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Letter From An American

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 4, 2021 (Thursday)

    This afternoon, the Senate voted to take up the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan recently passed by the House. The vote was 51 to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

    Republicans have vowed to slow the passage of the bill. As soon as it passed, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) insisted on having all 628 pages of the bill read aloud, which the Senate clerks are currently doing at a rapid clip to a chamber that emptied of everyone but the presiding Senator (a Democrat), and one Republican (to insist on the process), almost immediately after the clerks began to read.

    Once the reading is over, there will be up to 20 hours of debate on the bill, and then, led by Johnson, Republicans plan to offer hundreds of amendments to slow the bill down. Nonetheless, Democrats expect to pass the measure through the Senate by the end of next week. This will send it back to the House in time for any changes to be adjusted and to go to Biden to sign it into law before extended unemployment benefits run out on March 14.

    For the bill to pass the Senate, Democrats have had to strip from it the establishment of a $15 an hour minimum wage phased in by 2025 and have had to target more tightly the $1400 stimulus payments. They also limited how $10 billion of the $350 billion in state and local aid could be spent, limiting that money to infrastructure needs and establishing that none of the state or local aid could be used to pay down pension costs or reduce future taxes.

    The intense opposition to this measure from Republican lawmakers illustrates a gulf between them and ordinary Americans, including their own voters. The American Rescue Plan is wildly popular. A poll from Morning Consult says that a whopping 77% of Americans support the bill, including 59% of Republicans, making it one of the most popular pieces of major legislation in American history. But Republican lawmakers oppose it, seeming to recognize that it is a return to an idea they utterly reject: that the government has a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure.

    This was the idea at the heart of the so-called “liberal consensus,” embraced by both parties until the 1980s, when Republicans began to call for slashing the federal government and turning its functions over to private industry. If Democrats implement the measure and it is popular, Republicans will have a hard time convincing people to turn back to the tax cuts that are at the heart of their program.

    Republican lawmakers and right-wing personalities on the Fox News Channel and other outlets are criticizing specific items in the bill, but more than that, they are flooding the airwaves with warnings that Democrats are trying to “cancel” American culture. They are, Republicans charge, erasing the works of popular children’s book author Theodor Geisel, more popularly known as Dr. Seuss (although he also wrote as Theo LeSieg), in an attempt to control what Americans think and say.  

    The real story is pretty straightforward: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which is a division of book publishers Random House Children’s Books and Penguin Random House, announced that it would stop printing six of Geisel’s lesser-known works—“McElligot’s Pool,” for example—because of their racist imagery. It will continue to publish the rest of Dr. Seuss’s books, as usual.

    For the last three days, the Fox News Channel has highlighted what personality Tucker Carlson says is an attempt by “the people in charge” to get rid of “a very specific kind of midcentury American culture, a culture that championed meritocracy and color blindness and the superiority of individual achievement.” Matthew Gertz of Media Matters counted 139 mentions of “Seuss” on the FNC on Tuesday, the day Dr. Seuss Enterprises made the announcement, over both “news” and “opinion” shows on all but three hours of the day’s programming. The next day had 59 mentions of the story, at one point over a chyron that read “IT’S NOW A PROBLEM TO TREAT PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS,” and the outrage continued today.

    Another popular bill in Congress provides even more of a problem for Republicans than the American Rescue Plan. It is H.R. 1, the sweeping elections and government ethics bill that passed the House late Wednesday night.

    The measure streamlines voter registration with automatic and same-day voter registration. It restores the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. It allows early voting and mail-in voting. It curbs dark money in elections, and ends partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent redistricting commissions to draw state districts. It gets rid of insecure paperless voting. And it requires disclosures of presidential tax returns, gets rid of loose rules about congressional conflicts of interest, and requires the Supreme Court to create its own ethics code.

    This measure is supported by a wide range of organizations interested in voting rights, including the League of Women Voters, which “strongly” supports it. President Biden has endorsed the measure, saying, “The right to vote is sacred and fundamental—it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring. This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right.”

    But Republicans are well aware that they can no longer win elections without voter suppression. As an attorney for the Republican Party in Arizona told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, a measure making it easier to vote “puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game…. It’s the difference between winning an election 50 to 49 and losing an election 51 to 50.” Using former president Trump’s lies about the 2020 election as justification, Republican legislators in 43 states have recently introduced bills to restrict the vote.

    The rhetoric of Republican lawmakers about this bill is, as the Washington Post Editorial Board puts it, “apocalyptic.” Former vice president Mike Pence, who has been staying out of sight since Biden’s inaugural, emerged this week to write a piece in The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Daily Signal calling the measure “unconstitutional, reckless, and anti-democratic.”

    The measure passed the House but may well not pass the Senate, where it would be susceptible to a filibuster, the process by which opponents of a bill can require that it receive 60, rather than simply 51, votes to pass.

    The bill has “a noble purpose,” wrote the Washington Post, “making it easier for Americans to vote and encouraging the government to be more responsive to the people. Republicans’ apocalyptic rhetoric is so wildly disproportionate to the contents of the bill, one must wonder what they are really worried about…. Are they that afraid of democracy?”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 5, 2021 (Friday)

    In coronavirus news today, there were a record 2.4 million vaccines administered.

    Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) is denying any involvement in a vaccine drive in a private, gated community after which a resident of the community, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R), made a donation of $250,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis Political Action Committee. This appears to be part of a pattern in Florida, where vaccine administration seems to track with wealthy communities whose members donate to the governor’s campaign funds.

    News about the January 6 insurrection continues to mount, with a mid-level Trump appointee from the State Department, Federico Klein, arrested yesterday on several felony charges, including assaulting police officers, stemming from the riot. Tonight the New York Times revealed that a member of the far-right Proud Boys organization was in contact with someone at the White House in the days before the insurrection.

    Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has catalogued almost 2000 pages of public social media posts from those representatives who voted to overturn the election. The material reveals that a few representatives were active indeed in pushing the idea that the election was stolen and Trump supporters must fight. Especially active were Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Billy Long (R-MO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

    Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is slow-walking the confirmation of Merrick Garland as attorney general, an odd stance at a time when one would think we would want all hands on deck to investigate the insurrection and ongoing domestic terrorism.

    The Senate continues to hash out the American Rescue Plan. After last night’s 10 hour and 44 minute reading of the bill by Senate clerks, demanded by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), there was a surprise when Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) requested that the debate on the bill resume at 9:00 this morning and be limited to three hours, rather than the 20 hours that had been planned. Since no Republicans were there to object, the presiding officer agreed, and voting on amendments started at noon.  

    The big deal today was that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) balked at what observers thought was a done deal, withdrawing his support from the measure’s $400 weekly unemployment. Shortly before 8:00 p.m., Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached a deal to extend $300 payments through September 6, making the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those households whose income is less than $150,000.

    Manchin’s position has raised fury on the part of Democrats who are already mad at the loss of the $15 minimum wage in the bill, and there are grumblings that Manchin should not have the power to water the measure down.

    But Manchin is as powerful as he is only because the Senate is split 50-50, and the Republicans-- who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than Democrats do-- are refusing to vote for the measure at all, despite the fact that 77% of Americans want it. We have a structural problem both with the Senate and with the Republican Party.

    The Democrats continue to believe they will pass the American Rescue Plan.

    The popularity of that bill spells trouble for Republicans. President Biden is making a pitch for Americans who feel that the government has not responded to the needs of a falling middle class. The bill expands the earned income tax credit for all Americans, and almost doubles the child tax credit. These provisions will disproportionately help poor families, especially families of color. The measure is expected to cut child poverty in half, while also helping parents to work by helping them pay for childcare.

    Meanwhile, there is another big event on the horizon in Alabama that suggests a seismic shift in the contours of our political parties.

    Workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to unionize. Amazon opposes the move, which, since Amazon employs more than 400,000 warehouse and delivery workers, is shaping up to be the biggest fight over unionization in American history. The company warns that unionization might increase costs and slow growth, and it has flooded its workers with mandatory anti-union meetings and anti-union literature—even posting signs in bathroom stalls. While workers have complained about working conditions and mandatory overtime, the company points out that it offers Bessemer workers benefits and a starting pay of $15.30 an hour, while the federal minimum wage remains pegged at $7.25.

    The reason this unionization effort jumps off the page for politics is that President Biden recorded a video on February 28 taking a strong pro-union stance. He reminded viewers that “America wasn’t built by Wall Street, it was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and Brown workers.“

    Biden made it clear that the choice to unionize should be made by workers, without pressure from employers. “The choice to join a union is up to the workers—full stop.” Biden has also nominated Boston mayor Marty Walsh, the former president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, as secretary of labor. If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member to serve as secretary of labor in nearly 50 years. Biden’s vocal defense of working Americans has the potential to rally struggling workers to the Democrats more firmly than they have rallied for decades.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 6, 2021 (Saturday)

    Today, after almost 24 hours of debate, the Senate passed the American Rescue Plan, designed to help America rebuild after the scorched-earth devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The vote was 50 to 49, with all the Democrats voting yes and all the Republicans voting no. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) had to leave the vote to attend his father-in-law’s funeral (and, frankly, while I try not to editorialize here, more power to him for choosing his family at this moment), but would have voted no. That would have made Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote, but the bill was going to pass.

    It is hard to overestimate the importance of this measure both for the present moment and as a sign of the direction in which the Democrats in charge of the United States hope to take the nation.

    The relief measure is designed to address the dislocations of a pandemic that has, so far, taken more than a half a million American lives and thrown more than 10 million of us out of work.

    America currently has a population of about 331 million people. By the end of 2020, more than 83 million Americans were having trouble meeting bills or buying food, and by January 2021, 30 to 40 million Americans were at risk of eviction because they could not make their rent payments. This crisis hit women and people of color the hardest because they tend to work in face-to-face jobs, which did not translate to remote work, and because the loss of childcare drove women out of the workforce. Thirty-nine percent of low-income households saw job losses early in the pandemic.

