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July 9, 2021 (Friday)
On July 9, 1868, Americans changed the U.S. Constitution for the fourteenth time, adapting our foundational document to construct a new nation without systematic Black enslavement.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had prohibited slavery on the basis of race, but it did not prevent the establishment of a system in which Black Americans continued to be unequal. Backed by President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over the presidency after an actor had murdered President Abraham Lincoln, white southern Democrats had done their best to push their Black neighbors back into subservience. So long as southern states had abolished enslavement, repudiated Confederate debts, and nullified the ordinances of secession, Johnson was happy to readmit them to full standing in the Union, still led by the very men who had organized the Confederacy and made war on the United States.
Northern Republican lawmakers refused. There was no way they were going to rebuild southern society on the same blueprint as existed before the Civil War, especially since the upcoming 1870 census would count Black Americans as whole persons for the first time in the nation’s history, giving southern states more power in Congress and the Electoral College after the war than they had had before it. Having just fought a war to destroy the South’s ideology, they were not going to let it regrow in peacetime.
Congress rejected Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction.
But then congressmen had to come up with their own plan. After months of hearings and debate, they proposed amending the Constitution to settle the outstanding questions of the war. Chief among these was how to protect the rights of Black Americans in states where they could neither vote nor testify in court or sit on a jury to protect their own interests.
Congress’s solution was the Fourteenth Amendment.
It took on the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision declaring that Black men "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens.”
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
The amendment also addressed the Dred Scott decision in another profound way. In 1857, southerners and Democrats who were adamantly opposed to federal power controlled the Supreme Court. They backed states’ rights. So the Dred Scott decision did more than read Black Americans out of our history; it dramatically circumscribed Congress’s power.
The Dred Scott decision declared that democracy was created at the state level, by those people in a state who were allowed to vote. In 1857, this meant white men, almost exclusively. If those people voted to do something widely unpopular—like adopting human enslavement, for example—they had the right to do so and Congress could not stop them. People like Abraham Lincoln pointed out that such domination by states would eventually mean that an unpopular minority could take over the national government, forcing their ideas on everyone else, but defenders of states’ rights stood firm.
And so, the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government the power to protect individuals even if their state legislatures had passed discriminatory laws. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” it said. And then it went on to say that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
The principles behind the Fourteenth Amendment were behind the 1870 creation of the Department of Justice, whose first job was to bring down the Ku Klux Klan terrorists in the South.
Those same principles took on profound national significance in the post–World War II era, when the Supreme Court began to use the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment aggressively to apply the protections in the Bill of Rights to the states. The civil rights decisions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools, and the Loving v Virginia decision permitting interracial marriage, come from this doctrine. Under it, the federal government took up the mantle of protecting the rights of individual Americans in the states from the whims of state legislatures.
Opponents of these new civil rights protections quickly began to object that such decisions were “legislating from the bench,” rather than permitting state legislatures to make their own laws. These opponents began to call for “originalism,” the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted only as the Framers had intended when they wrote it, an argument that focused on the creation of law at the state level. Famously, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, an originalist who had called for the rollback of the Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, for a seat on that court.
Reacting to that nomination, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) recognized the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to equality: “Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….”
It’s a funny thing to write about the Fourteenth Amendment in the twenty-first century. I am a scholar of Reconstruction, and for me the Fourteenth Amendment conjures up images of late-1860s Washington, D.C., a place still plagued by malaria carried on mosquitoes from the Washington City Canal, where generals and congressmen worried about how to protect the Black men who had died in extraordinary numbers to defend the government while an accidental president pardoned Confederate generals and plotted to destroy the national system Abraham Lincoln had created.
It should feel very distant. And yet, while a bipartisan group of senators rejected Bork’s nomination in 1987, in 2021 the Supreme Court is dominated by originalists, and the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment seem terribly current.
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July 11, 2021 (Sunday)
On Friday, as President Joe Biden signed “An Executive Order Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” he echoed the language of his predecessors. “[C]ompetition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing,” he said. “Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth…. But what we’ve seen over the past few decades is less competition and more concentration that holds our economy back.”
Biden listed how prescription drugs, hearing aids, internet service, and agricultural supplies are all overpriced in the U.S. because of a lack of competition (RFD TV, the nation’s rural channel, has a long-running ad complaining of the cost of hearing aids). He also noted that noncompete clauses make it hard for workers to change jobs, another issue straight out of the late nineteenth century, when southern states tried to keep prices low by prohibiting employers from hiring Black workers away from their current jobs.
“I’m a proud capitalist,” Biden said. “I know America can’t succeed unless American business succeeds…. But let me be very clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation. Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want…. “[W]e know we’ve got a problem—a major problem. But we also have an incredible opportunity. We can bring back more competition to more of the country, helping entrepreneurs and small businesses get in the game, helping workers get a better deal, helping families save money every month. The good news is: We’ve done it before.”
Biden reached into our history to reclaim our long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both Roosevelt presidents—Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses, and then by championing competition.
Civil War era Republicans had organized around the idea that the American economy enjoyed what they called a “harmony of interest.” By that, they meant that everyone had the same economic interests. People at the bottom of the economy, people who drew value out of the products of nature—trees, or fish, or grain—produced value through their hard work. They created more value than they could consume, and this value, in the form of capital, employed people on the next level of the economy: shoemakers, dry goods merchants, cabinetmakers, and so on. They, in turn, produced more than they could consume, and their excess supported a few industrialists and financiers at the top of the pyramid who, in their turn, employed those just starting out. In this vision, the economy was a web in which every person shared a harmony of interest.
But by the 1880s, this idea that all Americans shared the same economic interest had changed into the idea that protecting American businesses would be good for everyone. American businessmen had begun to consolidate their enterprises into trusts, bringing a number of corporations under the same umbrella. The trusts stifled competition and colluded to raise the prices paid by consumers. Their power and funding gave them increasing power over lawmakers. As wealth migrated upward and working Americans felt like they had less and less control over their lives, they began to wonder what had happened to the equality for which they had fought the Civil War.
Labor leaders, newspapers, and Democratic lawmakers began to complain about the power of the wealthy in society and to claim the economic game was rigged, but their general critiques of the economy simply left them open to charges of being “socialists” who wanted to overturn society. Congress in 1890 finally gave in and passed an antitrust act, but it was so toothless that only one senator in the staunchly pro-business Senate voted against it, and no one in the House of Representatives voted no.
Then, around 1900, the so-called muckrakers hit their stride. Muckrakers were journalists who took on the political corruption and the concentration of wealth that plagued their era, but rather than making general moral statements, they did deep research into the workings of specific industries and political machines—Standard Oil, for example, and Minneapolis city government—and revealed the details behind the general outrage.
Their stories built pressure to regulate the robber barons, as they were called by then, but Congress, dominated by business interests, had no interest. Instead, President Theodore Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft, tended to rein in the trusts through the executive branch of the government, especially by legal action undertaken by the Department of Justice.
On Friday, Biden promised to use the power of the executive branch to rein in corporations, much as Theodore Roosevelt did during his terms of office. But there was more to Biden’s statement than that. His emphasis on restoring competition is from the next historical phase of antitrust action.
In the 1912 election, political language turned away from the evils of trusts and toward the economic competition so central to American life. Both Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson centered their campaigns around the idea that big business was strangling competition. Wilson called for a “New Freedom” that would get rid of the trusts once and for all and return the nation to a world of small enterprise and opportunity. Roosevelt scoffed at this idea. He talked of the “New Nationalism,” in which a large government would restore competition by regulating big businesses. (He said that if you got rid of trusts and then looked away, they would immediately spring up again.)
While their solutions were different, both Roosevelt and Wilson had reframed the stratified economy not solely as a problem, but also as an opportunity. Trimming the sails of the corporations was not an attack on the liberty of industrialists, but rather a restoration of the competition that had, in the past, enabled the country’s economy to thrive. And, once elected, Wilson managed to get key items of that agenda passed through Congress.
That positive emphasis on competition carried into the administration of the next Roosevelt president, FDR. Biden noted that FDR called for Congress to pass an economic bill of rights, including “the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.” And indeed, the idea of restoring a level playing field for all businesses, rather than letting them succeed or fail based on the whims of economic wirepullers, persuaded businessmen who had previously opposed regulation to line up behind the establishment of our Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.
Americans have lost this tradition since 1980, Biden said, when we abandoned the “fundamental American idea that true capitalism depends on fair and open competition.” Reframing business regulation as “laws to promote competition,” he promised 72 specific actions to enforce antitrust laws, stop “abusive actions by monopolies,” and end “bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, fewer options for workers and consumers alike.”
For 40 years, the Republican Party has offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy is seen as an attack on individual liberty because it hampers the accumulation of wealth. Biden’s speech on Friday reclaims a different theme in our history, that of government protecting individualism by keeping the economic playing field level.
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July 12, 2021 (Monday)
Today’s news all centered around the Big Lie that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
Yesterday, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the audience cheered through his meandering speech, in which he insisted that he won the 2020 election. “The entire system was rigged against the American people and rigged against a fair, decent and honest election,” he said. CNN’s Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked Trump’s speeches for years, called the speech “untethered to reality.”
But Trump was not alone: the whole three-day event featured speakers, including Representatives Ronny Jackson and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, focused on that Big Lie.
Just how untethered from reality this argument is became clear today when U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker held a hearing on whether the lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan should face sanctions. Those lawyers, dubbed the “Kraken” by one of their leaders, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell, produced close to 1000 pages of affidavits intending to cast doubt on the election results. Michigan and the city of Detroit filed complaints with the bar after the lawsuits failed, calling for punishment for the lawyers who had signed on to the effort.
As today’s hearing proceeded, it became clear that the so-called Kraken lawyers had made no effort to verify much of anything they presented to the court. Repeatedly, Parker asked if anyone had tried to verify any of the affidavits they had filed; repeatedly, they indicated they had not. At one point, Parker said, "I don't think I've ever really seen an affidavit" like this. "This is really fantastical," Parker said. "How can any of you, as officers of the court, present this type of an affidavit?"
Parker suggested that the whole point of the lawsuits in the first place was to spread lies to make people think the election wasn’t legitimate. "My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election...that's what these average affidavits are designed to do, to show there was something wrong in Michigan….”
Although Kraken lawyer Juli Haller began to cry during the hearing, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell made it clear that, far from backing down, she wanted to move forward. Repeatedly, she and other lawyers demanded a trial or at least an evidentiary hearing, clearly trying to legitimize their claims by presenting them in an official setting. Like other Trump supporters, Powell is hoping to use official procedures to legitimize lies. We saw this in the hearings before Trump’s first impeachment, when lawmakers such as Jim Jordan (R-OH) used the official proceedings to construct a narrative for rightwing media.
David Fink, an attorney representing Detroit, called that pattern out: "Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on January 6, but many people throughout the world...came to doubt the strength of our democratic institutions in this country.”
Also today, news broke that, back in November, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, Justin Riemer, called claims that Trump had won the election “a joke.” Speaking of the lawyer pushing such claims, Riemer said, “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”
And yet, the Republican Party itself is tethering itself to Trump.
In Oklahoma and Alaska, state Republican Party leaders have backed Trump-supporting challengers to James Lankford (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Lankford was actually speaking on the floor of the Senate on January 6, preparing to object to some of the certified ballots, when the rioters broke into the Capitol. After the insurrection riot, Lankford chose not to continue his objection to the counting. He now faces a primary challenger.
So does Murkowski, who, when party leaders similarly primaried her with someone backed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, won a write-in campaign. Shortly after the insurrection, Murkowski said to a reporter: "I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”
In Pennsylvania, the chair of the state senate's Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Trump-ally state senator Doug Mastriano, is demanding an Arizona-type recount of the 2020 vote in his state. Blocked by Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the state’s attorney general, Mastriano today issued a statement saying he would continue to fight for what he called a “forensic investigation.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers are leaving the state to block Republicans from passing voter restriction laws. By fleeing the state, they will deprive the legislatures of enough lawmakers to do business, a number called a “quorum.” The Texas legislature is in special session this summer in part because the Democrats blocked these laws in the same way in May. In response, Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature. Today, once again, he accused them of abandoning the duties for which voters elected them.
And yet, the Republicans’ argument for further restricting the vote is based on the Big Lie that the state needs to be protected from voter fraud after the 2020 election.
Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make a speech on voting rights. He is expected to call out the Big Lie and to talk about “actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote.”
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July 13, 2021 (Tuesday)
“Are you on the side of truth or lies; fact or fiction; justice or injustice; democracy or autocracy?”
In a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia today, President Joe Biden asked his audience to take a stand as he called defending the right to vote in America, “a test of our time.”
Biden explained that the 2020 election has been examined and reexamined and that “no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.” The Big Lie that Trump won is just that, he said: a big lie.
Nonetheless, 17 Republican-dominated states have enacted 28 laws to make it harder to vote. There are almost 400 more in the hopper. Biden called this effort “the 21st-century Jim Crow,” and promised to fight it. He pointed out that the new laws are doing more than suppressing the vote. They are taking the power to count the vote “from independent election administrators who work for the people” and giving it to “polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties.”
“This is simple,” Biden said. “This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.”
While Biden was on his way to Philadelphia, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives were fleeing the state to deny the Republicans in the legislature enough people to be able to do business. They are trying to stop the Republicans from passing measures that would further suppress the vote, just as they did when they left the state in May. Along with voting measures, the Texas Republicans want to pass others enflaming the culture wars in the state: bills to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools (where it is not taught) and to keep transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams. Both of these issues are part of a wider program pushed by national right-wing organizations.
When the Democrats left the state two months ago, Republican governor Greg Abbott was so angry he vetoed funding for the legislature (that effort is being challenged in court). This time, he has vowed to arrest the Democratic members and hold them inside the Capitol until the special session of the legislature ends in late August. This threat has no effect outside of Texas, where state authorities have no power, and even within the state it is unclear what law the legislators are breaking.
But it does raise the vision of a Republican governor arresting Democratic lawmakers who refuse to do his bidding.
What is at stake in Texas at the local level is that Abbott is smarting from two major failures of the electrical grid on his watch: one in February and one in June. What is at stake at the national level is that the electoral math says that Republicans cannot expect to win the White House in the future unless they carry Texas, with its 40 electoral votes, and the state seems close enough to turning Democratic that Abbott in 2020 ordered the removal of drop boxes for ballots. The electrical crisis of February, which killed nearly 200 Texans and in which Republican senator Ted Cruz was filmed leaving the state to go to Cancun, has hurt the Republican Party there.
And so, Abbott and his fellow Republicans are consolidating their power, planning to “win” in 2022 and 2024 by making sure Democrats can’t vote.
Biden today went farther than he ever has before in calling out Republicans for what they are doing. He described the attempt to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to rig the vote before 2022 for what it is: an attempt to subvert democracy and steal the election. “Have you no shame?” he asked his Republican colleagues.
But as strongly as Biden worded his speech, the former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, David Frum, in The Atlantic today went further.
“Those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing,” Frum wrote. “Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.” Since the insurrection, he noted, Trump supporters have embraced the idea that the people who hold office under our government are illegitimate and that, therefore, overturning the election is a patriotic duty.
“It’s time,” Frum said, “to start using the F-word.” The word he meant is “fascism.”
“We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said today…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
We must, he said, have “the will to save and strengthen our democracy.”
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July 14, 2021 (Wednesday)
Yesterday, news broke that, under pressure from Republican leaders, Republican-dominated Tennessee will no longer conduct vaccine outreach for minors. Only 38% of people in Tennessee are vaccinated, and yet the state Department of Health will no longer reach out to urge minors to get vaccinated.
This change affects not only vaccines for the coronavirus, but also all other routine vaccines. On Monday, Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones sent an email to staff saying there should be "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine." The HPV vaccine protects against a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer, among other cancers.
Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.
On Monday, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee's former top vaccine official, was fired without explanation, and Republicans have talked about getting rid of the Department of Health altogether, saying it has been undermining parents by going around them and straight to teens to promote vaccines.
Video editor J.M. Rieger of the Washington Post put together a series of videos of Republicans boosting the vaccine and thanking former president Donald Trump for it only to show the same people now spreading disinformation, calling vaccines one of the greatest scandals in our history, and even comparing vaccines to the horrors of the Nazis.
This begs the question: Why?
Former FBI special agent, lawyer, and professor Asha Rangappa put this question to Twitter. “Seriously: What is the [Republicans’] endgame in trying to convince their own voters not to get the vaccine?” The most insightful answer, I thought, was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.
The Republican Party continues to move to the right. During his time in office, the former president put his supporters into office at the level of the state parties, a move that is paying off as they purge from their midst those unwilling to follow Trump. Today, in Michigan, the Republican Party chair who had criticized Trump, Jason Cabel Roe, resigned.
Candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring for the 2022 midterm elections are trying to get attention by being more and more extreme. They vow to take on the establishment, support Trump and God, and strike terror into the “Liberals” who are bringing socialism to America. Forty QAnon supporters are running for Congress, 38 as Republicans, 2 as Independents.
And yet, there are cracks in this Republican rush to Trumpism.
Yesterday, on the Fox News Channel, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that "Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He legitimately got elected." Trump supporters immediately attacked McCarthy, but the minority leader is only too aware that the House Select Committee on the Capitol Insurrection will start hearing witnesses on July 27, and the spotlight on that event is highly unlikely to make the former president—and possibly some of the Republican lawmakers—look good.
Already, the books coming out about the former administration have been scathing, but tonight news broke of new revelations in a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Leonnig and Rucker interviewed more than 140 members of the former administration and say that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley was increasingly upset as he listened to Trump lie about having won the election, believing Trump was looking for an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.
Milley compared the former president’s language to that of Hitler and was so worried Trump was going to seize power that Milley began to strategize with other military leaders to keep him from using the military in illegal ways, especially after Trump put his allies at the head of the Pentagon. “They may try, but they’re not going to f---ing succeed,” he allegedly said.
In addition to damaging stories coming out about the former president, news broke yesterday that Fitch Ratings, a credit rating company, is considering downgrading the AAA rating of the United States government bonds. The problem is not the economy. In fact, the Fitch Ratings report praises the economy, saying it “has recovered much more rapidly than expected, helped by policy stimulus and the roll-out of the vaccination program, which has allowed economic reopening…. [T]he scale and speed of the policy response [is] a positive reflection on the macroeconomic policy framework. Real economic output has overtaken its pre-pandemic level and is on track to exceed pre-pandemic projections....”
Although the report worries about the growing debt, we also learned yesterday that the deficit for June dropped a whopping 80% from the deficit a year ago, as tax receipts recover along with the economy. Year-to-date, the annual deficit is down 18% from last year.
The problem, the report says, is politics. And it is specific. “The failure of the former president to concede the election and the events surrounding the certification of the results of the presidential election in Congress in January, have no recent parallels in other very highly rated sovereigns. The redrafting of election laws in some states could weaken the political system, increasing divergence between votes cast and party representation. These developments underline an ongoing risk of lack of bipartisanship and difficulty in formulating policy and passing laws in Congress.”
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14 hours ago, Bus Driver said:
July 14, 2021 (Wednesday)
Yesterday, news broke that, under pressure from Republican leaders, Republican-dominated Tennessee will no longer conduct vaccine outreach for minors. Only 38% of people in Tennessee are vaccinated, and yet the state Department of Health will no longer reach out to urge minors to get vaccinated.
This change affects not only vaccines for the coronavirus, but also all other routine vaccines. On Monday, Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones sent an email to staff saying there should be "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine." The HPV vaccine protects against a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer, among other cancers.
Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.
On Monday, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee's former top vaccine official, was fired without explanation, and Republicans have talked about getting rid of the Department of Health altogether, saying it has been undermining parents by going around them and straight to teens to promote vaccines.
Video editor J.M. Rieger of the Washington Post put together a series of videos of Republicans boosting the vaccine and thanking former president Donald Trump for it only to show the same people now spreading disinformation, calling vaccines one of the greatest scandals in our history, and even comparing vaccines to the horrors of the Nazis.
This begs the question: Why?
Former FBI special agent, lawyer, and professor Asha Rangappa put this question to Twitter. “Seriously: What is the [Republicans’] endgame in trying to convince their own voters not to get the vaccine?” The most insightful answer, I thought, was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.
The Republican Party continues to move to the right. During his time in office, the former president put his supporters into office at the level of the state parties, a move that is paying off as they purge from their midst those unwilling to follow Trump. Today, in Michigan, the Republican Party chair who had criticized Trump, Jason Cabel Roe, resigned.
Candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring for the 2022 midterm elections are trying to get attention by being more and more extreme. They vow to take on the establishment, support Trump and God, and strike terror into the “Liberals” who are bringing socialism to America. Forty QAnon supporters are running for Congress, 38 as Republicans, 2 as Independents.
And yet, there are cracks in this Republican rush to Trumpism.
Yesterday, on the Fox News Channel, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that "Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He legitimately got elected." Trump supporters immediately attacked McCarthy, but the minority leader is only too aware that the House Select Committee on the Capitol Insurrection will start hearing witnesses on July 27, and the spotlight on that event is highly unlikely to make the former president—and possibly some of the Republican lawmakers—look good.
Already, the books coming out about the former administration have been scathing, but tonight news broke of new revelations in a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Leonnig and Rucker interviewed more than 140 members of the former administration and say that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley was increasingly upset as he listened to Trump lie about having won the election, believing Trump was looking for an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.
Milley compared the former president’s language to that of Hitler and was so worried Trump was going to seize power that Milley began to strategize with other military leaders to keep him from using the military in illegal ways, especially after Trump put his allies at the head of the Pentagon. “They may try, but they’re not going to f---ing succeed,” he allegedly said.
In addition to damaging stories coming out about the former president, news broke yesterday that Fitch Ratings, a credit rating company, is considering downgrading the AAA rating of the United States government bonds. The problem is not the economy. In fact, the Fitch Ratings report praises the economy, saying it “has recovered much more rapidly than expected, helped by policy stimulus and the roll-out of the vaccination program, which has allowed economic reopening…. [T]he scale and speed of the policy response [is] a positive reflection on the macroeconomic policy framework. Real economic output has overtaken its pre-pandemic level and is on track to exceed pre-pandemic projections....”
Although the report worries about the growing debt, we also learned yesterday that the deficit for June dropped a whopping 80% from the deficit a year ago, as tax receipts recover along with the economy. Year-to-date, the annual deficit is down 18% from last year.
The problem, the report says, is politics. And it is specific. “The failure of the former president to concede the election and the events surrounding the certification of the results of the presidential election in Congress in January, have no recent parallels in other very highly rated sovereigns. The redrafting of election laws in some states could weaken the political system, increasing divergence between votes cast and party representation. These developments underline an ongoing risk of lack of bipartisanship and difficulty in formulating policy and passing laws in Congress.”

This bit - The most insightful answer, I thought, was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.

I just have no words..  This is so spot on.  

And this

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

This is actually a good thing IMHO.  The world is speaking up now.  Critters tend to scamper when the light is turned on and I think that is exactly what this is going to do...  

