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I've become a fan of Heather Cox Richardson and shared a few of her posts in various threads.  She has indicated she will be posting her thoughts every day, through President-elect Biden's first 100 D

Sorry for falling behind.  Mrs. Bus Driver took me on a weekend backpacking trip.  Hope all you motherfuckers had a Happy Fathers Day.

January 21, 2021 (Thursday) Today’s big news was not entirely unexpected: There was never any plan for a federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. "What we're inheriting is so much worse

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February 25, 2021 (Thursday)
There are lots of stories in the news tonight, but most of them seem like preludes. What happened today will eventually be overridden by the stories’ outcomes.
So, for example, we learned that former president Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, turned over Trump’s financial information to the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday. This got a lot of headlines, but we had a pretty good sense they would turn over the information just as soon as the Supreme Court said they must, so this part of the story will get forgotten.
What is of more interest is that the district attorney’s office has hired a high-powered outside forensic accounting firm to review the documents, indicating it thinks there is something there.
There is news in the investigation of what happened on January 6 that might lead to later insights. Today, the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the Capitol Police, heard testimony from acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman. One thing the hearing established was that ex-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had requested backup from the National Guard by 12:58 pm on January 6, and had continued to call for the next hour. On Tuesday, the former House sergeant at arms, Paul Irving, insisted he had not received a request for National Guard backup until 1:28.
Pittman also said that 35 officers are being investigated for their behavior on the day of the insurrection. Six have been suspended and had their police powers revoked. The Capitol Police union opposes the investigations, saying they are an attempt to distract from the failures of leadership on January 6.
Also offering hope for future information is news that came from the communications director for Tim Ryan (D-OH), the chair of the committee. Michael Zetts said that security videos of Capitol tours before the insurrection have been turned over to the office of the U.S. Attorney General.
There are stories from today, though, that do have staying power. One is the passage through the House of Representatives of the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill passed by a vote of 224 to 206. Three Republicans joined the Democratic majority to pass the bill.
Another is that the Biden administration launched an airstrike today on Syrian facilities used by Iran-backed militias that have been attacking U.S. troops in Iraq. The strike was a response to a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded coalition troops earlier this month. The airstrike, coming at a time that the U.S. is hoping to get Iran to rejoin talks about the 2015 nuclear deal Trump rejected, was likely a sign that Iran should expect that the U.S. will remain engaged in talks but will still respond to attacks.
Another development that has staying power is the attempt of Democrats to guarantee the right to vote. In the face of voter suppression legislation in Republican legislatures around the country, Democrats in Congress are trying to pass a law, called the For the People Act, to stop partisan gerrymandering, limit money in politics, and expand voting access.
The For the People Act, numbered in Congress as H.R. 1 and S. 1, would provide for automatic voter registration across the country and would require paper ballots. It would require that early voting be made available, and would expand mail-in voting. It would authorize $1 billion for upgrades to state voting systems.
Polling by Data for Progress and Vote Save America shows that the principles in H.R. 1 are very popular, across parties. Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of the reforms in the bill. Sixteen percent oppose the measure. The items within the bill are also popular. Eighty-six percent of Americans support a plan to prevent foreign interference in our elections; 7% oppose it. Eighty-five percent of us want to limit the amount of politics; 8% oppose that idea. Eighty-four percent of us want more election security; 8 percent do not.
Seventy-four percent of us want to see nonpartisan redistricting; 11% do not. Sixty-eight percent want to see 15 days of early voting; 19% do not. Sixty percent want same-day voter registration; 29% do not. Fifty-nine percent want automatic voter registration; 29% do not. Even with the Republican attacks on mail-in voting, fifty-eight percent of us want to be able to vote by mail; 35% do not.
Democrats passed a version of H.R. 1 in the previous Congress, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Now, every House Democrat supports the bill, while Republican lawmakers oppose it.
To try to stop the bill from becoming law, Republicans are launching a full-throated defense of the filibuster, a tradition that enables a minority in the Senate to stop legislation unless it can command 60 votes. Republican objections to this popular, and seemingly vital, measure will test whether the Senate will protect the filibuster or continue to chip away at it.
Of all today’s news, then, this issue—the fate of the For the People Act—is one that most certainly will matter in the future.
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February 26, 2021 (Friday)
There are a number of very different stories swirling out there this Friday. I have been trying to make sense of them and will tell you what I see, with the warning that I could very easily be wrong, so ignore at will.
One of today’s biggest stories is that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence today released its assessment of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist whose criticism of his country’s government had driven him into exile in the U.S., where he worked for the Washington Post. The DNI placed blame for the murder on Saudi Arabia’s current crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, whose name is often abbreviated as MBS.
By law, the Trump administration was supposed to release the intelligence community’s assessment of the killing, but it refused. In her confirmation hearings, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines promised she would do so. The report was delayed until President Biden could speak to King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia. MBS is the king’s son and is the third crown prince Salman has named since becoming king in 2015. Biden has made it a point to refuse to communicate with MBS, despite the Trump administration’s willingness to treat him as the country’s de facto ruler. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner apparently considered MBS a friend. Biden will talk only with the king.
The readout of the conversation said Biden spoke with the king “to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.” They discussed ending the war in Yemen, “and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law.” Earlier this month, Biden ended U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military engagement in Yemen, a fight launched by MBS, which has led to a humanitarian crisis there. The Trump administration’s huge arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including top-line F-35 fighters, were widely seen as a way to support the Saudi war effort; Biden has frozen the sales for review.
Now he has added sanctions to the former deputy Saudi intelligence chief and to the Saudi Royal Guard’s rapid intervention force, whose members have been identified as those behind the murder. Their assets in the U.S. are frozen, and they cannot deal with Americans. The U.S. also restricted the visas of 76 Saudi citizens and some of their family members.
Also yesterday, Biden launched an air strike against the facilities of Iran-backed militias in Syria that have been launching rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. When asked today what message he was sending, he said: “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful.”
Also yesterday, the FBI Washington Field Office tweeted a thread noting that 13 Russians are wanted by the FBI for participating in a “conspiracy to defraud US by impairing, obscuring & defeating the lawful functions of FEC [Federal Election Commission], DOJ [Department of Justice] & Dept of State” between 2014 and 2018. It explained: “These individuals allegedly took actions to reach significant numbers of Americans for the purposes of interfering w/ US political system, includ[ing] the 2016 Presidential Election.”
The FBI also offered $250,000 for information leading to the arrest of Ukrainian Konstantin V. Kilimnick, whom the Senate Intelligence Committee identified as a Russian operative. Kilimnick is wanted by the FBI for obstruction of justice and for engaging in a conspiracy to obstruct justice between February and April 2018, persuading someone not to testify in an official proceeding.
Kilimnick was the business partner of Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager; Manafort handed over detailed and private campaign polling data to Kilimnick in 2016.
So, what have we got going on here?
At the very least, it seems the Biden administration is sending a signal to other countries that there is a new administration in America, one that will not tolerate foreign intrusions into U.S. affairs the same way its predecessor did.
But I wonder if the inclusion of the wanted posters on those Russians accused of interfering with the 2016 election, including one who worked closely with Trump’s campaign manager, is a signal to the Saudis, along with the rest of the world, not to support Trump’s continuing attempt to undermine our democracy.
Today, the White House issued a statement noting that it was seven years ago that Russia violated international law by invading Ukraine. President Biden reiterated that the U.S. stands with Ukraine and its attempt to shore up democracy to withstand the aggression of oligarchy.
“The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia’s aggressive acts. We will continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine,” the statement reads.
But it is a message not just of warning, but also of hope:
“We will also continue to honor the courage and hope of the Revolution of Dignity, in which the Ukrainian people faced down sniper fire and enforcers in riot gear on the Maidan and demanded a new beginning for their country. The United States still believes in the promise of Ukraine and we support all those working towards a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future for their country.”
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February 28, 2021 (Sunday)
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill requested by the Biden administration. The vote was 219 to 212, with two Democrats—Jared Golden (D-ME) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR)—voting no. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.
The coronavirus relief bill illustrates a crisis in our democracy.
This measure is enormously popular. On Thursday, the day before the House took up the bill, a poll by Morning Consult/Politico showed that 76% of Americans liked the measure, including 60% of Republicans. It includes $1400 stimulus checks which, together with the $600 checks in the previous package, get us to the $2000 checks that former president Trump, a Republican, demanded.
It includes increased unemployment benefits of $400 weekly, provides $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, establishes tax credits for children, provides money to reopen schools, funds $8.5 billion to distribute vaccines, and gives small business relief.
The bill is popular among Republican mayors and governors, whose governments cannot borrow to make up for tax revenue lost because of the pandemic and who are facing deficits of $80 to $100 billion even with money from the last relief packages. The deficits will require devastating cuts on top of the 1.3 million jobs that have already been cut in the past year. Relief is “not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” Fresno, California, mayor Jerry Dyer told Griff Witte of the Washington Post earlier this month. “It’s a public health issue. It’s an economic issue. And it’s a public safety issue.”
Those in favor of the measure note that while there is still close to $1 trillion unspent from previous coronavirus relief bills, currently unspent money has been assigned already: it is distributed among programs that are designed to spend it over a period of time. This includes federal employment benefits, which are distributed weekly; the Paycheck Protection Program, which is held in reserve for employers to apply for funds from it; enhanced medical matching funds to be distributed as the pandemic requires; and tax breaks to be spent as people file their tax returns.
The chair of the Federal Reserve, which oversees our banking system, Jerome H. Powell, has backed the idea of increased federal spending; so has Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Powell was nominated to his current position by Trump (he was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board by President Barack Obama); Yellen is a Biden appointee.
This is a bill that should have gotten some Republican votes in the House of Representatives.
But it didn’t. Republican lawmakers are complaining about the partisan vote and scoffing that President Biden promised to unify the country. But the problem is not the bill. The problem is the Republican lawmakers, who are determined to oppose anything the Democrats propose.
The American Rescue Plan bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican senators appear to be united against it. In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained about the Democrats’ “deliberately partisan process” in writing the bill, but the Republicans willing to meet with President Biden—McConnell was not one of them-- proposed a measure that provided less than one-third the relief in the present bill. There is enormous urgency to passing the bill quickly, since current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
The Senate is evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans, with each party holding 50 seats (technically, Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are Independents, but they currently work with the Democrats). Although each party effectively holds 50 seats, the Democrats represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans do, in nation that has 328.2 million people.
In addition to their disproportionate power in the Senate, the Republicans can stop legislation through the filibuster. This is a holdover from an earlier era, in which a senator could stop a bill approved by a majority by refusing to stop talking about it, which would prevent the bill from coming to a vote unless senators voted to invoke “cloture,” a process that limits consideration of a pending bill to 30 additional hours. Today, cloture requires 60 votes.
The filibuster was rarely used before about 1960; in the early twentieth century, southern senators used it primarily to stop civil rights legislation. But as the volume of business in the Senate raised the need to streamline debate, the Senate reformed the filibuster so that a senator could simply threaten a filibuster to kill a bill.
Our current Republican lawmakers use these “holds” to kill any measure that cannot muster 60 votes, effectively turning the Senate into a body that requires not a majority to pass legislation, but rather a supermajority. Those who defend the filibuster argue that this supermajority requirement will make senators create bills that are bipartisan, but in fact it has meant that a small minority controls the Senate.
So Democrats will have to pass the American Rescue Plan through a procedure known as “reconciliation,” which enables certain budget bills to pass with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes currently necessary for a regular bill. But the Senate can only pass three bills a year through this process, and there are strict limits to what can be in them. The Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan judge of the procedural rules of the Senate, has decided that the $15-an-hour federal minimum wage in the current bill does not meet the requirements of reconciliation. Fifty-nine percent of Americans like the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, as the bill sets out, but the hike cannot be included in the convoluted process necessary to get the bill through without the supermajority the current filibuster system requires.
Senate leadership can overrule or fire the parliamentarian, but that really doesn’t matter in this case because at least one Democrat, Senate Joe Manchin (D-WV), opposes the increased minimum wage. His opposition would sink the entire measure because the Democrats need every one of their 50 votes.
The American Rescue Plan will likely pass—without the increased minimum wage—but it will do so only because the Democrats won both Georgia Senate seats in January, giving them an equal number of senators to the Republicans.
The Democrats will be able to pass a bill popular with more than 3 out of 4 of us only because they have a slight majority in the House and can use a special budget measure to work around the Republican senators who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than the Democrats do.
The coronavirus relief bill illustrates just how dangerously close we are to minority rule.
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March 1, 2021 (Monday)
This morning, conservative pundit William Kristol wrote in The Bulwark what a number of us have been saying for a while now, and it dovetails cleanly with the current Republican attempt to suppress voting.
Kristol warns that our democracy is in crisis. For the first time in our history, we have failed to have a peaceful transfer of power. The Republican Party launched a coup—which fortunately failed—and “now claims that the current administration is illegitimately elected, the result of massive, coordinated fraud. The logical extension of this position would seem to be that the American constitutional order deserving of our allegiance no longer exists.”
“So,” he notes, “we are at the edge of crisis, having repulsed one attempted authoritarian power grab and bracing for another.”
Claims that American democracy is on the ropes in the face of an authoritarian power grab raise accusations of partisanship… but in this case, the person making the claim is a conservative, who goes on to urge conservatives to join behind President Joe Biden to try to save democracy. Kristol warns that “a dangerous, anti-democratic faction” of the Republican Party “is not committed in any serious way to the truth, the rule of law, or the basic foundations of our liberal democracy.”
Kristol’s call is notable both because of his position on the right and because he warns that we are absolutely not in a moment of business-as-usual. Perhaps because it is impossible to imagine, we seem largely to have normalized that the former president of the United States refused to accept his loss in the 2020 election and enlisted a mob to try to overturn the results. Along with his supporters, he continues to insist that he won that election and that President Joe Biden is an illegitimate usurper.
This big lie threatens the survival of our democracy.
At the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference this weekend in Orlando, Florida, Trump supporters doubled down on the lie that Biden stole the 2020 election. From a stage shaped like a piece of Nazi insignia, speakers raged that they were victims of “cancel culture” on the part of Big Tech and the left, which are allegedly trying to silence them. To restore fairness, they want to stop “voter fraud” and restore “election integrity,” and they want to force social media giants to let them say whatever they want on social media.
In the Washington Post, commentator Jennifer Rubin said the modern conservatives at CPAC had no policy but revenge, “resentment, cult worship and racism,” and no political goal but voter suppression. It is “the only means by which they seek to capture power in an increasingly diverse America,” she notes. A poll showed that “election integrity” was the issue most important to CPAC attendees, with 62% of them choosing it over “constitutional rights” (which got only 48%).
Trump himself packaged this lie in words that sounded much like the things he said before the January 6 insurrection. He claimed that he had won the election, that the election was “rigged,” and that it was “undeniable” that the rules of the election were “illegally changed”—although none of his many court challenges stuck. He attacked the Supreme Court in language that echoed the attacks on his vice president, Mike Pence, that had rioters searching him out to kill him. “They didn’t have the guts or the courage to make the right decision,” Trump said of the justices.
The purpose of this big lie is not only to reinforce Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, but also to delegitimize the Democratic victory. If Democrats cheat, it makes sense to prevent “voter fraud” by making it harder to vote. “We must pass comprehensive election reforms, and we must do it now,” Trump said.
Republican reforms, though, mean voter suppression. Currently, Republican legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills to restrict voting. They want to cut back early voting and restrict mail-in voting, limit citizen-led ballot initiatives, and continue to gerrymander congressional districts. Arizona is trying to make it possible for state legislatures, rather than voters, to choose the state’s presidential electors. Rather than try to draw voters to their party’s candidates by moderating their stances, they are trying to win power by keeping people from voting.
I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous this is. We have gone down this road before in America, in the South after 1876. The outcome was the end of democracy in the region and the establishment of a single, dominant party for generations. In those decades, a small body of men ruled their region without oversight and openly mocked the idea of justice before the law. A member of the jury that took only 67 minutes to acquit Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam for murdering 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 famously said, “We wouldn’t have taken so long if we hadn’t stopped to drink pop.” White men dominated women and their Black and Brown neighbors, but their gains were largely psychological, as the one-party system created instability that slowed down economic investment, while leaders ignored education and infrastructure.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit concerning Arizona election laws. The case is from 2016, when Democrats argued that two Arizona voting laws discriminated against Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous voters in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that hamper voting on the basis of race. The laws called for ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be thrown away and allowed only election officials, letter carriers, household family members, or caregivers to return someone else’s mail-in ballot. A violation could bring a $150,000 fine. The court’s decision in this case will have big implications for the legitimacy of the restrictions Republican legislatures are trying to enact now.
Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to shore up voting rights with H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021. This sweeping measure would make it easier to vote, curtail gerrymandering, make elections more secure, and reform the campaign finance system.
They are also proposing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4, which would restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 in the Shelby v. Holder decision, limiting changes to election laws that disproportionately affect people of color. After Shelby v. Holder, a number of states immediately enacted sweeping voter suppression laws that disproportionately hit minorities, the elderly, and the young, all populations perceived to vote Democratic.
Neither of these bills will pass the Senate unless the Democrats modify the filibuster rule, which permits Republicans to stop legislation unless it can muster not just a majority, but a supermajority of 60 votes.
Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Judge Merrick Garland for Attorney General. Garland is noted for supervising the prosecution of the men who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1995, hoping to topple the federal government. In his opening remarks to the Senate Judiciary committee last week, Garland vowed that, if confirmed, he “will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6—a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.” He promised that he would follow where the investigation led, even if it went “upstream” to those who might not have been in the Capitol, but who nevertheless were participants in the insurrection.
