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Letter From An American

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 22, 2021 (Tuesday)

    There were three important takeaways from today’s Senate vote on whether to begin debate on S1, the For the People Act, the bill that would protect voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering, establish new ethics rules for federal officials, and curb big money in politics.

    The first is that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted with the rest of the Democrats to move the measure forward. This means that he is confident that his compromise ideas will be inserted into the final bill and that the Democrats are united. Tonight, the White House nodded to Manchin when it applauded “efforts in the Senate to incorporate feedback that refines and strengthens the bill, and would make its reformers easier for the states to implement.”

    The same White House statement offered strong support for the For the People Act, saying, “Democracy is in peril, here, in America. The right to vote—a sacred right in this country— is under assault with an intensity and an aggressiveness we have not seen in a long time.” It pointed to the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection to remind us that “our democracy is fragile” and that we need legislation to “repair and strengthen American democracy.”

    The second takeaway is that all 50 of the Republicans voted against the measure, which would have helped to combat the voter suppression laws being enacted by Republican-dominated legislatures across the country. According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have put in place more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. These laws will affect around 36 million people, or about 15% of all eligible voters.

    Led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Republicans insist that federal protection of voting rights is federal overreach; that the states should be in charge of their own voting rules. As Susan Collins (R-ME) put it: “S. 1 would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens.”

    And the third takeaway is that the Republicans are defending the same principle that Senator Stephen A. Douglas advanced when he debated Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln in Illinois in 1858.

    Four years before, Douglas had led Congress to throw out the 1820 Missouri Compromise, a federal law that kept the system of Black enslavement out of the land above the southern border of the new slave state of Missouri, in land the U.S. had acquired through the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Eager to enable a transcontinental railroad to run west of Chicago, Douglas introduced a bill to organize a territory in that land in 1854 but, knowing that southern senators would never permit a new free territory that would eventually become a free state without balancing it with a slave state, he wrote a bill for two new territories, not one.

    Both were in territory covered by the Missouri Compromise and thus should have been free under federal law. But Douglas insisted that true democracy meant that the people in the territories should decide whether or not they would welcome slavery to their midst.

    Working as a lawyer back in Illinois, Lincoln recognized that this “popular sovereignty” would guarantee the spread of Black enslavement across the West, since under the Constitution, even a single enslaved Black American in a territory would require laws to protect that “property.” Slave states would eventually outnumber free states in Congress, and their representatives would make human enslavement national.  

    In 1858, when Lincoln, now a member of the new Republican Party, challenged Democrat Douglas for his Senate seat, the key issue was whether Douglas’s “democracy” squared with American principles.

    Lincoln said it didn’t. Local voters should not be able to carry enslavement into lands that a majority of Americans wanted free. He did not defend civil rights, but he insisted that the framers had deliberately tried to advance the principles of the Declaration of Independence by using the federal government to limit the expansion of enslavement.

    Douglas insisted it did. In his view, democracy meant that voters in the states and territories could arrange their governments however they wished.

    But central to that belief was who, exactly, would be doing the arranging. “I hold that this Government was made on the white basis, by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men and none others,” he said. Claiming that he, not Lincoln, was “in favor of preserving this Government as our fathers made it,” he told an audience in Jonesboro, Illinois, “we ought to extend to the negro every right, every privilege, every immunity which he is capable of enjoying, consistent with the good of society. When you ask me what these rights are, what their nature and extent is, I tell you that that is a question which each State of this Union must decide for itself.” His own state of Illinois, he pointed out, rejected Black enslavement, “but we have also decided that…  that he shall not vote, hold office, or exercise any political rights. I maintain that Illinois, as a sovereign State, has a right thus to fix her policy….”

    I found it chilling to hear Douglas’s argument from 1858 echo in the Senate today, for after seeing exactly how his argument enabled white southern legislators to cut their Black neighbors out of the vote in the 1870s and then pass Jim Crow laws that lasted for more than 70 years, our lawmakers should know better. How is it possible to square states’ rights and equality without also protecting the right of all adult citizens to vote? Unless everyone has equal access to the ballot, what is there to stop Douglas’s view of “the good of society” from coming to pass yet again?

    Congress will recess after Thursday and won’t resume business until July 12. The big push to pass a voting rights measure will happen then.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 23, 2021 (Wednesday)

    When voters elected Democrats to take charge of the national government in 2020—despite the efforts of some Trump supporters to stop that from happening—Republican lawmakers built on the anger the former president had whipped up among his supporters to impose a Trumpian vision on their states.

    They reworked election laws to solidify their hold on their state governments. According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, so far 18 states have put in place more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. These laws will affect around 36 million people, or about 15% of all eligible voters. In Georgia, a new law means that county election boards will no longer be bipartisan but will be appointed by Republicans; other states are similarly stripping power from Democrats to put Republicans in charge.

    In some cases, state governors appear to be jockeying to run for president in 2024 as the new “Trump” of the party. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has defunded the legislature to punish Democrats for leaving the session and thus keeping Republicans from passing an extreme elections bill, even though Republicans themselves later said they had not intended to pass all of the provisions in the bill. Abbott has recently announced that Texas will build its own border wall, trying to elevate the issue of immigration at a time when his own handling of two crises in Texas’s electrical grid have been attracting criticism.

    Not to be outdone, in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis today signed a law requiring that public colleges and universities survey students, faculty, and staff about their beliefs in order to make sure the institutions support “intellectual diversity.” The law does not say what the state will do with the survey results, but sponsors—and DeSantis—suggested that the legislature might cut budgets for any schools found to be “indoctrinating” students. Without citing any evidence, Republican lawmakers have warned that there are “socialism factories” in the state universities. The law permits students to record lectures without the consent of the professor or other students to be used in legal cases against the school.

    Lawmakers in these Republican-dominated states are focusing on cultural issues, apparently trying to keep Trump voters, angry because they believe (falsely) that the former president won the 2020 election, fired up enough to continue to support Republicans. They have expanded the rights of gun owners, restricted abortion to the point it is virtually outlawed, targeted transgender athletes, and refused both coronavirus guidelines and federal unemployment benefits.

    But their biggest public relations angle has been the attack on Critical Race Theory, a theory conceived in the 1970s by legal scholars trying to understand why the civil rights legislation of the past twenty years had not eliminated racial inequality in America. They argued that general racial biases were baked into American law so that efforts to protect individuals from discrimination did not really get at the heart of the issue. While this theory focused on the law, it echoed the arguments historians have made—and proved—since the 1940s: our economy, education, housing, medical care, and so on, have developed with racial biases. This is not actually controversial among scholars.   

    While CRT explicitly focuses on systems, not individuals, and while it is largely limited to legal theory classes rather than public schools, Republicans have turned this theory into the ideas that it attacks white Americans and that history teachers are indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate America. In the past three and half months, the Fox News Channel has talked about CRT nearly 1300 times.

    Republicans are open about their hopes that pushing cultural issues, especially CRT, will win them control of Congress in 2022. “This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, said in an interview with Politico reporters Theodoric Meyer, Maggie Severns, and Meridith McGraw. “I look at this and say, ‘Hey, this is how we are going to win.’ I see 50 [House Republican] seats in 2022. Keep this up,” Bannon said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more emphasis from Trump on it and DeSantis and others. People who are serious in 2024 and beyond are going to focus on it.”

    But the extreme stances of the Trump Republicans are not going unchallenged. A new Monmouth poll shows that the numbers of Americans who believe that Biden won the election have not moved since November. Most Americans think continued agitation is an attempt to undermine the results of the election.  

    In Arizona, as the so-called “audit” by the inexperienced Cyber Ninjas company hired by the Republican-dominated state senate has become embroiled in controversy—one of the theories investigated was that a Maricopa supervisor fed 165,000 chickens at his egg farm shredded ballots and then burned down the barn to kill them all—Republicans are distancing themselves from it. Arizona talk show host Mike Broomhead, who initially supported the investigation, now says it has become partisan and biased and should end.

    Today, in Michigan, the Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee released a 55-page report summarizing their 8 months of research into alleged voter fraud: “This Committee found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election,” it concluded. The report added, “The Committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”

    This month, the Southern Baptist Convention veered away from its formerly hard-right stance to elect as president Ed Litton, senior pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, who has focused since at least 2014 on racial reconciliation.

    Most dramatic, though, was today’s testimony of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the 2022 Defense Department budget. When Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) suggested that Critical Race Theory was weakening the U.S. military, the general responded sharply.

    “A lot of us have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is,” he began, “but I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open minded and be widely read.” He got more specific: “I want to understand white rage, and I'm white, and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out….” Our military, he said, comes from the American people, “so it is important that the leaders, now and in the future, do understand it. I've read Mao Zedong. I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin. That doesn't make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding—having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?” Milley said.

    “And,” he continued, “I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, noncommissioned officers of being, quote, ‘woke’ or something else, because we're studying some theories that are out there." He went on to outline, in broad strokes, the historical power differential between Black and white Americans.

    Meanwhile, the stories of Trump, embittered and still haranguing people with the Big Lie, indicate his star is falling. This morning, CNN’s Kate Bennett and Gabby Orr published a piece suggesting that Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, once the former president’s right-hand man, are distancing themselves from him—a sure sign that they see him as toxic.

    It appears that people are turning against the extremists who seized power in the states early this year on a wave of pro-Trump anger. But many of the new laws that tilt elections in their favor are now on the books, and Republicans in Congress have no intention of giving them up.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
      June 24, 2021 (Thursday)

    Shortly after noon today, President Biden announced to reporters, “We have a deal.” After weeks of negotiations, a bipartisan group of 5 Democratic and 5 Republican senators have agreed to a blueprint for an infrastructure bill with $973 billion in spending, $579 billion of it new. If 5 more Republicans sign on—and if all the Democrats vote yes—this bill can overcome any filibusters thrown in its path.

    In this case, progressive Democrats are as much a sticking point as Republicans, for in order to get Republicans on board, the measure abandons a number of key Democratic priorities. So Democratic leaders have planned for the measure to move forward in tandem with a much larger package that includes Democratic priorities, including funding to combat climate change and to support the caregiver economy. It will likely also start to undo the cuts in the corporate tax rate Republicans pushed through in 2017. The bill is currently estimated to cost about $6 trillion, and it would pass through the budget reconciliation process, which cannot be filibustered and thus will require only a simple majority.

    Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Biden say they will not finish the infrastructure bill without the larger companion bill. Passing the infrastructure package gives Biden a major bipartisan win at the same time it lets Republicans take credit for infrastructure funding that most Americans like very much indeed. But if Republicans refuse to pass it, Democrats have the option of simply passing the larger measure without them.

    This is a remarkably delicate balancing act that shows a lot of hard work. We’ll see how it plays out.

    Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Speaker Pelosi is starting to force a reckoning with the January 6 insurrection. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill to create an independent, bipartisan committee to investigate that crisis. The positive House vote included 35 Republicans, but in the Senate, Republicans killed the bill with the filibuster. Today, Pelosi announced she is establishing a select committee to investigate the insurrection. While the distribution of seats on the committee is not yet clear, it will have subpoena power and will publish its findings.

    Unlike the independent committee Republicans shot down, this one is under no time constraint, leaving Republicans afraid the investigation will affect the 2022 election. In 2015, now–House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that Republicans had put together one of the investigations of the attack on the U.S. compound at Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, to hurt then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s political future. Now leaders are afraid the Democrats will do the same thing to them.

    Pressure is mounting on those who supported former president Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Today, an appellate court in New York suspended Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani from practicing law, concluding that he had made “demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump’s failed effort at reelection in 2020.” Since he lied to spread the Big Lie that Trump had won the election, the court concluded that his “conduct immediately threatens the public interest.”

    The court continued: "The seriousness of respondent's uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated…. This country is being torn apart by continued attacks on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and of our current president, Joseph R. Biden. The hallmark of our democracy is predicated on free and fair elections. False statements intended to foment a loss of confidence in our elections and resulting loss of confidence in government generally damage the proper functioning of a free society."

    It is an astonishing fall for a man who was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the top federal lawyer in Manhattan, before he was mayor of New York City.

    Meanwhile, more information about the Trump administration continues to come to light. Earlier this week we learned that the White House response to coronavirus was determined by what officials thought would look good; today we learned that Trump was far closer to death with Covid-19 than the White House let on, surviving only thanks to rare experimental drugs. His science advisers hoped his brush with death would convince him to take the pandemic seriously, but it did not.

    According to CNN, a forthcoming book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender says that last summer, Trump wanted law enforcement and military officials to go in and "beat the f--k out" of the civil rights protesters. “Just shoot them,” he is alleged to have said repeatedly. The book suggests that it was then–Attorney General William Barr and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mike Milley, who held him back.

    Like the former president, his supporters are talking more and more violently as the country seems to be slipping out of their control.

    Will Sommer, politics reporter at the Daily Beast who is currently writing a book on QAnon, yesterday flagged a clip from a contributor to the right-wing conspiracy network OAN. The contributor repeated the lie that “voter fraud” undermined the 2020 election, but then went further: “What are the consequences for traitors who meddled with our sacred democratic process and tried to steal power by taking away the voices of the American people?” he asked.

    "In the past, America had a very good solution for dealing with such traitors,” he said. “Execution.”