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July 15, 2021 (Thursday)
Today Americans began to see the concrete effects of the American Rescue Plan show up in their bank accounts, as the expanded child tax credit goes into effect for one year. Through this program, the Child Tax Credit increased to $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6. All working families will get the full credit if they make up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a family with a single parent. The government sent payments for almost 60 million children on Thursday, totaling $15 billion.
This is a really big deal. In America, one in seven children lives in poverty. This measure is expected to cut that poverty nearly in half. Studies suggest that addressing childhood poverty continues to pay off over time, as it helps adults achieve higher levels of mobility.
But this huge achievement of the Biden presidency—every single Republican voted against it—has taken a backseat in the news to two blockbuster stories about the former president.
The first is the continuing information coming from a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker called I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year. Their eye-popping accounts of the days surrounding the January 6 insurrection broke last night with accounts of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, comparing the former president to Hitler and fearing that he was going to refuse to leave office.
In response, the former president and his supporters are attacking Milley. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson showed an image of Milley with a gay pride flag, an anti-fascist sign, and a reference to “thoroughly modern Milley,” a play on a popular film title from 1967.
The former president released a long and rambling statement, rehashing past grievances, that nonetheless had a statement that stood out. “I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government,” he said. “[I]f I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.” It was an odd denial.
Also interesting in the book excerpts were stories that suggest why Republican leaders were eager to avoid an investigation into the insurrection.
Accounts in the excerpts told of Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) confronting Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) during the insurrection. “That f--king guy Jim Jordan,” she allegedly told Milley. “That son of a bitch.... While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ I smacked his hand away and told him, ‘Get away from me. You f--king did this.’” Cheney has accepted a position on the House select committee to investigate the insurrection, set up after the Republicans killed the bipartisan, independent commission.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who almost ran into the rioters, also blamed his colleagues. While they were being sheltered in a secure room, he allegedly went up to Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had supported Trump’s challenge to the election, and told them: “This is what you have caused.”
The second big story came this morning in the form of an article from The Guardian, which purported to reveal leaked documents from the Kremlin in which Putin and Russian leaders agreed in January 2016 to make Trump president to sow discord in the United States in order to get U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Crimea overturned. The documents described Trump as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex.”
There are many reasons to be skeptical of this “leak,” but, in the end, whether true or not, it doesn’t tell us much that we don't already know. There is ample evidence, articulated most clearly in the Senate Intelligence Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, that Russia worked hard to get Trump elected in 2016.
What is interesting about this story is, if you will pardon this fan of Sherlock Holmes, “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” In that old Arthur Conan Doyle tale, the key to the mystery was that the family dog didn’t bark at an intruder in the night and therefore must have known the villain.
Shortly after The Guardian story broke, Trump himself announced that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) were meeting over general issues, although these two big stories simply had to be on the agenda, not least because McCarthy was caught on tape in June 2016 saying: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” (Dana Rohrabacher was a Republican representative from California.) Later today, through his spokesperson, Trump appeared to call the story “fake news,” along with his usual descriptions of stories of his connections to Russia, but, despite a flurry of statements he issued today, these comments were not issued as a statement but were only quoted in his spokesperson’s tweets.
As near as I can tell, the former president is the only Republican who has responded to the story. Other leaders are talking about the border, masks, Cuba, and Britney Spears. Their lack of a response to a deeply damaging story about the leader of their party suggests to me that, at best, they are hoping the story will disappear and, at worst, they believe it’s true.
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July 16, 2021 (Friday)
This morning, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters that the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases has jumped almost 70 percent in the last week. Yesterday the U.S. had more than 33,000 new cases. Hospital admissions have jumped about 36% over the same period, to about 2,790 a day. And, after dropping for weeks, the seven-day average of deaths per day has also increased, rising 26% to 211 deaths per day.
Walensky called it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Fully vaccinated individuals can still get Covid-19, but they are protected against the worst of it. They should not need hospitalization and will almost certainly not die. They are protected against the new Delta variant now sweeping the world, as well as against the older variants.
Jeffrey Zients, the coordinator of the Covid-19 response, told reporters that the United States has fully vaccinated more than 160 million Americans but low-vaccination pockets are driving a new spike. In the past week, just four states produced more than 40% of cases. Florida alone accounted for one in five cases.
Virtually all recent hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Zients explained that the administration is working to bring vaccines directly to individuals. As well, it is working with trusted messengers to urge people to get vaccinated. This week, the administration amped up its efforts to encourage vaccination by joining with Olivia Rodrigo, the wildly popular 18-year-old actress and singer, to urge young people to get vaccinated. In a video she recorded with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the chief medical adviser to the president, Fauci told Rodrigo, who was born in 2003, about the greatest concert he ever attended: he saw the Temptations and the Four Tops at the Paramount Theatre in New York City in the late 1950s.
Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” was released on January 8 in the midst of the pandemic; it debuted at number one on Billboard Hot 100, the nation’s standard record chart. Three months later, on April 1, 2021, her second single, “Deja Vu,” debuted at number eight, and on May 14, 2021, her third single, “Good 4 U,” debuted at number one, making her the first artist in the history of the charts to debut their first three singles in the top ten (which has nothing to do with vaccines, but it’s cool).
The White House is also trying now to combat disinformation and misinformation head on. Yesterday the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on the dangers of health misinformation. A Surgeon General’s Advisory is a public statement calling attention to a public health issue and making recommendations for addressing that issue.
The advisory calls out social media for spreading false, inaccurate, or misleading information about both coronavirus and the vaccine, bad information that has led people to reject basic health measures like masks and to attack frontline workers trying to enforce those measures.
The advisory blames social media in explicit terms, noting that misinformation is framed to hit emotions so that people get outraged and spread it quickly, that technology platforms incentivize people to share such highly charged content, and that social media platforms use algorithms to steer users toward content similar to things they have previously liked, building disinformation bubbles.
“Health misinformation has cost us lives,” Murthy told reporters at the White House today. “Technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. It allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation—what we call ‘disinformation’—to have extraordinary reach.”
“In this advisory, we’re telling technology companies that we expect more,” he said. “We’re asking them to operate with greater transparency, to modify their algorithms to avoid amplifying misinformation, and to swiftly and consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.”
Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate have discovered that 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media have come from just 12 people, nicknamed the “Disinformation Dozen.” Social media have been slow to remove their access to social media sites, or even their false content. According to Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, the White House has tried for weeks to get Facebook to explain how it is combating disinformation about the vaccine but has not received answers.
Republicans, already mad at social media giants for kicking off the former president, promptly claimed that Democrats were trying to censor free speech. Notably, Fox News Channel personalities and Republican leaders have been casting doubt on the vaccines since Biden took office and vowed to make combating the pandemic his signature success.
That the White House called out social media algorithms that skew information is clearly a concern for Facebook, for such algorithms could be regulated by the government while speech cannot. Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever rejected the idea that Facebook has contributed to disinformation, saying that the site has provided more good information about the coronavirus and vaccines than any other place on the internet.
As he boarded Marine One on his way to Camp David in Maryland for the weekend, reporters asked the president what he would say to social media executives about the disinformation on their platforms. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that—and they’re killing people.”
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July 17, 2021 (Saturday)
A year ago tonight, Georgia Representative John Lewis passed away from pancreatic cancer at 80 years old. As a young adult, Lewis was a “troublemaker,” breaking the laws of his state: the laws upholding racial segregation. He organized voting registration drives and in 1960 was one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and Black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to challenge segregation. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” Lewis later recalled.
An adherent of the philosophy of nonviolence, Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—pronounced “snick”), he helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., told more than 200,000 people gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial that he had a dream. Just 23 years old, Lewis spoke at the march. Two years later, as Lewis and 600 marchers hoping to register African American voters in Alabama stopped to pray at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, mounted police troopers charged the marchers, beating them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.
To observers in 1965 reading the newspapers, Lewis was simply one of the lawbreaking protesters who were disrupting the “peace” of the South. But what seemed to be fruitless and dangerous protests were, in fact, changing minds. Shortly after the attack in Selma, President Lyndon Baines Johnson honored those changing ideas when he went on TV to support the marchers and call for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.
When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, just 6.7 percent of Black voters in Mississippi were registered to vote. Two years later, almost 60% of them were. In 1986, those new Black voters helped to elect Lewis to Congress. He held the seat until he died, winning reelection 16 times.
Now, just a year after Representative Lewis’s death, the voting rights for which he fought are under greater threat than they have been since 1965. After the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by taking away Department of Justice supervision of election changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, Republican-dominated state legislatures began to enact measures that would cut down on minority voting.
At Representative Lewis’s funeral, former President Barack Obama called for renewing the Voting Rights Act. "You want to honor John?” he said. “Let's honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.” Instead, after the 2020 election, Republican-dominated legislatures ramped up their effort to skew the vote in their favor by limiting access to the ballot. As of mid-June 2021, 17 states had passed 28 laws making it harder to vote, while more bills continue to move forward.
Then, on July 1, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court handed down Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, saying that the state of Arizona did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act when it passed laws that limited ballot delivery to voters, family members, or caregivers, or when it required election officials to throw out ballots that voters had cast in the wrong precincts by accident.
The fact that voting restrictions affect racial or ethnic groups differently does not make them illegal, Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote a blistering dissent, in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined. “If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act,” Kagan wrote, “It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out.” She explained, “The Voting Rights Act is ambitious, in both goal and scope. When President Lyndon Johnson sent the bill to Congress, ten days after John Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he explained that it was “carefully drafted to meet its objective—the end of discrimination in voting in America.” It gave every citizen “the right to an equal opportunity to vote.”
“Much of the Voting Rights Act’s success lay in its capacity to meet ever-new forms of discrimination,” Kagan wrote. Those interested in suppressing the vote have always offered “a non-racial rationalization” even for laws that were purposefully discriminatory. Poll taxes, elaborate registration regulations, and early poll closings were all designed to limit who could vote but were defended as ways to prevent fraud and corruption, even when there was no evidence that fraud or corruption was a problem. Kagan noted that the Arizona law permitting the state to throw out ballots cast in the wrong precinct invalidated twice as many ballots cast by Indigenous Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans as by whites.
“The majority’s opinion mostly inhabits a law-free zone,” she wrote.
Congress has been slow to protect voting rights. Although it renewed the Voting Rights Act by an overwhelming majority in 2006, that impulse has disappeared. In March 2021, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act on which Representative Lewis had worked, a sweeping measure that protects the right to vote, removes dark money from politics, and ends partisan gerrymandering. Republicans in the Senate killed the bill, and Democrats were unwilling to break the filibuster to pass it alone.
An attempt simply to restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 has not yet been introduced, although it has been named: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Only one Republican, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, has signed on to the bill.
Yesterday, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), was arrested with eight other protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building for demanding legislation to protect voting rights.
After her arrest, Beatty tweeted: "You can arrest me. You can't stop me. You can't silence me.”
Last June, Representative Lewis told Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart that he was “inspired” by last summer’s peaceful protests in America and around the world against police violence. “It was so moving and so gratifying to see people from all over America and all over the world saying through their action, ‘I can do something. I can say something,’” Lewis told Capehart. “And they said something by marching and by speaking up and speaking out.”
Capehart asked Lewis “what he would say to people who feel as though they have already been giving it their all but nothing seems to change.” Lewis answered: “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.”
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair,” Lewis tweeted almost exactly a year before his death. “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”
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July 19, 2021 (Monday)
This morning, on the Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, personality Steve Doocy told viewers to get the coronavirus vaccine because it would “save your life” and noted that 99% of the people now dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Brian Kilmeade answered that not getting the vaccine is a personal choice and that the government has no role in protecting the population. “That’s not their job. It’s not their job to protect anybody,” he said.
It is, of course, literally the job of the government to protect us. The preamble to the Constitution reads: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
But Kilmeade’s extraordinary comment cuts to the heart of the long history from the New Deal to the present.
In the 1930s, to combat the Great Depression, Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had offered a “new deal for the American people.” That New Deal meant that the government would no longer work simply to promote business, but would regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. World War II accelerated the construction of that active government, and by the time it was over, Americans quite liked the new system.
After the war, Republican Dwight Eisenhower rejected the position of 1920s Republicans and embraced the active government. He explained that in the modern world, the government must protect people from disasters created by forces outside their control, and it must provide social services that would protect people from unemployment, old age, illness, accidents, unsafe food and drugs, homelessness, and disease.
He called his version of the New Deal “a middle way between untrammeled freedom of the individual and the demands of the welfare of the whole Nation.” One of his supporters explained that, “If a job has to be done to meet the needs of the people, and no one else can do it, then it is the proper function of the federal government.”
In this, Eisenhower and his team were echoing Abraham Lincoln, who thought about government at a time when elite southern enslavers insisted that government had no role to play in the country except in protecting property.
As a young man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem, Illinois, die because the settlers—hard workers, eager to make the town succeed—could not dredge the Sangamon River to promote trade by themselves. Lincoln later mused, “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.’…Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances.”
So Eisenhower and his fellow Republicans were in line with traditional Republican values when they declared their support for an active government. But those who objected to what became known as the post–World War II liberal consensus rejected the idea that the government had any role to play in the economy or in social welfare.
In 1954, William F. Buckley, Jr., and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell, Jr., made no distinction between the liberal consensus and international communism when they defended Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy for his attacks on “communists” in the U.S. government. They insisted that the country was made up of “Liberals,” who were guiding the nation toward socialism, and “Conservatives,” like themselves, who were standing alone against the Democrats and Republicans who made up a majority of the country and liked the new business regulations, safety net, and infrastructure.
That reactionary mindset came to dominate the Republican Party after 1980, and now, forty years later, a television personality is taking the stand that the government has no role in protecting Americans against a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 of us.
And yet, the idea that the government has a role to play in the economy remains popular, and this is creating a problem for Republicans. As soon as they took office, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without any Republican votes. About 60% of Americans liked the plan, and it is likely to be more popular still now that checks from the Child Tax Credit extended in it began hitting parents’ bank accounts on July 15. Even before that, at least 26 Republicans were touting the benefits of the measure to their constituents while neglecting to mention they voted against it.
Now, Congress is negotiating a two-part infrastructure plan. Biden and the Democrats have worked hard for three months to get at least 10 Republican senators to agree to a $579 billion measure that would provide hard infrastructure like roads, bridges, and broadband. Negotiators are still hammering out that agreement and Democrats are making concessions; yesterday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, told CNN that a provision to pay for the package in part by enforcing tax laws against those ignoring them bothered Republicans enough that negotiators cut it.
And yet tonight, leading Republicans said they would not vote to advance the bill on Wednesday, citing the fact it is not fully written. Since both parties regularly move their measures forward under such circumstances, many Democrats simply see this as a delaying tactic to try to kill the measure before Congress starts a month-long break on August 6. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said for weeks that he would bring the bill up in mid-July.
If the bipartisan bill fails, the Democrats can simply fold the provisions in it into their larger infrastructure bill that they intend to pass through budget reconciliation, which cannot be blocked by a filibuster. This larger, $3.5 trillion measure includes funding for human infrastructure, such as childcare, and for addressing climate change. It also will move corporate taxation from the 21% established by the 2017 tax cut up to about 28%. (It was 35% before the 2017 tax cut.)
The Democrats need to get these measures through because they are facing serious financial deadlines. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 suspended the debt ceiling—the amount the country can borrow—only until July 31 of this year. And the budget needs to be hammered out by September 30. If it isn’t, government funding can be extended by a continuing resolution, but in the past, Republicans have sometimes chosen to shut down the government instead.
All of this will take place while the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection will be holding hearings. Today, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made it clear he intends to disrupt those hearings: three of the five people he named to the committee—Jim Banks (R-IN), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Troy Nehls (R-TX)—voted to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, thus helping to legitimize the Big Lie that led to the insurrection.
McCarthy made Banks the ranking member, suggesting that he expects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reject Jordan, but there is already outcry at the idea of any of these three investigating events in which they participated. Already, Banks has indicated that he is not really interested in studying the events of January 6, saying tonight that Speaker Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
McCarthy’s other two appointments are Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).
In today’s struggle over the nature of government, the Democrats are at a disadvantage. They want to use the government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, just as Lincoln and FDR and Eisenhower advocated. To drive their individualist vision, though, all the Republicans have to do is stop the Democrats.
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July 20, 2021 (Tuesday)
Today, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted three men for illegally influencing the foreign policy positions of a presidential candidate and then, after the election, of the United States government.
They were acting in the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy country in the Persian Gulf. The candidate was Donald Trump, and one of the three men was his ally Thomas Barrack. Another was Matthew Grimes, a 27-year-old employee who reported to Barrack. The third was UAE citizen Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, who lived in California until 2018, leaving abruptly after the FBI interviewed him about the case.
The return of Barrack to the news recalls the outsized influence of foreign actors in the previous administration, and how U.S. policy appeared to change to suit their interests. On Twitter, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times wrote: “One of the mysteries of Trump's first six months was why the administration came out of the gate so hot for Saudi and UAE—with Trump traveling to Saudi Arabia and then going along with the Qatar blockade. The Tom Barrack indictment explains a lot.”
A billionaire private equity real-estate investor and longtime ally of Trump, Barrack was a key fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, which he advised between April and November 2016. In June 2018, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote a profile of Barrack, explaining that he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles and so grew up speaking Arabic, which helped him do business and make contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Barrack got to know Trump in the real estate world of the 1980s, and by 2010, he acquired $70 million of Jared Kushner’s debt and retired enough of it to keep Kushner from bankruptcy. When Trump launched his 2016 campaign with anti-Muslim rhetoric, Barrack calmed his Middle East contacts down, assuring them that Trump was simply using hyperbole.
Barrack urged Trump to hire Paul Manafort—fresh from his stint working for a Ukrainian oligarch—and served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Grimes and Barrack proposed to contacts in the UAE that it should use “its vast economic surplus to obtain a level of influence…which the country should rightfully command.” They suggested it should use financial investments to “increase [its] influence with USA and European governments and people.”
A final draft of their proposal explained that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also…garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the recently elected Candidate, hereinafter, the ‘President-Elect’]....We will do so by sourcing, investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”
Barrack’s investment firm raised more than $7 billion between 2016 and 2018, 24% of it from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.
Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.
In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.
Today, prosecutors said that Barrack provided foreign government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”
They say he also "met with and assisted senior leaders of the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], a close ally of the UAE."
In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency to bypass congressional oversight of an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. After the UAE signed onto the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with Israel, the U.S. sold them another $23 billion of arms, including 50 F-35 advanced fighter planes.
Barrack and Grimes were arrested this morning in California.
When announcing the arrests, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said, “American citizens have a right to know when foreign governments, or their agents, are attempting to exert influence on our government. This is especially important to Americans during a Presidential election year, and the laws on the books were created to protect our nation from such untoward influence. This case is about secret attempts to influence our highest officials.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division Mark J. Lesko said, “Through this indictment, we are putting everyone—regardless of their wealth or perceived political power—on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said, “These arrests serve as a warning to those who act at the direction of foreign governments without disclosing their actions, as well as those who seek to mislead investigators about their actions, that they will be brought to justice and face the consequences.”
Prosecutors warned that Barrack was a flight risk because of his wealth, private jet, and “deep and longstanding ties to countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States”: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Barrack’s lawyer says that Barrack “has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” possibly indicating a willingness to flip.
A judge has ordered Barrack be held in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.
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July 21, 2021 (Wednesday)
The story that grabbed headlines today was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rejected two of the five people House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) chose to put on the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. McCarthy immediately withdrew all of the five people he had appointed, accusing the Speaker of partisanship.
But let’s call this like it is. The Republicans killed a bill to create a bipartisan select committee to investigate the insurrection. Then, when Pelosi set up a select committee instead on the exact same terms that Republicans had used to set up one of their many Benghazi committees, McCarthy tried to sabotage the process by naming as three of his five picks men who bought into former president Trump’s Big Lie and challenged the votes on the night of January 6.
One of those men, Jim Jordan (R-OH), is known for disrupting hearings; another, Jim Banks (R-IN), after being selected to sit on the committee, said that Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” Banks has repeatedly tried to blame Pelosi for the response of the Capitol Police on January 6, when, in fact, it is overseen by a three-person Capitol Police Board. It is likely that McCarthy chose Jordan precisely to push Pelosi into rejecting him: McCarthy did not make Jordan the ranking member on the committee despite his seniority.
Pelosi refused to accept Jordan and Banks but did accept Troy Nehls (R-TX), who also voted to challenge the results of the 2020 election. Nonetheless, McCarthy made a show of pulling all his appointees from the committee, saying “this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth.”
But, of course, one of Pelosi’s own picks is Republican Liz Cheney (R-WY), who voted with Trump 92.9% of the time, but who recognizes the insurrection as one of the most dangerous threats to our democracy in our history. She responded today to McCarthy, her party’s leader, supporting Pelosi’s decision and telling reporters that the Speaker had “objected to two members and the rhetoric around this from the minority leader and from those two members has been disgraceful. This must be an investigation that is focused on facts, and the idea that any of this has become politicized is really unworthy of the office that we all hold and unworthy of our republic.”
Cheney said she is "absolutely confident that we will have a nonpartisan investigation."
On January 13, of course, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by [Trump] to accept his share of responsibility.” Now, six months later, Republicans have lined up behind the former president and are seeking to sabotage the investigation into the January 6 insurrection, clearly unhappy about what that investigation will reveal.
In the Senate, a vote to advance the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill failed today, but 11 Republicans eager to make the deal work delivered a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) indicating their intention to vote for such a bill once it is hammered out. Schumer has promised to bring the procedural process up again if it has the votes to pass. If Republicans refuse to join the measure, Democrats can simply fold it into the larger bill they’re hoping to pass through reconciliation without the Republican votes necessary to break a filibuster.
McConnell has taken a stand against the Democrats’ infrastructure plans. In a speech on July 6, he focused on the larger package, saying: “The era of bipartisanship on this stuff is over....This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis. This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and it's going to unfold here in the next few weeks. I don't think we've had a bigger difference of opinion between the two parties.” But many Republicans recognize that the infrastructure package is popular, and they would like to have their names on it rather than giving another win to the Democrats. Schumer has given them more time but has made it clear he will not let them run out the clock.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters today that no Republican senators will vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling when a deal cut two years ago to suspend the ceiling ends on July 31. McConnell wants to see spending cuts to bring down the deficit. (It is worth noting that the Republicans just demanded that funding to beef up the IRS to catch tax cheaters be stripped from the new infrastructure bill, although the commissioner of the IRS, Charles Rettig, estimates we lose $1 trillion a year in unpaid taxes.)
During the Trump administration, Congress voted at least three times to raise the debt ceiling. Under Trump, the nation added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, about $23,500 for every person in the country. The bulk of this debt came before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, which chopped the federal tax rate from 35% to 21%, hurt revenues at the same time that administration spending increased dramatically. And then the pandemic hit.
Under Trump, the deficit rose 5.2%. The only presidents to raise it faster in their terms were George W. Bush, under whom the deficit rose 11.7% as he cut taxes and started two wars, and Abraham Lincoln, under whom it rose 9.4% as he paid for the Civil War.
