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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Paul Krugman tells us not to feed the debt scolds

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Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

in March 2011 Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, chairs of a White House deficit-reduction commission, issued a frightening warning about U.S. government debt. Unless America took major steps to rein in future deficits, they warned, a fiscal crisis could be expected within around two years.

Bowles described what he thought would happen: Foreigners would stop buying our debt. And then, he asked: “What happens to interest rates? What happens to the U.S. economy? The markets will absolutely devastate us.”

That was 12 years ago. At the time Bowles issued his warning, the interest rate on 10-year U.S. bonds was about 3.5 percent. Not much was done to reduce deficits, aside from a squeeze on discretionary federal spending that probably delayed economic recovery. But at the end of last week the 10-year rate, which has gone up substantially over the past year as the Fed raises rates to fight inflation, was … about 3.5 percent.

The point is that in the early 2010s, the last time we faced a potential crisis over the debt ceiling, there was an elite consensus that budget deficits were a severe, even existential threat. This consensus was, in retrospect, completely wrong. Yet it almost completely dominated the political conversation, to such an extent that, as Ezra Klein pointed out, the media abandoned the normal rules of reportorial neutrality and openly cheered proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare.

And those of us who challenged the elite consensus, mocking the peddlers of debt panic as Very Serious People (because ranting about the evils of debt sounds serious and responsible, even when the math doesn’t support the rhetoric), were treated as odd and out of touch.

Now the Very Serious People are trying to make a comeback, in effect lending cover to Republican efforts to hold America hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. So it’s important to realize that the case for debt panic is, if anything, even weaker than it was in 2011.

It’s true that U.S. debt is very large — $31 trillion (said in your best Dr. Evil voice). But America is a big country, so almost every economic number is very large. A better way to think about debt is to ask whether interest payments are a major burden on the budget. In 2011 these payments were 1.47 percent of gross domestic product — half what they had been in the mid-1990s. In 2021 they were 1.51 percent. This number will rise as existing debt is rolled over at higher interest rates, but real net interest — interest payments adjusted for inflation — is likely to remain below 1 percent of G.D.P for the next decade.

This doesn’t sound like a crisis. But what about demography? America is aging, which mean

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 4:55 pm

The story no one wants to touch: Why the Capitol Police enabled 1/6

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Our news organizations have become complacent and focused on profit, with the desire to rock the boat much diminished. This does the public a disservice, but large corporations are much more attentive to their own profit than to the public interest. Dan Froomkin writes at Press Watch:

The news media’s continuing failure to explore why the U.S. Capitol was so scantily defended against an angry horde of white Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, has now been compounded by the House select committee’s refusal to connect the most obvious dots or ask the most vital questions.

It’s true that there were countless law enforcement failures that day — indeed, far too many to be a coincidence.

But the singular point of failure — the one thing that could have prevented all of it from happening — was that Capitol Police leaders brushed off ample warnings that an armed mob was headed their way.

They lied to everyone about their level of preparedness beforehand. Then they sent a less-than-full contingent of hapless, unarmored officers out to defend a perimeter defined by bike racks, without less-than-lethal weaponry and without a semblance of a plan.

Even the insurrectionists who actively intended to stop the vote could never have expected that breaching the Capitol would be so easy.

Exploring why Capitol Police leaders chose not to prepare for combat, despite mounds of intelligence pointing directly toward such a scenario, should have been a key goal of the Jan. 6 committee.

That Capitol Police leaders — like so many others in law enforcement — were unable to imagine white Trump supporters as a clear and present danger remains one of the most tragically under-addressed elements of that day’s legacy, leaving crucially important lessons entirely unlearned.

The committee was instead focused on one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump. To that end, its report actively made excuses for law enforcement leaders, calling their failures essentially irrelevant. The “best defense,” the report concluded — should another president ever incite an attack on his own government — “will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active citizenry.”

What hooey.

Yes, Trump was the instigator. But going forward, the law enforcement community’s blindness to the threat of white nationalism is a more immediate danger.

Learning the lessons of Jan. 6 requires understanding the role of racism, both conscious or unconscious, in law enforcement. It requires understanding whether individual law enforcement leaders flinched for political reasons. And it requires an adjustment in the law enforcement community’s skewed perception of the danger from white nationalists as compared to people of color.

The committee’s members and investigators, however, didn’t ask witnesses anything remotely along those lines.

Then-Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund was the single person most responsible for the failure to protect the Capitol. But no one even asked him (or anyone else) to address how and why the lackadaisical preparations for Jan. 6 compared to the overenthusiastic deployments for Black Lives Matter protests that never posed any danger to the Capitol, and that weren’t even on the Capitol grounds.

Nobody asked any law enforcement officials if they viewed the Jan. 6 insurrectionists sympathetically, or if they were under political pressure not to upset Trump, or if they feared for their jobs.

And certainly nobody asked Sund or anyone else to consider whether the white privilege they shared with the Jan. 6 mob had made it seem unthreatening to them.

It’s no secret why none of these issues were brought up. Committee vice chair Liz Cheney is why.

As multiple committee staffers have told the Washington Post, Cheney’s leadership on the committee came with strings attached. She insisted that the focus of the hearings and the committee’s final report be exclusively on Trump, rather than on any other lessons learned — especially those that might not reflect well on law enforcement.

Asked about the committee’s plans in November, a month before the report was released, Cheney made her goals very clear at a University of Chicago event: “There’s one thing we will not do, and that is we will not blame the Capitol Police,” she said. “We will not blame law enforcement for Donald Trump’s mob, armed, that he sent to the Capitol to stop the electoral count.”

