Later On

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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Capitalism and democracy are not synonyms

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Heather Cox Richardson:

All day, I have been coming back to this: How have we arrived at a place where 90% of Americans want to protect our children from gun violence, and yet those who are supposed to represent us in government are unable, or unwilling, to do so?

This is a central problem not just for the issue of gun control, but for our democracy itself.

It seems that during the Cold War, American leaders came to treat democracy and capitalism as if they were interchangeable. So long as the United States embraced capitalism, by which they meant an economic system in which individuals, rather than the state, owned the means of production, liberal democracy would automatically follow.

That theory seemed justified by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The crumbling of that communist system convinced democratic nations that they had won, they had defeated communism, their system of government would dominate the future. Famously, in 1992, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote that humanity had reached “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” In the 1990s, America’s leaders believed that the spread of capitalism would turn the world democratic as it delivered to them global dominance, but they talked a lot less about democracy than they did about so-called free markets.

In fact, the apparent success of capitalism actually undercut democracy in the U.S. The end of the Cold War was a gift to those determined to destroy the popular liberal state that had regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure since the New Deal. They turned their animosity from the Soviet Union to the majority at home, those they claimed were bringing communism to America. “​​For 40 years conservatives fought a two-front battle against statism, against the Soviet empire abroad and the American left at home,” right-wing operative Grover Norquist said in 1994. “Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn’t have nuclear weapons.”

Republicans cracked down on Democrats trying to preserve the active government that had been in place since the 1930s. Aided by talk radio hosts, they increasingly demonized their domestic political opponents. In the 1990 midterm elections, a political action committee associated with House Republican whip Newt Gingrich gave to Republican candidates a document called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” It urged candidates to label Democrats with words like “decay,” “failure,” “crisis,” “pathetic,” “liberal,” “radical,” “corrupt,” and “taxes,” while defining Republicans with words like “opportunity,” “moral,” “courage,” “flag,” “children,” “common sense,” “hard work,” and “freedom.” Gingrich later told the New York Times his goal was “reshaping the entire nation through the news media.”

Their focus on capitalism undermined American democracy. They objected when the Democrats in 1993 made it easier to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 May 2022 at 12:03 am

“90% of all firearm deaths for children 0-14 years of age in high-income countries occur in the US.”

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That, of course, is because of a choice the US has made, to make gun ownership a higher priority than children’s lives. In other countries, when terrible gun massacres occur, laws are passed. Not in the US.

Source for that statistic.

From a column in the NY Times:

After the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland in 1996, in which a gunman killed 16 primary-school pupils and a teacher, the British government banned handguns. After the Port Arthur Massacre in Australia that same year, the Australian government introduced stringent gun laws, including a ban on most semiautomatic and automatic weapons as well as licensing and purchasing restrictions. After the Utoya massacre in Norway in 2011, the government banned semiautomatic firearms, persevering with the legislation despite years of opposition from a well-organized hunters’ lobby. After the Christchurch shootings in 2019, New Zealand’s government passed stringent new restrictions on gun ownership and announced a buyback program.

A list of the gun bills stalled in Congress.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2022 at 7:28 pm

When Republicans embraced Evangelicals

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Heather Cox Richardson offers a brief history of the joining of the GOP and Evangelical fundamentalist Christians:

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan’s team made a conscious effort to bring evangelicals and social conservatives into the voting base of the Republican Party. The Republicans’ tax cuts and deregulation had not created the prosperity party leaders had promised, and they were keenly aware that their policies might well not survive the upcoming 1986 midterm elections. To find new voters, they turned to religious groups that had previously shunned politics.

“Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” political operative Grover Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.” To keep that base riled up, the Republican Party swung behind efforts to take away women’s constitutional right to abortion, which the Supreme Court had recognized by a vote of 7–2 in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and then reaffirmed in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Although even as recently as last week, only about 28% of Americans wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, Republicans continued to promise their base that they would see that decision destroyed. Indeed, the recognition that evangelical voters would turn out to win a Supreme Court seat might have been one of the reasons then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Leaving that seat empty was a tangible prize to turn those voters out behind Donald Trump, whose personal history of divorces and sexual assault was not necessarily attractive to evangelicals, in 2016.

But, politically, the Republicans could not actually do what they promised: not only is Roe v. Wade popular, but also it recognizes a constitutional right that Americans have assumed for almost 50 years. The Supreme Court has never taken away a constitutional right, and politicians rightly feared what would happen if they attacked that fundamental right.

Last night, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, revealed that the court likely intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive choice. In the decision, Alito declared that what Americans want doesn’t matter: “We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work,” he wrote.

The dog has caught the car.

Democrats are outraged; so are the many Republican voters who dismissed Democratic alarms about the antiabortion justices Trump was putting on the court because they believed Republican assurances that the Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents and confirmed with Republican votes would honor precedent and leave Roe v. Wade alone. Today, clips of nomination hearings circulated in which Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and even Samuel Alito–—the presumed majority in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade—assured the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that they considered Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upholding Roe settled law and had no agenda to challenge them.

Those statements were made under oath by those seeking confirmation to our highest judicial body, and they now appear to have been misleading, at best. In addition, the decision itself is full of right-wing talking points and such poor history that historians have spent the day explaining the actual history of abortion in the United States. This sloppiness suggests that the decision—should it be handed down in its current state—is politically motivated. And in a Pew poll conducted in February, 84% of Americans said they believed that justices should not bring their political views into their decision making.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) provided key votes for Trump’s nominees and are now on the defensive. Collins publicly defended her votes for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh around the time of their confirmation, saying she did not believe they would overturn Roe. She noted that Gorsuch was a co-author of “a whole book” on the importance of precedent, and that she had “full confidence” that Kavanaugh would not try to overturn Roe. Murkowski voted to confirm Gorsuch and Barrett.

Collins today said: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

4 May 2022 at 10:35 pm

‘I’ve Had It With This Guy’: G.O.P. Leaders Privately Blasted Trump After Jan. 6

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Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

In the days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, the two top Republicans in Congress, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell, told associates they believed President Trump was responsible for inciting the deadly riot and vowed to drive him from politics.

Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: “I’ve had it with this guy,” he told a group of Republican leaders, according to an audio recording of the conversation obtained by The New York Times.

But within weeks both men backed off an all-out fight with Mr. Trump because they feared retribution from him and his political movement. Their drive to act faded fast as it became clear it would mean difficult votes that would put them at odds with most of their colleagues.

“I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, told a friend.

The confidential expressions of outrage from Mr. McCarthy and Mr. McConnell, which have not been previously reported, illustrate the immense gulf between what Republican leaders say privately about Mr. Trump and their public deference to a man whose hold on the party has gone virtually unchallenged for half a decade.

The leaders’ swift retreat in January 2021 represented a capitulation at a moment of extraordinary political weakness for Mr. Trump — perhaps the last and best chance for mainstream Republicans to reclaim control of their party from a leader who had stoked an insurrection against American democracy itself.

This account of the discussions among Republican leaders in the days after the Jan. 6 attack is adapted from a new book, “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” which draws on hundreds of interviews with lawmakers and officials, and recordings of private conversations.

Mr. McConnell’s office declined to comment. In a statement on Twitter early Thursday, Mr. McCarthy called the reporting “totally false and wrong.” His spokesman, Mark Bednar, denied that the Republican leader told colleagues he would urge Mr. Trump to leave office. “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign,” Mr. Bednar said. . .

But the recording tells a different story. [And at the link you can listen to the recording – LG]

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Republican politicians lie so frequently that I find it difficult to believe anything that comes out of their mouth.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2022 at 12:21 pm

The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End

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In Politico Michael Kruse interviews Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present:

In the summer of 2020, Ruth Ben-Ghiat was putting the final touches on her history of modern autocracy. She had to do it, though, without the benefit of knowing whether one of her most important subjects would remain in power come November.

But she wasn’t exactly in the dark either.

She had seen enough of Donald Trump’s behavior over the preceding five years to know how neatly he lined up with other strongmen she had studied and how his autocratic tendencies would influence his behavior whether he won or lost.

“I just predicted that he wouldn’t leave in a quiet manner,” Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University told me recently. “He’s an authoritarian, and they can’t leave office. They don’t have good endings and they don’t leave properly.”