The Democrats are treating McConnell’s threat to shut down the government as political posturing. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We expect Congress to act in a timely manner to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, as they did three times on a broad bipartisan basis during the last administration,” and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted: “We are not going to have a ‘big fight’ over the debt ceiling. We are just going to handle our business like grownups.” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) added: “We don't bargain over the debt ceiling. We just do our jobs. And if you choose not to do your job, then you answer for the consequences.”
The takeaway from today is that McConnell and McCarthy seem to have lost control of their caucus, while the Republicans’ posturing is increasingly out of step with the national mood. Pelosi called McCarthy’s bluff, Schumer warned his Republican colleagues that he will not let them sabotage Democratic priorities by running out the clock, and Democratic lawmakers are taking advantage of the erratic behavior of Republican lawmakers to suggest that they, the Democrats, are currently the only adults in the room.
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July 22, 2021 (Thursday)
The backdrop of everything political these days is the 2022 midterm election.
The most immediate story in the country is that coronavirus infections are rising rapidly. The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases is rising about 37,700 cases per day, and the seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 3500 per day. The seven-day average of daily deaths has also increased to 237 per day, about 19 percent higher than it was in the previous seven-day period.
The vast majority of these hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated as the new, highly contagious Delta variant spreads. Today, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned that the Delta variant “is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career.”
Three states with lower vaccination rates, Florida, Texas, and Missouri, had 40 percent of all the nation’s cases. At a White House press conference, Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, noted, “For the second week in a row, one in five of all cases [occurred] in Florida alone.”
Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits have cast doubt on the vaccines and hardened opposition to them as part of the stoking of a culture war, but now, quite suddenly, many of them are urging their supporters and listeners to get vaccinated. They have not offered their reasoning for the about-face, and perhaps they are suddenly concerned about coronavirus deaths.
But as news outlets repeat that hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly among the unvaccinated, Republican lawmakers must also realize that their voters will at some point resent the anti-vaccine advice that is singling them out for death.
Republicans seem to be trying to rewrite their past attacks on the vaccine by now blaming the people who refused the vaccines for their reluctance to get it. Today, for example, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who has been a strong Trump supporter, blamed the unvaccinated for the spike. “Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the vaccinated folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” she said.
The Republicans have another problem, too. Candidates vying to win Republican primaries are trying to pick up the Trump base by sticking closely to him and to the lie that he won the 2020 election. But the same stances that will win primary voters will alienate voters in the general election.
Candidates are staking out their pro-Trump ground in part because they are holding out hope that the former president will choose to pour money into their campaigns; however, news broke today that Trump has taken in about $75 million in the first half of 2021 on the promise that he is fighting the results of the 2020 election but has spent none of that money on those challenges.
At the same time that news about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the January 6 commission put a spotlight on the possible involvement of Trump Republicans in that insurrection, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is using the Senate Rules Committee, which she chairs, to highlight the voter restrictions that legislatures in Republican-dominated states are imposing on their citizens. The committee is holding field hearings this week in Georgia.
There, Georgia State Senator Sally Harrell (D) told the committee about begging for copies of voting rights bills so she could read them before voting, about bills being switched at the last minute, and of not being able to stop the Republicans from undermining voting rights. Harrell told the committee that state lawmakers need the help of the federal For the People Act to protect voting rights.
Mounting pressure on Republican lawmakers to try to shore up their voters showed in the July 20 Senate vote on the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law today. Originally passed in 1984, the measure gathers fines and penalties paid by convicted federal criminals into a fund that spreads money to organizations helping the victims of crimes. But the amount of money in the fund has dropped 92% since 2017, as “non-prosecutorial agreements” and “deferred prosecution agreements” kept money from going into the fund.
This measure is vital for domestic abuse survivors and their children, and the new bill directs money from those agreements into the fund to replenish it. The Senate, which generally opposes social welfare legislation, backed it 100–0 in what looks like an attempt to reach out to the suburban women Republicans need to win in 2022 and 2024.
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July 23, 2021 (Friday)
On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first humans ever to land, and then to walk, on the moon.
They were part of the Apollo program, designed to put an American man on the moon. Their spacecraft launched on July 16 and landed back on Earth in the Pacific Ocean July 24, giving them eight days in space, three of them orbiting the moon 30 times. Armstrong and Aldrin spent almost 22 hours on the moon’s surface, where they collected soil and rock samples and set up scientific equipment, while the pilot of the command module, Michael Collins, kept the module on course above them.
The American space program that created the Apollo 11 spaceflight grew out of the Cold War. The year after the Soviet Union launched an artificial satellite in 1957, Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to demonstrate American superiority by sending a man into space. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy moved the goalposts, challenging the country to put a man on the moon and bring him safely back to earth again. He told Congress: “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
A year later, in a famous speech at Rice University in Texas, Kennedy tied space exploration to America’s traditional willingness to attempt great things. “Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it,” he said.
[T]here is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people…. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills….”
But the benefits to the country would not only be psychological, he said. “The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.” The effort would create “a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs…new demands in investment and skilled personnel,” as the government invested billions in it.
“To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money…. I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.”
Seven years later, people across the country gathered around television sets to watch Armstrong step onto the moon and to hear his famous words: “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
President Richard Nixon called the astronauts from the White House: “I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you have done,” he said. “For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives…. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world…. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one…in their pride in what you have done, and…in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”
And yet, by the time Armstrong and Aldrin were stepping onto the moon in a grand symbol of the success of the nation’s moon shot, Americans back on earth were turning against each other. Movement conservatives who hated post–World War II business regulation, taxation, and civil rights demanded smaller government and championed the idea of individualism, while those opposed to the war in Vietnam increasingly distrusted the government.
After May 4, 1970, when the shooting of college students at Kent State University in Ohio badly weakened Nixon’s support, he began to rally supporters to his side with what his vice president, Spiro Agnew, called “positive polarization.” They characterized those who opposed the administration as anti-American layabouts who simply wanted a handout from the government. The idea that Americans could come together to construct a daring new future ran aground on the idea that anti-war protesters, people of color, and women were draining hardworking taxpayers of their hard-earned money.
Ten years later, former actor and governor of California Ronald Reagan won the White House by promising to defend white taxpayers from people like the “welfare queen,” who, he said, “has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands.” Reagan promised to champion individual Americans, getting government, and the taxes it swallowed, off people’s backs.
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Reagan said in his Inaugural Address. Americans increasingly turned away from the post–World War II teamwork and solidarity that had made the Apollo program a success, and instead focused on liberating individual men to climb upward on their own terms, unhampered by regulation or taxes.
This week, on July 20, 2021, 52 years to the day after Armstrong and Aldrin stepped onto the moon, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and four passengers spent 11 minutes in the air, three of them more than 62 miles above the earth, where many scientists say space starts. For those three minutes, they were weightless. And then the pilotless spaceship returned to Earth.
Traveling with Bezos were his brother, Mark; 82-year-old Wally Funk, a woman who trained to be an astronaut in the 1960s but was never permitted to go to space; and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands, whose father paid something under $28 million for the seat.
Bezos’s goal, he says, is not simply to launch space tourism, but also to spread humans to other planets in order to grow beyond the resource limits on earth. The solar system can easily support a trillion humans,” Bezos has said. “We would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited—for all practical purposes—resources and solar power and so on. That's the world that I want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in.”
Ariane Cornell, astronaut-sales director of Bezos’s space company Blue Origin, live-streamed the event, telling the audience that the launch “represents a number of firsts.” It was “[t]he first time a privately funded spaceflight vehicle has launched private citizens to space from a private launch site and private range down here in Texas. It’s also a giant first step towards our vision to have millions of people living and working in space.”
In 2021, Bezos paid $973 million in taxes on $4.22 billion in income while his wealth increased by $99 billion, making his true tax rate 0.98%. After his trip into the sky, he told reporters: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this…. Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It's very appreciated.”
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July 25, 2021 (Sunday)
Both Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told television hosts today that they expect an infrastructure deal on the $579 billion bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said that he will delay the Senate’s upcoming recess until this bipartisan bill and another, larger bill that focuses on human infrastructure are passed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she will not hold a vote on the smaller infrastructure bill until the larger bill, which is a priority for Democrats, passes the Senate.
There are a lot of moving pieces in this infrastructure bill that have more to do with politics than with infrastructure.
First, what is holding up the bill in the Senate is a disagreement about the proper ratio of funding for roads and public transportation. When Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956, starting the creation of 41,000 miles of interstate highways, lawmakers thought that gasoline taxes would pay for the construction and upkeep of the highways. Congress raised the gas tax four times, in 1959, 1983, 1990, and 1993. But, beginning in 2008, as fuel efficiency went up, the gas tax no longer covered expenses. Congress made up shortfalls with money from general funds.
In 1983, in order to gain support for an increase of $.05 in the gas tax from lawmakers from the Northeast who wanted money for mass transit, Congress agreed to establish a separate fund for public transportation that would get one out of every five cents collected from the gas tax. This 80% to 20% ratio has lasted ever since.
Now, Republican negotiators are demanding less money for public transportation and more for roads, sparking outrage from Democrats who note that a bipartisan agreement has stood for almost 40 years and that changing the ratio between public transportation and roads will move us backward. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2019, fossil fuels used in transportation produced 29% of U.S. greenhouse gases.
Portman, the lead Republican negotiator, says that Republicans have made a “generous offer” and that it will provide a “significant increase” in transit money. "Democrats, frankly, are not being reasonable in their requests right now,” he said.
Republicans want to deliver money to rural areas where people depend on driving, even though there are far more people who live in areas that benefit from public transportation. Rural areas, of course, are far more likely than urban areas to be full of Republican voters.
Democrats in the House are eager to address climate change. On July 21, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and 30 Democratic members of the committee wrote to Pelosi and Schumer to urge them to include instead the terms of the INVEST in America Act the House passed on a bipartisan basis earlier this month. That bill offered a forward-looking transportation package that expanded public transportation even as it called for road and bridge repair. “We can’t afford to lock in failed highway-centric policies for another five years,” they wrote.
But there is a larger story behind this transportation bill than the attempt of Republicans to change a longstanding formula to keep themselves in power. Republicans who are not openly tying themselves to the former president want to pass this measure because they know it is popular and they do not want Democrats to pass another popular law alone, as they did with the American Rescue Plan when Republicans refused to participate.
Democratic leadership wants to work with those Republicans to pass a bipartisan bill because it will help to drive a wedge though the Republican Party, offering an exit ramp for those who would like to leave behind the increasing extremism of the Trump Republicans.
Trump Republicans are, indeed, becoming more extreme as the House’s select committee on January 6 takes shape. After the Senate rejected a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection, House Speaker Pelosi and the House voted to establish a select committee. Its structure was based on one of the many committees established by the Republican-controlled House to investigate the attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. It permitted the minority to name 5 members, to be approved by the Speaker.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to undercut the committee by appointing three members who had challenged the counting of the certified votes on January 6, including Jim Jordan (R-OH), who was at a December meeting with Trump and other lawmakers when they discussed protesting the vote count on January 6, and Jim Banks (R-IN), who attacked the committee, saying: “Make no mistake, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.” When Pelosi rejected Jordan and Banks, McCarthy pulled all five of his appointees.
But Pelosi had already established the committee’s bipartisanship when she appointed Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), a staunch Republican who voted with Trump more than 90% of the time but who openly blamed him for the January 6 insurrection. Today, Pelosi added Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to the committee as well.
Kinzinger is an Iraq War veteran who was one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January. "Let me be clear, I'm a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution—and while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will always answer," Kinzinger said in a statement.
McCarthy promptly tweeted that the committee had no credibility because Pelosi had “structured the select committee to satisfy her political objectives.”
McCarthy is scrambling, not least because he will almost certainly become a witness for the committee.
But there is more. With Trump out of office, pressure is ramping up on those who advanced his agenda. News broke on Thursday that the FBI had received more than 4500 tips about Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination proceeding for confirmation to the Supreme Court, and had forwarded the most “relevant” of those to the White House lawyers, who buried them, enabling the extremist Kavanaugh to squeak into a lifetime appointment to the court.
In Georgia, law enforcement officers indicted 87 people in what they are calling the largest gang bust ever in the state. Seventy-seven are part of the “Ghostface Gangsters” gang of white supremacists whose network stretched from Georgia to South Carolina to Tennessee. “The gang’s culture, structure, leadership, chain of command, and all involved in the furtherance of this ongoing criminal enterprise have been charged,” law enforcement officers said.
Meanwhile, vaccinated Americans are becoming increasingly angry at the unvaccinated Trump supporters who are keeping the nation from achieving herd immunity from the coronavirus. Some Republicans are starting to call for their supporters to get vaccinated.
As pressure mounts, McCarthy is not the only one who has signed onto the post–January 6 Trump party who is ramping up his rhetoric. This weekend, when presented with a gun, Trump’s disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the crowd, “Maybe I’ll find somebody in Washington, D.C.”
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has been linked to the planning for the January 6 insurrection, suggested at an Arizona rally for the former president last night that the rioters were peaceful and that the real criminals were “insiders from the FBI and DOJ.” It seems likely he is hoping to discredit those organizations before more information comes out.
At the same rally, the former president spoke for almost two hours, reiterating his lie that he won the 2020 election and suggesting he would be reinstated into the White House before the next election. (He was weirdly fixated on routers.) He blamed Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Mike Pence, and Kavanaugh for his loss of the White House, and praised his former lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
“The radical left Democrat communist party rigged and stole the election,” he said.
A final note tonight: We lost a great American, Bob Moses, today. I don’t want to tack him on to tonight’s letter; he deserves his own. So hold this space. Until then, Rest in Power, Dr. Moses.
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July 26, 2021 (Monday)
As the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol starts its work, former president Trump and his supporters are consolidating their power over the Republican Party. Through it, they hope to control the nation.
Trump this morning tried to assert his dominance over the party by issuing a statement in which he demanded that Republican senators scrap the infrastructure bill that has been more than three months in the making. Although he did not note any specific provisions in the bill, he claimed that senators were getting “savaged” in the negotiations because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “and his small group of RINOs wants nothing more than to get a deal done at any cost to prove that he can work with the Radical Left Democrats.” Trump ordered lawmakers not to do an infrastructure deal “until after we get proper election results in 2022 or otherwise…. Republicans,” he ordered, “don’t let the Radical Left play you for weak fools and losers!”
The term “RINO” comes from the 1990s, when the Movement Conservatives taking over the Republican Party used it to discredit traditional Republicans as “Republicans In Name Only.” It reversed reality—the Movement Conservatives were the RINOs, not the other way around—but it worked. Movement Conservatives, who wanted to get rid of the New Deal and take the government back to the 1920s, pushed aside traditional Republicans who agreed with Democrats that the government should regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure.
Now, the former president is doing the same thing: claiming that the Movement Conservatives who now dominate the leadership of the Republican Party are not really Republicans. True Republicans, he says, are those loyal only to him.
He is using the infrastructure bill as a loyalty test. The reality is that an infrastructure package is very popular, and walking away from it will cost Republicans in states that are not fully under Trump’s sway. A new poll by the Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC is the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center affiliated with the university) finds that 83% of Americans, including 79% of Republicans and 80% of Independents, want funding for roads, bridges, and ports. Sixty-six percent of Americans, including 43% of Republicans and 53% of Independents, want to pay for it with higher taxes on corporations.
Walking away from those kinds of numbers seems like political poison, and yet the discussions to whip the bipartisan bill into shape seemed to veer off track today.
The demand for Republican loyalty is playing out as the January 6 committee gets down to business. Organizing that committee has driven a wedge through Republican lawmakers. After an initial period in which leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed outrage and a desire to learn what had created the January 6 crisis, the leaders have lined up behind the former president. Emboldened, Trump’s supporters have become more aggressive in their insistence that they, not those interested in stopping a future insurrection, are the good guys.
After Republican senators rejected the establishment of a bipartisan select commission and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) set up a House select committee instead, McCarthy tried to sabotage the committee by putting on it two extreme Trump supporters out of the five slots he was assigned. He named Jim Jordan (R-OH) but pretty clearly expected Pelosi would toss him and put up with Jim Banks (R-IN), whom McCarthy had named the ranking member of the committee. Banks was on record attacking the committee as a leftist plot, and could undermine the committee’s work while getting enough media time to launch him as a national political candidate (his hiring of Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson’s son long before this indicated his hope for good media coverage for a possible swing at a higher office).
But Pelosi didn’t play. She refused to accept either Jordan or Banks, prompting McCarthy to pull all five of his nominees. She had already chosen Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) as one of her eight seats on the committee; yesterday she added Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) as well. Both Cheney and Kinzinger are Movement Conservatives, but they are not willing to jump on the Trump bandwagon.
Today, when PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked McCarthy what he thought of Cheney and Kinzinger’s participation on the committee, he called them “Pelosi Republicans.” He has suggested that they might face sanctions from the party for their cooperation with the committee.
Both Cheney and Kinzinger voted for Trump. Cheney voted with Trump more than 90% of the time. Kinzinger voted with him 99% of the time in the president’s first two years in office. Trying to make them into Democrats because they did not support the insurrection is a double-edged sword. McCarthy is trying to read them out of the Republican Party, for sure, but he is also tying the entire party to Trump, and it seems likely—from Trump’s rising panic, if nothing else—that the committee will discover things that will not show the former president and his supporters in a good light.
Today Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chair of the select committee and of the House Homeland Security Committee, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. He noted that in a recent CBS News survey, 72% of Americans said they thought there was more to learn about what happened on January 6. He promised that “nothing will be off-limits” as the committee figures out “what happened, why and how. And we will make recommendations to help ensure it never happens again.”
Along with Thompson, Liz Cheney will deliver opening remarks from the committee before it begins to hear the testimony of Capitol Police.
But McCarthy and other Trump supporters are doing all they can to derail the investigation into what happened on January 6. The committee’s work is not a criminal investigation: that is the job of the Department of Justice, which has already charged more than 535 people for their actions in the insurrection. The committee will try to piece together the events leading up to January 6, along with why the response from law enforcement was so delayed. It will look at the response of the White House, as well as the funders and organizers of the rallies of January 5 and 6. It will look at members of Congress, and how they intersected with the events of that day.
Politico’s congressional reporter Olivia Beavers reported that McCarthy will try to counter the committee’s first hearing tomorrow morning with a press conference. Sometime later in the day, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), staunch and vocal Trump supporters all, are planning a press conference outside the Department of Justice, where they plan to demand “answers on the treatment of January 6th prisoners” from Attorney General Merrick Garland.
One of the hallmarks of a personality like that of former president Donald Trump is that he cannot stop escalating. It’s not that he won’t stop; it’s that he can’t stop. And he will escalate until someone finally draws a line and holds it.
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July 27, 2021 (Tuesday)
This morning, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol began its hearings with testimony from two Capitol Police officers and two Metropolitan Police officers.
After Representatives Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) opened the hearing, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell and and Officer Harry Dunn of the Capitol Police, and Officer Michael Fanone and Officer Daniel Hodges of the Metropolitan Police, recounted hand-to-hand combat against rioters who were looking to stop the election of Democrat Joe Biden and kill elected officials whom they thought were standing in the way of Trump’s reelection. They gouged eyes, sprayed chemicals, shouted the n-word, and told the officers they were going to die. They said: “Trump sent us.”
Lawmakers questioning the officers had them walk the members through horrific video footage taken from the officers’ body cameras. The officers said that one of the hardest parts of the insurrection for them was hearing the very people whose lives they had defended deny the horror of that day. They called the rioters terrorists who were engaged in a coup attempt, and called the indifference of lawmakers to those who had protected them “disgraceful.” “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Fanone said. “But too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell wasn’t actually that bad.”
The officers indicated they thought that Trump was responsible for the riot. When asked if Trump was correct that it was “a loving crowd,” Gonell responded: “To me, it’s insulting, just demoralizing because of everything that we did to prevent everyone in the Capitol from getting hurt…. And what he was doing, instead of sending the military, instead of sending the support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense, he begged them to continue fighting.” The officers asked the committee to make sure it did a thorough investigation. “There was an attack carried out on January 6, and a hit man sent them,” Dunn testified. “I want you to get to the bottom of that.”
The Republicans on the committee, Representatives Adam Kinzinger (IL) and Liz Cheney (WY) pushed back on Republican claims that the committee is partisan.
“Like most Americans, I’m frustrated that six months after a deadly insurrection breached the United States Capitol for several hours on live television, we still don’t know exactly what happened,” Kinzinger said. “Why? Because many in my party have treated this as just another partisan fight. It’s toxic and it’s a disservice to the officers and their families, to the staff and the employees in the Capitol complex, to the American people who deserve the truth, and to those generations before us who went to war to defend self-governance.”
Kinzinger rejected the Republican argument that the committee should investigate the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020, saying that he had been concerned about those protests but they were entirely different from the events of January 6: they did not threaten democracy. “There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law,” Kinzinger observed. (Research shows that more than 96% of the BLM protests had no violence or property damage.)
The officers and lawmakers both spoke eloquently of their determination to defend democracy. Sergeant Gonell, a U.S. Army veteran of the Iraq War who emigrated from the Dominican Republic, said: "As an immigrant to the United States, I am especially proud to have defended the U.S. Constitution and our democracy on January 6.” Adam Schiff (D-CA) added: “If we’re no longer committed to a peaceful transfer of power after elections if our side doesn’t win, then God help us. If we deem elections illegitimate merely because they didn’t go our way rather than trying to do better the next time, then God help us.”
Cheney said: “Until January 6th, we were proof positive for the world that a nation conceived in liberty could long endure. But now, January 6th threatens our most sacred legacy. The question for every one of us who serves in Congress, for every elected official across this great nation, indeed, for every American is this: Will we adhere to the rule of law? Will we respect the rulings of our courts? Will we preserve the peaceful transition of power? Or will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country and revere our Constitution?”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) both said they had been too busy to watch the hearing. But the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota, called the officers heroes and said: “We should listen to what they have to say.”
Republicans are somewhat desperately trying to change the subject in such a way that it will hurt Democrats. Shortly before the hearing started, McCarthy House Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who was elected to that position after the conference tossed Liz Cheney for her refusal to support Trump after the insurrection; and Jim Banks (R-IN), whom McCarthy tried to put on the committee and who promised to undermine it, held a press conference. They tried to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the attack on the Capitol, a right-wing talking point, although she, in fact, has no control over the Capitol Police.
Shortly after the hearing ended, some of the House’s key Trump supporters—Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Bob Good (R-VA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)—tried to hold a press conference in front of the Department of Justice, where they promised to complain about those arrested for their role in the January 6 insurrection, calling them “political prisoners.” The conference fell apart when protesters called Gaetz a pedophile (he is under investigation for sex trafficking a girl), and blew a whistle to drown the Republican lawmakers out.
This story is not going away, not only because the events of January 6 were a deadly attack on our democracy that almost succeeded and we want to know how and why that came to pass, but also because those testifying before the committee are under oath.
Since the 1950s, when Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) pioneered constructing a false narrative to attract voters, the Movement Conservative faction of the Republican Party focused not on fact-based arguments but on emotionally powerful fiction. There are no punishments for lying in front of television cameras in America, and from Ronald Reagan’s Welfare Queen to Rush Limbaugh’s "Feminazis" to the Fox News Channel personalities’ warnings about dangerous Democrats to Rudy Giuliani’s “witnesses” to “voter fraud” in the 2020 election, Republicans advanced fictions and howled about the “liberal media” when they were fact-checked. By the time of the impeachment hearings for former president Trump, Republican lawmakers like Jim Jordan (R-OH) didn’t even pretend to care about facts but instead yelled and badgered to get clips that could be arranged into a fictional narrative on right-wing media.
Now, though, the Movement Conservative narrative that “socialist” Democrats stole the 2020 election, a narrative embraced by leading Republican lawmakers, a story that sits at the heart of dozens of voter suppression laws and that led to one attempted coup and feeds another, a narrative that would, if it succeeds, create a one-party government, is coming up against public testimony under oath.
"The American people deserve the full and open testimony of every person with knowledge of the planning and preparation for January 6th,” Cheney said today. “We must also know what happened every minute of that day in the White House—every phone call, every conversation, every meeting leading up to, during, and after the attack.” She added: “We must issue and enforce subpoenas promptly.”
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Peeling off Republicans who don't actively want to destroy the USA as it existed from 1776 to 2016 is a good idea. Not for the Republicans who -do- want power more than they want a Constitutional republic, and are actively fighting a civil war now; but fuck them.