The vote to move Garland’s nomination to the full Senate was 15 to 7, with Ben Sasse (R-NE), Mike Lee (R-UT), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) all voting no.
With the exception of Sasse, all those voting no have signed on to the big lie.
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March 2, 2021 (Tuesday)
I’ll be quick tonight because we have been without power since 5:00 this morning, and I am very eager indeed to escape the echoing grind of the generator for the night.
Three big stories today:
The first is that President Biden announced today that Merck, the pharmaceutical company, will pitch in to help make the Johnson & Johnson single-shot coronavirus vaccine. Along with high production rates from the other manufacturers, this should enable the government to produce vaccines for all U.S. adults—300 million of us-- by the end of May, two months ahead of the previously projected schedule.
The administration has facilitated this rate of production by using the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that enables the government to manage production of materials deemed necessary for national defense. That law is used quite frequently, but while the previous president used it repeatedly during his administration, he was curiously reluctant to use it to address the coronavirus pandemic.
The vaccines will come none too soon for people in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott today announced he will end the statewide mask mandate and permit all businesses to reopen without coronavirus restrictions. He says that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate” any longer.
In the last week, Texas reported more than 200 deaths a day from Covid-19 and only 6.5% of Texans have been fully vaccinated. Although case rates have been declining across the country, the declines stopped this week, and cases in Texas actually increased. Currently, more than 6,000 people in Texas are hospitalized with Covid-19.
Houston, Texas, is the first city in the U.S. to report infections from all of the major new coronavirus variants, and they appear to be widespread. The White House has asked Abbott to reconsider ending measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves (R) also ended the mask mandate.
In Washington, D.C., the Biden administration announced new sanctions against Russian officials in retaliation for poisoning Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The sanctions freeze assets belonging to seven of the top figures around Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden’s position against chemical weapons and the silencing of political opposition indicates that he will take a stance toward Putin in line with the traditional U.S. insistence on the rule of law, rather than adopting the friendly approach that his predecessor used.
In Washington, D.C., FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified for nearly four hours today before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the January 6 insurrection. Questioning him were Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), both of whom endorsed the Big Lie that motivated the insurrectionists: that Biden was not legitimately elected.
Wray divided the rioters into three groups: some who showed up to protest and did so lawfully if loudly; protesters who got caught up in the moment and committed minor, non-violent offenses; and a group in paramilitary gear who had planned ahead of time to do whatever it took to stop the counting of the certified electoral ballots for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
He said that white supremacists and other domestic terrorists are the “top threat” facing America today. The FBI now lists white supremacist organizations next to ISIS in its top priority level of threat. Wray noted that the FBI is currently tracking about 2000 cases of domestic terrorism, up from about 850 two years ago.
Under pressure from Republicans to shore up their theories that the insurrectionists were not Trump supporters, but rather were undercover leftists, Wray shot those theories down. Pressed by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Wray declined to place “Antifa” in the same category of threat as domestic terrorists. Under pressure from Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Wray rejected the idea that the January 6 insurrection was precipitated by people pretending to be Trump supporters.
According to the FBI director, domestic terrorism “has been metastasizing around the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon.”
And not a major story but an interesting one: A new survey by Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll says that 61% of voters approve of Biden’s performance so far. Fifty-five percent of respondents also approve of the Democratic Party, a number that is up 7 points since January. Confidence in the economy and in the future of the country are both growing, as well.
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March 3, 2021 (Wednesday)
We’re in this weird eddy where Republicans are trying to cling to past politics to gain advantage and the Biden administration is trying to move forward. On top of this struggle are stories about how the previous administration pushed the boundaries of our laws or, worse, broke them.
Yesterday, two Republican governors, Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi, ended the mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions for their states. So far today, the Johns Hopkins University tracker has reported 88,611 new cases and 2,189 new deaths. The numbers are dropping, but they are still wildly high compared to other nations. Texas and Mississippi are both in the top ten states in terms of deaths per capita.
It is hard not to see the reopening of Republican-led states as a deliberate affront to President Joe Biden, who asked for a 100-day mask mandate and who has sped up vaccine production to end the pandemic before new variants throw us back into a crisis. The Biden administration has tried to take politics out of the national response to the coronavirus, and made it a point to respond quickly to the crisis in Texas two weeks ago, when the unregulated Texas energy system froze. Health officials worry that a rush to reopen will undo all the progress we have made against the virus, and they are begging Texas and Mississippi to reconsider.
Nonetheless, Abbott has reopened his state and today tweeted: “The Biden Administration is recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities. The Biden Admin[istration] must IMMEDIATELY end this callous act that exposes Texans & Americans to COVID.”
While Abbott is mired in past politics, the Biden administration today laid out a new approach to foreign affairs. Shortly before the White House released a paper explaining its national security policies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a speech reiterating the administration’s belief that the world needs American leadership and engagement to help create order, and that countries must cooperate with each other.
Blinken promised to stop Covid-19 both at home and abroad, and to invest in global health security. He said we would address the economic crisis and the climate crisis and create a more stable, inclusive global economy. We will “renew democracy,” he said, “because it’s under threat.” Blinken promised to “incentivize democratic behavior” overseas without “costly military interventions or attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force.”
Blinken identified China as the greatest modern rival of the United States and promised to “engage China from a position of strength,” working with allies to counter that nation’s rising power through diplomacy.
The Secretary of State emphasized again how the Biden administration sees domestic and foreign issues as complementary. “Beating COVID means vaccinating people at home and abroad,” he said. “Winning in the global economy means making the right investments at home and pushing back against unfair trading practices by China and others. Dealing with climate change means investing in resilience and green energy here at home and leading a global effort to reduce carbon pollution.”
“[D]istinctions between domestic and foreign policy have simply fallen away,” Blinken said. “Our domestic renewal and our strength in the world are completely entwined.”
Biden’s paper was even clearer, noting that we are at an inflection point that will determine whether democracy will fall to autocracy. “I firmly believe that democracy holds the key to freedom, prosperity, peace, and dignity,” he wrote. “We must now demonstrate — with a clarity that dispels any doubt — that democracy can still deliver for our people and for people around the world. We must prove that our model isn’t a relic of history; it’s the single best way to realize the promise of our future.”
Meanwhile, stories continue to break about the previous administration.
Tonight, we learned that the Department of Justice under Trump loyalist Attorney General William Barr refused to investigate or prosecute Trump’s Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, even after that department’s inspector general asked for a review of what it said was a misuse of her office. The inspector general found repeated instances of Chao using her office to benefit the Chao family company, Foremost Group, a shipping company run by Chao’s sister. Chao is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Also, today, the inspector general for the Department of Defense issued a review of Representative Ronny Jackson, who was Trump’s White House physician before he was elected to Congress from Texas in 2020. The review says he has an explosive temper, made “sexual and denigrating” comments about a woman who was his subordinate, created a hostile work environment, and drank alcohol and took Ambien while on duty. The inspector general recommended that the Navy take “appropriate action” with regard to the retired officer. Jackson said, “Democrats are using this report to repeat and rehash untrue attacks on my integrity.”
Today’s biggest story about the previous administration, though, came from the Senate hearings about the January 6, 2021, attack, held before the committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the committee on Rules and Administration. While there is still confusion about what happened when, it became clear that there were some serious lapses in the protection of the Capitol, and it appears those lapses originated with Trump appointees in the Pentagon.
Because the District of Columbia is not a state, its National Guard is under the control of the Defense Department, and it is overseen by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. The Commander of the D.C. National Guard, Major General William Walker, told the Senate that, in response to a request from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the director of D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, Walker requested approval for the mission from McCarthy on January 1.
McCarthy’s approval did not come until January 5, when the event was already upon them. And, in what Walker saw as an unusual move, McCarthy withheld approval for Walker to deploy the Quick Reaction Force, guardsmen equipped with helmets, shields, batons, and so on, to respond to civil disturbance, without the approval of the Secretary of Defense.
Then, at 1:49 pm on January 6, then Chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, Steven Sund, called Walker to say that the Capitol had been breached. “Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many guardsmen as I could muster,” Walker told the Senate. Walker immediately called the Pentagon for approval to move in his troops, but officials there did not give the go-ahead for 3 hours and 19 minutes. Once allowed in, the National Guard troops deployed in 20 minutes. But by then, of course, plenty of damage had been done.
The delay in deployment stood in dramatic contrast to the approval accorded to the National Guard to deploy in June 2020. Today’s testimony suggests that the Pentagon placed unprecedented restrictions on the mobilization of the National Guard on January 6, preventing it from responding to the crisis at the Capitol in a timely fashion.
The House will not meet tomorrow out of fears that militants will attack the Capitol again, expecting that March 4 will see former president Donald Trump sworn in for a second term.
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March 4, 2021 (Thursday)
This afternoon, the Senate voted to take up the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan recently passed by the House. The vote was 51 to 50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
Republicans have vowed to slow the passage of the bill. As soon as it passed, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) insisted on having all 628 pages of the bill read aloud, which the Senate clerks are currently doing at a rapid clip to a chamber that emptied of everyone but the presiding Senator (a Democrat), and one Republican (to insist on the process), almost immediately after the clerks began to read.
Once the reading is over, there will be up to 20 hours of debate on the bill, and then, led by Johnson, Republicans plan to offer hundreds of amendments to slow the bill down. Nonetheless, Democrats expect to pass the measure through the Senate by the end of next week. This will send it back to the House in time for any changes to be adjusted and to go to Biden to sign it into law before extended unemployment benefits run out on March 14.
For the bill to pass the Senate, Democrats have had to strip from it the establishment of a $15 an hour minimum wage phased in by 2025 and have had to target more tightly the $1400 stimulus payments. They also limited how $10 billion of the $350 billion in state and local aid could be spent, limiting that money to infrastructure needs and establishing that none of the state or local aid could be used to pay down pension costs or reduce future taxes.
The intense opposition to this measure from Republican lawmakers illustrates a gulf between them and ordinary Americans, including their own voters. The American Rescue Plan is wildly popular. A poll from Morning Consult says that a whopping 77% of Americans support the bill, including 59% of Republicans, making it one of the most popular pieces of major legislation in American history. But Republican lawmakers oppose it, seeming to recognize that it is a return to an idea they utterly reject: that the government has a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure.
This was the idea at the heart of the so-called “liberal consensus,” embraced by both parties until the 1980s, when Republicans began to call for slashing the federal government and turning its functions over to private industry. If Democrats implement the measure and it is popular, Republicans will have a hard time convincing people to turn back to the tax cuts that are at the heart of their program.
Republican lawmakers and right-wing personalities on the Fox News Channel and other outlets are criticizing specific items in the bill, but more than that, they are flooding the airwaves with warnings that Democrats are trying to “cancel” American culture. They are, Republicans charge, erasing the works of popular children’s book author Theodor Geisel, more popularly known as Dr. Seuss (although he also wrote as Theo LeSieg), in an attempt to control what Americans think and say.
The real story is pretty straightforward: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which is a division of book publishers Random House Children’s Books and Penguin Random House, announced that it would stop printing six of Geisel’s lesser-known works—“McElligot’s Pool,” for example—because of their racist imagery. It will continue to publish the rest of Dr. Seuss’s books, as usual.
For the last three days, the Fox News Channel has highlighted what personality Tucker Carlson says is an attempt by “the people in charge” to get rid of “a very specific kind of midcentury American culture, a culture that championed meritocracy and color blindness and the superiority of individual achievement.” Matthew Gertz of Media Matters counted 139 mentions of “Seuss” on the FNC on Tuesday, the day Dr. Seuss Enterprises made the announcement, over both “news” and “opinion” shows on all but three hours of the day’s programming. The next day had 59 mentions of the story, at one point over a chyron that read “IT’S NOW A PROBLEM TO TREAT PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS,” and the outrage continued today.
Another popular bill in Congress provides even more of a problem for Republicans than the American Rescue Plan. It is H.R. 1, the sweeping elections and government ethics bill that passed the House late Wednesday night.
The measure streamlines voter registration with automatic and same-day voter registration. It restores the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. It allows early voting and mail-in voting. It curbs dark money in elections, and ends partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent redistricting commissions to draw state districts. It gets rid of insecure paperless voting. And it requires disclosures of presidential tax returns, gets rid of loose rules about congressional conflicts of interest, and requires the Supreme Court to create its own ethics code.
This measure is supported by a wide range of organizations interested in voting rights, including the League of Women Voters, which “strongly” supports it. President Biden has endorsed the measure, saying, “The right to vote is sacred and fundamental—it is the right from which all of our other rights as Americans spring. This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right.”
But Republicans are well aware that they can no longer win elections without voter suppression. As an attorney for the Republican Party in Arizona told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, a measure making it easier to vote “puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game…. It’s the difference between winning an election 50 to 49 and losing an election 51 to 50.” Using former president Trump’s lies about the 2020 election as justification, Republican legislators in 43 states have recently introduced bills to restrict the vote.
The rhetoric of Republican lawmakers about this bill is, as the Washington Post Editorial Board puts it, “apocalyptic.” Former vice president Mike Pence, who has been staying out of sight since Biden’s inaugural, emerged this week to write a piece in The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Daily Signal calling the measure “unconstitutional, reckless, and anti-democratic.”
The measure passed the House but may well not pass the Senate, where it would be susceptible to a filibuster, the process by which opponents of a bill can require that it receive 60, rather than simply 51, votes to pass.
The bill has “a noble purpose,” wrote the Washington Post, “making it easier for Americans to vote and encouraging the government to be more responsive to the people. Republicans’ apocalyptic rhetoric is so wildly disproportionate to the contents of the bill, one must wonder what they are really worried about…. Are they that afraid of democracy?”
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March 5, 2021 (Friday)
In coronavirus news today, there were a record 2.4 million vaccines administered.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis (R) is denying any involvement in a vaccine drive in a private, gated community after which a resident of the community, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R), made a donation of $250,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis Political Action Committee. This appears to be part of a pattern in Florida, where vaccine administration seems to track with wealthy communities whose members donate to the governor’s campaign funds.
News about the January 6 insurrection continues to mount, with a mid-level Trump appointee from the State Department, Federico Klein, arrested yesterday on several felony charges, including assaulting police officers, stemming from the riot. Tonight the New York Times revealed that a member of the far-right Proud Boys organization was in contact with someone at the White House in the days before the insurrection.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has catalogued almost 2000 pages of public social media posts from those representatives who voted to overturn the election. The material reveals that a few representatives were active indeed in pushing the idea that the election was stolen and Trump supporters must fight. Especially active were Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Billy Long (R-MO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is slow-walking the confirmation of Merrick Garland as attorney general, an odd stance at a time when one would think we would want all hands on deck to investigate the insurrection and ongoing domestic terrorism.
The Senate continues to hash out the American Rescue Plan. After last night’s 10 hour and 44 minute reading of the bill by Senate clerks, demanded by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), there was a surprise when Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) requested that the debate on the bill resume at 9:00 this morning and be limited to three hours, rather than the 20 hours that had been planned. Since no Republicans were there to object, the presiding officer agreed, and voting on amendments started at noon.
The big deal today was that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) balked at what observers thought was a done deal, withdrawing his support from the measure’s $400 weekly unemployment. Shortly before 8:00 p.m., Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached a deal to extend $300 payments through September 6, making the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits nontaxable for those households whose income is less than $150,000.
Manchin’s position has raised fury on the part of Democrats who are already mad at the loss of the $15 minimum wage in the bill, and there are grumblings that Manchin should not have the power to water the measure down.
But Manchin is as powerful as he is only because the Senate is split 50-50, and the Republicans-- who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than Democrats do-- are refusing to vote for the measure at all, despite the fact that 77% of Americans want it. We have a structural problem both with the Senate and with the Republican Party.
The Democrats continue to believe they will pass the American Rescue Plan.
The popularity of that bill spells trouble for Republicans. President Biden is making a pitch for Americans who feel that the government has not responded to the needs of a falling middle class. The bill expands the earned income tax credit for all Americans, and almost doubles the child tax credit. These provisions will disproportionately help poor families, especially families of color. The measure is expected to cut child poverty in half, while also helping parents to work by helping them pay for childcare.
Meanwhile, there is another big event on the horizon in Alabama that suggests a seismic shift in the contours of our political parties.
Workers at an Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to unionize. Amazon opposes the move, which, since Amazon employs more than 400,000 warehouse and delivery workers, is shaping up to be the biggest fight over unionization in American history. The company warns that unionization might increase costs and slow growth, and it has flooded its workers with mandatory anti-union meetings and anti-union literature—even posting signs in bathroom stalls. While workers have complained about working conditions and mandatory overtime, the company points out that it offers Bessemer workers benefits and a starting pay of $15.30 an hour, while the federal minimum wage remains pegged at $7.25.
The reason this unionization effort jumps off the page for politics is that President Biden recorded a video on February 28 taking a strong pro-union stance. He reminded viewers that “America wasn’t built by Wall Street, it was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class. Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and non-union, and especially Black and Brown workers.“
Biden made it clear that the choice to unionize should be made by workers, without pressure from employers. “The choice to join a union is up to the workers—full stop.” Biden has also nominated Boston mayor Marty Walsh, the former president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, as secretary of labor. If confirmed, Walsh will be the first union member to serve as secretary of labor in nearly 50 years. Biden’s vocal defense of working Americans has the potential to rally struggling workers to the Democrats more firmly than they have rallied for decades.
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I'll take over for today while BD relaxes.