    The American Rescue Plan addresses this crisis. It includes checks of $1400 for people who make less than $75,000, making up the difference between the $600 the last coronavirus relief measure provided and the $2000 the former president demanded. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The bill provides federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week until Labor Day to supplement state benefits. It provides $350 billion for state, local, and tribal governments, which will prevent further job cuts and enable services to continue. It provides $130 billion for schools, as well as support for rent payments and food. With its expansion of child tax credits, subsidies for childcare, expansion of food assistance, lowering of costs under the Affordable Care Act, and rental assistance, the American Rescue Plan could cut child poverty in half by the end of this year.

    Its benefits should begin helping low-income and moderate-income people immediately, injecting money into the economy to help us recover from the economic effects of the pandemic, even as we are starting to get vaccinated to emerge from the pandemic itself.

    The bill is a statement about the role of the government. Rather than trying to free individuals from the burdens of supporting an active government by cutting taxes and services—as Republicans since Reagan have advocated-- this bill uses government power to support ordinary Americans. It is a return to the principles of the so-called liberal consensus that members of both parties embraced under the presidents from Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who took office in 1933, to Jimmy Carter, who left the White House in 1981. Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan, who told Americans in his Inaugural Address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

    Since then, the focus of our lawmakers has been to cut government services, not build them.

    And yet, those cuts have not created a more equal society in the United States; they have dramatically moved wealth upward. It is worth remembering that, while $1.9 trillion is an eye-popping sum of money, the 2017 Republican tax cut under former president Donald Trump cost at least $1.5 trillion and, if Congress makes the individual tax cuts permanent, will cost $2.3 trillion over the next ten years. (Unlike the individual tax cuts, the corporate tax cuts in the law do not expire.) The 2017 vote for yet another tax cut won no Democratic votes, just as this American Rescue Plan earned no Republican votes.

    The change in the direction of government signaled by this bill could not be more dramatic.

    The bill will now go back to the House, which will vote to accept the amendments. It will then to go to the Oval Office for President Biden’s signature.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 7, 2021 (Sunday)

    Black Americans outnumbered white Americans among the 29,500 people who lived in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s, but the city’s voting rolls were 99% white. So, in 1963, Black organizers in the Dallas County Voters League launched a drive to get Black voters in Selma registered. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a prominent civil rights organization, joined them.

    In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, but it did not adequately address the problem of voter suppression. In Selma, a judge had stopped the voter registration protests by issuing an injunction prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people.

    To call attention to the crisis in her city, Amelia Boynton, who was a part of the Dallas County Voters League but who, in this case, was acting with a group of local activists, traveled to Birmingham to invite Reverend 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 members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in January to press the voter registration drive. For seven weeks, Black residents tried to register to vote. County Sheriff James Clark arrested almost 2000 of them for 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 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. The leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference 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. Expecting violence, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voted not to participate, but its chair, John Lewis, asked their permission to go along on his own. They agreed.

    On March 7, 1965, the marchers set out. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate brigadier general, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator who stood against Black rights, state troopers and other law enforcement officers met the unarmed marchers with billy clubs, bull whips, and tear gas. They fractured John Lewis’s skull, 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 remained 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 tailing 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. And now, in the wake of the 2020 election, in which voters handed control of the government to Democrats, legislatures in 43 states are considering sweeping legislation to restrict voting, especially voting by people of color. Among the things Georgia wants to outlaw is giving water to voters as they wait for hours in line to get to the polls.

    Today, 56 years after Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order “to promote voting access and allow all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.” He called on Congress to pass the For the People Act, making it easier to vote, and to restore the Voting Rights Act, now named the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act after the man who went on from his days in the Civil Rights Movement to serve 17 terms as a representative from Georgia, bearing the scars of March 7, 1965, until he died on July 17, 2020.

    The fact sheet from the White House announcing the executive order explained: “democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend, strengthen, and renew it.” Or, as Representative Lewis put it: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 8, 2021 (Monday)

    Lots of stuff simmering, but nothing you can’t miss if you want to take a break from the news today.

    There are two stories I’m following.

    The first is the fight between former president Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC). Last Friday, Trump’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee—the three biggest Republican fundraising bodies—demanding they stop using his name and his photo to raise money. The former president is allegedly angry at the Republicans who failed to support him after the January 6 insurrection—especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)-- and would like to cut them out of the money he can raise.

    Friday night, Trump released a series of endorsements for candidates he supports in 2022. He has warned the RNC that he will back primary candidates that support him rather than those whom he considers insufficiently loyal.

    Today, the RNC rejected Trump’s attempt to protect his brand. A letter from the chief counsel of the RNC said the Republican Party ““has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals.”

    Also today, the RNC moved part of its spring donor retreat, held in early April, to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, paying the former president for the use of his club and for meals. While most of the event will take place at a different hotel, Trump will address the organization at Mar-a-Lago.

    At stake here, of course, is control of the Republican Party. Trump would like to be the party’s kingmaker; many Republicans would like to move him off center stage. But Trump is the party’s biggest fundraiser, so the RNC cannot simply toss him overboard, and he is determined to protect his brand.

    How this plays out will say a lot about the future of the party.

    The second story I’m following is that of the Senate filibuster.

    A filibuster permits a senator to stop popular legislation. Initially, it required a senator to hold the floor by refusing to stop talking, which took many, many hours and was exhausting, so it was a last resort to stop something that otherwise would pass (and was almost always used to stop civil rights legislation). But, rules changes over time changed the filibuster to permit a senator to stop legislation simply by threatening to create such a roadblock.

    This has meant that the burden of passing legislation has fallen on the majority, which needs to find 60 votes to stop a filibuster rather than a simple majority of 51 to pass a bill, while the role of the minority has simply been to refuse to entertain action. The Senate has largely ceased to legislate. This development has served the Republicans, who are happy not to pass legislation because they would like to turn the functions of government over to private interests, but frustrates the Democrats, who think that bills that pass the House of Representatives should get a hearing in the Senate and, if they get a yes vote from a majority of senators, should pass.

    There has been resistance to ending the filibuster—including resistance from President Joe Biden—but there is increasing talk of returning the filibuster to its original form, requiring those opposed to a popular measure not simply to register their disapproval in order to take it off the calendar, but actually to hold the floor to talk a measure to death. When they give up, the measure can pass by a simple majority vote.

    Reinstating the old system, in which a minority eager to stop passage of a bill must hold the floor and continue debate, has begun to win adherents, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). “The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we've made it more comfortable over the years,” Manchin said yesterday on the Fox News Channel. “Maybe it has to be more painful.”

    At stake in this issue in the immediate future is the passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill passed last week by the House of Representatives. Senate Republicans have vowed to kill the bill. Increasingly unpopular, Republicans are dependent on voter suppression techniques and gerrymandering—both addressed in the bill-- to continue to have a shot at winning elections. In illustration of that need, Republican legislatures across the country are currently trying to pass a slew of voter suppression measures.

    For their part, Democrats recognize that if the Republicans’ voter suppression and gerrymandering techniques are allowed to go forward unchallenged, Democrats will be hard pressed ever again to win control of the government. The nation will, in effect, become a one-party state not unlike the one that controlled the American South from the 1870s to the 1960s.

    So H.R. 1 spells the future of the American political system: with it, Republicans will have to reform and win elections on a level playing field; without it, Democrats will be unlikely to be able to compete against Republican rigging of the system.

    The future of the nation depends on H.R. 1; the future of H.R. 1 depends on the filibuster.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 9, 2021 (Tuesday)

    The only big thing I see today is that Bob Smietana of the Religion News Service broke the story that evangelical Beth Moore, a hugely popular leader, has left the Southern Baptist Church. A survivor of sexual assault, Moore objected to her denomination’s support for Trump in light of the Access Hollywood tapes in which he boasted of sexual assault. She has increasingly parted ways with church leaders and now has announced that she is leaving the denomination. Her departure could lead a number of women out of that church.  

    The departure of a leader from the Southern Baptist Church sparked by opposition to Trump and church support for him indicates the growing split in the Republican Party. Trump today continued his attempt to undercut the Republican National Committee by hamstringing its fundraising. He issued a statement saying that while he “fully” supports the Republican Party, “I do not support RINOS [Republicans in Name Only] and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds.” He urged people to donate to his own political action committee to help the America First movement. “We will WIN, and we will WIN BIG!” he wrote. “Our Country is being destroyed by the Democrats!”

    The party split is intense enough that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is pro-Trump at this point, declined to appear today with Republican conference leader Liz Cheney, who said last week that Trump had no future in the party.

    Meanwhile, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, is pushing back against the former president, calling him desperate to remain relevant. Kinzinger says his goal is to rebuild the Republican Party, reclaiming it from Trump and fearmongering and divisiveness to become a conservative party again. "I think part of saving the Republican Party is just being really clear about what the Republican Party has become," Kinzinger told Jeff Zeleny of CNN. "We have such a great history, I think, but now we're off the rails."

    Republican lawmakers are planning to get around their unpopularity by suppressing the vote. Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds yesterday signed into law what election lawyer Marc Elias called the “first major suppression law since the 2020 election.” Among other things, it shortens early voting and seriously restricts mail-in voting. Today, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa sued to keep much of the law from being enforced. The lawsuit calls the new measure “a cynical manipulation of the electoral process.”

    Elias has been in the courts defending the security of the election since the 2020 election, pushing back against the lawsuit designed to delegitimize President Biden’s election. Now he has turned his efforts to trying to hold at bay the voter suppression laws being pushed by Republican legislatures around the country.

    “I am very worried about the future of our Democracy,” he tweeted.

    He told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression that we have not seen before, at least not since Jim Crow. In state after state—it’s not just Iowa; it’s not just Georgia; it’s not just Arizona… It’s also Montana. It’s also Missouri. It’s also Florida. It’s also Texas. The list goes on and on. Donald Trump told a Big Lie that led to an assault on democracy in the Capitol on January 6. The assaults we’re seeing going on now in state capitols with the legislatures may be less deadly, and be less violent, but they are every bit as damaging to our democracy.”

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 10, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Today was a big day for the United States of America.

    The House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, accepting the changes to the measure that the Senate had added. This bill marks a sea change in our government. Rather than focusing on dismantling the federal government and turning individuals loose to act as they wish, Congress has returned to the principles of the nation before 1981, using the federal government to support ordinary Americans. With its expansion of the child tax credit, the bill is projected to reach about 27 million children and to cut child poverty in half.