And unlike the excellent media coverage of Jan. 6 overall, reporting on the failure to protect the Capitol has been uniquely lacking every step of the way. I’ve literally been begging reporters since one week after the insurrection to explore how it was allowed to happen, to no avail. (This January 13, 2021, analysis by USA Today was a rare exception.)

To the contrary, press reports. particularly by the otherwise accomplished Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, have repeatedly cast Sund as a martyr and truth-teller when he is neither.

The lack of any public exploration as to why these white Trump supporters got as far as they did leaves us with a statement by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., only hours after the Jan. 6 attack, as the most insightful analysis of the day’s events.

“Had it been  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 January 2023 at 11:29 am

The Deadbeat Limit — Understanding The Debt Ceiling

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Jay Kuo has a good explainer at Second Nexus:

There’s a lot of talk in Washington around the so-called “debt ceiling” which is a really unfortunate name. I prefer to call it the “deadbeat ceiling.”

Why? A “debt” ceiling implies that what we’re talking about is like a credit card, as if Congress were voting whether or not to raise our borrowing limit.

As former Missouri Senator Claire McKaskill succinctly put it, however, this “is NOT raising your credit card limit, it is making your car payment.”

Let’s walk through why that is, and then I’ll explain why the correct framing of the issue may answer another important and pressing legal question: Can Joe Biden just ignore Congress and fix the deadbeat limit problem on his own?

Why the “debt limit” is a “deadbeat limit.”

With Republicans in charge of the House, the question is whether the GOP will turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor. Deadbeats, if it even needs to be spelled out, are people who don’t pay the debts they promised to pay.

And that’s what this is really about.

You see, Congress already voted to pay for all the paychecks and programs that are supposedly now on the GOP chopping block. So by threatening to not pay them after the fact, they are trying to get two bites at this apple.

It would be as if you ran a big company and signed a lot of employee and vendor contracts, and then the next year you claimed:

“Well, I know I said I’d pay you, and I have that legal obligation, but I’m just not going to do that.”

“Not unless you agree that I can either not pay you anything or pay you a lot less, now that you really need that money!”

If this sounds familiar, this was the precise M.O. of the Trump Organization, which for years routinely stiffed small businesses, contractors and vendors out of the money they were owed and forced them to settle for pennies on the dollar rather than risk a protracted and expensive court fight.

By threatening to renege on payments it already agreed to, in this case by refusing to give the White House the authority to pay the nation’s debts, the GOP-led House is threatening to turn the U.S. government into a deadbeat debtor, just like the Trump Org.

And that’s why Joe Biden is right to refuse to even negotiate with them.

There’s nothing to negotiate, because the payment agreements were already made last year with the passage of the budget.

As Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said plainly:

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing.”

He continued:. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2023 at 7:48 pm

What the Jan. 6 probe found out about social media, but didn’t report

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Cat Zakrzewski, Cristiano Lima, and Drew Harwell have an important report (no paywall) in the Washington Post:

The Jan. 6 committee spent months gathering stunning new details on how social media companies failed to address the online extremism and calls for violence that preceded the Capitol riot.

The evidence they collected was written up in a 122-page memo that was circulated among the committee, according to a draft viewed by The Washington Post. But in the end, committee leaders declined to delve into those topics in detail in their final report, reluctant to dig into the roots of domestic extremism taking hold in the Republican Party beyond former president Donald Trump and concerned about the risks of a public battle with powerful tech companies, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the panel’s sensitive deliberations.

Congressional investigators found evidence that tech platforms — especially Twitter — failed to heed their own employees’ warnings about violent rhetoric on their platforms and bent their rules to avoid penalizing conservatives, particularly then-president Trump, out of fear of reprisals. The draft report details how most platforms did not take “dramatic” steps to rein in extremist content until after the attack on the Capitol, despite clear red flags across the internet.

“The sum of this is that alt-tech, fringe, and mainstream platforms were exploited in tandem by right-wing activists to bring American democracy to the brink of ruin,” the staffers wrote in their memo. “These platforms enabled the mobilization of extremists on smaller sites and whipped up conservative grievance on larger, more mainstream ones.”

But little of the evidence supporting those findings surfaced during the public phase of the committee’s probe, including its 845-page report that focused almost exclusively on Trump’s actions that day and in the weeks just before.

That focus on Trump meant the report missed an opportunity to hold social media companies accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, even though the platforms had been the subject of intense scrutiny since Trump’s first presidential campaign in 2016, the people familiar with the matter said.

Confronting that evidence would have forced the committee to examine how conservative commentators helped amplify the Trump messaging that ultimately contributed to the Capitol attack, the people said — a course that some committee members considered both politically risky and inviting opposition from some of the world’s most powerful tech companies, two of the people said.

“Given the amount of material they actually ultimately got from the big social media companies, I think it is unfortunate that we didn’t get a better picture of how ‘Stop the Steal’ was organized online, how the materials spread,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism nonprofit. “They could have done that for us.”

The Washington Post has previously reported that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the committee’s co-chair, drove efforts to keep the report focused on Trump. But interviews since the report’s release indicate that Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose Northern California district includes Silicon Valley, also resisted efforts to bring more focus in the report onto social media companies.

Lofgren denied that she opposed including a social media appendix in the report or more detail about what investigators learned in interviews with tech company employees. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2023 at 5:13 pm

A possible solution to debt-ceiling hostage-taking

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Kevin Drum offers a promising solution to the perennial effort by the GOP to hold the debt-ceiling hostage to force as ransom passing measures the US public strongly opposes. (The GOP usually gets away with this because the mainstream media refers to “Congress” (rather than “Republicans”) as not raising the debt ceiling.)

