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Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

Why Facebook Won’t Stop Pushing Propaganda: It’s their business model.

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“I ran because our kids needed to see you don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be a man to run for office in our town.” 
Lynsey Weatherspoon

Monica Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery write in the Atlantic:

Joyce Jones’ Facebook page is almost an archetype of what the social network is supposed to look like: Pictures of her kids, her kids’ friends, her sports teams, her kids’ friends’ sports teams. Videos of her husband’s sermons at New Mount Moriah Baptist Church. Memes celebrating achievement and solidarity, holiday greetings, public health messages. It’s what Mark Zuckerberg extols when he talks about how his company is all about “bringing people together.”

So when Jones decided to run for mayor in her Alabama town last year, it seemed obvious that she’d try to bring people together on Facebook. Her bid to be Montevallo’s first Black mayor, challenging a 12-year City Council incumbent, drew an enthusiastic, diverse crew of volunteers. They put up a campaign page, One Montevallo, and started posting cheery endorsements alongside recycling updates and plugs for drive-in movies.

It was a historic moment for Montevallo, whose population (7,000) is two-thirds white and which sits in Shelby County, the infamous plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. It was also a turning point for Jones, who grew up in the shotgun house her father had built on a dirt road far from the neighborhood where her grandmother cleaned houses. “My cousins and I would come with her,” the 45-year-old recalls. “We would do yardwork in the houses that she worked in. We never ever thought that living here was an option.”

“Now I’ve been living here for 17 years. We have a wonderful home. We have raised four wonderful children. And part of what I was being challenged with was: It’s not okay for me to make it out. I have to do something to make sure that other people have every opportunity. I ran because our kids needed to see you don’t have to be white and you don’t have to be a man to run for office in our town.”

But getting her campaign message out was tough. “We’re in a pandemic, so we couldn’t go to churches and meet people,” Jones told me. Montevallo does not have a news outlet of its own, and the Shelby County Reporter, based in nearby Columbiana, has a single staff reporter for the 14 communities it covers. “For us, the fastest way to get news is through social media,” she says.

Jones is not quite sure how the rumors started, but she remembers how fast they spread. Facebook accounts popped up and shared posts to Montevallo community groups, implying she wanted to defund police (she does not). Someone made up a report of a burglary at her home, referencing her landlord’s name—to highlight that she was renting, she believes. Another account dredged up a bounced check she’d written for groceries as her family struggled during the 2008 recession.

“The algorithm, how fast the messages were shared and how quickly people saw them, that was just eye-opening to me,” Jones says. Her campaign would put up posts debunking the rumors, but the corrections were seen far fewer times than the attack posts. “It was so much more vitriolic, and it would get so many hits. It was just lightning fast.”

Soon, Jones noticed a chill around her. “I’d be going to the grocery store and people who would normally speak to you and be nice to you would avoid you. I’d go to a football game and people would avoid me. I was baffled by all that. It’s one thing to not know me, but it’s another to know me my whole life and treat me like the plague.”

One night her then 16-year-old son, who had been hanging out at the park with a group of families he’d grown up with, called to ask her to pick him up. The adults had been talking about her, not realizing he was within earshot. When Jones came to get him, he told her, “For the first time, I felt like the Black kid.”

“What happens on Facebook doesn’t just stay on Facebook,” Jones says. “It comes off social media. You have to live with that.”

There’s a direct connection between Jones’ ordeal, last November’s election, the January 6 insurrection, and the attacks on American democracy that have played out every day since then. That connection is Facebook, specifically, it’s the toxic feedback loop by which the platform amplifies falsehoods and misinformation. That loop won’t end with the belated bans on Donald Trump and others, because the fundamental problem is not that there are people who post violentracist, antidemocratic, and conspiratorial material. It’s that Facebook and other social platforms actively push that content into the feeds of tens of millions of people, making lies viral while truth languishes.

The technical term for this is algorithmic amplification, and it means just that: What you see on Facebook has been amplified, and pushed into your feed, by the company’s proprietary algorithm. When you (or Mother Jones, or Trump) create a post, it’s visible to no one except those who deliberately seek out your page. But within instants, the algorithm analyzes your post, factoring in who you and your connections are, what you’ve looked at or shared before, and myriad other data points. Then it decides whether to show that post in someone else’s News Feed, the primary page you see when you log on. Think of it as a speed-reading robot that curates everything you see.

The way social media companies tell it, their robots are benevolent, serving only your best interests. You’ve clicked on your cousin’s recipes but not your friend’s fitness bragging? Here is more pasta and less Chloe Ting. You’ve shown an interest in Trump and also fanciful pottery? Here are some MAGA garden gnomes. The founding narrative of social media companies is that they merely provide a space for you, dear user, to do and see what you want.

In reality, as the people who work at these companies know quite well, technology reflects the biases of those who make it. And when those who make it are corporations, it reflects corporate imperatives. In Facebook’s case, those imperatives—chief among them, to grow faster than anyone else—have played out with especially high stakes, making the company one of the world’s most significant threats to democracy, human rights, and decency.

Facebook has been proved to be a vehicle for election disinformation in many countries (see: Brexit, Trump, Duterte). It has been an organizing space and megaphone for violent extremism and genocidal hate (see: KenoshaMyanmarSri Lanka, and Afghanistan). Its power is so far-reaching, it shapes elections in small-town Alabama and helps launch mobs into the Capitol. It reaches you whether or not you are on social media, because, as Jones says, what happens on Facebook doesn’t stay on Facebook.

That’s why one of the most significant battles of the coming years is over whether and how government should regulate social media. So far, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 2:41 pm

History of the Civil Rights Struggle

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Fifty-six years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The need for the law was explained in its full title: “An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, and for other purposes.”

In the wake of the Civil War, Americans tried to create a new nation in which the law treated Black men and white men as equals. In 1865, they ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing enslavement except as punishment for crimes. In 1868, they adjusted the Constitution again, guaranteeing that anyone born or naturalized in the United States—except certain Indigenous Americans—was a citizen, opening up the suffrage to Black men. In 1870, after Georgia legislators expelled their newly seated Black colleagues, Americans defended the right of Black men to vote by adding that right to the Constitution.