    The bill, which President Biden is expected to sign Friday, is a landmark piece of legislation, reversing the trend of American government since Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Rather than funneling money upward in the belief that those at the top will invest in the economy and thus create jobs for poorer Americans, the Democrats are returning to the idea that using the government to put money into the hands of ordinary Americans will rebuild the economy from the bottom up. This was the argument for the very first expansion of the American government—during Abraham Lincoln’s administration—and it was the belief on which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the New Deal.

    Unlike the previous implementations of this theory, though, Biden’s version, embodied in the American Rescue Plan, does not privilege white men (who in Lincoln and Roosevelt’s day were presumed to be family breadwinners). It moves money to low-wage earners generally, especially to women and to people of color.

    Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the child tax credit “a new lifeline to the middle class.”  “Franklin Roosevelt lifted seniors out of poverty, 90 percent of them with Social Security, and with the stroke of a pen,” she said. “President Biden is going to lift millions and millions of children out of poverty in this country.”

    Republican lawmakers all voted against the bill despite the fact that 76% of Americans, including 59% of Republicans, like the measure. Still, the disjunction between the bill’s popularity and their opposition to it put them in a difficult spot. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) tweeted positively about the bill this evening, leaving the impression he had voted for it. Twitter users wanted no part of the deception, immediately calling him out for touting a bill he had opposed (although he had been a Republican co-sponsor of the amendment about which he was boasting).

    Wicker’s public embrace of the measure after voting no suggests that Republicans might recognize that, without the power to stop popular legislation as they could previously, they need to consider getting on board with it.

    For right now, though, Republicans are continuing to push tax cuts. Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are leading an effort to repeal the estate tax. According to Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, this tax falls on estates over $11.7 million, about a fifth of which are worth $50 million or more. The average estate affected by the tax is worth $30 million, and it affects about 2,500 people a year. It is enacted on capital gains that have not been taxed during the original owner’s lifetime, and usually involves stock. While Crapo calls the tax “the most unfair tax on the books,” Hiltzik calls the attempt to eliminate it “a massive handout to rich families.”

    It was not just finance in the news today. This afternoon, the Senate voted 70-30 to confirm Merrick Garland as the attorney general. He will be sworn in tomorrow. Biden chose Garland to rebuild faith in the independence of the Department of Justice, whose credibility was sorely battered over the past four years when it appeared to be operating in the interest of the president rather than the American people. Garland has a reputation as a fair-minded, centrist judge, but Republicans who voted against his confirmation—Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for example—seem already to be trying to undercut Garland’s investigations, suggesting that he will embrace a “radical agenda” as attorney general.

    As soon as Garland is sworn in tomorrow, he will be briefed by FBI Director Christopher Wray and others on the Capitol attack.

    Garland’s was not the only nomination to go through today. Former representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) is now the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Regan is the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, charged both with addressing environmental racism and with helping the nation fight climate change. With their addition, 6 of 24 Cabinet positions will be held by Black Americans, the most in U.S. history.

    Amidst all the excitement about the Biden administration’s achievements today, the former president was also in the news. The Wall Street Journal obtained a recording of a phone call Trump made in December 2020 to Frances Watson, the chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Watson was in the process of looking for fraud in an audit of mail-in ballots in Cobb County after the election. Trump urged her to look at Fulton County, as well, where he insisted she would “find things that are going to be unbelievable.”

    Watson had little to say as Trump went on for about six minutes, and seemed to be trying to put him off. He didn’t seem to notice. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” the former president told her.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 11, 2021 (Thursday)

    You might have noticed that I wrote through the weekend, expecting that today, with its two live broadcasts, might do me in.

    It did.

    Going to call an early night. Will see you tomorrow.

    H.

    [Photo from one of my favorite spots on earth just a few weeks ago. Spring is definitely coming.]

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 12, 2021 (Friday)

    On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis a global pandemic. A year later, almost 30 million of us have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and we have lost more than 530,000 of us to Covid-19. Our economy has buckled.

    The horror of the past year, exacerbated by the former president’s reluctance to use the government to combat the pandemic, has revealed what seem to be two different camps in America today.

    On the one hand is a Democratic administration determined to use the government to fight the coronavirus and rebuild the country. Forty years after President Ronald Reagan announced that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem,” President Biden and his team are using the vaccine program to demonstrate what the federal government can do.

    When he took office, Biden promised to deliver 100 million shots within his first 100 days. Today, the U.S. passed the landmark of administering more than 100 million vaccines. This includes 16.5 million administered under the previous administration, but since today also set a record of 2.9 million vaccines given, Biden should significantly surpass his initial goal.

    In his first prime-time address last night, the president directed states, territories, and tribal governments to make all adults eligible to get the vaccine by May 1. To meet this milestone, the federal government will launch a new website to enable people to find vaccines, allow new vaccinators—dentists, paramedics, and midwives—and establish new vaccine locations.

    Biden promised not to relent until we beat the virus, and asked Americans to do their part by getting the vaccine and helping friends and family get one, too. “[I]f we do all this, if we do our part, if we do this together -- by July the Fourth, there’s a good chance you, your family and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.... After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special.”

    “The government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital,” Biden said. “It’s us. All of us. We the people.”

    Biden’s address was in part a victory lap after he signed the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping measure that launches the country in the direction it has avoided since 1981, using the national government not to cut taxes, which favors those with wealth, but rather to support working families and children.

    The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion bill providing direct payments of up to $1400 to Americans hobbled by the pandemic, expanding unemployment benefits by $300 a week, lowering the cost of healthcare, expanding the child tax credit, putting about $20 billion into vaccine distribution, and offering $350 billion to state, local, and tribal governments. It was supported by 76% of the American people, an extraordinary level of popularity. Tonight, according to Twitter, $1400 checks were already appearing in people’s bank accounts, illustrating that government really can help people quickly and efficiently.

    And yet, despite the popularity of the American Rescue Plan, it passed without a single Republican vote.

    And therein lies the other camp: those Republicans determined to retake control to stop the sort of government Biden is embracing. (Indeed, the American Rescue Plan had to be adjusted at the last minute because Republican-led legislatures were talking about using the stimulus money to finance tax cuts.)

    Knowing how popular the American Rescue Plan is, Republicans have gone after it only half-heartedly, instead trying to divert attention with cultural issues, saying, for example, that the people in power were “canceling” Dr. Seuss books because of their racism (the truth is that the books’ publisher has decided to stop printing six of the author’s more obscure books). They also expressed horror over the “canceling” of Mr. Potato Head after Hasbro’s marketing decision to add a gender-neutral Potato Head toy to its Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head toys (I cannot believe I am writing this…) although companies’ addition of gender-specific toys has always been about capturing new markets.

    Today, Republicans pushed back on Biden’s vaccine success by taking offense at what they suggested was his attempt to dictate how we spend the Fourth of July. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted an image of a steak on a grill with a star over it and the caption “COME AND TAKE IT.”

    While Republican leaders try to rile up voters against the new administration, Republican state legislators in 43 states are trying to limit the vote. Arizona state representative John Kavanaugh, who chairs the state’s Government and Elections Committee, made headlines yesterday when he explained that Republicans were happy to create measures that kept people from voting because “everybody shouldn’t be voting…. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

    The conviction that the government must remain in the hands of Republicans drove the January 6 insurrection, and more information is emerging about just how deep support for that insurrection ran. Law enforcement has swept up for their role in the riot two Oath Keepers who were working as Trump loyalist Roger Stone’s bodyguards.

    Today, the day after Attorney General Merrick Garland took the helm at the Justice Department, federal prosecutors asked for delays in cases relating to the Capitol riot, calling their work “likely the most complex investigation ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” They have executed more than 900 search warrants, viewed more than 15,000 hours of camera footage, examined 1600 electronic devices, and interviewed 80,000 witnesses. About 300 suspects have already been charged, with more charges likely.

    And yet, although Trump’s former acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, said yesterday that it is “pretty definitive” that Trump’s speech on January 6 inspired the attack, Republican leaders continue to court the former president. This may be in part because there are signs that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) might be stepping down (there is a move afoot in the Kentucky legislature to change the law to remove the ability of the Democratic governor to choose a senator’s replacement), which leaves power sloshing around at the top of the Republican Party. Winning Trump’s endorsement would splash some of that power into specific buckets.

    Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who declared his net worth at the end of 2017 to be more than $200 million, tweeted today that he had a “great” meeting with Trump last night. “We are all focused on winning back the Senate majority in 2022 and saving our country from the radical policies of today’s Democrat [sic] Party,” he wrote.

    Scott has asked the country’s governors and mayors “to reject and return any federal funding” of the $350 billion set aside for them, outside of that directly attached to Covid-19 expenses. His hope is to “send a clear message to Washington: politicians in Congress should quit recklessly spending other people’s money.”

    We’ll see. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for a “big, bold and transformational” infrastructure bill. She emphasized that infrastructure improvements have always been bipartisan, and that they would create jobs in every zip code.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 13, 2021 (Saturday)

    Republican pundits and lawmakers are, once again, warning of an immigration crisis at our southern border.

    Texas governor Greg Abbott says that if coronavirus spreads further in his state, it will not be because of his order to get rid of masks and business restrictions, but because President Biden is admitting undocumented immigrants who carry the virus. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is also talking up the immigration issue, suggesting (falsely) that the American Rescue Plan would send $1400 of taxpayer money “to every illegal alien in America.”  

    Right-wing media is also running with stories of a wave of immigrants at the border, but what is really happening needs some untangling.

    When Trump launched his run for the presidency with attacks on Mexican immigrants, and later tweeted that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country," he was tangling up our long history of Mexican immigration with a recent, startling trend of refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (and blaming Democrats for both). That tendency to mash all immigrants and refugees together and put them on our southern border badly misrepresents what’s really going on.

    Mexican immigration is nothing new; our western agribusinesses were built on migrant labor of Mexicans, Japanese, and poor whites, among others. From the time the current border was set in 1848 until the 1930s, people moved back and forth across it without restrictions. But in 1965, Congress passed the Hart-Celler Act, putting a cap on Latin American immigration for the first time. The cap was low: just 20,000, although 50,000 workers were coming annually.