Nearly two years later — after a riot, an impeachment, and a monomaniacal campaign to punish the Republicans who tried to hold him accountable — Ben-Ghiat has ample proof of her thesis. And she professes even more concern that Trump’s sway over the GOP has permanently transformed the party’s political culture. “He’s changed the party to an authoritarian party culture,” she told me. “So not only do you go after external enemies, but you go after internal enemies. You’re not allowed to have any dissent.”

With the midterms and some key governors races approaching, Ben-Ghiat is looking around the corner again. She sees dangerous signs of autocracy seeping into state houses and governors’ mansions where leaders such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are executing policies and enacting laws that mimic Trump but with a smoother, less bombastic style.

She insists her urgent warnings should not be construed as fatalism. Throughout our interview she leavened her direst predictions with a pragmatic if not sunny optimism. Political violence is more likely than an actual civil war; a Republican takeover in November would be catastrophic but she remains heartened by the ability of American voters to “interrupt an autocratic personality who’s in the middle of his project;” and ballot box victories alone don’t stop autocrats but the law can. “It takes prosecution and conviction to deflate their personality cults,” Ben-Ghiat said. “That’s what it takes.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Michael Kruse: We’re coming up on seven years since Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower and announced he was running for president. I’m wondering where in your estimation we are in this country in the timeline of increasing authoritarianism.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: When somebody like Trump comes on the scene and holds office, it’s really like an earthquake or a volcano, and it shakes up the whole system by gathering in this big tent all the extremists, all the far-right people, and giving them legitimation. The GOP was already going away from a democratic political culture, but he accelerated it and normalized extremism and normalized lawlessness. And so the GOP over these years has truly, in my estimation, become an authoritarian far-right party. And the other big story is that his agenda and his methods are being continued at the state level. Some of these things were on the agenda way before he came in, like getting rid of abortion rights and stuff like that. But these states are really laboratories of autocracy now, like Florida, Texas.

The final thing I’d say is machismo [is] up there as a tool of rule alongside propaganda and corruption. Getting ahead as a man [in this political system] means being more like Trump. And so you saw Mike Pompeo, who started talking about “swagger” and he was a very different kind of State Department head. And now you have people like Ron DeSantis who even absorbed the hand gestures of Trump. And so at the elite level, the political system is shaped by Trump, and every day we see his legacy.

Kruse: What would you say to those in this country who say, “No, the Republicans aren’t the autocrats. It’s the Democrats who are the autocrats. It’s Joe Biden. It’s other Democrats with power who are making us wear masks or take vaccines we don’t want to take. They’re the ones who are behaving more in autocratic ways, not the Republicans.”

Ben-Ghiat: One of the big talking points and strategy of right-wing authoritarianism, is to label democratic systems as tyrannical. Mussolini was the first to say that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem. And there’s a whole century’s worth of the strategy of calling sitting Democrats, who you want to overthrow, dictators. Biden as a social dictator, [is] a phony talking point. It has so many articulations from “They’re forcing us to wear masks.” And you have people like DeSantis who are doing this very subversive thing of saying, “Florida’s the free state. You can have refuge from the dictatorship of Biden here.” And what this is designed to do is discredit the sitting democratic administration in order to create, a myth of freedom. January 6 was actually marketed as the violence [being] in the service of freedom, and you were overthrowing a dictator.

Kruse: Where is Trump in his own timeline? Is he in your estimation getting weaker, getting stronger, in a holding pattern?

Ben-Ghiat: The genius of the “big lie” was  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 April 2022 at 5:00 am

Oops. There is a tape… (Kevin McCarthy is a POS)

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Today started with a New York Times story by journalists Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, based on their forthcoming book, detailing how the two top Republicans in Congress during the January 6 insurrection, then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), blamed Trump for the attack on the Capitol and wanted him removed from office.

On the night of January 6, McConnell told colleagues that the party would finally break with Trump and his followers, and days later, as Democrats contemplated impeachment, he said, “The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us.” McConnell said he expected the Senate to convict Trump, and then Congress could bar him from ever again holding office. After what had happened, McConnell said: “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is.”

McCarthy’s reaction was similar. Burns and Martin wrote that in a phone call on January 10, McCarthy said he planned to call Trump and recommend that he resign. “What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it,” he told a conference call of the Republican leadership. He also said he wished that social media companies would ban certain Republican lawmakers because they were stoking paranoia about the 2020 election. Other leaders, including Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), talked of moving Trump out of the party.

Within weeks, though, faced with Trump’s continuing popularity with his base, McConnell and McCarthy had lost their courage. McConnell voted against Trump’s conviction for incitement of insurrection, and McCarthy was at Mar-a-Lago, posing for a photograph with Trump. Since then, McConnell has said he would “absolutely” vote for Trump in 2024 if he is the Republican Party’s nominee, and McCarthy has blamed the January 6 insurrection on Democratic leaders and security guards for doing a poor job of defending the Capitol.

Their tone has changed so significantly that the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol wanted to interview McCarthy to see if Trump had pressured him to change his story. McCarthy refused to cooperate, saying that “[t]he committee’s only objective is to attempt to damage its political opponents” and that he would not talk about “private conversations not remotely related to the violence that unfolded at the Capitol.”

Today, McCarthy responded to Burns and Martin’s story with a statement saying that the reporting was “totally false and wrong” before going on a partisan rant that the “corporate media is obsessed with doing everything it can to further a liberal agenda” and insisting that the country was better off with former president Trump in office. McCarthy’s spokesperson, Mark Bednar, denied the specifics of the story: “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign,” Bednar said.

Oops. There was a tape.

On January 10, 2021,  . . .

Continue reading. And see the footnotes with links to references.

Written by Leisureguy

21 April 2022 at 9:02 pm

Joe Manchin, corrupt Democratic Senator who unfortunately will not be punished to the full extent of the law

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2022 at 2:28 pm

State’s rights: Tyranny at the local level

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See, for example, the vigor with which some states are working to restrict voting. Look at how many states have made abortion effectively illegal (even though a majority of the country is pro-choice). Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Early in the morning of April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln breathed his last. The night before, he and his wife had gone to see a play—a comedy. One of the last men to talk to him before he left for the theater said it seemed the cares of the previous four years were melting away. The Confederacy was all but defeated, and the nation seemed to be on its way to a prosperous, inclusive new future.

The bullet that killed Lincoln had been delivered by John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor poisoned by the belief that Lincoln’s use of the federal government to end human enslavement as a central part of the nation’s economy was tyranny.

Since the 1830s, southern Democratic leaders had gotten around the sticky problem of the Declaration of Independence, with its insistence that “all men are created equal,” by insisting that democracy simply meant that men could elect their leaders at the state level. If voters chose to do unpopular things—like take Indigenous lands, enslave their Black neighbors, or impose taxes on Mexicans and Chinese and not on white men—that was their prerogative. Even if the vast majority of the U.S. population opposed those state laws, there was nothing the federal government could do to change them.

The only thing the national government could do was to protect property, and that power was expansive: in 1859, enslavers would demand that the government take the extraordinary step of enforcing enslavement in the western territories. But, they insisted, the government had no power to do anything else. It could do nothing that the Framers had not enumerated in the Constitution, even if the vast majority of Americans wanted it to establish colleges for poor men, for example, or lay a road across the Cumberland Gap for western migrants, or dredge the harbors where trading schooners kept commerce flowing.

To men like Lincoln, the men who organized the Republican Party, this simply made no sense. By its very nature, such an argument concentrated such wealth and power in a few men that the Republicans talked constantly of “oligarchy.”

The point of a democratic government, they believed, was to answer the will of the majority of voters in the whole country. During the Civil War, the Republicans used the government to provide homesteads for settlers, create public colleges, distribute seeds (no small thing in an era when seeds were handed down in families and poor men often had no access to such legacies), charter a national railroad, invent national taxation, and—finally—end systemic human enslavement.

This system was wildly popular, but those determined to retain control of their states insisted it was tyranny. No longer able to manipulate the political system in their favor, they turned to violence. “Sic semper tyrannis!”— thus always to tyrants— Booth yelled from the stage at Ford’s Theater, after pulling the trigger.