All three of those amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—gave Congress the power to enforce them. In 1870, Congress established the Department of Justice to do just that. Reactionary white southerners had been using state laws, and the unwillingness of state judges and juries to protect Black Americans from white gangs and cheating employers, to keep Black people subservient. White men organized as the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize Black men and to keep them and their white allies from voting to change that system. In 1870, the federal government stepped in to protect Black rights and prosecute members of the Ku Klux Klan.

With federal power now behind the Constitutional protection of equality, threatening jail for those who violated the law, white opponents of Black voting changed their argument against it.

In 1871, they began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds; their objection to Black voting was that Black men, just out of enslavement, were poor and uneducated. They were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services like roads and schools, and which could only be paid for with tax levies.

The idea that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—meant that white northerners who had fought to replace the hierarchical society of the Old South with a society based on equality began to change their tune. They looked the other way as white men kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses, which cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had; literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed; poll taxes; and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. By 1880 the south was solidly Democratic, and it would remain so until 1964.

Southern states always held elections: it was just foreordained that the Democrats would win them.

Black Americans never accepted this state of affairs, but their opposition did not gain powerful national traction until after World War II.

During that war, Americans from all walks of life had turned out to defeat fascism, a government system based on the idea that some people are better than others. Americans defended democracy and, for all that Black Americans fought in segregated units, and that race riots broke out in cities across the country during the war years, and that the government interned Japanese Americans, lawmakers began to recognize that the nation could not effectively define itself as a democracy if Black and Brown people lived in substandard housing, received substandard educations, could not advance from menial jobs, and could not vote to change any of those circumstances.

Meanwhile, Black Americans and people of color who had fought for the nation overseas brought home their determination to be treated equally, especially as the financial collapse of European countries loosened their grip on their former African and Asian colonies, launching new nations.

Those interested in advancing Black rights turned, once again, to the federal government to overrule discriminatory state laws. Spurred by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, judges used the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to argue that the protections in the Bill of Rights applied to the states, that is, the states could not deprive any American of equality. In 1954, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former Republican governor of California, used this doctrine when it handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.

White reactionaries responded with violence, but Black Americans continued to stand up for their rights. In 1957 and 1960, under pressure from Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress passed civil rights acts designed to empower the federal government to enforce the laws protecting Black voting.

In 1961 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) began intensive efforts to register voters and to organize communities to support political change. Because only 6.7% of Black Mississippians were registered, MIssissippi became a focal point, and in the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, organized under Bob Moses (who passed on July 25 of this year), volunteers set out to register voters. On June 21, Ku Klux Klan members, at least one of whom was a law enforcement officer, murdered organizers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and, when discovered, laughed at the idea they would be punished for the murders.

That year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which strengthened voting rights. On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, marchers led by John Lewis (who would go on to serve 17 terms in Congress) headed for Montgomery to demonstrate their desire to vote. Law enforcement officers stopped them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and beat them bloody.

On March 15, President Johnson called for Congress to pass legislation defending Americans’ right to vote. It did. And on this day in 1965, the Voting Rights Act became law. It became such a fundamental part of our legal system that Congress repeatedly reauthorized it, by large margins, as recently as 2006.

But in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the provision of the law requiring that states with histories of voter discrimination get approval from the Department of Justice before they changed their voting laws. Immediately, the legislatures of those states, now dominated by Republicans, began to pass measures to suppress the vote. Now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated states have increased the rate of voter suppression, and on July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court permitted such suppression with the Brnovich v. DNC decision.

If the Republicans are allowed to choose who will vote in the states, they will dominate the country in the same way that the Democrats turned the South into a one-party state after the Civil War. Alarmed at what will amount to the loss of our democracy, Democrats are calling for the federal government to protect voting rights.

And yet, 2020 made it crystal clear that if Republicans cannot stop Democrats from voting, they will not be able to win elections. And so, Republicans are insisting that states alone can determine who can vote and that any federal legislation is tyrannical overreach. A recent Pew poll shows that more than two thirds of Republican voters don’t think voting is a right and believe it can be limited.

And so, here we stand, in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2021 at 8:38 pm

Kremlin papers appear to show Putin’s plot to put Trump in White House

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Luke Harding, Julian Borger, and Dan Sabbagh report in the Guardian:

Vladimir Putin personally authorised a secret spy agency operation to support a “mentally unstable” Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election during a closed session of Russia’s national security council, according to what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents.

The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present.

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.

Western intelligence agencies are understood to have been aware of the documents for some months and to have carefully examined them. The papers, seen by the Guardian, seem to represent a serious and highly unusual leak from within the Kremlin.

The Guardian has shown the documents to independent experts who say they appear to be genuine. Incidental details come across as accurate. The overall tone and thrust is said to be consistent with Kremlin security thinking.

The Kremlin responded dismissively. Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the idea that Russian leaders had met and agreed to support Trump in at the meeting in early 2016 was “a great pulp fiction” when contacted by the Guardian on Thursday morning.

The report – “No 32-04 \ vd” – is classified as secret. It says Trump is the “most promising candidate” from the Kremlin’s point of view. The word in Russian is perspektivny.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

“It is acutely necessary to use all possible force to facilitate his [Trump’s] election to the post of US president,” the paper says.

This would help bring about Russia’s favoured “theoretical political scenario”. A Trump win “will definitely lead to the destabilisation of the US’s sociopolitical system” and see hidden discontent burst into the open, it predicts.

The Kremlin summit

There is no doubt that the meeting in January 2016 took place – and that it was convened inside the Kremlin.

An official photo of the occasion shows Putin at the head of the table, seated beneath a Russian Federation flag and a two-headed golden eagle. Russia’s then prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, attended, together with the veteran foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Also present were Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister in charge of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency; Mikhail Fradkov, the then chief of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service; and Alexander Bortnikov, the boss of the FSB spy agency.Nikolai Patrushev, the FSB’s former director, attended too as security council secretary.

According to a press release, the discussion covered the economy and Moldova.