    After 1965, workers continued to come as they always had, and to be employed, as always. But now their presence was illegal. In 1986, Congress tried to fix the problem by offering amnesty to 2.3 million Mexicans who were living in the U.S. and by cracking down on employers who hired undocumented workers. But rather than ending the problem of undocumented workers, the new law exacerbated it by beginning the process of guarding and militarizing the border. Until then, migrants into the United States had been offset by an equal number leaving at the end of the season. Once the border became heavily guarded, Mexican migrants refused to take the chance of leaving.

    Since 1986, politicians have refused to deal with this disconnect, which grew in the 1990s when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) flooded Mexico with U.S. corn and drove Mexican farmers to find work, largely in the American Southeast. But this "problem" is neither new nor catastrophic. While about 6 million undocumented Mexicans currently live in the United States, most of them--78%-- are long-term residents, here more than ten years. Only 7% have lived here less than five years. (This ratio is much more stable than that for undocumented immigrants from any other country, and indeed, about twice as many undocumented immigrants come legally and overstay their visas than come illegally across the southern border.)

    Since 2007, the number of undocumented Mexicans living in the United States has declined by more than a million. Lately, more Mexicans are leaving America than are coming.

    What is happening right now at America's southern border is not really about Mexican migrant workers.

    Beginning around 2014, people began to flee "warlike levels of violence" in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, coming to the U.S. for asylum. This is legal, although most come illegally, taking their chances with smugglers who collect fees to protect migrants on the Mexican side of the border and to get them into the U.S.

    The Obama administration tried to deter migrants by expanding the detention of families, and made significant investments in Central America in an attempt to stabilize the region by expanding economic development and promoting security. The Trump administration emphasized deterrence. It cut off support to Central American countries, worked with authoritarians to try to stop regional gangs, drastically limited the number of refugees the U.S. would admit, and—infamously—deliberately separated children from their parents to deter would-be asylum seekers.

    The number of migrants to the U.S. began to drop in 2000 and continued to drop throughout Trump’s years in office.   

    Now, with a new administration, the dislocation of the pandemic, and two catastrophic storms in Central America in addition to the violence, people are again surging to the border to try to get into the U.S. In the last month, the Border Patrol encountered more than 100,000 people. They are encouraged by smugglers, who falsely tell them the border is now open. Numbers released on Wednesday show that the number of children and families coming to the border doubled between January and February.

    The Biden administration is warning them not to come—yet. The Trump administration gutted immigration staff and facilities, while the pandemic has further cut available beds. Most of those trying to cross the border are single adults, and the Biden administration is turning all of them back under a pandemic public health order. (It is possible that the 100,000 number is inflated as people are making repeated attempts.)  

    At the same time, border officials are temporarily holding families to evaluate their claims to asylum, and are also evaluating the cases of about 65,000 asylum seekers forced by the Trump administration to stay in dangerous conditions in Mexico—this backlog is swelling the new numbers. Once the migrants are tested for coronavirus and then processed, they are either deported or released until their asylum hearing.

    This has apparently led to a number of families being released in communities in Arizona and Texas without adequate clothing or money. In normal times, churches and shelters would step in to help, but the pandemic has shut that aid down to a trickle. Residents are afraid the numbers of migrants will climb, and that they will bring Covid-19. Biden offered federal help to Texas Governor Abbott to test migrants for the coronavirus, but Abbott has refused to take responsibility for testing. (Migrants in Brownsville tested positive at a lower rate than Texas residents.)

    There is yet another issue: the administration is having a hard time handling the numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving. Their numbers have tripled recently, overwhelming the system, especially in Texas where the state is still digging out from the deep freeze. The children are supposed to spend no more than 72 hours in processing with Border Patrol before they are transferred to facilities overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services while agents search for family members to take the children. But at least in some cases, the kids have been with Border Patrol for as much as 77 hours. Last week, there were more than 3,700 unaccompanied children in Border Patrol facilities and about 8,800 unaccompanied children in HHS custody.

    The Biden administration is considering addressing this surge by looking for emergency shelters for minors crossing the border, activating the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or placing more HHS staff at the border. It has asked for $4 billion over four years to try to restore stability to the Central American countries hardest hit by violence. Yesterday, the administration announced that HHS would not use immigration status against those coming forward to claim children, out of concern that the previous Trump-era policy made people unwilling to come forward.

    The Senate has not yet confirmed Biden’s nominee to head HHS, Xavier Becerra, who is the son of Mexican immigrants. It is expected to do so next week at the earliest. When he finally takes office, he will have his work cut out for him.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • Merkin BallerMerkin Baller Posts: 5,790
    Today’s was particularly enjoyable. 

  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 14, 2021 (Sunday)

    By the time most of you will read this it will be March 15, which is too important a day to ignore. As the man who taught me to use a chainsaw said, it is immortalized by Shakespeare’s famous warning: “Cedar! Beware the adze of March!”

    He put it that way because the importance of March 15 is, of course, that it is the day in 1820 that Maine, the Pine Tree State, joined the Union.

    Maine statehood had national repercussions. The inhabitants of this northern part of Massachusetts had asked for statehood in 1819, but their petition was stopped dead by southerners who refused to permit a free state—one that did not permit slavery—to enter the Union without a corresponding “slave state.” The explosive growth of the northern states had already given free states control of the House of Representatives, but the South held its own in the Senate, where each state got two votes. The admission of Maine would give the North the advantage, and southerners insisted that Maine’s admission be balanced with the admission of a southern slave state, lest those opposed to slavery use their power in the federal government to restrict enslavement in the South.

    They demanded the admission of Missouri to counteract Maine’s two “free” Senate votes.

    But this “Missouri Compromise” infuriated northerners, especially those who lived in Maine. They swamped Congress with petitions against admitting Missouri as a slave state, resenting that slave owners in the Senate could hold the state of Maine hostage until they got their way. Tempers rose high enough that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Massachusetts—and later Maine—Senator John Holmes that he had for a long time been content with the direction of the country, but that the Missouri question “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

    Congress passed the Missouri Compromise, but Jefferson was right to see it as nothing more than a reprieve.

    The petition drive that had begun as an effort to keep the admission of Maine from being tied to the admission of Missouri continued as a movement to get Congress to whittle away at slavery where it could—by, for example, outlawing slave sales in the nation’s capital—and would become a key point of friction between the North and the South.

    There was also another powerful way in which the conditions of the state’s entry into the Union would affect American history. Mainers were angry that their statehood had been tied to the demands of far distant slave owners, and that anger worked its way into the state’s popular culture. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 meant that Maine men, who grew up steeped in that anger, could spread west.

    And so they did.

    In 1837, Elijah P. Lovejoy, who had moved to Alton, Illinois, from Albion, Maine, to begin a newspaper dedicated to the abolition of human enslavement, was murdered by a pro-slavery mob, who threw his printing press into the Mississippi River.

    Elijah Lovejoy’s younger brother, Owen, had also moved west from Maine. Owen saw Elijah shot and swore his allegiance to the cause of abolition. "I shall never forsake the cause that has been sprinkled with my brother's blood," he declared. He turned to politics, and in 1854, he was elected to the Illinois state legislature. His increasing prominence brought him political friends, including an up-and-coming lawyer who had arrived in Illinois from Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln.

    Lovejoy and Lincoln were also friends with another Maine man gone to Illinois. Elihu Washburne had been born in Livermore, Maine, in 1816, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. He was one of seven brothers, and one by one, his brothers had all left home, most of them to move west. Israel Washburn, Jr., the oldest, stayed in Maine, but Cadwallader moved to Wisconsin, and William Drew would follow, going to Minnesota. (Elihu was the only brother who spelled his last name with an e).

    Israel and Elihu were both serving in Congress in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act overturning the Missouri Compromise and permitting the spread of slavery to the West. Furious, Israel called a meeting of 30 congressmen in May to figure out how they could come together to stand against the Slave Power that had commandeered the government to spread the South’s system of human enslavement. They met in the rooms of Representative Edward Dickinson, of Massachusetts-- whose talented daughter Emily was already writing poems-- and while they came to the meeting from all different political parties, they left with one sole principle: to stop the Slave Power that was turning the government into an oligarchy.

    The men scattered for the summer back to their homes across the North, sharing their conviction that a new party must rise to stand against the Slave Power. In the fall, those calling themselves “anti-Nebraska” candidates were sweeping into office—Cadwallader Washburn would be elected from Wisconsin in 1854 and Owen Lovejoy from Illinois in 1856—and they would, indeed, create a new political party: the Republicans. The new party took deep root in Maine, flipping the state from Democratic to Republican in 1856, the first time it fielded a presidential candidate.

    In 1859, Abraham Lincoln would articulate an ideology for the party, defining it as the party of ordinary Americans standing together against the oligarchs of slavery, and when he ran for president in 1860, he knew it was imperative that he get the momentum of Maine men on his side. In those days Maine voted for state and local offices in September, rather than November, so a party’s win in Maine could start a wave. “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” the saying went.

    So Lincoln turned to Hannibal Hamlin, who represented Maine in the Senate (and whose father had built the house in which the Washburns grew up). Lincoln won 62% of the vote in Maine in 1860, taking all 8 of the state’s electoral votes, and went on to win the election. When he arrived in Washington quietly in late February to take office the following March, Elihu Washburne was at the railroad station to greet him.

    I was not a great student in college. I liked learning, but not on someone else’s timetable. It was this story that woke me up and made me a scholar. I found it fascinating that a group of ordinary people from country towns who shared a fear that they were losing their democracy could figure out how to work together to reclaim it.

    Happy Birthday, Maine.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
      March 15, 2021 (Monday)

    Tonight, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior Department. An impressive woman in her own right, Haaland embodies the determination of the new administration to use the government for the good of all Americans, rather than for special interests. This makes her a threat to business-as-usual on issues of both race and the economy. Her confirmation vote was 50-41; only four Republicans voted in favor of her appointment.

    Haaland is the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in our history, heading the department that, in the nineteenth century, abandoned Indigenous peoples for political leverage. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, whose people have lived in the land that is now New Mexico for 35 generations. The daughter of two military veterans, Haaland is a single mother who earned a law degree with a young child in tow. She was a tribal leader focused on environmentally responsible economic development for the Lagunas before she became a Democratic leader.

