican donors, thus giving them free advertising. Congressional Democrats say they received almost no notice of these trips.  

    News broke today that an Israeli tech firm has uncovered a vast network of as many as hundreds of thousands of fake Twitter accounts designed to promote Trump and his vision, creating the illusion that he is more popular than he is. The analysts at the firm, Cyabra, believe the system was created within the U.S. “One account will say, 'Biden is trying to take our guns; Trump was the best,' and another will say, 'Jan. 6 was a lie and Trump was innocent,'" said the engineer who discovered the network, Jules Gross. "Those voices are not people. For the sake of democracy I want people to know this is happening.”

    Republicans have advanced an increasingly false political vision—what theorists call a “virtual political reality”—since the 1980s, and now their base has hardened into true believers who claim to be willing to fight for their vision. But in the years since Trump took office, previously uninterested Americans have seen what it means when those who believe in that vision take power.

    Those who believe in equality before the law are standing up for that principle. Tonight, for example, social media is flooded with video clips refuting Carlson’s narrative point by point, suggesting that McCarthy’s decision to help him shore up the Republican narrative might only have strengthened its opponents.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
       March 7, 2023 (Tuesday)

    In a New York Times op-ed today, President Joe Biden offered the opening salvo in his battle with the Republicans over budget measures. He outlined his promise to make the Medicare trust solvent beyond 2050 without cutting benefits. Indeed, he says, his plan will make the program deliver better value on the money Americans invest in it.

    Biden noted that both he and former president Barack Obama signed into law the biggest health reforms since the creation of Medicare in 1965. In 2010, Obama established the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare, extending medical coverage to many for whom it was out of reach. That law significantly slowed the growth of healthcare spending.

    In 2022, Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, permitting Medicare officials to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices and capping the costs of drugs for seniors. This measure is projected to reduce the deficit by $159 billion.

    Biden proposes to build on those two measures, increasing the scope of Medicare’s negotiations over drug prices, a process he claims would yield $200 billion in savings that he would put directly into Medicare’s trust fund.

    He also proposes to raise the Medicare tax rate on earned and unearned income above $400,000 from its current rate of 3.8% to 5%. That money, too, would go into Medicare’s trust fund. “When Medicare was passed, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans didn’t have more than five times the wealth of the bottom 50 percent combined,” Biden commented, “and it only makes sense that some adjustments be made to reflect that reality today. Let’s ask them to pay their fair share so that the millions of workers who helped them build that wealth can retire with dignity and the Medicare they paid into.”

    Biden wrote that his budget would protect Medicare for more than another generation, beyond 2050. In contrast, he pointed out, MAGA Republicans want to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, getting rid of drug negotiations and price caps.

    Biden promised that this week he will release his “full budget vision to invest in America, lower costs, grow the economy and not raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000. I urge my Republican friends in Congress to do the same—and show the American people what they value.”

    The circus at the Conservative Political Action Conference and the outrage when House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave exclusive access to 44,000 hours of videos from the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, have taken oxygen away from what amounts to a crisis in the Republican Party.

    Republican leadership has vowed to cut the U.S. budget significantly but has also said publicly that it would not touch Social Security or Medicare. (However, former vice president Mike Pence promptly negated that promise when he said, "While I respect the speaker's commitment to take Social Security and Medicare off the table for the debt ceiling negotiations, we've got to put them on the table in the long term.”) Few Republicans will agree to cuts in the defense budget, either.

    So McCarthy is in the impossible position of delivering the budget cuts his conference demands without actually having the room to cut in most of the budget. It’s a circle he is unlikely to be able to square.

    Biden seems to be pushing the Republicans to release a budget plan not only to illustrate to the American people that for all their grandstanding they don’t have one, but also because he would like to return to a political norm in which parties actually explain how they would address issues, and then let voters choose which approach they prefer. It’s an old model and one the Republicans, who since 1980 have for the most part simply complained about the government rather than offering positive solutions, have no interest in adopting. Worse for them, polls show that the solutions Democrats want are popular, while their own insistence on privatizing everything is not.

    Going forward, I suspect we’ll see a lot of distractions rather than an actual budget plan from the Republicans.