The old Democratic argument for state’s rights has reemerged in the present-day Republican Party, and it has taken on many of the same contours as it had in the 1850s. Adherents are operating in a false reality, believing that their vision of the nation is the only correct one, and that they must impose their will on the rest of us, no matter what we want. As Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) tweeted on October 8, 2020, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospe[r]ity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

That fear of democracy has brought us to the edge of losing our government. In an exclusive story today by Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Zachary Cohen, and Jamie Gangel, CNN published 100 text messages between Senator Lee, Representative Chip Roy of Texas, and Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The messages were obtained by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

They show elected members of our government eager to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election in which a national majority of 7 million people had chosen Democrat Joe Biden as president. On November 7, acting on the false narrative the Trump administration had established months before that the election would be marked by fraud, Lee was one of a number of right-wing lawmakers and leaders who offered to Trump their “unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections.” On November 9, Lee told Meadows he was working to bring senators around to the idea of challenging the election. Roy wrote that they needed evidence of fraud: “We need ammo. We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend.”

Gradually, though, Lee and Roy became concerned that the administration was long on accusations and short on evidence. On November 19, Trump’s public legal team—Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and Jenna Ellis—gave a press conference that was full of wild accusations, all of which were false, that might well have been designed simply to whip up Trump’s base for later attacks on the counting of electoral votes. (Trump’s team lost more than 60 lawsuits over the election, and when Dominion Voting Systems sued Powell for $1.3 billion over her accusations that their software flipped votes, her legal team argued that “reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact.”)

In the wake of the conference, Lee worried that “the potential defamation liability for the president is significant here. For the campaign and the president personally. Unless Powell can back up everything she said, which I kind of doubt she can.” He believed the press conference was damaging enough that the president “should probably disassociate himself and refute any claims that can’t be substantiated.” On November 22, he begged Meadows: “Please tell me what I should be saying.” Roy wrote: “If we don’t get logic and reason in this before 11/30—the GOP conference will bolt (all except the most hard core Trump guys).”

Lee and Roy then turned to lawyer John Eastman’s plan to have states appoint “alternative slates of electors” in place of the legitimate, certified ones. By January 3, Lee specified that those new slates must be named “pursuant to state law,” and started calling state legislators.

In the end, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 April 2022 at 9:52 pm

Bad-faith Republican politicians

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I’m sure that not every Republican politician operates in bad faith — for example, holding up Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for 9 months because the election was “too close,” and then rushing through Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s immediately before another election. But many do show tremendously bad faith and also seem determined to make the US fail. Heather Cox Richardson points out a prime example:

“Democrats need to make more noise,” Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post. “We have to scream from the rooftops, because this is a battle for the free world now.”

Sargent interviewed Schatz after the senator called out Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) on the floor of the Senate on April 7 for the profound disconnect between the Republican senator’s speeches and his actions. Hawley has placed a hold on President Joe Biden’s uncontroversial nominee for an assistant secretary of defense, saying that Biden’s support for Ukraine was “wavering” and that he wasn’t doing enough.

Of course, the Biden administration has been central to world efforts to support Ukraine in its attempt to hold off Russia’s invasion. Just today, Biden announced an additional $800 million in weapons, ammunition, and other security assistance to Ukraine. In contrast, Hawley voted to acquit former president Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress when he withheld $391 million of congressionally approved aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to cook up a story about Hunter Biden.

Hawley’s bad-faith argument goes beyond misleading statements about aid to Ukraine. Hawley has vowed that he will use his senatorial prerogative to hold up “every single civilian nominee” for the Defense Department unless Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resigns. He has vowed the same for the State Department, demanding the resignation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Hawley says his demands are because of the withdrawal from Afghanistan; he also said that Biden should resign. This is a highly unusual interference of the legislative branch of government with the executive branch. It also means that key positions in the departments responsible for managing our national security are not being filled, since Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer must use up valuable floor time to get nominations around Hawley’s holds.

In February, for example, Hawley blocked the confirmation of the uncontroversial head of the Pentagon’s international security team, Celeste Wallander, a Russia expert and staunch advocate for fighting Russian aggression, even while Russian troops were massing on the Ukraine border. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) noted in frustration: “He’s complaining about the problems we have in Russia and Ukraine and he’s making it worse because he’s not willing to allow those nominees who can help with that problem to go forward.” (The Senate eventually voted 83–13 to confirm Wallander.)

Hawley is not the only Republican to be complaining about the administration even as he gums up the works.

Texas governor Greg Abbott has ordered Texas state troops to inspect all commercial trucks coming from Mexico after the federal government has already inspected them. Normally, Mexican authorities inspect a commercial driver’s paperwork and then officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection thoroughly inspect the vehicle on the U.S. side of the international bridge, using dogs, X-ray machines, and personal inspections. At large crossings, officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Transportation will make sure that products and trucks meet U.S. standards. Sometimes after that, the state will spot-check a few trucks for roadworthiness. Never before has Texas inspected the contents of each commercial vehicle.

Abbott instituted the new rule after the Biden administration announced it would end the pandemic emergency health order known as Title 42. This is a public health authority used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against the spread of disease. It was put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020. Title 42 allows the U.S. government to turn migrants from war-torn countries away at the border rather than permitting them to seek asylum as international law requires.

Abbott said the new rule would enable troopers to search for drugs and smuggled immigrants, which he claims the administration is not doing. But journalists Mitchell Ferman, Uriel J. García, and Ivan Pierre Aguirre of the Texas Tribune report that officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety do not appear to be examining the trucks and have not announced any captured drugs or undocumented immigrants.

Wait times at border crossings have jumped from minutes to many hours, with Mexican truckers so frustrated they blocked the roads from the southern side, as well. Truckers report being stuck in their trucks for as much as 30 hours without food or water. About $440 billion worth of goods cross our southern border annually, and Abbot’s stunt has shut down as much as 60% of that trade. The shutdown will hammer those businesses that depend on Mexican products. It will also create higher prices and shortages across the entire country, especially as perishable foods rot in transit.

On Twitter, Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke showed a long line of trucks behind him in Laredo and said: “What you see behind me is inflation.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued a statement today saying: “Governor Abbott’s unnecessary and redundant inspections of trucks transiting ports of entry between Texas and Mexico are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country. Local businesses and trade associations are calling on Governor Abbott to reverse this decision…. Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families.”

Tonight, Abbott backed down on his rule, and normal traffic seems to be resuming over one of the key bridges between Mexico and the U.S., but his stunt indicates that Republicans plan to use inflation and immigration as key issues to turn out their base for the 2022 midterm elections. Today, pro-Trump Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who replaced Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the House Republican Conference Chair, the third-highest Republican in the House, tweeted: “We must SECURE our southern border.”

Abbott has also ordered the Texas National Guard to the U.S. border with Mexico to conduct “migration drills” in preparation for an influx of migrants. But Abbott’s use of the 10,000 National Guard personnel last fall for a border operation to prevent an influx of migrants seemed to be a political stunt: it led to complaints from National Guard personnel of lack of planning, lack of pay, lack of housing, and lack of reason to be there.

Abbott has deployed troops in the past while he was under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the February 2021 winter storm that left millions of Texans without heat or electricity for days and killed 246. This deflection seemed to be at work last February, too, when Abbott issued a letter saying that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 April 2022 at 10:58 pm

More findings about the January 6 insurrection

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Heather Cox Richardson:

“I have dedicated my career to public service because I love this country and our Constitution and the rights that make us free,” Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said today at a White House ceremony celebrating her confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Also today, we learned that Donald Trump, Jr., texted Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on November 5, 2020, two days after the presidential election and two days before the media would call the election for President Elect Joe Biden: “We have operational control Total leverage…. Moral High Ground POTUS must start 2nd term now.”

The text, in the possession of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and reviewed by CNN reporters Ryan Nobles, Zachary Cohen, and Annie Grayer, suggested that even before the election was called for Biden, Trump’s people knew he would lose. Trump, Jr., offered a number of different ways in which Trump could nonetheless steal the election, most of which later materialized. Trump, Jr. apparently could not see why this would be a problem, since, “we have operational control.” “It’s very simple,” he texted: “We have multiple paths[.] We control them all.”

At least some of Trump’s inner circle were clearly conspiring to overturn our democracy. Just who was involved remains unclear to the public, although the January 6 Committee has more information than we do, not least because both Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, and Jared Kushner, her husband, both of whom acted as White House advisors, testified before the committee recently. Trump spoke with the committee virtually on Tuesday, for 8 hours. Kushner testified for several hours on March 31.