    "Exactly how many people were involved in these efforts to undermine the election?" he asked. "Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? How many people does it take to carry out a coup against the presidency?"

    Historians rightly recognize this rhetoric as deadly dangerous, but we are not the only ones. On Twitter, California Democratic Representative Ted Lieu begged House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to stop this escalation while it is still possible: “You are in a position to reduce violence. Lives are potentially at stake. Please just say one simple, truthful sentence: the election was not stolen.”

    Michigan Representative Peter Meijer was more specific: “Let me be clear,” he tweeted. “[M]ore people will die [because] of craven propaganda like this. People who believe [the] election was a “coup” + view [government] officials as traitors will seek what they view as ‘justice.’ When there are no arrests [because] this is all a lie they will take matters into their own hands.”

    Indeed, Sommer tweeted: “I came across the clip because QAnon people… see it as proof that the mass executions are right around the corner. Lots of glee in the Q chat rooms, demands for how exactly their imagined executions will be carried out and complaints they had to wait too long.”

    Yesterday, an official from the Department of Homeland Security told members of the House Committee on Homeland Security that the department is following online discussions among extremists who believe the conspiracy theory that former president Trump will be reinstated in August. They fear that expectation could trigger violence.

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 25, 2021 (Friday)

    Lots of legal news today.

    In Minnesota, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced former police officer Derek Chauvin to 22.5  years in prison for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020. Last April, a jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country last summer.

    Elie Mystal, justice correspondent at The Nation, noted that Chavin was going to get at least ten years. Prosecutors asked for 30. The Judge split the difference and added in time for the aggravating factors. Legal analyst and law school professor Joyce Alene White Vance noted that keeping the sentencing in the same realm as other sentences for felony murder make it less likely to be overturned on appeal.

    This morning, Georgia Superior Court Judge Brian Amero dismissed seven of the nine claims in a lawsuit alleging there were 147,000 fraudulent ballots cast in Fulton County in the 2020 election. He did not dismiss two of them, which were argued under a different claim. The Fulton County elections board says it intends to file to get those claims dismissed as well. There have already been three audits of the ballots, including a hand recount. Those audits found no evidence of widespread fraud.

    Georgia is in the news for another legal case today, as well. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia over its sweeping new election bill that restricts access to the vote. In a press conference, Garland said that the new law was not discriminatory against Black voters by accident; it was intended to be discriminatory.

    “Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

    In a statement, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said: ““The Biden Administration continues to do the bidding of Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia’s election law…. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.” Georgia governor Brian Kemp, whose victory over Stacey Abrams in the 2018 election has been widely associated with voter suppression, accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing the Department of Justice to serve their own partisan goals.” He said at a news conference: “the DOJ lawsuit announced today is legally and constitutionally dead wrong. Their false and baseless allegations are, quite honestly, disgusting."

    The DOJ also set up a task force to deal with the rise in threats against election workers since the 2020 election. Threats and intimidation have led election officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, to quit or retire early. Pennsylvania, alone, has lost about a third of its county election officials.

    States passing voter restriction laws have also put in place punishments for county officials who expand voter access. A law in Florida imposes a $25,000 fine for leaving a ballot drop box accessible outside of established hours; another in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine for a “technical infraction,” such as opening a few minutes late. Opponents think these laws could be enforced on a partisan basis. “It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” Iowa’s Linn County auditor Joel Miller told the Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.”

    The memo announcing the new task force quoted Attorney Merrick Garland’s statement on June 11 when he announced steps the DOJ would take over the next 30 days to protect the right to vote: “There are many things that are open to debate in America. But the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”

    It went on to say: “A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer is, at bottom, a threat to democracy. We will promptly and vigorously prosecute offenders to protect the rights of American voters, to punish those who engage in this criminal behavior, and to send the unmistakable message that such conduct will not be tolerated.”

    This is fitting, of course, because Congress established the Department of Justice in 1870, under President U.S. Grant’s administration, to keep members of the Ku Klux Klan from continuing to terrorize Black and white Republican voters in the South after the Civil War. Garland has often referred to that history and declared his intention to honor it.

    Laws from that era are in the news in another way today, too. The bus driver and staffers who were on the Biden-Harris campaign bus that a caravan of about 100 trucks full of Trump supporters tried to drive off the highway last October are suing several people from the caravan under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. That law, passed at the height of KKK terrorism in the Reconstruction South, made election intimidation a crime. The group is also suing local law enforcement for refusing to come to their aid despite their frantic phone calls to 911.

    The Biden-Harris campaign cancelled its events for the day out of safety concerns. Participants in the “train” announced their intentions on social media, filmed their actions, and then bragged about them after the fact, prompting Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump himself to cheer them on.

    Finally, news broke today that yesterday, prosecutors for the Manhattan district attorney told lawyers for the Trump Organization that they could bring criminal charges against the company as soon as next week over tax issues. The former president has dismissed the investigation as “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 26, 2021 (Saturday)

    "Church is in session."

    [Photo by Buddy Poland.]

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 27, 2021 (Sunday)

    The big news today was a series of interviews that former attorney general William Barr did with Jonathan D. Karl of The Atlantic, in which Barr emphasized that former president Trump’s claims that he had won the 2020 election were “bullshit.”

    What is interesting about this is not the idea that Barr stood against Trump’s claims of a win. In fact, shortly after the election, Barr fed the Big Lie. A week after the 2020 election, he overturned Justice Department policy to investigate “substantial allegations” of vote irregularities that “could potentially impact the outcome” of the election. Now he is saying that he took this unusual action because he knew Trump would ask him about allegations of fraud and wanted to be able to say he had looked into them. But his stance fed the idea that Trump had been cheated of victory.

    That Barr is trying to spin the past now is a good indicator of current politics. While we are still in a dangerous moment, the former president is losing ground.

    Trump’s Big Lie has a number of elements that echo the argument behind the organization of the Confederacy in 1861. Like the Confederates, the Big Lie inspired followers by calling for them not to destroy America, but to defend it. The insurrectionists of January 6, and those who continue to insist the election was stolen, do not think of themselves as domestic terrorists, but as patriots in the mold of Samuel Adams.

    “Today is 1776,” Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted on January 6.

    The Confederates, too, believed they were defending America. In February 1861, even before Republican President Abraham Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861, lawmakers for the Confederate States of America wrote their own constitution. It was remarkably similar to the United States Constitution—copied from it verbatim, in fact—except for three key changes that they believed made the original constitution better: they defended state’s rights, denied that the government could promote internal improvements, and prohibited any law that denied or impaired “the right of property in negro slaves.”

    Confederate leaders convinced ordinary white men in the southern states that defending the expansion of human enslavement would be defending the nation against the “radicals” who valued the principles of equality outlined in the Declaration of independence.

    On the basis of that powerful patriotism, they took their states out of the Union shortly after Lincoln was elected president, hurrying to secede while tempers were hot.

    But, once they declared an insurrection, they found it hard to keep up enthusiasm for it. Confederate leaders approved the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 in part because interest in creating a new nation was fading. The new nation that had seemed exciting and inspiring in the holiday gatherings after the election seemed a little silly in the spring, when attention turned to planting. Sparking a crisis made sure that southern whites did not abandon the Confederacy. And, once the war had begun, white southerners were committed. Wars are far easier to start than to stop.

    Trump’s insurrection seems to be facing the same waning enthusiasm that Confederate leaders faced. Saturday night, at his first large rally since January 6, Trump spoke at Wellington, Ohio, about 35 miles west of Cleveland. While attendees responded to his complaints about the election, many left early.

    Today Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “there's a growing recognition that this is a bit like [professional wrestling]. That it's entertaining, but it's not real. And I know people want to say, yeah, they believe in the 'Big Lie' in some cases, but I think people recognize that it's a lot of show and bombast. But it's going nowhere. The election is over. It was fair….let's move on."

    Rather than inspiring continued resistance, Trump increasingly looks like President Richard M. Nixon, whose support eroded as more and more sordid information about his White House came to light. Exposés of the Trump White House recently have shown his cavalier approach to the pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 Americans, and his willingness to employ force against peaceful protesters in summer 2020.

    Last week, news broke that the Manhattan district attorney is considering criminal charges against the Trump Organization—news that will likely hurt the organization's ability to borrow money—and prosecutors have given the Trump Organization’s lawyers until Monday afternoon to finish their arguments about why the organization should not be charged. Further, we know a special grand jury is set to meet three times a week until November, suggesting that more information may be forthcoming.

    And the ground seems to be giving way under the Big Lie, as well. Last week, the Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee threw out claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election and reiterated that President Joe Biden won fairly. A Georgia judge threw out most of the lawsuit calling for another inspection of ballots from Fulton County. And a New York court suspended Trump’s lawyer Rudy Guiliani from practicing law after it concluded that Giuliani made "demonstrably false and misleading statements to courts, lawmakers and the public at large in his capacity as lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump campaign in connection with Trump's failed effort at reelection in 2020."

    As the idea that the January 6 insurrectionists were not terrorists but patriots has become more and more far-fetched, the radical right has become more and more outrageous. Last week, for example, a contributor to the right-wing conspiracy network OAN repeated the lie that “voter fraud” undermined the 2020 election, and then suggested that those “involved in these efforts to undermine the election” deserve “execution.”

    Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that the House will be organizing a select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection, and trials for the January 6 insurrectionists will be starting soon. Those trials will likely highlight the belief of the rioters that they were following the lead of then-president Trump to protect the country.

    But, rather than looking like heroic patriots, they increasingly look like dupes. Barr’s effort to rewrite his actions is a good indication of which way he thinks the wind is blowing. When he left office in December, he wrote a glowing letter to his former boss promising to update him “on the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued,” and promoting the rhetoric of those pushing the Big Lie: “At a time when the country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.”   

    Today’s article told a different story: “If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”

    _____________________________________SIGNATURE________________________________________________

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  • tempo_n_groovetempo_n_groove Posts: 27,687
    As the idea that the January 6 insurrectionists were not terrorists but patriots has become more and more far-fetched, the radical right has become more and more outrageous. Last week, for example, a contributor to the right-wing conspiracy network OAN repeated the lie that “voter fraud” undermined the 2020 election, and then suggested that those “involved in these efforts to undermine the election” deserve “execution.”

    The moron that said this is named Pearson Sharp.

    Remember that name.
  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     June 28, 2021 (Monday)

    This evening, President Joe Biden published an op-ed in Yahoo News about the infrastructure bill now moving forward on its way to Congress. He called the measure “a once-in-a-generation investment to modernize our infrastructure” and claimed it would “create millions of good-paying jobs and position America to compete with the world and win the 21st century.”

    The measure will provide money to repair roads and bridges, replace the lead pipes that still provide water to as many as 10 million households and 400,000 schools and daycares, modernize our electric grid, replace gas-powered buses with electric ones, and cap wells leaking methane that have been abandoned by their owners in the private sector to be cleaned up by the government. It will invest in railroads, airports, and other public transportation; protect coastlines and forests from extreme weather events; and deliver high-speed internet to rural communities.    

    “This deal is the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure in nearly a century,” Biden wrote. “It is a signal to ourselves, and to the world, that American democracy can work and deliver for the people.”

    Biden is making a big pitch for this infrastructure project in part because we need it, of course, and because it is popular, but also because it signals a return to the sort of government both Democrats and Republicans embraced between 1945 and 1980. In that period after World War II, most Americans believed that the government had a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, investing in infrastructure, and promoting civil rights. This shared understanding was known as the “liberal consensus.”

    With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, the Republican Party rejected that vision of the government, arguing that, as Reagan said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But while Reagan limited that statement with the words “in this present crisis,” Republican leaders since the 1980s have worked to destroy the liberal consensus and take us back to the world of the 1920s, a world in which business leaders also ran the government.

    For the very reason that Biden is determined to put through this massive investment in infrastructure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would like to kill it. Until recently, he has presided over the Senate with the declared plan to kill Democratic bills. He opposes the liberal consensus, wanting to get rid of taxes and stop the government from intervening in the economy. But today’s Republican lawmakers are in an awkward place: by large margins, Americans like the idea of investing in infrastructure.

    So the Republicans have engaged in a careful dance over this new measure. Biden wants to demonstrate to the country both that democracy can deliver for its people and that the two parties in Congress do not have to be adversarial. He wanted bipartisan support for this infrastructure plan.

    A group of Democrats and Republicans negotiated the measure that is now being prepared to move forward. Last week, five Republican negotiators backed the outline for the measure. They, of course, would like to be able to tell their constituents that they voted for what is a very popular measure, rather than try to claim credit for it after voting no, as they did with the American Rescue Plan.

    Negotiators were always clear that the Democrats would plan to pass a much larger bill under what is known as a “budget reconciliation” bill in addition to the infrastructure plan. Financial measures under reconciliation cannot be killed by filibuster in the Senate, meaning that if the Democrats can stand together, they can pass whatever they wish financially under reconciliation. Democrats planned to put into a second bill the infrastructure measures Republicans disliked: funding to combat climate change, for example, and to promote clean energy, and to invest in human infrastructure: childcare and paid leave, free pre-kindergarten and community college, and tax cuts for working families with children.

    Crucially, that bigger measure, known as the American Families Plan, will also start to dismantle the 2017 Republican tax cuts, which cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. Biden wants to return the corporate tax rate to 28%, still lower than it was before 2017, but higher than it is now.