    While they try to fudge the budget issue, the Republicans are still vowing to refuse to lift the debt ceiling, which is separate from the budget. The debt ceiling is a holdover from the World War I era, when Congress stopped debating which financial instruments the Treasury should use and instead just set an upper limit on borrowing. Raising the debt ceiling does not create new spending; it simply enables the government to pay for expenses already incurred. If it is not lifted, the U.S. Treasury will default. The U.S. has hit the current limit of $31.4 trillion, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is using extraordinary measures to pay bills.

    Republicans are eager to pin the growing debt on Biden and the Democrats, but as Jim Tankersley noted in the New York Times yesterday, “Republicans bear at least equal blame as Democrats for the biggest drivers of federal debt growth that passed Congress over the last two presidential administrations.” Since early 2017—the start of Trump’s administration—three fifths of the ballooning new debt was signed into law by Trump, and nearly 75% of it came from bills approved by a majority of Republicans in at least one chamber of Congress. In laws passed on strict party-line votes, Republicans added slightly more debt than Democrats did. Notably, the Republicans’ tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations under Trump cost at least $2 trillion over time.   

    Today the Senate Subcommittee on Economic Policy, which sits under the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and is chaired by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), heard from economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics. Zandi warned that a U.S. default would “be a catastrophic blow to the already fragile economy.”

    As Chelsey Cox of CNBC reported, Zandi explained that “[g]lobal financial markets and the economy would be upended, and even if resolved quickly, Americans would likely pay for this default for generations, as global investors would rightly believe that the federal government’s finances have been politicized and that a time may come when they would not be paid what they are owed when owed it.” Zaidi also warned that, considering how much of the budget is now off-limits, the cuts Republicans promise will be so extreme they will prompt a recession that will cost as many as 2.6 million jobs.

    The Republican Party is in its current chaos in part because it has been boxed in by the former president. Trump’s base has forced party leaders to take impossible extremists stands like, for example, a showdown over the debt ceiling. New materials released tonight in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the Fox News Network confirm that Fox News Channel executives and hosts did not believe that Trump won the election in 2020, although they continued to push that lie on their channel to hold Trump viewers.

    But tonight’s material went further, suggesting that some of the hosts who were most vocal in promoting Trump were less fond of him in private. On January 4, 2021, host Tucker Carlson tweeted to someone: We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait…. I hate him passionately.”

    Speaking of Trump’s presidency, Tucker wrote: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 8, 2023 (Wednesday)

    Andrew Restuccia, Richard Rubin, and Stephanie Armour of the Wall Street Journal today published a preview of President Joe Biden’s budget, due to be released tomorrow. Their article’s beginning sent an important message.

    Biden’s budget plan, they wrote, will “save hundreds of billions of dollars by seeking to lower drug prices, raising some business taxes, cracking down on fraud and cutting spending he sees as wasteful, according to White House officials.” Those officials said that, over the next ten years, the plan would cut deficits by close to $3 trillion.

    Reflecting the needs of Ukraine to fight off the 2022 Russian invasion, as well as tensions with China, Biden will call for a larger defense budget. As he outlined yesterday, part of the budget plan will fund the Medicare trust fund for at least another 25 years, in part by increasing tax rates on people earning more than $400,000 a year.

    “That is not going to happen. Obviously he knows that,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) told the Wall Street Journal reporters. “Republicans are not going to sign up for raising taxes.”

    Without a budget plan of their own to offer, House Republicans appear to be trying to steal the president’s thunder. They told Tony Romm of the Washington Post that they are getting ready for the House Ways and Means Committee to begin consideration tomorrow of a bill to prioritize the national debt in preparation for a national default. House Republicans continue to insist they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling to pay for expenses already incurred—many of them under Trump—thus forcing the U.S. into default for the first time in our history.

    They are suggesting they could rank the debts in order of importance, but as Brian Riedl, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, told Romm, the computer systems were written with the assumption the country would, in fact, pay its debts, and they do not have programs that would let them prioritize payments to one group or another.

    In any case, the White House has refused to negotiate over paying the nation’s bills. It remains eager to discuss the budget with Republicans and to negotiate over it—which is how the process is supposed to proceed—but insists the Republicans cannot hold the nation hostage by threatening a default that would spark an international financial crisis and destroy the American economy.