March 6, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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43 minutes ago, jdazey said:
51 minutes ago, Ishmael said:

I'll take over for today while BD relaxes.



Much appreciated.

Yes.  Very much.

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March 7, 2021 (Sunday)
Black Americans outnumbered white Americans among the 29,500 people who lived in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s, but the city’s voting rolls were 99% white. So, in 1963, Black organizers in the Dallas County Voters League launched a drive to get Black voters in Selma registered. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a prominent civil rights organization, joined them.
In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, but it did not adequately address the problem of voter suppression. In Selma, a judge had stopped the voter registration protests by issuing an injunction prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people.
To call attention to the crisis in her city, Amelia Boynton, who was a part of the Dallas County Voters League but who, in this case, was acting with a group of local activists, traveled to Birmingham to invite Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city. King had become a household name after the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, and his presence would bring national attention to Selma’s struggle.
King and other prominent members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in January to press the voter registration drive. For seven weeks, Black residents tried to register to vote. County Sheriff James Clark arrested almost 2000 of them for a variety of charges, including contempt of court and parading without a permit. A federal court ordered Clark not to interfere with orderly registration, so he forced Black applicants to stand in line for hours before taking a “literacy” test. Not a single person passed.
Then, on February 18, white police officers, including local police, sheriff’s deputies, and Alabama state troopers, beat and shot an unarmed 26-year-old, Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was marching for voting rights at a demonstration in his hometown of Marion, Alabama, about 25 miles northwest of Selma. Jackson had run into a restaurant for shelter along with his mother when the police started rioting, but they chased him and shot him in the restaurant’s kitchen.
Jackson died eight days later, on February 26. The leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Selma decided to defuse the community’s anger by planning a long march—54 miles-- from Selma to the state capitol at Montgomery to draw attention to the murder and voter suppression. Expecting violence, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voted not to participate, but its chair, John Lewis, asked their permission to go along on his own. They agreed.
On March 7, 1965, the marchers set out. As they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate brigadier general, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator who stood against Black rights, state troopers and other law enforcement officers met the unarmed marchers with billy clubs, bull whips, and tear gas. They fractured John Lewis’s skull, and beat Amelia Boynton unconscious. A newspaper photograph of the 54-year-old Boynton, seemingly dead in the arms of another marcher, illustrated the depravity of those determined to stop Black voting.
Images of “Bloody Sunday” on the national news mesmerized the nation, and supporters began to converge on Selma. King, who had been in Atlanta when the marchers first set off, returned to the fray.
Two days later, the marchers set out again. Once again, the troopers and police met them at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but this time, King led the marchers in prayer and then took them back to Selma. That night, a white mob beat to death a Unitarian Universalist minister, James Reeb, who had come from Massachusetts to join the marchers.
On March 15, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a nationally televised joint session of Congress to ask for the passage of a national voting rights act. “Their cause must be our cause too,” he said. “[A]ll of us… must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” Two days later, he submitted to Congress proposed voting rights legislation.
The marchers remained determined to complete their trip to Montgomery, and when Alabama’s governor, George Wallace, refused to protect them, President Johnson stepped in. When the marchers set off for a third time on March 21, 1,900 members of the nationalized Alabama National Guard, FBI agents, and federal marshals protected them. Covering about ten miles a day, they camped in the yards of well-wishers until they arrived at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25. Their ranks had grown as they walked until they numbered about 25,000 people.
On the steps of the capitol, speaking under a Confederate flag, Dr. King said: “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man.”
That night, Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old mother of five who had arrived from Michigan to help after Bloody Sunday, was murdered by four Ku Klux Klan members tailing her as she ferried demonstrators out of the city.
On August 6, Dr. King and Mrs. Boynton were guests of honor as President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson recalled “the outrage of Selma” when he said "This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies."
The Voting Rights Act authorized federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented. Johnson promised that the government would strike down “regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote.” He called the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men,” and pledged that “we will not delay, or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same right as all others to share in the process of democracy.”
But less than 50 years later, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby County v. Holder decision opened the door, once again, for voter suppression. Since then, states have made it harder to vote. And now, in the wake of the 2020 election, in which voters handed control of the government to Democrats, legislatures in 43 states are considering sweeping legislation to restrict voting, especially voting by people of color. Among the things Georgia wants to outlaw is giving water to voters as they wait for hours in line to get to the polls.
Today, 56 years after Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an executive order “to promote voting access and allow all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.” He called on Congress to pass the For the People Act, making it easier to vote, and to restore the Voting Rights Act, now named the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act after the man who went on from his days in the Civil Rights Movement to serve 17 terms as a representative from Georgia, bearing the scars of March 7, 1965, until he died on July 17, 2020.
The fact sheet from the White House announcing the executive order explained: “democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend, strengthen, and renew it.” Or, as Representative Lewis put it: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
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March 8, 2021 (Monday)
Lots of stuff simmering, but nothing you can’t miss if you want to take a break from the news today.
There are two stories I’m following.
The first is the fight between former president Trump and the Republican National Committee (RNC). Last Friday, Trump’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee—the three biggest Republican fundraising bodies—demanding they stop using his name and his photo to raise money. The former president is allegedly angry at the Republicans who failed to support him after the January 6 insurrection—especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)-- and would like to cut them out of the money he can raise.
Friday night, Trump released a series of endorsements for candidates he supports in 2022. He has warned the RNC that he will back primary candidates that support him rather than those whom he considers insufficiently loyal.
Today, the RNC rejected Trump’s attempt to protect his brand. A letter from the chief counsel of the RNC said the Republican Party ““has every right to refer to public figures as it engages in core, First Amendment-protected political speech, and it will continue to do so in pursuit of these common goals.”
Also today, the RNC moved part of its spring donor retreat, held in early April, to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, paying the former president for the use of his club and for meals. While most of the event will take place at a different hotel, Trump will address the organization at Mar-a-Lago.
At stake here, of course, is control of the Republican Party. Trump would like to be the party’s kingmaker; many Republicans would like to move him off center stage. But Trump is the party’s biggest fundraiser, so the RNC cannot simply toss him overboard, and he is determined to protect his brand.
How this plays out will say a lot about the future of the party.
The second story I’m following is that of the Senate filibuster.
A filibuster permits a senator to stop popular legislation. Initially, it required a senator to hold the floor by refusing to stop talking, which took many, many hours and was exhausting, so it was a last resort to stop something that otherwise would pass (and was almost always used to stop civil rights legislation). But, rules changes over time changed the filibuster to permit a senator to stop legislation simply by threatening to create such a roadblock.
This has meant that the burden of passing legislation has fallen on the majority, which needs to find 60 votes to stop a filibuster rather than a simple majority of 51 to pass a bill, while the role of the minority has simply been to refuse to entertain action. The Senate has largely ceased to legislate. This development has served the Republicans, who are happy not to pass legislation because they would like to turn the functions of government over to private interests, but frustrates the Democrats, who think that bills that pass the House of Representatives should get a hearing in the Senate and, if they get a yes vote from a majority of senators, should pass.
There has been resistance to ending the filibuster—including resistance from President Joe Biden—but there is increasing talk of returning the filibuster to its original form, requiring those opposed to a popular measure not simply to register their disapproval in order to take it off the calendar, but actually to hold the floor to talk a measure to death. When they give up, the measure can pass by a simple majority vote.
Reinstating the old system, in which a minority eager to stop passage of a bill must hold the floor and continue debate, has begun to win adherents, including Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). “The filibuster should be painful, it really should be painful and we've made it more comfortable over the years,” Manchin said yesterday on the Fox News Channel. “Maybe it has to be more painful.”
At stake in this issue in the immediate future is the passage of H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill passed last week by the House of Representatives. Senate Republicans have vowed to kill the bill. Increasingly unpopular, Republicans are dependent on voter suppression techniques and gerrymandering—both addressed in the bill-- to continue to have a shot at winning elections. In illustration of that need, Republican legislatures across the country are currently trying to pass a slew of voter suppression measures.
For their part, Democrats recognize that if the Republicans’ voter suppression and gerrymandering techniques are allowed to go forward unchallenged, Democrats will be hard pressed ever again to win control of the government. The nation will, in effect, become a one-party state not unlike the one that controlled the American South from the 1870s to the 1960s.
So H.R. 1 spells the future of the American political system: with it, Republicans will have to reform and win elections on a level playing field; without it, Democrats will be unlikely to be able to compete against Republican rigging of the system.
The future of the nation depends on H.R. 1; the future of H.R. 1 depends on the filibuster.
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March 9, 2021 (Tuesday)
The only big thing I see today is that Bob Smietana of the Religion News Service broke the story that evangelical Beth Moore, a hugely popular leader, has left the Southern Baptist Church. A survivor of sexual assault, Moore objected to her denomination’s support for Trump in light of the Access Hollywood tapes in which he boasted of sexual assault. She has increasingly parted ways with church leaders and now has announced that she is leaving the denomination. Her departure could lead a number of women out of that church.
The departure of a leader from the Southern Baptist Church sparked by opposition to Trump and church support for him indicates the growing split in the Republican Party. Trump today continued his attempt to undercut the Republican National Committee by hamstringing its fundraising. He issued a statement saying that while he “fully” supports the Republican Party, “I do not support RINOS [Republicans in Name Only] and fools, and it is not their right to use my likeness or image to raise funds.” He urged people to donate to his own political action committee to help the America First movement. “We will WIN, and we will WIN BIG!” he wrote. “Our Country is being destroyed by the Democrats!”
The party split is intense enough that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is pro-Trump at this point, declined to appear today with Republican conference leader Liz Cheney, who said last week that Trump had no future in the party.
Meanwhile, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, is pushing back against the former president, calling him desperate to remain relevant. Kinzinger says his goal is to rebuild the Republican Party, reclaiming it from Trump and fearmongering and divisiveness to become a conservative party again. "I think part of saving the Republican Party is just being really clear about what the Republican Party has become," Kinzinger told Jeff Zeleny of CNN. "We have such a great history, I think, but now we're off the rails."
Republican lawmakers are planning to get around their unpopularity by suppressing the vote. Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds yesterday signed into law what election lawyer Marc Elias called the “first major suppression law since the 2020 election.” Among other things, it shortens early voting and seriously restricts mail-in voting. Today, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa sued to keep much of the law from being enforced. The lawsuit calls the new measure “a cynical manipulation of the electoral process.”
Elias has been in the courts defending the security of the election since the 2020 election, pushing back against the lawsuit designed to delegitimize President Biden’s election. Now he has turned his efforts to trying to hold at bay the voter suppression laws being pushed by Republican legislatures around the country.
“I am very worried about the future of our Democracy,” he tweeted.
He told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: “I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression that we have not seen before, at least not since Jim Crow. In state after state—it’s not just Iowa; it’s not just Georgia; it’s not just Arizona… It’s also Montana. It’s also Missouri. It’s also Florida. It’s also Texas. The list goes on and on. Donald Trump told a Big Lie that led to an assault on democracy in the Capitol on January 6. The assaults we’re seeing going on now in state capitols with the legislatures may be less deadly, and be less violent, but they are every bit as damaging to our democracy.”
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March 10, 2021 (Wednesday)
Today was a big day for the United States of America.
The House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, accepting the changes to the measure that the Senate had added. This bill marks a sea change in our government. Rather than focusing on dismantling the federal government and turning individuals loose to act as they wish, Congress has returned to the principles of the nation before 1981, using the federal government to support ordinary Americans. With its expansion of the child tax credit, the bill is projected to reach about 27 million children and to cut child poverty in half.
The bill, which President Biden is expected to sign Friday, is a landmark piece of legislation, reversing the trend of American government since Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Rather than funneling money upward in the belief that those at the top will invest in the economy and thus create jobs for poorer Americans, the Democrats are returning to the idea that using the government to put money into the hands of ordinary Americans will rebuild the economy from the bottom up. This was the argument for the very first expansion of the American government—during Abraham Lincoln’s administration—and it was the belief on which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the New Deal.
Unlike the previous implementations of this theory, though, Biden’s version, embodied in the American Rescue Plan, does not privilege white men (who in Lincoln and Roosevelt’s day were presumed to be family breadwinners). It moves money to low-wage earners generally, especially to women and to people of color.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the child tax credit “a new lifeline to the middle class.” “Franklin Roosevelt lifted seniors out of poverty, 90 percent of them with Social Security, and with the stroke of a pen,” she said. “President Biden is going to lift millions and millions of children out of poverty in this country.”
Republican lawmakers all voted against the bill despite the fact that 76% of Americans, including 59% of Republicans, like the measure. Still, the disjunction between the bill’s popularity and their opposition to it put them in a difficult spot. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) tweeted positively about the bill this evening, leaving the impression he had voted for it. Twitter users wanted no part of the deception, immediately calling him out for touting a bill he had opposed (although he had been a Republican co-sponsor of the amendment about which he was boasting).
Wicker’s public embrace of the measure after voting no suggests that Republicans might recognize that, without the power to stop popular legislation as they could previously, they need to consider getting on board with it.
For right now, though, Republicans are continuing to push tax cuts. Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are leading an effort to repeal the estate tax. According to Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, this tax falls on estates over $11.7 million, about a fifth of which are worth $50 million or more. The average estate affected by the tax is worth $30 million, and it affects about 2,500 people a year. It is enacted on capital gains that have not been taxed during the original owner’s lifetime, and usually involves stock. While Crapo calls the tax “the most unfair tax on the books,” Hiltzik calls the attempt to eliminate it “a massive handout to rich families.”
It was not just finance in the news today. This afternoon, the Senate voted 70-30 to confirm Merrick Garland as the attorney general. He will be sworn in tomorrow. Biden chose Garland to rebuild faith in the independence of the Department of Justice, whose credibility was sorely battered over the past four years when it appeared to be operating in the interest of the president rather than the American people. Garland has a reputation as a fair-minded, centrist judge, but Republicans who voted against his confirmation—Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for example—seem already to be trying to undercut Garland’s investigations, suggesting that he will embrace a “radical agenda” as attorney general.
As soon as Garland is sworn in tomorrow, he will be briefed by FBI Director Christopher Wray and others on the Capitol attack.
Garland’s was not the only nomination to go through today. Former representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) is now the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Regan is the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, charged both with addressing environmental racism and with helping the nation fight climate change. With their addition, 6 of 24 Cabinet positions will be held by Black Americans, the most in U.S. history.
Amidst all the excitement about the Biden administration’s achievements today, the former president was also in the news. The Wall Street Journal obtained a recording of a phone call Trump made in December 2020 to Frances Watson, the chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. Watson was in the process of looking for fraud in an audit of mail-in ballots in Cobb County after the election. Trump urged her to look at Fulton County, as well, where he insisted she would “find things that are going to be unbelievable.”
Watson had little to say as Trump went on for about six minutes, and seemed to be trying to put him off. He didn’t seem to notice. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” the former president told her.
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March 12, 2021 (Friday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 13, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson Mar 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 14, 2021 (Sunday)
By the time most of you will read this it will be March 15, which is too important a day to ignore. As the man who taught me to use a chainsaw said, it is immortalized by Shakespeare’s famous warning: “Cedar! Beware the adze of March!”
He put it that way because the importance of March 15 is, of course, that it is the day in 1820 that Maine, the Pine Tree State, joined the Union.
Maine statehood had national repercussions. The inhabitants of this northern part of Massachusetts had asked for statehood in 1819, but their petition was stopped dead by southerners who refused to permit a free state—one that did not permit slavery—to enter the Union without a corresponding “slave state.” The explosive growth of the northern states had already given free states control of the House of Representatives, but the South held its own in the Senate, where each state got two votes. The admission of Maine would give the North the advantage, and southerners insisted that Maine’s admission be balanced with the admission of a southern slave state, lest those opposed to slavery use their power in the federal government to restrict enslavement in the South.
They demanded the admission of Missouri to counteract Maine’s two “free” Senate votes.
But this “Missouri Compromise” infuriated northerners, especially those who lived in Maine. They swamped Congress with petitions against admitting Missouri as a slave state, resenting that slave owners in the Senate could hold the state of Maine hostage until they got their way. Tempers rose high enough that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Massachusetts—and later Maine—Senator John Holmes that he had for a long time been content with the direction of the country, but that the Missouri question “like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”
Congress passed the Missouri Compromise, but Jefferson was right to see it as nothing more than a reprieve.
The petition drive that had begun as an effort to keep the admission of Maine from being tied to the admission of Missouri continued as a movement to get Congress to whittle away at slavery where it could—by, for example, outlawing slave sales in the nation’s capital—and would become a key point of friction between the North and the South.
There was also another powerful way in which the conditions of the state’s entry into the Union would affect American history. Mainers were angry that their statehood had been tied to the demands of far distant slave owners, and that anger worked its way into the state’s popular culture. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 meant that Maine men, who grew up steeped in that anger, could spread west.
And so they did.
In 1837, Elijah P. Lovejoy, who had moved to Alton, Illinois, from Albion, Maine, to begin a newspaper dedicated to the abolition of human enslavement, was murdered by a pro-slavery mob, who threw his printing press into the Mississippi River.
Elijah Lovejoy’s younger brother, Owen, had also moved west from Maine. Owen saw Elijah shot and swore his allegiance to the cause of abolition. "I shall never forsake the cause that has been sprinkled with my brother's blood," he declared. He turned to politics, and in 1854, he was elected to the Illinois state legislature. His increasing prominence brought him political friends, including an up-and-coming lawyer who had arrived in Illinois from Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln.
Lovejoy and Lincoln were also friends with another Maine man gone to Illinois. Elihu Washburne had been born in Livermore, Maine, in 1816, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. He was one of seven brothers, and one by one, his brothers had all left home, most of them to move west. Israel Washburn, Jr., the oldest, stayed in Maine, but Cadwallader moved to Wisconsin, and William Drew would follow, going to Minnesota. (Elihu was the only brother who spelled his last name with an e).
Israel and Elihu were both serving in Congress in 1854 when Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act overturning the Missouri Compromise and permitting the spread of slavery to the West. Furious, Israel called a meeting of 30 congressmen in May to figure out how they could come together to stand against the Slave Power that had commandeered the government to spread the South’s system of human enslavement. They met in the rooms of Representative Edward Dickinson, of Massachusetts-- whose talented daughter Emily was already writing poems-- and while they came to the meeting from all different political parties, they left with one sole principle: to stop the Slave Power that was turning the government into an oligarchy.
The men scattered for the summer back to their homes across the North, sharing their conviction that a new party must rise to stand against the Slave Power. In the fall, those calling themselves “anti-Nebraska” candidates were sweeping into office—Cadwallader Washburn would be elected from Wisconsin in 1854 and Owen Lovejoy from Illinois in 1856—and they would, indeed, create a new political party: the Republicans. The new party took deep root in Maine, flipping the state from Democratic to Republican in 1856, the first time it fielded a presidential candidate.
In 1859, Abraham Lincoln would articulate an ideology for the party, defining it as the party of ordinary Americans standing together against the oligarchs of slavery, and when he ran for president in 1860, he knew it was imperative that he get the momentum of Maine men on his side. In those days Maine voted for state and local offices in September, rather than November, so a party’s win in Maine could start a wave. “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” the saying went.
So Lincoln turned to Hannibal Hamlin, who represented Maine in the Senate (and whose father had built the house in which the Washburns grew up). Lincoln won 62% of the vote in Maine in 1860, taking all 8 of the state’s electoral votes, and went on to win the election. When he arrived in Washington quietly in late February to take office the following March, Elihu Washburne was at the railroad station to greet him.
I was not a great student in college. I liked learning, but not on someone else’s timetable. It was this story that woke me up and made me a scholar. I found it fascinating that a group of ordinary people from country towns who shared a fear that they were losing their democracy could figure out how to work together to reclaim it.
Happy Birthday, Maine.
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March 15, 2021 (Monday)
Tonight, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior Department. An impressive woman in her own right, Haaland embodies the determination of the new administration to use the government for the good of all Americans, rather than for special interests. This makes her a threat to business-as-usual on issues of both race and the economy. Her confirmation vote was 50-41; only four Republicans voted in favor of her appointment.
Haaland is the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in our history, heading the department that, in the nineteenth century, abandoned Indigenous peoples for political leverage. She is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, whose people have lived in the land that is now New Mexico for 35 generations. The daughter of two military veterans, Haaland is a single mother who earned a law degree with a young child in tow. She was a tribal leader focused on environmentally responsible economic development for the Lagunas before she became a Democratic leader.
Haaland brings to the position her opposition to further explorations for oil and gas on public lands, as well as an opposition to fracking, the process of extracting natural gas through fracturing rock with hydraulic pressure. Republicans have called her “radical” and say her opposition to the expansion of fossil fuels disqualifies her from overseeing an agency that, as Washington Post columnist Darryl Fears puts it, “traditionally promoted those values.”
Congress established the Department of the Interior in 1849 to pull together federal offices that dealt with matters significant to the domestic policy of the United States and were, at the time, scattered in a number of different departments. Among other things, the Interior Department took control of Indian affairs and public lands.
Reformers hoped that moving Indian Affairs from the War Department to the Interior Department, where civilians rather than army officers would control Indigenous relations, would lead to fewer wars. Instead, the move swept Indigenous people into a political system over which they had no control.
As settlers pushed into Indigenous territory, the government took control of the land through treaties that promised the tribes food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and usually the tools and seeds to become farmers. As well, tribal members usually received a yearly payment of cash. These distributions of goods and money were not payment for the land. They replaced the livelihood the tribes lost when they gave up their lands.
Either willingly or by force, tribes moved onto reservations, large tracts overseen by an agent who, once Indian Affairs was in the Department of the Interior, was a political appointee chosen by the U.S. senators of the state in which the reservation was located. While some of the agents actually tried to do their job, most were put into office to advance the interests of the political party in power. So, they took the money Congress appropriated for the tribe they oversaw, then gave the contracts for the beef, flour, clothing, blankets, and so on, to cronies, who would fulfill the contracts with moldy food and rags, if they bothered to fulfill them at all. The agents would pocket the rest of the money, using it to help keep their political party in power and themselves in office.
When tribal leaders complained, lawmakers pointed out—usually quite correctly—that they had appropriated the money required under the treaties. But the system had essentially become a slush fund, and the tribes had no recourse against the corrupt agents except, when they were starving, to go to war. Then the agents called in the troops. Democrat Grover Cleveland tried to clean up the system in 1885-1889, but as soon as Republican Benjamin Harrison took the White House back, he jump-started the old system again.
The corruption was so bad by then that military leaders tried to take the management of Indian Affairs away from the Interior Department, furious that politicians caused trouble with the tribes and then soldiers and unoffending Indians died. It looked briefly as if they might win until the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 ended any illusions that military management would be a better deal for Native Americans than political management.
By the twentieth century, much of the Interior Department’s work turned to managing mineral and grazing rights, not only on Indigenous land, but also on land owned by the federal government. Until 1920, federal law permitted companies to claim the minerals under land they staked out. The discovery of oil in the West sparked a rush, though, and in 1909, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey warned Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger that prospectors were taking up all the land. Ballinger in turn warned President William Howard Taft, who used an executive order to protect more than 3 million acres of public lands in California and Wyoming, reserving the oil under them for use by the U.S. Navy.
In 1920, Congress passed the Mineral Leasing Act, which put the Interior Department in charge of overseeing leases to explore for oil and minerals, permitting drilling and mining, and receiving payments of a percentage of the value of anything extracted.
Soon after President Warren G. Harding took office in 1921, his Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, began to accept huge bribes from oil tycoon Edward Doheny. In 1922, Fall persuaded the Secretary of the Navy to transfer control of the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, along with two other oil fields in California, to him. Harding signed off on the deal, and Fall promptly gave Doheny secret, no-bid leases for the fields.
The Teapot Dome scandal sent Fall to prison for a year, making him the first former cabinet official to serve time.
Although Doheny was convinced that socialism was destroying America, Teapot Dome marked the beginning of the power of the oil industry in the American government, power ultimately personified when Trump appointed a lawyer and lobbyist for the energy and oil industry, David Bernhardt, to head the department. Bernhardt—who was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 41—rolled back environmental regulations and opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.
The Biden administration seems eager to break the hold of the energy industry on the Interior Department. As soon as he took office, Biden appointed almost 50 top officials, and froze the new drilling permits issued by the Trump administration for review.
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Haaland that his state collects more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands in the state, and warned that the Biden administration is “taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.”
Haaland reassured him that having “lived most of my adult life paycheck to paycheck,” she understands the economic struggles of ordinary Americans and is fully on board with the administration’s plan to build back better, “to responsibly manage our natural resources to protect them for future generations—so that we can continue to work, live, hunt, fish, and pray among them.”
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted when Biden announced her nomination. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”
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An anti-business Native American woman managed to collect 4 Republican votes! That's actually double-historic.