The document seen by the Guardian suggests the security council’s real, covert purpose was to discuss the confidential proposals drawn up by the president’s analytical service in response to US sanctions against Moscow. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

I would say that Putin got an enormous bang for his buck.

Umair Haque has an interesting column on the Guardian report. He comments:

Written by Leisureguy

5 August 2021 at 8:32 am

Trump found a good scam and gullible contributors

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: former president Trump has raised $102 million since he left office, but aside from a recent donation of $100,000 to his chosen candidate in a Texas race which is not yet in the public disclosures (she lost), has spent none of it on anything or anyone but himself. Since January, he has convinced donors to fund his challenge to Biden’s election and to fund Trump-like candidates in the midterm elections. But election filings and a release of donors to the Arizona “audit” show he has not put any money toward either. So far, about $8 million has gone to the former president’s legal fees, while funds have also gone to aides.

The second piece of news that is surprising and yet not surprising is an ABC story revealing that on December 28, 2020, the then-acting pro-Trump head of the civil division of the Department of Justice, Jeffrey Clark, tried to get then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue to sign a letter saying: “The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States. The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.”

It went on to say, “While the Department of Justice believe[s] the Governor of Georgia should immediately call a special session to consider this important and urgent matter, if he declines to do so, we share with you our view that the Georgia General Assembly has implied authority under the Constitution of the United States to call itself into special session for [t]he limited purpose of considering issues pertaining to the appointment of Presidential Electors.”

The letter then made the point clearer, saying the Georgia legislature could ignore the popular vote and appoint its own presidential electors.

This is classic Trump: try to salt the media with the idea of an “investigation,” and then wait for the following frenzy to convince voters that the election was fraudulent. Such a scheme was at the heart of Trump’s demand that Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, and the discrediting of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over an investigation into her use of a private email server.

In this case, Donoghue and Rosen wanted no part of this antidemocratic scheme. Donoghue told Clark that there was no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election and wrote: “There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this.” Rosen agreed, saying “I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”

The less obvious story today is the more interesting one.

Trump and his loyalists feed off Americans who . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 August 2021 at 7:20 pm

She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she’s telling her story.

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Karen Hao reports in Technology Review:

The world first learned of Sophie Zhang in September 2020, when BuzzFeed News obtained and published highlights from an abridged version of her nearly 8,000-word exit memo from Facebook.

Before she was fired, Zhang was officially employed as a low-level data scientist at the company. But she had become consumed by a task she deemed more important: finding and taking down fake accounts and likes that were being used to sway elections globally.

Her memo revealed that she’d identified dozens of countries, including India, Mexico, Afghanistan, and South Korea, where this type of abuse was enabling politicians to mislead the public and gain power. It also revealed how little the company had done to mitigate the problem, despite Zhang’s repeated efforts to bring it to the attention of leadership.

“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” she wrote.

On the eve of her departure, Zhang was still debating whether to write the memo at all. It was perhaps her last chance to create enough internal pressure on leadership to start taking the problems seriously. In anticipation of writing it, she had turned down a nearly $64,000 severance package that would have involved signing a nondisparagement agreement. She wanted to retain the freedom to speak critically about the company.

But it was just two months before the 2020 US election, and she was disturbed by the idea that the memo could erode the public’s trust in the electoral process if prematurely released to the press. “I was terrified of somehow becoming the James Comey of 2020,” she says, referring to the former FBI director who, days before the 2016 election, told Congress the agency had reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Clinton went on to blame Comey for her loss.

To Zhang’s great relief, that didn’t happen. And after the election passed, she proceeded with her original plan. In April, she came forward in two Guardian articles with her face, her name, and even more detailed documentation of the political manipulation she’d uncovered and Facebook’s negligence in dealing with it.

Her account supplied concrete evidence to support what critics had long been saying on the outside: that Facebook makes election interference easy, and that unless such activity hurts the company’s business interests, it can’t be bothered to fix the problem.

In a statement, Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson, vehemently denied these claims. “For the countless press interviews she’s done since leaving Facebook, we have fundamentally disagreed with Ms. Zhang’s characterization of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform,” he said. “We aggressively go after abuse around the world and have specialized teams focused on this work. As a result, we’ve already taken down more than 150 networks of coordinated inauthentic behavior … Combatting coordinated inauthentic behavior is our priority.”

By going public and eschewing anonymity, Zhang risked legal action from the company, harm to her future career prospects, and perhaps even reprisals from the politicians she exposed in the process. “What she did is very brave,” says Julia Carrie Wong, the Guardian reporter who published her revelations.

After nearly a year of avoiding personal questions, Zhang is now ready to tell her story. She wants the world to understand how she became so involved in trying to protect democracy worldwide and why she cared so deeply. She’s also tired of being in the closet as a transgender woman, a core aspect of her identity that informed her actions at Facebook and after she left.

Her story reveals that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2021 at 2:43 pm

Some members of Congress are going to pay the piper — or at least their lawyers

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.

Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.

Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.

Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”

“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.

To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.

If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”

Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2021 at 9:52 pm

Our democracy is under attack. Washington journalists must stop covering it like politics as usual.

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Margaret Sullivan, one-time Public “Editor for the NY Times and now a columnist for the Washington Post, has a good piece today:

Back in the dark ages of 2012, two think-tank scholars, Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, wrote a book titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” about the rise of Republican Party extremism and its dire effect on American democracy.

In a related op-ed piece, these writers made a damning statement about Washington press coverage, which treats the two parties as roughly equal and everything they do as deserving of similar coverage.

Ornstein and Mann didn’t use the now-in-vogue terms “both-sidesism” or “false equivalence,” but they laid out the problem with devastating clarity (the italics are mine):

“We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change any time soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.”

Positive proof was in the recent coverage of congressional efforts to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The Democratic leadership has been trying to assemble a bipartisan panel that would study that mob attack on our democracy and make sure it is never repeated. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have been trying to undermine the investigation, cynically requesting that two congressmen who backed efforts to invalidate the election be allowed to join the commission, then boycotting it entirely. And the media has played straight into Republicans’ hands, seemingly incapable of framing this as anything but base political drama.