The rest of us will inevitably have to kill a number of the latter, hopefully with minimal cases of mistaken identity. But there's no guarantee they won't win in the long run.

- DSK

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July 28, 2021 (Wednesday)
It appears that it is finally infrastructure week.
Today, negotiators hammered out a deal on a bipartisan bill, which includes $550 billion in new spending. This evening, the Senate voted to move the bill forward by a vote of 67 to 32, with 17 Republicans joining all the Democrats to begin debate on the measure.
The bill is not fully hammered out yet, and the Congressional Budget Office, which examines bills to see how much they will cost, has not yet produced a final number, but it appears that the bill will cost about $1.2 trillion over 8 years. It puts together unspent monies from other programs and from new “user fees” to pay for it, but Republicans demanded that funds to increase funding for the IRS to enable it to crack down on tax cheats, who cost the United States about $1 trillion a year, be stripped from the bill.
The White House said the bill would create about 2 million “good-paying” jobs a year for the next decade. It provides $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit, $66 billion for passenger rail, $73 billion to upgrade the electrical grid; $7.5 billion for electrical vehicle chargers on highway corridors, $17 billion for rebuilding our ports, $50 billion for addressing climate change and cybersecurity, and $55 billion for clean drinking water.
The bill also calls for $65 billion to expand broadband internet, tying all Americans into the same grid and lowering prices. In the White House statement, Biden explicitly tied the expansion of broadband to the nation’s 1936 expansion of access to electricity through the Rural Electrification Act. Through that act, the government tried to level the playing field between urban Americans who had electricity through private companies and rural Americans who did not because the profit margins weren’t high enough to make it worthwhile for private companies to bring electricity to them.
Electrification not only enabled rural Americans to enjoy the new products created in the early twentieth century, but also created a new industry of consumer products that helped the post–World War II economy boom. Then, as now, federal funding for a vital infrastructure need opened up the door to government oversight and regulation of that utility, a principle that today’s Republicans oppose, especially when it comes to broadband. (It’s an interesting thought, though: could regulation of publicly supported broadband help address the problem of disinformation on social media?)
That is only one of the ways in which this bipartisan bill remains precarious. There are others. It is always possible that the Republicans cannot muster the 10 votes they need to pass the bill, and continuing to tinker with it is simply a way to run out the clock on the congressional session so that the Democrats cannot get the infrastructure deal they want so badly.
From the other direction, progressive Democrats have made it clear they will not accept this bill, which focuses on “hard” infrastructure like roads and bridges, unless it goes along with a larger “soft” infrastructure bill that focuses on human infrastructure. There are not enough Republican votes to pass that second measure over a Senate filibuster, so it will have to pass the Senate through budget reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. But that means it will need all 50 Democratic votes, and today Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema said she does not support the bill in its current form. She apparently wants adjustments, but what they are and whether progressives will accept them remains unclear.
Still, the idea of this new, sweeping infrastructure package becoming reality is huge. Former president Donald Trump, who wanted badly to pass an even larger infrastructure bill during his own term of office but who couldn’t do so, has responded to the idea that Biden might manage to pull this off with a demand that Republicans scuttle the entire thing. That several prominent Republicans are ignoring him illustrates the potential of this deal to weaken the Trump supporters in the party as the weight begins to shift toward measures that are popular with voters and away from the party’s more common obstructionism.
News of this historic investment in the country happened to come on the same day researchers Laura Wheaton, Linda Giannarelli, and Ilham Dehry of the Urban Institute think tank, established by the Lyndon Johnson administration to study the results of antipoverty laws passed during its years in power, published a study of the effects of the American Rescue Plan.
That $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package, passed without a single Republican vote and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, was projected to reduce the annual poverty rate to 8.7% for 2021—it had been 13.9% in 2018—and to cut child poverty by more than half. The new study shows that, in fact, the poverty rate for 2021 looks to be on track to hit 7.7%. The study’s authors project the 2021 poverty rate to be highest for Hispanic people (11.8%), non-Hispanic Asian American and Pacific Islanders (10.8%), and Black, non-Hispanic people (9.2%). For white, non-Hispanic people, the rate is projected to be 5.8%.
The study pointed to federal stimulus checks as the more important piece of this development. Those checks alone raised 12.4 million people out of poverty. Taken all together, recent antipoverty measures reduced child poverty from 30.1% to 5.6%.
For all that other issues are getting more dramatic headlines, the infrastructure bill marks a sea change from the past forty years of slashing government investment and regulation to the more traditional vision of a government that promotes the general welfare. The latter vision was behind the Rural Electrification Act that, more than eighty years later, still shapes the national economy. Getting today’s Republicans to sign onto such a measure would be momentous indeed.
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July 29, 2021 (Thursday)
The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.
Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.
Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.
Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”
“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.
To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.
If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”
Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are eager to change the subject. McCarthy today tried to walk back his previous blaming of Trump for the events of January 6, trying instead to tie Pelosi to the riot. He told reporters that when he said on January 6 that “[t]he President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters” and that Trump “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” he made the comment without “the information we have today.” Then he tried to blame Pelosi for the Capitol Police response.
McCarthy seems unable to figure out how to handle the changing political dynamic and is continuing to shove the octopus of his different caucus interests into the string bag he’s holding only by promising that the Republicans will win in 2022. To that end, he is essentially walking away from governance and focusing only on the culture wars.
In addition to pulling the Trump Republicans off the select committee on the insurrection, he also pulled all six of the Republicans off a key committee on the economy, the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. At a time when voters in all parties are concerned with the huge divergence in income and wealth in this country, a divergence that rivals that of the 1850s, 1890s, and 1920s, members of this committee could make names for themselves.
Ohio Republican Warren Davidson was one of those removed from the committee; he told Cleveland media he had been “looking forward” to participating and would “gladly rejoin” the committee if McCarthy relented, but it was Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, still on the committee, who got the headline and the approving story.
Instead of this productive sort of headline, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) staged an event in which they tried to visit the accused January 6 rioters at a Washington, D.C., jail. Refused entry, Gohmert told the press: “We’re in totalitarian, Marxist territory here. This is the way third-world people get treated.”
McCarthy and fellow Trump supporters are trying to get their own headlines by opposing new mask mandates as the Delta variant of coronavirus is gathering momentum across the country. On Tuesday, the attending physician for the United States Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, reinstated the use of masks in the House of Representatives and recommended it in the smaller Senate. On Wednesday, Pelosi required the use of masks in the House, and reminded members that they would be fined for refusing to wear them. All of the Democrats in the House are vaccinated; it appears that only about half of House Republicans are.
Today, House Republicans launched a revolt against mask use. They are trying to adjourn the House rather than gather with masks. Chip Roy (R-TX), said "This institution is a sham. And we should adjourn and shut this place down.” Representatives Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), all maskless, gave Roy a standing ovation. Today, a group of House Republicans without masks posed for cameras as they tried to gain entrance to the Senate.
Consolidating around Trump after his November loss was always a gamble, but increasingly it looks like a precarious one. Just this week, the former president tried to sabotage the infrastructure deal, and 17 senators ignored him. In Texas, on Tuesday, Trump’s ability to swing races was tested and failed when the candidate he backed—even pumping a last-minute $100,000 into the race—lost.
McCarthy has promised to win in 2022 with culture wars rather than governing, and that looks like an increasingly weak bet. But make no mistake: the ace in his vest remains the voter suppression laws currently being enacted across the country.
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July 30, 2021 (Friday)
This will be very brief because I am without power again, and am operating on a generator that is undoubtedly keeping the neighbors awake.
Today, the Department of Justice ruled that the Treasury Department can release to Congress six years of former president Trump’s tax returns. Trump was the first president since Richard M. Nixon to refuse to disclose his taxes, and the House Ways and Means Committee requested them in April 2019.
The fight to obtain Trump’s tax returns has stretched on for years, and it has finally been resolved in a way consistent with the law that covers this case, which says: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”
It remains possible that Trump will contest this decision in court. If he does not, Congress will finally have access to Trump’s tax returns.
Incredibly, after all these years, this is not today’s big story.
Today’s bigger story is that the House Oversight Committee released notes taken by the acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue during a phone call between former president Donald Trump and acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen on December 27, 2020. Rosen took over at the Department of Justice after Attorney General William Barr left on December 14.
The notes record how the former president tried to get the Department of Justice to say that the 2020 election was “corrupt” in order to overturn it. In the call, Trump listed the many ways in which he believed the results were false, insisting that the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan all were “corrupted” and said it was statistically impossible for him to have lost the election.
Rosen “Told him flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence… we looked at allegations but they don’t pan out.”
When Rosen told the former president that the Department of Justice “can’t and won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,” Trump said: “Don’t expect you to do that, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”
The January 6 insurrection was ten days later.
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August 1, 2021 (Sunday)
Last Sunday, educator and civil rights leader Dr. Robert Parris Moses died at 86.
Born in New York City in 1935, the son of a homemaker and a janitor, Moses was working on a PhD at Harvard when his parents’ health brought him back to New York City. There, he began to teach math in 1958.
In 1960, images of Black Americans in the South picketing for their rights “hit me powerfully, in the soul as well as the brain,” he later said. He moved to Mississippi and began to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”). In 1961, he began to direct SNCC’s Mississippi Project to promote voter registration in Mississippi, where, although about 40% of the state’s population was Black, most Black Americans had been frozen out of the polls through poll taxes, subjective literacy tests, and violence. In his quest to get people registered to vote, Moses endured attacks from thugs wielding knives, white supremacists wielding guns, and law enforcement officers wielding power. He earned a reputation for being quiet and calm in times that were anything but.
By 1964, Moses was one of the key leaders in the effort to register Black voters in Mississippi. In April, working with Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, he helped to found the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge Mississippi’s all-white Democratic Party.
That summer, Moses led the Freedom Summer Project to bring together college students from northern schools to work together with Black people from Mississippi to educate and register Black voters. On June 21, just as the project was getting underway, Ku Klux Klan members working with local law enforcement officers murdered three organizers outside Philadelphia, Mississippi: James Chaney, from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York. The white supremacists buried the bodies in an earthen dam that was under construction. When the men disappeared, Moses told the other organizers that no one would blame them for going home. His quiet leadership inspired most of them to stay.
On August 4, investigators found the bodies of the three missing men. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party met on August 6 and decided to challenge the Mississippi Democratic Party to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention. And yet, when the Democratic National Convention met, the Democratic National Committee leaders and President Lyndon B. Johnson chose to recognize the all-white Democratic Party rather than the integrated ticket of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
At the end of 1964, Moses resigned from his leadership position in Mississippi, worried that his role had become "too strong, too central, so that people who did not need to, began to lean on me, to use me as a crutch." Key to Moses’s leadership was that he did not want to be out front; he wanted to empower others to take control of their own lives.
Civil rights historian Taylor Branch told reporter Julia Cass in a story Mother Jones published in 2002: “Moses pioneered an alternative style of leadership from the princely church leader that [the Reverend Martin Luther] King [Jr.] epitomized…. He was the thoughtful, self-effacing loner. He is really the father of grassroots organizing—not the Moses summoning his people on the mountaintop as King did, but, ironically, the anti-Moses, going door-to-door, listening to people, letting them lead.”
Moses was disillusioned when the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party did not win the right to represent the state in the Democratic National Convention. For all the work that individual sharecroppers and hairdressers and housewives had done in Mississippi, national leaders had let them down. “You cannot trust the system,” he said in 1965. “I will have nothing to do with the political system any longer.”
Moses turned to protesting the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Janet, moved to Tanzania when he was drafted despite being five years over the cutoff age. After 8 years in Africa, the Moses family moved back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Moses resumed his doctoral work in the philosophy of mathematics.
Back in America, Moses turned his philosophy of empowerment to the schools, advancing the idea that mathematical literacy is central to the ability of young people to participate in the twenty-first-century economy. In the 1980s, he launched The Algebra Project to give young Americans access to higher mathematics. “I believe that the absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout this country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered Black voters in Mississippi was in 1961,” he wrote. “In the 1960s, we opened up political access…. The most important social problem affecting people of color today is economic access, and this depends crucially on math and science literacy, because the American economy is now based on knowledge and technology, not labor.”
Moses’s focus on empowerment and self-determination was very much in keeping with the original concept of American democracy.
And yet, his efforts, along with those of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to turn to national politicians to cement gains at the grass roots were not in vain. In 1965, Congress passed and Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, protecting the rights of Black Americans to vote, focusing on states with historical voter suppression.
Just fifteen years later, in 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan spoke at Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he defended state’s rights, and the unwinding of the civil rights advances of the post–World War II years began.
Now, in 2021, we seem to be headed back to the one-party society Moses fought. In response to record voter turnout in the 2020 election, 18 states have passed 30 new laws that make it harder to vote. At the same time, Republican-dominated legislatures are gathering into their own hands the power to override the voters.
In Louisiana on Friday, Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder removed three Democrats and one unaffiliated member from committee leadership positions in retaliation for their unwillingness to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports. They will be replaced by Republicans.
In Georgia, legislators have begun the process of transferring control of the elections in Fulton County, one of the most reliably Democratic counties in the nation, from county officials to Republican state officials.
Public schools are also under attack, with Republicans threatening to cut funding to schools that require masks to stop the spread of coronavirus or that teach “divisive concepts” that make students uncomfortable, usually topics that involve race.
Republican lawmakers have proposed attaching funding to students rather than to schools, enabling parents to use tax dollars to enroll their children in private schools. This sounds like a revival of the all-white “segregation academies” that sprang up in the South after the Supreme Court required desegregation of public schools. Those academies, funded with public money, were so successful that, according to Professor Noliwe Rooks, an Americanist who specializes in issues of race and education and who chairs the Africana Studies department at Brown University, in 1974, 3,500 academies in the South enrolled 750,000 white children. As white students left the public schools, funds available to educate the many Black and few white children left behind fell drastically.
Unequal educational options were hallmarks of the one-party state systems Moses worked to undermine. When he explained The Algebra Project, Moses called the historically limited educational opportunities for Black children in America “sharecropper schooling.” “[Y]ou went through it, but your options were you were going to chop and pick cotton or do domestic work….”
In 1965, Congress and the president finally recognized that all the organizing in the world couldn’t overcome the apparatus of a rigged system. They used the power of the federal government to turn the work of individuals like Bob Moses, scholar and visionary, organizer and teacher, into the law of the land.
But watching the turbulence in American life last year, Moses warned that the nation “can lurch backward as quickly as it can lurch forward.”
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August 2, 2021 (Monday)
Today, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on Facebook a photo of Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson visiting him. Carlson is broadcasting his television show from Hungary this week, before he speaks on Saturday at MCC Feszt, an event hosted by a government-sponsored university whose mission is to produce a conservative elite.
Hungary is a country in central Europe of about 10 million people who have, in the decade since Orbán took power for the second time, watched their democracy erode. On paper, Hungary is a democracy in that it still holds elections, but it is, in fact, a one-party state overseen by the prime minister.
Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture, stop the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture, and reject “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.”
No matter what he calls it, Orbán’s model is not democracy at all. As soon as he retook office in 2010, he began to establish control over the media, cracking down on those critical of his party, Fidesz, and rewarding those who toed the party line. In 2012, his supporters rewrote the country’s constitution to strengthen his hand, and extreme gerrymandering gave his party more power while changes to election rules benefited his campaigns. Increasingly, he used the power of the state to concentrate wealth among his cronies, and he reworked the country’s judicial system and civil service system to stack it with his loyalists. While Hungary still has elections, state control of the media and the apparatus of voting means that it is impossible for Orbán’s opponents to take power.
Trump supporters have long admired Orbán’s nationalism and centering of Christianity, while the fact that Hungary continues to have elections enables them to pretend that the country remains a democracy.
Currently, political patterns in America look much like those Orbán used to gather power into his own hands. Republican-dominated legislatures are passing new measures to suppress the vote, aided by the Big Lie that former president Trump did not lose the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters are focusing on the so-called “forensic audit” of Maricopa County in Arizona, paid for and conducted by Trump loyalists who insist that Trump actually won despite the repeated investigations that have proved the election was clean.
Today, a piece by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker revealed how the money for that audit is coming not from local protesters, but rather from “sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives.” Those organizations “have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.”
Mayer details how organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the anti-regulation FreedomWorks, and the Judicial Education Project (which is tied to Leonard Leo, a chair of the Federalist Society, which has worked since the 1980s to stack the courts with originalists) have turned from their previous advocacy to focus on voter suppression. These groups are bankrolled by Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, whose board member Cleta Mitchell was on Trump’s January 3, 2021, call to Georgia election officials.
In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent noted that the goal of these audits is to undermine Americans’ faith in elections altogether. Continued questioning of election results even after repeated recounts and verification makes any outcome seem untrustworthy. In such a case, a state legislature might argue it was justified either in “finding” enough votes to swing an election—as Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do in Georgia in 2020—or in throwing out the vote altogether and advancing its own slate of electors to the Electoral College.
Mayer points out that organizations funded by the Bradley Foundation are, indeed, talking about taking the choice of electors away from voters and giving it instead to state officials.
Carlson has shown support for Hungary in the past. Notably, in 2019, he endorsed that country’s anti-abortion and anti-immigration policies; in that year, according to investigative researcher Anna Massoglia of Open Secrets, Hungary paid a D.C. lobbying firm $265,000, in part to arrange an interview on Carlson’s show.
But for him to visit Orbán and to broadcast from Hungary right now, when American democracy is under the very sort of threat Orbán represents, seemed to me to be a deliberate demonstration of the Trump Republicans’ plans for our future.
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7 hours ago, Bus Driver said:

Mother Jones published in 2002: “Moses pioneered an alternative style of leadership from the princely church leader that [the Reverend Martin Luther] King [Jr.] epitomized…. He was the thoughtful, self-effacing loner. He is really the father of grassroots organizing—not the Moses summoning his people on the mountaintop as King did, but, ironically, the anti-Moses, going door-to-door, listening to people, letting them lead.”

As I mentioned elsewhere, I was honored to meet Moses when he visited our small Uni in the 1990's. 

As the article above suggests, he was very soft spoken and did a lot of listening. 

Bob Moses Presente !! 

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29 minutes ago, Ishmael said:

And...I see no major efforts by the Dems to stop this Republican push for a Turbo-Christian dictatorship. WTF is happening up there in DC?

They got their head buried in the sand. 

Surrounded by like minded people and out of touch with the reality on the ground they do not believe anything like that could ever happen in the US of A. 

Take a look at some of the old footage of the D leadership dismissing the possibility and possible ramifications of most of the major crises that has affected the country over the last few years. 

If you don't take it seriously and implement plans to counter you wind up with the DNC.

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August 3, 2021 (Tuesday)
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: former president Trump has raised $102 million since he left office, but aside from a recent donation of $100,000 to his chosen candidate in a Texas race which is not yet in the public disclosures (she lost), has spent none of it on anything or anyone but himself. Since January, he has convinced donors to fund his challenge to Biden’s election and to fund Trump-like candidates in the midterm elections. But election filings and a release of donors to the Arizona “audit” show he has not put any money toward either. So far, about $8 million has gone to the former president’s legal fees, while funds have also gone to aides.
The second piece of news that is surprising and yet not surprising is an ABC story revealing that on December 28, 2020, the then-acting pro-Trump head of the civil division of the Department of Justice, Jeffrey Clark, tried to get then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue to sign a letter saying: “The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States. The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.”
It went on to say, “While the Department of Justice believe[s] the Governor of Georgia should immediately call a special session to consider this important and urgent matter, if he declines to do so, we share with you our view that the Georgia General Assembly has implied authority under the Constitution of the United States to call itself into special session for [t]he limited purpose of considering issues pertaining to the appointment of Presidential Electors.”
The letter then made the point clearer, saying the Georgia legislature could ignore the popular vote and appoint its own presidential electors.
This is classic Trump: try to salt the media with the idea of an “investigation,” and then wait for the following frenzy to convince voters that the election was fraudulent. Such a scheme was at the heart of Trump’s demand that Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, and the discrediting of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over an investigation into her use of a private email server.
In this case, Donoghue and Rosen wanted no part of this antidemocratic scheme. Donoghue told Clark that there was no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election and wrote: “There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this.” Rosen agreed, saying “I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”
The less obvious story today is the more interesting one.
Trump and his loyalists feed off Americans who have been dispossessed economically since the Reagan revolution that began in 1981 started the massive redistribution of wealth upward. Those disaffected people, slipping away from the secure middle-class life their parents lived, are the natural supporters of authoritarians who assure them their problems come not from the systems leaders have put in place, but rather from Black people, people of color, and feminist women.
President Joe Biden appears to be trying to combat this dangerous dynamic not by trying to peel disaffected Americans away from Trump and his party by arguing against the former president, but by reducing the pressure on those who support him.
A study from the Niskanen Center think tank shows that the expanded Child Tax Credit, which last month began to put up to $300 per child per month into the bank accounts of most U.S. households with children, will primarily benefit rural Americans and will give a disproportionately large relative boost to their local economies. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “the...nine states that will gain the most per capita from the expanded child allowance are all red states.”
The White House noted today that the bipartisan infrastructure deal it has pushed so hard not only will bring high-speed internet to every household in the U.S., but also has within it $3.5 billion to reduce energy costs for more than 700,000 low-income households.
Also today, after pressure from progressive Democrats, especially Representative Cori Bush (D-MO), who led a sit-in at the Capitol to call for eviction relief, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in counties experiencing high levels of community transmission of Covid-19, it is extending until October 3 the federal moratorium on evictions that ended this weekend. It is doing so as a public health measure, but it is also an economic one. It should help about 90% of renters—11 million adults—until the government helps to clear the backlog of payments missed during the pandemic by disbursing more of the $46 billion Congress allocated for that purpose.
Today, the president called out Republican governors who have taken a stand against mask wearing and vaccine mandates even as Covid-19 is burning across the country again. Currently, Florida and Texas account for one third of all new Covid cases in the entire country, and yet their Republcan governors, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, are signing legislation to keep Floridians and Texans unmasked and to prevent vaccine mandates. Biden said that he asks “these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last night, Biden told attendees that Democrats “have to keep making our case,” while Republicans offer “nothing but fear, lies, and broken promises." "We have to keep cutting through the Republican fog,” he said, “that the government isn't the problem and show that we the people are always the solution." He continued, “We've got to demonstrate that democracies can work and protect."
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August 4, 2021 (Wednesday)
Today seemed to mark a popular backlash against Republican lawmakers who have been downplaying the coronavirus pandemic. The Delta variant of the deadly virus is ripping through unvaccinated populations in the U.S. with an average of 85,000 new cases a day, numbers that rival those of February, before we had accessible vaccines. One in three cases in the nation comes from either Florida or Texas.
Lawmakers in South Carolina, Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and Utah have prohibited schools from requiring masks, and South Carolina, Iowa, Florida, Montana, Arizona, South Dakota, Texas, and Tennessee prohibit local governments from doing so.
Yesterday, President Joe Biden called out governors, especially Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, for banning mask mandates and refusing to require the vaccine. At a press conference, Biden said “to these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
Today DeSantis responded: “I am standing in your way.” After sitting on Biden’s criticism for almost a day, DeSantis could find as a response only an attack on Biden for allegedly ignoring the “border crisis.” DeSantis blamed Florida’s devastating virus numbers on immigrants coming over the nation’s border with Mexico into Texas.
The recent attention to the methods of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who rose to power by stoking anti-immigrant hatred and who continues to whip up a frenzy over immigration despite the fact that refugees coming into Hungary have dropped to unremarkable levels, shows the Republican fallback on immigrant caravans to distract from their own scandals in a new light.
In fact, our southern border remains closed because of public health directives put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unaccompanied minors are admitted so that they do not become victims of gangs or sex traffickers, and their numbers likely hit an all-time high of about 19,000 in July. Those children are processed and then transferred to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which then finds suitable foster situations for them while they await immigration hearings.
Interestingly in terms of the timing of DeSantis’s outburst, today the Mexican government sued a number of U.S.-based gun manufacturers for lax controls that permit illegal weapons to flow over the border. A 2016 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that about 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico came from the United States.
Back in the U.S., the president has mandated vaccines in the federal government and has asked private employers to require vaccines. Google, Walmart, Disney World, and Microsoft, among many others, including hospitals and more than 400 private universities, are requiring masks or vaccines. So is Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who today issued a mask requirement for schools and a vaccine mandate for workers in state prisons and other facilities.
By Labor Day, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to give final approval to coronavirus vaccines, reassuring people reluctant to get the vaccine that it is safe.
Increasingly, people dying of Covid-19 or their survivors are publicly begging their friends and neighbors to get the vaccine. In addition to videos and facebook posts, a six-minute television segment on CBS This Morning featured Republican Representative Julia Letlow of Louisiana, who lost her husband to the disease in December. She is using her story to try to change people’s minds about refusing the vaccine.
Implied in these calls to ignore the disinformation out there about the vaccine is criticism of those Republican leaders who have pushed that disinformation.
Rising case numbers put lawmakers who have downplayed the virus in a tight spot. A new poll today from St. Pete Polls shows that DeSantis’s popularity has fallen behind that of a Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, in the 2022 governor’s race. Forty-nine percent of Floridians disapprove of DeSantis’s job performance, while only 44% approve. He is in positive numbers only with voters older than 70. In contrast to the older folks, most voters disapprove of his opposition to masks in schools.
Other Republican governors have expressed regret that they were so quick to outlaw masks. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson today said he wished he hadn’t signed into law a measure banning state and local mask mandates. He has called the legislature into special session to change the law, claiming that he signed the previous measure because “I knew it would be overridden by the legislature if I didn't sign it.”
The new spike in infections has meant an uptick in vaccinations, with numbers matching those of early July. On Tuesday, Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, reported that Louisiana has seen a 302% increase in the average number of newly vaccinated per day; Mississippi, 250%; Alabama, 215%; and Arkansas, 206%. On Tuesday, almost a month late, the nation met the goal President Joe Biden had set for July 4 of having at least one vaccine shot in 70% of eligible Americans. About 49% of all eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated.
Today, two parents of school-aged children in Arkansas sued the state over its law banning the use of masks in schools. They are seeking immediate “protection from an irrational act of legislative madness that threatens K-12 public school children with irreparable harm.” “Without immediate intervention by the Arkansas judiciary,” the lawsuit says, “the restrictions imposed on state and local officials by Act 1002 will result in many more Arkansas children becoming very sick, and some of them will inevitably die.”
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5 hours ago, Steam Flyer said:

I hope the popular backlash against these assholes includes actually getting lashed.