From the post at the link:

Just ignore the debt ceiling and keep writing checks. That’s it. Get an OLC opinion stating that (a) the spending in question has already been legally appropriated, and (b) the Constitution says the debt of the United States “shall not be questioned.” Then tell Republicans to pound sand. The government will continue operating unless they go to court and get a judge to order the Treasury shut down.

Would they call this bluff? Going to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 2:16 pm

There Was Something Positive in the Speaker-Vote Debacle

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James Fallows has an excellent take on the recent lengthy process of electing the Speaker of the House:

There is a category of jobs for which the greatest day is the day your appointment is announced. It all gets worse from there.

Being an NFL coach in Washington D.C. is one of those. Ambassadorships generally are another. Many (though not all) university deanships and presidencies. Marrying into a royal family, apparently. Others you can think of.

And then we have Kevin McCarthy’s new job, of which his very greatest moment occurred in the wee hours of Friday night, when enough of his opponents finally agreed to vote “present” to let him squeak in. But even considering the 15-ballot ritual humiliation he had just been through, the bad part for McCarthy has only now begun.

He can be speaker. What he can do in that job… we will see.

That’s for next week, and next year. For now I’ll mention what happened after the final vote, when two leaders said—and didn’t say—things that were interesting.

Hakeem Jeffries uses the moment.

In the case of Hakeem Jeffries, who had mainly sat silent as Rep. Pete Aguilar and other colleagues nominated him ballot after ballot, the attention-getter was his presentation once all the voting was done.

The speech was 15 minutes long; you can see it on C-Span here. Most press attention has been on its final 90 seconds, which I will get to. The whole thing worked, in my view, as an upbeat, happy-warrior-toned declaration of a party’s values, from a man who knew that every single Representative from his party had backed him on every one of the endless votes.  1

Jeffries, who is the first Black leader of a party in the House, following the first woman Speaker, naturally cast his own story as an example of The American Story. 2

It’s worth realizing that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 January 2023 at 10:45 am

Ominous: Conservatives Hawk “Birch Gold” In Run-Up to Debt Ceiling Crisis

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Dave Troy writes in The Washington Spectator about something that seems particularly ominous:

For the last several years, prominent conservatives including Dr. Ron Paul, Steve Bannon, and Ben Shapiro, have been promoting gold and gold-backed assets to their audiences. One company in particular, Birch Gold Group, has earned prominent public endorsements from all of these figures, with each of them participating in various cross-marketing activities.

Birch Gold is one of a number of smaller outlets pushing precious metals to conservative audiences. Where large, established firms like State Street offer “GLD,” a gold-backed exchange-traded fund (ETF) which is among the largest such funds in the world, Birch offers “physical gold” in the form of coins and other gold-based products.

One line of products called “goldbacks” resemble laminated 19th century banknotes, each themed around Nevada, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming. The company’s website claims that they contain “micro-thin layers of 24 karat gold protected by layers of durable polymer.” Another Birch-affiliated company, BitIRA, offers Bitcoin-backed IRA products to similar audiences.

Birch Gold was founded in Los Angeles in 2003 by Iraqi-born Laith Paul Alsarraf. The company occupies offices in Burbank, across the street from Warner Brothers’ studio. The company’s name is an obvious nod to the John Birch Society, the group founded in 1958 by candy magnate Robert Welch and named after John Birch, a US soldier killed by Chinese communists at the close of World War II in 1945. Many Birchers claim Birch was “the first victim of World War III,” and the group has maintained a paranoid, staunchly anti-communist stance in the decades since.

Alsarraf, now 53, rose to prominence in the 1990’s with the rise of the online pornography industry, when his company, Cybernet Ventures, provided a payment and age-verification service called Adult Check. The San Fernando Valley, home to both Birch Gold and Cybernet, has historically been a stronghold of the pornography industry, as well as so-called “Russian Armenian” organized crime activity.

Mr. Alsarraf founded the company with a partner, Vartan “Marty” Sarkisov. Alsarraf and Sarkisov, an American of Armenian descent, co-founded multiple business ventures over the years. Forbes estimated Adult Check’s 2001 revenue at approximately $320 million. According to online records, the company was dissolved in late 2011.

Mr. Alsarraf, who appears to be the principal owner of Birch Gold per 2018 court records, has not sought the media spotlight in relation to his work with Birch Gold. Instead,  . . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2023 at 9:10 pm

The US may be at a turning point, and it certainly *needs* a turning point

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Heather Cox Richardson had a particularly good column last night, and if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It begins:

The Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in 2022—aided by gerrymandering and new laws that made it harder to vote—but they remain unable to come together to elect a speaker. In three ballots yesterday, Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) could not muster a majority of the House to back him, as a group of 20 far-right Republicans are backing their own choices. The saga continued today with three more ballots; McCarthy still came up short.

In contrast, the Democrats have consistently given minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York 212 votes, more votes than McCarthy received but not a majority of the body. When former Speaker Nancy Pelosi nominated Jeffries yesterday, she blew him a kiss and the caucus rose up in a standing ovation.

Because it is still unorganized, the House technically has no members. No one is sworn in, and so they cannot perform their official duties or hire staff. About 70 new members brought their families to Washington, D.C., to watch their swearing in, and the extra days as the speakership contest drags on are becoming hard to manage.

The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern. Leaders often have to negotiate in order to take power—Nancy Pelosi had to bring together a number of factions to win the speakership in 2019—but since 1923 those negotiations have been completed before the start of voting.

Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6,” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

One story here is about competence. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo points out that Pelosi ran the House with virtually the same margin the Republicans have now and yet managed to hold her caucus together tightly enough to pass a slate of legislation that rivaled those of the Great Society and the New Deal. McCarthy can’t even organize the House, leaving the United States without a functioning Congress for the first time in a hundred years.

But there is a larger story here about the destruction of the traditional Republican Party over the past forty years. In those years, a party that believed the government had a role to play in leveling the country’s economic and racial playing fields was captured by a reactionary right wing determined to uproot any such government action. When voters—including Republicans—continued to support business regulation, a basic social safety net, and civil rights laws, the logical outcome of opposition to such measures was war on the government itself.

That war is not limited to the 20 far-right Republicans refusing to elect McCarthy speaker. Pundits note that those 20 have supported former president Trump’s positions, particularly the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. They also worked to overturn the 2020 election, challenging the electors from a number of states. But 139 Republicans, including McCarthy himself, voted in 2021 to challenge electors from a number of states and went on to embrace the Big Lie, and McCarthy’s staunchest supporter is extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

And today, more than 60 prominent right-wing figures, from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort, declared themselves “disgusted with the business-as-usual, self-interested governance in Washington.” They declared their support for the 20.

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on  . . .

Continue reading the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2023 at 8:42 pm

Collective narcissism

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Craig Harper has an interesting article in Psychology Today that begins:

KEY POINTS

  • Modern societies are increasingly polarized along ideological lines.
  • Collective narcissism may help to explain how ideological groups are becoming increasingly extreme.
  • Contemplating and reflecting on our narcissistic tendencies may help us to heal some of our divides.

Modern democratic societies have seen intergroup relations crumble over the past half century, and psychologists have been attempting to study this phenomenon for decades. Although many psychologists have looked at the cognitive and motivational differences between ideological groups, these studies do not always recognize how those on the extremes of the political spectrum can often look more similar than they do differently. Looking at the extent to which people are invested in their ideology, and how this affects polarization, may be a more fruitful pathway to understanding our current predicament.

A Collective Sense of Righteousness

Collective narcissism is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to the narcissistic tendencies of a group or collective. It is characterized by the group’s belief in its own superiority and special status, as well as its need for admiration and attention from others. Collective narcissism is different from individual narcissism, which refers to a personality trait characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and a need for admiration from others. There is often a focus on the differences observed between ingroup and outgroup members among those high in collective narcissism, with a tendency to see threats from outgroups in a more acute manner.

While individual narcissism is a personality trait that is specific to an individual, collective narcissism is a trait that is shared among members of a group or collective. It is often seen in groups that are highly cohesive, where members have a strong sense of belonging and identification with the group. These groups may include nationalist or ethnic groups, religious groups, or political organizations, but ostensibly less important group identities (sports teams) may also be liable to succumbing to narcissistic beliefs, too. Collective narcissism can also be seen in groups that are defined by a shared ideology or belief system, such as social movements or activist groups.

It is here that we see links to modern social movements, particularly in the US (where political partisans favoring candidates from either the Democrats or Republicans focus more on maligning the other side than presenting a positive vision of how their ideology could improve American society) and the UK (where debates and disagreements about Brexit continue to divide the population).

Effects of Collective Narcissism

Collective narcissism is often fueled by  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2023 at 8:55 pm

2023 — A Year of Conflict and Chaos?

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We live in frightening times, and in the Washington Spectator Dave Troy points out some of the threats:

When the 118th Congress commences in January, we will be facing several important issues simultaneously. The United States will be dangerously close to reaching its debt ceiling, and Congress will need to pass legislation raising it. Presumptive House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he intends to use the debt limit as a weapon to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which Democrats fiercely oppose. Many expect this to play out in typical DC fashion — with a series of threats and attendant compromises.

We see a more menacing scenario forming: the actual possibility of debt default. Given the long-standing conflict over monetary policy, there is a non-zero chance McCarthy will do what he only threatened to do in 2011: actually shoot the hostage. In that last episode, he brought the US close enough to default that the US actually lost its AAA credit rating, costing billions in borrowing fees. A member of the Tea Party Caucus, which was closely aligned with the Ron Paul “End the Fed” movement, McCarthy may finally be ready to have the showdown long-anticipated by goldbugs and their sympathizers. And more extreme members of the right are calling now for “total war”, giving him cover.

The theory goes (as it always does) that too much monetary stimulus leads to inflation, and that efforts by central bankers to rein it in will lead to collapse of the financial markets, which will in turn lead to more stimulus and more inflation — creating a vicious cycle which will ultimately lead to hyperinflation along the lines of what was observed in Weimar Germany in the 1920’s. The only way out of this cycle, according to the monetary moralists, is through a final reckoning, when fiat currency and central banks will be banished forever and replaced with good and upstanding hard currency, backed by gold or other assets.

It is a kind of financial eschatology — a final end-times battle between good and evil — and the last time we immanentized this conflict and its associated anti-Semitic mythology, we ended up with World War II. We seem poised now to repeat this conflict in what is shaping up to be a long and slow-burning World War III.

Far from the unwinnable, avoid-at-all-costs nuclear holocaust envisioned by popular culture, this new war is shaping up to be a grinding metaphysical conflict backed by the constant threat of nuclear force. Witness the bizarre war-on-reality rampages of Kanye West and Elon Musk in recent months. There is a purpose to their actions: to shift (or break permanently) our Overton windows and frame of reference and to usher in their own new frame. The constant drumbeat of anti-Semitism helps drive the anti-bank narratives underlying an incipient fiat vs. gold showdown.