“ ‘What You’re Doing Is Unprecedented’: McCarthy-Pelosi Feud Boils Over,” read a CNN headline this week. “After a whiplash week of power plays . . . tensions are at an all-time high.”

Is it really a “feud” when Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy performatively blames Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for refusing to seat Republicans Jim Jordan and Jim Banks — two sycophantic allies of Trump, who called the Jan. 6 mob to gather?

One writer at Politico called Pelosi’s decision a “gift to McCarthy.” And its Playbook tut-tutted the decision as handing Republicans “a legitimate grievance,” thus dooming the holy notion of bipartisanship.

“Both parties have attacked the other as insincere and uninterested in conducting a fair-minded examination,” a Washington Post news story observed. (“Can it really be lost on the Post that the Republican party has acted in bad faith at every turn to undermine every attempt to investigate the events of Jan. 6?” a reader complained to me.)

The bankruptcy of this sort of coverage was exposed on Tuesday morning, when the Jan. 6 commission kicked off with somber, powerful, pointedly nonpolitical testimony from four police officers who were attacked during the insurrection. Two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, even defied McCarthy’s boycott to ensure their party would be sanely represented.

Law officers became truth seekers about who was responsible for the Capitol attacks

This strain of news coverage, observed Jon Allsop in Columbia Journalism Review, centers on twinned, dubious implications: “That bipartisanship is desirable and that Democrats bear responsibility for upholding it — even in the face of explicit Republican obstructionism.”

This stance comes across as both cynical (“politics was ever thus”) and unsophisticated (“we’re just doing our job of reporting what was said”). Quite a feat.

Mainstream journalists want their work to be perceived as fair-minded and nonpartisan. They want to defend themselves against charges of bias. So they equalize the unequal. This practice seems so ingrained as to be unresolvable.

There is a way out. But it requires the leadership of news organizations to radically reframe the mission of its Washington coverage. As a possible starting point, I’ll offer these recommendations:

  • Toss out the insidious “inside-politics” frame and replace it with a “pro-democracy” frame.
  • Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff “political reporters.” Start calling them “government reporters.”

  • Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it

  • Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.

In a year-end piece for Nieman Lab, Andrew Donohue, managing editor of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal, called for news organizations to put reporters on a new-style “democracy beat” to focus on voting suppression and redistricting. “These reporters won’t see their work in terms of politics or parties, but instead through the lens of honesty, fairness, and transparency,” he wrote.

I’d make it more sweeping. The democracy beat shouldn’t be some kind of specialized innovation, but a widespread rethinking across the mainstream media.

Making this happen will call for something that Big Journalism is notoriously bad at: An open-minded, nondefensive recognition of what’s gone wrong.

Top editors, Sunday talk-show moderators and other news executives should pull together their brain trusts to grapple with this. And they should be transparent with the public about what they’re doing and why.

As a model, they might have to swallow their big-media pride and look to places like Harrisburg, Pa., public radio station WITF which has admirably explained to its audience why it continually offers reminders about the actions of those public officials who tried to overturn the 2020 election results. Or to Cleveland Plain Dealer editor Chris Quinn’s letter to readers about how the paper and its website, Cleveland.com, refuse to cover every reckless, attention-getting lie of Republican Josh Mandel as he runs for the U.S. Senate next year. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2021 at 1:34 pm

Tennessee is worse even than I thought

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

This begs the question: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem, the report says, is . . .

Continue reading. The US is in crisis. The infection is the GOP.

Looking back at January 6, 2021: The day of the insurrection

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Trump lost the 2020 election.

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

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

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

“So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”

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

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

In the House, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2021 at 8:58 pm

Putting the puzzle pieces of the January 6 insurrection together

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CNN’s Reliable Sources had a good column this morning:

“Thank God for a free press — which is doing the investigating and reporting that Congress should have done way before now,” Asha Rangappa wrote Wednesday.

She was talking about this brand new New York Times video investigation titled “Day of Rage,” based on thousands of videos from the January 6 riot, plus radio dispatches, interviews with witnesses, and other material. The extraordinary Times production was widely praised by reporters on Wednesday.

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica‘s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

Now the House is creating a select committee to investigate the deadly attack. The front page of Thursday’s Washington Post sums it up this way: “House, in partisan split, votes to create panel to probe Jan. 6.” Karoun Demirjian‘s lead focuses on the “political challenges that face Democrats” as they investigate the attack, acknowledging that the lopsided vote showed how “Republicans have rallied against scrutinizing an attack they once strongly condemned.”

“Just two Republicans joined with Democrats to support its formation — Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois,” CNN’s story notes.

Multiple things are happening at the same time. Pro-Trump media outlets are becoming increasingly brazen about excusing the insurrectionists. Legit reporters are bringing new info about the attack to light. And government agents are locking more alleged rioters. “Prosecutors have also been targeting those who allegedly attacked members of the media or damaged their equipment,” WaPo’s Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner noted Wednesday…

Meet the “Sedition Hunters”

HuffPost senior justice reporter Ryan Reilly has spent much of the past six months covering the crowdsourced FBI manhunt for the rioters. On Wednesday he came out with a new story about the “anonymous online sleuths who tracked down the digital breadcrumbs that Capitol suspects had often unknowingly sprinkled across the internet.”

These sleuths call themselves “Sedition Hunters” – and they’ve been “generating leads, making connections, and keeping the feds on their toes.” Now Reilly is expanding his reporting to book form: Ben Adams at Public Affairs has acquired his work, tentatively titled “Sedition Hunters,” about both the online investigators and “the probe’s implications on civil liberties and 21st century policing.”

This is the first book deal I’ve seen that is specifically pegged to January 6 and the aftermath. Many of the upcoming books about Trump’s final year in office will contain new reporting about the riot, though…

PolitiFact’s angle

Why are reporters for a fact-checking website reviewing court filings about January 6? Because they want to document what role misinformation played in the attack. Bill McCarthy published “initial findings” on Wednesday and promised more to come.