    Indeed, the willingness of the Republican Party to default on the country’s debt shows how thoroughly radicalized it has become. Even the Republican leaders who do not embrace the racism, sexism, religiosity, nihilism, and authoritarianism of the hard-core MAGA Republicans appear to believe they cannot win an election without the votes of those people. And so the extremists now own the party.

    They continue to support former president Trump, who at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend promised “those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.” The party is now one of grievance and revenge, feeding on their false conviction that Trump won the 2020 election.

    The Fox News Channel was key in feeding that Big Lie, of course, and filings from the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the Fox News Network have revealed that Fox executives and hosts alike knew it was a lie. They continued to spread it because they didn’t want to lose their base.

    On Monday, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson, who has found himself badly exposed by the Dominion filings, threw himself back into the Trump camp. He showed a false version of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, suggesting it was a mostly peaceful tourist visit rather than the deadly riot it actually was. Carlson’s false narrative was possible because House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave Carlson exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of video taken in the Capitol on that fateful January 6, illustrating that there is no daylight between the lies of the Fox News Channel and the House Republican leadership.

    Outrage over that transaction has sparked a backlash. Former officer of the Metropolitan Police Michael Fanone, who was badly injured defending the Capitol on January 6, published an op-ed at CNN saying he knew for certain that Carlson’s version of that day was a lie. “I was there. I saw it. I lived it,” Fanone wrote. “I fought alongside my brother and sister officers to defend the Capitol. We have the scars and injuries to prove it.”  

    Former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted that if the House Republicans want new January 6th hearings, “bring it on. Let’s replay every witness & all the evidence from last year.  But this time, those members who sought pardons and/or hid from subpoenas should sit on the dais so they can be confronted on live TV with the unassailable evidence.”

    Senate Republicans also spoke out against Carlson’s lies. Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) aligned himself with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who called Carlson’s piece “offensive.” McConnell said: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

    Democrats, along with the White House, also condemned Carlson’s video. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said the White House supported the Capitol Police and lawmakers from both parties who condemned “this false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law—which cost police officers their lives.” Bates went on: “We also agree with what Fox News’s own attorneys and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: That Tucker Carlson is not credible.”

    But McCarthy says he does not regret giving Carlson access to the tapes, and Carlson indicated that anyone who objected to the false narrative he put forward on Monday had revealed themselves as being allied against the Republican base. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) are organizing a visit for members of Congress to visit the jail where defendants charged with crimes relating to the January 6th riot are behind held. In the past, Greene called those defendants “political prisoners of war.”

    Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. It warned that transnational “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists” (RMVEs) continue to pose a threat more lethal to U.S. persons and interests than do Islamist terrorists.

    RMVEs are “largely a decentralized movement of adherents to an ideology that espouses the use of violence to advance white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other exclusionary cultural-nationalist beliefs. These actors increasingly seek to sow social divisions, support fascist-style governments, and attack government institutions,” the report said. They “capitalize on societal and political hyperpolarization to…mainstream their narratives and conspiracy theories into the public discourse.” They are recruiting “military members” to “help them organize cells for attacks against minorities or institutions that oppose their ideology.”

    Finally, John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News reported that 81-year-old Senator Mitch McConnell fell at an event at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington, D.C., tonight and has been hospitalized.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 9, 2023 (Thursday)

    “Show me your budget,” President Joe Biden is fond of saying, “[and] I’ll tell you what you value.” Today, Biden introduced his 2024 budget at the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

    Biden’s 182-page, $6.9 trillion budget plan advances a vision of the United States based on the idea that the government should invest in workers, families, and infrastructure to increase the purchasing power of those on the “demand side” of the economy. It offers a stark contrast to the theory of the Republicans since the 1980s, that the government should cut taxes and slash government spending to free up capital for those at the top of the economy—on the “supply side”—with the idea they will use that money to invest in new business that will then hire more workers.

    So-called supply-side economics was championed as a plan that would enable everyone, from workers to financiers, to thrive together as the economy boomed, but it never produced the kind of growth its promoters promised. Instead, when combined with dramatically increased defense spending, it exploded deficits and added dramatically to the national debt.

    At the same time, wealth moved upward dramatically. A 2020 Rand Corporation study found that from 1975 to 2018, about $50 trillion moved from the bottom 90% of Americans to the top 1%. The Biden administration has set out to address this inequity by reimposing the rules that used to prevent corporations and the wealthiest Americans from gaming the system, and by making it easier for working men and women to make ends meet.