- DSK

And mascara'd, with a nice summer 'do.

E8AdIxqXMAE8jgs?format=jpg&name=large

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August 5, 2021 (Thursday)
I wrote a letter tonight about the rising radicalism of the Republican Party. But then, sorting through the dark chaos of today’s news, I found myself thinking instead about the Battle of Mobile Bay, which happened on this date in 1864.
By the spring of 1864, victory in the Civil War depended on which side could endure longest. Confederates were starving as they mourned their many dead; Union supporters were tired of losing sons to battles that seemed to accomplish nothing. President Abraham Lincoln knew he must land a crushing blow on the South or lose the upcoming presidential election. If he lost, the best Americans could hope for was a negotiated peace that tore the nation in two. In March 1864, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all the Union armies, hoping that this stubborn westerner could win the war.
Grant set out to press the Confederacy on all fronts. In the past, the Union armies had acted independently, permitting Confederates to move troops to the places they were most needed. Grant immediately coordinated all the Union armies to move against the South at once.
In the East, the Army of the Potomac would hit Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In Georgia, William T. Sherman’s western troops would smash their way from Tennessee to Atlanta. Finally, Grant wanted the U.S. Navy to move against Mobile, Alabama, a port on the Gulf Coast so well protected by shifting sands that it had become the major harbor for the blockade runners that still linked the Confederacy to Europe. Grant hoped this strategy would lock the South in a vise.
By midsummer, the plan had faltered. The Army of the Potomac had stalled in Virginia after an appalling 17,000 casualties at the Battle of the Wilderness, 18,000 at Spotsylvania, and another 12,000 at Cold Harbor, where soldiers pinned their names and addresses to the backs of their uniforms before the battle so their bodies could be identified. Sherman was stopped outside Atlanta. And the navy had run aground up the Red River in Louisiana as it made a feint in that direction before the move against Mobile Bay. Union morale was so low that even President Lincoln thought he would lose the election and the war would end in an armistice.
By late summer, the pressure was on Admiral David G. Farragut to deliver a victory in Mobile Bay. After weeks of waiting for reinforcements, on the morning of August 5, Farragut ordered the captains of the fourteen wooden ships and four ironclads under his command to “strip your vessels and prepare for the conflict.” At 5:40 a.m., with the wooden ships lashed together in pairs and the ironclads protecting them, the vessels set out in a line to pass the three forts and four warships that guarded the harbor above water, and the minefield that guarded all but a 500-yard channel below. The admiral’s flagship, the Hartford, was in the second pair in line, behind the Brooklyn and its partner.
As the ships proceeded under heavy fire, going slowly to stay behind the lumbering ironclads, the foremost ironclad hit a torpedo, turned over, and sank instantly, taking all hands with it. Aware he was on the edge of the minefield, the commander of the Brooklyn hung back, throwing the whole line into confusion under the pummeling of the land batteries. Farragut ordered the captain of the Hartford to take over the lead. As the Hartford passed the stalled Brooklyn, the Brooklyn’s captain warned that they were “running into a nest of torpedoes.”
“Damn the torpedoes!” Farragut allegedly shot back. “Full speed ahead!”
By 10:00 a.m., the U.S. Navy had taken Mobile Bay, cutting off all Confederate contact with Europe. It was the victory the Union needed, and others followed in its wake: Atlanta fell on September 2, and the Army of the Potomac began to gain ground in Virginia. Finally able to believe that victory was near, voters rallied behind Lincoln’s determination to win the war and backed his administration in November. They gave him 55% of the popular vote and gave the Republicans supermajorities in both the House and the Senate.
Damn the torpedoes, indeed.
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August 6, 2021 (Friday)
Fifty-six years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The need for the law was explained in its full title: “An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, and for other purposes.”
In the wake of the Civil War, Americans tried to create a new nation in which the law treated Black men and white men as equals. In 1865, they ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing enslavement except as punishment for crimes. In 1868, they adjusted the Constitution again, guaranteeing that anyone born or naturalized in the United States—except certain Indigenous Americans—was a citizen, opening up the suffrage to Black men. In 1870, after Georgia legislators expelled their newly seated Black colleagues, Americans defended the right of Black men to vote by adding that right to the Constitution.
All three of those amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—gave Congress the power to enforce them. In 1870, Congress established the Department of Justice to do just that. Reactionary white southerners had been using state laws, and the unwillingness of state judges and juries to protect Black Americans from white gangs and cheating employers, to keep Black people subservient. White men organized as the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize Black men and to keep them and their white allies from voting to change that system. In 1870, the federal government stepped in to protect Black rights and prosecute members of the Ku Klux Klan.
With federal power now behind the Constitutional protection of equality, threatening jail for those who violated the law, white opponents of Black voting changed their argument against it.
In 1871, they began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds; their objection to Black voting was that Black men, just out of enslavement, were poor and uneducated. They were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services like roads and schools, and which could only be paid for with tax levies.
The idea that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—meant that white northerners who had fought to replace the hierarchical society of the Old South with a society based on equality began to change their tune. They looked the other way as white men kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses, which cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had; literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed; poll taxes; and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. By 1880 the south was solidly Democratic, and it would remain so until 1964.
Southern states always held elections: it was just foreordained that the Democrats would win them.
Black Americans never accepted this state of affairs, but their opposition did not gain powerful national traction until after World War II.
During that war, Americans from all walks of life had turned out to defeat fascism, a government system based on the idea that some people are better than others. Americans defended democracy and, for all that Black Americans fought in segregated units, and that race riots broke out in cities across the country during the war years, and that the government interned Japanese Americans, lawmakers began to recognize that the nation could not effectively define itself as a democracy if Black and Brown people lived in substandard housing, received substandard educations, could not advance from menial jobs, and could not vote to change any of those circumstances.
Meanwhile, Black Americans and people of color who had fought for the nation overseas brought home their determination to be treated equally, especially as the financial collapse of European countries loosened their grip on their former African and Asian colonies, launching new nations.
Those interested in advancing Black rights turned, once again, to the federal government to overrule discriminatory state laws. Spurred by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, judges used the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to argue that the protections in the Bill of Rights applied to the states, that is, the states could not deprive any American of equality. In 1954, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former Republican governor of California, used this doctrine when it handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.
White reactionaries responded with violence, but Black Americans continued to stand up for their rights. In 1957 and 1960, under pressure from Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress passed civil rights acts designed to empower the federal government to enforce the laws protecting Black voting.
In 1961 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) began intensive efforts to register voters and to organize communities to support political change. Because only 6.7% of Black Mississippians were registered, MIssissippi became a focal point, and in the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, organized under Bob Moses (who passed on July 25 of this year), volunteers set out to register voters. On June 21, Ku Klux Klan members, at least one of whom was a law enforcement officer, murdered organizers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and, when discovered, laughed at the idea they would be punished for the murders.
That year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which strengthened voting rights. On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, marchers led by John Lewis (who would go on to serve 17 terms in Congress) headed for Montgomery to demonstrate their desire to vote. Law enforcement officers stopped them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and beat them bloody.
On March 15, President Johnson called for Congress to pass legislation defending Americans’ right to vote. It did. And on this day in 1965, the Voting Rights Act became law. It became such a fundamental part of our legal system that Congress repeatedly reauthorized it, by large margins, as recently as 2006.
But in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the provision of the law requiring that states with histories of voter discrimination get approval from the Department of Justice before they changed their voting laws. Immediately, the legislatures of those states, now dominated by Republicans, began to pass measures to suppress the vote. Now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated states have increased the rate of voter suppression, and on July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court permitted such suppression with the Brnovich v. DNC decision.
If the Republicans are allowed to choose who will vote in the states, they will dominate the country in the same way that the Democrats turned the South into a one-party state after the Civil War. Alarmed at what will amount to the loss of our democracy, Democrats are calling for the federal government to protect voting rights.
And yet, 2020 made it crystal clear that if Republicans cannot stop Democrats from voting, they will not be able to win elections. And so, Republicans are insisting that states alone can determine who can vote and that any federal legislation is tyrannical overreach. A recent Pew poll shows that more than two thirds of Republican voters don’t think voting is a right and believe it can be limited.
And so, here we stand, in an existential crisis over voting rights and whether it is states or the federal government that should decide them.
Right now, there are two major voting rights bills before Congress. The Democrats have introduced the For the People Act, a sweeping measure that protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, stops the flow of cash into elections, and requires new ethics guidelines for lawmakers. They have also introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which focuses more tightly on voting and restores the protections provided in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Republican senators have announced their opposition to any voting rights bill, so any law that gets through will have to get around a Senate filibuster, which cannot be broken without 10 Republican senators. Democrats could break the filibuster for a voting rights bill, but Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) indicated earlier this summer they would not support such a move.
And yet, there are signs that a voting rights bill is not dead. Democratic senators have continued to work to come up with a bill that can make it through their party, and there is no point in doing that if, in the end, they know they cannot make it a law. “Everybody’s working in good faith on this,” Manchin told Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post. “It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe...got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said.
Back to basics is a very good idea indeed. The basic idea that we cannot have equality before the law without equal access to the ballot gave us the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and established the power of the federal government over the states to enforce them.
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August 7, 2021 (Saturday)
While I try to post a picture on weekends, I don’t want to fail to put in this record that today’s testimony by Jeffrey A. Rosen, acting attorney general during the Trump administration, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strikes me as being a game-changer.
New York Times reporter Katie Benner broke the news way back in January that a relatively unknown lawyer in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, worked secretly with then-president Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Clark was a political appointee in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice until he was moved in September 2020 to the civil division.
Rosen replaced Attorney General William Barr when Barr resigned on December 23, 2020. But immediately, when Rosen refused to entertain the idea of overturning the election, Trump considered firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark. Rosen and his acting deputy attorney general, Richard P. Donoghue, along with top leaders in the Department of Justice all threatened to resign if Trump made the change, and the then-president backed down.
The news that Clark and Trump were working together to overturn the election sparked congressional investigations in the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday July 28, from the House committee, we learned that Trump had pressured Rosen daily to help him overturn the election. And we learned that Donoghue had taken notes of the calls.
On Friday, July 31, the House Oversight and Reform Committee released some of those notes. They were explosive. On December 27, Rosen said that the Department of Justice had concluded the election was legitimate and that it “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.” Trump replied that he just wanted the department to “say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”
The next day, Clark tried to get Rosen and Donoghue to sign off on a letter claiming that the election had been fraudulent and saying that the Georgia legislature should appoint a different set of presidential electors on the grounds that the election there was full of irregularities.
The Justice Department had already determined that the election was, in fact, legitimate, and not marred by fraud. Donoghue responded to Clark that “there is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this…. [T]his is not even within the realm of possibility.” Rosen wrote: “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter."
According to an article in the New York Times by Katie Benner today, Rosen has been in talks with the Department of Justice for months to determine what information he could offer without disclosing information covered by executive privilege. On July 27, the Department of Justice said it would not restrict the testimony of former officials to the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and shortly after, former president Donald Trump said he would not sue to stop them from testifying.
Clark did not comment, but in January he said that while he had “a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president,” all of his official communications with Trump “were consistent with law.”
According to Benner, as soon as he got the all-clear, Rosen scheduled interviews with the congressional committees and with the inspector general of the Department of Justice to tell as much as he could of what he had seen before anyone tried to stop him. He met with the inspector general yesterday, and today he talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than six hours.
Richard P. Donoghue has also agreed to testify, as have other Department of Justice officials.
What this means is that congressional investigating committees now have witnesses to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that tonight the Senate voted 67-27 to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill forward, just hours after Trump called it a “disgrace” and warned, “It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.” And yet, 18 Republicans joined the Democrats, reflecting the reality that 72% percent of Americans support the measure and going on the record against it, as Republicans did in March with the popular American Rescue Plan, is even less attractive now than it was then.
Tonight’s vote suggests that Republicans are not all going to continue to move in lockstep with the former president. Those cracks could well widen as more and more information about his administration comes out.
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August 8, 2021 (Sunday)
On the heels of yesterday’s testimony by former acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen before the Senate Judiciary Committee, former president Trump hit the Fox News Channel to try to turn the conversation back to an attack on President Joe Biden’s handling of the coronavirus.
“Could you imagine if I were president right now and we had this massive attack from the coronavirus?” he asked host Dan Bongino. “If that were me, they would say, ‘What a horrible thing, what a horrible job.’ And I don’t ever hear that.” Of course, we did have just such an attack on his watch. The pandemic Biden is trying to end began during Trump’s term, when more than 400,000 people died.
But there is something more at stake here than Trump’s vanity. This attempt to rewrite the history of the coronavirus pandemic illuminates the urgency of the fight for our democracy.
The reason that Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson’s broadcasts last week from Hungary were so shocking was that his praise of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s policies, which have dramatically eroded Hungarian democracy, threw into the open the Republican Party’s embrace of authoritarianism.
Orbán’s own swing toward authoritarianism came after he whipped up supporters with attacks on immigrants in the surge of migrants coming through Serbia into Hungary in 2015. He ordered a wall built on the Hungary-Serbia border and sent the bill to Brussels, saying the European Union should pay for Hungary’s efforts to protect Europe from the illegal migrants. Since then, migration to—and through—Hungary has plummeted while only about 2 people a day ask for asylum. The country does not have a particularly high percentage of immigrants—only about 5% of the population was born elsewhere—but Orbán continues to stoke anti-immigrant fires, convincing his supporters that they are constantly under siege. Now dominated by Orbán’s government, the media hypes his accusations.
Trump announced his presidential run in 2015 with an attack on immigrants, of course, and that anti-immigrant stance ran through his administration. Last week, Carlson expressed admiration for Orbán’s attack on immigration, but that attack on immigration is far more central to our current political situation than it immediately appears.
When President Joe Biden took office, his top priority was to get Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus, which was devastating the country. He refused to criticize how Republican governors had handled the crisis with the idea that this would be an issue around which Americans could unite, and that unity might then help us get beyond the polarization that has paralyzed us for so long.
In response, Republican pundits, especially those on the Fox News Channel, undermined support for the vaccine. Right-wing accounts on social media warned people the vaccine was dangerous and said that Covid-19 was a hoax, or almost certainly survivable. Trump supporters became one of the populations that were reluctant to get vaccinated. We are now facing a new, very contagious variant—the Delta variant—which appears to be more dangerous even than the original virus and which is infecting children more effectively than the original did. National infection numbers are around 100,000 a day, about the same rate we were suffering in February, before the vaccine was widely available.
Republican-led states have been hit the hardest. Last week, Florida and Texas alone made up one out of every three new cases, and now Florida is the center of the pandemic. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 23,903 new cases in Florida that day alone. Hospitals are filling up as unvaccinated Americans need medical care; Austin, Texas, activated an emergency alert this weekend as its hospitals were overwhelmed.
But Republican lawmakers stand against the mask requirements and vaccines that would help stop the spread. Texas governor Greg Abbott has banned mask and vaccine mandates across the state, as has Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (who has since said the law was an “error”). South Carolina and Arizona have banned mask mandates in schools.
Today, in just the latest example, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “It’s time for us to resist. They can’t arrest all of us.... No one should follow the CDC.” He claimed that masking and remote learning was physically and emotionally damaging for children, and there was no reason they should not return to school full time, without masks. He said he would work to defund any school or government agency or school that did not simply resume its pre-pandemic operations.
Instead of trying to stop the spread of the virus, Republicans are blaming Biden for it. They claim that it is sparked by his handling of immigration on our southern border and that infected immigrants are responsible for the spike in the deadly disease.
When Biden asked Republican governors on August 3 to help or get out of the way, Florida governor Ron DeSantis responded: “Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID while he lets COVID-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands. No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of COVID in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies,” and claimed: “He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border.”
DeSantis is not an outlier. Trump has pushed this line, Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity hammers on it, and right-wing publications from the Daily Wire to National Review to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page all insist that immigrants are to blame for the spread of the virus. Rand Paul has gone so far as to claim that administration officials are deliberately sending infected immigrant children around the country to spread the variant. Yesterday, Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis called for Biden’s impeachment over the issue.
In fact, the administration continues to reject or expel border crossers under a public health order known as Title 42. It does permit the entry of unaccompanied minors and some vulnerable families. Migrants who cross the border are immediately required to wear masks. They are not tested at Customs and Border Patrol unless they show symptoms, but all are tested if they move into the system, and those who test positive for coronavirus are quarantined. Those slated for deportation are quarantined before they are deported. While infection rates are climbing, because of both the Delta variant and the crowding at Border Patrol, immigrants test positive at a lower rate than the rate of non-immigrants around them.
And yet, Republicans are using the deadly new coronavirus variant to stoke anti-immigrant fires.
It is cynical, it is deadly… and it takes us one more step toward authoritarianism.
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August 9, 2021 (Monday)
It appears the Senate is on track to pass the bipartisan $1 trillion “hard” infrastructure package as early as tomorrow morning.
As soon as it passes, Democrats will turn to the $3.5 trillion bill, a sweeping measure that would modernize the nation’s approach to infrastructure by including human infrastructure as well as the older “hard” projects. It establishes universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, cuts taxes for families with children, makes community college tuition free for two years, and invests in public universities.
It invests in housing, invests in job training, strengthens supply chains, provides green cards to immigrant workers, and protects the borders with new technologies. It expands the Affordable Care Act, invests in home and community-based health care, and reduces the cost of prescription drugs.
It also invests significantly in measures to combat climate change. Focusing on clean electricity, it cuts emissions through tax incentives, polluter fees, and home electrification projects, and replaces federal vehicles with electric ones.
The bill calls for funding these measures with higher taxes on corporations.
The measure will move forward as a budget resolution that simply says how much money the government expects to need next year, and from 2023 to 2031. Once it passes, the various committees will hammer out exactly how much money should go where, and Congress will then hammer that into some form of an agreement.
Once a measure is finalized, the Senate will try to pass the bill through the process of budget reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered, meaning that it can pass with a simple majority.
If, indeed, President Joe Biden manages to pass both a bipartisan bill that pleases some Republicans and the reconciliation bill that pleases progressive Democrats, it will be an astonishing accomplishment.
One thing that is not in the larger bill is an increase to the debt limit, which will be imperative before October. Raising the debt limit is necessary because Congress has already appropriated money that the Treasury does not have, so it will have to borrow to meet existing obligations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened that neither he nor any other Republican will lift the debt limit and that Democrats must do it alone. But Democrats are not willing to raise it themselves, when it was the Republicans who ran up the debt during Trump’s term, adding $7 trillion to the debt while they slashed corporate taxes. ″The vast majority of the debt subject to the debt limit was accrued before the administration taking office,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress on Monday. “This is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”
The large infrastructure package will reshape American society to invest in ordinary Americans and to get the nation on track to face a future that does not center around fossil fuels. That such an investment is on the table right now seems like good timing, since today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations released the most thorough report on climate ever compiled, and the conclusions are a “code red for humanity,” according to United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres. The report is based on more than 14,000 studies and is endorsed by 195 governments.
It warns that we have waited too long to reduce our use of fossil fuels, guaranteeing that the globe will continue to warm for at least the next 30 years even if we address climate change immediately. This will mean more extreme weather: fires—like the Dixie fire currently raging in Northern California, which is the largest in the state’s history—floods, disease, extinctions, and social conflict. If we address the issue, though, there is still a window in which we could mitigate changes that are even more dire.
The Republicans object to the larger infrastructure bill because it uses the government to invest in the economy, which will cost tax dollars. For forty years, Republicans have called for turning the economy over to private interests and for tax cuts to free up capital for investment, which they argued would make the economy grow. But those policies have sparked discontent as they concentrated wealth upward and ran up huge deficits and debt.
Now, as Democrats want to go back to the sort of system that created our booming post–World War II economy by stopping the concentration of wealth upward and investing in infrastructure, Republicans are complaining that the cost will hobble the nation. They are threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, although as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pointed out, Congress assumed the vast majority of the debt that requires a higher limit before President Joe Biden took office.
Meanwhile, Republican policies are not looking very good right now, as Republican governors have stood staunchly against combatting Covid-19 with either masks or vaccines. The virus is now surging again in the U.S., which currently has 17% of the world’s new infections despite having the best vaccine supply. The spike is especially obvious among children, who make up 20% of the nation's new cases, apparently becoming infected in homes where adults are not vaccinated. On ABC, Dr. Mark Kline, Physician In Chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said: “We are hospitalizing record numbers of children. Half of the children in our hospital today are under two years of age, and most of the others are between 5 and 10 years of age.”
Cases continue to rise in Florida and Texas, where governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott have prohibited mask mandates. In Florida, journalist Katherine G. Hobbs reports: “Volusia County and Advent Health Orlando are finalizing the purchase of fleets of refrigerated mobile morgues amid Florida's COVID surge.”* In Texas, Abbott today called on Texas hospitals to postpone elective procedures in order to clear more beds for Covid patients. The state’s health department is trying to find more health care workers to come to the state to help out.
Nonetheless, DeSantis and Abbott refuse to modify their ban on mask mandates, clearly seeing a strong stand on this issue as a political statement that they believe will win them Republican voters. But as infections and deaths, especially among children, rise, the wisdom of this move is not clear.
Private companies, courts, and schools are all challenging the governors’ edict. A federal judge has overruled Florida’s prohibition on private companies from asking about vaccine status, a rule challenged by cruise ship lines, who would have faced millions of dollars in fines, although vaccine requirements are standard in other ports they visit. DeSantis says he will appeal.
In Arkansas, where only 37% of the state’s population is vaccinated, two challenges to the state’s ban on mask mandates led a judge on Friday to block the ban temporarily. One of the challenges was brought by a school where more than 900 students and staff are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak. In Texas, Austin, Houston, and Dallas Independent School Districts are instituting mask mandates in defiance of Abbott’s executive order.
In Florida, the Miami-Dade school system is the fourth largest school district in the nation. When Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made it clear that he will follow the guidance of public health experts and doctors, DeSantis threatened to withhold the salaries of any superintendents or school board members who defy his executive order prohibiting mask mandates.
Carvalho issued a statement saying “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees.”
*Edited at midnight on August 10. This journalist appears now to be backing off on this claim.
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August 10, 2021 (Tuesday)
The shocking revelations from former acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen about former president Trump’s direct efforts to use the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election, along with the horrors of spiking Covid among the unvaccinated, drove out of the news cycle a revelatory piece of news.
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor released the jobs report for August 2021. It was stronger than economists had predicted, and even stronger than the administration had hoped.
In July, employers added 943,000 jobs, and unemployment fell to 5.4%. Average hourly wages increased, as well. They are 4% higher than they were a year ago.
Harvard Professor Jason Furman, former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, tweeted: “I have yet to find a blemish in this jobs report. I've never before seen such a wonderful set of economic data.” He noted the report showed “Job gains in most sectors... Big decline in unemployment rate, even bigger for Black & Hispanic/Latino… Red[uctio]n in long-term unemp[loyment]... Solid (nominal) wage gains.”
“Still a long way to go,” he wrote. “[W]e're about 7.5 million jobs short of where we should have been right now absent the pandemic. But we've made a lot of progress.”
Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, told New York Times reporter Nelson D. Schwartz: “It’s an unambiguously positive report…. Labor market conditions are strong. Unemployment benefits, infection risks and child care constraints are not preventing robust hiring.”
The jobs report is an important political marker because it appears to validate the Democrats’ approach to the economy, the system the president calls the “Biden Plan.” That plan started in January, as soon as Biden took office, using the federal government to combat the coronavirus pandemic as aggressively as the administration could and, at the same time, using federal support to restart the economy.
In March 2021, the Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. In addition to strengthening healthcare systems to combat the coronavirus, it provides economic relief primarily to low- and middle-income Americans by extending unemployment benefits and the child tax credit; funding schools, housing, and local governments; providing help for small businesses; and so on.
Polls indicated that the measure was enormously popular. A Morning Consult poll from February showed that 3 out of 4 voters liked it, and local governments and state governors, including a number of Republicans, backed the bill.
But every single Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives voted against the measure, saying it was too expensive and that it was unnecessary.
Since 1980, Republican lawmakers have opposed government intervention to stimulate the economy, insisting that private investment is more efficient. Rather than use the government as presidents of both parties from Franklin Delano Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter did to keep the playing field level and promote growth, modern-day Republicans have argued that the government should simply cut taxes in order to free up capital for wealthier Americans to invest. This, they said, would create enough growth to make up for lost tax revenues.
President Ronald Reagan began this trend with major tax cuts in 1981 and 1986. President George H.W. Bush promised not to raise taxes—remember “Read my lips: No new taxes”—but found he had to increase revenues to address the skyrocketing deficits the Reagan cuts created. When he did agree to higher taxes, his own party leaders turned against him. Then President George W. Bush cut taxes again in 2001 and 2003, despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in 2017, Republicans under President Donald Trump cut taxes still further.
In 2017, Trump claimed the cut would be “rocket fuel for the economy.” Then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed almost 40 years of Republican ideology when he said: "The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth." And then–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "After eight straight years of slow growth and underperformance, America is ready to take off.” (In fact, while Trump’s tax cuts meant tax revenues dropped 31%, they yielded only 2.9% growth, the exact same as the economy enjoyed in 2015, before the cuts.)
Laws like the American Rescue Plan should, in the Republicans’ view, destroy the economy. But Friday’s booming jobs report, along with the reality that the Biden administration has created an average of 832,000 new jobs per month, knocks a serious hole in that argument.
It may be that the pendulum is swinging away from the Republican conviction that tax cuts and private investment are the only key to economic growth.
Today, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill by a vote of 69 to 30. The bill repairs roads and bridges, invests in transit and railroads, replaces lead pipes, and provides broadband across the country, among other things. In the next ten years, it is expected to create nearly 3 million jobs.
Nineteen Republicans voted in favor of the bill. There were many reasons to do so. The measure is popular with voters, and Republicans were embarrassed by their unanimous opposition to the American Rescue Plan. Indicating a willingness to work with Democrats might also undercut the Republicans’ image as obstructionists and help to protect the filibuster (a factor I’m guessing was behind McConnell’s yes vote).
But that Republicans felt they needed to abandon their position and vote yes for any reason is a big deal. "For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage,” Biden told them. “And I want to personally thank you for that."
The bill now goes to the House, which will take it up after the Senate passes a $3.5 trillion infrastructure measure through the reconciliation process, which Democrats can do with a simple majority and without Republican support. The larger package addresses climate change, child care, elder care, housing, and so on. Moody Analytics, which provides economic research and modeling, says that, if it is combined with the bipartisan bill, it will add close to 2 million jobs a year over the next ten years.
Yet, Republicans say it is a “reckless tax and spending spree.”
In contrast, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: "My largest concern is not: What are the risks if we make these big investments? It is: What is the cost if we don’t?”
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12 minutes ago, Ishmael said:

Just wait for Manchin and Sinema to assert their power by undercutting the whole thing.

I do believe Manchin is under enormous pressure from the folks at home to bring them relief.

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1 hour ago, Bus Driver said:

I do believe Manchin is under enormous pressure from the folks at home to bring them relief.

Good. Let's see if Sinema is still wearing her Fuck Off ring.

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August 13, 2021 (Friday)
Yesterday, the Census Bureau released information about the 2020 census, designed to enable states to start the process of drawing new lines for their congressional districts, a process known as redistricting.
Because of that very limited intent for this particular information dump, the picture the material gives is a very specific one. The specificity of that information echoes the political history that in the 1920s began to skew our Congress to give rural white voters disproportionate power. It also reinforces a vision of America divided by race: precisely the vision that former president Trump and his supporters want Americans to believe.
The U.S. Constitution requires that the government count the number of people in the country every ten years so that lawmakers can divide up the representation in Congress, which is apportioned according to population in the House of Representatives. (The Senate is by state: each state gets two senators.)
This matters not just for the relative weight of voices in lawmaking in the House, but also because of our Electoral College. The Electoral College is how we elect the U.S. president. Each state gets the number of electors that is equal to the number of senators and representatives combined. So, if your state has 10 representatives and 2 senators, it would have 12 presidential electors.
Censuses are never 100% accurate. It’s hard to count people, especially if they don’t want to be counted. Censuses also are inherently political, since a corrupt president will not want an accurate count: they will want areas that support their party to be overcounted, while areas that support the opposite party to be undercounted.
The 1890 census is a famous example of both of these problems. Indigenous Americans who were eager to avoid the observance of the federal government out of concern for their lives moved around to avoid being counted. The process itself was notoriously corrupt because in 1889 and 1890, the Republican Party had forced the admission of six new western states—North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming—that supported the Republicans, and had insisted that the new census would show enough people there to warrant statehood. So they were eager to find lots and lots of people in those new states but very few in the populous territories of Arizona and New Mexico, which they knew would vote Democratic. (I would love to write a whole post about the 1890 census, but I will spare you.)
Today, because of the pandemic, the results of the 2020 census have been delayed, and states are already behind in their schedules to redistrict for the upcoming 2022 election. (I know, I know, but it really is right over the horizon. Some states are already thinking about moving their primary elections because there’s not enough time to redistrict before them.) So yesterday, the Census Bureau released the information states need to begin that process. It released its record of the number of people living in each state and U.S. territory.
But in addition to needing to know the actual numbers of the count, state lawmakers need to know the racial makeup of their states, since there are federal rules about making sure minority votes aren’t silenced in redistricting by, for example, splitting a minority vote into small enough groups among districts that minorities essentially don’t have a voice (this is called “cracking”), or concentrating members of one group into a single district, so they are underrepresented at the state level (this is called “packing”).
So the material that came out yesterday was not the entire information from the census; it was just the material states need for redistricting.
It shows how many people there are living in America today. Population shifts mean that Montana, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina, and Florida all picked up a seat, while Texas picked up two. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, California, and West Virginia all lost one. Within those states, cities have grown and rural counties have lost people. For the first time in our history, all ten of the country’s largest cities now have more than a million people in them.
The material released yesterday also shows the nation’s racial makeup. That information is confusing, as all self-identification on a form can be. It says that America’s white population has dropped significantly since 2010. According to the census, people who identify as white now make up 58% of the population while just ten years ago they made up 64%. But the census also shows that people who self-identify as a mixture of races has skyrocketed, climbing from 9 million in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. It seems likely that some of the drop in self-identification as white is due to people identifying themselves differently than they have in the past.
Urbanization and multiculturalism are not new to our history, and their appearance in the census led lawmakers to create an imbalance in our government in the 1920s. The Constitution says that a state can’t have a representative for fewer than 30,000 people, but it doesn’t say anything about an upper limit of constituents represented by a single representative. In 1912, when the country had 92 million people, the House had grown to 435 members.
But the 1920 census showed that more Americans lived in cities than in the country, at the same time that white Americans were all tied up in knots that those new urban dwellers were Black Americans and immigrants from southern and central Europe and Asia. Aware that continuing to allow more representatives for these growing numbers of Americans meant that the weight of representation would move away from rural white Americans and toward immigrants in cities, lawmakers refused to continue increasing the number of seats in the House. (They also passed the 1924 Immigration Act, which set quotas on how many people from each country could come to America.)
In 1929, lawmakers froze the number of representatives at 435 voting members of the House. While this number would bounce around as new states came in, for example, it has once again settled as the number of voting representatives today, when our population is 331 million.
That cap means that the size of the average congressional district is now 711,000 people, a number that is far higher than the framers intended and that favors smaller, more rural, whiter states in the House of Representatives. It also favors those states in the Electoral College, where they have more weight proportionately than they would if the House had continued to grow.
By identifying everyone by race—as it needed to, for redistricting purposes—yesterday’s census material also engages what sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields have called “racecraft,” which, by artificially dividing people along racial lines, reinforces the idea of race as the most important thing in society. Yesterday’s material does not mention, for example, income or wealth, which are not explicitly factored in when redistricting but which the last census material released on that topic suggested are at least as divisive as race.
The idea that race is paramount is, of course, the theory that the right wing would like Americans to believe, and the idea that white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color and Black Americans falls right into the right-wing argument that minorities are “replacing” white Americans.
For a century now, the machinery of redistricting has favored rural whites. With the 2020 census information reinforcing the idea that white, rural Americans are under siege, it seems unlikely that lawmakers in Republican states will want to rebalance the system.
But it seems equally unlikely that an increasingly urbanizing, multicultural nation will continue to accept being governed by an ever-smaller white, rural minority.
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August 14, 2021 (Saturday)
On this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.
The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship of the government to its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.
The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.
She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.
As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where she witnessed a supportive community. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.
The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.
The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”
Through her Tammany connections Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”
Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that those displaced by the Depression had added new pressure to the idea of old-age insurance.
In Long Beach, California, Dr. Francis Townsend had looked out of his window one day to see elderly women rooting through garbage cans for food. Appalled, he came up with a plan to help the elderly and stimulate the economy at the same time. Townsend proposed that the government provide every retired person over 60 years old with $200 a month, on the condition that they spend it within 30 days, a condition designed to stimulate the economy.
Townsend’s plan was wildly popular. More than that, though, it sparked people across the country to start coming up with their own plans for protecting the elderly and the nation’s social fabric, and together, they began to change the public conversation about social welfare policies.
They spurred Congress to action. Perkins recalled that Townsend “startled the Congress of the United States because the aged have votes. The wandering boys didn't have any votes; the evicted women and their children had very few votes. If the unemployed didn't stay long enough in any one place, they didn't have a vote. But the aged people lived in one place and they had votes, so every Congressman had heard from the Townsend Plan people.”
FDR put together a committee to come up with a plan to create a basic social safety net, but committee members could not make up their minds how to move forward. Perkins continued to hammer on the idea they must come up with a final plan, and finally locked the members of the committee in a room. As she recalled: “Well, we locked the door and we had a lot of talk. I laid out a couple of bottles of something or other to cheer their lagging spirits. Anyhow, we stayed in session until about 2 a.m. We then voted finally, having taken our solemn oath that this was the end; we were never going to review it again.”
By the time the bill came to a vote in Congress, it was hugely popular. The vote was 371 to 33 in the House and 77 to 6 in the Senate.
When asked to describe the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins mused that its roots came from the very beginnings of the nation. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in 1835, she noted, he thought Americans were uniquely “so generous, so kind, so charitably disposed.” “Well, I don't know anything about the times in which De Tocqueville visited America,” she said, but “I do know that at the time I came into the field of social work, these feelings were real.”
With the Social Security Act, Perkins helped to write into our laws a longstanding political impulse in America that stood in dramatic contrast to the 1920s philosophy of rugged individualism. She recognized that the ideas of community values and pooling resources to keep the economic playing field level and take care of everyone are at least as deeply seated in our political philosophy as the idea of every man for himself.
When she recalled the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins recalled: “Of course, the Act had to be amended, and has been amended, and amended, and amended, and amended, until it has now grown into a large and important project, for which, by the way, I think the people of the United States are deeply thankful. One thing I know: Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”
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5 hours ago, Bus Driver said:

One thing I know: Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

I'm not so sure that SS would survive a Republican coup.

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11 minutes ago, Ishmael said:
5 hours ago, Bus Driver said:

. Social Security... ... is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

I'm not so sure that SS would survive a Republican coup.

Maybe, maybe not. There's no money any more, it's now fully pay-as-you-go but it's still an enormous pyramid scheme. I'm guessing there is profit to be made in diverting the cash stream, but there isn't a mountain of gold bars to loot like VP Dick Cheney drooled over.

- DSK

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August 15, 2021 (Sunday)
Today, in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters took over the presidential palace in Kabul, the country’s capital, while the president of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, Ashraf Ghani, fled to Tajikistan. The U.S. and many other countries are rushing to evacuate their diplomatic personnel and allies from the country, although Russia is not, as the Taliban has guaranteed their safety. As of tonight, all U.S. embassy personnel are at the Kabul airport, which is currently being protected by the U.S. military.
Over almost 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. has lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power but failed to capture bin Laden, and the War on Terror became a general drive against non-state actors, usually Muslims, who threatened the U.S.
In 2003, President George W. Bush launched another war, this one in Iraq. As the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, members of the Taliban regrouped in Afghanistan as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. had propped up in their place. By 2005, the Taliban had grown powerful enough that officials in the Bush administration worried that the U.S. could fail to undermine them.
President Barack Obama focused again on Afghanistan. In December 2009 he launched a 33,000 troop surge into Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. deployment there to about 100,000 troops, with an additional 40,000 troops from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 2011, U.S. Special Forces found bin Laden living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed him in a raid. The next month, Obama announced that he would begin bringing troops home and that the U.S. would leave Afghanistan by 2014. Violence immediately increased, and a new joint security agreement between the U.S. and the Afghan government allowed the U.S. to stay and continue to train Afghan soldiers.
By 2018 the Taliban, which is well funded by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system operated in the shadow of the official government, had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan. Americans were tired of the seemingly endless war and were eager for it to end.
To end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” former president Donald Trump sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with NATO allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.
The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they did not kill any American soldiers after the deal was signed.
Meanwhile, by announcing their intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”
Hoping to win voters with this deal to end the war, the Trump administration celebrated the agreement. In September, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for forever war in the Middle East. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to finally bring our troops home.” Then–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the U.S. would have “zero” troops left in Afghanistan by spring 2021.
When he was Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden had made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan. By the time he took office as president in January 2021, he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
In July, 73% of Americans agreed that the U.S. should withdraw.
On July 8, Biden announced that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned and that the military mission of the U.S. in Afghanistan would end on August 31. He said the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan—kill bin Laden and destroy a haven for international terrorists—and had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”
For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”
Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
Instead of using troops, Biden has focused on cutting off the flow of money to terrorists through financial and economic sanctions. (Today, a U.S. official told CNN that the “vast majority” of the assets of Afghanistan’s central bank are not held in Afghanistan and that the U.S. will freeze whatever assets are in the U.S.)
As the U.S. pulled out of the country, the Afghan military simply melted away. Regional capitals fell to the Taliban with little resistance, and Kabul today fell with similar ease. Just five weeks after Biden’s July speech, the Afghan president has left the country and the Taliban is in power.
Already, Republicans are trying to blame the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan on Biden, ignoring former president Trump’s insistence that Biden speed up the exit because “getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do.” So eager are Republicans to rewrite history that they are literally erasing it. Tonight, Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noticed that the Republican National Committee has scrubbed from its website a section celebrating the deal the Trump administration cut with the Taliban and praising Trump for taking “the lead in peace talks as he signed a historic peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which would end America’s longest war.”
Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who served in Afghanistan and who opposed Biden’s plan for withdrawal, has been highlighting the past statements of pro-exit Republicans who are now attacking the president. “Do not let my party preten[d] to be outraged by this,” he tweeted. “Both the [Republicans] and [Democrats] failed here. Time for Americans to put their country over their party.”
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August 16, 2021 (Monday)
According to an article by Susannah George in the Washington Post, the lightning speed takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces—which captured all 17 of the regional capitals and the national capital of Kabul in about nine days with astonishing ease—was a result of “cease fire” deals, which amounted to bribes, negotiated after former president Trump’s administration came to an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. When U.S. officials excluded the Afghan government from the deal, soldiers believed that it was only a question of time until they were on their own and cut deals to switch sides. When Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s deal, the process sped up.
This seems to me to beg the question of how the Biden administration continued to have faith that the Afghan army would at the very least delay the Taliban victory, if not prevent it. Did military and intelligence leaders have no inkling of such a development? In a speech today in which he stood by his decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden explained that the U.S. did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner because some, still hoping they could hold off the Taliban, did not yet want to leave.
At the same time, Biden said, “the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, ‘a crisis of confidence.’” He explained that he had urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah of the High Council for National Reconciliation to clean up government corruption, unite politically, and seek a political settlement with the Taliban. They “flatly refused” to do so, but “insisted the Afghan forces would fight.”
Instead, government officials themselves fled the country before the Taliban arrived in Kabul, throwing the capital into chaos.
Biden argued today that the disintegration of the Afghan military proved that pulling out the few remaining U.S. troops was the right decision. He inherited from former president Donald Trump the deal with the Taliban agreeing that if the Taliban stopped killing U.S. soldiers and refused to protect terrorists, the U.S. would withdraw its forces by May 1, 2021. The Taliban stopped killing soldiers after it negotiated the deal, and Trump dropped the number of soldiers in Afghanistan from about 15,500 to about 2,500.
Biden had either to reject the deal, pour in more troops, and absorb more U.S. casualties, or honor the plan that was already underway. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said today. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong—incredibly well equipped—a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies…. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided…close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
“It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not. If the political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down, they would never have done so while U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the fighting for them.”
Biden added, “I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight…Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?”
The president recalled that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan almost 20 years ago to prevent another al Qaeda attack on America by making sure the Taliban government could not continue to protect al Qaeda and by removing Osama bin Laden. After accomplishing those goals, though, the U.S. expanded its mission to turn the country into a unified, centralized democracy, a mission that was not, Biden said, a vital national interest.
Biden, who is better versed in foreign affairs than any president since President George H. W. Bush, said today that the U.S. should focus not on counterinsurgency or on nation building, but narrowly on counterterrorism, which now reaches far beyond Afghanistan. Terrorism missions do not require a permanent military presence. The U.S. already conducts such missions, and will conduct them in Afghanistan in the future, if necessary, he said.
Biden claims that human rights are central to his foreign policy, but he wants to accomplish them through diplomacy, economic tools, and rallying others to join us, rather than with “endless military deployments.” He explained that U.S. diplomats are secure at the Kabul airport, and he has authorized 6,000 U.S. troops to go to Afghanistan to help with evacuation.
Biden accepted responsibility for his decision to leave Afghanistan, and he maintained that it is the right decision for America.
While a lot of U.S. observers have quite strong opinions about what the future looks like for Afghanistan, it seems to me far too soon to guess how the situation there will play out. There is a lot of power sloshing around in central Asia right now, and I don’t think either that Taliban leaders are the major players or that Afghanistan is the primary stage. Russia has just concluded military exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both of which border Afghanistan, out of concern about the military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. At the same time, the area is about to have to deal with large numbers of Afghan refugees, who are already fleeing the country.
But the attacks on Biden for the withdrawal from Afghanistan do raise the important question of when it is in America’s interest to fight a ground war. Should we limit foreign intervention to questions of the safety of Americans? Should we protect our economic interests? Should we fight to spread democracy? Should we fight to defend human rights? Should we fight to shorten other wars, or prevent genocide?
These are not easy questions, and reasonable people can, and maybe should, disagree about the answers.
But none of them is about partisan politics, either; they are about defining our national interest.
It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act. Some of the same people worrying about the slowness of our evacuation of our Afghan allies voted just last month against providing more visas for them, and others seemed to worry very little about our utter abandonment of our Kurdish allies when we withdrew from northern Syria in 2019. And those worrying about democracy in Afghanistan seem to be largely unconcerned about protecting voting rights here at home.
Most notably to me, some of the same people who are now focusing on keeping troops in Afghanistan to protect Americans seem uninterested in stopping the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 620,000 of us and that is, once again, raging.
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I've been struggling to organize my thoughts on the Right's stunning flop from America First, bring home the troops and  no more nation building to Save Afghanistan! 

Best nutshell of the current situation I've seen...

Quote
It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act. Some of the same people worrying about the slowness of our evacuation of our Afghan allies voted just last month against providing more visas for them, and others seemed to worry very little about our utter abandonment of our Kurdish allies when we withdrew from northern Syria in 2019. And those worrying about democracy in Afghanistan seem to be largely unconcerned about protecting voting rights here at home.
Most notably to me, some of the same people who are now focusing on keeping troops in Afghanistan to protect Americans seem uninterested in stopping the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 620,000 of us and that is, once again, raging.

 


 

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1 hour ago, Willin' said:

I've been struggling to organize my thoughts on the Right's stunning flop from America First, bring home the troops and  no more nation building to Save Afghanistan! 

Best nutshell of the current situation I've seen...

Quote
It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia...  ...

 

I can sum it up into a much much smaller nutshell for you: "Democrat BAD!!"

It's a nice simple concept and it resonates within their pea-brains.