The presumptive incoming House majority whip, Rep. Tom Emmer (R, Minn. 6th), is a major cryptocurrency advocate, and advocates the same “hard currency” policy favored by McCarthy and his “End the Fed” friends, suggesting this will likely be an ongoing focus for the House. Given that Musk is taking Twitter to increasingly dark places daily, it seems likely that McCarthy, Emmer, Musk, and other members of the chorus will be pulling in the same direction in January. The domestic right information environment is likely to become heavily anti-Semitic, anti-bank, pro-crypto, and anti-Ukraine.

The economist Zoltan Pozsar proposed another alarming “black swan” possibility: that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2023 at 6:38 pm

Ex-Capitol police chief: FBI, DHS, Pentagon failed on Jan. 6

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Carol D. Leonnig has a scathing article (no paywall) in the Washington Post that begins:

In a new firsthand account of the frantic efforts of Capitol Police officers to protect Congress and themselves from an armed mob on Jan. 6, 2021, the department’s former chief blames cascading government failures for allowing the brutal melee.

The federal government’s multibillion-dollar security network, built after 9/11 to gather intelligence that could warn of a looming attack, provided no such shield on Jan. 6, former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund writes in a new book. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and even his own agency’s intelligence unit had been alerted weeks earlier to reams of chilling chatter about right-wing extremists arming for an attack on the Capitol that day, Sund says, but didn’t take the basic steps to assess those plots or sound an alarm. Senior military leaders, citing political or tactical worries, delayed sending help.

And, Sund warns in “Courage Under Fire,” it could easily happen again. Many of the factors that left the Capitol vulnerable remain unfixed, he said.

In his account, Sund describes his shock at the battle that unfolded as an estimated 10,000 protesters inflamed by President Donald Trump’s rally earlier in the day broke through police lines and punched, stabbed and pepper-sprayed officers, outnumbering them “58 to 1.”

Sund said his shock shifted to agony as he unsuccessfully begged military generals for National Guard reinforcements. Though they delayed sending help until it was too late for Sund’s overrun corps, he says that he later discovered that the Pentagon had rushed to send security teams to protect military officials’ homes in Washington, none of which were under attack.

Sund reserves his greatest outrage for  . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

1 January 2023 at 8:36 pm

The Southwest Airlines implosion

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This thread explains what happened to Southwest Airlines and why passengers have no recourse..

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2022 at 10:29 pm

The Skill Involved in Zelensky’s Congressional Address

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At left, a wartime leader appealing to a joint meeting of Congress for further American support, on the day after Christmas in 1941. At right, another wartime leader making a similar appeal, four days before Christmas in 2022. The two images convey some striking differences between the eras. The speeches themselves had striking similarities. (Getty Images.)

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James Fallows, one-time speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, has knowledge and experience regarding political speeches, and his article on Zelensky’s address to Congress is very much worth reading. It begins:

This post starts with some major “staging” choices Volodymyr Zelensky made for his address to Congress this week, including that he would deliver it in English and while dressed in his familiar wartime wear. Then we’ll move to some significant line-by-line aspects of the text itself.

In both parts I’ll be saying that the speech was carefully thought out as a piece of writing, and powerfully presented as a moment in living history. Zelensky could hardly have done more, or done anything more effective, to get his country’s message across.

We often hear about presentations that work on different levels, as appeals to both head and heart. “Tear down this wall,” at the Berlin Wall. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” in bitter January cold from the inaugural stand at the Capitol. “I have a dream,” in August heat from the Lincoln Memorial.

We have no idea of Ukraine’s fate a year or a decade from now, nor of Volodymyr Zelensky’s ultimate place in history. But I think this week’s speech will stand as another important example of combining moment, message, and messenger to remarkable effect.


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The set-up.

Zelensky’s speech came 10 months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. It came 81 years after Winston Churchill stood in the same place at the Capitol, with the same Constitutional officers (vice president and speaker of the House) seated behind him, to a similar joint meeting of the Senate and House. There he made a similar appeal for assistance, to a United States that, just after Pearl Harbor, had finally entered the war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.1 The photos of the two presentations, above, suggest how much is traditional and constant in American procedures, and how much has changed.

Zelensky’s speech was also part of series he has made to international audiences since the invasion began. The previous ones had all been virtual, over tele-links from Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine, because of Zelensky’s wartime role. In each of them he has argued that Ukraine was the frontline in the battle between dictatorship and democracy, between rule-by-force and rule-of-law.

The official English versions of these speeches, which have all been delivered in Ukrainian, have been notable for their careful craftsmanship. Zelensky and his team knew what allusions to make, what chords to strike, what historical and cultural parallels to draw, when speaking to each of his audiences. I wrote about two of these virtual addresses—to the U.K. Parliament on March 8, and to the U.S. Congress on March 16—soon after they occurred.2

The plain text of this latest speech showed the same deftness and unusual care. Zelensky has someone who is good, and is good in English, working with him. The early speeches had the breathtaking drama of being delivered from cities under attack, much as with Zelensky’s original, history-changing “We are here” short video. This week’s presentation had different drama because of two additional risks he took. Those were: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

24 December 2022 at 9:29 pm

Lawfare: “The Jan. 6 Report: A Summary with Some Analysis”

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A very fine summary of the voluminous report (845 pages) from the House Jan. 6 Select Committee. It begins:

‘Twas three nights before Christmas
And all through the House,
Not a creature was stirring

Except the staff of the Jan. 6 Committee, which was frantically trying to release their final report and many hundreds of accompanying documents before they all turned into pumpkins when control of Congress turned over.