    So far, Biden’s policies have created record numbers of jobs and kept unemployment numbers low, and today’s budget builds on those policies. Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young told reporters that the budget plan was based on four values: “lowering costs for families, protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare, investing in America, and reducing the deficit by ensuring that the wealthiest in this country and big corporations begin to pay their fair share, and cutting wasteful spending on Big Pharma, Big Oil, and other special interests.” And, she added, “It does all of that while ensuring that no one earning less than $400,000 per year will pay a penny more in new taxes.”

    Biden has called for rolling back Trump’s 2017 corporate tax cut, bringing the corporate rate up from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before the 2017 cuts). Biden proposed to raise the tax on capital gains for people earning at least $1 million a year from 20% to 39.6%. He wants a 25% minimum income tax rate for households worth at least $100 million, that is, the wealthiest 0.01% of taxpayers, who currently pay a rate of 8%. The plan calls for reversing the Trump tax for those making more than $400,000 a year, putting the top income tax rate to 39% from 37%. Other increases are all in this same vein: increasing revenue from the wealthiest Americans.

    Biden’s budget document is not just about funding the government; it is a signal of the principles he might carry into the 2024 presidential contest. It offers Biden’s own blueprint for improving the lives of children, their caregivers, and other ordinary Americans, then undercuts Republican complaints about such investments by emphasizing that Biden’s plan—unlike anything the Republicans have offered—will cut the deficit over the next decade.

    House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promptly tweeted that Biden’s budget is “completely unserious. He proposes trillions in new taxes that you and your family will pay directly or through higher costs. Mr. President: Washington has a spending problem, NOT a revenue problem.”

    But McCarthy and the Republicans have not been able to agree on any of the cuts they claim they want to make, and so have not released a budget of their own. Biden has repeatedly asked them for one. He said today: “I want to make it clear. I'm ready to meet with the Speaker anytime—tomorrow, if he has his budget. Lay it down. Tell me what you want to do. I'll show you what I want to do. See what we can agree on. What we don’t agree on, let’s see what we—we vote on.”

    Instead of offering a budget plan, Republicans appear to be trying desperately to reassert control over the national political narrative, shoring up the virtual political reality that has given them such power even as it continues to take hits.

    A number of reporters, including Nicholas Riccardi and David Bauder of the Associated Press and Nicholas Confessore and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, are using documents from the Dominion Voting Systems defamation suit against the Fox News Network to show how both Trump and then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appealed directly to Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch for political support on the Fox News Channel (FNC). Murdoch passed the requests on to FNC executives, and FNC hosts promptly began to do as they were asked.

    This pipeline from the Republican Party to the FNC included support for Trump’s tax cuts (“Once they pass this bill we must tell our viewers again and again what they will get,” Murdoch wrote), private sharing of Biden’s 2020 ads with Trump’s campaign, and attacks on Biden. (“Just made sure Fox banging on about these issues,” Murdoch advised. “If the audience talks the theme will spread.”) That support included pumping up Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in his own race (“Could Sean say something supportive? We can’t lose the Senate if at all possible,” Murdoch wrote).

    But by 2020 they had created an audience that depended on that narrative, and when they threatened to abandon FNC if it told the truth that Biden won the 2020 election, FNC hosts pushed the lie that Trump won out of fear they would lose their viewers.

    The ecosystem that established a virtual political reality is now increasingly under assault.

    Today, Bryon M. Large, presiding disciplinary judge of the Colorado Supreme Court, publicly censured Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis for misconduct after she “repeatedly made misrepresentations on national television and on Twitter, undermining the American public’s confidence in the 2020 presidential election.”

    Ellis agreed that she had “made…misrepresentations while serving as counsel for the Trump campaign and personal counsel to President Trump.” Top among them was her insistence that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent, including her statements that “we know the election was stolen from President Trump and we can prove that,” “the election was stolen and Trump won by a landslide,” and so on.