Their cooperation stands in stark contrast to the refusal of the rest of Trump’s senior advisors to respond to subpoenas. But on April 6, the January 6 committee received the 101 emails that Trump advisor John Eastman, the author of the Eastman memo laying out an illegal plan for Vice President Mike Pence to throw the election to Trump, had refused to hand over but that a federal judge, David Carter, reviewed and ordered released. In his decision, Carter wrote that it is “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”

The committee today secured cooperation from an important witness to the insurrection. Charles Donohoe, the leader of a chapter of the extremist Proud Boys in North Carolina, pleaded guilty this morning to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and to assaulting police officers. He has agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

Hugo Lowell at The Guardian reports today that the January 6 committee is focusing on cooperation between the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers in a plan to stop the certification of Biden’s victory using physical force. The committee has reviewed video from Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who filmed a meeting between the two groups in a parking garage on January 5. It has focused even more closely, though, on 17 minutes filmed at the attack itself, along with communications between the Proud Boys and rally organizers including Ali Alexander and right-wing media personality Alex Jones.

Quested testified before the January 6 committee on Tuesday. “They’ve done an incredible amount of hard work and have an exceptional grasp,” Quested told Politico’s Kyle Cheney.  He called the events of January 6 a “constitutional attack” that was “very serious.”

The committee is digging into how organizers used social media to spread disinformation and plan the January 6 insurrection. Cristiano Lima and Aaron Schaffer of the Washington Post reported yesterday that the committee has been talking to experts on social media, disinformation, and online extremism, and has recently hired a new analyst to pull things together. Committee members are also looking into the ways in which key influencers used social media to push their plans.

Right-wing activist Ali Alexander also agreed today to comply with a grand jury subpoena from the Department of Justice, seeking information about the organization of the events surrounding January 6. This indicates that the Justice Department is looking broadly at people close to Trump and that prosecutors believe those people might have committed crimes. In a statement made through a lawyer, Alexander said: “I did nothing wrong, and I am not in possession of evidence that anyone else had plans to commit unlawful acts.”

But in videos posted online and now deleted, Alexander boasted about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 April 2022 at 10:10 am

Working for Congress is awful

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For one thing, Congress is careful to exempt itself from laws it passes that require businesses to protect their workers and treat them with respect. Congressional workers are starting to talk union, and rightly so.

Written by Leisureguy

7 April 2022 at 12:16 pm

The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act

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I truly do not understand the Republican mind and their overt hostility to those who struggle economically — not just those in poverty but those in the lower-middle class. My own view is that a nation is stronger when its citizens are educated and healthy, and thus it is in the national interest to ensure that education and healthcare are available for all citizens. Moreover, the US Constitution states in its Preamble — the mission statement of the Constitution — that among its goals is to ensure the general welfare, something that providing education and healthcare to the public would contribute to.My own view is that a nation is stronger when its citizens are educated and healthy, and thus it is in the national interest to ensure that education and healthcare are available for all citizens. Moreover, the US Constitution states in its Preamble — the mission statement of the Constitution — that among its goals is to ensure the general welfare, something that providing education and healthcare to the public would contribute to.

Heather Cox Richardson points out their hatred of Obamacare and their determination to kill it:

Today, former president Barack Obama returned to the White House at President Joe Biden’s invitation to talk about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare. He noted there have been changes in the White House since he left in 2017. For one thing, “[t]here’s a cat running around,” he joked, “which I guarantee you [his family’s dogs] Bo and Sunny would have been very unhappy about.”

Obama signed the ACA into law in 2010. Today, 31 million Americans have healthcare coverage thanks to it. They can’t be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions. The ACA has lowered prescription drug costs for 12 million seniors, and it has enabled young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26. It’s eliminated lifetime limits on benefits.

Republicans have loathed the ACA since Obama signed it into law in 2010. This is a modern-day stance, by the way: it was actually Republican president Theodore Roosevelt who first proposed universal healthcare at the beginning of the twentieth century, and Republican president Dwight Eisenhower who first tried to muscle such a program into being with the help of the new department created under him: the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, which in 1979 became the Department of Health and Human Services. Its declared mission was “improving the health, safety, and well-being of America.” In contrast to their forebears, today’s Republicans do not believe the government has such a role to play.

Last month, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said the Republicans’ goal is to obstruct Biden and the Democrats until they retake power, and then immediately make good on old promises like repealing the ACA. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has proposed sunsetting all laws after five years and then passing the popular ones again. Since Republicans kill all social welfare bills with the filibuster, it’s not hard to imagine that Scott has the Affordable Care Act in his sights.

Enrollment in healthcare coverage under the ACA is at a record high since Biden took office, since he helped to push enrollment by opening special enrollment periods and dramatically increasing outreach. The law is popular: a poll last month by healthcare analysts Kaiser showed that 55% of Americans like it while 42% do not.

Today, Biden signed an executive order to increase outreach and coverage still further, and to urge Congress to deal with the “family glitch” in the law that determines eligibility for subsidies based on whether the primary enrollee can afford coverage for herself, rather than for her family. Fixing this glitch would lower costs for about 1 million Americans and open up coverage for another 200,000.

Before the signing, Obama, Biden, and Vice President Kamala Harris used the ACA to talk about the difference between the two parties.

Harris noted that “the ACA is the most consequential healthcare legislation passed in generations in our country” and that it was more than just a law, it was “a statement of purpose; a statement about the nation we must be, where all people—no matter who they are, where they live, or how much they earn—can access the healthcare they need, no matter the cost.”

She called on Congress to pass legislation that would let Medicare directly negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies (as every other developed country does). With 60 million people enrolled in Medicare, the program would have significant bargaining power to negotiate prices.

The vice president also called on the 12 states refusing to expand Medicaid to do so, enrolling the 4 million people who are now excluded. Acknowledging those people determined to take away abortion rights, she noted that women without medical care during pregnancy are significantly more likely to die than those who do have it.

Obama then explained why the Democrats worked so hard to begin the process of getting healthcare coverage for Americans. “[W]e’re not supposed to do this just to occupy a seat or to hang on to power,” he said. “We’re supposed to do this because it’s making a difference in the lives of the people who sent us here.”

The ACA shows, he said, that “if you are driven by the core idea that, together, we can improve the lives of this generation and the next, and if you’re persistent—if you stay with it and are willing to work through the obstacles and the criticism and continually improve where you fall short, you can make America better—you can have an impact on millions of lives.”

Then Biden took the podium before signing the executive order, adding that passing the ACA was about dignity. It was about the “countless Americans lying in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering, ‘My God—my God, what if I get really sick? What am I going to do? What is my family going to do? Will I lose the house?’ Discussions we had in my house with my dad when he lost his health insurance—’Who’s going to pay for it? Who’s going to take care of my family?’”

He warned that the Republicans want to get rid of the law. “[P]ay very close attention, folks,” he said. “If Republicans have their way, it means 100 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can once again be denied healthcare coverage by their insurance companies. That’s what the law was before Obamacare. In addition, tens of millions of Americans could lose their coverage, including young people who will no longer be able to stay on their parents’ insurance policy to age 26. Premiums are going to go through the roof.”

“Instead of destroying the Affordable Care Act,” he said, “let’s keep building on it.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to double down on the culture wars that whip up their base. By a vote of 70 to 14, the Oklahoma legislature has just passed a Republican bill making it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion unless the patient’s life is in danger. Violating the law carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. There was little discussion of the measure, since lawmakers unexpectedly added it to the agenda Monday night.

Abortion is a constitutional right, defined by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It is also popular in the U.S., with about 60% of Americans supporting Roe v. Wade and about 75% believing that abortion access should be between a woman and her doctor. Only 20% say that access should be regulated by law.

Those culture wars are pushing today’s right wing toward authoritarianism as they seek to enforce their views on the rest of the country. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2022 at 7:43 am

A clear and classic case of corruption: How Joe Manchin Aided Coal and Earned Millions

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a corrupt politician of the worst sort, one who seems focused on using his public office for private gain. And he will get away with it because, by and large, the US avoids punishing powerful people. Christopher Flavelle and Julie Tate report in the NY Times (gift link, no paywall):

GRANT TOWN, W.Va. — On a hilltop overlooking Paw Paw Creek, 15 miles south of the Pennsylvania border, looms a fortresslike structure with a single smokestack, the only viable business in a dying Appalachian town.