    To keep more progressive Democrats on board with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Democrats need to move it forward in tandem with the larger, more comprehensive American Families Plan. This has been clear from the start. After announcing the bipartisan deal, Biden reiterated that he would not sign one without the other.

    And yet, although he himself acknowledged the Democratic tandem plan on June 15, McConnell pretended outrage over the linkage of the two bills. McConnell and some of his colleagues complained to reporters that Biden was threatening to veto the bipartisan bill unless Congress passed the American Families Plan too.

    It appears McConnell had hoped that the bipartisan plan would peel centrist Democrats off from the larger American Families Plan, thus stopping the Democrats’ resurrection of the larger idea of the liberal consensus and keeping corporate taxes low. Killing that larger plan might well keep progressive Democrats from voting for the bipartisan bill, too, thus destroying both of Biden’s key measures. If he can drive a wedge through the Democrats, he can make sure that none of their legislation passes.

    Over the weekend, Biden issued a statement saying that he was not threatening to veto a bill he had just worked for weeks to put together, but was supporting the bipartisan bill while also intending to pass the American Families Plan.

    McConnell then issued a statement essentially claiming victory and demanding control over the Democrats’ handling of the measures, saying “The President has appropriately delinked a potential bipartisan infrastructure bill from the massive, unrelated tax-and-spend plans that Democrats want to pursue on a partisan basis.” He went on to demand that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agree to send the smaller, bipartisan bill forward without linking it to “trillions of dollars for unrelated tax hikes, wasteful spending, and Green New Deal socialism.”

    McConnell is trying to turn the tide against these measures by calling the process unfair, which might give Republicans an excuse to vote no even on a bill as popular as the bipartisan bill is. Complaining about process is, of course, how he prevented the Senate from convicting former president Trump of inciting the January 6 insurrection, and how he stopped the establishment of a bipartisan, independent committee to investigate that insurrection.  

    But McConnell no longer controls Congress. House Speaker Pelosi says she will not schedule the bipartisan bill until the American Families Plan passes.

    Pelosi also announced today that the House is preparing legislation to establish a select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. She had to do so, she noted, because “Senate Republicans did Mitch McConnell a ‘personal favor’ rather than their patriotic duty and voted against the bipartisan commission negotiated by Democrats and Republicans.  But Democrats are determined to find the truth.”

    The draft of the bill provides for the committee to have 13 members. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), himself likely to be called as a witness before the committee, will be able to “consult” with the Speaker on five of the members, but the final makeup of the committee will be up to the Speaker. This language echoes that of the select committee that investigated the Benghazi attack, and should prevent McCarthy from sabotaging the committee with far-right lawmakers eager to disrupt the proceedings rather than learn what happened. Instead, we can expect to see on the committee Republicans who voted to establish the independent, bipartisan commission that McConnell and Republican senators killed.

    Biden’s op-ed made it clear that he intends to rebuild the country: “I have always believed that there is nothing our nation can’t do when we decide to do it together,” he wrote. “Last week, we began to write a new chapter in that story.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
      June 29, 2021 (Tuesday)

    Last week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis became the latest Republican governor to sign a bill making it harder for citizens to shift away from the fossil fuels that are changing the climate. The move came after Miami, which is in danger as sea levels rise, proposed cutting carbon emissions by banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings. The bill was written by lawyers for utility companies, based on a pattern written by the American Gas Association. Lobbyists for the Florida Petroleum Association, the Florida Natural Gas Association and the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Home Builders Association, and the National Utility Contractors Association of Florida supported the bill.

    Nine other Republican states have already passed similar legislation.

    Republican-led states are defending the use of fossil fuels in other ways. News that President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was urging major U.S. banks to invest responsibly with an eye to the climate crisis, led the state treasurers of West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota to write to him expressing their “deep concern” that he, along with other members of the Biden administration, was pressuring banks “to refuse to lend to or invest in coal, oil, and natural gas companies, as a part of a misguided strategy to eliminate the fossil fuel industry in our country.” They accused the Biden administration of “picking economic winners and losers” according to “Biden’s own radical political preferences,” and thus depriving “the people” of agency.

    Coal, oil, and natural gas are crucial to their states’ economies, they said, providing “jobs, health insurance, critical tax revenue, and quality of life.” They warned that they would withhold public funds from any banks that refused to lend to fossil fuel industries.

    And yet, historically, the government has picked fossil fuels as a winner that outranks any other energy source. While Republicans tend to claim any spending for alternative energies is wasteful, a recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says that U.S. subsidies to new oil and gas projects inflate their value by up to $20 billion per year. This would seem to fly in the face of Republican complaints about “socialism” in which the government picks winners and losers.

    A recent Morning Consult poll shows that 50% of voters say climate change is a critical threat to America. Another 26% think it is important, but not critical. Among Democrats, 75% think climate change is crucial, while another 17% say it is important. Among Republicans, 21% say that climate change is crucial, while another 37% say it is important, but not crucial.

    With this support for addressing climate change, why do Republicans appear to be dead set against dealing with it in a meaningful way and instead are propping up the fossil fuels that feed that change?
     
    At the nomination hearing for now–Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has promised to protect our lands, 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.”

    Oil produces the most revenue for Texas, which earned $16.3 billion from oil in 2019, an amount that made up 7% of the state’s revenue. Oil revenues accounted for 70% of state revenues ($1.1 billion) in Alaska in 2019, 52% of state revenues ($2.2 billion) in Wyoming in 2017, and 45% of the revenues ($1.6 billion) in North Dakota in 2017.

    But production declines in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic have hurt these fossil fuel states. Wyoming expects to have 29% less money than it expected in 2021–2022. Alaska expects an estimated 18% budget deficit in fiscal 2021. Without money coming in from fossil fuels, people will have to make up the difference by paying taxes, an unpopular outcome, especially in Republican-dominated states, or by losing even more services.

    Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will also cost current jobs, and one of the hallmarks of an economy developed around an extractive industry is that it tends to have little flexibility. The rural American West was developed around extractive economies, with a few wealthy men employing lots of workers, and its limited economy means that workers cannot transition easily into other fields.

    Fossil fuel advocates also contribute mightily to Republican campaigns, adding financial interest to party members’ general dislike of regulation. In Florida, utility companies employ an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators. “It’s no secret we play an active role in public policy,” a spokesman for a Florida utility told Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson in 2016.

    This week, in the Pacific Northwest, temperatures in Portland, Oregon, reached 115°F; Seattle hit 108°. Canada hit its highest temperature on record: 116°F in British Columbia. Roads are buckling and power cables melting. In the New York Times today, climate scientist Michael Mann and climate communicator Susan Joy Hassol warned that the conditions of our earth will only get worse unless we do something. But, they wrote, “A rapid transition to clean energy can stabilize the climate, improve our health, provide good-paying jobs, grow the economy and ensure our children’s future.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
      June 30, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Yesterday, by a vote of 285 to 120, the House of Representatives voted to remove the statues of Confederates from the U.S. Capitol. While 67 Republicans voted in favor of the measure, 120 did not. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), who told the insurrectionists on January 6 before they stormed the Capitol “"Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," issued a statement titled: “CONGRESSMAN MO BROOKS DEFENDS STATES' RIGHTS, RIPS INTOLERANT SOCIALISTS WHO SEEK TO TAKE DOWN CAPITOL STATUES THEY DON'T LIKE.”

    "I support federalism and a state's right to decide for itself who it should honor. As such, I will proudly vote 'No' on H.R. 3005. Alabama, not New Yorkers, Californians, or anyone else, should decide who we wish to honor in Alabama's contribution to the National Statuary Collection," the statement read. “Socialist Democrat states should butt out!”

    When voters elected President Joe Biden and gave the Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Republicans turned to the states they control to enforce their vision of the country.

    They began by challenging the elections in those states, challenges that continue in Arizona with an “audit” of the ballots cast in Maricopa County in the 2020 election performed by a company called Cyber Ninjas, whose CEO has recently appeared in a video advancing conspiracies about the election. They have passed laws limiting reproductive rights and the rights of transgender children, and lately they have attacked what they claim is Critical Race Theory being taught in public schools in an attempt to enforce their own version of history.

    Now, as Republican governors appear to have settled on using migrants at the border as an issue to undermine President Biden, they have begun to use state power over the National Guard to enforce that attempt.

    On June 10, Texas governor Greg Abbott and Arizona governor Doug Ducey invoked the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, an agreement that lets states send aid to each other after a governor has declared a disaster or an emergency. Abbott has declared a disaster and Ducey an emergency over the influx of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that the Biden administration is “unwilling or unable” to secure the border.

    In fact, since last October, more than a million migrants trying to cross the border have been arrested. Right now, the number of migrants approaching the border is at a two-decade high, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountering 180,000 migrants last month. But a high percentage of those apprehended have tried to come multiple times—38% of those apprehended in May—and, operating under a coronavirus protocol established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Border Protection in May expelled more than 112,000 of those 180,000 migrants. The number of unaccompanied children coming across the border dropped from almost 14,000 in April to about 10,700 in May. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas insists that, having inherited a system gutted by the previous administration, Biden’s team has rebuilt the necessary structures to manage migrants at the border.

    Nonetheless, Abbott and Ducey have called for governors of other states to send “additional law enforcement personnel and equipment” to “arrest migrants who illegally cross the border into our territory.” The letter concludes: “Texas and Arizona have stepped up to secure the border in the federal government’s absence, and now the Emergency Management Assistance Compact gives your State a chance to stand strong with us.”

    Iowa governor Kim Reynolds, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis have all pledged to send law enforcement to Texas and Arizona. Yesterday, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem one-upped them by announcing that she is sending 50 South Dakota National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and that billionaires Willis and Reba Johnson from Franklin, Tennessee, are paying for the troops. Johnson told Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo that he was making the donation because “this President would rather help other countries than help America.”

    At least some of the Republican focus on taking command of states appears to be backfiring. Voters in Arizona, for example, appear to be turning against those who supported the “audit.” They oppose it by 49-46 percent, and Independents, on whose votes carrying the state depends, oppose the audit by 18 points.

    “As bloody red meat for the MAGA Republican base, the audit is manna from heaven, but the problem is that Arizona is not a red state any more. It’s a swing state,” Fernand Amandi, who conducted the survey for Bendixen & Amandi International, told Politico’s Marc Caputo.

    But, of course, the other piece of Republican focus on the states has been the dramatic reworking of state election laws to help the Republicans retain control of their state governments no matter what the voters choose.

    Still, the federal government is not giving the Trump Republicans a free pass. This afternoon, by a vote of 222 to 190, the House of Representatives voted to create a select committee to investigate the events of January 6. Republicans Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois were the only two Republicans who voted in favor.

    "Our bipartisan, good-faith proposal was met with a filibuster. Now that Senate Republicans have chosen to block the formation of an independent commission, it falls to the House to stay the course and get the answers they deserve," said House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

    The need for an official investigation was illustrated this evening by the release of a 40-minute investigative video by the New York Times. Using video shot by the rioters themselves, the Times’s Visual Investigations team concluded that there was “a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.” It showed how close the rioters came to doing far more damage than they did.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 1, 2021 (Thursday)

    Today, by a 6 to 3 vote, the Supreme Court handed down Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee saying that the state of Arizona did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) with laws that limited ballot delivery to voters, family members, or caregivers, or when it required election officials to throw out ballots that voters had cast in the wrong precincts by accident.

    The fact that voting restrictions affect racial or ethnic groups differently does not make them illegal, Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”

    The court also suggested that concerns about voter fraud—which is so rare as to be virtually nonexistent—are legitimate reasons to restrict voting.

    We are reliving the Reconstruction years after the Civil War.

    That war had changed the idea of who should have a say in American society. Before the war, the ideal citizen was a white man, usually a property owner. But those were the very people who tried to destroy the country, while during the war, Black Americans and women, people previously excluded from politics, gave their lives and their livelihoods to support the government.

    After the war, when white southerners tried to reinstate laws that returned the Black population to a position that looked much like enslavement, Congress in 1867 gave Black men the right to vote for delegates to new state constitutions. Those new constitutions, in turn, gave Black men the right to vote.

    In order to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions, white southerners who had no intention of permitting Black Americans to gain rights organized as the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize voters. While they failed to prevent states from ratifying the new constitutions, the KKK continued to beat, rape, and murder Black voters in the South.

    So, in 1870, Congress established the Department of Justice to defend Black rights in the South. It also passed a series of laws that made it a federal crime to interfere with voting and with the official duties of an elected officer. And it passed, and the states ratified, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

    Immediately, white Americans determined to stop Black participation in government turned to a new argument. During the Civil War, the Republican Party had not only expanded Black rights, but had also invented the nation’s first national taxation. For the first time, how people voted directly affected other people’s pocketbooks.

    In 1871, white southerners began to say that they did not object on racial grounds to Black voting, but rather on the grounds that formerly enslaved men were impoverished and were electing to office men who promised to give them things—roads, for example, and schools and hospitals—to be paid for with tax dollars. Because white men were the only ones with property in the postwar South, such legislation would redistribute wealth from white men to Black people. It was, they charged, “socialism.”

    In 1876, white southerners reclaimed control of the last remaining states they had not yet won by insisting they were “redeeming” their states from the corruption created when Black voters elected leaders who would use tax dollars for public programs.