They made mistakes in their frenzied late-stage push. The date on the front cover of the report reads, “December 00, 2022.” The report is numbered 117-000, which cannot possibly be correct. The FBI is called, at one point, the “Federal Bureau of Intelligence”—which is not, well, an intelligent error.

There were some unfortunate factual distortions on important issues.

And, of course, there were the endless news stories about the infighting between the committee members and the staff, and between Liz Cheney and other members.

And yet, the committee’s final report, finally released Thursday evening, is the most comprehensive account of the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 anyone has yet produced. While it mostly reprises and elaborates on information released during the committee’s spree of hearings over the summer, it contains a lot of new details. Perhaps more importantly, it brings together all of the committee’s work in a single narrative, carefully documented and put together in an accessible fashion.

As with the 9/11 Commission report two decades ago, people will argue about the committee’s recommendations. Reasonable minds will disagree about its criminal referrals. But as with the 9/11 Commission report, this document’s impact lies in the story it tells. For it is a story no other entity could have told. It required the power of government, the ability to compel testimony and force the production of documents. Yet it also required the ability to tell a story, an ability generally off limits to prosecutors outside of the context of indictmentment.

It is, typos and flaws and errors and inadequacies and all, an essential document for accountability in the post-Trump era.

No individual has yet read, much less digested, all 845 pages of it yet. But we collectively divided it up and formulated some initial thoughts on it. What follows is a high-altitude, chapter-by-chapter overview. It excludes the executive summary, which we discussed in several pieces this week.

We will have more granular analysis over the coming days and weeks regarding different parts of the report.

Chapter I: The Big Lie (p.195)

The report’s first chapter alleges and seeks to establish that former President Trump was aware that he had lost the 2020 presidential election, yet continued to perpetuate “The Big Lie” that he had won nonetheless.

Trump was repeatedly made aware of evidence and data that showed he had lost, as well as evidence that his claims of election fraud were bogus.

Notably, the report shows that the Big Lie was not only false but also premeditated well in advance of Election Day. The report cites public comments made by Trump adviser Steve Bannnon that if Trump lost the election “He’s just gonna say he’s a winner,” as well as from longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who politely told associates that in the event of unfavorable results, “the key thing to do is claim victory…. No, we won. Fuck you.”

The report also details the efforts of Trump associate Tom Fitton to encourage Trump to “pre-emptively declare victory” in a speech on Election Night while in-person and mail-in ballots were still being counted. Fitton wrote that counting ballots anytime after Election Day is “part of an effort by partisans to overturn the election results.”

The report outlines the numerous attempts of White House staff and other political confidants—including those who promoted Trump’s lies in public—to inform the former president that the election results were not disputable. Rather than listening to his staff, however, Trump hired a new legal team—referred to by former Attorney General William Barr as the “clown car”—to carry out his election fraud claims in court. The report goes on to detail numerous unsuccessful lawsuits, all but one of which confirmed the results of the election and dismissed Trump’s claims.

The crux of this section is the committee’s accounts of several case studies, in which Trump was specifically informed that his voter fraud allegation stories were false, but stuck with them anyway. The report focuses in particular on two conspiracy theories that Trump advanced.

The first of these was Trump’s repeated attacks on Dominion voting machines. According to the committee, Trump and his “clown car” of allies spread malicious lies and conspiracies about the legitimacy of the machines, including that their software was somehow connected to deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, China, Cuba, and “communist money.”

Trump was informed in an internal Trump campaign memo and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency that Dominion machines were accurate, reliable, and definitely not connected to foreign adversaries. Nevertheless, the president chose to lie.

In one of the more damning passages in the chapter, the committee suggests that Trump himself did not believe his own claim, reporting a phone call with lawyer Sidney Powell, who, according to the report, described a conspiracy theory similar to the one Trump himself promulgated about Dominion. In response to Powell, Trump muted his telephone, laughed, and told others in the room: “This does sound crazy, doesn’t it?”

The other Trump-pushed conspiracy theory on which the report focuses is Trump’s false claims about election fraud in Fulton County, Georgia. This stemmed from “selectively edited” video footage from a ballot counting center. Rudy Giuliani reportedly sent multiple state legislators edited footage that he claimed showed election workers repeatedly scanning fraudulent ballots that were hidden in suitcases under tables. They were, in fact, bins that are normally used to store ballots.

The committee notes that, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2022 at 6:33 pm

Good summary of some of the January 6 Select Committee’s findings

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Heather Cox Richardson has a very good column tonight:

Already there are revelations from the documents being released this week.

Among the transcripts released by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S Capitol is one from Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top aide to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows. In it, Hutchinson tells the interviewers that what she calls “Trump world” set her up with her first attorney, Stefan Passantino. He refused to tell her who was paying the bills—it was Trump’s political action committee—and she worried that “they will ruin my life… if I do anything that they don’t want me to do.”

Emphasizing repeated references to “loyalty,” and “Trump world,” Hutchinson told the committee that Passantino urged her not to tell what she knew, prodding her to say she didn’t recall events she clearly did. “If you don’t 100 percent recall something, even if you don’t recall a date or somebody who may or may not have been in the room, that’s an entirely fine answer, and we want you to use that response as much as you deem necessary.” “Look,” he told her, “the goal with you is to get you in and out. Keep your answers short, sweet, and simple, seven words or less. The less the committee thinks you know, the better, the quicker it’s going to go. It’s going to be painless. And then you’re going to be taken care of.”