- DSK

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August 18, 2021 (Wednesday)
It is still early days, and the picture of what is happening in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has regained control of the country continues to develop.
Central to affairs there is money. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about half its population requiring humanitarian aid this year and about 90% of its people living below the poverty line of making $2 a day.
The country depends on foreign aid. Under the U.S.-supported Afghan government, the United States and other nations funded about 80% of Afghanistan’s budget. In 2020, foreign aid made up about 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP (the GDP, or gross domestic product, is the monetary value of all the goods and services produced in a country), down from 100% of it in 2009.
This is a huge problem for the Taliban, because their takeover of the country means that the money the country so desperately needs has dried up. The U.S. has frozen billions of dollars of Afghan government money held here in the U.S. The European Union and Germany have also suspended their financial support for the country, and today the International Monetary Fund blocked Afghanistan’s access to $460 million in currency reserves.
Adam M. Smith, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told Jeff Stein of the Washington Post that the financial squeeze is potentially “cataclysmic for Afghanistan.” It threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis that, in turn, will create a refugee crisis in central Asia. Already, the fighting in the last eight months has displaced more than half a million Afghans.
People fleeing from the Taliban threaten to destabilize the region more generally. While Russia was happy to support the Taliban in a war against the U.S., now that its fighters are in charge of the country, Russia needs to keep the Taliban’s extremism from spreading to other countries in the area. So it is tentatively saying supportive things about the Taliban, but it is also stepping up its protection of neighboring countries’ borders with Afghanistan. Other countries are also leery of refugees in the region: large numbers of refugees have, in the past, led countries to turn against immigrants, giving a leg up to right-wing governments.
Canada and Britain are each taking an additional 20,000 Afghan women leaders, reporters, LGBTQ people, and human rights workers on top of those they have already volunteered to take, but Turkey—which is governed by strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—is building a wall to block refugees, and French President Emmanuel Macron asked officials in Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to prevent migrants reaching their countries from traveling any further. The European Union has asked its member states to take more Afghan refugees.
In the U.S., the question of Afghan refugees is splitting the Republican Party, with about 30% of it following the hard anti-immigrant line of former president Donald Trump. Others, though, especially those whose districts include military installations, are saying they welcome our Afghan allies.
The people fleeing the country also present a problem for those now in control of Afghanistan. The idea that people are terrified of their rule is a foreign relations nightmare, at the same time that those leaving are the ones most likely to have the skills necessary to help govern the country. But leaders can’t really stop the outward flow—at least immediately—because they do not want to antagonize the international community so thoroughly that it continues to withhold the financial aid the country so badly needs. So, while on the streets, Taliban fighters are harassing Afghans who are trying to get away, Taliban leaders are saying they will permit people to evacuate, that they will offer blanket amnesty to those who opposed them, and also that they will defend some rights for women and girls.
The Biden administration is sending more personnel to help evacuate those who want to leave. The president has promised to evacuate all Americans in the country—as many as 15,000 people—but said only that we would evacuate as many of the estimated 65,000 Afghans who want to leave as possible. The Taliban has put up checkpoints on the roads to the airport and are not permitting everyone to pass. U.S. military leaders say they will be able to evacuate between 5000 and 9000 people a day.
Today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley tried to explain the frantic rush to evacuate people from Afghanistan to reporters by saying: “There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.” Maybe. But military analyst Jason Dempsey condemned the whole U.S. military project in Afghanistan when he told NPR's Don Gonyea that the collapse of the Afghan government showed that the U.S. had fundamentally misunderstood the people of Afghanistan and had tried to impose a military system that simply made no sense for a society based in patronage networks and family relationships.
Even with Dempsey’s likely accurate assessment, the statement that U.S. military intelligence missed that a 300,000 person army was going to melt away still seems to me astonishing. Still, foreign policy and national security policy analyst Dr. John Gans of the University of Pennsylvania speculated on Twitter that such a lapse might be more “normal”—his word and quotation marks—than it seems, reflecting the slips possible in government bureaucracy. He points out that the Department of Defense has largely controlled Afghanistan and the way the U.S. involvement there was handled in Washington. But with the end of the military mission, the Defense Department was eager to hand off responsibility to the State Department, which was badly weakened under the previous administration and has not yet rebuilt fully enough to handle what was clearly a complicated handoff. “There have not been many transitions between an American war & an American diplomatic relationship with a sovereign, friendly country,” Gans wrote. “Fewer still when the friendly regime disintegrates so quickly.” When things started to go wrong, they snowballed.
And yet, the media portrayal of our withdrawal as a catastrophe also seems to me surprising. To date, at least as far as I have seen, there have been no reports of such atrocities as the top American diplomat in Syria reported in the chaos when the U.S. pulled out of northern Syria in 2019. Violence against our Kurdish allies there was widely expected and it indeed occurred. In a memo made public in November of that year, Ambassador William V. Roebuck wrote that “Islamist groups” paid by Turkey were deliberately engaged in ethnic cleansing of Kurds, and were committing “widely publicized, fear-inducing atrocities” even while “our military forces and diplomats were on the ground.” The memo continued: “The Turkey operation damaged our regional and international credibility and has significantly destabilized northeastern Syria.”
Reports of that ethnic cleansing in the wake of our withdrawal seemed to get very little media attention in 2019, perhaps because the former president’s first impeachment inquiry took up all the oxygen. But it strikes me that the sensibility of Roebuck’s memo is now being read onto our withdrawal from Afghanistan although conditions there are not—yet—like that.
For now, it seems, the drive to keep the door open for foreign money is reining in Taliban extremism. That caution seems unlikely to last forever, but it might hold for long enough to complete an evacuation.
Much is still unclear and the situation is changing rapidly, but my guess is that keeping an eye on the money will be crucial for understanding how this plays out.
Meanwhile, the former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has surfaced in the United Arab Emirates. He denies early reports that he fled the country with suitcases full of cash.
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August 19, 2021 (Thursday)
On Tuesday, Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021. In 1965, a bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote in America. That law was reauthorized on a bipartisan basis as recently as 2006.
But in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a vital piece of the Voting Rights Act, the piece requiring that the Department of Justice approve proposed changes in election rules in states with a history of racial discrimination before they went into effect. Immediately, states began to restrict access to the ballot. Then in July 2021, in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Court decided that rules that impacted different populations unequally were not unfair. This decision opened the door wide to different forms of voter suppression.
What is at stake is that the Republican Party has become so extreme it can win elections only by rigging the system. When the 2020 election showed that Democrats could overcome even that year’s voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the outsized weight of rural states in the Electoral College, 18 Republican-dominated states passed 30 new, extreme voter suppression laws and, in Georgia, cleared the way for partisan appointees to replace nonpartisan election officials.
If Republican operatives can cement their control over those states despite the will of the voters, they can control the government—likely including the presidency—from their minority position.
The outrageousness of this reality has been hitting home in the last month as states dominated by Republican governors in the mold of former president Donald Trump are opposing vaccine requirements and mask mandates even as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus burns across the country. Areas where Trump is popular have a much smaller proportion of their population vaccinated than areas dominated by Democrats, mapping a deadly virus along political lines. And those deadly lines are affecting children.
Governors in Texas, Florida, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah have all banned mask mandates in schools, despite the safety recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Florida is experiencing its highest levels of infection in the course of the pandemic, and Texas governor Greg Abbott, who himself has had a breakthrough case of Covid-19, has requested 2500 healthcare workers from out of state, but both states continue to oppose mask or vaccine mandates. Florida governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to withhold funds from schools that require masks. Abbott has threatened those who require masks with fines. Rather than encourage the use of masks and promote the free, effective vaccine, Florida and Texas officials have instead opened clinics to provide treatment with monoclonal antibodies for those suffering from the effects of Covid-19.
Republican rejection of masks and vaccines in the midst of a pandemic means that the politicians who are demanding the exposure of their citizens—including children, who are not yet eligible for vaccination—to a deadly virus are quite demonstrably members of the party that is trying to skew the machinery of our government in their favor. And, also quite demonstrably, they do not represent the majority of Americans, who do, in fact, favor vaccines and mask mandates. An Axios/Ipsos poll from two days ago shows that 69% of Americans would like to see mask mandates in public places.
It doesn’t take a poll to see that public opinion has turned against the anti-maskers.
Yesterday, the board of the largest school district in Florida and the fourth largest in the country, Miami-Dade County, voted 7–1 in favor of a mask mandate, in defiance of DeSantis's executive order preventing schools from mandating masks in order to "protect parents' freedom to choose whether their children wear masks." Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had vowed to follow the science of the issue. "For the consequences associated with doing the right thing, whatever that right thing is, I will wear proudly as a badge of honor," he said.
Businesses, too, are lining up behind vaccinations. Amtrak, Microsoft, BlackRock, Delta, Facebook, Google, United Airlines, and Walmart have all announced vaccine mandates, and Uber Eats cut ties with former NFL player Jay Cutler over his anti-mask tweets. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, generally aligned with the right wing, are all requiring that anyone entering their offices show proof of vaccination.
Yesterday, Biden directed the Education Department to “use all available tools” to aid local governments trying to work around governors like DeSantis and Abbott. "We're not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children," he said.
Some of the same groups who oppose masks and are attacking their pro-masking neighbors were among those who attacked the country on January 6. In Missouri today, where the death rate from Covid-19 is among the worst in the country, Alabama-based anti-vaxxer Christopher Key told workers at a Walmart pharmacy that they “could be executed” for administering vaccines, a street level violence that mirrors that of the Capitol insurrection. That overlap highlights the growing extremism of the current Republican Party.
How extreme the party has become was made clear today when a fervent Trump supporter who called for the removal of all Democrats from office, 49-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry of Grover, North Carolina, threatened to bomb the Capitol. He live-streamed his prospective attack from his truck, reciting a litany of complaints that echoed the right-wing news media. While antigovernment radicals have been a part of our national landscape since 1861, what made this particular attacker stand out was that Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) appeared to defend him.
“I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom and the very fabric of American society,” Brooks stated. “The way to stop Socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 elections…. Bluntly stated, America’s future is at risk.” Brooks also spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally before the January 6 insurrection.
In the midst of a growing insurgency of a minority that is illustrating its willingness to sacrifice our children on the altar of ideology, stopping those extremists from manipulating the machinery of elections to seize control of the country has become imperative. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is an attempt to restore a level playing field. It expands federal voting protections to all 50 states, providing oversight of any state or local government that has had repeated election violations. It would also stop more subtle voter suppression rules, as well as stopping courts from changing election rules that disfranchise voters during an election—all methods of shifting an election that tend to suppress minority votes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi greeted the introduction of H.R. 4 enthusiastically, noting that “Democrats are fighting back against an anti-democratic tide, protecting access to the ballot box for every American.” Sewell added a defense of federal protection of the right to vote in the face of state attempts to take away that right: “Today, old battles have become new again as we face the most pernicious assault on the right to vote in generations,” said Sewell. “It’s clear: federal oversight is urgently needed.”
The House will take up the bill when it returns from break on August 23, but the fate of the bill will likely be determined in the Senate, where, so far, only one Republican, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is likely to support it. The bill will die there unless Senate Democrats agree to a carve out that enables them to pass it without facing a filibuster, which would enable the Republicans to kill it.
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August 20, 2021 (Friday)
On August 21, 1831, Nat Turner, an enslaved American, led about 70 of his enslaved and free Black neighbors in a rebellion to awaken his white neighbors to the inherent brutality of slaveholding and the dangers it presented to their own safety. Turner and his friends traveled from house to house in their neighborhood in Southampton County, Virginia, freeing enslaved people and murdering about 60 of the white men, women, and children they encountered. Their goal, Turner later told an interviewer, was “to carry terror and devastation wherever we went.”
State militia put down the rebellion in a couple of days, and both the legal system and white vigilantes killed at least 200 Black Virginians, many of whom were not involved in Turner’s bid to end enslavement. Turner himself was captured in October, tried in November, sentenced to death, and hanged.
But white Virginians, and white folks in neighboring southern states, remained frightened. Turner had been, in their minds, a well-treated, educated enslaved man, who knew his Bible well and seemed the very last sort of person they would have expected to revolt. And so they responded to the rebellion in two ways. They turned against the idea that enslavement was a bad thing, and instead began to argue that human enslavement was a positive good.
And states across the South passed laws making it a crime to teach enslaved Americans to read and write.
Denying enslaved Black Americans access to education exiled them from a place in the nation. The Framers had quite explicitly organized the United States not on the principles of religion or tradition, but rather on the principles of the Enlightenment: the idea that, by applying knowledge and reasoning to the natural world, men could figure out the best way to order society. Someone excluded from access to education could not participate in that national project. Instead, that person was read out of society, doomed to be controlled by leaders who marshaled religion and propaganda to defend their dominance.
In 1858, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond explained that society needed “a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.”
But when they organized in the 1850s to push back against the efforts of elite enslavers like Hammond to take over the national government, members of the fledgling Republican Party recognized the importance of education. In 1859, Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln explained that those who adhered to the “mud-sill” theory “assumed that labor and education are incompatible; and any practical combination of them impossible…. According to that theory, the education of laborers, is not only useless, but pernicious, and dangerous.”
Lincoln argued that workers were not simply drudges but rather were the heart of the economy. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.” He tied the political vision of the Framers to this economic vision. In order to prosper, he argued, men needed “book-learning,” and he called for universal education. An educated community, he said, “will be alike independent of crowned-kings, money-kings, and land-kings.”
When they were in control of the federal government in the 1860s, Republicans passed the Land Grant College Act, funding public universities so that men without wealthy fathers might have access to higher education. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans also tried to use the federal government to fund public schools for poor Black and white Americans, dividing money up according to illiteracy rates. But President Andrew Johnson vetoed that bill on the grounds that the federal government had no business protecting Black education; that process, he said, belonged to the states—which for the next century denied Black people equal access to schools, excluding them from full participation in American society and condemning them to menial labor.
Then, in 1954, after decades of pressure from Black and brown Americans for equal access to public schools, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California, unanimously agreed that separate schools were inherently unequal, and thus unconstitutional.
Immediately, white southerners lawmakers launched a campaign of what they called “massive resistance” to integration. Some Virginia counties closed their public schools. Others took funds from integrated public schools and used a grant system to redistribute those funds to segregated private schools. These segregation academies dovetailed neatly with Ronald Reagan’s rise to political power with a message that public employees had gotten too powerful and that public enterprises should be privatized.
After Reagan’s election, his Secretary of Education commissioned a study of the nation’s public schools, starting with the conviction that there was a "widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system." The resulting report, titled “A Nation at Risk,” announced: “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”
Although a later study commissioned in 1990 by the Secretary of Energy found the data in the original report did not support the report’s conclusions, Reagan nonetheless used it to justify school privatization. He vowed after the report’s release that he would: “continue to work in the months ahead for passage of tuition tax credits, vouchers, educational savings accounts, voluntary school prayer, and abolishing the Department of Education. Our agenda is to restore quality to education by increasing competition and by strengthening parental choice and local control.”
The drive to push tax dollars from public schools to private academies through a voucher system has remained a top priority for Movement Conservatives eager to dismantle the federal government, although a recent study from Wisconsin shows that vouchers do not actually save tax dollars, and scholars do not believe they help students achieve better outcomes than they would have in public schools.
Calling education a civil rights issue—as President Barack Obama had done when calling for more funding for schools—former president Trump asked Congress to fund “school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.” (In fact, most of those using vouchers are already enrolled in private schools.) His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was a staunch supporter of school choice and the voucher system; she and her family gave $600,000 to promote school choice ballot laws in the decade before 2017.
The coronavirus pandemic sped up the push to defund public schools as Trump pushed hard to transfer funds from the closed public schools to private schools. In December 2020, he signed an executive order allowing states to use money from a federal anti-poverty program for vouchers, and as of mid-2021, at least 8 states had launched new voucher programs. A number of Republican governors are using federal funds from the bills designed to address the pandemic to push vouchers.
In 1831, lawmakers afraid of the equality that lies at the heart of our Declaration of Independence made sure Black Americans could not have equal access to education.
In 1971, when segregation academies were gaining ground, the achievement gap between white and Black 8th grade students in reading scores was 57 points. In 1988, the year of the nation’s highest level of school integration, that gap had fallen to 18 points. By 1992, it was back up to 30 points, and it has not dropped below 25 points since.
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August 22, 2021 (Sunday)
A week after the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, as the U.S. was withdrawing the forces that have been in the country since 2001, the initial chaos created by the Taliban’s rapid sweep across the country has simmered down into what is at least a temporary pattern.
We knew there was a good chance that the Taliban would regain control of the country when we left, although that was not a foregone conclusion. The former president, Donald Trump, recognized that the American people were tired of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which was approaching its 20th year, and in February 2020, his administration negotiated with the Taliban to enable the U.S. to withdraw. In exchange for the release of 5000 Taliban fighters and the promise that the U.S. would withdraw within the next 14 months, the Taliban agreed not to attack U.S. soldiers.
Trump’s dislike of the war in Afghanistan reflected the unpopularity of the long engagement, which by 2020 was ill defined. The war had begun in 2001, after terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11 of that year. Taliban leaders in control of Afghanistan sheltered al-Qaeda, and after the attacks, the U.S. president, George W. Bush, demanded that Afghanistan hand over the terrorist leader believed to be behind the terrorist attack on the U.S: Osama bin Laden. In October, after Taliban leaders refused, the U.S. launched a bombing campaign.
That campaign was successful enough that in December 2001 the Taliban offered to surrender. But the U.S. rejected that surrender, determined by then to eradicate the extremist group and fill the vacuum of its collapse with a new, pro-American government. Al-Qaeda leader bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the U.S. project in Afghanistan turned from an anti-terrorism mission into an effort to rebuild the Afghan government into a modern democracy.
By 2002 the Bush administration was articulating a new doctrine in foreign policy, arguing that the U.S. had a right to strike preemptively against countries that harbor terrorists. In 2003, under this doctrine, the U.S. launched a war on Iraq, which diverted money, troops, and attention from Afghanistan. The Taliban regrouped and began to regain the territory it had lost after the U.S. first began its bombing campaign in 2001.
By 2005, Bush administration officials privately worried the war in Afghanistan could not be won on its current terms, especially with the U.S. focused on Iraq. Then, when he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama turned his attention back to Afghanistan. He threw more troops into that country, bringing their numbers close to 100,000. In 2011, the U.S. military located bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and launched a raid on the compound where he was hiding, killing him. By 2014, Obama had drawn troops in Afghanistan down to about 11,000, and in December of that year, he announced that the mission of the war—weakening the Taliban and capturing bin Laden—had been accomplished, and thus the war was over. The troops would come home.
But, of course, they didn’t, leaving Trump to develop his own policy. But his administration’s approach to the chaos in that country was different than his predecessor’s. By negotiating with the Taliban and excluding the Afghan government the U.S. had been supporting, the Trump team essentially accepted that the Taliban were the most important party in Afghanistan. The agreement itself reflected the oddity of the negotiations. Each clause referring to the Taliban began: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will….”
It was immediately clear that the Taliban was not living up to its side of the bargain. Although it did stop attacking U.S. troops, It began to escalate violence in Afghanistan itself, assassinated political opponents, and maintained ties to al-Qaeda. Nonetheless, the Trump administration put pressure on the leaders of the Afghan government to release the 5000 Taliban prisoners, and they eventually did. Before Biden took office, Trump dropped the U.S. troop engagement in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to about 2500.
When he took office, Biden had to decide whether to follow Trump’s path or to push back on the Taliban on the grounds they were not honoring the agreement Trump’s people had hammered out. Biden himself wanted to get out of the war. At the same time, he recognized that fighting the Taliban again would mean throwing more troops back into Afghanistan, and that the U.S. would again begin to take casualties. He opted to get the troops out, but extended the deadline to September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of the initial attack. (Former president Trump complained that the troops should come out faster.)
What Biden did not foresee was the speed with which the Taliban would retake control of the country. It swept over the regional capitals and then Kabul in about nine days in mid-August with barely a shot fired, and the head of the Afghan government fled the country, leaving it in chaos.
That speed left the U.S. flatfooted. Afghans who had been part of the government or who had helped the U.S. and its allies rushed to the airport to try to escape. In the pandemonium of that first day, up to seven people were killed; two people appear to have clung to a U.S. military plane as it took off, falling to their deaths.
And yet, the Taliban, so far, has promised amnesty for its former opponents and limited rights for women. It has its own problems, as the Afghan government has been supported for the previous 20 years by foreign money, including a large percentage from the U.S. Not only has that money dried up as foreign countries refuse to back the Taliban, but also Biden has put sanctions on Afghanistan and also on some Pakistanis suspected of funding the Taliban. At the same time it appears that no other major sponsor, like Russia or China, has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by U.S. money, leaving the Taliban fishing for whatever goodwill it can find.
Yesterday, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo flagged tweets showing that members of the Afghan government, including the brother of the president who fled, are in what appear from the photos posted on Twitter to be relaxed talks about forming a new government. Other factions in Afghanistan would like to stop this from happening, and today Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that ISIS-K, another extremist group, is threatening to attack the airport to destabilize the Taliban.
Meanwhile, there are 10,000 people crowded into that airport, and U.S. evacuations continue. The Kabul airport is secure—for now—and the U.S. military has created a larger perimeter around it for protection. The U.S. government has asked Americans in Afghanistan to shelter in place until they can be moved out safely; the Qatari ambassador to Afghanistan has been escorting groups of them to the airport. Evacuations have been slower than hoped because of backlogs at the next stage of the journey, but the government has enlisted the help of 18 commercial airlines to move those passengers forward, leaving room for new evacuees.
Yesterday, about 7800 evacuees left the Kabul airport. About 28,000 have been evacuated since August 14.
Interestingly, much of the U.S. media is describing this scenario as a disaster for President Biden. Yet, on CNN this morning, Matthew Dowd, who was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004, noted that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan without a single loss of an American life, while in the same period of time, 5000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 500 have died from gunshots.
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August 23, 2021 (Monday)
Today, the Food and Drug Administration gave full and final approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which had previously been in use under an emergency authorization. The FDA approved the vaccine for people 16 and older. It has not yet been fully approved for people aged 12 to 15; for them it is still under an emergency authorization.
The good news about the vaccine’s approval sent the stock market soaring, as investors hoped the approval would lead to a surge in vaccinations, which would, in turn, strengthen the economy.
While this full authorization may help convince those hesitant about the vaccine to get one, it is more likely to help increase vaccination rates by sparking further vaccine mandates. Today President Joe Biden encouraged private businesses to require their employees to get vaccinated.
With the FDA’s full approval, the Pentagon will move forward with a requirement that all military personnel get the vaccine. In New York City, mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has announced that all 148,000 public school teachers in the city must have at least one shot of the vaccine by September 27.
In Florida, the current death rate exceeds its highest number of deaths in any earlier wave of the pandemic. Last week the state had more than 150,000 new coronavirus infections, and this morning about 75 doctors in Palm Beach Gardens staged a symbolic walkout from their hospitals in a direct appeal to the public to get vaccinated. They warned that they are burning out from caring for the sick. "It's the worst it's ever been right now,” Dr. Robin Kass told Katherine Kokal of the Palm Beach Post. “And I just think that nobody realizes that."
Florida governor Ron DeSantis is standing firm on his refusal to permit mask mandates in schools, but the situation has gotten so bad that six school districts that together enroll more than a million students have passed mask mandates anyway. On Friday, the staunchly Republican Sarasota County joined the five Democratic districts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, and Alachua counties to require masks in schools.
The airlift out of Afghanistan continues, with about 11,000 people flown out today. Since August 14, the U.S. has gotten about 48,000 people out of Afghanistan. While pundits have compared the evacuation from Afghanistan to that from Saigon in 1975 after North Vietnamese forces took the city, in that case the U.S. rescued about 7000 people in only two days, from April 29 to April 30.
Biden suggested today that the airlift might continue past his self-imposed deadline of August 31, but Pentagon leaders said they would complete the evacuation by that date and Taliban leaders said they would not tolerate an extension. The Taliban faces pressure from ISIS-K, a different extremist group, and cannot afford to appear too weak, especially since it is currently in talks with officials of the former, pro-U.S. Afghan regime to hammer out a government for the country.
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August 24, 2021 (Tuesday)
Since August 14, just ten days ago, the U.S. has facilitated the evacuation of 70,700 people from Afghanistan; more than 21,000 flew out in the last day alone. President Biden maintains that the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan by the August 31 deadline.
The evacuation, which began chaotically as the Afghan army and government crumbled and the Taliban took over the country in less than two weeks, has become far more orderly and efficient. (If there’s one thing the military does exceedingly well, it’s move large numbers of people!)
The administration has refused to say how many Americans remain in the country— the State Department urged employees to leave the country beginning in April—but its reluctance is likely out of concern about passing that information on to the Taliban. This evening, Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, said that the department has called every American who has expressed an interest in leaving Afghanistan, identifying them through a repatriation form on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