Documents pertaining to about half of the 430 defendants arrested through June 1 “shed light on how misinformed beliefs influenced the defendants’ lives ahead of the riot,” McCarthy wrote, from a music teacher in DC “who amplified false conspiracy theories on his podcast and YouTube channel” to a “woman from Pennsylvania who suggested on Facebook that people who ‘start researching’ will find that Democrats ‘have been trafficking children for years'” to a “man from Ventura, Calif., who said in videos posted on YouTube and other platforms long before Jan. 6 that the Smithsonian Institution is hiding evidence of giants, and that we may be living in a simulation.” Read the full report here. It really was a riot of lies…

Fresh fears about August, all because of a loony theory

Speaking of misinfo, here’s . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 8:27 pm

Kagan rips conservative SCOTUS majority for protecting voter suppression laws

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Alexander Bolton reports in The Hill:

Justice Elena Kagan ripped her conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court on Thursday in a blistering 41-page dissent, accusing them of ignoring the legislative intent of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as well as the high court’s own precedents.

Kagan’s fiery dissenting opinion in a voting rights case, which was joined by the two other liberal members of the court, Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, accused her conservative colleagues of undermining Section 2 of the landmark Voting Rights Act and tragically weakening what she called “a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness.”

“Never has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals. And few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade, this court has treated no statute worse,” she wrote, in what is likely to become a rallying cry for Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists pushing for election reform laws, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, in Congress.

She warned that “efforts to suppress the minority vote continue” yet “no one would know this from reading the majority opinion.”

Kagan said the court in its 6-3 decision penned by stalwart conservative Justice Samuel Alito gave “a cramped reading” to the “broad language” of the voting law and used that reading to uphold two Arizona voting restrictions “that discriminate against minority voters.”

One is a 2016 Arizona law that prohibits the transporting of another person’s absentee ballot to election officials unless done by a family member or caregiver, a practice which critics call “ballot harvesting” but proponents say is necessary to give voters with limited mobility or in remote areas access to the polls.

The second is a longtime Arizona election rule that requires provisional ballots cast in the wrong precincts to be discarded.

Kagan argued that “in recent months, state after state has taken up or enacted legislation erecting new barriers to voting” and those laws shorten the time polls are open, imposed new prerequisites to voting by mail, make it harder to register to vote and easier to purge voters from the polls.

The court’s majority opinion upheld both policies and overturned an en banc decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that held the restrictions disproportionately impacted minority voters and thus violated the Voting Rights Act.

Alito wrote that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 11:06 am

Old arguments from the Confederacy return

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Heather Cox Richardson points out how bad arguments never die:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s insurrection seems to be facing the same waning enthusiasm that Confederate leaders faced. Saturday night, at his first large rally since January 6, Trump spoke at Wellington, Ohio, about 35 miles west of Cleveland. While attendees responded to his complaints about the election, many left early. Today Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “there’s a growing recognition that this is a bit like [professional wrestling]. That it’s entertaining, but it’s not real. And I know people want to say, yeah, they believe in the ‘Big Lie’ in some cases, but I think people recognize that it’s a lot of show and bombast. But it’s going nowhere. The election is over. It was fair….let’s move on.”

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

Last week, news broke that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2021 at 11:11 am

They Seemed Like Democratic Activists. They Were Secretly Conservative Spies.

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Mark Mazzetti and  report in the NY Times:

The young couple posing in front of the faux Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas fit right in, two people in a sea of idealistic Democrats who had arrived in the city in February 2020 for a Democratic primary debate.

Large donations to the Democratic National Committee — $10,000 each — had bought Beau Maier and Sofia LaRocca tickets to the debate. During a cocktail reception beforehand, they worked the room of party officials, rainbow donkey pins affixed to their lapels.

In fact, much about them was a lie. Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca were part of an undercover operation by conservatives to infiltrate progressive groups, political campaigns and the offices of Democratic as well as moderate Republican elected officials during the 2020 election cycle, according to interviews and documents.

Using large campaign donations and cover stories, the operatives aimed to gather dirt that could sabotage the reputations of people and organizations considered threats to a hard-right agenda advanced by President Donald J. Trump.

At the center of the scheme was an unusual cast: a former British spy connected to the security contractor Erik Prince, a wealthy heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune and undercover operatives like Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca who used Wyoming as a base to insinuate themselves into the political fabric of this state and at least two others, Colorado and Arizona.

In more than two dozen interviews and a review of federal election records, The New York Times reconstructed many of the operatives’ interactions in Wyoming and other states — mapping out their associations and likely targets — and spoke to people with whom they discussed details of their spying operation. Publicly available documents in Wyoming also tied Mr. Maier and Ms. LaRocca to an address in Cody used by the former spy, Richard Seddon.

What the effort accomplished — and how much information Mr. Seddon’s operatives gathered — is unclear. Sometimes, their tactics were bumbling and amateurish. But the operation’s use of spycraft to manipulate the politics of several states over years greatly exceeds the tactics of more traditional political dirty tricks operations.

It is also a sign of how ultraconservative Republicans see a deep need to install allies in various positions at the state level to gain an advantage on the electoral map. Secretaries of state, for example, play a crucial role in certifying election results every two years, and some became targets of Mr. Trump and his allies in their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The campaign followed another effort engineered by Mr. Seddon. He aided a network of conservative activists trying to discredit perceived enemies of Mr. Trump inside the government, including a planned sting operation in 2018 against Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, H.R. McMaster, and helping set up secret surveillance of F.B.I. employees and other government officials.

Mr. Prince had set Mr. Seddon’s work in motion, recruiting him around the beginning of the Trump administration to hire former spies to train conservative activists in the basics of espionage, and send them on political sabotage missions.

By the end of 2018, Mr. Seddon secured funding from the Wyoming heiress, Susan Gore, according to people familiar with her role. He recruited several former operatives from the conservative group Project Veritas, where he had worked previously, to set up the political infiltration operation in the West.

Project Veritas has a history of using operatives with fake names to target liberal organizations and make secret recordings to embarrass them.

The endeavor in the West appears to have had two primary goals: penetrate local and eventually national Democratic political circles for long-term intelligence gathering, and collect dirt on moderate Republicans that could be used against them in the internecine party battles being waged by Mr. Trump and his allies.