    In 1890, a new constitution in Mississippi, which at the time was about 58% Black, restricted voting not on racial grounds but through a poll tax and a “literacy” test applied against Black voters alone. Mississippi led the way for new restrictions across the country. Although Black and Brown Americans continually challenged the new Jim and Juan Crow laws that silenced them, voting registration for people of color fell into single digits.

    These laws stayed in place for 75 years. Then, in 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, designed to undo voter suppression laws once and for all. The VRA worked. In Mississippi in 1965, just 6.7% of eligible Black voters were registered to vote. Two years later, that number was 59.8%, although there was still a 32-point gap in registration between Blacks and whites. By 1988, that gap had narrowed to 6.3%, and in 2012, 90.2% of eligible Black residents were registered compared to 82.4% of non-Hispanic whites.

    The Voting Rights Act was considered so important that just 15 years ago, in 2006, Congress voted almost unanimously to reauthorize it.  

    But the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts, who has long disliked the VRA, has chipped away at the law, cutting deeply into it in 2013 with the Shelby County v. Holder decision. And now, with three new justices appointed by former president Trump, the court has weakened it further.

    To what end are we returning to the 1890s?

    The restrictive voting measures passed by Republican-dominated legislatures are designed to keep Republicans in power. Today that means allegiance to former president Trump, whose Trump Organization and Trump Payroll Corporation were indicted by a New York grand jury today, along with Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, on 15 felony counts, including a scheme to defraud, conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying business records.

    The indictment alleges that the schemes involve federal, as well as state and local, crimes. New York Attorney General Letitia James emphasized that the investigation is not over.

    Republican lawmakers are lining up behind the former president so closely that last night, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) threatened to take away the committee assignments of anyone agreeing to work on the select committee to investigate the events of January 6 that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is putting together after Senate Republicans filibustered the creation of a bipartisan independent committee.

    (McCarthy’s declaration prompted Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who appears appalled at the direction his party has taken, to respond “Who gives a s--t?” He added: “I do think the threat of removing committees is ironic, because you won't go after the space lasers and white supremacist people but those who tell the truth.”)

    Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) nonetheless said she was “honored” to join the committee, along with seven Democrats. While it is unclear if McCarthy will add more Republicans, it will now get underway. The committee includes House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), both of whom showed extraordinary ability to assess huge amounts of material when they managed Trump’s impeachment trials.

    That the Republicans have fought so hard against an investigation of the January 6 insurrection suggests we might well learn things that reflect poorly on certain lawmakers.

    So, today’s news puts the American people in the position of watching as a political party, lined up behind a man now in legal jeopardy, who might be involved in an attack on our government, tries to cement its hold on power.

    “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court undercuts voting rights in this country,” President Biden said, “and makes it all the more crucial to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore and expand voting protections.”

    “Our democracy depends on it.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 2, 2021 (Friday)
     
    Today news broke that Anthony Aguero, who was in the Capitol on January 6 and who is close to Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), joined Republican members of the right-wing Republican Study Committee when they traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday night.

    Aguero interviewed, chatted with, translated for, and gave a ride to one of the lawmakers, there. Those included Representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Thomas Tiffany (R-WI), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), Michael Cloud (R-TX), John Rose (R-TN), and Mary Miller (R-IL). The Republican Study Committee’s deputy communications director, Buckley Carlson, who is Tucker Carlson’s son, said Aguero's presence with the group was "purely incidental."

    The association of sitting Congress members with someone who was apparently part of an insurrection is particularly audacious at a moment when the House of Representatives is in the process of forming a select committee to investigate that series of events.
     
    Once before, in 1879, a political party behaved in a similarly aggressive way, trying to destroy the government from within. Then, too, Congress members took an extremist position in order to try to steal the upcoming presidential election. They hoped to win that election by getting rid of Black voting.
     
    Still angry after the votes of Black southerners tipped the contested election of 1876 to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, Democrats set out to stop government protection of Black voters before the next presidential election. In 1879, they attached to appropriations bills riders that prohibited the use of the army to guard southern polling places (it is a myth that federal troops abandoned the South in 1877) and eliminating federal supervision of elections. The punishment for holding federal troops at the polls was a fine of up to $5000 and imprisonment at hard labor for 3 months to 5 years, that is, an express ride into the convict labor system that was brutalizing formerly enslaved people.
     
    Republicans refused to accept the terms of the appropriations bill, and Congress adjourned without passing it. Hayes immediately called the new Congress into special session. In this Congress, though, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, for the first time since before the Civil War. And, since the senior members of the party were southerners, former Confederates quickly took over the key leadership positions in Congress.
     
    Once there, they ignored that voters had put them in office in a reaction against Republicans’ economic policies and Hayes’s contested election. Instead, they insisted that the American people wanted them to enact the extreme program they had advocated since the war, overturning the federal policies that defended Black rights and reinstating white supremacy, unchallenged. They took their fight to end Black voting directly to the president.  
     
    The House Minority leader was a Union veteran from Ohio, James A. Garfield. He explained to a friend the Democrats’ plan: if Hayes vetoed the bills and the Democrats were unable to pass them over his veto—“that is, if he does not consent or 2/3 of the two Houses do not vote on these measures as the Democratic caucus has framed them,” Garfield wrote—“[t]hey will let the government perish for want of supplies.” “If this is not revolution,” he concluded, “which if persisted in will destroy the government, [then] I am wholly wrong in my conception of both the word and the thing.”
     
    Democrats tried to argue that they were fighting for free elections, for liberty from a tyrannical national government. But they also listed the virtues of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, whom they compared to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and U.S. Grant, and celebrated the former Confederates who had been elected to make up their new majority. Just like Davis, they claimed, all they asked was to be left alone to run their states as they wished. One ex-Confederate told the New York Times that leaving Congress in 1861 had been “a great blunder.” Southerners were far more likely to win their goals by controlling Congress. Southern Democrats urged their constituents to “present a solid front to the enemy.”
     
    With Garfield stiffening the spines of nervous Republicans, Hayes vetoed the bill with the riders five times, and as popular opinion swung behind him, the Democrats backed down. They had badly misjudged their power. The extended rider fight kept the story of their attack on the government firmly in front of voters, who despised their behavior and principles both. In the next presidential election, voters turned away from the Democratic candidate and to Garfield, now famous for his stand against the riders and for his wholehearted defense of Black voting.
     
    The 1879 overreach of the Democratic extremists marked a sea change in the Democratic Party. Scorched by their 1880 defeat, Democratic leaders turned away from ex-Confederates and toward new urban leaders in the North. Eager to nail together a new constituency, those leaders talked of racial reconciliation and began to lay the groundwork for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was born in 1882, just two years before New York Democrat Grover Cleveland would win the White House on the party’s new platform.
     
    The story of Garfield’s rise to power has been much on my mind today, partly because it is the anniversary of the day in 1881 when assassin Charles Guiteau shot the president, although he would live until September 19, when he finally succumbed to horrific infections caused by his doctor’s insistence on probing the bullet wound without washing his hands.
     
    But I am also thinking of this story as I watch House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) try to figure out how to respond to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to suggest five members for the new select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Senate Republicans killed the bipartisan select committee on which Republicans would have had significant power to limit the investigation both in scope, by refusing to agree to certain subpoenas, and in time, because Congress had required that committee to report before the end of the year. Now, Republicans are facing a committee dominated by Democrats who have subpoena power and no time limit, all while Republican extremism is on increasingly public display.

    Forcing the creation of this select committee, rather than taking the offer of an independent, bipartisan committee, was a curious decision.

    In 1879, when voters spent several months watching extremists of one party try to suppress the vote and take over the country, they rejected that party so thoroughly that it had to reinvent itself.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 3, 2021 (Saturday)
     
    And on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
     
    For all the fact that the congressmen got around the sticky problem of Black and Indigenous enslavement by defining "men" as "white men," and for all that it never crossed their minds that women might also have rights, the Declaration of Independence was an astonishingly radical document. In a world that had been dominated by a small class of rich men for so long that most people simply accepted that they should be forever tied to their status at birth, a group of upstart legislators clinging to the edge of a continent declared that no man was born better than any other. America was founded on the radical idea that all men are created equal.
     
    What the founders declared self-evident was not so clear eighty-seven years later, when southern white men went to war to guarantee that Black Americans, Indigenous Americans, Chinese, Mexicans, and Irish would be permanently locked into a lower status than whites. In that era, equality had become a "proposition," rather than "self-evident." "Four score and seven years ago," Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans, "our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." In 1863, Lincoln explained, the Civil War was "testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."
     
    It did, of course. The Confederate rebellion failed. The United States endured, and as people of different races, incomes, genders, and abilities began to demand that the nation honor its founding principles, Americans began to expand the idea that all men are created equal.
     
    But just as in the 1850s, we are now, once again, facing a rebellion against the idea of equality, as a few wealthy men seek to reshape America into a nation in which certain people are better than others.
     
    The men who adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, pledged their "Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor" to defend the idea of human equality, however limited they were in executing it. Ever since then, Americans from all walks of life have sacrificed their own fortunes, honor, and even their lives for that principle. Lincoln reminded Civil War Americans of those sacrifices when he urged the people of his era to "take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—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."
     
    Words to live by in 2021.

    Happy Independence Day, everyone.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 4, 2021 (Sunday)

    A cold, rainy day here, made lovely by being able to see family and friends again. Early to bed tonight, and we'll pick it all up again tomorrow.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 5, 2021 (Monday)

    Last night, in a speech to honor Independence Day, President Joe Biden used his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to defend democracy.

    Biden urged people to remember where we were just a year ago, and to “think about how far we’ve come.” “From… silent streets to crowded parade routes lined with people waving American flags; from empty stadiums and arenas to fans back to their seats cheering together again; from families pressing hands against a window to grandparents hugging their grandchildren once again. We’re back traveling again. We’re back seeing one another again.  Businesses are opening and hiring again. We’re seeing record job creation and record economic growth—the best in four decades and, I might add, the best in the world.”

    The president was referring, in part, to the jobs report that came out on Friday, showing that the nation added a robust 850,000 non-farm jobs in June.

    But he was also talking about how the United States of America took on the problem of the pandemic. Coming after two generations of lawmakers who refused to use federal power to help ordinary Americans, Biden used the pandemic to prove to Americans that the federal government could, indeed, work for everyone.

    The former president downplayed the pandemic and flip-flopped on basic public health measures like masking and distancing. Unlike most European and Asian countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the Trump Administration sidelined the country's public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, considered to be the top national public health agency in the world. Trump downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus out of fear of hurting the stock market, and turned over to states the process of dealing with this unprecedented crisis. The U.S. led the world in COVID-19 deaths. More than 603,000 Americans have died so far.

    When he took office, Biden had already begun to use the government response to coronavirus as a way to show that democracy could rise to the occasion of protecting its people. The day before his inauguration, President Biden held a memorial for the 400,000 who had, to that date, died of COVID-19. He put Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a renowned infectious disease expert, at the head of the CDC and reinstated the CDC at the head of the public health response to the pandemic. And he made vaccines accessible to all Americans. Fifty-eight percent of American adults have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus; 67% have had at least one shot. The U.S. has one of the highest vaccine rates in the world and is helping to vaccinate those in other countries, as well.

    Biden recalled that the United States of America was based not on religion or hereditary monarchy, but on an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights—among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    We have never lived up to that ideal, of course, but we have never abandoned it, either. Those principles, he said, “continue to animate us, and they remind us what, at our best, we as Americans believe: We, Americans—we believe in honesty and decency, in treating everyone with dignity and respect, giving everyone a fair shot, demonizing no one, giving hate no safe harbor, and leaving no one behind.”

    But, he said, democracy isn’t top down. “Each day, we’re reminded there’s nothing guaranteed about our democracy, nothing guaranteed about our way of life,” he said. “We have to fight for it, defend it, earn it…. It’s up to all of us to protect the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the right to equal justice under the law; the right to vote and have that vote counted; the right.... to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and know that our children and grandchildren will be safe on this planet for generations to come…  the right to rise in the world as far as your God-given [talent] can take you, unlimited by barriers of privilege or power.”

    Biden’s speech recalled that of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 5, 1944, upon the fall of Rome during World War II. It was Italian leader Benito Mussolini who articulated the ideals of fascism after World War I, envisioning a hierarchical world in which economic and political leaders worked together to lead the masses forward by welding them into a nationalistic, militaristic force.  

    In his 1944 speech, FDR was careful to explain to Americans how they were different from the Italian fascists. He talked about “Nazi overlords” and “fascist puppets.” Then, in contrast to the fascists’ racial hierarchies, FDR made a point of calling Americans’ attention to the fact that the men who defeated the Italian fascists were Americans from every walk of life.

    And then he turned to how fascism treated its people. “In Italy, the people have lived so long under the corrupt rule of Mussolini that in spite of the tinsel at the top—you have seen the pictures of it—their economic conditions have grown steadily worse. Our troops have found starvation, malnutrition, disease, a deteriorating education, a lower public health, all byproducts of the fascist misrule.”

    To rebuild Italy, FDR said, the troops had to start from the bottom. “[W]e have had to give them bread to replace that which was stolen out of their mouths,” he said. “We have had to make it possible for the Italians to raise and use their local crops. We have had to help them cleanse their schools of fascist trappings….”