The Grant Town power plant is also the link between the coal industry and the personal finances of Joe Manchin III, the Democrat who rose through state politics to reach the United States Senate, where, through the vagaries of electoral politics, he is now the single most important figure shaping the nation’s energy and climate policy.

Mr. Manchin’s ties to the Grant Town plant date to 1987, when he had just been elected to the West Virginia Senate, a part-time job with base pay of $6,500. His family’s carpet business was struggling.

Opportunity arrived in the form of two developers who wanted to build a power plant in Grant Town, just outside Mr. Manchin’s district. Mr. Manchin, whose grandfather went to work in the mines at age 9 and whose uncle died in a mining accident, helped the developers clear bureaucratic hurdles.

Then he did something beyond routine constituent services. He went into business with the Grant Town power plant.

Mr. Manchin supplied a type of low-grade coal mixed with rock and clay known as “gob” that is typically cast aside as junk by mining companies but can be burned to produce electricity. In addition, he arranged to receive a slice of the revenue from electricity generated by the plant — electric bills paid by his constituents.

The deal inked decades ago has made Mr. Manchin, now 74, a rich man.

While the fact that Mr. Manchin owns a coal business is well-known, an examination by The New York Times offers a more detailed portrait of the degree to which Mr. Manchin’s business has been interwoven with his official actions. He created his business while a state lawmaker in anticipation of the Grant Town plant, which has been the sole customer for his gob for the past 20 years, according to federal data. At key moments over the years, Mr. Manchin used his political influence to benefit the plant. He urged a state official to approve its air pollution permit, pushed fellow lawmakers to support a tax credit that helped the plant, and worked behind the scenes to facilitate a rate increase that drove up revenue for the plant — and electricity costs for West Virginians.

Records show that several energy companies have held ownership stakes in the power plant, major corporations with interests far beyond West Virginia. At various points, those corporations have sought to influence the Senate, including legislation before committees on which Mr. Manchin sat, creating what ethics experts describe as a conflict of interest.

As the pivotal vote in an evenly split Senate, Mr. Manchin has blocked legislation that would speed the country’s transition to wind, solar and other clean energy and away from coal, oil and gas, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet. With the war in Ukraine and resulting calls to boycott Russian gas, Mr. Manchin has joined Republicans to press for more American gas and oil production to fill the gap on the world market.

But as the Grant Town plant continues to burn coal and pay dividends to Mr. Manchin, it has harmed West Virginians economically, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity fees. That’s because gob is a less efficient power source than regular coal.

Mr. Manchin declined an interview request. His spokeswoman, Sam Runyon, did not respond to detailed questions about his business interests, and whether those interests affected his actions as a public official. Senate ethics rules forbid members from acting on legislation to further their financial interests or those of immediate family members. There is no indication that Mr. Manchin broke any laws.

In the past, Mr. Manchin has repeatedly said that he has acted to protect valued industries in West Virginia, which ranked second in coal production and fifth in natural gas in 2020, according to federal data. He has defended his personal business ties to the Grant Town plant, telling the Charleston Gazette in 1996, “I did it to keep West Virginia people working.”

This account is based on thousands of pages of documents from lawsuits, land records, state regulatory hearings, lobbying and financial disclosures, federal energy data and other records spanning more than three decades. The Times also spoke with three dozen former business associates, current and former government officials, and industry experts.

The documents and interviews show that at every level of Mr. Manchin’s political career, from state lawmaker to U.S. senator, his official actions have benefited his financial interest in the Grant Town plant, blurring the line between public business and private gain. . .

Continue reading. (Gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 7:03 pm

A federal judge finally says it: Trump probably committed crimes related to Jan. 6

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Jennifer Rubin lays out a federal judge’s findings (gift link, no paywall):

On its face, the ruling that California District Court Judge David O. Carter issued on Monday might appear unexceptional: He rejected Donald Trump lawyer John Eastman’s claims of attorney-client privilege, requiring him to provide documents to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

But the ruling is so much more than that. It represents the first time a federal court has found that the defeated former president likely committed multiple felonies.

In his opinion, Carter recites the events surrounding the armed insurgency, reaffirming that Trump knew that the election was not stolen. As he writes, “Numerous credible sources — from the President’s inner circle to agency leadership to statisticians — informed President Trump and Dr. Eastman that there was no evidence of election fraud.” The judge then explains he reviewed batches of documents to determine whether any of the material falls within the crime-fraud exception of attorney-client privilege. On this, he finds 11 documents that the Jan. 6 committee should be able to view.

And this is where Trump gets a rude awakening: “The Court first analyzes whether President Trump and Dr. Eastman likely committed any of the crimes alleged by the Select Committee, and then whether the eleven remaining documents relate to and further those crimes,” he begins. He bluntly concludes, “President Trump attempted to obstruct an official proceeding by launching a pressure campaign to convince Vice President Pence to disrupt the Joint Session on January 6.” These efforts included two meetings to persuade Mike Pence to disrupt the electoral count process, some tweets sent on Jan. 6 and Trump’s speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally ahead of the insurrection. “These actions more likely than not constitute attempts to obstruct an official proceeding,” the judge finds.

Note that in a criminal proceeding, the prosecution would need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But in such a case, the prosecution could supply witnesses and documents demonstrating that long before Jan. 6, Trump had set out to stop Joe Biden from taking office.

On the critical issue of intent, Carter writes, . . .

Continue reading. (gift link)

Written by Leisureguy

28 March 2022 at 3:53 pm

Barbara Ehrenreich Is Not an Optimist, but She Has Hope for the Future

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I just came across a New Yorker interview in which Jia Tolentino interview Barbara Ehrenreich, and I thought it was quite good. It appeared two years ago — March 21, 2020 — and it begins:

Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, where her family had lived for generations, in 1941. Most of her male ancestors lost fingers working in nearby copper mines. But her father attended night school, then won a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon; the family moved to Pittsburgh and rose into the middle class. Ehrenreich studied physics in college, got a doctorate in cell biology, and, in the late sixties, alongside her husband at the time, John Ehrenreich, she became involved in health-care organizing and antiwar activism.

In the decades since, Ehrenreich has tried, as a writer and an activist, to forge a bridge between the working and middle classes. She published her first two books—one on chemistry and one, co-written with her husband, about student protest—in 1969, and started attracting a wide audience in the nineteen-seventies, when she began writing for the influential feminist magazine Ms. She’s now published more than twenty books, including the 2001 bestseller “Nickel and Dimed,” about the daily indignities of low-wage work, and “Natural Causes,” a 2018 polemic about the wellness industry and the illusion of control. Her latest, “Had I Known: Collected Essays,” which brings together work from the past four decades, examines health, the economy, feminism, “bourgeois blunders,” God, science, and joy.

I recently visited Ehrenreich at home, in her fifth-floor condo outside Washington, D.C. Like her, the place was no-nonsense but welcoming. There were magazines on side tables, and shelves piled with books. She had broken her arm the previous weekend—“attacked,” she said, “by a laundry basket,” which she’d tripped over in the dark—and had enlisted a publicist at Twelve Books to pick up sandwiches and drinks for us. She asked over e-mail if I had any dietary preferences or restrictions, and I said that I valued all sandwiches but preferred one without mayonnaise, a choice that later became the subject of discussion. After selecting a turkey sandwich with mustard—Ehrenreich had chicken salad—I sat down with her in a small sunroom overlooking the Potomac River, with a peaceful view of our nation’s stressful capital. Ehrenreich nestled into a wicker love seat, propping her feet up, her right arm balanced gingerly in a sling. Later, as the coronavirus began shutting down the country, we spoke again, over the phone. These two conversations have been combined and edited for length and clarity.

I saw that you tweeted, “Got up this morning and self-quarantined, just like I do every morning.” The writer’s life has prepared us both for this.

Yes, and they’re saying that old people shouldn’t be outdoors, so there we go.

Coronavirus has illuminated a lot about the limits of individualism, and our lack of a safety net. Is that where your mind has been?