Not sure but I'm pretty sure we've had Indigenous people in the Cabinet before, though. Probably not somebody that stepped from tribal leadership into US national politics though


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March 16, 2021 (Tuesday)
Today, I’m watching some stories that have immediate significance, but also indicate larger trends.
First, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has asked the Justice Department, now overseen by Attorney General Merrick Garland, to look into the unusual circumstances through which Brett Kavanaugh’s large debts disappeared before his nomination to the Supreme Court. While this question is important to understanding Kavanaugh’s position on our Supreme Court, it is more than that: it is part of a larger investigation into the role of big money in our justice system.
Last May, Whitehouse, along with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), released a report titled “Captured Courts: The GOP’s Big Money Assault On The Constitution, Our Independent Judiciary, And The Rule of Law.” It outlined how the “Conservative Legal Movement has rewritten federal law to favor the rich and powerful,” how the Federalist Society and special-interest money control our courts, and how the system benefits the big-money donors behind the Republicans.
On March 10, Whitehouse began hearings to investigate the role of big money in Supreme Court nominations and decisions. Aside from Chief Justice John Roberts, every Supreme Court justice named by a Republican president has ties to the Federalist Society, a group that advocates an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, which prohibits the use of the courts to regulate business or to defend civil rights.
So while it is the Kavanaugh story that is getting media attention, the longer story is about whether our courts have been bought.
Another story on my list is that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today warned Democrats in the Senate not to get rid of the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. “Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” he said. But, in fact, they can, because it was McConnell himself who got rid of the filibuster to hammer through Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, and who pushed through Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which benefited only the very wealthy, by using a technique that avoided the filibuster.
McConnell warned that, without the filibuster, he would defund Planned Parenthood, pass anti-abortion legislation, and create national concealed-carry gun laws. But all of these measures are quite unpopular in the nation, so it’s not clear that these are threats the Democrats want to avoid. It’s entirely possible that permitting the Republicans to push through those measures would hurt the Republicans, rather than the Democrats.
Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster because they are keen on passing H.R. 1, the voting rights act that would defang the voter suppression measures Republicans are pushing in 43 states. If those measures become law, it will be hard for the Democrats ever again to win control of the government, no matter how popular they are. H.R. 1 will level the democratic playing field, so both parties compete fairly. But fair elections will disadvantage Republicans, who have come to rely on voter suppression to win.
Hence McConnell’s threats.
For his part—in a third story I’m watching-- Biden is reaching out to Republicans with an infrastructure package. Republicans were caught wrongfooted when they all voted against the enormously popular American Rescue Plan, and he is offering them an infrastructure bill at the same time Democrats have gotten rid of a ban on so-called “earmarks,” local spending funded in a federal package. Earmarks tend to increase bipartisanship by enabling lawmakers to go home to their constituents with something tangible in hand in exchange for their vote on a bill. Infrastructure spending is popular among voters in both parties, so this approach might break the united front of Republican lawmakers to oppose all Democratic policies.
Finally, I am fascinated by the Democratic-led, bipartisan move among congressional leaders to repeal the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War. President Biden has called for a “more narrow and specific” authorization of military force (AUMF), and 83 Democratic lawmakers and 7 Republicans agree. Their dislike of the AUMF comes from its expansion under former president Trump, who used it to justify the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani—an official from a country with which we are not at war—saying that Soleimani was undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq’s government. This was an expansion of military action that legal analysts think might well have been illegal.
In the past, Congress had justified AUMFs with the idea that they could control the president by controlling the money behind military actions, but Trump commandeered money to build his wall by declaring a national security emergency, buying time to do what he wished by forcing Democrats to take him to court to stop him. This opened up concerns that the power of the purse was really no power at all if a president chose to undermine it.
The willingness to hand to the president the power to engage us in military action illustrates the dangerous growth of power in the executive branch. I will follow with interest whether Biden’s interest in returning us to the traditional forms of the Constitution extends to reducing the power of the president to assume Congress's role in taking us into war.
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March 17, 2021 (Wednesday)
Today the House of Representatives approved awarding Congressional Gold Medals to members of the Capitol Police for their defense of the Capitol on January 6. Four hundred and thirteen members voted in favor, and 12 Republicans opposed the measure. A number of party members took offense at the language in the bill, which referred to the Capitol as “the temple of our American Democracy” and called the rioters “a mob of insurrectionists.”
Part of their objection comes from their eagerness to downplay what happened on January 6 and to redefine it as a much less important event than it was.
Last week, six top Republican senators expressed dismay to the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, over the continued presence of nearly 2300 National Guardsmen and a fence topped with razor wire around the Capitol. While security experts are concerned about ongoing threats, especially around the time of Biden’s expected address to a joint session of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the security is “overdone.” In a letter to Pittman, the five say it is “entirely unclear” why the fencing remains. They say it “sends a terrible message to American citizens, as well as to our allies and adversaries.”
The fencing reminds Americans of what happened on January 6 and the Republicans’ complicity in that attack, refusing, as they did, to hold Trump accountable for inciting the insurrection. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) did not sign the letter to Pittman, but he told a right-wing talk radio host that he was not frightened by the rioters on January 6 because they were “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” In contrast, though, he said he would have been worried if the rioters were “Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters.”
The events of January 6 left several people, including three police officers, dead, and more than 100 law enforcement officers wounded. Hundreds of people have been charged with crimes.
Johnson’s version of the insurrection was pretty transparently an attempt to rewrite the history of January 6 to whitewash the role of Trump supporters and instead blame those opposed to Trump. His version of the events of the day is false. The insurrection was the logical result of months of lies from Republican lawmakers and media figures insisting that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election and that it was imperative for Trump’s supporters to stop the count of the electoral votes to—somehow—give Trump a second term. (That part of the plan has always seemed fuzzy to me, and yet the fact that the three people in line for the presidency after Trump were all in danger on January 6 seems to me an odd coincidence.)
Yesterday, we learned that much of what Republican politicians and pundits were saying in the months leading up to the election echoed the efforts of Russian intelligence agents to influence the 2020 election. Russia is eager to weaken the U.S. in order to force us to bargain as it seeks to expand its influence in the world.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines declassified the assessment of the intelligence community of foreign threats to the 2020 U.S. federal elections that had been provided to the previous administration and congressional leadership on January 7. The community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations, which “a range of Russian government organizations conducted,” “aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.”
Russia did not meddle in election infrastructure, the report said, but instead focused on pushing narratives-- including lies about Biden and his son, Hunter, suggesting they had engaged in corrupt behavior in Ukraine-- “to US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.”
The intelligence report assesses that, throughout the election season, Russia’s online trolls “sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in ballots, highlighting alleged irregularies, and accusing the Democratic Party of voter fraud.” They also “promoted conspiratorial narratives about the COVID-19 pandemic, made allegations of social media censorship, and highlighted US divisions surrounding protests about racial justice.”
“Even after the election,” the report says, “Russian online influence actors continued to promote narratives questioning the election results and disparaging President Biden and the Democratic Party. These efforts parallel plans Moscow had in place in 2016 to discredit a potential incoming Clinton administration, but which it scrapped after former President Trump’s victory.” (Remember that Trump associate Roger Stone insisted that Trump was being cheated way back in the 2016 primaries, and then launched a “Stop the Steal” website before the 2016 general election, calling for donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”)
No one, though, accessed election infrastructure… just as Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security, said (and got fired for saying it, by Trump, over Twitter).
This report was released to the former administration and leading members of Congress on January 7, the day after the Capitol riot.
And yet, many of them have yet to agree that the election was legitimate and that President Biden won it. Instead, they are suggesting that the insurrection that this rhetoric produced was not really a profound attack on our democracy.
It was.
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March 18, 2021 (Thursday)
On Tuesday, in Georgia, a gunman murdered 1 man and 7 women, at three spas, and wounded another man. All three of the businesses were operating legally, according to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and had not previously come to the attention of the Atlanta Police Department, although all three had been reviewed by an erotic review site. The man apprehended for the murders was 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is described as deeply religious. Six of the women killed were of Asian descent.
Yesterday, at the news conference about the killings, the sheriff’s captain who was acting as a spokesman about the case, Jay Baker, told reporters that Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” The spokesman went on to say that the suspect “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” that had spurred him to murder, and that it was too early to tell if the incident was a “hate crime.” Long told law enforcement officers that the murders were “not racially motivated.” He was, he said, trying to “help” other people with sex addictions.
Journalists quickly discovered that Baker had posted on Facebook a picture of a shirt calling COVID-19 an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”
As Baker’s Facebook post indicated, the short-term history behind the shooting is the former president’s attacks on China, in which he drew out the pronunciation of the name to make it sound like a schoolyard insult.
The story behind Trump’s attacks on China was his desperate determination to be reelected in 2020. In 2018, the former president placed tariffs on Chinese goods to illustrate his commitment to make the U.S. “a much stronger, much richer nation.” The tariffs led to a trade war with China and, rather than building a much stronger nation, resulted in a dramatic fall in agricultural exports. Agricultural exports to China fell from $15.8 billion in 2017 to $5.9 billion in 2018.
To combat the growing unrest in the agricultural regions of the country, where farm bankruptcies grew by nearly 20% in 2019, Trump paid off farmers hurt by the tariff with subsidies, which made up more than one third of U.S. farm income in 2020. In June 2019, he also begged Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election. He told him that farmers were important to his election prospects, and begged Xi to buy more soybeans and wheat from U.S. farmers.
In January 2020, Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a deal that cut some U.S. tariffs in exchange for Chinese promises to buy more agricultural products, as well as some other adjustments between the two countries. On January 22, Trump tweeted: ““One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country. Much more to come!”
But, of course, the novel coronavirus was beginning to ravage the world.
On January 24, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Five days later, at a signing ceremony, he said: “I think our relationship with China now might be the best it's been in a long, long time.”
On February 7, Trump called journalist Bob Woodward and said of the coronavirus, “This is deadly stuff. You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed…. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” Still, on February 10, he told supporters in New Hampshire that the coronavirus would “miraculously” go away when the weather got warmer, and in mid-February, he defended Xi’s handling of the epidemic, saying China was working hard and “doing a very good job” and that they “have everything under control.”
Shortly after the U.S. shut down to combat the pandemic in mid-March, Trump began to turn on China. On March 22, after 33,000 Americans had tested positive for the virus and 421 had died of it, Trump seemed to think better of his praise for Xi. He insisted that China had not told him about the deadly nature of the virus, and began to call it the “Chinese virus,” or the “Chy-na virus.”
By April 17, a Republican strategy document urged candidates to deflect attention from the nation’s disastrous coronavirus news by attacking China, which “caused this pandemic by covering it up, lying, and hoarding the world’s supply of medical equipment…. China… has stolen millions of American jobs, [and] sent fentanyl to the United States.” Democrats would not stand up to China, the document told Republican candidates to say, but “I will stand up to China, bring our manufacturing jobs back home, and push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.”
In May, Trump announced the U.S. would leave the World Health Organization because it had been too easy on China in the early days of the pandemic.
To undercut his own association with China, Trump somewhat nonsensically tried to link his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, to China. He claimed—falsely—that China had paid Biden’s son, Hunter, $1.5 billion. He and his appointees Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Attorney General William Barr, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, all claimed—again falsely-- that China was interfering in the election to help Biden.
This week, the intelligence community reported that, in fact, China did not try to influence the election because it did not “view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling.”
As Trump politicized the pandemic and attacked China, hate crimes against Asian-Americans began to rise; there were about 3800 of them between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. In cities, hate incidents increased by 150%.
In this context, the suggestion of a police spokesman who had posted pictures celebrating a shirt that called Covid-19 the “VIRUS IMPORTED FROM CHY-NA” that a gunman had killed six women of Asian descent because he had had “a really bad day,” along with the officer’s apparent acceptance of Long’s statement that the killings were not racially motivated, outraged observers.
That seemingly cavalier dismissal of the dead while accepting the words of the white murderer seemed to personify an American history that has discriminated against Asians since the California legislature slapped a Foreign Miners’ Tax on Chinese miners in 1850, just a year after they began to arrive in California. Discriminatory laws and violence from their white neighbors plagued Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Koreans, Vietnamese, and all Asian immigrants as they moved to the U.S.
Discrimination and hatred have continued to plague their descendants.
The rise in anti-Asian violence has been so bad this year that a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee had planned a hearing today on hate crimes against Asian Americans even before the murders. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) today condemned the recent uptick in violence, but pointed out that discrimination is hardly new. “There is a systemic problem here,” she said. Of Japanese descent, she noted that she was born during WWII in an internment camp in Arizona.
Asian American women have borne a dual burden of both racism and sexism, as certain men fetishize Asian and Asian American women, seeing them as submissive, exotic, and sexually available. Attackers aimed nearly 70% of the reported 3,800 hate incidents reported last year at women.
That Long blamed Asian or Asian American women for his own sexual impulses ties into a long history that links racism to sexism—and to violence— in a peculiarly American fashion.
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March 19, 2021 (Friday)
When I see Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and other voices from our right wing, siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin in his demand that President Joe Biden debate him or pretending that the January 6 attack on the Capitol wasn’t a big deal, or Republicans voting to overturn a legitimate election or trying to keep Americans from voting, sometimes I despair of our democracy.
But a poll released by the Pew Research Center yesterday shows that these Republicans are out of step with the country. It reveals that the vast majority of Americans cares deeply about the preservation of our government. Asked about what happened at the Capitol on January 6, 87% percent of Americans say it is either “very important” (69%) or “somewhat important” (18%) for law enforcement officials to find and prosecute the insurrectionists.
Where those numbers fall apart is among Republicans who believe that former president Trump won the 2020 election. While 87% of Democrats think what Trump did was wrong and that he should have been convicted of inciting the insurrection, 66% of people who believe that Trump won the election say that the riot at the Capitol is getting too much attention. Eighty-two percent of them said Trump’s conduct leading up to the insurrection was not wrong and that the House should not have voted to impeach him.
The danger of the Big Lie—the false idea that Trump actually won the 2020 election-- was always that it would convince Trump supporters to fight for him not because they thought they would be fighting to overturn the U.S. government, but because they thought they would be defending it. If, indeed, the election were stolen from the former president by the radical socialists of whom he warned, it would be the part of heroism to rally to protect our system.
That is, apparently, what at least some of the insurrectionists believed they were doing. Today, a federal judge ruled that Jon Schaffer, an Indiana man arrested for his participation in the insurrection, must remain in jail because he poses a risk to the community. Schaffer had clearly embraced the Big Lie, telling journalists: “We’re not going to merge into some globalist, communist system, it will not happen. There will be a lot of bloodshed if it comes down to that, trust me…. Nobody wants this, but they’re pushing us to a point where we have no choice.”
Also today, court papers revealed that a federal grand jury has charged four leaders from the far-right gang the Proud Boys with conspiring to “commit offenses against the United States, namely… to corruptly obstruct… an official proceeding”—that is, the counting of the electoral votes—and to obstruct law enforcement officers engaged in putting down civil disorder. The four named are Ethan Nordean (AKA “Rufio Panman”), 30, of Auburn, Washington; Joseph Biggs (AKA “Sergeant Biggs”), 37, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl, 35, of Philadephia, Pennsylvania; and Charles Donohoe, 33, of Kernersville, North Carolina.
At least three of the four were spurred to action by the Big Lie.
On November 5, 2020, Biggs posted on social media: “It’s time for f**king War if they steal this sh*t.”
On November 16, 2020, Nordean posted: “What’s more disturbing to me than the Dems trying to steal this election, is how many people… just accepted Biden won, despite the obvious corruption… Luke warm Patriots are dangerous.”
On November 27, 2020, Nordean posted: “We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like the love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.”
On the same day, as news broke that the Trump administration was hoping to bring back firing squads, Rehl posted: “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”
After the attack, during which, according to the charging document, “approximately 81 members of the Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted,” Nordean posted a message on social media saying: “[I]f you feel bad for the police, you are part of the problem. They care more about federal property (our property) than protecting and serving the people.” Rehl posted, “I’m proud as f**k what we accomplished yesterday, but we need to start planning and we are starting planning, for a Biden presidency.”
Meanwhile, the lawyer for Schaffer, the Indiana man, is trying to get leniency for his client by arguing that the man was encouraged by Trump. “People have the right to believe the highest elected official…. My client is not responsible for what happened on January 6.”
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March 21, 2021 (Sunday)
As the Biden administration sets out to restore a government that can regulate business to level the playing field in the United States between workers and employers, address inequality, and combat climate change, Republicans are turning to the courts to stop him.
Republican attorneys general have already launched a number of lawsuits challenging various of the new administration’s policies. Twenty-one states are suing Biden for revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada. They claim such authority belongs to Congress because it has the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Biden cancelled the permit because he said it was not in the national interest, and legal experts say he is on solid ground.
Twelve states are suing the president over his executive order to address climate change because they say that Biden has no authority to regulate “’social costs’ of greenhouse gases.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is considering running for the Senate and who is leading the lawsuits, says such regulations will be expensive and ordinary Americans will bear the higher costs on everyday products. Missouri legislators are talking about blocking any of Biden’s executive orders with which they disagree.
Eleven states are challenging Biden’s immigration policy: they want to reinstate the rule that requires applicants for citizenship to prove they are financially secure before they are allowed to become citizens.
And twenty-two Republican states are suing to challenge the provision of the American Rescue Plan that says states cannot use the federal money, which is intended to stimulate the economy, to cut taxes. Democrats added this provision deliberately to prevent Republican legislatures from using the money to cut taxes rather than as it was intended. States have the option to turn down the funds, but if they take the money, they must use it as Congress intended: to fund public programs.
Former President Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—who was known for saying “Leave no vacancy behind”-- made it their top priority to reshape the federal judiciary. McConnell stalled confirmations for Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, leaving a number of vacancies for Trump to fill. McConnell approved the new judges with vigor, keeping the Senate confirming them during the pandemic, for example, even when all other business stopped.
Most notably, of course, Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. McConnell refused to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, now Biden’s attorney general, saying that his nomination in March 2016 was too close to the November presidential election to permit an appointment. This obstruction created an opening for Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. When Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump replaced him with Brett Kavanaugh. Then, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett less than two weeks before the November 2020 election.
The importance of those appointments is about to start playing out.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a somewhat confusing case about the rights of workers. The case is about whether union organizers can talk to farm workers in their workplaces (when they are not working). The 1975 law that permits such conversations has enabled agricultural workers, who are mostly people of color and immigrants, to bargain for better conditions. But in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, companies argue that the regulation permitting organizers into work spaces deprives the property owner of economic benefit and thus is unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court agrees, the precedent will go a long way toward striking down regulations that involve intruding on private property—like workplace safety inspections—and which are currently allowed. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case suggests it is open to the argument.
For years now, the court has hemmed in Congress’s ability to use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate different aspects of American life. Since the 1930s, Congress has expanded the use of that clause to regulate anything that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Recently, the Supreme Court has challenged that sweeping argument, saying it cannot be used to regulate guns in schools, for example, or require individuals to buy health insurance.
Most dramatic, though, is the court’s apparent willingness to revisit something called the “nondelegation doctrine.” According to Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, authors of a new piece in the Columbia Law Review, nondelegation was invented in 1935 to undercut the business regulation of the New Deal. In the first 100 days of his term, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to regulate the economy to combat the Great Depression. Under his leadership, Congress established a number of new agencies to regulate everything from banking to agricultural production.
While the new rules were hugely popular among ordinary Americans, they infuriated business leaders. The Supreme Court stepped in and, in two decisions, said that that Congress could not delegate its authority to administrative agencies. But FDR’s threat of increasing the size of the court and the justices’ recognition that they were on the wrong side of public opinion undercut their opposition to the New Deal. The nondelegation theory was ignored until the 1980s, when conservative lawyers began to look for ways to rein in the federal government.
In 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument in a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the court must trust Congress to take care of its own power. But after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that he might be open to the argument, conservative scholars began to say that the framers of the Constitution did not want Congress to delegate authority. Mortenson and Bagley say that argument “can’t stand…. It’s just making stuff up and calling it constitutional law.” Nonetheless, Republican appointees on the court have come to embrace the doctrine.
In November 2019, the same day that then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell boasted on Twitter that the Senate had confirmed more than 160 new federal judges since Trump took office (one out of every four) and would continue to confirm them as fast as possible, Justice Kavanaugh sided with Justice Gorsuch-- Trump appointees both-- to say the Court should reexamine whether or not Congress can delegate authority to administrative agencies. Along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas, they believe that the Constitution forbids such delegation. If Justice Barrett sides with them, the resurrection of that doctrine will curtail the modern administrative state that since the 1930s has regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.
As Justice Elena Kagan points out, the nondelegation doctrine would mean that “most of Government is unconstitutional.”
But that, of course, is the point. We are caught up in a struggle between two ideologies: one saying that the government has a significant role to play in keeping the playing field level in the American economy and society, and the other saying it does not.
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4 minutes ago, Bus Driver said:

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


1995 is really not all that recent, nor was Congress all that "hemmed in" by the Lopez decision referenced. They simply passed a new law (while the case was ongoing) explicitly saying that they were regulating interstate commerce. Still on the books, unchallenged. Not hemmed in at all, in other words.

More recently, in 2005, SCOTUS confirmed that sweeping argument in Gonzalez v Raich, ruling that a homegrown cannabis plant for personal medical use, legal under state law, is subject to commerce power regulation. Not hemmed in at all again.

And in the Obamacare case, Roberts' majority opinion simply found a different rationale to uphold the law. Not hemmed in at all again.

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3 hours ago, Bus Driver said:
March 21, 2021 (Sunday)
As the Biden administration sets out to restore a government that can regulate business to level the playing field in the United States between workers and employers, address inequality, and combat climate change, Republicans are turning to the courts to stop him.
Republican attorneys general have already launched a number of lawsuits challenging various of the new administration’s policies. Twenty-one states are suing Biden for revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada. They claim such authority belongs to Congress because it has the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Biden cancelled the permit because he said it was not in the national interest, and legal experts say he is on solid ground.
Twelve states are suing the president over his executive order to address climate change because they say that Biden has no authority to regulate “’social costs’ of greenhouse gases.” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is considering running for the Senate and who is leading the lawsuits, says such regulations will be expensive and ordinary Americans will bear the higher costs on everyday products. Missouri legislators are talking about blocking any of Biden’s executive orders with which they disagree.
Eleven states are challenging Biden’s immigration policy: they want to reinstate the rule that requires applicants for citizenship to prove they are financially secure before they are allowed to become citizens.
And twenty-two Republican states are suing to challenge the provision of the American Rescue Plan that says states cannot use the federal money, which is intended to stimulate the economy, to cut taxes. Democrats added this provision deliberately to prevent Republican legislatures from using the money to cut taxes rather than as it was intended. States have the option to turn down the funds, but if they take the money, they must use it as Congress intended: to fund public programs.
Former President Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—who was known for saying “Leave no vacancy behind”-- made it their top priority to reshape the federal judiciary. McConnell stalled confirmations for Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, leaving a number of vacancies for Trump to fill. McConnell approved the new judges with vigor, keeping the Senate confirming them during the pandemic, for example, even when all other business stopped.
Most notably, of course, Trump appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. McConnell refused to hold hearings for Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, now Biden’s attorney general, saying that his nomination in March 2016 was too close to the November presidential election to permit an appointment. This obstruction created an opening for Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. When Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump replaced him with Brett Kavanaugh. Then, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed, Trump replaced her with Amy Coney Barrett less than two weeks before the November 2020 election.
The importance of those appointments is about to start playing out.
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, a somewhat confusing case about the rights of workers. The case is about whether union organizers can talk to farm workers in their workplaces (when they are not working). The 1975 law that permits such conversations has enabled agricultural workers, who are mostly people of color and immigrants, to bargain for better conditions. But in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, companies argue that the regulation permitting organizers into work spaces deprives the property owner of economic benefit and thus is unconstitutional.
If the Supreme Court agrees, the precedent will go a long way toward striking down regulations that involve intruding on private property—like workplace safety inspections—and which are currently allowed. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case suggests it is open to the argument.
For years now, the court has hemmed in Congress’s ability to use the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to regulate different aspects of American life. Since the 1930s, Congress has expanded the use of that clause to regulate anything that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Recently, the Supreme Court has challenged that sweeping argument, saying it cannot be used to regulate guns in schools, for example, or require individuals to buy health insurance.
Most dramatic, though, is the court’s apparent willingness to revisit something called the “nondelegation doctrine.” According to Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, authors of a new piece in the Columbia Law Review, nondelegation was invented in 1935 to undercut the business regulation of the New Deal. In the first 100 days of his term, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt set out to regulate the economy to combat the Great Depression. Under his leadership, Congress established a number of new agencies to regulate everything from banking to agricultural production.
While the new rules were hugely popular among ordinary Americans, they infuriated business leaders. The Supreme Court stepped in and, in two decisions, said that that Congress could not delegate its authority to administrative agencies. But FDR’s threat of increasing the size of the court and the justices’ recognition that they were on the wrong side of public opinion undercut their opposition to the New Deal. The nondelegation theory was ignored until the 1980s, when conservative lawyers began to look for ways to rein in the federal government.
In 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument in a decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the court must trust Congress to take care of its own power. But after Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that he might be open to the argument, conservative scholars began to say that the framers of the Constitution did not want Congress to delegate authority. Mortenson and Bagley say that argument “can’t stand…. It’s just making stuff up and calling it constitutional law.” Nonetheless, Republican appointees on the court have come to embrace the doctrine.
In November 2019, the same day that then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell boasted on Twitter that the Senate had confirmed more than 160 new federal judges since Trump took office (one out of every four) and would continue to confirm them as fast as possible, Justice Kavanaugh sided with Justice Gorsuch-- Trump appointees both-- to say the Court should reexamine whether or not Congress can delegate authority to administrative agencies. Along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas, they believe that the Constitution forbids such delegation. If Justice Barrett sides with them, the resurrection of that doctrine will curtail the modern administrative state that since the 1930s has regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.
As Justice Elena Kagan points out, the nondelegation doctrine would mean that “most of Government is unconstitutional.”
But that, of course, is the point. We are caught up in a struggle between two ideologies: one saying that the government has a significant role to play in keeping the playing field level in the American economy and society, and the other saying it does not.

There's a lot of really troubling content in this post, and I suspect for most people it is going to fly under the radar.  But the stacking of the country's Judiciary is probably Mcconnel's biggest success, and the resultant change in labor laws is likely to be catastrophic for the remaining lower middle / lower class.


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27 minutes ago, Grrr... said:

There's a lot of really troubling content in this post, and I suspect for most people it is going to fly under the radar.  But the stacking of the country's Judiciary is probably Mcconnel's biggest success, and the resultant change in labor laws is likely to be catastrophic for the remaining lower middle / lower class.


For me, that's just one more thing arguing in favor of nixing the filibuster. The Pride of NY's impact will be fleeting, compared to Sen. McConnell's. He has rigged the game for the Best Americans for generations. It will take some concerted effort to undo the damage. 

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34 minutes ago, Sol Rosenberg said:

For me, that's just one more thing arguing in favor of nixing the filibuster. The Pride of NY's impact will be fleeting, compared to Sen. McConnell's. He has rigged the game for the Best Americans for generations. It will take some concerted effort to undo the damage. 

I guess I don't understand.  Isn't the filibuster a tool that can be used to prevent him from doing what he wants?

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8 minutes ago, Grrr... said:

I guess I don't understand.  Isn't the filibuster a tool that can be used to prevent him from doing what he wants?

Anything anyone tries to do to fix this stuff over the next two years will be shut down by Sen. McConnell, swinging the filibuster at everything that moves. That path for fixing it hits the road block in the Senate. I say give the ultimatum that either HR1 gets a floor vote on the merits or they go after the filibuster. Passing HR1 allows us to proceed through the electoral process and let the parties duke it out at the ballot box in the future. Otherwise, they duke it out right now over the filibuster and if successful, add DC and PR as states, reform the Judiciary, and a whole bunch of other stuff that will make heads explode.  By comparison, letting black folks have the right to vote should seem less revolutionary. 

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March 22, 2021 (Monday)
The Biden administration has been quite open about its belief that we are in a global war to reestablish the security of democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. On February 4, President Biden said in a speech at the State Department that American diplomacy must be “rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed up a month later by emphasizing that America would rebuild alliances to “renew democracy, because it’s under threat.” Blinken noted that authoritarianism and nationalism are rising around the world, including in the United States, and that the U.S. would work with allies to counter it. “We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law,” he said.
To that end, the Biden administration has joined our partners to take a strong stand for human rights and democracy.
In his confirmation hearings, Blinken promised to repudiate the previous administration’s attack on LGBTQ individuals and to champion LBGTQ rights around the world.
On March 8, Blinken and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden hosted the 15th annual International Women of Courage Awards in a virtual ceremony honoring women nominated by U.S. embassies around the world for making a difference in their communities, their countries, or the world. They emphasized that the U.S. will stand with women and girls everywhere.
Today, the Treasury Department joined the European Union, Canada, and Britain in announcing sanctions against six Chinese officials because of the continuing human rights abuses against the minority Uyghur population of that country. The administration has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the 12 million Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, who are mostly Muslim and who have been herded into “re-education camps,” used as forced labor, and forcibly sterilized.
These sanctions come after last week’s sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials because of their suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong. Just days after administration officials imposed those sanctions, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan began a discussion with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, by taking a provocative stand and insisting that Beijing needs to return to the rules-based system that democratic allies built after World War II. Sullivan said: ”We do not seek conflict but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for principles, for our people, and for our friends.”
China responded by suggesting that it considers the U.S. a waning power that it no longer has to appease with gestures toward human rights. In a 16-minute lecture, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, accused Blinken and Sullivan of hypocrisy and arrogance, calling attention to police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and America’s own human rights challenges. He later suggested that the U.S. no longer can claim to represent the views of the world, and said that “China’s development and growing strength are unstoppable.”
The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two members of the Myanmar military, which staged a coup against that country’s civilian government, a coup that is still roiling the nation. In those sanctions, the U.S. joined the E.U., Canada, and the United Kingdom, while two of Myanmar’s neighboring countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, issued strong statements condemning the violence.
It is also preparing sanctions against Russia for its attempt to swing the 2020 election and for its massive hack of U.S. businesses and governmental agencies last year. Unlike his predecessor, Biden has refused to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreeing with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that Putin was a killer. In this stance against Russia, too, the U.S. has partners: British special forces have been ordered to counter the activities of Russian military intelligence.
Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted to India that its planned purchase of a Russian missile system could bring U.S. sanctions, saying “[w]e certainly urge all our allies and partners to move away from Russian equipment… and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf….”
China has invited Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing.
The Biden administration is not just trying to defend democracy overseas. It is also trying to reclaim democracy here at home. Since 1981, Republicans have focused on cutting taxes and turning over our public infrastructure to private individuals, and as their agenda became less and less popular, they have relied on voter suppression and gerrymandering to stay in power. With Republicans in charge of the Senate, they could kill even enormously popular bills that passed the House of Representatives, and now that Democrats are in charge, the filibuster enables them to do the same.
The Biden administration has used its success with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to illustrate that government can actually be a dramatic force for good. This weekend, the number of coronavirus vaccines delivered was over 3 million a day, and President Biden beat his own goal of reaching 100 million vaccines in arms within his first hundred days by a month.
The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal prekindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.
They are reclaiming the government for the American people.
But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.
To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”
The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.
Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.
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March 23, 2021 (Tuesday)
Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days after we lost 8 others in Atlanta, Georgia, shot by a man with a gun.
In 2017, after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, political personality Bill O’Reilly said that such mass casualties were “the price of freedom.”
But his is a very recent interpretation of guns and their meaning in America.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.
As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”
The path to today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.
One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.
By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.
NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.
But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”
This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War Two. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.
In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan-- for the first time.
When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.
In 1981, a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.
After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Although until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun, in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.
In 1997, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.
Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.
Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012, the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent more than $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.
The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members— recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.
Maybe this time things will be different. Today President Biden called for the Senate to pass measures already passed by House lawmakers for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
More important, perhaps, is that new voices are making themselves heard on this issue. The political participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) jumped by 91% in Georgia in 2020 and was key to electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate. The Georgia murders, six of which took the lives of women of Asian descent, have inspired this community to demand policy changes that address hate crimes and violence.
Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the 21-person Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told Politico’s Maya King: “Certainly for AAPIs who may not have been involved before, this is a wake up call to say, ‘You need to be involved.’”
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In probably the smartest move that I've ever heard a politician make, Biden reportedly met with historians in early March.


No word on which historians, or if HCR was included, but nonetheless, this is something that is for the most part sorely missing in our leadership. Bravo to Biden on this one.  

Side note: at this time in his presidency, Trump met with Kid Rock, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin.

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1 hour ago, Nice! said:

In probably the smartest move that I've ever heard a politician make, Biden reportedly met with historians in early March.


No word on which historians, or if HCR was included, but nonetheless, this is something that is for the most part sorely missing in our leadership. Bravo to Biden on this one.  

Side note: at this time in his presidency, Trump met with Kid Rock, Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin.

That was interesting, as was the follow-up article.


President Biden recently held an undisclosed East Room session with historians that included discussion of how big is too big — and how fast is too fast — to jam through once-in-a-lifetime historic changes to America.

Why it matters ... The historians’ views were very much in sync with his own: It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.

Four things are pushing Biden to jam through what could amount to a $5 trillion-plus overhaul of America, and vast changes to voting, immigration and inequality.

  1. He has full party control of Congress, and a short window to go big.
  2. He has party activists egging him on.
  3. He has strong gathering economic winds at his back.
  4. And he’s popular in polls.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss told Axios FDR and LBJ may turn out to be the past century's closest analogues for the Biden era, "in terms of transforming the country in important ways in a short time."

  • Beschloss said the parallels include the New Deal economic relief that Franklin Roosevelt brought in 1933, which saved the country from the Depression and chaos.
  • And Biden is on track to leave the country in a different place, as Lyndon Johnson did with his Great Society programs.

People close to Biden tell us he’s feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party.

  • He loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.
  • This temptation to go even bigger, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell insists, will create such a fissure between the parties that he compared it this week to "nuclear winter."

But we're told Biden won’t hesitate. Just as he passed the $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package with zero Republican votes and zero regrets, his team sees little chance he's going to be able to rewire the government in his image if he plays by the rules of bringing in at least 10 Republicans.

  • He won't rub their noses in it, we're told. That'll be the Biden touch to rolling the opposition — and getting that much closer to the status of latter-day FDR.
  • Biden's list includes: rural broadband expansion, which would be transformative for those communities ... make child tax credit permanent ... landmark legislation on climate, guns, voting.


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March 24, 2021 (Wednesday)
Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.
After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”
In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”
The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.
The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.
In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”
And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.
On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”
And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.
So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.
The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.
Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.
To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues: Why are you so afraid of democracy? Why, instead of trying to win voters over that you lost in the last election, are you trying to prevent them from voting?”
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March 25, 2021 (Thursday)
There is only one story today.
It is not the coronavirus pandemic, although 547,000 of us have died of Covid-19, and a study today suggested that we could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths if we had adopted masks and social distancing early on. It is not the coronavirus even though today President Joe Biden noted that we will reach 100 million vaccinations tomorrow and that he aims to reach 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office….
It is not the situation on our southern border, where a surge of migrants apparently matches the seasonal pattern of people trying to make it into the United States….
It is not the economy, although the U.S. Treasury said today it had issued 37 million payments this week, worth $83 billion, from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan....
The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.
Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.
The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.
This is the only story from today because it is the only story historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?
The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.
The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.
Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the For the People Act.
They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.
The story today is not about coronavirus vaccines, or border solutions, or economic recovery, because all of those things depended on the election of Joe Biden. If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.
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3 hours ago, Bus Driver said:

If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.

This is an open attack on democracy. The free world is proud of you, Georgia. Home of the inbred fucknuckle.