    He outlined how Americans had anticipated the need to relieve the people starved by the fascists, and had made plans to ship food grown by the “magnificent ability and energy of the American people,” in ships they had constructed, over thousands of miles of water.  Some of us may let our thoughts run to the financial cost of it,” he said, but “we hope that this relief will be an investment for the future, an investment that will pay dividends by eliminating fascism, by ending any Italian desires to start another war of aggression in the future….”

    FDR was emphasizing the power of the people, of democracy, to combat fascism not only abroad but also at home, where it had attracted Americans frustrated by the seeming inability of democracy to counter the Depression. They longed for a single strong leader to fix everything. Other Americans, horrified by FDR’s use of the government to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure, wanted to take the nation back to the 1920s and in so doing had begun to flirt with fascism as well.

    As he celebrated the triumph over democracy in Italy, he was also urging Americans to value and protect it at home.

    Biden, too, is focusing on how efficient his administration has been in combating the coronavirus to combat authoritarianism both abroad and at home. With its support for the Big Lie; congress members like Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who openly associates with white nationalists; and its attack on voting rights, the modern-day Republican Party is moving rapidly toward authoritarianism. But the former president botched the most fundamental task of government: protecting its people from death. In contrast, more than 60% of Americans approve of how Biden has managed the coronavirus pandemic, with 95% of Democrats approving but only 33% of Republicans in favor.

    Biden’s approach appears to be helping to solidify support for democracy. A recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll showed that two thirds of Americans believe democracy is under threat, but 47%— the highest number in 12 years—believe the country is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, that number, too, reflects a difference by party. While 87 percent of Democrats say the country is improving, 87 percent of Republicans say the opposite.

    Biden conjured up our success over the coronavirus to celebrate democracy: “[H]istory tells us that when we stand together, when we unite in common cause, when we see ourselves not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, then there’s simply no limit to what we can achieve.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
      July 6, 2021 (Tuesday)

    Six months ago today, rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, intending to stop the counting of the certified ballots that would make Joseph R. Biden president and Kamala Harris vice president. This attack was unprecedented. It broke our nation’s long history of the peaceful transfer of power.

    You know the story of that day. Former president Donald Trump refused to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, insisting that he had lost only because the election had been “stolen” from him, despite Biden’s decisive victory of more than 7 million votes and 74 electoral votes. He urged his supporters to stop Biden’s election from becoming official.

    What has surprised me most in the six months since is how quickly the leaders of the Republican Party turned from establishing oligarchy—a process that the country has undergone in the past—to embracing authoritarianism, which it hasn’t.

    Since 1986, Republican leaders have pushed policies that concentrate wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. In 1986, they began to talk of “voter integrity” measures that would cull Black voters from the rolls; by 1994, after the Democrats passed the Motor Voter Act allowing voter registration at state offices like the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Republicans began to say they were losing elections only because of “voter fraud.” Suppressing the vote became part of the Republican strategy for winning.

    But voter suppression has a long history in America. Especially in the 1850s and the 1890s, political parties concerned about losing power cut their opponents out of the vote.

    After the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, Republican leaders accepted the support of talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, who created a narrative in which Democrats were dangerous socialists, out to destroy home and family. With the establishment of the Fox News Channel in 1996, that narrative, shared not by reporters but by personalities behind sets meant to look like newsrooms, skewed reality for FNC viewers.

    But promoting a false narrative through media is not new to the United States. Elite enslavers in the 1840s and 1850s similarly shaped what information their neighbors could hear.

    In 2000, Republicans put into office George W. Bush, who had lost the popular vote by more than 500,000 votes. The election came down to the state of Florida, where more than 100,000 voters had recently been removed from the voter rolls. A recount there stopped after a riot encouraged by Roger Stone, and the Supreme Court then decided in favor of Bush.

    In 2016, Trump, too, lost the popular vote, but the distribution of those votes enabled him to win in the Electoral College.

    But installing a president who has lost the popular vote is not new, either. In 1877 and 1889, presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison both took office after losing the popular vote, Hayes by 250,000 votes, Harrison by more than 100,000.

    In 2010, Republican leaders used Operation REDMAP (the Redistricting Majority Project) to win control of swing state legislatures and deliver the states to the Republicans by gerrymandering them. It worked. After the 2010 election, Republicans controlled the key states of Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan, as well as other, smaller states, and they redrew congressional maps using precise computer models. In the 2012 election, Republicans received 1.4 million fewer votes for the House than Democrats did, but won a 33 seat majority.  

    Still, gerrymandering has been around for so long it’s named for early Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, whose name a journalist mixed with “salamander” in 1812.

    Taken together, all these old tactics, amplified by modern technology, had enabled the Republican leadership to lay the foundation for an oligarchy. Beginning in 1981, wealth began to move upward significantly, reversing the trend from 1933 to 1980, when wealth compressed. By 2017, lawmakers who had initially opposed Trump appeared to come around when he backed a huge corporate tax cut and put three originalists who endorsed the Republican vision of America on the Supreme Court.

    Then Trump lost the 2020 election.

    Before January 6, Republican lawmakers seemed to humor the outgoing president as he refused to accept the outcome. Trump and his people launched and lost more than 60 lawsuits over the election. They tried to pressure election officials in both Georgia and Arizona to change the outcome in those states. They refused to start the normal transition process that would enable Biden and Harris to set up their administration. And Republican lawmakers, trying to court Trump’s help in the Georgia Senate special runoff elections of January 5, kept their mouths shut.

    And then January 6 happened. At a rally on Washington, D.C.’s Ellipse, Trump lied to his supporters again and again that the election had been stolen “by emboldened radical-left Democrats.” “We will never give up, we will never concede,” he told them. “You don't concede when there's theft involved.” He promised (falsely) that Vice President Mike Pence could send the ballots back to the states for recertification in his favor, “and we become president and you are the happiest people.”

    “[W]e're going to have to fight much harder,” he said, “[b]ecause you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated…. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”

    “So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

    In the ensuing crisis, lawmakers had to be rushed out of the chambers as rioters broke in. Five people died, and 140 police officers were injured. It could have been much worse: the insurrectionists erected a gallows for Pence. Nonetheless, even after the insurrection, 147 Republicans voted against certification of the electoral votes.

    Still, at first, many Republican lawmakers appeared to condemn the events of January 6. But they quickly came around to defending the Big Lie that Trump won the election. That lie is behind the voter suppression measures enacted by a slew of Republican-dominated states, as well as the new measures in Arizona and Georgia that enable legislatures to have control over election results.

    In the House, the Republicans removed Liz Cheney from a leadership position for her criticism of Trump and rejection of the Big Lie, replacing her with a Trump loyalist, tying House Republicans as a group to the former president. Republicans in the Senate came together to kill a bill to create a bipartisan, independent committee to investigate the events of January 6. Lawmakers and pundits are downplaying the insurrection itself, claiming either that it was not a big deal or that Democrats are using it to suppress rightwing activism.

    And now, of the 700 Republicans who have filed paperwork to run for Congress next year, at least a third of them have backed the idea that Trump won the 2020 election.

    In American history, the attempt to overturn our election procedures for one man, based on a lie, is unprecedented.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
      July 7, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Last week, the Bullock Texas State History Museum cancelled a book event three and a half hours before it was supposed to start. Written by journalists Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, the book is titled “Forget the Alamo,” and, according to historian H. W. Brands, who reviewed the book for the Washington Post, it both introduces the story of the Alamo to readers unfamiliar with it and explains how the story has been interpreted since the 1836 battle occurred, using the ways in which British musicians Phil Collins and Ozzy Osbourne interacted with the site as a new lens.

    Historians long ago put aside the heroic story of the Alamo, which told of freedom-loving Americans fighting off a Mexican tyrant who was trying to crush a fledgling republic. In the past several decades, so many historians have rewritten this history that Brands notes that the new retelling “sometimes appear[s] to be beating a horse that, if not dead, was put to pasture awhile back.”

    Historians have explained how Mexican officials, eager to stabilize their northern borderlands after their own agreements with Apache tribes fell apart, permitted Americans to settle in what is now Texas. Americans moved to the area to grow cotton in the boom years of that era. When Mexico banned slavery in Texas in 1830, Americans rebelled. In October 1835, they joined with Mexican opponents of President Antonio López de Santa Anna’s government and went to war. By December, the Texian Army had pushed Mexican troops out of the Mexican territory of Texas, and the Texians hunkered down in the Alamo Mission near what is now San Antonio. In January, reinforcements, including James Bowie and Davy Crockett, arrived. About 200 Texians were there on February 23, 1836, when 1800 of Santa Anna’s troops laid siege to the Alamo. On March 6, Santa Anna’s troops attacked, killing almost all of the defenders (but not Davy Crockett, who surrendered and was executed later).

    This history is well established… but Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick—who in March 2020 suggested that elders should be willing to die from Covid-19 in order to get the economy moving again—was one of apparently a number of Republican leaders who demanded that museum officials cancel the event. Governor Greg Abbott, Patrick and other Republican leaders are board members of the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Bullock Museum. “As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it,” Patrick tweeted. “[T]his fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place [at the Bullock Museum].”  

    As of the end of June, nine states have passed so-called “divisive concepts” laws, and 17 more are considering them. These measures try to control how teachers talk about issues of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, saying that such discussions are divisive. Yet, as historians James Grossman and Jeremy Young of the American Historical Association noted yesterday in The Hill, a survey by the American Historical Association and Fairleigh Dickinson University shows that, “regardless of political identity, age, race, gender or education level,” there is broad consensus that these issues provide essential content to understand our history and that they are appropriate for school history classes.

    “We should be clear about what’s happening here,” Young and Grossman say. “This is the legislative equivalent of push-polling—creating division where none exists, raising fears about something that isn’t even happening to score political points.”

    They point out that the bills are not coming from people in school districts, but instead follow a template produced by an organization led by Russell Vought, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under the Trump administration. The organization’s website has a file on it titled: “Model-School-Board-Language-to-Ban-CRT-SD-HCS-edits-1.”

    Here’s why this rewriting of our history matters.

    Historians study how societies change. In order to do that, we examine sources created at the time—newspapers, teapots, speeches, tweets, photographs, landscapes, and so on-—and judge what we think happened by comparing these primary sources to things other historians have said, on the basis of evidence they have found. We argue a lot. But if we cannot see an ever-widening story, we cannot give an accurate account of how societies change.

    An inaccurate picture of what creates change means that people cannot make good decisions about the future. They are at the mercy of those who are creating the stories. Knowledge is indeed power.

    So the destruction of accurate history is about more than schools. It’s about self-determination. It’s about having the freedom to make good decisions about your life.

    It’s about the very things that democracy is supposed to stand for.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 8, 2021 (Thursday)
     
    Today, President Joe Biden announced that the military mission of the United States in Afghanistan will end on August 31. We have been in that country for almost 20 years and have lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 35,000 to 40,000. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.
     
    Leaving Afghanistan brings up just how much the world has changed in the past two decades.
     
    The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him, along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power, but when the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, its members quickly regrouped as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. propped up in their place. By 2018, the Taliban had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan.
     
    In the years since 2001, three U.S. presidents have tried to strengthen the Afghan government to keep the nation from again becoming a staging ground for terrorists that could attack the U.S. But even a troop surge, like the one President Barack Obama launched into the region in 2009, could not permanently defeat the Taliban, well funded as it is by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system it operates in the shadow of the official government.
     
    Eager to end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” the previous president, Donald Trump, sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.
     
    The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they have not killed any American soldiers since the deal was signed.
     
    Biden has made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan, but he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. Meanwhile, by announcing the U.S. intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”
     
    In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
     
    Today, the president explained that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned. He claimed that the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan. It had killed Osama bin Laden and destroyed a haven for international terrorists.
     
    But the U.S. had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people, he said. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”
     
    For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And, he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”
     
    Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are now in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

    But Biden’s argument for leaving Afghanistan is based not just on the U.S. having achieved its original stated goals and his own dislike of endangering our military personnel. He wants the U.S. to adjust to the reality that the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.
     
    Since 9/11, the international terrorist threat has spread far beyond Afghanistan and is now far easier to target with financial measures than with soldiers. So, for example, in April, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Pakistani nationals for money laundering in what was likely an attempt to stop the money flowing to the Taliban through Pakistan, money that keeps the Taliban alive. It has also sanctioned Russia for backing the Taliban in its attempt to assassinate American military personnel.  

    Bruce Riedel, an expert on U.S. security, South Asia, and counter-terrorism at the Brookings Institution who was with the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded in 1979, concluded after Biden made his withdrawal announcement in April that it is not clear that the Taliban will take over Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. The country remains mired in a civil war, and who the winner will be remains open.

    Threats to America are more likely to come these days from cyber attacks, like the one that hit the U.S. on the Friday before the holiday weekend. Apparently originating in Russia, that ransomware attack hit supply chains. Like the one that hit Colonial Pipeline in May, disrupting fuel supplies to the Southeast, such attacks have potential to do enormous damage. Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country harbors hackers, that critical infrastructure is off limits, and that the U.S. will retaliate for any such attacks.