My mind has been full of grim and rageful thoughts, many of which are about the lack of paid sick leave. We turn out to be so vulnerable in the United States. Not only because we have no safety net, or very little of one, but because we have no emergency preparedness, no social infrastructure. In other places—Barcelona, for example, where my son is now—there’s much more of a community feeling in how you face disaster. We have a little bit of it—Rebecca Solnit has written beautifully about the subject. But we don’t have enough. From the prehistoric perspective, people have gotten through a lot of stuff by coöperating and sticking together. We built cities, we irrigated fields. Whether we’ve lost that capacity, I don’t know.

There’s an underlying argument in your work, I think—in “Blood Rites,” for instance, your book about war, from 1997, and “Dancing in the Streets,” your book about collective joy, from 2006—that we are wired for solidarity but molded for competitive betrayal. You’ve also written about how solidarity can manifest both constructively and destructively—about how the rush of solidarity that accompanies war is not so different from the rush of solidarity that accompanied the birth of the socialist movement, say.

Solidarity can embody so many things—fascism, religious fervor. I don’t trust it inherently. I’m thinking a lot more about this dialectic right now because of a book I’m supposed to be working on—that’s what you saw me doing when you walked in—about narcissism. We want, we crave connectedness, and yet it can turn against us in awful ways.

What was the impetus for writing a book about narcissism?

Oh, you know—across the river. It is a rich topic, though I hate to say it that way, looking at the news right now and thinking that Trump, maybe the biggest narcissist that we have in the world, could be defeated by this speck of RNA and protein. And, as a species, humans are so narcissistic. We forgot that the animals with fangs and claws once dined on our predecessors. We forgot that the so-called defeat of the infectious diseases, in the early twentieth century, was never actually a defeat. We have to understand that our place in the scheme of things is not very high.

Coronavirus seems to be spotlighting the question that underlies everything right now: whether survival—of climate change, let’s say—will be something we negotiate individually or collectively.

The question is really: How many people do we expect are going to make it? The Silicon Valley view is that it’s about three hundred and fifty of us. The left point of view has to be, “We stand shoulder to shoulder and try to get through this.”

Do you think that’s—

Awesome?

Or naïve, or something? Mathematically, it is daunting.

I just became a grandmother for a third time. I can’t not think that some of us will survive.

When your third “grand-dot,” as you put it, was born, you tweeted, “The universe starts all over again.” And you’ve said that having your first child prompted a political and personal transformation. In “Witches, Midwives, and Nurses,” which you co-wrote with Deirdre English a few years after your daughter was born, you argued that women, for most of history, had been doctors without degrees—that learning and practicing medicine was women’s heritage, and that the gender imbalance in the medical field at the time, with ninety-three per cent of American doctors being male, was deeply unnatural.

Having my first child made me into a real feminist. It was the sexism of doctors, the whole system. With my first pregnancy, the doctor at this hospital clinic—I couldn’t afford private care—did a pelvic exam to see if I was good to go and have the baby. When it was over, I peeked up and said, “So, is the cervix beginning to be effaced?” And he looked at the nurse, and said to her, “Where did a nice girl like this learn to talk like that?”

I would say that that’s when I transitioned to raging feminism.

I imagine “Nickel and Dimed” was another turning point in your career.

That was a complete change for me. I thought of it as a kind of excursion into reporting. I’m not really a reporter, so I had no idea what to do. I just went out and got the jobs, and then after a few days I figured, well, I’ll just write down everything that happens during the day, during the shift, after.

What about in terms of the book’s success? It’s sold a million and a half copies.

Oh, yeah, because then I made money. I made money running around the speaking, lecture circuit for years, which combined well with activism for raising wages, to the dismay of the people and the administrators who invited me.

There was this one college that invited me to give a speech to all the incoming students. I was contacted before I came by some workers at the college asking if I could meet with them to discuss their organizing drive. I said, “Sure, let’s have dinner when I get there.” And I did. Maybe six of them. The word of this meeting got to the president of the college, who then did everything he could to sabotage me. Right before the talk, he told me I had twenty minutes, whereas before he’d said forty. And one other thing, can I be nasty?

Please.

He had a limousine pick me up at the airport and drive me back to the airport—a stretch limo, the kind where you can’t even talk to the driver, you’re so far back. Then he complained about my being a diva to the press, implying that I’d insisted on this limo.

When you were writing that book, who were you writing for? And who did your publisher think you were writing for? You’ve noted before that you received a pretty small advance—to the point that, when you were later diagnosed with breast cancer, you had to borrow money from family and friends.

I have a hard time, as a writer, picking an audience. I mostly just write whatever I’m comfortable with. I remember, writing “Nickel and Dimed,” thinking maybe I was using words that might not be familiar to some people—like “glossolalia,” speaking in tongues. And I thought, Hell, I feel like using it, you can look it up too, dammit.

I think the book struck such a nerve because the biggest media outlets rarely depict the actual textures of working-class life. About a decade later, you founded the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which funds and co-publishes stories about inequality in mainstream outlets—often written by people who are themselves receiving the sharp end of the stick. What inspired that? And do you see the project as having to do with the downward mobility of the journalistic profession?

Well, in 2009, I was appalled by the New York Times’ coverage of the recession, which was all about people on the Upper West Side who could not afford their personal Pilates trainer anymore. So I approached them and said I want to do some things about people who had already been struggling when the recession began. They agreed. I got space in what was then the Sunday Review section and got to work. In my mind, to do this I had to go to different places around the country, see different people. So it was costing me money, and, at a certain point, I realized that what they were paying me was so much less than what they’d paid me five years earlier, when I did a column for the same section of the paper. It was forty per cent of that.

And I thought, Geez, I’m losing money on this, but I guess I made money on “Nickel and Dimed,” I can afford it. And then I thought, What kind of bullshit is this? Only rich people can write about poverty? That’s when the idea of E.H.R.P. came to my mind.

Speaking of the Times, I was reading an old David Brooks column, from 2006, in which he wrote, “Liberals have adopted an overly negative view of reality. Barbara Ehrenreich’s books are well and good, but if you think they represent the broader society, you’ll get America wrong.” The underlying argument of the column was that things were going pretty well, actually—that the poverty rate, at about a quarter of the American population, was just fine.

Class insularity in the media élite is a huge obstacle—people who, when they see a working-class person, it’s probably the FedEx guy. I can’t tell anyone how bad that is if they haven’t already noticed. The other problem is that publications are afraid to offend advertisers, who tend not to want their ad for diamonds to be facing a page about indigent women with cancer.

The journalism professor Christopher R. Martin recently wrote a book called “No Longer Newsworthy” that’s about this problem. He writes about how, throughout the twentieth century, newspapers shifted their coverage of labor issues from the perspective of the worker to the perspective of the consumer—talking to and implicitly sympathizing with the woman who was inconvenienced by a bus strike, rather than the bus drivers who were striking. I wonder if you think this is a problem in coronavirus coverage so far.

Do you think it is?

Sure—there’s more about cruise-ship passengers who are quarantined than about the cruise-ship workers who have to sanitize spaces, and lots of talk about online ordering and few interviews with warehouse workers and delivery drivers who have to shoulder the risk.

I’ve been thinking about Typhoid Mary, who woke people up to the fact that they had a biological connection with people they barely looked at. Maybe this will be an opportunity to remind us of our dependence on everyone else. But I don’t see that happening yet.

I wanted to ask you about a term you coined, with your first husband, in 1977: the professional-managerial class, or the P.M.C. It’s become a popular term among the young left, and a big point of contention. The P.M.C. are people whose economic and social status is based largely on education rather than capital ownership: teachers, managers, lawyers, doctors, and culture workers of various kinds. These professionals make up about twenty per cent of the country’s population, but a person reading the news and watching TV might think they make up ninety per cent of it. Many of these professions began with missions of social improvement, but in practice the P.M.C. have largely reinforced an existing order rather than lifting up the people they represent or teach or care for. You originally asked whether the P.M.C. could actually align itself with working-class interests rather than continue to seek control. Then, in 2013, you wrote a follow-up, in which you observed that the P.M.C. lay “in ruins”—that its members were either placing themselves in increasingly direct service to capital, being disempowered by corporate control, or spiralling down the ladder into hourly wage work. You asked, “Should we mourn the fate of the P.M.C., or rejoice that there is one less smug, self-styled elite to stand in the way of a more egalitarian future?” Do you have an answer to that question, and has it changed?