Nate Martin, the head of Better Wyoming, a progressive group that was one of the operation’s targets, said he suspected that its aim was to “dig up this information and you sit on it until you really can destroy somebody.”

Toward the first goal, operatives concocted . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more. This seems close to be an active and funded effort to destroy the foundations of American government — the government that is supposed to be of, by, and for the people but is seen as some as a way to seize control regardless of the will of the public.

Written by Leisureguy

25 June 2021 at 12:59 pm

Will US democracy survive? It’s up to Joe Manchin.

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I am not hopeful. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Lawmakers today are jockeying before tomorrow’s test vote in the Senate on S1, the For the People Act. This is a sweeping bill that protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, limits the influence of money in politics, and establishes new ethics rules for presidents and other federal officeholders.

Passing election reform is a priority for Democrats, since Republican-dominated legislatures across the country have gerrymandered states to make it almost impossible for Democrats to win majorities and, since President Biden took office, have passed laws suppressing the vote and making it easier for Republican state officials to swing elections to their candidates no matter what voters want.

But it is not just Democrats who want our elections to be cleaner and fairer. S1 is so popular across the nation—among voters of both parties—that Republican operatives agreed in January that there was no point in trying to shift public opinion on it. Instead, they said, they would just kill it in Congress. This conversation, explored in The New Yorker by Jane Mayer, happened just after it became clear that Democrats had won a Senate majority and thus Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who had previously been Senate Majority Leader, would no longer be able to stop any legislation Republicans didn’t like.

Still, Republican senators can deploy the filibuster, which permits just 41 of the 50 Republican senators to stop the act from passing. It is possible for the Democrats to break a filibuster, but only if they are all willing. Until recently, it seemed they were not. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a conservative Democrat in a Republican-dominated state, opposed some of the provisions in S1 and was adamant that he would not vote for an election reform bill on partisan lines. He wanted bipartisan support.

Last week, Manchin indicated which of the measures in the For the People Act—and in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—he will support. In a mixture of the priorities of the leadership of each party, he called for expanding access to voting, an end to partisan gerrymandering, voter ID, automatic registration at motor vehicle offices, making Election Day a holiday, and making it easier for state officials to purge voters from the rolls.

Democrats across the ideological spectrum immediately lined up behind Manchin’s compromise. Republican leadership immediately opposed it, across the board. They know that fair voting practices will wreck them. Today, McConnell used martial language when he said he would give the measure “no quarter.”

Tomorrow, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will bring up for a vote not the measure itself, but whether to begin a debate on such a measure. “Tomorrow, the Senate will also take a crucial vote on whether to start debate on major voting rights legislation,” Schumer said today. “I want to say that again—tomorrow the Senate will take a vote on whether to start debate on legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights. It’s not a vote on any particular policy.”

Republicans can use the filibuster to stop a debate from going forward. Getting a debate underway will require 60 votes, and there is currently no reason to think any Republicans will agree. This will put them in the untenable spot of voting against talking about voting rights, even while Republicans at the state level are passing legislation restricting voting rights. So the vote to start a debate on the bill will fail but will highlight the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers.

Perhaps more to the point in terms of passing legislation, it will test whether the work the Democrats did over the weekend incorporating Manchin’s requests to the measure have brought him on board.

If so, and if he gets frustrated with Republican refusal to compromise at all while the Democrats immediately accepted his watering down of their bill, it is possible he and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has also signaled support for the filibuster in its current form, will be willing to consider altering it. The Senate could, for example, turn it back into its traditional form—a talking filibuster—or carve out voting rights bills as they have carved out financial bills and judicial nominations.

There are signs that the Democrats are preparing for an epic battle over this bill. Today White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

21 June 2021 at 7:46 pm

Florida Pol Threatens to Put ‘Hit Squad’ on Rival Congressional Candidate

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Guess that politician’s political party. (One guess only, please.)

Benjamin Hart reports in New York:

An obscure Florida Republican congressional candidate was heard on a recording claiming that he could send a “hit squad” after a leading GOP candidate in the race.

Politico reports that William Braddock, a 37-year-old lawyer, made the comments about Anna Paulina Luna, who is running for a vacant seat in Florida’s 13th District. Braddock was speaking with Erin Olszewski, a conservative activist who was so alarmed by the conversation that she turned it over to the police.

“I really don’t want to have to end anybody’s life for the good of the people of the United States of America,” Braddock said, according to Politico.
“That will break my heart. But if it needs to be done, it needs to be done. Luna is a f—ing speed bump in the road. She’s a dead squirrel you run over every day when you leave the neighborhood.”

Later, Braddock said that to make sure Luna didn’t win the race, he would “call up my Russian and Ukrainian hit squad, and within 24 hours, they’re sending me pictures of her disappearing,” adding that he wasn’t joking.

Asked by Politico whether it was him on the recording, Braddock dissembled, and claimed the tape may have been altered.

On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Luna had obtained a stalking injunction against Braddock, who she claims is working with two other political adversaries to kill her. One of them, Amanda Makki, ran against Luna in a primary for the same congressional seat last year.

“I received information yesterday (at midnight) regarding a plan (with a timeline) to murder me made by William Braddock in an effort to prevent me from winning the election for FL-13,” she wrote.

Luna claimed that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 4:05 pm

GOP Senator Says Democracy and Majority Rule Are Not What Our Country Stands For

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In New York Jonathan Chait writes about Rand Paul and his radical beliefs:

One of the edifying side effects of the Trump era has been that, by making democracy the explicit subject of political debate, it has revealed the stark fact many influential conservatives do not believe in it. Mike Lee blurted out last fall that he opposes “rank democracy.” His fellow Republican senator, Rand Paul, tells the New York Times today, “The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for. The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

Paul is a bit of a crank, but here he is gesturing at a recognizable set of ideas that have long been articulated by conservative intellectuals. Importantly, these ideas are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives. Indeed, they have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.

The belief system Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok.