News broke today that the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns, met secretly on Monday in Kabul with a Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, to discuss the continuing evacuation efforts. Regardless of what they discussed, it seems to me a sign that the U.S. feels secure enough about the safety of Kabul to risk sending the country’s top spy there for a parley.
Another demonstration of that security came today when two Representatives, Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), took it upon themselves to fly to Kabul, unannounced ("to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans and our allies," Moulton’s office said). The State Department and U.S. military personnel were said to be furious that they had to "divert resources to provide security and information to the lawmakers.” “It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans—while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk—so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.”
Although no Americans have yet been hurt in the evacuation, that state of affairs is precarious. Threats of an attack on the Kabul airport from ISIS-K, which would like to destabilize the Taliban before it cements its power, continue to loom.
Meanwhile, Congress is busy at home. The House of Representatives has a number of major bills before it. It has the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill for road, bridges, broadband, and other so-called “hard” infrastructure projects, and its counterpart, the $3.5 trillion list of Democratic priorities for “soft” infrastructure, including child care, housing, funding for measures addressing climate change, education, and so on.
These bills represent the largest investment in America since at least the 1960s. They are also a signature effort for the Democrats. They reject the Republican policy of replacing government action with private investment spurred by tax cuts, returning the nation to the era before the Reagan Revolution.
The House is also considering two major voting rights acts. One is the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering; reduces corporate money in elections; and requires new ethics rules for elected officials. The other is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is more limited than the For the People Act but which has been carefully tailored to address the Supreme Court’s previous reasoning for gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013 and again in July of this year.
The John Lewis Act would restore the power of the Department of Justice to prevent states from restricting the vote, as Republican-dominated states have been rushing to do since the 2020 election.
Democrats from different parts of the country and with different constituencies have different priorities. Holding them together, especially on the infrastructure bill, has not been easy. Progressives refused to agree to the bipartisan bill until they were assured it would not replace the larger package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to move the two forward together, and then, on August 12, nine Democrats from moderate districts demanded a vote on the bipartisan bill without waiting for the larger measure.
Meanwhile, those who see voting rights as the single most important issue for Congress right now have been frustrated as the infrastructure bills have taken up so much of Congress’s time.
Negotiations led today to a House vote on a rule that folded together these concerns. It approved the start of the process of writing the $3.5 trillion bill, guaranteed a vote on the bipartisan bill by September 27, and called for a vote on the John Lewis voting rights measure. The vote on the rule was 220 to 212 with all Democrats voting yes and all Republicans voting no.
The House then passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act by a vote of 219 to 212. Not a single Republican voted yes. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Republicans plan to kill it with the filibuster.
Yesterday’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has, as expected, led to more requirements for proof of vaccination in public spaces. Today, Louisiana State University announced that no one will be admitted to football games without proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. Ohio State University explicitly said that the FDA's full approval of the vaccine meant it would require its staff, students, and faculty to be vaccinated. Biden’s efforts to combat the pandemic seem to be gaining ground again.
Each of these major news items shows a remarkably effective political party, especially since the Democrats are accomplishing as much as they are while—with the exception of a handful of Republicans willing to sign on to the bipartisan infrastructure package—Republicans are doing all they can simply to stop the Democrats.
This week, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania announced they are starting hearings on the 2020 election to address their concerns that it was fraudulent. Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature, too, are revisiting the 2020 election. An “audit” of the 2020 election in Arizona has been plagued with irregularities, errors, and problems: it was supposed to announce its “results” this week—three months behind schedule—but three of the five leaders from the Cyber Ninjas conducting the audit are sick with Covid.
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August 25, 2021 (Wednesday)
Today the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol asked eight federal agencies for records. The chair of the committee, Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), gave the agencies two weeks to produce a sweeping range of material that showed the committee is conducting a thorough investigation of the last days of the Trump administration.
Thompson sent letters to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which keeps the records for the government; the Defense Department; the Department of Homeland Security; the Interior Department; the Department of Justice; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the National Counterterrorism Center; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While the House had previously asked the National Archives for all the records it had covering the events and federal actors involved in the events of January 6 itself, the select committee is using a much wider lens. It has asked the departments not just for records covering January 6, but also for those reaching back as far as April 1, 2020, to see if the Trump administration had plans to contest and ultimately, should he lose, overturn the election.
The committee has asked the departments for any records about plans to derail the electoral count, organize violent rallies, declare martial law, or use the government positions to overturn the election results. It has also asked for any “documents and communications” about foreign influence in the 2020 election through social media and misinformation.
And then there was this tidbit. The last items the committee asked NARA to produce were: “All documents and communications related to the January 3, 2021, letter from 10 former Defense Secretaries warning of use of the military in election disputes.”
That letter, which was published in the Washington Post and signed by all ten of the living former defense secretaries, warned that “[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.” The letter reminded then–acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates that they were “each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”
It was an extraordinary letter, and its authors thought it was important enough to write it over the holidays, for publication three days before the January 6 electoral count. The driving force behind the letter was former vice president Dick Cheney.
Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney (R-WY) sits on the House select committee.
Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege to stop the release of the documents.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said the committee’s action proved it is not looking for truth but rather is engaging in politics. The committee asked NARA for records of communications between the president and “any Member of Congress or congressional staff.” This will sweep in McCarthy, who had a heated conversation with Trump on the phone as rioters invaded the Capitol. “They come for members of Congress, they are coming for everybody,” he said.
But, in fact, such a sweep is precisely how scholars actually figure out what has happened in historical events. Limiting research before you know the lay of the land simply obscures the larger picture.
Just such a limiting view is on the table for the Republicans right now as they are proposing to investigate President Biden’s exit from Afghanistan if they regain control of the House in 2022, saying it “makes Benghazi look like a much smaller issue.”
The first days of the evacuation after the Afghan army crumbled and the Taliban swept into control of the country in nine days were chaotic, indeed, but since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated more than 82,300 people, bringing out 19,000 people yesterday alone. It has evacuated at least 4500 U.S. citizens and has sent more than 20,000 emails and made more than 45,000 phone calls to Americans who had notified the embassy they were in the country (since Americans do not have to register with the embassy, it is unclear how many citizens are there). A rough estimate says there are probably 500 U.S. citizens who want to leave, while another 1000 are not certain or want to stay.
Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a press conference pointing out that the evacuation “is one of the largest airlifts in history, a massive military, diplomatic, security, and humanitarian undertaking,” and noted that “[o]nly the United States could organize and execute a mission of this scale and this complexity.”
Blinken said that the success of the airlift to date has been “a testament both to U.S. leadership and to the strength of our alliances and partnerships.” He reiterated that the Biden administration is not abandoning Afghanistan but is shifting its focus from military power to diplomacy, cybersecurity, and financial pressure. He said that the administration has worked hard to build alliances and that the U.S. will continue to work with allies both in Afghanistan and elsewhere going forward. He pointed out that the Taliban has made both public and private assurances that they will continue to allow people to leave the country, and that 114 countries—more than half of the countries in the world—have warned the Taliban that they must honor that commitment.
Tonight, it appears the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Russia, which backed the Taliban in its struggle against the U.S. and which originally said Taliban control would restore stability to Afghanistan, has begun to evacuate its citizens from Kabul. And tonight, the U.S. government warned of security threats and urged U.S. citizens to leave the area around the airport immediately. According to a State Department spokesperson: "This is a dynamic and volatile security situation on the ground.”
When asked by a reporter about investigations into the evacuation, Blinken said he and the president accepted responsibility for it. He seemed fine with scrutiny of the last few months but suggested that that period should not be looked at in isolation if we are going to learn from our experience in Afghanistan. “[T]here will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years,” he said, “and to look to see what we might have done differently, what we might have done sooner, what we might have done more effectively. But I have to tell you that right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand.”
Today, President Biden signed into law H.R. 3642, the “Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act,” giving the Congressional Gold Medal to the 369th Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service during World War I.
In that war, the 369th Infantry was made up of 2000 Black men, 70% of whom were from Harlem. Since many white men in Jim Crow America refused to serve with their Black comrades, army leaders assigned the unit to the French Army, where, although they still wore the U.S. uniform, they were outfitted with French weapons.
Sent into the field, they stayed out for 191 days, the longest combat deployment of any unit in the war. At the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, the unit had some of the worst casualties of that mangling war, suffering 144 dead and about 1,000 wounded. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said their commander, Colonel William Hayward. Germans called them the “Bloodthirsty Black Men.” The French called them “hell-fighters.” A month after the armistice, the French government awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre.
And now, in 2021, the unit has, at long last, been awarded a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
Sometimes it takes a while, but accurate history has a way of coming out.
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August 26, 2021 (Thursday)
In Afghanistan today, two explosions outside the Kabul airport killed at least 60 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops. More than 100 Afghans and 15 U.S. service members were wounded.
ISIS-K, the Islamic State Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the attack. ISIS-K is an extremist offshoot of the Taliban organized in Pakistan about six years ago by younger men who think the older leaders of the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan are too moderate. The ISIS-K leaders want to destabilize the Taliban’s apparent assumption of the country’s leadership after the collapse of the Afghan government.
The Taliban joined governments around the world in condemning the attack, illustrating their interest in being welcomed into the larger international sphere rather than continuing to be perceived as violent outsiders. Increasingly, it seems their sweep into power surprised them as much as anyone, and they are now faced with pulling together warring factions without the hatred of occupying U.S. troops to glue them together.
Taliban leaders continue to talk with former leaders of the U.S.-backed Afghan government to figure out how to govern the country. Western aid, on which the country relies, will depend on the Taliban’s acceptance of basic human rights, including the education of its girls, and its refusal to permit terrorists to use the country as a staging ground.
The attack was horrific but not a surprise. Last night, the U.S. State Department warned of specific security threats and urged U.S. citizens to leave the area around the airport immediately.
Later in the day, observers reported explosions near the airport. Paul Szoldra, editor-in-chief of Task and Purpose, tweeted that he had heard from a source that the explosions were controlled demolitions as U.S. troops destroyed equipment.
Tonight, President Joe Biden held a press conference honoring the dead as “part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth.” He told the terrorists that “[w]e will hunt you down and make you pay,” but on our terms, not theirs. “I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command,” he said.
Despite the attacks, the airlift continues. Today, General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of United States Central Command, said that more than 104,000 people have been evacuated from the airport, including 5000 U.S. citizens.
I confess to being knocked off-keel by the Republican reaction to the Kabul bombing.
The roots of the U.S. withdrawal from its 20 years in Afghanistan were planted in February 2020, when the Trump administration cut a deal with the Taliban agreeing to release 5000 imprisoned Taliban fighters and to leave the country by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban did not kill any more Americans. The negotiations did not include the U.S.-backed Afghan government. By the time Biden took office, the U.S. had withdrawn all but 2500 troops from the country.
That left Biden with the option either to go back on Trump’s agreement or to follow through. To ignore the agreement would mean the Taliban would again begin attacking U.S. service people, and the U.S. would both have to pour in significant numbers of troops and sustain casualties. And Biden himself wanted out of what had become a meandering, expensive, unpopular war.
On April 14, 2021, three months after taking office, Biden said he would honor the agreement he had inherited from Trump. “It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself,” he said, “but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something.” He said that the original U.S. mission had been to stop Afghanistan from becoming a staging ground for terrorists and to destroy those who had attacked the United States on 9-11, and both of those goals had been accomplished. Now, he said, “our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan are becoming increasingly unclear.”
Biden said he would begin, not end, the troop withdrawal on May 1 (prompting Trump to complain that it should be done sooner), getting everyone out by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks that took us there in the first place. (He later adjusted that to August 31.) He promised to evacuate the country “responsibly, deliberately, and safely” and assured Americans that the U.S. had “trained and equipped a standing force of over 300,000 Afghan personnel” and that “they’ll continue to fight valiantly, on behalf of the Afghans, at great cost.”
Instead, the Afghan army crumbled as the U.S began to pull its remaining troops out in July. By mid-August, the Taliban had taken control of the capital, Kabul, after taking all the regional capitals in a little over a week. It turned out that when the Trump administration cut the Afghan government out of negotiations with the Taliban, Afghan soldiers recognized that they would soon be on their own and arranged “cease fire” agreements, enabling the Taliban to take control with very little fighting.
Just before the Taliban took Kabul, the leaders of the Afghan government fled the country, abandoning the country to chaos. People rushed to the airport to escape, although the Taliban quickly reassured them that they would give amnesty to all of their former enemies. In those chaotic early hours, seven Afghans died at the airport, either crushed in the crowds or killed when they fell from planes to which they had clung in hopes of getting out.
Then, though, the Biden administration established order and has conducted the largest airlift in U.S. history, more than 100,000 people, without casualties until today. The State Department says about 1000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. They are primarily Afghan-Americans who are not sure whether they want to leave. The administration is in contact with them and promises it will continue to work to evacuate them after August 31 if they choose to leave.
In the past, when American troops were targeted by terrorists, Americans came together to condemn those attackers. Apparently, no longer. While world leaders—including even those of the Taliban—condemned the attacks on U.S. troops, Republican leaders instead attacked President Biden.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) blamed Biden for the attack and insisted that troops should remain in Afghanistan under congressional control until all Americans are safely out. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who replaced Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the third-ranking Republican in the House when Cheney refused to line up behind Trump, tweeted: "Joe Biden has blood on his hands.... This horrific national security and humanitarian disaster is solely the result of Joe Biden's weak and incompetent leadership. He is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.”
The attacks on our soldiers and on Afghan civilians in Kabul today have taken up all the oxygen in the U.S. media, but there is another horrific story: the continuing carnage as the Delta variant of Covid-19 continues to rip through the unvaccinated.
In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has forbidden mask or vaccine mandates, 21,000 people a day are being diagnosed with coronavirus—more than twice the rate of the rest of the country—and almost 230 a day are dying, a rate triple that of the rest of the country. Right now, Florida alone accounts for one fifth of national deaths from Covid.
Ten major hospitals in Florida are out of space in their morgues and have rented coolers for their dead; those, too, are almost full. Intensive care units in the state are 94% occupied. Sixty-eight hospitals warned yesterday that they had fewer than 48 hours left of the oxygen their Covid patients need, a reflection of the fact that 17,000 people are currently hospitalized in the state.
Appearing on the Fox News Channel last night, DeSantis blamed Biden for the crisis. “He said he was going to end Covid,” DeSantis said. “He hasn’t done that.”
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August 27, 2021 (Friday)
America is in a watershed moment. Since the 1980s, the country has focused on individualism: the idea that the expansion of the federal government after the Depression in the 1930s created a form of collectivism that we must destroy by cutting taxes and slashing regulation to leave individuals free to do as they wish.
Domestically, that ideology meant dismantling government regulation, social safety networks, and public infrastructure projects. Internationally, it meant a form of “cowboy diplomacy” in which the U.S. usually acted on its own to rebuild nations in our image.
Now, President Joe Biden appears to be trying to bring back a focus on the common good.
For all that Republicans today insist that individualism is the heart of Americanism, in fact the history of federal protection of the common good began in the 1860s with their own ancestors, led by Abraham Lincoln, who wrote: “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves---in their separate, and individual capacities.”
The contrast between these two ideologies has been stark this week.
On the one hand are those who insist that the government cannot limit an individual’s rights by mandating either masks or vaccines, even in the face of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus that is, once again, taking more than 1000 American lives a day.
In New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has required teachers to be vaccinated, the city’s largest police union has said it will sue if a vaccine is mandated for its members.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued an executive order prohibiting any government office or any private entity receiving government funds from requiring vaccines.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has also forbidden mask mandates, but today Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that DeSantis’s order is unconstitutional. Cooper pointed out that in 1914 and 1939, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual rights take a back seat to public safety: individuals can drink alcohol, for example, but not drive drunk. DeSantis was scathing of the opinion and has vowed to appeal. Meanwhile, NBC News reported this week that information about the coronavirus in Florida, as well as Georgia, is no longer easily available on government websites.
On the other hand, as predicted, the full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration has prompted a flood of vaccine mandates.
The investigation into the events of January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, also showcases the tension between individualism and community.
Yesterday, after months in which Republicans, including former president Donald Trump, called for the release of the identity of the officer who shot Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt, Capitol Police officer Lieutenant Michael Byrd, the 28-year veteran of the force who shot Babbitt, gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News.
Right-wing activists have called Babbitt a martyr murdered by the government, but Byrd explained that he was responsible for protecting 60 to 80 members of the House and their staffers. As rioters smashed the glass doors leading into the House chamber, Byrd repeatedly called for them to get back. When Ashli Babbitt climbed through the broken door, he shot her in the shoulder. She later died from her injuries. Byrd said he was doing his job to protect our government. “I know that day I saved countless lives,” Byrd told Holt. “I know members of Congress, as well as my fellow officers and staff, were in jeopardy and in serious danger. And that’s my job.”
The conflict between individualism and society also became clear today as the House select committee looking into the attack asked social media giants to turn over “all reviews, studies, reports, data, analyses, and communications” they had gathered about disinformation distributed by both foreign and domestic actors, as well as information about “domestic violent extremists” who participated in the attack.
Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) immediately responded that “Congress has no general power to inquire into private affairs and to compel disclosure….” He urged telecommunications companies and Facebook not to hand over any materials, calling their effort an “authoritarian undertaking.” Banks told Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson that Republicans should punish every lawmaker investigating the January 6 insurrection if they retake control of Congress in 2022.
Biden’s new turn is especially obvious tonight in international affairs. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a country we entered almost 20 years ago with a clear mission that became muddied almost immediately, has sparked Republican criticism for what many describe as a U.S. defeat.
Since he took office, Biden has insisted on shifting American foreign policy away from U.S. troops alone on the ground toward multilateral pressure using finances and technology.
After yesterday’s bombing in Kabul took the lives of 160 Afghans and 13 American military personnel, Biden warned ISIS-K: "We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Tonight, a new warning from the State Department warning Americans at the gates of the Kabul airport to “leave immediately” came just before a spokesman for CENTCOM, the United States Central Command in the Defense Department overseeing the Middle East, announced: "U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties."
Biden’s strike on ISIS-K demonstrated the nation's over-the-horizon technologies that he hopes will replace troops. Even still, the administration continues to call for international cooperation. In a press conference today, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby responded to a question about U.S. control in Afghanistan by saying: “It’s not about U.S. control in the Indo-Pacific. It’s about protecting our country from threats and challenges that emanate from that part of the world. And it’s about revitalizing our network of alliances and partnerships to help our partners in the international community do the same.“
Meanwhile, this afternoon, news broke that the Taliban has asked the United States to keep a diplomatic presence in the country even after it ends its military mission. The Taliban continues to hope for international recognition, in part to claw back some of the aid that western countries—especially the U.S.—will no longer provide, as well as to try to get the country’s billions in assets unfrozen.
A continued diplomatic presence in Afghanistan would make it easier to continue to get allies and U.S. citizens out of the country, but State Department spokesman Ned Price said the idea is a nonstarter unless a future Afghan government protects the rights of its citizens, including its women, and refuses to harbor terrorists. Price also emphasized that the U.S. would not make this decision without consulting allies. “This is not just a discussion the United States will have to decide for itself.… We are coordinating with our international partners, again to share ideas, to ensure that we are sending the appropriate signals and messages to the Taliban,” he said.
Evacuations from Afghanistan continue. Since August 14, they have topped 110,000, with 12,500 people in the last 24 hours.
Perhaps the news story that best illustrates the tension today between individualism and using the government to help everyone is about a natural disaster. Hurricane Ida, which formed in the Caribbean yesterday, is barreling toward the U.S. Gulf Coast. When it hit western Cuba today, it was a Category 1 storm, but meteorologists expect it to pick up speed as it crosses the warm gulf, becoming a Category 4 storm by the time it hits the U.S. coastline. The area from Louisiana to Florida is in the storm’s path. New Orleans could see winds of up to 110 miles an hour and a storm surge of as much as 11 feet. Louisiana officials issued evacuation orders today.
The storm is expected to hit Sunday evening, exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina did. But this time, there is another complication: this is the very part of the country suffering terribly right now from coronavirus. Standing firm on individual rights, only about 40% of Louisiana’s population has been vaccinated, and hospitals are already stretched thin.
Today, President Biden declared an emergency in Louisiana, ordering federal assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the region ahead of the storm, trying to head off a catastrophe. The federal government will also help to pay the costs of the emergency.
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August 28, 2021 (Saturday)
Today, Americans across the country marched for voting rights.
They recognize that our right to have a say in our government is slipping out of our hands. At a rally in Washington, Martin Luther King III told the crowd, “Our country is backsliding to the unconscionable days of Jim Crow. And some of our senators are saying, ‘Well, we can’t overcome the filibuster,’.... I say to you today: Get rid of the filibuster. That is a monument to white supremacy we must tear down.”
Since 1986, Republicans have worked to limit access to the polls, recognizing that when more people vote, they lose. Those restrictions took off after 2013 when, in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court gutted the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to voting in states with histories of racial discrimination.
That decision opened the way to voter restrictions, but voting laws have come especially fast and furious this year. Republicans have refused to accept that the election of Democrat Joe Biden was legitimate and, in Republican-dominated states, have worked to make sure Democrats do not have the power to elect another president in the future. Between January 1 and July 14 of this year, at least 18 states have enacted 30 laws restricting access to the vote.
Their plan is clearly to make sure those states stay Republican, no matter what the voters actually want.
This lack of competition destroys Democrats’ chances of winning elections, but it also pushes the Republican Party further and further to the right. With states sewn up for a Republican victory, potential Republican presidential candidates have to worry less about winning a general election than about winning the primaries.
Because primary voters are always the most energized and partisan voters, and because for the Republicans that currently means staunch Trump supporters, those vying to be Republican front runners are the Trump extremists: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for example, and even Florida’s Matt Gaetz and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently have been touring the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire attacking mask requirements and vaccine mandates, critical race theory and the infrastructure bills currently under discussion in Congress.
Vote-rigging in Republican-dominated states leads logically to a Republican extremist winning the White House in 2024.
Congress has before it two voting rights bills that would help to restore a level playing field between the two parties. One, the For the People Act, protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, limits corporate money in elections, and requires new ethics rules for elected officials. The House passed the For the People Act in March.
On Tuesday, August 24, the House passed the second of the two voting rights bills, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, also known as H.R. 4, which expands the system of preclearance that had been in the 1965 Voting Rights Act before 2013. Under the John Lewis bill, the Department of Justice has to sign off on voting changes not simply in states with a longstanding history of discrimination, but also in states anywhere in the country that have shown a pattern of violations of voting rights.
Both of these measures are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans, who insist that states, not the federal government, must have the final say in who gets to vote, have vowed to filibuster them. Unless the Democrats can agree to carve out an exception to the filibuster for voting rights, the measures will die.
And today, Americans across the country marched for voting rights.
Today is the 58th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was on this day in 1963 that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Dr. King anchored the speeches for the day, though: before him spoke the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a young John Lewis. Just 23 years old, he had been one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans to challenge segregation. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” Lewis later recalled.
Two years later, as Lewis and 600 marchers hoping to register African American voters in Alabama stopped to pray at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, mounted police troopers charged the marchers, beating them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.
The attack in Selma created momentum for voting rights. Just after the attack, President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. It did. On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.
Today is also the anniversary of the longest filibuster ever conducted by a single senator. On this date in 1957, South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond began his filibuster to kill the Civil Rights Act of 1957, speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was designed to protect the right of African Americans to vote, using the federal government to overrule the state laws that limited voter registration and kept Black voters from the polls.
On a day that harks back to both John Lewis’s fight for voting rights and Strom Thurmond’s fight against them, I wonder which man’s principles will shape our future.
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