    In Congress, Republicans are holding hearings designed to shore up their narrative, but they are not delivering the smooth sound bites the party needs. The Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, chaired by Jim Jordan (R-OH), held another hearing today, this one focused on the idea that the government pressured Twitter to suppress stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

    But Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the ranking Democratic member of the committee, immediately noted that the Republicans would be using material for the hearing that they had not shared with the Democrats, and Jordan got flustered and angry. Then Aaron Blake of the Washington Post fact checked Jordan’s allegations and noted that his theory that the FBI was secretly strategizing to protect Hunter Biden—during Trump’s administration—ignored key events and that two key witnesses had recently contradicted Jordan’s theory in sworn testimony.  

    Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), chair of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, said yesterday he is leading an investigation into the last congress’s House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as on security failures around that event. That investigation, too, might not go well for the Republicans. The January 6th Committee asked Loudermilk to come talk to the committee members voluntarily about a tour he gave of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021. He refused. Video showed that a man from that tour marched on the Capitol the next day, saying, “There’s no escape, Pelosi, Schumer, Nadler. We’re coming for you.”

    Finally, today, Republican reputations took a hit when a jury found Larry Householder, the Republican former speaker of the Ohio House, and Matt Borges, the former leader of the Ohio Republican Party, guilty of racketeering conspiracy. In 2017, FirstEnergy Corporation began to funnel $61 million to Householder through dark money groups to enable him to get allies elected and take power. Once in charge, with the help of Borges—who was then a lobbyist—he got a $1.3 billion law through the House to bail the failing company out. Federal prosecutors say it is the largest corruption case in state history.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 10, 2023 (Friday)

    At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said that “for the good of society…transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely—the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.” He worded his statement in such a way that it would inevitably create outrage that he could then angrily refute by insisting that “eradicating transgenderism” was not the same thing as eradicating transgender people. This sort of word game is a well-known right-wing tactic for garnering media attention.

    Make no mistake: this attack on transgender people represents a deadly attack on the fundamental principle of American democracy, the idea that all people are created equal.

    CPAC and its representatives have become increasingly close to Hungarian president Victor Orbán as he has asserted autocratic power in his own country. Orbán has explicitly rejected the liberal democracy that his country used to enjoy, saying that its emphasis on multiculturalism weakens national cultures while its insistence on human equality undermines traditional society by recognizing that women and LGBTQ people have the same rights as straight white men. The age of liberal democracy is over, he says, and a new age has begun.

    In place of equality, Orbán advocates what he calls “illiberal democracy” or “Christian democracy.” “Christian democracy is, by definition, not liberal,” he said in July 2018; “it is, if you like, illiberal. And we can specifically say this in connection with a few important issues—say, three great issues. Liberal democracy is in favor of multiculturalism, while Christian democracy gives priority to Christian culture; this is an illiberal concept. Liberal democracy is pro-immigration, while Christian democracy is anti-immigration; this is again a genuinely illiberal concept. And liberal democracy sides with adaptable family models, while Christian democracy rests on the foundations of the Christian family model; once more, this is an illiberal concept.”

    Orbán has focused on LBGTQ rights as a danger to “Western civilization.” Arguing the need to protect children, his party has made it impossible for transgender people to change their gender identification on legal documents and made it illegal to share with minors any content that can be interpreted as promoting an LBGTQ lifestyle. After Orbán put allies in charge of Hungarian universities, his government banned public funding for gender studies courses. According to his chief of staff: “The Hungarian government is of the clear view that people are born either men or women.”

    As the opening speaker at CPAC in Texas last August, Orbán called for the establishment of a global right wing to continue to work together to destroy liberal democracy and establish Christian democracy.

    The American right wing has heard the call, openly embracing Orbán’s principles. Vox senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp, who is a crackerjack analyst of right-wing political ideology both in the U.S. and abroad, noted in 2021 the rise of right-wing ideologues who saw themselves as the vanguard of a “post-liberal order.”

    Beauchamp explained that these ideologues reject American democracy. They argue that “religious liberty, limited government, ‘the inviolability of private institutions (e.g., corporations),’ academic freedom, constitutional originalism, free markets, and free speech”—all central tenets of democracy—have created “liberal totalitarianism” that has destroyed “all institutions that were originally responsible for fostering human virtue: family, ennobling friendship, community, university, polity, church.”