    Finally, of course, Biden can turn his attention from Afghanistan in part because the U.S. has not suffered a major attack by foreign terrorists since 2001. Now, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, our primary danger from terrorism is homegrown and comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 9, 2021 (Friday)

    On July 9, 1868, Americans changed the U.S. Constitution for the fourteenth time, adapting our foundational document to construct a new nation without systematic Black enslavement.

    In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had prohibited slavery on the basis of race, but it did not prevent the establishment of a system in which Black Americans continued to be unequal. Backed by President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over the presidency after an actor had murdered President Abraham Lincoln, white southern Democrats had done their best to push their Black neighbors back into subservience. So long as southern states had abolished enslavement, repudiated Confederate debts, and nullified the ordinances of secession, Johnson was happy to readmit them to full standing in the Union, still led by the very men who had organized the Confederacy and made war on the United States.

    Northern Republican lawmakers refused. There was no way they were going to rebuild southern society on the same blueprint as existed before the Civil War, especially since the upcoming 1870 census would count Black Americans as whole persons for the first time in the nation’s history, giving southern states more power in Congress and the Electoral College after the war than they had had before it. Having just fought a war to destroy the South’s ideology, they were not going to let it regrow in peacetime.

    Congress rejected Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction.

    But then congressmen had to come up with their own plan. After months of hearings and debate, they proposed amending the Constitution to settle the outstanding questions of the war. Chief among these was how to protect the rights of Black Americans in states where they could neither vote nor testify in court or sit on a jury to protect their own interests.

    Congress’s solution was the Fourteenth Amendment.

    It took on the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision declaring that Black men "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens.”

    The Fourteenth Amendment provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

    The amendment also addressed the Dred Scott decision in another profound way. In 1857, southerners and Democrats who were adamantly opposed to federal power controlled the Supreme Court. They backed states’ rights. So the Dred Scott decision did more than read Black Americans out of our history; it dramatically circumscribed Congress’s power.

    The Dred Scott decision declared that democracy was created at the state level, by those people in a state who were allowed to vote. In 1857, this meant white men, almost exclusively. If those people voted to do something widely unpopular—like adopting human enslavement, for example—they had the right to do so and Congress could not stop them. People like Abraham Lincoln pointed out that such domination by states would eventually mean that an unpopular minority could take over the national government, forcing their ideas on everyone else, but defenders of states’ rights stood firm.

    And so, the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government the power to protect individuals even if their state legislatures had passed discriminatory laws. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” it said. And then it went on to say that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

    The principles behind the Fourteenth Amendment were behind the 1870 creation of the Department of Justice, whose first job was to bring down the Ku Klux Klan terrorists in the South.

    Those same principles took on profound national significance in the post–World War II era, when the Supreme Court began to use the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment aggressively to apply the protections in the Bill of Rights to the states. The civil rights decisions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the  Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools, and the Loving v Virginia decision permitting interracial marriage, come from this doctrine. Under it, the federal government took up the mantle of protecting the rights of individual Americans in the states from the whims of state legislatures.

    Opponents of these new civil rights protections quickly began to object that such decisions were “legislating from the bench,” rather than permitting state legislatures to make their own laws. These opponents began to call for “originalism,” the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted only as the Framers had intended when they wrote it, an argument that focused on the creation of law at the state level. Famously, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, an originalist who had called for the rollback of the Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, for a seat on that court.

    Reacting to that nomination, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) recognized the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to equality: “Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….”

    It’s a funny thing to write about the Fourteenth Amendment in the twenty-first century. I am a scholar of Reconstruction, and for me the Fourteenth Amendment conjures up images of late-1860s Washington, D.C., a place still plagued by malaria carried on mosquitoes from the Washington City Canal, where generals and congressmen worried about how to protect the Black men who had died in extraordinary numbers to defend the government while an accidental president pardoned Confederate generals and plotted to destroy the national system Abraham Lincoln had created.

    It should feel very distant. And yet, while a bipartisan group of senators rejected Bork’s nomination in 1987, in 2021 the Supreme Court is dominated by originalists, and the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment seem terribly current.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 10, 2021 (Saturday)

    In July, living in Maine is often like living in a painting. After being on the water all day, I am falling into bed and letting my friend Peter take the wheel with a picture that captures the wonder around us in these magical summer days.

    I'll see you tomorrow.

    ["Easting," by Peter Ralston.]

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 11, 2021 (Sunday)

    On Friday, as President Joe Biden signed “An Executive Order Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” he echoed the language of his predecessors. “[C]ompetition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing,” he said. “Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth…. But what we’ve seen over the past few decades is less competition and more concentration that holds our economy back.”

    Biden listed how prescription drugs, hearing aids, internet service, and agricultural supplies are all overpriced in the U.S. because of a lack of competition (RFD TV, the nation’s rural channel, has a long-running ad complaining of the cost of hearing aids). He also noted that noncompete clauses make it hard for workers to change jobs, another issue straight out of the late nineteenth century, when southern states tried to keep prices low by prohibiting employers from hiring Black workers away from their current jobs.

    “I’m a proud capitalist,” Biden said. “I know America can’t succeed unless American business succeeds…. But let me be very clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation. Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want…. “[W]e know we’ve got a problem—a major problem.  But we also have an incredible opportunity. We can bring back more competition to more of the country, helping entrepreneurs and small businesses get in the game, helping workers get a better deal, helping families save money every month. The good news is: We’ve done it before.”
     
    Biden reached into our history to reclaim our long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both Roosevelt presidents—Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses, and then by championing competition.

    Civil War era Republicans had organized around the idea that the American economy enjoyed what they called a “harmony of interest.” By that, they meant that everyone had the same economic interests. People at the bottom of the economy, people who drew value out of the products of nature—trees, or fish, or grain—produced value through their hard work. They created more value than they could consume, and this value, in the form of capital, employed people on the next level of the economy: shoemakers, dry goods merchants, cabinetmakers, and so on. They, in turn, produced more than they could consume, and their excess supported a few industrialists and financiers at the top of the pyramid who, in their turn, employed those just starting out. In this vision, the economy was a web in which every person shared a harmony of interest.

    But by the 1880s, this idea that all Americans shared the same economic interest had changed into the idea that protecting American businesses would be good for everyone. American businessmen had begun to consolidate their enterprises into trusts, bringing a number of corporations under the same umbrella. The trusts stifled competition and colluded to raise the prices paid by consumers. Their power and funding gave them increasing power over lawmakers. As wealth migrated upward and working Americans felt like they had less and less control over their lives, they began to wonder what had happened to the equality for which they had fought the Civil War.

    Labor leaders, newspapers, and Democratic lawmakers began to complain about the power of the wealthy in society and to claim the economic game was rigged, but their general critiques of the economy simply left them open to charges of being “socialists” who wanted to overturn society. Congress in 1890 finally gave in and passed an antitrust act, but it was so toothless that only one senator in the staunchly pro-business Senate voted against it, and no one in the House of Representatives voted no.  

    Then, around 1900, the so-called muckrakers hit their stride. Muckrakers were journalists who took on the political corruption and the concentration of wealth that plagued their era, but rather than making general moral statements, they did deep research into the workings of specific industries and political machines—Standard Oil, for example, and Minneapolis city government—and revealed the details behind the general outrage.

    Their stories built pressure to regulate the robber barons, as they were called by then, but Congress, dominated by business interests, had no interest. Instead, President Theodore Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft, tended to rein in the trusts through the executive branch of the government, especially by legal action undertaken by the Department of Justice.

    On Friday, Biden promised to use the power of the executive branch to rein in corporations, much as Theodore Roosevelt did during his terms of office. But there was more to Biden’s statement than that. His emphasis on restoring competition is from the next historical phase of antitrust action.

    In the 1912 election, political language turned away from the evils of trusts and toward the economic competition so central to American life. Both Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson centered their campaigns around the idea that big business was strangling competition. Wilson called for a “New Freedom” that would get rid of the trusts once and for all and return the nation to a world of small enterprise and opportunity. Roosevelt scoffed at this idea. He talked of the “New Nationalism,” in which a large government would restore competition by regulating big businesses. (He said that if you got rid of trusts and then looked away, they would immediately spring up again.)

    While their solutions were different, both Roosevelt and Wilson had reframed the stratified economy not solely as a problem, but also as an opportunity. Trimming the sails of the corporations was not an attack on the liberty of industrialists, but rather a restoration of the competition that had, in the past, enabled the country’s economy to thrive. And, once elected, Wilson managed to get key items of that agenda passed through Congress.

    That positive emphasis on competition carried into the administration of the next Roosevelt president, FDR. Biden noted that FDR called for Congress to pass an economic bill of rights, including “the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.” And indeed, the idea of restoring a level playing field for all businesses, rather than letting them succeed or fail based on the whims of economic wirepullers, persuaded businessmen who had previously opposed regulation to line up behind the establishment of our Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.

    Americans have lost this tradition since 1980, Biden said, when we abandoned the “fundamental American idea that true capitalism depends on fair and open competition.” Reframing business regulation as “laws to promote competition,” he promised 72 specific actions to enforce antitrust laws, stop “abusive actions by monopolies,” and end “bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, fewer options for workers and consumers alike.”

    For 40 years, the Republican Party has offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy is seen as an attack on individual liberty because it hampers the accumulation of wealth. Biden’s speech on Friday reclaims a different theme in our history, that of government protecting individualism by keeping the economic playing field level.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 12, 2021 (Monday)

    Today’s news all centered around the Big Lie that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

    Yesterday, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the audience cheered through his meandering speech, in which he insisted that he won the 2020 election. “The entire system was rigged against the American people and rigged against a fair, decent and honest election,” he said. CNN’s Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked Trump’s speeches for years, called the speech “untethered to reality.”

    But Trump was not alone: the whole three-day event featured speakers, including Representatives Ronny Jackson and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, focused on that Big Lie.

    Just how untethered from reality this argument is became clear today when U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker held a hearing on whether the lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan should face sanctions. Those lawyers, dubbed the “Kraken” by one of their leaders, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell, produced close to 1000 pages of affidavits intending to cast doubt on the election results. Michigan and the city of Detroit filed complaints with the bar after the lawsuits failed, calling for punishment for the lawyers who had signed on to the effort.

    As today’s hearing proceeded, it became clear that the so-called Kraken lawyers had made no effort to verify much of anything they presented to the court. Repeatedly, Parker asked if anyone had tried to verify any of the affidavits they had filed; repeatedly, they indicated they had not. At one point, Parker said, "I don't think I've ever really seen an affidavit" like this. "This is really fantastical," Parker said. "How can any of you, as officers of the court, present this type of an affidavit?"

    Parker suggested that the whole point of the lawsuits in the first place was to spread lies to make people think the election wasn’t legitimate. "My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election...that's what these average affidavits are designed to do, to show there was something wrong in Michigan….”

    Although Kraken lawyer Juli Haller began to cry during the hearing, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell made it clear that, far from backing down, she wanted to move forward. Repeatedly, she and other lawyers demanded a trial or at least an evidentiary hearing, clearly trying to legitimize their claims by presenting them in an official setting. Like other Trump supporters, Powell is hoping to use official procedures to legitimize lies. We saw this in the hearings before Trump’s first impeachment, when lawmakers such as Jim Jordan (R-OH) used the official proceedings to construct a narrative for rightwing media.

    David Fink, an attorney representing Detroit, called that pattern out: "Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on January 6, but many people throughout the world...came to doubt the strength of our democratic institutions in this country.”

    Also today, news broke that, back in November, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, Justin Riemer, called claims that Trump had won the election “a joke.” Speaking of the lawyer pushing such claims, Riemer said, “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”

    And yet, the Republican Party itself is tethering itself to Trump.

    In Oklahoma and Alaska, state Republican Party leaders have backed Trump-supporting challengers to James Lankford (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Lankford was actually speaking on the floor of the Senate on January 6, preparing to object to some of the certified ballots, when the rioters broke into the Capitol. After the insurrection riot, Lankford chose not to continue his objection to the counting. He now faces a primary challenger.

    So does Murkowski, who, when party leaders similarly primaried her with someone backed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, won a write-in campaign. Shortly after the insurrection, Murkowski said to a reporter: "I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”

    In Pennsylvania, the chair of the state senate's Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Trump-ally state senator Doug Mastriano, is demanding an Arizona-type recount of the 2020 vote in his state. Blocked by Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the state’s attorney general, Mastriano today issued a statement saying he would continue to fight for what he called a “forensic investigation.”

    Meanwhile, in Texas, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers are leaving the state to block Republicans from passing voter restriction laws. By fleeing the state, they will deprive the legislatures of enough lawmakers to do business, a number called a “quorum.” The Texas legislature is in special session this summer in part because the Democrats blocked these laws in the same way in May. In response, Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature. Today, once again, he accused them of abandoning the duties for which voters elected them.

    And yet, the Republicans’ argument for further restricting the vote is based on the Big Lie that the state needs to be protected from voter fraud after the 2020 election.  

    Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make a speech on voting rights. He is expected to call out the Big Lie and to talk about “actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 13, 2021 (Tuesday)

    “Are you on the side of truth or lies; fact or fiction; justice or injustice; democracy or autocracy?”

    In a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia today, President Joe Biden asked his audience to take a stand as he called defending the right to vote in America, “a test of our time.”

    Biden explained that the 2020 election has been examined and reexamined and that “no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.” The Big Lie that Trump won is just that, he said: a big lie.