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March 26, 2021 (Friday)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed his state’s new voter suppression law last night in a carefully staged photo op. As journalist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out, Kemp sat at a polished table, with six white men around him, under a painting of the Callaway Plantation on which more than 100 Black people had been enslaved. As the men bore witness to the signing, Representative Park Cannon, a Black female lawmaker, was arrested and dragged away from the governor’s office.
It was a scene that conjured up a lot of history.
Voting was on the table in March 1858, too. Then, the U.S. Senate fought over how the new territory of Kansas would be admitted to the Union. The majority of voters in the territory wanted it to be free, but a minority of proslavery Democrats had taken control of the territory’s government and written a constitution that would make human enslavement the fundamental law in the state. The fight over whether this minority, or the majority that wanted the territory free, would control Kansas burned back east, to Congress.
In the Senate, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, who rejected “as ridiculously absurd” the idea that “all men are born equal,” rose to speak on the subject. He defended the rule of the proslavery minority in Kansas, and told anti-slavery northerners how the world really worked. Hammond laid out a new vision for the United States of America.
He explained to his Senate colleagues just how wealthy the South’s system of human enslavement had made the region, then explained that the “harmonious… and prosperous” system worked precisely because a few wealthy men ruled over a larger class with “a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond explained that in the South, those workers were Black slaves, but the North had such a class, too: they were “your whole hireling class of manual laborers.”
These distinctions had crucial political importance, he explained, “Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and, being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners,’ and could combine, where would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”
Hammond believed the South's system must spread to Kansas and the West regardless of what settlers there wanted because it was the only acceptable way to organize society. Two years later, Hammond would be one of those working to establish the Confederate States of America, “founded,” in the words of their vice president, Alexander Stephens, upon the “great physical, philosophical, and moral truth… that the negro is not equal to the white man.”
Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln recognized that if Americans accepted the principle that some men were better than others, and permitted southern Democrats to spread that principle by dominating the government, they had lost democracy. "I should like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares ... are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?” he asked.
Led by Abraham Lincoln, Republicans rejected the slaveholders’ unequal view of the world as a radical reworking of the nation’s founding principles. They stood firm on the Declaration of Independence.
When southerners fought to destroy the government rather than accept human equality, Lincoln reminded Americans just how fragile our democracy is. At Gettysburg in November 1863, he rededicated the nation to the principles of the Declaration and called upon his audience “to be dedicated… to the great task remaining before us… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The United States defeated the Confederacy, outlawed human enslavement except as punishment for crime, declared Black Americans citizens, and in 1867, with the Military Reconstruction Act, began to establish impartial suffrage. The Military Reconstruction Act, wrote Maine politician James G. Blaine in 1893, “changed the political history of the United States.”
Today, as I looked at the photograph of Governor Kemp signing that bill, I wondered just how much.
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March 28, 2021 (Sunday)
Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.
The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:
First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.
Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.
They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.
Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”
The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.
The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about-- and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds-- they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.
To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.
White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.
Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when American newspaper headlines blasted the story of the Paris Commune. From March through May, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, French Communards took control of Paris. Americans read stories of a workers’ government that seemed to attack civilization itself: burning buildings, killing politicians, corrupting women, and confiscating property. Americans worried that workers at home might have similar ideas: in italics, Scribner’s Monthly warned readers that “the interference of ignorant labor with politics is dangerous to society.”
Building on this fear, in May 1871, a so-called taxpayers’ convention met in Columbia, South Carolina. A reporter claimed that South Carolina was “a typical Southern state” victimized by lazy “semi-barbarian” Black voters who were electing leaders to redistribute wealth. “Upon these people not only political rights have been conferred, but they have absolute political supremacy,” he said. The New York Daily Tribune, which had previously championed Black rights, wrote “the most intelligent, the influential, the educated, the really useful men of the South, deprived of all political power,… [are] taxed and swindled… by the ignorant class, which only yesterday hoed the fields and served in the kitchen.”
The South Carolina Taxpayers’ Convention uncovered no misuse of state funds and disbanded with only a call for frugality in government, but it had embedded into politics the idea that Black voters were using the government to redistribute wealth. The South was “prostrate” under “Black rule,” reporters claimed. In the election of 1876, southern Democrats set out to “redeem” the South from this economic misrule by keeping Black Americans from the polls.
Over the next decades, white southerners worked to silence the voices of Black Americans in politics, and in 1890, fourteen southern congressmen wrote a book to explain to their northern colleagues why Democrats had to control the South. Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and its Results insisted that Black voters who had supported the Republicans after the Civil War had used their votes to pervert the government by using it to give themselves services paid for with white tax dollars.
Later that year, a new constitution in Mississippi started the process of making sure Black people could not vote by requiring educational tests, poll taxes, or a grandfather who had voted, effectively getting rid of Black voting.
Eight years later, there was still enough Black voting in North Carolina and enough class solidarity with poor whites that voters in Wilmington elected a coalition government of Black Republicans and white Populists. White Democrats agreed that the coalition had won fairly, but about 2000 of them nonetheless armed themselves to “reform” the city government. They issued a “White Declaration of Independence” and said they would “never again be ruled, by men of African origin.” It was time, they said, “for the intelligent citizens of this community owning 95% of the property and paying taxes in proportion, to end the rule by Negroes.”
As they forced the elected officials out of office and took their places, the new Democratic mayor claimed “there was no intimidation used,” but as many as 300 African Americans died in the Wilmington coup.
The Civil War began the process of linking the political power of people of color to a redistribution of wealth and this rhetoric has haunted us ever since. When Ronald Reagan talked about the “Welfare Queen”—a Black woman who stole tax dollars through social services fraud--, when tea partiers called our first Black president a “socialist,” when Trump voters claimed to be reacting to “economic anxiety,” they were calling on a long history. Today, Republicans talk about “election integrity,” but their end game is the same as that of the former Confederates after the war: to keep Black and Brown Americans away from the polls to make sure the government does not spend tax dollars on public services.
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A companion piece from Robert Reich in the Guardian makes many of the same points.


Republicans are outraged – outraged! – at the surge of migrants at the southern border. The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, declares it a “crisis … created by the presidential policies of this new administration”. The Arizona congressman Andy Biggs claims, “we go through some periods where we have these surges, but right now is probably the most dramatic that I’ve seen at the border in my lifetime.”


Donald Trump demands the Biden administration “immediately complete the wall, which can be done in a matter of weeks – they should never have stopped it. They are causing death and human tragedy.”

“Our country is being destroyed!” he adds.

In fact, there’s no surge of migrants at the border.

US Customs and Border Protection apprehended 28% more migrants from January to February this year than in previous months. But this was largely seasonal. Two years ago, apprehensions increased 31% during the same period. Three years ago, it was about 25% from February to March. Migrants start coming when winter ends and the weather gets a bit warmer, then stop coming in the hotter summer months when the desert is deadly.

To be sure, there is a humanitarian crisis of children detained in overcrowded border facilities. And an even worse humanitarian tragedy in the violence and political oppression in Central America, worsened by US policies over the years, that drives migration in the first place.

But the “surge” has been fabricated by Republicans in order to stoke fear – and, not incidentally, to justify changes in laws they say are necessary to prevent non-citizens from voting.

The core message of the Republican party now consists of lies

Republicans continue to allege – without proof – that the 2020 election was rife with fraudulent ballots, many from undocumented migrants. Over the past six weeks they’ve introduced 250 bills in 43 states designed to make it harder for people to vote – especially the young, the poor, Black people and Hispanic Americans, all of whom are likely to vote for Democrats – by eliminating mail-in ballots, reducing times for voting, decreasing the number of drop-off boxes, demanding proof of citizenship, even making it a crime to give water to people waiting in line to vote.

To stop this, Democrats are trying to enact a sweeping voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering and keeps dark money out of elections. It passed the House but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with more lies.

On Wednesday, the Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz falsely claimed the new bill would register millions of undocumented migrants to vote and accused Democrats of wanting the most violent criminals to cast ballots too.

The core message of the Republican party now consists of lies about a “crisis” of violent migrants crossing the border, lies that they’re voting illegally, and blatantly anti-democratic demands voting be restricted to counter it.

The party that once championed lower taxes, smaller government, states’ rights and a strong national defense now has more in common with anti-democratic regimes and racist-nationalist political movements around the world than with America’s avowed ideals of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Donald Trump isn’t single-handedly responsible for this, but he demonstrated to the GOP the political potency of bigotry and the GOP has taken him up on it.

This transformation in one of America’s two eminent political parties has shocking implications, not just for the future of American democracy but for the future of democracy everywhere.

“I predict to you, your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy?” Joe Biden opined at his news conference on Thursday.

In his maiden speech at the state department on 4 March, Antony Blinken conceded that the erosion of democracy around the world is “also happening here in the United States”.

The secretary of state didn’t explicitly talk about the Republican party, but there was no mistaking his subject.

“When democracies are weak … they become more vulnerable to extremist movements from the inside and to interference from the outside,” he warned.

People around the world witnessing the fragility of American democracy “want to see whether our democracy is resilient, whether we can rise to the challenge here at home. That will be the foundation for our legitimacy in defending democracy around the world for years to come.”

That resilience and legitimacy will depend in large part on whether Republicans or Democrats prevail on voting rights.

Not since the years leading up to the civil war has the clash between the nation’s two major parties so clearly defined the core challenge facing American democracy.


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March 30, 2021 (Tuesday)
It feels like the banking under the Republican Party from the Trump years is starting to erode.
The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sparked a nationwide fight over police brutality against Black people, with Trump supporters coalescing around the reactionary “Blue Lives Matter” flag. But today’s trial of former law enforcement officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd produced damning evidence from six witnesses, who said they were traumatized by what they saw as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died.
Today a federal judge ruled that the non-disclosure agreement the former president required employees to sign is so broad and vague it is unenforceable. There has always been a question of whether public employees can be forced to swear to a vow of secrecy, but Trump’s Department of Justice was willing to try to enforce his NDAs. While Trump’s lawyers say they disagree with the new ruling and are considering an appeal, this ruling opens the door to more tell-all books about what happened inside the White House during the previous administration.
Also today, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that a defamation lawsuit against the former president by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos could go forward. The suit had been on hold because Trump’s lawyers argued that a sitting president could not face legal action. While two previous courts ruled against him, today’s decision is from the highest court in New York. It opens up the possibility that Trump will face a deposition in which he could be asked, under oath, about sexual assault accusations.
On Friday, former president Trump told the Fox News channel that his supporters were “hugging and kissing” the law enforcement officers at the Capitol on January 6, but now two U.S. Capitol Police officers have sued the former president for inflaming the insurrectionists on January 6, nearly leading to their deaths. James Blassingame, who has been on the force for 17 years, and Sidney Hemby, who has served for 11 years, blame Trump for the injuries they suffered defending the Capitol. They note his December 19, 2020, tweet in which he told supporters: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild!”
News broke today that Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a major Trump supporter, is being investigated by the Department of Justice for traveling with a 17-year-old girl he paid to accompany him. The probe began during the last administration under Attorney General William Barr, and is linked to a political ally of Gaetz’s, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who last summer was indicted on sex trafficking charges. Greenberg was associated with Trump ally Roger Stone.
Gaetz has seemed to flounder since this story broke. He gave an interview on personality Tucker Carlson’s show on the Fox News Channel that Carlson himself called “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.” Gaetz’s denial of the story seemed quite carefully worded. Then he suggested that he and his family were victims of an extortion scheme from someone associated with the Department of Justice. He insists the investigation is happening because he is a “well-known outspoken conservative,” but the probe began under the previous president.
Earlier today, Axios broke the story that Gaetz is considering leaving Congress to take a job at Newsmax, the right-wing news outlet.
These stories are enough to spell a bad day indeed for supporters of the former president, but there is an even bigger story, broken yesterday by the incomparable Jane Mayer at the New Yorker.
While Republicans insist that the For the People Act voting rights act, H.R. 1, is a partisan plan, in fact, a leaked conference call from January 8 between a policy advisor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and leaders of a number of conservative groups showed the participants’ concern that H.R. 1 is quite popular even with Republicans. Across the political spectrum, ordinary Americans especially like its provision to limit the dark money that has flowed into our elections since the 2010 Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, permitting billionaires to buy an election’s outcome.
In the 2020 federal election cycle, dark-money groups spent more than a billion dollars. More than 654 million came from just fifteen groups, the top of which is connected to McConnell. In February, a Data for Progress poll showed that 68% of likely voters, including 57% of Republicans, like the bill that would staunch the flow of this money.
To kill the measure, a research director for an advocacy group run by the Koch brothers said that Senate Republicans would have to use “under-the-dome-type strategies.” That is, they would have to leverage congressional rules, like the filibuster, to make sure the bill doesn’t pass.
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March 31, 2021 (Wednesday)
President Joe Biden today unveiled a new $2 trillion infrastructure proposal titled The American Jobs Plan. The statement introducing the plan notes that the United States currently ranks 13th in the world for the quality of our infrastructure, and that our public domestic investment as a share of the economy has fallen more than 40% since the 1960s. It calls attention to the fact that our roads and bridges are crumbling and that our electrical grid keeps failing. Too few people have access to affordable housing or to the Internet, while our infrastructure for caregiving—a vital part of our lives—is fragile, it says. It promises to unify and mobilize the country to address climate change and the rise of an autocratic China.
The plan calls for rebuilding American infrastructure and creating jobs. It provides $115 billion for repairing 10,000 bridges, modernizing 20,000 miles of highways and roads, and building a half a million chargers for electric vehicles. It provides $100 billion for installing broadband across the country and $100 billion to strengthen our electrical grid. It calls for replacing lead pipes in our water supply and provides $213 billion to build affordable housing.
It will raise wages and benefits for home care workers, secure U.S. supply chains, and train Americans for jobs in the new economy. It will protect workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively, and it will make sure that American goods are shipped on vessels under a U.S. flag, with crews from the U.S.
The plan addresses climate change and persistent racial injustice. It invests in technology to address the climate crisis and put the U.S. at the forefront of clean energy technology and clean energy jobs. It will invest in technology and innovation at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and work to eliminate gaps in access to innovation grants to communities of color and rural communities.
To pay for the investment in the country, Biden is proposing an accompanying tax plan, the Made in America Tax Plan, to raise taxes on corporations. If this measure passes, it will pay for the American Jobs Plan in 15 years, and will reduce deficits from then on. Biden wants to roll back former president Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which slashed corporate taxes. He proposes to set the corporate tax rate at 28%, from its current rate of 21%-- still nowhere near the 35% tax rate before the 2017 tax cuts. He also plans to discourage offshoring of corporations and to enact a minimum tax on a corporation’s “book income” (what they advertise to their investors while telling the government they made far less), and to get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels.
Biden is making a historic gamble that Americans are tired of the past forty years of austerity and are instead eager for the government to invest in America again. He is also pushing back on the argument that tax cuts are good for the economy. “This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” he said yesterday as he introduced it at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Pittsburgh Training Center. “It is a once in a generation investment in America unlike anything we've done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago.”
Biden’s invocation of the interstate highway system, begun under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, was not frivolous. Eisenhower had traveled from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco in 1919 with 72 military vehicles and about 280 officers and enlisted men as part of an army convoy designed to show far-flung communities the military’s new machinery. When the nation’s roads proved so bad that the convoy never averaged more than 10 miles per hour, the journey also illustrated the need for new national roads.
Entering the White House in 1953, Eisenhower three years later pushed through the $25 billion Federal-Aid Highway Act to build 41,000 miles of road and tie the nation together. The act jump-started the economy not only by providing jobs, but also by creating new markets for new motels, diners, gas stations, and towns along the new routes. The highways were a symbol of what investing in the nation could do for its citizens.
And invest they did. The top marginal income tax rate during the Eisenhower administration, for incomes over $200,000, was 91%. (Two hundred thousand dollars in 1956 is about $2 million today.) As the country rebuilt itself and helped to rebuild Europe after WWII, the economy boomed. Between 1945 and 1960, the nation’s gross national product jumped 250% from $200 billion to $500 billion. American incomes doubled between 1945 and 1970.
But men opposed to government regulation and taxation insisted that the postwar system was replacing America’s capitalist economy with socialism. Then the economic stagnation of the 1970s, combined with runaway inflation that thrust people into higher tax brackets without increasing their real buying power, helped to push the idea that tax cuts would feed economic investment. Since 1981, when President Ronald Reagan took office, the idea that tax cuts would bolster economic growth was the orthodoxy that drove politics, and they became the go-to Republican plan for economic growth.
Experience has proven that tax cuts do not spur growth. Instead, money has moved upward dramatically in the past forty years. The upward thrust of wealth has been especially notable during the pandemic, when U.S. billionaires added more than $1 trillion to their wealth even as the U.S. suffered the sharpest rise in its poverty rate in more than 50 years. By January 2021, the combined fortune of the 660 billionaires in the U.S. had climbed to $4.1 trillion, an increase of more than 38% since the beginning of the pandemic. The fortunes of the wealthiest 15 billionaires increased more than 58%.
For their part, Republican lawmakers are blasting Biden’s infrastructure plan as anti-business, a tax-and-spend plan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “It’s called infrastructure, but inside the Trojan horse is going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy.” Former president Trump said: “If this monstrosity is allowed to pass, the result will be more Americans out of work, more families shattered, more factories abandoned, more industries wrecked, and more Main Streets boarded up and closed down.”
And yet, it is hard to see their objections as anything but the usual pattern of Republican tax cuts that benefit the very wealthy followed by complaints that the Democrats who want to invest in society are racking up deficits. Even before the pandemic, when the economy was strong, Republicans under Trump took on massive debt. In 2017, the national debt was $14.7 trillion; the Congressional Budget Office projected that Trump’s spending and tax cuts even before the pandemic spending would add an extra $10 trillion by 2025.
The idea of infrastructure spending is popular with Republicans: it enticed the former president over his four years, leading two years ago to a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that they and Trump had agreed on a $2 trillion package with details forthcoming. Yesterday, Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) took to Twitter to celebrate money coming to his state from the American Rescue Plan, appearing to take credit for a law he—and all other Republicans—voted against.
And polls say that government investment in our country, paid for with taxes on top earners, is popular: a new Morning Consult/Politico poll says that by a two-to-one margin voters prefer a $3 trillion infrastructure bill that includes tax hikes on those who make more than $400,000 a year and corporations to one that does not have those tax hikes.
Facing Republican obstruction, Biden is also facing complaints from the Congressional Progressive Caucus whose members object that the package doesn’t adequately address climate change. But Biden seems to be betting that Americans of all political stripes will rally to a new politics that invests in the country, including the rural areas that now often vote Republican. Pelosi called the plan “a visionary, once-in-a-century investment in the American people and in America’s future.”
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April 1, 2021


The efforts of Republican state legislators in 43 states to suppress voting have made the rubber of Republicans politics meet the road of reality.

Republicans are pushing the idea that it is imperative to pass laws to protect the sanctity of the vote because their supporters are concerned that the 2020 election was stolen. But, as observers have pointed out, if they want to reassure their voters that the election was clean, the way to do it would be to tell them the truth: the election wasn’t stolen.

This reality has been established by Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security whom Trump fired after he said the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history”; by former president Trump’s attorney general William Barr, who said that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election; and by judges who dismissed more than 50 lawsuits alleging voter fraud.

Last week, Trump lawyer Sidney Powell claimed in a court filing that “no reasonable person” would believe that her lies about election fraud “were truly statements of fact.”

And yet, rather than admitting that Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election fairly, Republicans are claiming that they must relieve supporters’ concerns about the stolen election—a myth they, themselves, have created—by passing legislation that will suppress Democratic votes.

There seem to be a couple of things at stake here.

One is that, having riled up Trump supporters by telling them that the election was stolen, Republican leaders can’t very well now back down and admit that they were lying. So they are playing this charade out in the hopes that they can keep Trump supporters energized enough to keep showing up at the polls and to keep voting Republican.

The other, of course, is that Democratic wins, especially in Georgia, indicate that the Republicans must either change their political positions or get rid of Democratic voters. Since the one seems impossible to them, they are going for the other.

But the political imperative to get rid of Democratic voters is running headlong into modern America. Not only is 2021 more openly multicultural than the 1890s, when the previous avalanche of voter suppression kept poor people of all races and ethnicities from the polls, but also the people who approve of racial equality have way more economic power than they did a century or more ago.

Yesterday, more than 70 Black executives wrote a letter urging companies to fight the voter suppression measures under consideration in 43 states. “There is no middle ground here,” said Ken Chenault, the former head of American Express. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”

After complaints that companies had been quiet about the Georgia voter suppression bill, the chief executive officer of Delta Airlines, Ed Bastian, issued a statement calling the new law “unacceptable” and noting that “[t]he entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.” Bastian condemned the “sweeping voting reform act that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote.” He pledged “to protect and facilitate your precious right to vote.”

Shortly afterward, the leader of Coca-Cola, James Quincey, followed suit with an interview on CNBC that called the law “unacceptable.”

After Bastian spoke, Georgia Republicans said they were caught off guard by his opposition. In the Georgia House, Republicans voted to get rid of a tax break on jet fuel that benefits Delta. David Ralston, the leader of the Republican Party in the House said: “They like our public policy when we’re doing things that benefit them,” then added: “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand. You got to keep that in mind sometimes.”