    Haaland brings to the position her opposition to further explorations for oil and gas on public lands, as well as an opposition to fracking, the process of extracting natural gas through fracturing rock with hydraulic pressure. Republicans have called her “radical” and say her opposition to the expansion of fossil fuels disqualifies her from overseeing an agency that, as Washington Post columnist Darryl Fears puts it, “traditionally promoted those values.”

    Congress established the Department of the Interior in 1849 to pull together federal offices that dealt with matters significant to the domestic policy of the United States and were, at the time, scattered in a number of different departments. Among other things, the Interior Department took control of Indian affairs and public lands.

    Reformers hoped that moving Indian Affairs from the War Department to the Interior Department, where civilians rather than army officers would control Indigenous relations, would lead to fewer wars. Instead, the move swept Indigenous people into a political system over which they had no control.

    As settlers pushed into Indigenous territory, the government took control of the land through treaties that promised the tribes food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and usually the tools and seeds to become farmers. As well, tribal members usually received a yearly payment of cash. These distributions of goods and money were not payment for the land. They replaced the livelihood the tribes lost when they gave up their lands.

    Either willingly or by force, tribes moved onto reservations, large tracts overseen by an agent who, once Indian Affairs was in the Department of the Interior, was a political appointee chosen by the U.S. senators of the state in which the reservation was located. While some of the agents actually tried to do their job, most were put into office to advance the interests of the political party in power. So, they took the money Congress appropriated for the tribe they oversaw, then gave the contracts for the beef, flour, clothing, blankets, and so on, to cronies, who would fulfill the contracts with moldy food and rags, if they bothered to fulfill them at all. The agents would pocket the rest of the money, using it to help keep their political party in power and themselves in office.

    When tribal leaders complained, lawmakers pointed out—usually quite correctly—that they had appropriated the money required under the treaties. But the system had essentially become a slush fund, and the tribes had no recourse against the corrupt agents except, when they were starving, to go to war. Then the agents called in the troops. Democrat Grover Cleveland tried to clean up the system in 1885-1889, but as soon as Republican Benjamin Harrison took the White House back, he jump-started the old system again.

    The corruption was so bad by then that military leaders tried to take the management of Indian Affairs away from the Interior Department, furious that politicians caused trouble with the tribes and then soldiers and unoffending Indians died. It looked briefly as if they might win until the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 ended any illusions that military management would be a better deal for Native Americans than political management.

    By the twentieth century, much of the Interior Department’s work turned to managing mineral and grazing rights, not only on Indigenous land, but also on land owned by the federal government. Until 1920, federal law permitted companies to claim the minerals under land they staked out. The discovery of oil in the West sparked a rush, though, and in 1909, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey warned Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger that prospectors were taking up all the land. Ballinger in turn warned President William Howard Taft, who used an executive order to protect more than 3 million acres of public lands in California and Wyoming, reserving the oil under them for use by the U.S. Navy.

    In 1920, Congress passed the Mineral Leasing Act, which put the Interior Department in charge of overseeing leases to explore for oil and minerals, permitting drilling and mining, and receiving payments of a percentage of the value of anything extracted.

    Soon after President Warren G. Harding took office in 1921, his Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, began to accept huge bribes from oil tycoon Edward Doheny. In 1922, Fall persuaded the Secretary of the Navy to transfer control of the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, along with two other oil fields in California, to him. Harding signed off on the deal, and Fall promptly gave Doheny secret, no-bid leases for the fields.

    The Teapot Dome scandal sent Fall to prison for a year, making him the first former cabinet official to serve time.

    Although Doheny was convinced that socialism was destroying America, Teapot Dome marked the beginning of the power of the oil industry in the American government, power ultimately personified when Trump appointed a lawyer and lobbyist for the energy and oil industry, David Bernhardt, to head the department. Bernhardt—who was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 41—rolled back environmental regulations and opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.  

    The Biden administration seems eager to break the hold of the energy industry on the Interior Department. As soon as he took office, Biden appointed almost 50 top officials, and froze the new drilling permits issued by the Trump administration for review.

    Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Haaland that his state collects more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands in the state, and warned that the Biden administration is “taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.”

    Haaland reassured him that having “lived most of my adult life paycheck to paycheck,” she understands the economic struggles of ordinary Americans and is fully on board with the administration’s plan to build back better, “to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations—so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish, and pray among them.”

     “A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted when Biden announced her nomination. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 16, 2021 (Tuesday)

    Today, I’m watching some stories that have immediate significance, but also indicate larger trends.

    First, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has asked the Justice Department, now overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, to look into the unusual circumstances through which Brett Kavanaugh’s large debts disappeared before his nomination to the Supreme Court. While this question is important to understanding Kavanaugh’s position on our Supreme Court, it is more than that: it is part of a larger investigation into the role of big money in our justice system.

    Last May, Whitehouse, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), released a report titled “Captured Courts: The GOP’s Big Money Assault On The Constitution, Our Independent Judiciary, And The Rule of Law.” It outlined how the “Conservative Legal Movement has rewritten federal law to favor the rich and powerful,” how the Federalist Society and special-interest money control our courts, and how the system benefits the big-money donors behind the Republicans.

    On March 10, Whitehouse began hearings to investigate the role of big money in Supreme Court nominations and decisions. Aside from Chief Justice John Roberts, every Supreme Court justice named by a Republican president has ties to the Federalist Society, a group that advocates an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, which prohibits the use of the courts to regulate business or to defend civil rights.

    So while it is the Kavanaugh story that is getting media attention, the longer story is about whether our courts have been bought.

    Another story on my list is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today warned Democrats in the Senate not to get rid of the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. “Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he said. But, in fact, they can, because it was McConnell himself who got rid of the filibuster to hammer through Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, and who pushed through Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which benefited only the very wealthy, by using a technique that avoided the filibuster.

    McConnell warned that, without the filibuster, he would defund Planned Parenthood, pass anti-abortion legislation, and create national concealed-carry gun laws. But all of these measures are quite unpopular in the nation, so it’s not clear that these are threats the Democrats want to avoid. It’s entirely possible that permitting the Republicans to push through those measures would hurt the Republicans, rather than the Democrats.

    Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster because they are keen on passing H.R. 1, the voting rights act that would defang the voter suppression measures Republicans are pushing in 43 states. If those measures become law, it will be hard for the Democrats ever again to win control of the government, no matter how popular they are. H.R. 1 will level the democratic playing field, so both parties compete fairly. But fair elections will disadvantage Republicans, who have come to rely on voter suppression to win.

    Hence McConnell’s threats.

    For his part—in a third story I’m watching-- Biden is reaching out to Republicans with an infrastructure package. Republicans were caught wrongfooted when they all voted against the enormously popular American Rescue Plan, and he is offering them an infrastructure bill at the same time Democrats have gotten rid of a ban on so-called “earmarks,” local spending funded in a federal package. Earmarks tend to increase bipartisanship by enabling lawmakers to go home to their constituents with something tangible in hand in exchange for their vote on a bill. Infrastructure spending is popular among voters in both parties, so this approach might break the united front of Republican lawmakers to oppose all Democratic policies.

    Finally, I am fascinated by the Democratic-led, bipartisan move among congressional leaders to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War. President Biden has called for a “more narrow and specific” authorization of military force (AUMF), and 83 Democratic lawmakers and 7 Republicans agree. Their dislike of the AUMF comes from its expansion under former president Trump, who used it to justify the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani—an official from a country with which we are not at war—saying that Soleimani was undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq’s government. This was an expansion of military action that legal analysts think might well have been illegal.

    In the past, Congress had justified AUMFs with the idea that they could control the president by controlling the money behind military actions, but Trump commandeered money to build his wall by declaring a national security emergency, buying time to do what he wished by forcing Democrats to take him to court to stop him. This opened up concerns that the power of the purse was really no power at all if a president chose to undermine it.

    The willingness to hand to the president the power to engage us in military action illustrates the dangerous growth of power in the executive branch. I will follow with interest whether Biden’s interest in returning us to the traditional forms of the Constitution extends to reducing the power of the president to assume Congress's role in taking us into war.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 17, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Today the House of Representatives approved awarding Congressional Gold Medals to members of the Capitol Police for their defense of the Capitol on January 6. Four hundred and thirteen members voted in favor, and 12 Republicans opposed the measure. A number of party members took offense at the language in the bill, which referred to the Capitol as “the temple of our American Democracy” and called the rioters “a mob of insurrectionists.”

    Part of their objection comes from their eagerness to downplay what happened on January 6 and to redefine it as a much less important event than it was.

    Last week, six top Republican senators expressed dismay to the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, over the continued presence of nearly 2300 National Guardsmen and a fence topped with razor wire around the Capitol. While security experts are concerned about ongoing threats, especially around the time of Biden’s expected address to a joint session of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the security is “overdone.” In a letter to Pittman, the five say it is “entirely unclear” why the fencing remains. They say it “sends a terrible message to American citizens, as well as to our allies and adversaries.”

    The fencing reminds Americans of what happened on January 6 and the Republicans’ complicity in that attack, refusing, as they did, to hold Trump accountable for inciting the insurrection. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) did not sign the letter to Pittman, but he told a right-wing talk radio host that he was not frightened by the rioters on January 6 because they were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” In contrast, though, he said he would have been worried if the rioters were “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters.”

    The events of January 6 left several people, including three police officers, dead, and more than 100 law enforcement officers wounded. Hundreds of people have been charged with crimes.

    Johnson’s version of the insurrection was pretty transparently an attempt to rewrite the history of January 6 to whitewash the role of Trump supporters and instead blame those opposed to Trump. His version of the events of the day is false. The insurrection was the logical result of months of lies from Republican lawmakers and media figures insisting that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election and that it was imperative for Trump’s supporters to stop the count of the electoral votes to—somehow—give Trump a second term. (That part of the plan has always seemed fuzzy to me, and yet the fact that the three people in line for the presidency after Trump were all in danger on January 6 seems to me an odd coincidence.)

    Yesterday, we learned that much of what Republican politicians and pundits were saying in the months leading up to the election echoed the efforts of Russian intelligence agents to influence the 2020 election. Russia is eager to weaken the U.S. in order to force us to bargain as it seeks to expand its influence in the world.

    Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines declassified the assessment of the intelligence community of foreign threats to the 2020 U.S. federal elections that had been provided to the previous administration and congressional leadership on January 7. The community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations, which “a range of Russian government organizations conducted,” “aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.”

    Russia did not meddle in election infrastructure, the report said, but instead focused on pushing narratives-- including lies about Biden and his son, Hunter, suggesting they had engaged in corrupt behavior in Ukraine-- “to US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.”

    The intelligence report assesses that, throughout the election season, Russia’s online trolls “sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in ballots, highlighting alleged irregularies, and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud.” They also “promoted conspiratorial narratives about the COVID-19 pandemic, made allegations of social media censorship, and highlighted US divisions surrounding protests about racial justice.”

    “Even after the election,” the report says, “Russian online influence actors continued to promote narratives questioning the election results and disparaging President Biden and the Democratic Party. These efforts parallel plans Moscow had in place in 2016 to discredit a potential incoming Clinton administration, but which it scrapped after former President Trump’s victory.” (Remember that Trump associate Roger Stone insisted that Trump was being cheated way back in the 2016 primaries, and then launched a “Stop the Steal” website before the 2016 general election, calling for donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”)

    No one, though, accessed election infrastructure… just as Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security, said (and got fired for saying it, by Trump, over Twitter).

    This report was released to the former administration and leading members of Congress on January 7, the day after the Capitol riot.

    And yet, many of them have yet to agree that the election was legitimate and that President Biden won it. Instead, they are suggesting that the insurrection that this rhetoric produced was not really a profound attack on our democracy.  

    It was.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 18, 2021 (Thursday)

    On Tuesday, in Georgia, a gunman murdered 1 man and 7 women, at three spas, and wounded another man. All three of the businesses were operating legally, according to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and had not previously come to the attention of the Atlanta Police Department, although all three had  been reviewed by an erotic review site. The man apprehended for the murders was 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is described as deeply religious. Six of the women killed were of Asian descent.

    Yesterday, at the news conference about the killings, the sheriff’s captain who was acting as a spokesman about the case, Jay Baker, told reporters that Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” The spokesman went on to say that the suspect “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” that had spurred him to murder, and that it was too early to tell if the incident was a “hate crime.” Long told law enforcement officers that the murders were “not racially motivated.” He was, he said, trying to “help” other people with sex addictions.

    Journalists quickly discovered that Baker had posted on Facebook a picture of a shirt calling COVID-19 an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”

    As Baker’s Facebook post indicated, the short-term history behind the shooting is the former president’s attacks on China, in which he drew out the pronunciation of the name to make it sound like a schoolyard insult.

    The story behind Trump’s attacks on China was his desperate determination to be reelected in 2020. In 2018, the former president placed tariffs on Chinese goods to illustrate his commitment to make the U.S. “a much stronger, much richer nation.” The tariffs led to a trade war with China and, rather than building a much stronger nation, resulted in a dramatic fall in agricultural exports. Agricultural exports to China fell from $15.8 billion in 2017 to $5.9 billion in 2018.

    To combat the growing unrest in the agricultural regions of the country, where farm bankruptcies grew by nearly 20% in 2019, Trump paid off farmers hurt by the tariff with subsidies, which made up more than one third of U.S. farm income in 2020. In June 2019, he also begged Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election. He told him that farmers were important to his election prospects, and begged Xi to buy more soybeans and wheat from U.S. farmers.

    In January 2020, Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a deal that cut some U.S. tariffs in exchange for Chinese promises to buy more agricultural products, as well as some other adjustments between the two countries. On January 22, Trump tweeted: ““One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country. Much more to come!”

    But, of course, the novel coronavirus was beginning to ravage the world.

    On January 24, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

    Five days later, at a signing ceremony, he said: “I think our relationship with China now might be the best it's been in a long, long time.”

    On February 7, Trump called journalist Bob Woodward and said of the coronavirus, “This is deadly stuff. You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed…. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” Still, on February 10, he told supporters in New Hampshire that the coronavirus would “miraculously” go away when the weather got warmer, and in mid-February, he defended Xi’s handling of the epidemic, saying China was working hard and “doing a very good job” and that they “have everything under control.”

    Shortly after the U.S. shut down to combat the pandemic in mid-March, Trump began to turn on China. On March 22, after 33,000 Americans had tested positive for the virus and 421 had died of it, Trump seemed to think better of his praise for Xi. He insisted that China had not told him about the deadly nature of the virus, and began to call it the “Chinese virus,” or the “Chy-na virus.”

    By April 17, a Republican strategy document urged candidates to deflect attention from the nation’s disastrous coronavirus news by attacking China, which “caused this pandemic by covering it up, lying, and hoarding the world’s supply of medical equipment…. China… has stolen millions of American jobs, [and] sent fentanyl to the United States.” Democrats would not stand up to China, the document told Republican candidates to say, but “I will stand up to China, bring our manufacturing jobs back home, and push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.”  

    In May, Trump announced the U.S. would leave the World Health Organization because it had been too easy on China in the early days of the pandemic.

    To undercut his own association with China, Trump somewhat nonsensically tried to link his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, to China. He claimed—falsely—that China had paid Biden’s son, Hunter, $1.5 billion. He and his appointees Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Attorney General William Barr, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, all claimed—again falsely-- that China was interfering in the election to help Biden.

    This week, the intelligence community reported that, in fact, China did not try to influence the election because it did not “view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling.”

    As Trump politicized the pandemic and attacked China, hate crimes against Asian-Americans began to rise; there were about 3800 of them between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. In cities, hate incidents increased by 150%.

    In this context, the suggestion of a police spokesman who had posted pictures celebrating a shirt that called Covid-19 the “VIRUS IMPORTED FROM CHY-NA” that a gunman had killed six women of Asian descent because he had had “a really bad day,” along with the officer’s apparent acceptance of Long’s statement that the killings were not racially motivated, outraged observers.

    That seemingly cavalier dismissal of the dead while accepting the words of the white murderer seemed to personify an American history that has discriminated against Asians since the California legislature slapped a Foreign Miners’ Tax on Chinese miners in 1850, just a year after they began to arrive in California. Discriminatory laws and violence from their white neighbors plagued Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Koreans, Vietnamese, and all Asian immigrants as they moved to the U.S.

    Discrimination and hatred have continued to plague their descendants.

    The rise in anti-Asian violence has been so bad this year that a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee had planned a hearing today on hate crimes against Asian Americans even before the murders. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) today condemned the recent uptick in violence, but pointed out that discrimination is hardly new. “There is a systemic problem here,” she said. Of Japanese descent, she noted that she was born during WWII in an internment camp in Arizona.

    Asian American women have borne a dual burden of both racism and sexism, as certain men fetishize Asian and Asian American women, seeing them as submissive, exotic, and sexually available. Attackers aimed nearly 70% of the reported 3,800 hate incidents reported last year at women.

    That Long blamed Asian or Asian American women for his own sexual impulses ties into a long history that links racism to sexism—and to violence— in a peculiarly American fashion.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 19, 2021 (Friday)

    When I see Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and other voices from our right wing, siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin in his demand that President Joe Biden debate him or pretending that the January 6 attack on the Capitol wasn’t a big deal, or Republicans voting to overturn a legitimate election or trying to keep Americans from voting, sometimes I despair of our democracy.

    But a poll released by the Pew Research Center yesterday shows that these Republicans are out of step with the country. It reveals that the vast majority of Americans cares deeply about the preservation of our government. Asked about what happened at the Capitol on January 6, 87% percent of Americans say it is either “very important” (69%) or “somewhat important” (18%) for law enforcement officials to find and prosecute the insurrectionists.

    Where those numbers fall apart is among Republicans who believe that former president Trump won the 2020 election. While 87% of Democrats think what Trump did was wrong and that he should have been convicted of inciting the insurrection, 66% of people who believe that Trump won the election say that the riot at the Capitol is getting too much attention. Eighty-two percent of them said Trump’s conduct leading up to the insurrection was not wrong and that the House should not have voted to impeach him.

    The danger of the Big Lie—the false idea that Trump actually won the 2020 election-- was always that it would convince Trump supporters to fight for him not because they thought they would be fighting to overturn the U.S. government, but because they thought they would be defending it. If, indeed, the election were stolen from the former president by the radical socialists of whom he warned, it would be the part of heroism to rally to protect our system.

    That is, apparently, what at least some of the insurrectionists believed they were doing. Today, a federal judge ruled that Jon Schaffer, an Indiana man arrested for his participation in the insurrection, must remain in jail because he poses a risk to the community. Schaffer had clearly embraced the Big Lie, telling journalists: “We’re not going to merge into some globalist, communist system, it will not happen. There will be a lot of bloodshed if it comes down to that, trust me…. Nobody wants this, but they’re pushing us to a point where we have no choice.”

    Also today, court papers revealed that a federal grand jury has charged four leaders from the far-right gang the Proud Boys with conspiring to “commit offenses against the United States, namely… to corruptly obstruct… an official proceeding”—that is, the counting of the electoral votes—and to obstruct law enforcement officers engaged in putting down civil disorder. The four named are Ethan Nordean (AKA “Rufio Panman”), 30, of Auburn, Washington; Joseph Biggs (AKA “Sergeant Biggs”), 37, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl, 35, of Philadephia, Pennsylvania; and Charles Donohoe, 33, of Kernersville, North Carolina.

    At least three of the four were spurred to action by the Big Lie.

    On November 5, 2020, Biggs posted on social media: “It’s time for f**king War if they steal this sh*t.”

    On November 16, 2020, Nordean posted: “What’s more disturbing to me than the Dems trying to steal this election, is how many people… just accepted Biden won, despite the obvious corruption… Luke warm Patriots are dangerous.”

    On November 27, 2020, Nordean posted: “We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like the love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.”

    On the same day, as news broke that the Trump administration was hoping to bring back firing squads, Rehl posted: “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”

    After the attack, during which, according to the charging document, “approximately 81 members of the Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted,” Nordean posted a message on social media saying: “[I]f you feel bad for the police, you are part of the problem. They care more about federal property (our property) than protecting and serving the people.” Rehl posted, “I’m proud as f**k what we accomplished yesterday, but we need to start planning and we are starting planning, for a Biden presidency.”