“We just want to focus on protecting the President,” Passantino said. “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world. You don’t need to apply to other places. We’re gonna get you taken care of. We want to keep you in the family.” Hutchinson told of being scared of what they could do to her. “I’d seen how vicious they can be. And part of that’s politics, but…I think some of it is unique to Trump world, the level they’ll go to to tear somebody else down. And I was scared of that.”

Mark Meadows, too, sent Hutchinson a message through a mutual friend saying “he knows you’re loyal and he knows…you’re going to protect him and the boss. You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re a family.” She also received notice that Trump was aware of her testimony.

After two interviews with the committee, Hutchinson reached out to a former White House colleague, Alyssa Farah, to become a back channel to the January 6 committee to clear her conscience of testimony she felt was not fully truthful. In a third interview, committee members asked questions that clearly shocked Passantino, who kept asking how they knew what to ask. When, afterward, he insisted on talking both to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and his Trump world law partners against Hutchinson’s wishes, she realized that he was working for Trump, not her. When he suggested she should risk a charge of contempt of Congress, along with jail time, she cut ties with him and began working with new lawyers.

In her newer, clean testimony to the committee, Hutchinson recounted a number of conversations in which it was clear Trump knew he had lost the election, as well as some conversations that suggested the planning for January 6 was well underway weeks ahead of time. On December 12, for example, when Trump tried to cancel a trip to the Army-Navy game, Meadows told Hutchinson, “He can’t do that. He’s gonna tick off the military, and then he’s gonna be ticked off at me in a few weeks when the military’s ticked off at him….” Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) asked Hutchinson what she thought that exchange meant, and she answered: “Looking back now, I can speculate.”

The transcript is not just a damning portrait of the Trump loyalists, it is a window into the struggles of a clearly very bright young woman who was under enormous financial and emotional pressure to please her former boss and yet could not accept the erasure of her moral values. After two sessions with the committee in which she felt she had not been forthcoming, she realized she had to “pass the mirror test.”

She told the committee: “[Y]ou know, I did . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2022 at 10:27 pm

Warnings of 1/6 attack were ignored for obvious but still unnamed reasons

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Dan Froomkin writes in Press Watch:

The newest GAO report requested by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection adds to a mountain of evidence that federal law enforcement agencies didn’t miss signs of a violent attack on the Capitol, they ignored them.

Why they ignored them remains one of the biggest unanswered questions related to the day’s events.

Actually, it’s worse than an unanswered question, it’s also a largely unasked question. Media coverage of this particular issue has been shockingly weak, and has produced no credible explanation.

It’s a strange blind spot for the reporters who have so assiduously examined seemingly every other factor in the insurrection. My conclusion, after 16 months of trying to get them to pay attention to it, is that they are too squeamish to confront this issue head-on.

They are much more comfortable attributing law enforcement’s disastrous failure to prepare for an assault on the Capitol to “intelligence failures” and “unique breakdowns” in communication than they are confronting the obvious reality: that racism and Trumpism made key officials shrug off the threat presented by white men, while sympathy to their goals and the fear of incurring Trump’s wrath was a further disincentive to taking action. This was in stunning contrast to their overreaction to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

Any other explanation defies the reality that Rep. Cori Bush described that very night on MSNBC: “Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps… we would have been shot, we would have been tear gassed.”

The truth is worth exposing, acknowledging, and holding people accountable for.

Obviously, it’s a hard story to get at. The responsible parties have every reason to make other excuses. And so far, investigators have not made public the emails or contemporaneous notes and other accounts that would help the public understand who exactly dismissed the abundance of threat reports about violence that day, and how they explained their inaction. [As one reader points out, we also don’t know if any law enforcement leaders were operating under orders from the White House or elsewhere.]

This is not a trivial matter. The successful storming of the Capitol was not . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2022 at 4:29 pm

For Patrick Leahy, The Vietnam War Is Finally Ending

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George Black writes in the New Republic:

It was a late afternoon in mid-November, with the nip of early winter in the air, when I visited the Russell Senate Office Building to meet with Vermont Senator Pat Leahy in his spacious yet surprisingly intimate office, with a sofa and chairs arranged near the fireplace. An aide squatted down beside us to add another log to the fire. Leahy’s wife of 60 years, Marcelle, joined us, carrying a large bouquet of flowers. The couple still convey a strong sense of the people they were in the early years of their marriage—he a small-town lawyer, she a nurse at a local hospital. Leahy showed off photos of their three children and five grandchildren. “I’m not someone who wants to hang the walls with photos of 50 great and famous people I’ve known,” he said. “I’d much rather be surrounded by pictures of family.”

Leahy, who entered the Senate in 1975 and leaves it after 48 years in January 2023, is the body’s longest-serving sitting member. To most Americans, he is probably best known for his decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee and his opposition to the drive by conservative activists to transform the federal courts into an instrument of their ideological agenda. But I’d come to talk to him about something different, something that rarely if ever makes the cable news circuit: the war in Vietnam, the wounds it had left, and the part he had played in healing them. He’s never seen this as a partisan issue, just a matter of simple human decency, being one of those, like Joe Biden, who mourn a lost era of comity in the Senate, in which political adversaries could still reach with respect across the gulf of their disagreements. His work in Vietnam has always been underpinned by that vision, and I wanted to ask him whether, in our current divided state, he could imagine it continuing after his retirement from the Senate at the age of 82.