    Nonetheless, 17 Republican-dominated states have enacted 28 laws to make it harder to vote. There are almost 400 more in the hopper. Biden called this effort “the 21st-century Jim Crow,” and promised to fight it. He pointed out that the new laws are doing more than suppressing the vote. They are taking the power to count the vote “from independent election administrators who work for the people” and giving it to “polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties.”

    “This is simple,” Biden said. “This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.”

    While Biden was on his way to Philadelphia, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives were fleeing the state to deny the Republicans in the legislature enough people to be able to do business. They are trying to stop the Republicans from passing measures that would further suppress the vote, just as they did when they left the state in May. Along with voting measures, the Texas Republicans want to pass others enflaming the culture wars in the state: bills to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools (where it is not taught) and to keep transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams. Both of these issues are part of a wider program pushed by national right-wing organizations.

    When the Democrats left the state two months ago, Republican governor Greg Abbott was so angry he vetoed funding for the legislature (that effort is being challenged in court). This time, he has vowed to arrest the Democratic members and hold them inside the Capitol until the special session of the legislature ends in late August. This threat has no effect outside of Texas, where state authorities have no power, and even within the state it is unclear what law the legislators are breaking.

    But it does raise the vision of a Republican governor arresting Democratic lawmakers who refuse to do his bidding.

    What is at stake in Texas at the local level is that Abbott is smarting from two major failures of the electrical grid on his watch: one in February and one in June. What is at stake at the national level is that the electoral math says that Republicans cannot expect to win the White House in the future unless they carry Texas, with its 40 electoral votes, and the state seems close enough to turning Democratic that Abbott in 2020 ordered the removal of drop boxes for ballots. The electrical crisis of February, which killed nearly 200 Texans and in which Republican senator Ted Cruz was filmed leaving the state to go to Cancun, has hurt the Republican Party there.

    And so, Abbott and his fellow Republicans are consolidating their power, planning to “win” in 2022 and 2024 by making sure Democrats can’t vote.

    Biden today went farther than he ever has before in calling out Republicans for what they are doing. He described the attempt to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to rig the vote before 2022 for what it is: an attempt to subvert democracy and steal the election. “Have you no shame?” he asked his Republican colleagues.

    But as strongly as Biden worded his speech, the former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, David Frum, in The Atlantic today went further.

    “Those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing,” Frum wrote. “Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.” Since the insurrection, he noted, Trump supporters have embraced the idea that the people who hold office under our government are illegitimate and that, therefore, overturning the election is a patriotic duty.

    “It’s time,” Frum said, “to start using the F-word.” The word he meant is “fascism.”

    “We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said today…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”  

    We must, he said, have “the will to save and strengthen our democracy.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 14, 2021 (Wednesday)

    Yesterday, news broke that, under pressure from Republican leaders, Republican-dominated Tennessee will no longer conduct vaccine outreach for minors. Only 38% of people in Tennessee are vaccinated, and yet the state Department of Health will no longer reach out to urge minors to get vaccinated.

    This change affects not only vaccines for the coronavirus, but also all other routine vaccines. On Monday, Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones sent an email to staff saying there should be "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine." The HPV vaccine protects against a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer, among other cancers.

    Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.

    On Monday, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee's former top vaccine official, was fired without explanation, and Republicans have talked about getting rid of the Department of Health altogether, saying it has been undermining parents by going around them and straight to teens to promote vaccines.

    Video editor J.M. Rieger of the Washington Post put together a series of videos of Republicans boosting the vaccine and thanking former president Donald Trump for it only to show the same people now spreading disinformation, calling vaccines one of the greatest scandals in our history, and even comparing vaccines to the horrors of the Nazis.

    This begs the question: Why?

    Former FBI special agent, lawyer, and professor Asha Rangappa put this question to Twitter. “Seriously: What is the [Republicans’] endgame in trying to convince their own voters not to get the vaccine?” The most insightful answer, I thought, was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.

    The Republican Party continues to move to the right. During his time in office, the former president put his supporters into office at the level of the state parties, a move that is paying off as they purge from their midst those unwilling to follow Trump. Today, in Michigan, the Republican Party chair who had criticized Trump, Jason Cabel Roe, resigned.

    Candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring for the 2022 midterm elections are trying to get attention by being more and more extreme. They vow to take on the establishment, support Trump and God, and strike terror into the “Liberals” who are bringing socialism to America. Forty QAnon supporters are running for Congress, 38 as Republicans, 2 as Independents.

    And yet, there are cracks in this Republican rush to Trumpism.

    Yesterday, on the Fox News Channel, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that "Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He legitimately got elected." Trump supporters immediately attacked McCarthy, but the minority leader is only too aware that the House Select Committee on the Capitol Insurrection will start hearing witnesses on July 27, and the spotlight on that event is highly unlikely to make the former president—and possibly some of the Republican lawmakers—look good.

    Already, the books coming out about the former administration have been scathing, but tonight news broke of new revelations in a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Leonnig and Rucker interviewed more than 140 members of the former administration and say that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley was increasingly upset as he listened to Trump lie about having won the election, believing Trump was looking for an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.

    Milley compared the former president’s language to that of Hitler and was so worried Trump was going to seize power that Milley began to strategize with other military leaders to keep him from using the military in illegal ways, especially after Trump put his allies at the head of the Pentagon. “They may try, but they’re not going to f---ing succeed,” he allegedly said.

    In addition to damaging stories coming out about the former president, news broke yesterday that Fitch Ratings, a credit rating company, is considering downgrading the AAA rating of the United States government bonds. The problem is not the economy. In fact, the Fitch Ratings report praises the economy, saying it “has recovered much more rapidly than expected, helped by policy stimulus and the roll-out of the vaccination program, which has allowed economic reopening…. [T]he scale and speed of the policy response [is] a positive reflection on the macroeconomic policy framework. Real economic output has overtaken its pre-pandemic level and is on track to exceed pre-pandemic projections....”

    Although the report worries about the growing debt, we also learned yesterday that the deficit for June dropped a whopping 80% from the deficit a year ago, as tax receipts recover along with the economy. Year-to-date, the annual deficit is down 18% from last year.

    The problem, the report says, is politics. And it is specific. “The failure of the former president to concede the election and the events surrounding the certification of the results of the presidential election in Congress in January, have no recent parallels in other very highly rated sovereigns. The redrafting of election laws in some states could weaken the political system, increasing divergence between votes cast and party representation. These developments underline an ongoing risk of lack of bipartisanship and difficulty in formulating policy and passing laws in Congress.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 15, 2021 (Thursday)

    Today Americans began to see the concrete effects of the American Rescue Plan show up in their bank accounts, as the expanded child tax credit goes into effect for one year. Through this program, the Child Tax Credit increased to $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6. All working families will get the full credit if they make up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a family with a single parent. The government sent payments for almost 60 million children on Thursday, totaling $15 billion.

    This is a really big deal. In America, one in seven children lives in poverty. This measure is expected to cut that poverty nearly in half. Studies suggest that addressing childhood poverty continues to pay off over time, as it helps adults achieve higher levels of mobility.  

    But this huge achievement of the Biden presidency—every single Republican voted against it—has taken a backseat in the news to two blockbuster stories about the former president.

    The first is the continuing information coming from a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker called I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year. Their eye-popping accounts of the days surrounding the January 6 insurrection broke last night with accounts of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, comparing the former president to Hitler and fearing that he was going to refuse to leave office.

    In response, the former president and his supporters are attacking Milley. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson showed an image of Milley with a gay pride flag, an anti-fascist sign, and a reference to “thoroughly modern Milley,” a play on a popular film title from 1967.

    The former president released a long and rambling statement, rehashing past grievances, that nonetheless had a statement that stood out. “I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government,” he said. “[I]f I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.” It was an odd denial.

    Also interesting in the book excerpts were stories that suggest why Republican leaders were eager to avoid an investigation into the insurrection.
     
    Accounts in the excerpts told of Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) confronting Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) during the insurrection. “That f--king guy Jim Jordan,” she allegedly told Milley. “That son of a bitch.... While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ I smacked his hand away and told him, ‘Get away from me. You f--king did this.’” Cheney has accepted a position on the House select committee to investigate the insurrection, set up after the Republicans killed the bipartisan, independent commission.

    Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who almost ran into the rioters, also blamed his colleagues. While they were being sheltered in a secure room, he allegedly went up to Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had supported Trump’s challenge to the election, and told them: “This is what you have caused.”

    The second big story came this morning in the form of an article from The Guardian, which purported to reveal leaked documents from the Kremlin in which Putin and Russian leaders agreed in January 2016 to make Trump president to sow discord in the United States in order to get U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Crimea overturned. The documents described Trump as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex.”

    There are many reasons to be skeptical of this “leak,” but, in the end, whether true or not, it doesn’t tell us much that we don't already know. There is ample evidence, articulated most clearly in the Senate Intelligence Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, that Russia worked hard to get Trump elected in 2016.

    What is interesting about this story is, if you will pardon this fan of Sherlock Holmes, “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” In that old Arthur Conan Doyle tale, the key to the mystery was that the family dog didn’t bark at an intruder in the night and therefore must have known the villain.

    Shortly after The Guardian story broke, Trump himself announced that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) were meeting over general issues, although these two big stories simply had to be on the agenda, not least because McCarthy was caught on tape in June 2016 saying: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” (Dana Rohrabacher was a Republican representative from California.) Later today, through his spokesperson, Trump appeared to call the story “fake news,” along with his usual descriptions of stories of his connections to Russia, but, despite a flurry of statements he issued today, these comments were not issued as a statement but were only quoted in his spokesperson’s tweets.

    As near as I can tell, the former president is the only Republican who has responded to the story. Other leaders are talking about the border, masks, Cuba, and Britney Spears. Their lack of a response to a deeply damaging story about the leader of their party suggests to me that, at best, they are hoping the story will disappear and, at worst, they believe it’s true.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 16, 2021 (Friday)

    This morning, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters that the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases has jumped almost 70 percent in the last week. Yesterday the U.S. had more than 33,000 new cases. Hospital admissions have jumped about 36% over the same period, to about 2,790 a day. And, after dropping for weeks, the seven-day average of deaths per day has also increased, rising 26% to 211 deaths per day.  

    Walensky called it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Fully vaccinated individuals can still get Covid-19, but they are protected against the worst of it. They should not need hospitalization and will almost certainly not die. They are protected against the new Delta variant now sweeping the world, as well as against the older variants.

    Jeffrey Zients, the coordinator of the Covid-19 response, told reporters that the United States has fully vaccinated more than 160 million Americans but low-vaccination pockets are driving a new spike. In the past week, just four states produced more than 40% of cases. Florida alone accounted for one in five cases.

    Virtually all recent hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

    Zients explained that the administration is working to bring vaccines directly to individuals. As well, it is working with trusted messengers to urge people to get vaccinated. This week, the administration amped up its efforts to encourage vaccination by joining with Olivia Rodrigo, the wildly popular 18-year-old actress and singer, to urge young people to get vaccinated. In a video she recorded with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the chief medical adviser to the president, Fauci told Rodrigo, who was born in 2003, about the greatest concert he ever attended: he saw the Temptations and the Four Tops at the Paramount Theatre in New York City in the late 1950s.

    Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” was released on January 8 in the midst of the pandemic; it debuted at number one on Billboard Hot 100, the nation’s standard record chart. Three months later, on April 1, 2021, her second single, “Deja Vu,” debuted at number eight, and on May 14, 2021, her third single, “Good 4 U,”  debuted at number one, making her the first artist in the history of the charts to debut their first three singles in the top ten (which has nothing to do with vaccines, but it’s cool).

    The White House is also trying now to combat disinformation and misinformation head on. Yesterday the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on the dangers of health misinformation. A Surgeon General’s Advisory is a public statement calling attention to a public health issue and making recommendations for addressing that issue.

    The advisory calls out social media for spreading false, inaccurate, or misleading information about both coronavirus and the vaccine, bad information that has led people to reject basic health measures like masks and to attack frontline workers trying to enforce those measures.

    The advisory blames social media in explicit terms, noting that misinformation is framed to hit emotions so that people get outraged and spread it quickly, that technology platforms incentivize people to share such highly charged content, and that social media platforms use algorithms to steer users toward content similar to things they have previously liked, building disinformation bubbles.

    “Health misinformation has cost us lives,” Murthy told reporters at the White House today. “Technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. It allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation—what we call ‘disinformation’—to have extraordinary reach.”

    “In this advisory, we’re telling technology companies that we expect more,” he said. “We’re asking them to operate with greater transparency, to modify their algorithms to avoid amplifying misinformation, and to swiftly and consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.”

    Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate have discovered that 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media have come from just 12 people, nicknamed the “Disinformation Dozen.” Social media have been slow to remove their access to social media sites, or even their false content. According to Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, the White House has tried for weeks to get Facebook to explain how it is combating disinformation about the vaccine but has not received answers.

    Republicans, already mad at social media giants for kicking off the former president, promptly claimed that Democrats were trying to censor free speech. Notably, Fox News Channel personalities and Republican leaders have been casting doubt on the vaccines since Biden took office and vowed to make combating the pandemic his signature success.