I would say mourn. What’s happened to the P.M.C. has been a disaster that’s sort of localized. Like in journalism, in all the creative occupations, there’s no stability unless you’re a superstar of some sort. Law. A lot of software jobs have gone. I can’t rejoice. And what puzzles me about the young folks is their use of P.M.C. as a slur.

That puzzles you?

Yeah.

When people use it as a pejorative, they mean the massive non-radicalized faction of it, right? They’re echoing your analysis—which I found to be a pretty useful framework for parsing, let’s say, the divide between Clinton supporters and Sanders supporters in 2016.

I should explain that the concept of the P.M.C. did not flow from long meditations about Marxist theory. It came from things that were happening in groups I belonged to, the way in which you could not keep together the blue-collar and P.M.C. people. The P.M.C. people were so goddam rude.

How so?

This may sound trivial, but it’s not to me. We had a meeting—this was the New American Movement, one of the predecessors of the Democratic Socialists of America—that was hosted by this blue-collar couple, Pat and Ed, who set out a really nice spread of cookies and little sandwiches at their house. And our two self-important P.M.C. members walked in and completely ignored the offering of food and just launched into a tirade against me, because I’d brought these blue-collar people into the group and they were “diluting the politics.” I was just like, “Fuck you. One of them is a practicing nurse and the other one is a locksmith. Because you guys are professors, you think you can do this?” Exposure to P.M.C. contempt for working-class people really is what did it. I began to think, “What’s going on here?”

That contempt still exists, don’t you think? And that same “fuck you” feeling—and the degree to which P.M.C. disregard for the working class has been the story of the Democratic Party’s failures—is why the term is used in a derogatory sense.

But I also like the definition of the working class that the professor of economics Michael Zweig has suggested: people who lack authority in their professional lives. That definition accounts for the ways that people who might have belonged to the P.M.C. people are aligning with the working class in part because of some shared experience of professional disempowerment. There are recent movements—the teacher’s strikes, the Google walkouts, organizers including Uber drivers as tech workers—that seem to reflect this.

In the seventies and eighties, when I was very involved with health workers, beautiful things would happen when the doctors aligned themselves with the struggles of aides and orderlies—saw them as people they would make change with. For example, if you want to understand what’s actually happening with patients, it’s the person who cleans the rooms who might know more than anyone else. That’s the terrible thing about capitalism: not just its exploitativeness but its refusal to let information flow uphill. That’s how we get things like Boeing, where the engineers know that things are really fucked but no one listens to them. And we make that mistake again and again.

How did you hold on to a working-class identity, when so many people who go to fancy universities and get advanced degrees do not? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 March 2022 at 2:43 pm

Republicans hate it when they’re accurately quoted because it reveals what outliers they are.

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Heather Cox Richardson has another good column:

Right on cue, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana today told a reporter that states not only should decide the issue of abortion but should also be able to decide the issues of whether interracial marriage should be legal and whether couples should have access to contraception. He told a reporter: “Well, you can list a whole host of issues, when it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country as Roe v. Wade did.”

After an extraordinary backlash to his statements, Braun walked back what he had said, claiming he had misunderstood the question. “Earlier during a virtual press conference I misunderstood a line of questioning that ended up being about interracial marriage, let me be clear on that issue—there is no question the Constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind based on race, that is not something that is even up for debate, and I condemn racism in any form, at all levels and by any states, entities, or individuals,” he said.

But he had stated his position quite clearly, and as he originally stated it, that position was intellectually consistent.

After World War II, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights in the states, imposing the government’s interest in protecting equality to overrule discriminatory legislation by the states.

Now, Republicans want to return power to the states, where those who are allowed to vote can impose discriminatory laws on minorities.

Senator Braun is correct: it is not possible to overrule the Supreme Court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights on just one issue. If you are going to say that the states should be able to do as they wish without the federal government protecting civil rights on, say, the issue of abortion, you must entertain the principle that the entire body of decisions in which the federal government protects civil rights, beginning with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ending segregation in the public schools, is illegitimate.

And that is off-the-charts huge.

It is, quite literally, the same argument that gave us the claimed right of states to enslave people within their borders before the Civil War, even as a majority of Americans objected to that system. More recently, it is the argument that made birth control illegal in many states, a restriction that endangered women’s lives and hampered their ability to participate in the workforce as unplanned pregnancies enabled employers to discriminate against them. It is the argument that prohibits abortion and gay marriage; in many states, laws with those restrictions are still on the books and will take effect just as soon as the Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are overturned.

Braun’s willingness to abandon the right of Americans to marry across racial lines was pointed, since Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, whose confirmation hearing for her elevation to the Supreme Court is currently underway in the Senate, is Black and her husband is non-Black. The world Braun described would permit states to declare their 26-year marriage illegal, as it would have been in many states before the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision declared that states could not prohibit interracial marriages. This would also be a problem for sitting justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni.

But it is not just Braun talking about rolling back civil rights. This week, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has challenged the Griswold v. Connecticut decision legalizing contraception, and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has questioned Obergefell.

Seventy percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. In 2012—the most recent poll I can find—89% of Americans thought birth control was morally acceptable, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of 2008, 99% of sexually active American women use birth control in their lifetimes. And even the right to abortion, that issue that has burned in American politics since 1972 when President Richard Nixon began to use it to attract Democratic Catholics to the Republican ticket, remains popular. According to a 2021 Pew poll, 59% of Americans believe it should be legal in most or all cases.

A full decade ago, in April 2012, respected scholars Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norm Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, crunched the numbers and concluded: “The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream,” they wrote, “it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.”

And yet, in the last decade, the party has moved even further to the right. Now it is not . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2022 at 6:21 pm

How Republicans Spent Decades Cozying Up to Putin’s Kremlin

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Craig Unger writes in The New Republic:

“Do you think Americans give a fuck about Ukraine?!”

—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking to NPR broadcaster Mary Louise Kelly in January 2020

Whatever Americans were thinking two years ago, when Pompeo gave his NPR interview, they now do give a fuck about Ukraine—and therein lies a problem: For more than 25 years, the party of Reagan has been transforming itself into the party of Putin, only to discover that Vladimir Putin may not be a great role model after all. As a result, one leading Republican after another has begun to perform Simone Biles–level gymnastics in their bids to condemn their party’s most powerful patron.

Consider that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis now calls Putin “an authoritarian gas station attendant with some legacy nuclear weapons.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Putin “a ruthless thug who’s just invaded another sovereign country and killed thousands of innocent people.” And on Twitter, Senator Lindsey Graham openly called for Putin’s assassination. “The only way this ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out,” he tweeted. “You would be doing your country—and the world—a great service.”

But if you think this is hard-line Cold War tough talk from the Reagan-era GOP of yore, think again. It’s not just Donald Trump who’s in Vladimir Putin’s pocket. For more than 25 years, a large swath of the GOP has enjoyed mutually rewarding relationships with Russian operatives funding and working with K Street lobbyists, political consultants, super PACs, campaign fundraising operations, disinformation and propaganda campaigns, social media operations, cyber-warfare efforts, money laundering schemes, think tanks harboring Russian intelligence operatives, and much, much more.

Jonathan Winer, former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, has observed the relationship for years. “If you go back to the days of Jack Abramoff, when Americans started going to Moscow in the ’90s, and then to Paul Manafort in Ukraine, and so on, you start to see the spine of a secret influence campaign between the Republicans and Russia that has been built up over decades,” he said. “It goes right up to Tucker Carlson rooting for Putin on Fox today. It has been built up over decades, and it is not new, and it deeply infects the Republican Party. You have two forces with deep political ties that are fighting American democracy in order to keep Putin in power and install a Putin-like system in America. And to that end, they have penetrated deep into our think tanks, our media, our journalism—everything.”

Take Ed Buckham, the recently appointed chief of staff for Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Today, Buckham handles a congresswoman who proudly attends “white supremacist, antisemitic, pro-Putin” rallies, as Congresswoman Liz Cheney characterized them, and has become renowned for touting conspiracy theories about how the California wildfires were started by Jewish space lasers. On Thursday, when the House of Representatives voted to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, Greene, not surprisingly, was one of eight Republicans who voted against it.