That is, Republican lawmakers made it clear they are not legislating in the interest of the public good, but are instead using the law to retaliate against Delta after its chief executive officer criticized their voter suppression law. (The Georgia Senate did not take up the bill before the legislature adjourned.)

Similarly, Ralston told reporters he was now a Pepsi drinker, seemingly retaliating against Coca-Cola for its own opposition to the law.

A similar scene played out in Texas, where legislators are considering an even more restrictive bill that tries to end drive-through voting and 24-hour polling places, as well as giving partisan poll watchers more leeway to harass voters, including by recording them on video. Today, American Airlines announced it was “strongly opposed to this bill and others like it.” The company affirmed its support for democracy and called for making it easier, not harder, to vote. “Voting is the hallmark of our democracy, and is the foundation of our great country. We value the democratic process and believe every eligible American should be allowed to exercise their right to vote, no matter which political party or candidate they support.”

Tonight, the chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, Rodney Anderson, retweeted a statement cheering on the Georgia House for trying to strip Delta of the multimillion dollar tax break for criticizing the state’s voting bill. Then he suggested retaliating against companies that oppose Texas’s proposed voting restrictions by increasing their tax burdens. Within an hour, he had deleted the tweet.

In the late nineteenth century, southern lawmakers’ calculation that business would support voter suppression efforts would have been accurate. Indeed, southern lawmakers could suppress Black voting in part because business leaders across the country were happy to see poor voters cut out of political power, especially after the alliance movement suggested that farmers and workers might make common cause across race lines to change laws that privileged industry over ordinary Americans. When fourteen southern lawmakers defended their region’s suppression of Black voting in an 1890 book, they dedicated the work to “the businessmen of the North.”

The reaction of today’s business leaders to new voter suppression measures suggests that the old equation in which businessmen want to get rid of Black and poor voters is no longer so clear. While businesses undoubtedly like preferential treatment, they now answer to a broader constituency than they did a century or more ago, and that constituency does not necessarily support voter suppression. Today, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, which is developing a hub in Atlanta, took a stand against the new Georgia election law. He wrote: “We hope that companies will come together and make clear that a healthy business requires a healthy community. And a healthy community requires that everyone have the right to vote conveniently, safely, and securely.” 

In 1890, southern white leaders promised the North that voter suppression would make the South bloom. They were wrong: by concentrating wealth and power among a few white leaders, it kept the South mired in poverty for at least two generations. Rejecting voter suppression this time around could write an entirely different story.

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April 2, 2021

I spent all day writing only to emerge tonight to a flood of news.

Some of it is tragic but seems random: a man apparently drove a car into a barricade near the White House, injuring two Capitol Police officers before hitting the barrier. He got out of the car with a knife, and police officers shot him when he did not respond to their commands. He died. So did one of the Capitol Police officers, an 18-year veteran of the force, Officer William “Billy” Evans. The assailant has been identified as 25-year-old Noah Green of Indiana, and he appears to have feared that the CIA and the FBI were targeting him with mind control.

Other news seems to be about rebuilding the nation from the troubles of the previous administration: President Joe Biden had a 30-40 minute phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s burgeoning democracy as Russia builds up troops in the region. Former president Trump soured the U.S. relationship with Ukraine when he tried to get Zelenskyy to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, to discredit the man he expected—correctly—to be his main rival in the 2020 presidential election, before Trump would release money Ukraine needed to defend itself against Russia.

Also today, the U.S. and Iran agreed to talk again about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned, to limit Iran’s program of enriching uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon. With our abandonment of JCPOA, Iran resumed elements of its enrichment program. Both sides are hoping to make headway on a new deal before Iran’s presidential election in June.

The United States has also lifted sanctions the Trump administration had imposed on the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, after she began an investigation into U.S. forces in Afghanistan for alleged war crimes. The U.S. is not a member of the court, and the Biden administration says it disagrees strongly with the court’s actions but wants to address those concerns through engagement rather than sanctions.

In a new indictment yesterday, prosecutors revealed that the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, his deputy, and three members of the far-right group who acted as guards for Trump loyalist Roger Stone exchanged 19 phone calls over three hours during the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The indictment indicates that federal officials have a very clear timeline of the events of that day.

The trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, continues. Today Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of the Minneapolis police department’s homicide division, testified that kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed, as Chavin did, was “totally unnecessary,” and that the officers should “absolutely” have stopped restraining Floyd once he was in handcuffs, as that position on its own makes it hard to breathe.

And then there are the ways in which the country appears to be roaring back from the low point of the past year. Today U.S. healthcare professionals put almost 4 million shots into arms, bringing our daily average for the past week to almost 3 million. Nearly 40% of all adults in the U.S. have had at least one dose of the vaccine. And yet, coronavirus infections are rising again, spurred by new, highly contagious variants of the virus into areas where safety precautions have been relaxed. The seven-day average of new cases is more than 62,000 cases a day, with just below 900 deaths a day.

The Labor Department today said that the U.S. added 916,000 jobs in March, the best job growth since last August, dropping the unemployment rate to 6%. This is excellent news, but we still have 8.4 million fewer jobs than we had in February 2020, before the pandemic.

And then there is Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is at the center of a scandal which includes pretty much everything: women, girls, state lines, drugs, cash, fake IDs, and so on. Where it will all end up is entirely unclear, but it is notable that the Fox News Channel, where Gaetz has been a regular, made a point of stating that it has “no interest” in hiring Gaetz. Only Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have spoken out to defend Gaetz, and both of them have troubles in their own backgrounds.

But the lasting story today is the one that will hang over everything until it is resolved: the attempt of Republican legislators in 43 states to suppress voting with what are now 361 voter suppression bills across the country.

Today Major League Baseball announced it was pulling the 2021 All-Star Game and the MLB draft from Georgia in response to the state’s new voter suppression law, passed last week. The announcement drew fury from Republican officials.

They attacked MLB’s move by as a product of “cancel culture and woke political activists.” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston released a statement blaming “this attack on our state” on President Biden and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and insisting that the bill in fact expands, rather than contracts, the right to vote. Ralston said that “Stacey Abrams’ leftist lies have stolen the All-Star Game from Georgia…. But Georgia will not be bullied by socialists and their sympathizers.”

Republican politicians also piled on at the national level. Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA) tweeted that MLB was “[t]otally caving to the lies of the Left” and called for a baseball boycott. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called it “a cowardly boycott based on a lie.” Then Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC) called for Congress to retaliate against MLB with a law to remove MLB’s antitrust exception. The former president urged his supporters to “boycott baseball” and the companies that do not support Georgia’s new voter suppression bill.

But journalists Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein of the New York Times today reviewed the new 98-page Georgia voting law and had one primary takeaway: “The Republican legislature and governor have made a breathtaking assertion of partisan power in elections, making absentee voting harder and creating restrictions and complications in the wake of narrow losses to Democrats.” Sixteen key provisions hamper the right to vote, especially in the urban and suburban counties that vote Democratic, or take power away from state and local election officials—like the secretary of state, who refused to throw the election to Trump in 2020—and give it to partisan legislators.

If it’s true that the Georgia law is no big deal, Democracy Docket founder and election law defender Marc Elias asked, “why are three separate Republican Party Committees spending money intervening in court to defend it—claiming that if the law is struck down it will disadvantage the [Republicans] in elections?”

MLB’s decision was actually not prompted by Stacey Abrams, who rejected calls for a boycott and urged companies not to leave the state but to stay and fight for voting rights. She tweeted that she was “disappointed” that MLB would move the All-Star Game “but proud of their stance on voting rights.”

Former House Speaker John Boehner, who presided over the House during the Republican wave of 2010, published a preview of his forthcoming book that makes some sense of the Republican attempt to divert attention to Abrams. He says that the rise of the internet meant that by 2010, Republican lawmakers were taking their orders from internet media websites and the Fox News Channel, their only aim to keep viewers engaged and cash flowing.

The Republican focus on media, rather than policy, has mushroomed until lawmakers are now reduced to talking about Dr. Seuss and the Potato Head clan rather than answering the needs of voters, with no policy besides “owning the libs.”

And now they are trying to pin the decisions of MLB on the “socialist” Stacey Abrams, a voting-rights advocate, rather than on the Georgia Republican legislature’s open attempt to undermine democracy.

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3 hours ago, Bus Driver said:

Thank you.  Got away for a quick few nights on pampering with the missus.  Very much needed.

My pleasure.

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April 4, 2021 - Sunday

The Republican outrage over Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game out of Georgia after the passage of the state’s new voter suppression law reveals a bigger crisis in American democracy: the mechanics of our current system do not reflect the will of the majority.

Consumer-driven corporate America is increasingly throwing its weight against the new voter suppression measures across the country. While MLB and Coca-Cola are out front on the new Georgia voting law, American Airlines, Microsoft, and Dell are all opposing the new Texas voter restriction measures. These corporations are focused on those Americans with buying power, and on those they predict will have that buying power going forward. When they take a stand against voter suppression laws, they are making a bet that the future of America is moving away from the Republicans toward a more inclusive society.

They have drawn the fury of current Republican lawmakers, especially those in Georgia, who are insisting that these corporate decisions are part of a culture war in which Democrats are pressuring corporate leaders to “cancel” things with which they disagree. But MLB is not known as a progressive league. Its fanbase is primarily White and does not tend to lean left. The players were not involved in MLB’s decision to move the All-Star game out of Atlanta, a decision that will cost Georgia about $100 million. Nonetheless, former president Trump yesterday called for his supporters to boycott “Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS and Merck,” all companies on the record against the new voter suppression bills.

The emphasis of corporate America on what its directors think the majority of its consumers want shows the same sort of disconnect national polls reveal. Americans as a whole do not like the policies of current-day Republican lawmakers. Seventy-seven percent of us like the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and yet not a single Republican voted for it. Eighty-four percent of us like background checks for gun purchases, and yet that policy is anathema to Republicans.

Seventy-nine percent of us want the government to fix our roads, bridges, railroads, and ports. Seventy-one percent of us want the government to make sure we all have high-speed internet. Sixty-eight percent of us want the government to replace our lead pipes, the same percentage as people who want the government to support renewable energy with tax credits. Sixty-four percent of us want to pay for these things by increasing taxes on corporations and big businesses.

Republican lawmakers oppose all of these popular measures.

Because our political system is currently skewed toward the Republican Party, its members’ opposition in Congress is far more powerful than it is on the ground. Because of gerrymandering, Democratic candidates in 2020 defeated their Republican opponents by 3.1 percentage points nationally and yet lost a dozen seats in the House of Representatives.

The Senate is even less fairly representative. It is currently divided evenly, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats (technically, 48 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats). But the 50 Democrats represent 41.5 million more people than the Republicans do (the U.S. has a population of about 328 million).

That Republican minority can currently stop all legislation other than budget bills and judicial appointments through the process known as the filibuster, which forces 60 members of the Senate to agree to a bill before it can move forward.

As current-day Republican lawmakers fall farther out of sync with what the majority of Americans want, they have turned to the courts to shore up their vision of a world in which government cannot regulate business, protect civil rights, or provide a basic social safety net, but can enforce rules popular with evangelical religious practitioners (although evangelical religion is also on the wane, apparently in part because of its political partisanship). “By legislating from the bench, Republicans dodge accountability for unpopular policies,” writes Ian Millhiser in a terrific piece in the New York Times on March 30. “Meanwhile, the real power is held by Republican judges who serve for life — and therefore do not need to worry about whether their decisions enjoy public support.”

And yet, the party is nervous enough about its eroding power base that a Republican-aligned group has launched an initiative called the “American Culture Project,” intending to redirect the “cultural narrative” that its organizers believe “the left” now controls with “cancel culture” and “woke supremacy.” Set up as a social welfare organization, the American Culture Project does not have to disclose its donors or pay federal income taxes. Through ads on Facebook and other platforms, it hopes to swing voters to the Republicans; it is organized in at least five states-- Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia—under names like “Arise Ohio,” “Stand Up Florida,” and “Mighty Michigan.”

A fundraising email shared with Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post, who broke the story, says, “We are building assets to shape and frame the political field in advance of the 2022 election and beyond….  [Y]our support of our outreach can be the difference between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate staying under control of the Democrats or shifting back to pro-freedom Republican majorities.” 

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April 5, 2021 (Monday)
For people sick of news, there is nothing happening that cannot wait, so tonight’s letter is a good one to skip.
Otherwise, there are lots of developing stories today. Top of the list is the story of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is implicated in what appears to be a significant sex scandal involving underage girls.
Running a close second is the story Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times broke this weekend: in the closing days of the 2020 election season, the Trump campaign scammed supporters out of more than $122 million by tricking them into “recurring” donations. The campaign had to refund those donations after the election, and it apparently did so by using money raised after the election by asking for funds to challenge the election results. In effect, supporters unknowingly made a no-interest loan to the campaign.
Today’s overarching story is connected to this one. It is the same as yesterday’s big story, and the day before that, reaching on backward until the 2020 election. Republican Party leaders continue to insist, without evidence, that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that Democrats stole it from him through voter fraud. A new Reuters/Ipsos found that six in ten Republicans believe this Big Lie.
This falsehood has been rejected by bipartisan election officials and the courts, including the Supreme Court, but in 43 states Republican legislators are using it to justify election laws that will make it significantly harder to vote.
Those new laws have met with significant pushback, leaving Republicans scrambling to argue that the laws actually make it easier to vote, not harder. This is not true. Former Wall Street Journal correspondent Douglas Blackmon wrote a tremendously clear thread on Twitter spelling out how the Georgia law, for example, makes it illegal for Georgia voting officials to send absentee applications to each voter, and makes it harder to get absentee ballots. It eliminates most drop boxes for ballots, as well, and makes it harder for working people to vote. Blackmon says the law’s “intent seems to be causing much longer & slower lines at the polls, which… will mean large numbers of working class, elderly, and sick voters who just give up and go home.”
The passage of a new voter suppression law in Georgia has opened up a rift between Republican lawmakers and corporations, which in the past have been firmly in the Republican camp. After all, Republicans hailed the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned election restrictions that had been in place for more than a century and permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts on elections. The justices argued that corporations and other groups had a right to spend money under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Now that corporations are taking a stand against the Georgia election law, Republicans are no longer so keen on corporate free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long advocated the use of big money for his political causes and who in 2020 got the most money from the nation’s top chief executive officers, today issued a statement calling the corporations who oppose the Georgia election law bullies. He said: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”
McConnell’s sudden turn against corporate political speech is not as counterintuitive as it seems. He wants corporate support in general, of course, but he also appears to need corporate money to fend off a revolt in his caucus. While corporations got cold feet about the Republicans after the January 6 coup and the refusal of 147 Republican lawmakers to count the certified ballots for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, small donors turning out for Trump’s Big Lie made up for the lost corporate money. Now, as corporations stand against the Trump wing of the party in Georgia, it appears the power in the party is shifting away from McConnell’s corporate wing and toward Trump followers who like the extremists promising to continue fighting the culture wars.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is similarly struggling with his conference as far-right representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) try to use procedural tools to snarl congressional operations, turning every last House operation into a partisan fight.
While Democrats are pushing quite popular legislation, Republicans are shifting toward lawmakers who are not only aiming a wrecking ball at Congress, but also are facing one of the biggest sex scandals in a generation and one of the biggest funding scandals ever.
It’s no wonder McConnell is unhappy.
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April 6, 2021 (Tuesday)
I spent much of today thinking about the Republican Party. Its roots lie in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in spring 1854, when it became clear that elite southern slaveholders had taken control of the federal government and were using their power to spread their system of human enslavement across the continent.
At first, members of the new party knew only what they stood against: an economic system that concentrated wealth upward and made it impossible for ordinary men to prosper. But in 1859, their new spokesman, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln, articulated a new vision of government. Rather than using government power solely to protect the property of wealthy slaveholders, Lincoln argued, the government should work to make it possible for all men to get equal access to resources, including education, so they could rise to economic security.
As a younger man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem die because the settlers in the town did not have the resources to dredge the Sangamon River to increase their river trade. Had the government simply been willing to invest in the economic development that was too much for the willing workers of New Salem, it could have brought prosperity to the men who, for lack of investment, failed and abandoned their town. The government, Lincoln thought, must develop the country’s infrastructure.
Once in power, the Republicans did precisely that. After imposing the first national taxes, including an income tax, lawmakers set out to enable men to be able to pay those taxes by using the government to give ordinary men access to resources. In 1862, they passed the Homestead Act, giving western land to anyone willing to settle it; the Land-Grant College Act, providing funds to establish state universities; the act establishing the Department of Agriculture, to provide scientific information and good seeds to farmers; and the Pacific Railway Act, providing for the construction of a railroad across the continent to get men to the fields and the mines of the West.
In 1902, Republicans fascinated with infrastructure projects joined forces with southern Democrats desperate for flood control to pass the Newlands Reclamation Act. Under the act, the federal government built more than 600 dams in 20 western states to bring water to farmland. “The sound and steady development of the West depends upon the building up of homes therein,” President Theodore Roosevelt wrote. Water from the western dams now irrigates more than 10 million acres, which produce about 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits (and nuts).
Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt combined this focus on infrastructure development with the need for work relief programs during the Depression to create the 1933 Civilian Conservation Corps, which planted trees, built fire towers, built trails, stocked fish, and so on. In 1935, Congress created the Works Progress Administration. During its existence, it employed about 3 million workers at a time; built or repaired more than 100,000 public buildings, including schools and post offices; and constructed more than 500 airports, more than 500,000 miles of roads, and more than 100,000 bridges. It also employed actors, photographers, painters, and writers to conduct interviews, paint murals of our history, and tell our national story.
As the country grew and became more interconnected, pressure built for a developed road system, but while FDR liked the idea of the jobs it would produce, building the road fell to Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Three years after he became president, Eisenhower backed the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, saying, “Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods.” The law initially provided $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles of road; at the time, it was the largest public works project in U.S. history.
In America today, there is good news. The Biden administration has rolled out vaccines at a faster pace than anyone foresaw. Today, President Biden announced that health care workers have administered 150 million doses of the vaccine and, at an average of 3 million shots a day, they are on track to administer 200 million by his 100th day in office. He is moving the date for states to make all adults eligible for a vaccine from May 1 to April 19.
The vaccines have dovetailed with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan from last month and the spring weather to speed up the economic recovery. Economists had expected a job gain of about 660,000 in March, but nonfarm payrolls actually rose by about 916,000. And now Biden has rolled out a dramatic new infrastructure proposal, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan.
So why was I thinking about the Republicans today?
In this moment, Republican lawmakers seem weirdly out of step with their party’s history as well as with the country. They are responding to the American Jobs Plan by defining infrastructure as roads and bridges alone, cutting from the definition even the broadband that they included when Trump was president. (Trump, remember, followed his huge 2017 tax cuts with the promise of a big infrastructure bill. As he said, “Infrastructure is the easiest of all…. People want it, Republicans and Democrats.”) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warns that Biden’s plan is a “Trojan horse” that will require “massive tax increases.”
Biden has indeed proposed funding the Democrats’ infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations from their current rate of 21% to 28% (but before Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, that rate was 35%). It ends federal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, and it increases the global minimum tax—a tax designed to keep corporations from shifting their profits to low tax countries-- from 13% to 21%.
This is in keeping with our history. Americans since Lincoln have proudly used tax dollars to develop the country. During Eisenhower’s era, the corporate tax rate was 52% (and the top income tax bracket was 91%). The Newlands Act was designed to raise money through public land sales, but in 1928, when Congress authorized what would become Hoover Dam, the Bureau of Reclamation began to operate out of the government’s general funds.
But it was Lincoln’s Republicans who first provided the justification for investing in the nation. In the midst of the deadly Civil War, as the United States was hemorrhaging both blood and money, Republican lawmakers defended first their invention of national taxes. The government had a right to “demand” 99% of a man’s property for an urgent need, said House Ways and Means Committee Chair Justin Smith Morrill (R-VT). When the nation required it, he said, “the property of the people… belongs to the [g]overnment.”
The Republicans also defended developing the country. In a debate over the new Department of Agriculture, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee William Pitt Fessenden (R-ME), famous both for his crabbiness and for his single-minded focus on the war, defended the use of “seed money.” With such an investment, he said, the country would be “richly paid over and over again in absolute increase of wealth. There is no doubt of that.”
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The basic point I see in all this- Republicans have no interest in successfully running the country any more... they actually have not, since Newt Gengrich or so, in part because I think he personally had no knowledge of or experience in successfully running anything... but now they have given up the pretense of even trying

Invest in infrastructure? Fuck that! It's just an excuse to RAISE TAXES!!