    That the White House called out social media algorithms that skew information is clearly a concern for Facebook, for such algorithms could be regulated by the government while speech cannot. Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever rejected the idea that Facebook has contributed to disinformation, saying that the site has provided more good information about the coronavirus and vaccines than any other place on the internet.

    As he boarded Marine One on his way to Camp David in Maryland for the weekend, reporters asked the president what he would say to social media executives about the disinformation on their platforms. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that—and they’re killing people.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 17, 2021 (Saturday)
     
    A year ago tonight, Georgia Representative John Lewis passed away from pancreatic cancer at 80 years old. As a young adult, Lewis was a “troublemaker,” breaking the laws of his state: the laws upholding racial segregation. He organized voting registration drives and in 1960 was one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and Black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to challenge segregation. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” Lewis later recalled.
     
    An adherent of the philosophy of nonviolence, Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—pronounced “snick”), he helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., told more than 200,000 people gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial that he had a dream. Just 23 years old, Lewis spoke at the march. Two years later, as Lewis and 600 marchers hoping to register African American voters in Alabama stopped to pray at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, mounted police troopers charged the marchers, beating them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.
     
    To observers in 1965 reading the newspapers, Lewis was simply one of the lawbreaking protesters who were disrupting the “peace” of the South. But what seemed to be fruitless and dangerous protests were, in fact, changing minds. Shortly after the attack in Selma, President Lyndon Baines Johnson honored those changing ideas when he went on TV to support the marchers and call for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.
     
    When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, just 6.7 percent of Black voters in Mississippi were registered to vote. Two years later, almost 60% of them were. In 1986, those new Black voters helped to elect Lewis to Congress. He held the seat until he died, winning reelection 16 times.
     
    Now, just a year after Representative Lewis’s death, the voting rights for which he fought are under greater threat than they have been since 1965. After the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by taking away Department of Justice supervision of election changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, Republican-dominated state legislatures began to enact measures that would cut down on minority voting.
     
    At Representative Lewis’s funeral, former President Barack Obama called for renewing the Voting Rights Act. "You want to honor John?” he said. “Let's honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.” Instead, after the 2020 election, Republican-dominated legislatures ramped up their effort to skew the vote in their favor by limiting access to the ballot. As of mid-June 2021, 17 states had passed 28 laws making it harder to vote, while more bills continue to move forward.
     
    Then, on July 1, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court handed down Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, saying that the state of Arizona did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act when it passed laws that limited ballot delivery to voters, family members, or caregivers, or when it required election officials to throw out ballots that voters had cast in the wrong precincts by accident.
     
    The fact that voting restrictions affect racial or ethnic groups differently does not make them illegal, Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
     
    Justice Elena Kagan wrote a blistering dissent, in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined. “If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act,” Kagan wrote, “It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out.” She explained, “The Voting Rights Act is ambitious, in both goal and scope. When President Lyndon Johnson sent the bill to Congress, ten days after John Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he explained that it was “carefully drafted to meet its objective—the end of discrimination in voting in America.” It gave every citizen “the right to an equal opportunity to vote.”
     
    “Much of the Voting Rights Act’s success lay in its capacity to meet ever-new forms of discrimination,” Kagan wrote. Those interested in suppressing the vote have always offered “a non-racial rationalization” even for laws that were purposefully discriminatory. Poll taxes, elaborate registration regulations, and early poll closings were all designed to limit who could vote but were defended as ways to prevent fraud and corruption, even when there was no evidence that fraud or corruption was a problem. Kagan noted that the Arizona law permitting the state to throw out ballots cast in the wrong precinct invalidated twice as many ballots cast by Indigenous Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans as by whites.
     
    “The majority’s opinion mostly inhabits a law-free zone,” she wrote.
     
    Congress has been slow to protect voting rights. Although it renewed the Voting Rights Act by an overwhelming majority in 2006, that impulse has disappeared. In March 2021, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act on which Representative Lewis had worked, a sweeping measure that protects the right to vote, removes dark money from politics, and ends partisan gerrymandering. Republicans in the Senate killed the bill, and Democrats were unwilling to break the filibuster to pass it alone.

    An attempt simply to restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 has not yet been introduced, although it has been named: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Only one Republican, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, has signed on to the bill.  

    Yesterday, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), was arrested with eight other protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building for demanding legislation to protect voting rights.

    After her arrest, Beatty tweeted: "You can arrest me. You can't stop me. You can't silence me.”

    Last June, Representative Lewis told Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart that he was “inspired” by last summer’s peaceful protests in America and around the world against police violence. “It was so moving and so gratifying to see people from all over America and all over the world saying through their action, ‘I can do something. I can say something,’” Lewis told Capehart. “And they said something by marching and by speaking up and speaking out.”
     
    Capehart asked Lewis “what he would say to people who feel as though they have already been giving it their all but nothing seems to change.” Lewis answered: “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.”
     
    “Do not get lost in a sea of despair,” Lewis tweeted almost exactly a year before his death. “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 18, 2021 (Sunday)

    In Maine, July makes up for February.

    I'll see you tomorrow.

    H.

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    Not today Sir, Probably not tomorrow.............................................. bayfront arena st. pete '94
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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 19, 2021 (Monday)

    This morning, on the Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, personality Steve Doocy told viewers to get the coronavirus vaccine because it would “save your life” and noted that 99% of the people now dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Brian Kilmeade answered that not getting the vaccine is a personal choice and that the government has no role in protecting the population. “That’s not their job. It’s not their job to protect anybody,” he said.

    It is, of course, literally the job of the government to protect us. The preamble to the Constitution reads: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    But Kilmeade’s extraordinary comment cuts to the heart of the long history from the New Deal to the present.

    In the 1930s, to combat the Great Depression, Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had offered a “new deal for the American people.” That New Deal meant that the government would no longer work simply to promote business, but would regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. World War II accelerated the construction of that active government, and by the time it was over, Americans quite liked the new system.

    After the war, Republican Dwight Eisenhower rejected the position of 1920s Republicans and embraced the active government. He explained that in the modern world, the government must protect people from disasters created by forces outside their control, and it must provide social services that would protect people from unemployment, old age, illness, accidents, unsafe food and drugs, homelessness, and disease.

    He called his version of the New Deal “a middle way between untrammeled freedom of the individual and the demands of the welfare of the whole Nation.” One of his supporters explained that, “If a job has to be done to meet the needs of the people, and no one else can do it, then it is the proper function of the federal government.”

    In this, Eisenhower and his team were echoing Abraham Lincoln, who thought about government at a time when elite southern enslavers insisted that government had no role to play in the country except in protecting property.

    As a young man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem, Illinois, die because the settlers—hard workers, eager to make the town succeed—could not dredge the Sangamon River to promote trade by themselves. Lincoln later mused, “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.’…Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances.”

    So Eisenhower and his fellow Republicans were in line with traditional Republican values when they declared their support for an active government. But those who objected to what became known as the post–World War II liberal consensus rejected the idea that the government had any role to play in the economy or in social welfare.

    In 1954, William F. Buckley, Jr., and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell, Jr., made no distinction between the liberal consensus and international communism when they defended Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy for his attacks on “communists” in the U.S. government. They insisted that the country was made up of “Liberals,” who were guiding the nation toward socialism, and “Conservatives,” like themselves, who were standing alone against the Democrats and Republicans who made up a majority of the country and liked the new business regulations, safety net, and infrastructure.

    That reactionary mindset came to dominate the Republican Party after 1980, and now, forty years later, a television personality is taking the stand that the government has no role in protecting Americans against a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 of us.

    And yet, the idea that the government has a role to play in the economy remains popular, and this is creating a problem for Republicans. As soon as they took office, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without any Republican votes. About 60% of Americans liked the plan, and it is likely to be more popular still now that checks from the Child Tax Credit extended in it began hitting parents’ bank accounts on July 15. Even before that, at least 26 Republicans were touting the benefits of the measure to their constituents while neglecting to mention they voted against it.

    Now, Congress is negotiating a two-part infrastructure plan. Biden and the Democrats have worked hard for three months to get at least 10 Republican senators to agree to a $579 billion measure that would provide hard infrastructure like roads, bridges, and broadband. Negotiators are still hammering out that agreement and Democrats are making concessions; yesterday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, told CNN that a provision to pay for the package in part by enforcing tax laws against those ignoring them bothered Republicans enough that negotiators cut it.

    And yet tonight, leading Republicans said they would not vote to advance the bill on Wednesday, citing the fact it is not fully written. Since both parties regularly move their measures forward under such circumstances, many Democrats simply see this as a delaying tactic to try to kill the measure before Congress starts a month-long break on August 6. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said for weeks that he would bring the bill up in mid-July.

    If the bipartisan bill fails, the Democrats can simply fold the provisions in it into their larger infrastructure bill that they intend to pass through budget reconciliation, which cannot be blocked by a filibuster. This larger, $3.5 trillion measure includes funding for human infrastructure, such as childcare, and for addressing climate change. It also will move corporate taxation from the 21% established by the 2017 tax cut up to about 28%. (It was 35% before the 2017 tax cut.)

    The Democrats need to get these measures through because they are facing serious financial deadlines. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 suspended the debt ceiling—the amount the country can borrow—only until July 31 of this year. And the budget needs to be hammered out by September 30. If it isn’t, government funding can be extended by a continuing resolution, but in the past, Republicans have sometimes chosen to shut down the government instead.

    All of this will take place while the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection will be holding hearings. Today, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made it clear he intends to disrupt those hearings: three of the five people he named to the committee—Jim Banks (R-IN), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Troy Nehls (R-TX)—voted to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, thus helping to legitimize the Big Lie that led to the insurrection.

    McCarthy made Banks the ranking member, suggesting that he expects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reject Jordan, but there is already outcry at the idea of any of these three investigating events in which they participated. Already, Banks has indicated that he is not really interested in studying the events of January 6, saying tonight that Speaker Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

    McCarthy’s other two appointments are Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).

    In today’s struggle over the nature of government, the Democrats are at a disadvantage. They want to use the government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, just as Lincoln and FDR and Eisenhower advocated. To drive their individualist vision, though, all the Republicans have to do is stop the Democrats.

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  • mickeyratmickeyrat Posts: 21,905
     July 20, 2021 (Tuesday)

    Today, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted three men for illegally influencing the foreign policy positions of a presidential candidate and then, after the election, of the United States government.

    They were acting in the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy country in the Persian Gulf. The candidate was Donald Trump, and one of the three men was his ally Thomas Barrack. Another was Matthew Grimes, a 27-year-old employee who reported to Barrack. The third was UAE citizen Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, who lived in California until 2018, leaving abruptly after the FBI interviewed him about the case.

    The return of Barrack to the news recalls the outsized influence of foreign actors in the previous administration, and how U.S. policy appeared to change to suit their interests. On Twitter, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times wrote: “One of the mysteries of Trump's first six months was why the administration came out of the gate so hot for Saudi and UAE—with Trump traveling to Saudi Arabia and then going along with the Qatar blockade. The Tom Barrack indictment explains a lot.”

    A billionaire private equity real-estate investor and longtime ally of Trump, Barrack was a key fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, which he advised between April and November 2016. In June 2018, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote a profile of Barrack, explaining that he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles and so grew up speaking Arabic, which helped him do business and make contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

    Barrack got to know Trump in the real estate world of the 1980s, and by 2010, he acquired $70 million of Jared Kushner’s debt and retired enough of it to keep Kushner from bankruptcy. When Trump launched his 2016 campaign with anti-Muslim rhetoric, Barrack calmed his Middle East contacts down, assuring them that Trump was simply using hyperbole.

    Barrack urged Trump to hire Paul Manafort—fresh from his stint working for a Ukrainian oligarch—and served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Grimes and Barrack proposed to contacts in the UAE that it should use “its vast economic surplus to obtain a level of influence…which the country should rightfully command.” They suggested it should use financial investments to “increase [its] influence with USA and European governments and people.”

    A final draft of their proposal explained that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also…garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the recently elected Candidate, hereinafter, the ‘President-Elect’]....We will do so by sourcing, investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”

    Barrack’s investment firm raised more than $7 billion between 2016 and 2018, 24% of it from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.  

    According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.

    Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.

    In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.

    Today, prosecutors said that Barrack provided foreign government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”

    They say he also "met with and assisted senior leaders of the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], a close ally of the UAE."

    In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency to bypass congressional oversight of an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. After the UAE signed onto the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with Israel, the U.S. sold them another $23 billion of arms, including 50 F-35 advanced fighter planes.

    Barrack and Grimes were arrested this morning in California.

    When announcing the arrests, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said, “American citizens have a right to know when foreign governments, or their agents, are attempting to exert influence on our government. This is especially important to Americans during a Presidential election year, and the laws on the books were created to protect our nation from such untoward influence. This case is about secret attempts to influence our highest officials.”

    Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division Mark J. Lesko said, “Through this indictment, we are putting everyone—regardless of their wealth or perceived political power—on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.”

    Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said, “These arrests serve as a warning to those who act at the direction of foreign governments without disclosing their actions, as well as those who seek to mislead investigators about their actions, that they will be brought to justice and face the consequences.”  

    Prosecutors warned that Barrack was a flight risk because of his wealth, private jet, and “deep and longstanding ties to countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States”: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

    Barrack’s lawyer says that Barrack “has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” possibly indicating a willingness to flip.

    A judge has ordered Barrack be held in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.

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