National Review has consistently advocated this worldview since its founding years, when it used these ideas to oppose civil-rights laws, and has persisted in using these ideas to argue for restrictions on the franchise. “Was ‘democracy’ good when it empowered slave owners and Jim Crow racists?,” asked NR’s David Harsanyi. Majority rule “sounds like a wonderful thing … if you haven’t met the average American voter,” argued NR’s Kevin Williamson, rebutting the horrifying ideal of majority rule with the knock-down argument: “If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.”

It is important to understand that these conservatives have taken Trump’s election, and escalating threats to democracy, not as a challenge to their worldview but as confirmation of it. If Trump is threatening democracy, this merely proves that the people who elected him are ignorant and therefore unfit to rule. The attempted coup of January 6, another NR column sermonized, ought to “remind us of the wisdom that the Founders held dear centuries ago: We are a republic, not a direct democracy, and we’d best act like it.”

The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

The most insidious aspect of the Lee-Paul right-wing belief system is  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 6:17 pm

The GOP is disassembling American democracy

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Kevin Drum points out how the US is sliding into becoming a banana republic:

The most dangerous part of all the new Republican voting laws isn’t the hodgepodge of rules about closing times and ballot boxes and so forth. It’s the rules that allow Republican legislatures to replace election officials if they’re unhappy about how the count is going. But the AP reports that these rules might not even be necessary:

After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job of elections administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party.

….About a third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left in the last year and a half….The executive director of a clerks association in Wisconsin said more than two dozen clerks had retired since the presidential election and another 30 clerks or their deputies quit by the end of 2020.

….The exodus comes as Republicans in a number of states pursue legislation that imposes new fines or criminal penalties on local elections officials or makes it easier to remove them, as part of the GOP campaign to rewrite rules for voting and administering elections. A new law in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine on elections administrators for a technical infraction of election rules. A similar law in Florida could lead to $25,000 fines for elections supervisors if a ballot drop box is accessible outside early voting hours or is left unsupervised.

The new Republican rules are apparently just a backup. The real plan is simply to terrorize local election officials into quitting so they can be replaced with true believers who can make sure that next time Donald Trump has all the votes he needs to win. Welcome to the latest installment of Banana Republicanism, my friends.

Written by Leisureguy

14 June 2021 at 11:33 am

“I took a vote that cost me my seat. I know what Joe Manchin is facing.”

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Impressive column in the Washington Post by Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and a former U.S. Special Envoy for the African Great Lakes Region, now serving as the U.S. executive director of the Open Society Foundations. He writes:

“Just promise you will never forget that Judgment Day is more important than Election Day.” That was the advice — directive, really — my father offered when I asked about running for Congress. He was born and raised in Dunbar, W.Va., with the deep faith in the community, the Catholic Church and the New Deal that defined many Italian immigrant families recruited by the coal mines or Union Carbide. My dad died a few months after seeing me sworn in as a member of the 111th Congress in 2009, just three weeks after he retired as a pediatrician. He had cared for so many children of every race, faith and class that more than 1,000 people showed up for his funeral.

When I cast one of the deciding votes to pass the Affordable Care Act that year— a vote many warned might cost me my seat — I wore one of my father’s old wool suits. He had opposed Hillary Clinton’s 1993 health-care plan but watched regretfully as the insurance companies spread like a cancer across his profession, choking out the space between doctor and patient. I felt him nodding with approval from on high.

My dad liked Governor Joe Manchin and would have really loved Sen. Manchin for his decency and determination to fight for forgotten towns and workers. This year, the Democratic senator from West Virginia has shown marked political courage by embracing at least the aspirations of President Biden’s agenda to “build back better,” sending a signal to colleagues on both sides of the aisle that this is a time to unite around solutions rather than hide in the shadow of base politics.

[Yes, the Senate is rigged for small states. But not for Republicans]

As his colleagues fail to answer this call, Manchin is rapidly approaching a test of his convictions on what he must do to protect America’s historic experiment with democracy. West Virginia became a state when its citizens had the honor to break away from Virginia to defend our more perfect union. Now, their senior senator may need to break traditions to defend voting rights and the integrity of our elections. Manchin recently indicated his inability to support the For the People Act unless Republican senators show the courage to put democracy over party. He stated no substantive disagreements with the reforms, which would limit partisan gerrymandering, dark money, foreign election interference, and corporate corruption, while adopting existing voting rights and expanded election protections.

Defending voting rights and election integrity should not and cannot be a partisan issue. As the Pew Research Center found, large majorities of Americans support making it easier to vote and reducing the power of special interests through the kinds of policies enshrined in the For the People Act. It’s just the Republicans in Congress who refuse to support it.

One party is attacking democracy, and that same party is blocking attempts to protect it. Citing that as an excuse to disarm unilaterally is like telling a farmer whose cattle are being stolen that he needs the thief’s permission to put up cameras or hire guards. The bipartisanship Manchin celebrates from the 1980s, at its best, represented genuine compromise. Frankly, in this era, anything the diverse body of 50 Democratic senators can agree on probably would have been seen as “bipartisan” back then. My father’s family swung from JFK Republicans to Reagan Democrats, but they’d be at a loss to understand the Republican caucus of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

When I came to Congress, I represented a deep red district and dreamed of bipartisanship, and I was proud to retain support from independent and Republican voters and outperform the party brand by double digits. But the one place I found no bipartisanship was on the Hill. A few months after I was sworn in, I knew reelection the following year was a long shot. We Democrats failed to convince Americans that we were focused on the economy, and the quiet recovery was not being felt by fall of 2010.

Biden’s bold approach today reflects an understanding that, had we been able to move bolder and earlier — for instance, passing health-care reform in the summer of 2009 with a Medicare buy-in and cheaper prescription drugs — we would have won over more moderates than by taking the perceived “moderate” path that enabled corporate-captured senators to waste time and water down reforms.

A decade later, I carry three lessons from my 2009 health care vote.

First, no regrets. Why ask the voters for political power if not to use it when it matters most? I still get letters from people thanking me: Parents whose kids are growing up with the security Obamacare provides, or entrepreneurs able to start businesses because they no longer felt tied to their old job for the health insurance. I have also been reminded time and again that there is a job much better than being in Congress, and that’s being a former member of Congress. I have devoted the past decade to issues of justice at home and abroad dear to my heart, with a bigger staff and free from the constant fear that an innocuous remark will be taken out of context to become a viral attack ad.