What business success... or any kind of success, for that matter... was not preceded by investment (of time & knowledge & labor, not all necessarily measured in cash)?

But I think that given Marjoroe Taylor Greene's enormous success in fund raising, I'm not willing to say that Republicans are sliding off the edge, here.



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April 7, 2021 (Wednesday)
Last night, commentator Kevin Williamson published a piece in National Review justifying voter suppression by suggesting that “the republic would be better served by having fewer—but better—voters.” Representatives, he says, “are people who act in other people’s interests,” which is different from doing what voters want.
This is the same argument elite slaveholder James Henry Hammond made before the Senate in 1858, when he defended the idea that Congress should recognize the spread of human enslavement into Kansas despite the fact that the people living in that territory wanted to abolish slavery. Our Constitution, Hammond said, did not dictate that people should “be annoyed with the cares of Government,” but rather directed that they should elect leaders who would take those cares upon themselves.
It is the same argument wealthy men made in the 1890s when they illustrated that laws calling for “better” voters meant that white registrars would hand-pick the nation’s voting population. In the South and the North both, legislators wrote new state constitutions to keep Black men, immigrants, and poor workers from the polls. Leading Americans argued that such men “corrupted” the vote by electing lawmakers who provided public infrastructure like schools and hospitals, paid for with the tax dollars of hardworking white men. To keep poor voters and men of color from the ballot, new state laws called for literacy tests, in which white registrars personally judged a man’s ability to read; poll taxes for which one had to keep the receipts; grandfather clauses, in which a man could vote if his grandfather had, and so on.
Williamson’s is the same argument Arizona Senator Barry’s Goldwater’s ghostwriter made in 1960 in The Conscience of a Conservative, when he wrote in frustration about the New Deal government that was wildly popular despite businessmen’s hatred for it. The framers had absolutely not created a democracy, he wrote, but rather had worried about “a tyranny of the masses” who would vote for laws that redistributed tax dollars into projects that would benefit themselves.
The theory of government that lies behind the argument for limiting the vote to “better” voters was also articulated by Senator Hammond in his 1858 speech. He explained that the South had figured out the best government in the world. It had put a few wealthy, educated, well-connected men in power over everyone else: those he called “mudsills,” workers who produced the capital that supported society but had little direction or ambition and had to be controlled by their superiors. In the South, Hammond explained to his northern colleagues, the mudsills were Black, but in the North they were wage workers. It was imperative such men be kept from political power, for “[i]f they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners,’ and could combine, where would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box….”
In 1859, Abraham Lincoln rejected this vision of government by wealthy elites and replaced it with one of his own. Government worked best not when it protected the property and thus the power of a few wealthy elites, said this poor man’s son, but when it protected equality of access to resources and equality before the law for everyone. Rather than concentrating wealth upward, society should protect the rights of all men to the fruits of their own labor.
Throughout our history, adherents of these two different visions of what constitutes the best government for the U.S. have struggled. On the one hand are those who say that the country operates best when the government is controlled by a few wealthy, educated, well-connected, and usually white and male leaders. The argument goes that they are the only ones with the skills, the insight, and the experience to make good decisions about national policy, particularly economic policy. And it is important that wealth concentrate in their hands, since they will act as its stewards, using it wisely in lump sums, while if the workers who produce wealth get control of it they will fritter it away.
On the other hand are those like Lincoln, who believe that government should reflect the will of the majority, not simply on principle, but because a wide range of voices means the government has a better chance of getting things right than when only a few people rule.
In today’s world, Americans appear to be siding with the popular measures of the Democrats. A Morning Consult/Politico poll today says that 65% of Americans support higher corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure and that 82% want infrastructure in any case. To make matters worse for the Republicans, counties that voted for Biden provide 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product, the value of goods and services in the nation. The large corporations Republicans used to be able to count on for money and support are now eager to court these young, liberal producers.
So, to combat the nation’s drift toward popular government, it appears the current-day Republican Party has taken up the cause of elite rule.
Like Williamson,* Arizona state representative John Kavanagh has mused that getting rid of voters might be good for the nation. He has said of voting that “[q]uantity is important, but we need to look at the quality of votes as well.”
Today, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) reacted to a story about rising crime rates during the pandemic by tweeting that “[w]e have a major under-incarceration problem in America.” He appears to think that we need more people in jail despite the fact that we already imprison our people at a rate more than 5 times higher than that of the rest of the world. We imprison nearly 2.3 million people, with another 3.6 million on probation and another 840,000 on parole. More important for the current struggle over government, though, his statement is that of an authoritarian rather than a democratic leader, and fits nicely with the idea of a strong-handed elite rule.
In Florida, Republican lawmakers appear ready to silence their opponents with a law that would, according to the Miami Herald, “require public colleges and universities to survey students, faculty and staff about their beliefs and viewpoints.” It would also permit students to record their professors without their consent for a civil or criminal case against their school. A lobbyist for the measure, Barney Bishop, told journalist Ana Ceballos that “the cards are stacked in the education system… toward the left and toward the liberal ideology and also secularism — and those were not the values that our country was founded on…. [T]hose are the values that we need to get our country back to.” “The truth of the matter,” he said, “is that kids are being indoctrinated from an early age.”
Also today, a member of the Boogaloo Bois who attended a “Stop the Steal” rally at the state capitol in Minnesota as part of the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a machine gun. He had used a 3D printer to alter a semi-automatic weapon to make it shoot automatically.
The Republican attack on democracy is not playing well at home (although a number of our adversaries like it well enough). A new Gallup poll shows that an average of 49% of Americans consider themselves Democratic or Democratic-leaning Independents while only 40% identify as Republicans or as Republican-leaning Independents. This is the highest split since 2012.
Still, in the end, if Republicans manage to rewrite the voting laws to silence their opponents, how their actions play with the majority of American voters won’t matter in the least.
*This post originally identified Mr. Williamson as a Republican. He would like it to be made clear that he is not a Republican.
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April 8, 2021 (Thursday)
On April 8, 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant was having a hard night. His army had been harrying General Robert E. Lee's for days, and Grant knew it was only a question of time before Lee had to surrender. The people in the Virginia countryside were starving and Lee's army was melting away. Just that morning, a Confederate colonel had thrown himself on Grant's mercy after realizing that he was the only man in his entire regiment who had not already abandoned the cause. But while Grant had twice asked Lee to surrender, Lee still insisted his men could fight on.
So, on the night of April 8, Grant retired to bed in a Virginia farmhouse, dirty, tired, and miserable with a migraine. He spent the night "bathing my feet in hot water and mustard, and putting mustard plasters on my wrists and the back part of my neck, hoping to be cured by morning." It didn't work. When morning came, Grant pulled on his clothes from the day before and rode out to the head of his column with his head throbbing.
As he rode, an escort arrived with a note from Lee requesting an interview for the purpose of surrendering his Army of Northern Virginia. "When the officer reached me I was still suffering with the sick headache," Grant recalled, "but the instant I saw the contents of the note I was cured."
The two men met in the home of Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lee had dressed grandly for the occasion in a brand new general's uniform carrying a dress sword; Grant wore simply the "rough garb" of a private with the shoulder straps of a Lieutenant General.
But the images of the noble South and the humble North hid a very different reality. As soon as the papers were signed, Lee told Grant his men were starving, and asked if the Union general could provide the Confederates with rations. Grant didn't hesitate. "Certainly," he responded, before asking how many men needed food. He took Lee's answer-- "about twenty-five thousand"-- in stride, telling the general that "he could have... all the provisions wanted."
By spring 1865, Confederates, who had ridden off to war four years before boasting that they would beat the North's money-grubbing shopkeepers in a single battle were broken and starving, while, backed by a booming industrial economy, the Union army could provide rations for twenty-five thousand men on a moment's notice.
The Civil War was won not by the dashing sons of wealthy planters, but by men like Grant, who dragged himself out of his blankets and pulled a dirty soldier's uniform over his pounding head on an April morning because he knew he had to get up and get to work.
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April 9, 2021 (Friday)
The 1918 influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people across the world, including about 675,000 people in the United States. And yet, until recently, it has been elusive in our popular memory. America’s curious amnesia about the 1918 pandemic has come to mind lately as the United States appears to be shifting into a post-pandemic era of job growth and optimism.
A year ago today, I noted that we were approaching 17,000 deaths from Covid-19. Now our official death count is over 560,000. If anyone had told us a year ago that we would lose more than a half million of our family and friends to this pandemic, that number would have seemed unthinkable. And yet now, as more shots go into arms every day, attention to the extraordinary toll of the past year seems to be slipping.
Remembering the nation’s suffering under the pandemic matters because the contrast between the disastrous last year and our hope this spring is a snapshot of what is at stake in the fight over control of the nation’s government.
Ever since President Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Republicans have argued that the best way to run the country has been to dismantle the federal government and turn the fundamental operations of the country over to private enterprise. They have argued that the government is inefficient and wasteful, while businesses can pivot rapidly and are far more efficient than their government counterparts.
And then the coronavirus came.
The president put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of the nation’s response to the pandemic. Kushner sidelined career officials who knew how to source medical supplies, for example, in favor of young volunteers from investment banks and consulting firms. The administration touted what its leaders called an innovative public-private partnership to respond to the country’s needs, but a report from Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) documented that as late as March 2, the administration was urging American businesses to take advantage of the booming market in personal protective equipment (PPE) to export masks, ventilators, and PPE to other countries. Porter’s office examined export records to show that in February 2020, “the value of U.S. mask exports to China was 1094% higher than the 2019 monthly average.” Meanwhile, American health care providers were wearing garbage bags, and people were sewing their own masks.
As the contours of the crisis became clearer in late March, business leaders turned to Kushner to provide national direction. He told them: “The federal government is not going to lead this response…. It’s up to the states to figure out what they want to do.” When one leader told him the states were bidding against each other for PPE and driving prices up, he responded: “Free markets will solve this…. This is not the role of government.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro was so worried about the administration’s failure to buy critical medical supplies that he undertook to find them himself, haphazardly committing more than $1 billion of federal money to invest in drugs and supplies. Among other things, he bypassed normal procurement chains and arranged for a loan for Eastman Kodak, a company known for its work in the process of photography, to produce drugs to fight the pandemic. (The company’s stock price jumped from about $2 to $60 a share upon the news of the deal, and the loan was put on hold. Navarro called Eastman Kodak executives “stupid.”)
As infections and deaths continued to mount, the administration repeatedly downplayed the emergency. Today we learned that by May, science adviser Paul Alexander and his boss, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at Health and Human Services, were working to change the language officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used to warn of the dangers of the disease. “I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening. We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!” Caputo wrote to Alexander on May 16.
By July, Alexander was calling for the administration to adopt a strategy of herd immunity, simply letting the disease wash over the country. "Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected," he wrote to Caputo.
In keeping with the theory that the federal government had no role to play in combatting the pandemic, as the fall progressed and it appeared there might be a workable vaccine by 2021, the Trump administration made no plan for federal distribution of the vaccine. It figured it would simply deliver the vaccine to the states, which could make their own arrangements to get it into people. The states, though, were badly strapped for money either to advertise or to deliver the shots.
Infections surged terrifyingly after November until by late January, when Trump left the White House, new infections had reached about 250,000 a day and about 3000 people were dying of Covid-19 daily. With 170 deaths for every 100,000 Americans, the U.S. outstrips every other country in the world for the devastation of this disease. (Brazil, with 159 deaths for every 100,000 people, is second.)
In contrast to Trump, President Biden has used the pandemic to show what the federal government can do right.
The night before he took office, he held a memorial for the Americans who had died in the pandemic. Once in the White House, he dedicated the federal government to ending the scourge. On January 21, he issued a national strategy for responding to the crisis that began by declaring “the federal government should be the source of truth for the public to get clear, accessible, and scientifically accurate information about COVID-19.”
He begged Americans to wear masks, used the federal Defense Production Act to get supplies, got money to states and cities, bought vaccines, and poured money into the infrastructure that would get the vaccines into arms. As of today, the U.S. is averaging 3 million shots a day, and a third of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Twenty percent of us are fully vaccinated, including 60% of those 65 and older.
Cases of infection are dropping to about 66,000 cases a day-- well below the January surge but still high. The arrival of new, highly contagious variants continues to threaten worrisome spikes, but we are not, so far, facing the sort of crisis that Brazil is, where right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro opposes a lockdown, arguing that the damage a lockdown would do to the economy would be worse than letting the virus run its course. Hospitals in Brazil are overwhelmed, and this week more than 4,000 people died in 24 hours for the first time since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout in Brazil has been slow.
In America, the two very different responses to the pandemic have given us a powerful education in government activism. “For the past year, we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination we needed,” Biden said, “And we have seen the tragic cost of that failure….”
As time moves forward, if we really do get into the clear, it is entirely possible that the 2020 pandemic will fade into the same sort of vagueness that the 1918 pandemic did. But what it has taught us about government is important to remember.
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April 11, 2021 (Sunday)
Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.
In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).
President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.
The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.
Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.
Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.
While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.
On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.
But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.
Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.
Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how to deal with the voter suppression measures coming out of Republican legislatures. They discussed that political unrest is bad for business (this is very true-- one of the key reasons the American South had insufficient capital investment after the Civil War was that investors could not be sure their money wouldn’t disappear during social unrest) and are calling for corporations to continue to take a stand against voter restrictions, including by withholding money from Republican candidates.
This puts the Republicans in a bad spot. The insistence of state Republican legislators that they must protect against voter fraud reflects their determination to cling—without evidence—to the argument Trump lost the election only because the Democrats cheated. This is not true and has been thoroughly debunked. But, having sold their voters this Big Lie, they now need to follow through.
And yet, backing Trump right now is a dicey proposition. Since the lawmakers have been in Washington, D.C., more and more information has come out about key Trump supporter Republican Matthew Gaetz (R-FL), who is alleged to be involved in a number of shady deals in Florida, including—allegedly—being party to moving underaged girls across state lines for sex. While Gaetz insists he is a victim of “leaks and… lies,” it is notable that only Trump Republican Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have come to his defense. Others are remaining gingerly silent, which has only permitted the story to snowball.
Trump himself continues to make trouble for the party. He continues to raise money for his own coffers and last month demanded that the Republican National Committee stop using his name or picture on fundraising materials. It appeared he was reconciling with the party when he agreed to give a speech at the end of the RNC’s donor summit.
Instead, on Saturday night, at an invitation-only meeting of top donors at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida resort, Trump abandoned his scheduled calls for unity and instead used a speech to the attendees to reiterate that the 2020 election was stolen from him and to attack party members whom he considers insufficiently loyal, including Mitch McConnell.
Meanwhile, there were “White Lives Matter” rallies planned by neo-Nazis and Proud Boys for today in cities across the country to promote white nationalism and, as one organizer said, make “the whole world tremble.” But, in the end, virtually no one showed up. With the Justice Department indicting the January 6 insurrectionists and popular voices turning against the forces Trump encouraged, the angry Trump base appears to be going underground.
So, in the face of remarkably popular Democratic proposals to rebuild the country-- proposals that will kill the central principle of the Republican Party since the time of President Ronald Reagan that the government must get out of the economy—Republicans are split between their voting base, which wants Trumpian voter restrictions, and their donor base, which recognizes that those restrictions will destabilize the country.
The spring is going to see a remarkable game of political chess.
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April 12, 2021

Yesterday, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, a white police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, after what seems to have been a routine traffic stop turned up an arrest warrant. Today, the Brooklyn Center police chief told reporters that the arresting officer intended to fire her Taser at Wright, but instead fired her gun.

Wright’s death took place about ten miles from where Derek Chauvin is on trial for killing George Floyd in Minneapolis last May. Then a police officer, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while bystanders implored him to stop. Chauvin, a white officer, was arresting Floyd, a Black man, on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill.

In the three weeks of Chauvin’s trial, the former officer’s defenders have noted that there was fentanyl in Floyd’s blood, and suggested he expired not because of the knee on his neck but because he abused opioids. After Wright’s death, those defending the police officer who shot him argued that Wright had brought the deadly outcome on himself by resisting arrest.

But here’s the thing: Mr. Floyd and Mr. Wright are not on trial. Whether they abused drugs, or passed bad bills, or did something that warranted arrest, or did all of those things or none of them simply does not matter. They are not on trial.

What is on trial is the fundamental American principle of equality before the law. Our law enforcement officers are supposed to use the force of the state to deliver suspected lawbreakers to our criminal justice system. And yet, in both of these cases—and so many others in which a Black person has died at the hands of police—the officers apparently killed suspected offenders instead of delivering them to the legal system guaranteed under our Constitution. Individual police officers appear to have taken the law into their own hands and become judge, jury, and executioner.

Either Floyd and Wright had the right to due legal process, or police officers could condemn them to death without the due process of the law. If the former, it is imperative to defend the principle of equality before the law against those who would undermine that principle. If the latter, Floyd and Wright are not equal to white Americans, and we need to revisit exactly what sort of government we have.

On this day in 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, the United States fort located in Charleston Harbor, launching a Civil War that would take more than 600,000 lives and cost the United States more than $5 billion. The leaders of the Confederate States of America believed that the government of the United States of America had a fatal flaw: it declared that all men were created equal.

The men who framed the Constitution had made the terrible error of believing in equality, Georgia’s Alexander Stephens, the newly-elected vice president of the Confederacy, told a crowd on March 21, 1861. Northerners, he said, stupidly clung to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.”

In contrast to the United States government,” Stephens said, “the Confederate government rested on the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that… subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” Stephens told listeners that the Confederate government “is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Abraham Lincoln rejected this radical attempt to destroy the principles of the Declaration of Independence. He understood that it was not just Black rights at stake, but also democracy. Arguments like that of Stephens, that some men were better than others, “are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world,” Lincoln said. “You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden…. Turn in whatever way you will—whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent….”

Lincoln warned that “it does not stop with the negro. I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle and making exceptions to it where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man?” He told an audience in Chicago, Illinois, that Americans must stand with the Declaration of Independence or, he said, “If that declaration is not the truth, let us get the Statute book, in which we find it and tear it out!”

“NO! NO!” his audience cried. And when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, they took up arms to defend their government.

Almost four years to the day after the firing on Fort Sumter, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia, marking the defeat of the Confederacy and its attempt to create a nation in which some people were better than others.

And yet, on January 6, 2021, insurrectionists brandished the Confederate battle flag in the U.S. Capitol.

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