    They see the government institutions that defend these democratic tenets as part of a totalitarian system designed to destroy national virtue. If this were truly the case (it is not), it would be an act of heroism to try to destroy those systems altogether. Right-wing attacks on the FBI, the Department of Justice, and even the government itself over the arrest of January 6th rioters who they insist were peaceful tourists shore up the idea that the FBI and DOJ are part of a government determined to crush Trump supporters. That ideology invites those who believe it to continue to attack our government.

    Knowles’s statement last week that transgenderism must be eradicated from public life was not simply an attack on transgender individuals, although it was certainly that. Tapping into the anti-LGBTQ sentiment that Orbán and those like him have used to win voters, the statement was a crucial salvo in the attempt to destroy American democracy and replace it with Christian nationalism.
     
    But there is a very simple answer to the radical right’s attack on LGBTQ people that also answers their rejection of democracy. It is an answer that history has proved again and again.   

    Once you give up the principle of equality, you have given up the whole game. You have admitted the principle that people are unequal, and that some people are better than others. Once you have replaced the principle of equality with the idea that humans are unequal, you have stamped your approval on the idea of rulers and subjects. At that point, all you can do is to hope that no one in power decides that you belong in the lesser group.

    In 1858, Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for the Senate, warned that arguments limiting American equality to white men and excluding black Americans were the same arguments “that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world…. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent.”

    Either people—men, in his day—were equal, or they were not. Lincoln went on: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it…where will it stop?”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
     March 11, 2023 (Saturday)

    Let's have a quiet night, shall we?

    We can come back to it tomorrow.

    [Photo by Buddy Poland.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
       March 12, 2023 (Sunday)

    At 6:15 this evening, Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen, Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg announced that Secretary Yellen has signed off on measures to enable the FDIC to fully protect everyone who had money in Silicon Valley Bank, Santa Clara, California, and Signature Bank, New York. They will have access to all of their money starting Monday, March 13. None of the losses associated with this resolution, the statement said, “will be borne by the taxpayer.”

    But, it continued, “Shareholders and certain unsecured debtholders will not be protected. Senior management has also been removed. Any losses to the Deposit Insurance Fund to support uninsured depositors will be recovered by a special assessment on banks, as required by law.”

    The statement ended by assuring Americans that “the U.S. banking system remains resilient and on a solid foundation, in large part due to reforms that were made after the financial crisis that ensured better safeguards for the banking industry. Those reforms combined with today's actions demonstrate our commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that depositors' savings remain safe.”

    It’s been quite a weekend.

    On Friday, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failed in the largest bank failure since 2008. At the end of December 2022, SVB appears to have had about $209 billion in total assets and about $175 billion in deposits. This made SVB the sixteenth largest bank in the U.S., big in its sector but small compared with the more than $3 trillion JPMorgan Chase. This is the first bank failure of the Biden presidency (while Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that he had not heard of any bank failures during his father’s presidency, there were sixteen, eight of which happened before the pandemic). In fact, generally, a few banks fail every year; it is an oddity that none failed in 2021 or 2022.

    The failure of SVB created shock waves for three reasons. First, SVB was the major bank for technology start-ups, so it involved much of a single sector of the economy. Second, only about $8 billion of the $173 billion worth of deposits in SVB were less than the $250,000 that the FDIC insures, meaning that the companies who had made those deposits might not get their money back quickly and thus might not be able to make payrolls, sparking a larger crisis. Third, there was concern that the problems that plagued SVB might cause other banks to fail, as well.

    What seems to have happened, though, appears to be specific to SVB. Bloomberg’s Matt Levine explained it most clearly:

    As the bank for start-ups, which have a lot of cash from investors and the initial public offering of stock, SVB had lots of deposits. But start-up companies don’t need much in the way of loans because they’ve just gotten so much cash and they don’t yet have fixed assets. So, rather than balancing deposits with loans that fluctuate with interest rates and thus keep a bank on an even keel, SVB’s directors took a gamble that the Federal Reserve would not raise interest rates. They invested in long-term Treasury bonds that paid better interest rates than short-term securities. But when, in fact, interest rates went up, the value of those long-term bonds sank.  

    For most banks, higher interest rates are good news because they can charge more for loans. But for SVB, they hurt.