Buckham’s ties to Russian interests date back 25 years to 1997—before Putin came to power—when he served as an aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. This was the heyday of “Casino Jack” Abramoff, the lobbyist-conman who took on pay-for-play clients ranging from the Choctaw Indian tribe of Mississippi to the Kremlin with a panache made for Hollywood. At the time, Buckham, in addition to his job with DeLay, oversaw a lobbying outfit called the U.S. Family Network, which presented itself as a public advocacy group but was really a vehicle funded largely by clients of Jack Abramoff.

In this case, the relevant clients linked to Abramoff were executives from Naftasib, the Russian energy giant. If DeLay’s lavish six-day excursion to Moscow in 1997 is any indication, the Russians made cultivating DeLay a high priority and spared little expense, as the junket involved golf, lavish dinners, and a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. But the icing on the cake was a $1 million contribution by the Russians to the U.S. Family Network. According to The Washington Post, Buckham told the former president of the U.S. Family Network that Russians made the $1 million contribution specifically to influence DeLay’s vote on legislation to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.

Ultimately, DeLay was forced out of Congress, indicted, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy charges relating to campaign financing. In 2013, however, his conviction was overturned on appeal. Abramoff served 43 months in jail for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion. As for Buckham, he is now back in the fray, a top aide to one of the most controversial and extreme members of Congress. (Buckham did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this article.)


.
But Buckham’s and DeLay’s Russian intrigues paled next to those of . . .

Continue reading. This is where it really gets interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

18 March 2022 at 12:05 pm

More than two dozen Senate Republicans demand Biden do more for Ukraine after voting against $13.6 billion for Ukraine

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The Republican party has become a trash political party. Mariana Alfaro and Eugene Scott report in the Washington Post:

More than two dozen Senate Republicans are demanding that President Biden do more to aid war-torn Ukraine and arm its forces against Russia’s brutal assault, after voting last week against $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine.

Consider Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who heard Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional plea in a virtual address to Congress on Wednesday for more weapons and a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“President Biden needs to make a decision TODAY: either give Ukraine access to the planes and antiaircraft defense systems it needs to defend itself, or enforce a no-fly zone to close Ukrainian skies to Russian attacks,” Scott said in a statement. “If President Biden does not do this NOW, President Biden will show himself to be absolutely heartless and ignorant of the deaths of innocent Ukrainian children and families.”

Last week, Scott was one of 31 Republicans to vote against a sweeping, $1.5 trillion spending bill to fund government agencies and departments through the remainder of the fiscal year and that would also include $13.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine. Biden signed the bill into law Tuesday, casting the aid as the United States “moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.”

After casting a “no” vote, Scott assailed the overall spending bill as wasteful, arguing that it was filled with lawmakers’ pet projects. “It makes my blood boil,” Scott said last week.

Democrats quickly condemned what they saw as glaring hypocrisy among the Republicans who voted against the aid but were quick to criticize Biden as a commander in chief leading from behind in addressing Ukraine’s needs.

“’We should send more lethal aid to Ukraine which I voted against last week’ is making my brain melt,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted divisions in the Republican Party on U.S. involvement overseas and the standing of the NATO alliance. For decades, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, the GOP embraced a hawkish view with robust military spending and certainty about coming to the aid of allies.

President Donald Trump’s “America First” outlook and efforts to undermine NATO, including questioning why the military alliance even existed, secured a foothold in the GOP, reflected in the response of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to Ukraine. In a video Wednesday, Greene blamed both Russia and Ukraine, and warned against U.S. intervention. Biden has said repeatedly that he would not send U.S. troops to fight.

Potential 2024 presidential candidates such as Scott have been highly critical of Biden, who also announced Wednesday that the Pentagon was sending nearly $1 billion in military equipment to Ukraine, including 800 Stinger antiaircraft systems, 100 drones, 25,000 helmets and more than 20 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds.

In early February, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another possible White House candidate, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggesting that the United States would be worse off if Ukraine were admitted to NATO, the military alliance of 30 mainly Western countries — including the United States — bound by a mutual defense treaty, and argued that the United States should instead focus on countering China.

Hawley, who voted against the spending bill with billions for Ukraine, said Wednesday that Biden needs to “step up” and send MiG jet fighters and other weapons to Ukraine, accusing the administration of “dragging its feet.”

The Pentagon has rebuffed Poland’s offer to send MiG fighter jets to Ukraine amid fears of further escalation involving a NATO country.

In a statement Thursday, Hawley said, “Aid for Ukraine should not be held hostage to the Democrats’ pet projects and I did not support the massive $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill stuffed with billions in earmarks.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who also voted against the spending bill, told MSNBC on Thursday that the United States “can do more” for Ukraine. . .

Continue reading. But it’s depressing. And the voters will not hold these Senators to account for the mismatch between their words and votes.
 

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2022 at 4:34 pm

Sleep experts say Senate has it wrong: Standard time, not daylight saving, should be permanent

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Surprisingly often, politicians do not pay any attention to experts (who have actual knowledge of a subject) and instead trust their own uninformed judgment. I would say it’s a variant of the Dunning-Kruger effect: many politicians seems to feel that, because they have been elected to office, they are confident they now possess the knowledge and insight to make decisions on a wide range of issues just from their own gut instinct. Unfortunately, in many if not most cases, they are wrong.

Allyson Chiu reports in the Washington Post:

Sleep experts widely agree with the Senate that the country should abandon its twice-yearly seasonal time changes. But they disagree on one key point: which time system should be permanent. Unlike the Senate, many sleep experts believe the country should adopt year-round standard time.

After the Senate voted unanimously and with little discussion Tuesday to make daylight saving time permanent, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a statement cautioning that the move overlooks potential health risks associated with that time system. (The legislation, which would take effect next year, must get through the House and be signed by President Biden to become law.)

“We do applaud stopping the switching during the course of the year and settling on a permanent time,” said Jocelyn Cheng, a member of the AASM’s public safety committee. But, she added, “standard time, for so many scientific and circadian rationales and public health safety reasons, should really be what the permanent time is set to.”

The AASM made this stance clear in 2020 when it released a position statement recommending that the country institute year-round standard time. Its reasoning, in part, is that standard time is more closely associated with humans’ intrinsic circadian rhythm, and that disrupting that rhythm, as happens with daylight saving time, has been associated with increased risks of obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Although some experts have called for more research before deciding on a permanent time while  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2022 at 9:31 am

The Republican party today is an abomination

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Heather Cox Richardson has a good column today. From that column:

. . .  All but about 40 American companies have pulled out of Russia, according to Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby of Popular Information. Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned business in America, is staying put. Political groups affiliated with right-wing billionaire CEO Charles Koch oppose broad sanctions and have suggested the U.S. should remain neutral in the crisis.

Meanwhile, a deepfake video of Zelensky calling for Ukrainians to surrender to Russia made the rounds on social media today. The false video used artificial intelligence to graft words onto Zelensky’s image.

Tonight, Russia specialist Julia Ioffe told MSNBC: “Every time I’m asked by Americans do Russians really believe this stuff… as if we don’t have the same thing happening here. You have 40% of the American population that was convinced in just one year that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election….”

And, indeed, Trump loyalists like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Fox News personality Tucker Carlson continue to echo Russian talking points to undercut Ukraine’s war effort. Media scholar Eric Boehlert noted that “the anti-democratic, authoritarian bonds are becoming tighter as the Trump movement now turns to the Kremlin for its messaging cues. The overlap is undeniable, and the implications are grave.”

Even more striking was white nationalist Nick Fuentes’s encouragement for people to pray for what he called the brave Russian soldiers fighting to “liberate Ukraine from the Great Satan and from the evil empire in the world, which is the United States.” Fuentes is an extremist but not an isolated one; both Greene and Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) spoke at a recent conference he organized (Greene in person; Gosar virtually), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took no action to disavow their participation.

After Zelensky spoke today, Biden announced another $800 million in military equipment for Ukraine, including 800 anti-aircraft systems. “What’s at stake here are the principles that the United States and the united nations across the world stand for,” he said. “It’s about freedom. It’s about the right of people to determine their own future.”

Note and reference links follow the column.

Written by Leisureguy

16 March 2022 at 10:43 pm

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