    Meanwhile, the lawyer for Schaffer, the Indiana man, is trying to get leniency for his client by arguing that the man was encouraged by Trump. “People have the right to believe the highest elected official…. My client is not responsible for what happened on January 6.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
    March 20, 2021 (Saturday)

    On this day of the Spring Equinox, I was finally able to be outside, stacking wood for next year, cutting out invasive barberry, and collecting maple sap on what was a perfect March day in Maine. We're in that magical time in between seasons, with the bitter cold over but patches of snow still on the ground and no sign yet of either buds on the trees or black flies.

    I came back to the laptop tonight eager to write up two stories, but sat down and read through Twitter and thought: "Nope. Let's all take a break."

    Happy spring, everyone.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 21, 2021 (Sunday)

    As the Biden administration sets out to restore a government that can regulate business to level the playing field in the United States between workers and employers, address inequality, and combat climate change, Republicans are turning to the courts to stop him.

    Republican attorneys general have already launched a number of lawsuits challenging various of the new administration’s policies. Twenty-one states are suing Biden for revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada. They claim such authority belongs to Congress because it has the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Biden cancelled the permit because he said it was not in the national interest, and legal experts say he is on solid ground.

    Twelve states are suing the president over his executive order to address climate change because they say that Biden has no authority to regulate “’social costs’ of greenhouse gases.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is considering running for the Senate and who is leading the lawsuits, says such regulations will be expensive and ordinary Americans will bear the higher costs on everyday products. Missouri legislators are talking about blocking any of Biden’s executive orders with which they disagree.

    Eleven states are challenging Biden’s immigration policy: they want to reinstate the rule that requires applicants for citizenship to prove they are financially secure before they are allowed to become citizens.

    And twenty-two Republican states are suing to challenge the provision of the American Rescue Plan that says states cannot use the federal money, which is intended to stimulate the economy, to cut taxes. Democrats added this provision deliberately to prevent Republican legislatures from using the money to cut taxes rather than as it was intended. States have the option to turn down the funds, but if they take the money, they must use it as Congress intended: to fund public programs.

    Former President Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—who was known for saying “Leave no vacancy behind”-- made it their top priority to reshape the federal judiciary. McConnell stalled confirmations for Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, leaving a number of vacancies for Trump to fill. McConnell approved the new judges with vigor, keeping the Senate confirming them during the pandemic, for example, even when all other business stopped.

    Most notably, of course, Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. McConnell refused to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, now Biden’s attorney general, saying that his nomination in March 2016 was too close to the November presidential election to permit an appointment. This obstruction created an opening for Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. When Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump replaced him with Brett Kavanaugh. Then, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett less than two weeks before the November 2020 election.

    The importance of those appointments is about to start playing out.

    Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a somewhat confusing case about the rights of workers. The case is about whether union organizers can talk to farm workers in their workplaces (when they are not working). The 1975 law that permits such conversations has enabled agricultural workers, who are mostly people of color and immigrants, to bargain for better conditions. But in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, companies argue that the regulation permitting organizers into work spaces deprives the property owner of economic benefit and thus is unconstitutional.

    If the Supreme Court agrees, the precedent will go a long way toward striking down regulations that involve intruding on private property—like workplace safety inspections—and which are currently allowed. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case suggests it is open to the argument.

    For years now, the court has hemmed in Congress’s ability to use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate different aspects of American life. Since the 1930s, Congress has expanded the use of that clause to regulate anything that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Recently, the Supreme Court has challenged that sweeping argument, saying it cannot be used to regulate guns in schools, for example, or require individuals to buy health insurance.

    Most dramatic, though, is the court’s apparent willingness to revisit something called the “nondelegation doctrine.” According to Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, authors of a new piece in the Columbia Law Review, nondelegation was invented in 1935 to undercut the business regulation of the New Deal. In the first 100 days of his term, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to regulate the economy to combat the Great Depression. Under his leadership, Congress established a number of new agencies to regulate everything from banking to agricultural production.

    While the new rules were hugely popular among ordinary Americans, they infuriated business leaders. The Supreme Court stepped in and, in two decisions, said that that Congress could not delegate its authority to administrative agencies. But FDR’s threat of increasing the size of the court and the justices’ recognition that they were on the wrong side of public opinion undercut their opposition to the New Deal. The nondelegation theory was ignored until the 1980s, when conservative lawyers began to look for ways to rein in the federal government.

    In 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument in a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the court must trust Congress to take care of its own power. But after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that he might be open to the argument, conservative scholars began to say that the framers of the Constitution did not want Congress to delegate authority. Mortenson and Bagley say that argument “can’t stand…. It’s just making stuff up and calling it constitutional law.” Nonetheless, Republican appointees on the court have come to embrace the doctrine.

    In November 2019, the same day that then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell boasted on Twitter that the Senate had confirmed more than 160 new federal judges since Trump took office (one out of every four) and would continue to confirm them as fast as possible, Justice Kavanaugh sided with Justice Gorsuch-- Trump appointees both-- to say the Court should reexamine whether or not Congress can delegate authority to administrative agencies. Along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas, they believe that the Constitution forbids such delegation. If Justice Barrett sides with them, the resurrection of that doctrine will curtail the modern administrative state that since the 1930s has regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.

    As Justice Elena Kagan points out, the nondelegation doctrine would mean that “most of Government is unconstitutional.”

    But that, of course, is the point. We are caught up in a struggle between two ideologies: one saying that the government has a significant role to play in keeping the playing field level in the American economy and society, and the other saying it does not.

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  • dignindignin Posts: 8,960
    Heather Cox Richardson was on the latest Stay Tuned with Preet podcast released this morning.
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
    dignin said:
    Heather Cox Richardson was on the latest Stay Tuned with Preet podcast released this morning.

    thanks for the heads up...
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 22, 2021 (Monday)

    The Biden administration has been quite open about its belief that we are in a global war to reestablish the security of democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. On February 4, President Biden said in a speech at the State Department that American diplomacy must be “rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed up a month later by emphasizing that America would rebuild alliances to “renew democracy, because it’s under threat.” Blinken noted that authoritarianism and nationalism are rising around the world, including in the United States, and that the U.S. would work with allies to counter it. “We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law,” he said.

    To that end, the Biden administration has joined our partners to take a strong stand for human rights and democracy.

    In his confirmation hearings, Blinken promised to repudiate the previous administration’s attack on LGBTQ individuals and to champion LBGTQ rights around the world.

    On March 8, Blinken and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden hosted the 15th annual International Women of Courage Awards in a virtual ceremony honoring women nominated by U.S. embassies around the world for making a difference in their communities, their countries, or the world. They emphasized that the U.S. will stand with women and girls everywhere.

    Today, the Treasury Department joined the European Union, Canada, and Britain in announcing sanctions against six Chinese officials because of the continuing human rights abuses against the minority Uyghur population of that country. The administration has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the 12 million Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, who are mostly Muslim and who have been herded into “re-education camps,” used as forced labor, and forcibly sterilized.

    These sanctions come after last week’s sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials because of their suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong. Just days after administration officials imposed those sanctions, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan began a discussion with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, by taking a provocative stand and insisting that Beijing needs to return to the rules-based system that democratic allies built after World War II. Sullivan said: ”We do not seek conflict but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for principles, for our people, and for our friends.”

    China responded by suggesting that it considers the U.S. a waning power that it no longer has to appease with gestures toward human rights. In a 16-minute lecture, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, accused Blinken and Sullivan of hypocrisy and arrogance, calling attention to police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and America’s own human rights challenges. He later suggested that the U.S. no longer can claim to represent the views of the world, and said that “China’s development and growing strength are unstoppable.”

    The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two members of the Myanmar military, which staged a coup against that country’s civilian government, a coup that is still roiling the nation. In those sanctions, the U.S. joined the E.U., Canada, and the United Kingdom, while two of Myanmar’s neighboring countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, issued strong statements condemning the violence.

    It is also preparing sanctions against Russia for its attempt to swing the 2020 election and for its massive hack of U.S. businesses and governmental agencies last year. Unlike his predecessor, Biden has refused to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreeing with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that Putin was a killer. In this stance against Russia, too, the U.S. has partners: British special forces have been ordered to counter the activities of Russian military intelligence.

    Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted to India that its planned purchase of a Russian missile system could bring U.S. sanctions, saying “[w]e certainly urge all our allies and partners to move away from Russian equipment… and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf….”

    China has invited Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing.

    The Biden administration is not just trying to defend democracy overseas. It is also trying to reclaim democracy here at home. Since 1981, Republicans have focused on cutting taxes and turning over our public infrastructure to private individuals, and as their agenda became less and less popular, they have relied on voter suppression and gerrymandering to stay in power. With Republicans in charge of the Senate, they could kill even enormously popular bills that passed the House of Representatives, and now that Democrats are in charge, the filibuster enables them to do the same.

    The Biden administration has used its success with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to illustrate that government can actually be a dramatic force for good. This weekend, the number of coronavirus vaccines delivered was over 3 million a day, and President Biden beat his own goal of reaching 100 million vaccines in arms within his first hundred days by a month.

    The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal prekindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.

    They are reclaiming the government for the American people.

    But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.

    To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”

    The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.

    Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 23, 2021 (Tuesday)

    Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days after we lost 8 others in Atlanta, Georgia, shot by a man with a gun.

    In 2017, after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, political personality Bill O’Reilly said that such mass casualties were “the price of freedom.”  

    But his is a very recent interpretation of guns and their meaning in America.

    The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

    As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

    The path to today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

    One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

    By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

    NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

    But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

    This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War Two. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

    In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan-- for the first time.
    When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

    In 1981, a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

    After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Although until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun, in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

    In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

    Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

    Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012, the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent more than $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

    The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members— recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.

    Maybe this time things will be different. Today President Biden called for the Senate to pass measures already passed by House lawmakers for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

    More important, perhaps, is that new voices are making themselves heard on this issue. The political participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) jumped by 91% in Georgia in 2020 and was key to electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate. The Georgia murders, six of which took the lives of women of Asian descent, have inspired this community to demand policy changes that address hate crimes and violence.

    Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the 21-person Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told Politico’s Maya King: “Certainly for AAPIs who may not have been involved before, this is a wake up call to say, ‘You need to be involved.’”

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  • Halifax2TheMaxHalifax2TheMax Posts: 28,359
    Nothing can be done. “Responsible” gun owners own the second grade, churches, synagogues, movie theaters, concert venues and super markets. Nothing can be done.

    Second graders.
    09/15/1998, Mansfield, MA; 08/29/00 08/30/00, Mansfield, MA; 07/02/03, 07/03/03, Mansfield, MA; 09/28/04, 09/29/04, Boston, MA; 09/22/05, Halifax, NS; 05/24/06, 05/25/06, Boston, MA; 07/22/06, 07/23/06, Gorge, WA; 06/29/08, 06/30/08, Mansfield, MA; 08/18/08, O2 London, UK; 10/30/09, 10/31/09, Philadelphia, PA; 05/15/10, Hartford, CT; 05/17/10, Boston, MA; 05/20/10, 05/21/10, NY, NY; 06/22/10, Dublin, IRE; 06/23/10, Northern Ireland; 09/03/11, 09/04/11, Alpine Valley, WI; 09/11/11, 09/12/11, Toronto, Ont; 09/14/11, Ottawa, Ont; 09/15/11, Hamilton, Ont; 07/02/2012, Prague, Czech Republic; 07/04/2012 & 07/05/2012, Berlin, Germany; 07/07/2012, Stockholm, Sweden; 09/30/2012, Missoula, MT; 07/16/2013, London, Ont; 07/19/2013, Chicago, IL; 10/15/2013 & 10/16/2013, Worcester, MA; 10/21/2013 & 10/22/2013, Philadelphia, PA; 10/25/2013, Hartford, CT; 11/29/2013, Portland, OR; 11/30/2013, Spokane, WA; 12/04/2013, Vancouver, BC; 12/06/2013, Seattle, WA; 10/03/2014, St. Louis. MO; 10/22/2014, Denver, CO; 10/26/2015, New York, NY; 04/23/2016, New Orleans, LA; 04/28/2016 & 04/29/2016, Philadelphia, PA; 05/01/2016 & 05/02/2016, New York, NY; 05/08/2016, Ottawa, Ont.; 05/10/2016 & 05/12/2016, Toronto, Ont.; 08/05/2016 & 08/07/2016, Boston, MA; 08/20/2016 & 08/22/2016, Chicago, IL; 07/01/2018, Prague, Czech Republic; 07/03/2018, Krakow, Poland; 07/05/2018, Berlin, Germany; 09/02/2018 & 09/04/2018, Boston, MA;

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

    Libtardaplorable©. And proud of it.

    Brilliantati©
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 24, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.

    After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”

    In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

    The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.

    The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.

    In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”

    And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.

    On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”

    And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.

    So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.

    The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.

    Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.

    To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues: Why are you so afraid of democracy? Why, instead of trying to win voters over that you lost in the last election, are you trying to prevent them from voting?”

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  • Merkin BallerMerkin Baller Posts: 5,790
    Another good one today. 

    The Sydney Powell statement in response to the lawsuit is bonkers, and will STILL do nothing to change the minds of the rubes who think the election was stolen. 

  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 25, 2021 (Thursday)

    There is only one story today.

    It is not the coronavirus pandemic, although 547,000 of us have died of Covid-19, and a study today suggested that we could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths if we had adopted masks and social distancing early on. It is not the coronavirus even though today President Joe Biden noted that we will reach 100 million vaccinations tomorrow and that he aims to reach 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office….

    It is not the situation on our southern border, where a surge of migrants apparently matches the seasonal pattern of people trying to make it into the United States….

    It is not the economy, although the U.S. Treasury said today it had issued 37 million payments this week, worth $83 billion, from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan....

    The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.

    Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

    The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.   

    This is the only story from today because it is the only story historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

    The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

    The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

    Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the For the People Act.

    They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

    The story today is not about coronavirus vaccines, or border solutions, or economic recovery, because all of those things depended on the election of Joe Biden. If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 26, 2021 (Friday)

    Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed his state’s new voter suppression law last night in a carefully staged photo op. As journalist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, Kemp sat at a polished table, with six white men around him, under a painting of the Callaway Plantation on which more than 100 Black people had been enslaved. As the men bore witness to the signing, Representative Park Cannon, a Black female lawmaker, was arrested and dragged away from the governor’s office.

    It was a scene that conjured up a lot of history.

    Voting was on the table in March 1858, too. Then, the U.S. Senate fought over how the new territory of Kansas would be admitted to the Union. The majority of voters in the territory wanted it to be free, but a minority of proslavery Democrats had taken control of the territory’s government and written a constitution that would make human enslavement the fundamental law in the state. The fight over whether this minority, or the majority that wanted the territory free, would control Kansas burned back east, to Congress.

    In the Senate, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, who rejected “as ridiculously absurd” the idea that “all men are born equal,” rose to speak on the subject. He defended the rule of the proslavery minority in Kansas, and told anti-slavery northerners how the world really worked. Hammond laid out a new vision for the United States of America.

    He explained to his Senate colleagues just how wealthy the South’s system of human enslavement had made the region, then explained that the “harmonious… and prosperous” system worked precisely because a few wealthy men ruled over a larger class with “a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond explained that in the South, those workers were Black slaves, but the North had such a class, too: they were “your whole hireling class of manual laborers.”

    These distinctions had crucial political importance, he explained, “Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and, being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners,’ and could combine, where would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”

    Hammond believed the South's system must spread to Kansas and the West regardless of what settlers there wanted because it was the only acceptable way to organize society. Two years later, Hammond would be one of those working to establish the Confederate States of America, “founded,” in the words of their vice president, Alexander Stephens, upon the “great physical, philosophical, and moral truth… that the negro is not equal to the white man.”

    Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln recognized that if Americans accepted the principle that some men were better than others, and permitted southern Democrats to spread that principle by dominating the government, they had lost democracy. "I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares ... are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?” he asked.

    Led by Abraham Lincoln, Republicans rejected the slaveholders’ unequal view of the world as a radical reworking of the nation’s founding principles. They stood firm on the Declaration of Independence.

    When southerners fought to destroy the government rather than accept human equality, Lincoln reminded Americans just how fragile our democracy is. At Gettysburg in November 1863, he rededicated the nation to the principles of the Declaration and called upon his audience “to be dedicated… to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    The United States defeated the Confederacy, outlawed human enslavement except as punishment for crime, declared Black Americans citizens, and in 1867, with the Military Reconstruction Act, began to establish impartial suffrage. The Military Reconstruction Act, wrote Maine politician James G. Blaine in 1893, “changed the political history of the United States.”

    Today, as I looked at the photograph of Governor Kemp signing that bill, I wondered just how much.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
      March 27, 2021 (Saturday)

    An early night for me, and it's a gorgeous one, with an almost full moon and spring definitely on its way.

    Happy Passover to everyone who celebrates.



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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,974
     March 28, 2021 (Sunday)

    Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

    The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:

    First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.

    Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.

    They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.

    Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”

    The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.

    The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about-- and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

    So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds-- they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.

    To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.

    White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.  

    Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when American newspaper headlines blasted the story of the Paris Commune. From March through May, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, French Communards took control of Paris. Americans read stories of a workers’ government that seemed to attack civilization itself: burning buildings, killing politicians, corrupting women, and confiscating property. Americans worried that workers at home might have similar ideas: in italics, Scribner’s Monthly warned readers that “the interference of ignorant labor with politics is dangerous to society.”

    Building on this fear, in May 1871, a so-called taxpayers’ convention met in Columbia, South Carolina. A reporter claimed that South Carolina was “a typical Southern state” victimized by lazy “semi-barbarian” Black voters who were electing leaders to redistribute wealth. “Upon these people not only political rights have been conferred, but they have absolute political supremacy,” he said. The New York Daily Tribune, which had previously championed Black rights, wrote “the most intelligent, the influential, the educated, the really useful men of the South, deprived of all political power,… [are] taxed and swindled… by the ignorant class, which only yesterday hoed the fields and served in the kitchen.”

    The South Carolina Taxpayers’ Convention uncovered no misuse of state funds and disbanded with only a call for frugality in government, but it had embedded into politics the idea that Black voters were using the government to redistribute wealth. The South was “prostrate” under “Black rule,” reporters claimed. In the election of 1876, southern Democrats set out to “redeem” the South from this economic misrule by keeping Black Americans from the polls.

    Over the next decades, white southerners worked to silence the voices of Black Americans in politics, and in 1890, fourteen southern congressmen wrote a book to explain to their northern colleagues why Democrats had to control the South. Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and its Results insisted that Black voters who had supported the Republicans after the Civil War had used their votes to pervert the government by using it to give themselves services paid for with white tax dollars.

    Later that year, a new constitution in Mississippi started the process of making sure Black people could not vote by requiring educational tests, poll taxes, or a grandfather who had voted, effectively getting rid of Black voting.

    Eight years later, there was still enough Black voting in North Carolina and enough class solidarity with poor whites that voters in Wilmington elected a coalition government of Black Republicans and white Populists. White Democrats agreed that the coalition had won fairly, but about 2000 of them nonetheless armed themselves to “reform” the city government. They issued a “White Declaration of Independence” and said they would “never again be ruled, by men of African origin.” It was time, they said, “for the intelligent citizens of this community owning 95% of the property and paying taxes in proportion, to end the rule by Negroes.”

    As they forced the elected officials out of office and took their places, the new Democratic mayor claimed “there was no intimidation used,” but as many as 300 African Americans died in the Wilmington coup.

    The Civil War began the process of linking the political power of people of color to a redistribution of wealth, and this rhetoric has haunted us ever since. When Ronald Reagan talked about the “Welfare Queen” (a Black woman who stole tax dollars through social services fraud), when tea partiers called our first Black president a “socialist,” when Trump voters claimed to be reacting to “economic anxiety,” they were calling on a long history. Today, Republicans talk about “election integrity,” but their end game is the same as that of the former Confederates after the war: to keep Black and Brown Americans away from the polls to make sure the government does not spend tax dollars on public services.

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