Vision alone doesn’t get you far in Washington. It has to be turned into legislation, and legislation into dollars and cents. In addition to his role on the Judiciary Committee, Leahy also chairs the Appropriations Committee, which is where the purse strings are untied, and, as he wrote in his recently published memoir, The Road Taken, “few people really ever sifted through the line items to understand what we were doing was actually making American foreign policy.” It’s also why you can’t talk about his work in Vietnam without also talking about his senior aide, Tim Rieser, who has been with him since 1985, and who will retire from his current role in January. Despite his bland-sounding job title—Democratic clerk for the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations—Rieser has been the master of its arcane mechanics. “A dog with a bone,” Leahy calls him. Given a problem to solve, “He would not stop until every last drop of marrow and morsel of sinew had been licked clean.”

Since 1989, as the United States and Vietnam were taking their first baby steps toward reconciliation, Leahy and Rieser have channeled hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Vietnam, forcing the United States to take responsibility for what former Senate leader Mike Mansfield once called the “great outflow of devastation” from the war: the bodies broken by unexploded bombs; the lives blighted by exposure to Agent Orange; the ongoing threat from “hot spots” contaminated by dioxin, its toxic by-product; and now, at last, some long-overdue aid to help Vietnam recover and identify the remains of its war dead. In the process, they have built the scaffolding of a new relationship, in which bitter enemies, in one of the stranger twists of geopolitics, have been transformed into close working partners and military allies.

Leahy and Rieser have faced no small number of obstacles along the way. For many years, embittered American veterans and recalcitrant anti-Communists in Congress opposed any hint of reconciliation with Vietnam. Progress was often slowed by suspicions on the Vietnamese side and by cumbersome bureaucracies in both governments, and State Department and Pentagon lawyers remain wary to this day of any humanitarian effort that implies an admission of liability. But as Rieser often says, when you run into an obstacle, you redefine it as a problem to be solved, and that process starts with all parties identifying their common interest in finding a solution. There are always common interests; you just have to look for them.


.
On January 27, Vietnam will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, which led, two months later, to the withdrawal of the last American combat troops. Yet the fighting was not over. The Saigon army fought on, entirely dependent on new infusions of military aid from the United States, and this in turn depended on the approval of the Senate.

Of all the “Watergate babies” elected in the 1974 midterms, Leahy, a 34-year-old state’s attorney for Chittenden County, Vermont, was one of the unlikeliest. Vermont, odd as it may seem given the state’s leftish politics today, had never elected a Democrat to the Senate, and its political establishment and leading newspapers were unswerving supporters of the war. Yet Leahy eked out an improbable victory. (Trailing in third place was an equally young civil rights activist, Bernie Sanders, running under the banner of the Liberty Union Party.)

Leahy had always opposed the war. In May 1970, he . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

19 December 2022 at 2:51 pm

Big vehicles driven by unskilled drivers = Big danger

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Four-panel cartoon. Panel 1 shows how 10 children fit into the front-end blind zone of an F-150 pickup. Deadly frontover accidents have more than soubled since 2008. Second panel shows exaggeratedly tall F-150 with children on equally tall stilts. "Obviously, we need taller children." Third panel shows a cop on stilts giving a ticket to a woman and saying "Ma'am, I'm going to have to cite you for shortwalking," with the caption that adult pedestrians should also meet height requirement. Panel 4: "as the trucks grow ever higher, we must rise to met them" shows two men on extremely tall stilts, with one saying "Uh.. maybe we should try regulating vehicle sizes?" and the other responding, "Are you kidding? That would be ridiculous!"
Cartoon by @jensorensen@mastodon.social

Written by Leisureguy

15 December 2022 at 1:46 pm

How the Corporate Takeover of American Politics Began

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Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2022 at 1:20 pm

Republicans are willing to terminate the Constitution

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I believe that it would be a serious error to ignore the silence of Republican politicians when asked about Donald Trump’s statement that we should “terminate” the Constitution (the same Constitution that, as President, he swore to uphold and defend against all enemies).

Their silence shows a willingness to go along — to go along with ending the Constitution. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

On Friday, November 25, 2022, just over a week ago, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced, “On the very first day of the new Republican-led Congress, we will “read every single word of the Constitution aloud from the floor of the House—something that hasn’t been done in years.”

Yesterday, on Saturday, December 3, 2022, former president Donald Trump, the presumptive leader of the Republican Party, mischaracterized a Twitter thread to claim that Joe Biden’s presidential campaign had successfully pressured Twitter to suppress the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop—the thread actually said something else entirely—and called for overthrowing the Constitution. Trump wrote:

“So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential election results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

In case anyone didn’t get the point, Trump followed that post up with another: “UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD REQUIRES UNPRECEDENTED CURE!”

On Sunday, December 4, all but one Republican lawmaker who expects to stay in office for the next two years stayed resolutely silent about Trump’s open attack on the U.S. Constitution, this nation’s founding document, the basis for our government.

That one lawmaker was Representative Michael Turner (R-OH), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, who this morning on CBS’s “Face the Nation” condemned Trump’s attack on the Constitution. But Turner would not say he would not support Trump if he were the party’s nominee in 2024.

Even at that, Turner’s was a lone voice. When George Stephanopoulos, host of “This Week” on ABC News, asked Representative David Joyce (R-OH) if he would support Trump in 2024 after the former president had called for “suspending the Constitution” (to be clear, Trump had called for “terminating” it), Joyce tried to avoid the question but finally said, “I’ll support whoever the Republican nominee is.” Joyce is the chair of the Republican Governance Group, whose members claim they are the party’s centrists.

Not all  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

4 December 2022 at 10:33 pm

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