    Then, because SVB concentrated on start-ups, they had another problem. Start-ups are also hurt by rising interest rates because they tend to promise to deliver returns in the long term, which is fine so long as interest rates stay steadily low, as they have been now for years. But as interest rates go up, investors tend to like faster returns than most start-ups can deliver. They take their money to places that are going to see returns sooner. For SVB, that meant their depositors began to need some of that money they had dumped into the bank and started to withdraw their deposits.

    So SVB sold securities at a loss to cover those deposits. Other investors panicked as they saw SVB selling at a loss and losing deposits, and they, too, started yanking their money out of the bank, collapsing it. Banks that have a more diverse client base are less likely to lose everyone all at once.

    The FDIC took control of the bank on Friday. On Sunday, regulators also shut down Signature Bank, based in New York, which was a major bank for the cryptocurrency industry. Another crypto-friendly bank, Silvergate, failed last week.

    Congress created the FDIC under the Banking Act of 1933 to restore trust in the American banking system after more than a third of U.S. banks failed after the Great Crash of 1929, sparking runs on banks as depositors rushed to take out their money whenever rumors suggested a bank was in trouble, thus causing more failures. The FDIC is an independent agency that insures deposits, examines and supervises banks to make sure they’re healthy, and manages the fallout when they’re not. The FDIC is backed by the full faith and credit of the government, but it is not funded by the government. Member banks pay insurance dues to cover bank failures, and when that isn’t enough money, the FDIC can borrow from the federal government or issue debt.

    Over the weekend, the crisis at SVB became a larger argument over the role of government in the protection of the economy. Tech leaders took to social media to insist that the government must cover all the deposits in the failed bank, not just the ones covered under FDIC. They warned that the companies whose deposits were uninsured would fail, taking down the rest of the economy with them.

    Others noted that the very men who were arguing the government should protect all the depositors’ money, not just that protected under the FDIC, have been vocal in opposing both government regulation of their industry and government relief for student loan debt, suggesting that they hate government action…except for themselves. They also pointed out that in 2018, under Trump, Congress weakened government regulations for banks like SVB and that SVB’s president had been a leading advocate for weakening those regulations. Had those regulations been in place, they argue, SVB would have remained solvent.

    It appears that Yellen, Powell, and Gruenberg, in consultation with the president (as required), concluded that the collapse of SVB and Signature Bank was a systemic threat to the nation’s whole financial system, or perhaps they concluded that the panic over that collapse—which is a different thing than the collapse itself—was a threat to the nation’s financial system. They apparently decided to backstop the banks to prevent more damage. But they are eager to remind people that they are not using taxpayer money to shore up a poorly managed bank.

    Right now, this appears to leave us with two takeaways. The Biden administration had been considering tightening the banking regulations that were loosened under Trump, and it seems likely that the need for the federal government to step in to protect the depositors at SVB and Signature Bank will make it much harder for those opposed to regulation to keep that from happening. There will likely be increased pressure on the Biden administration to guard against helping out the wealthy and corporations rather than ordinary Americans.

    And, perhaps even more important, the weekend of panic and fear over the collapse of just one major bank should make it clear that the Republicans’ threat to default on the U.S. debt, thus pulling the rug out from under the entire U.S. economy unless they get their way, is simply unthinkable.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 27,959
      March 13, 2023 (Monday)

    While the failures of the Silicon Valley and Signature Banks got most of the oxygen today, the more important news of the day is likely the meeting in San Diego, California, between President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom.

    These three countries make up the new AUKUS security pact, announced on September 15, 2021, designed to provide a military counter to China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. (The Five Eyes alliance of those three countries plus Canada and New Zealand focuses on sharing intelligence.) Today’s meeting, and its announcement that AUKUS will create a new fleet of nuclear-powered (but not nuclear-armed) submarines, brings that pact to a new level.

    At the meeting today, the U.S. announced it will share its nuclear propulsion technology with Australia and will increase U.S. submarine construction capacity. The U.K. announced it will increase its defense spending. And Australia will buy at least three nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S.

    The U.K. and Australia will build new nuclear-powered submarines for their own navies. Sailors from the fleets will train together, and U.S. and U.K. submarines will increase their visits to Australian ports. Eventually, the alliance will create its own nuclear-powered submarines, the SSN-AUKUS.

    Both Biden and Albanese were very clear about the distinction between nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines, and they emphasized that the Australian submarines will not be nuclear armed. “Australia is a proud non–nuclear weapons state and has committed to stay that way,” Biden said. “These boats will not have any nuclear weapons of any kind on them.”

    Nuclear-powered submarines are powerful pieces of a country’s arsenal because, unlike diesel-electric submarines, they do not have to surface frequently to refuel and so can travel secretly far longer than traditionally fueled vessels. This is the first time the U.S. has shared its nuclear technology in more than 60 years and illustrates the Biden administration’s focus on oceans, rather than land, for defense.

    “This is a genuine trilateral undertaking,” Albanese said. While the U.S., the U.K., and Australia share a long, friendly history, he continued, what they “hold in common is more fundamental and more universal than our shared histories. We are bound, above all, by our belief in a world where the sovereignty of every nation is respected and the inherent dignity of every individual is upheld; where peace, stability, and security ensure greater prosperity and a greater measure of fairness for all; and where all countries are able to act in their sovereign interests, free from coercion.”

    As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan put it, what we are seeing is “a larger long-term investment by the United States in core alliances in the Indo-Pacific and also the actual concrete reflection of President Biden’s strategy of linking allies in the Atlantic with allies in the Pacific. And it also reflects his commitment to ensuring that there is burden-sharing among our allies, as we’ve seen in the way that Europe has stepped up in the war in Ukraine, as we’ve seen how Japan has stepped up with its defense budget.”

    It is a message, he said, for the next several decades.
     
    Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s proposed 2024 budget proposal, released today, is the largest peacetime budget in our history. It’s about $25 billion more than the $816 billion budget Congress approved for 2023. It modernizes U.S. weaponry and invests an unprecedented $145 billion in research-and-development projects. It reduces the size of the Army and upgrades Navy ships, scrapping older ships earlier than planned. It adds new aircraft to the Air Force. The budget signals a shift toward Biden’s plan for defense against China.

    There was lots of fallout today from the bank collapses of the weekend, but the upshot appears to be that the damage has been contained, leaving plenty of room for finger-pointing over the crisis.

    President Biden reassured the American people that the banking system was safe and said he would ask Congress and banking regulators “to strengthen the rules for banks to make it less likely this kind of bank failure would happen again, and to protect American jobs and small businesses.” Observers of Silicon Valley Bank’s failure note that the 2018 loosening of banking regulations that had been imposed after the 2008 crash paved the way for SVB’s troubles. One of the lobbyists for this loosening was Greg Becker, who until Friday was the person in charge of SVB.

    Meanwhile, David McIntosh, president of the right-wing Club for Growth, retorted, “Changing the rules after the crash to prop-up liberal investors at the expense of taxpayers is pure crony capitalism,” a sentence that seems to mix a bunch of different concepts together. Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Trump-adjacent figures took a different tack, falling back on the culture-war lens they use for everything, blaming the failure not on the company’s poor business decisions but on “wokeness.”

    In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler, who writes on technology and markets, echoed the culture warriors, writing that “in its proxy statement, SVB notes that besides 91% of their board being independent and 45% women, they also have ‘1 Black,’ ‘1 LGBTQ+’ and ‘2 Veterans.’ I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess,” Kessler wrote, “but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”

    In other news, House Republicans have ended the congressional investigation into former president Trump’s financial records. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, on Sunday accused committee chair James Comer (R-KY) of coordinating with Trump’s lawyers to end the probe into Trump’s finances. On January 19, 2023, Trump’s lawyer Patrick Strawbridge wrote to the lawyer for Trump’s accounting firm, whose records the committee had subpoenaed in 2019, saying “my understanding is that the Committee has no interest in forcing Mazars to complete it and is willing to release it from further obligations under the settlement agreement.”

    Instead of pursuing the investigation into Trump, Comer says he plans to look into “money the Bidens received from China.” Trump accused Biden of taking a $1.5 billion payoff from China without any evidence. Now Comer claims to have “documents to prove” that the Biden family has taken illicit money from China, but there is no evidence that this allegation is true. Raskin revealed Sunday that Comer has quietly subpoenaed 14 years of business records from Bank of America for three of Hunter Biden’s business associates.

    Finally, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who was hospitalized last Wednesday night after a fall at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Washington, D.C., has been released from hospital to a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy before returning to his home.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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