Second, tough votes are better taken early in the election cycle than late. The months we took debating health care did not make the bill stronger or more popular. It just left more time for it to be demonized and less time for the positive effects to be felt. The reforms in these two new voting rights bills are widely popular — for instance, making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering eligible voters. They’ll be even more so when voters see how easy and safe it is for them to vote, how much harder it is for politicians to gerrymander districts, and why corporations will have a harder time corrupting our politics.

Manchin has taken a strong stance in favor of protecting voting rights and election integrity. He has said he supports another important voting rights bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the voting and election protections in the For the People Act are urgently vital complements to that legislation for addressing 21st century threats to our democracy. Many other reforms Manchin has touted are in the 800 pages of the For the People Act and must find their way into law.

Third, Americans . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 June 2021 at 7:27 am

Koch-and-switch

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Judd Legum writes in Popular Information:

About seven months ago, billionaire businessman Charles Koch’s smiling face was in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The 85-year-old Koch had spent decades funding a vast network of far-right causes, including the Tea Party, the movement which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

Koch said his prior work was a mistake. He vowed that, from now on, he would eschew partisanship and focus on “building bridges across ideological divides.”

Koch’s feature in the Wall Street Journal was part of a broader rebranding effort that coincided with the release of a new book:

Mr. Koch said he has since come to regret his partisanship, which he says badly deepened divisions. “Boy, did we screw up!” he writes in his new book. “What a mess!”

In a separate interview with the Washington Post that was released the same day, Koch congratulated Biden and said he wanted to “work together” with the new Democratic president on “as many issues as possible.”

We’ve got people so hyped on politics now that it seems like they think that’s all there is. You know, ‘If the other side wins, it’ll ruin the country and destroy us forever.’ Both sides are saying that, and feel that, and think this is the most important thing. Well, it is important, but it isn’t going to make any difference unless we all learn to work together and help each other and move toward a society of equal rights and mutual benefit.

Koch said he regretted hiring “ex-Republican operatives” and then “doing nothing” as they engaged in bare-knuckled political combat. Koch insisted that things would be different moving forward. “Let’s get together and make that happen so we can start helping each other, rather than hurting each other,” Koch said.

In the seven months since those interviews, however, Koch has deployed the full resources of his political network to try to stymie virtually every aspect of Biden’s agenda.

Most recently, one of Koch’s primary political organizations, Americans for Prosperity, has pressured Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to block various priorities of the Biden administration. CNBC reports that Americans for Prosperity has created ads, a video, and a website targeting Manchin. The website calls for Manchin to block a public option for Obamacare, a minimum wage increase, an infrastructure bill, and the For The People Act.

The effort appears to be working, as Manchin announced his opposition to the For The People Act in an op-ed on Sunday. But the campaign targeting Manchin is just one aspect of Koch’s multi-faceted attack on the Biden presidency.

Americans for Prosperity also . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. I find that Popular Information has a lot of good content, though I don’t that often quote it in the blog. But I do read it and find it worthwhile.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2021 at 2:03 pm

The Frightening New Republican Consensus

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David A. Graham writes in the Atlantic:

Former President Donald Trump has been speaking publicly about running to reclaim the White House in 2024, but he’s also reportedly expecting to make a comeback before then. “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August,” Maggie Haberman, the New York Times’ ace Trump reporter, tweeted Tuesday.

There’s no such thing as reinstating a president, but Trump is echoing claims made by Sidney Powell, the lawyer who briefly pursued his specious election-fraud claims in court after the November election. Trump “can simply be reinstated,” she said this weekend. “A new inauguration date is set, and Biden is told to move out of the White House, and President Trump should be moved back in.” Powell is the same person who argued in a court filing this spring that no reasonable person would believe her election-fraud arguments.

If reinstatement sounds kooky, that’s because it is. Most Republicans don’t believe that Trump is set to return to the Oval Office later this summer. But there is widespread agreement inside the GOP that Democratic fraud is stealing elections, and that Republicans must not let that happen. If there’s a civil war in the Republican Party, it’s not about whether the problem exists, but how to fix it—by trying to undo the 2020 result, or instead by preparing for 2024.

From the most devoted QAnon fringes of the GOP to the surviving redoubts of old-school country-club Republicanism, the party’s leaders have come to a shared conclusion that the party doesn’t lose close elections—Democrats steal them. Republicans grant that Democrats win in heavily blue areas. Hardly anyone doubts that Democrats are winning big in majority-minority U.S. House districts in the South or in urban centers (though Trump did question low vote tallies for Republican candidates in Philadelphia).

But in close elections—which in this divided era include practically every presidential race and many U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races—the GOP has come to largely reject the notions that it didn’t turn out its core supporters, failed to persuade swing voters, or alienated former supporters by nominating fringe candidates. Instead, Republicans insist, they are losing because of rampant and systemic fraud. If this were true (which it is not), then it would stand to reason that Republicans must be able to prevent such theft or, failing that, overturn the results. In the Senate last week, the GOP caucus even filibustered a bipartisan panel to investigate the violent attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

Conservatives have long complained about election shenanigans, especially in urban areas. Historically, there is evidence that major fraud once occurred, but changes to laws and processes make old-school corruption nearly impossible, and even advocacy groups have been able to find only a handful of cases of fraud, despite diligent searching—practically none of it having been enough to swing an election’s outcome. (One rare counterexample, in a U.S. House race in North Carolina, benefited the Republican candidate.)

The new claims are different in scale—encompassing jurisdictions across the country—and popular support. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than half of Republicans view Trump as the true president. But even GOP leaders who reject Trump’s allegations of fraud are happy to back stricter voting laws predicated on bogus fraud claims.

The responses of elected Republicans to this new consensus form a spectrum from the ridiculous to putatively respectable. On the far end of the range are chimerical answers such as those that Powell and Trump are apparently spreading, rooted in faith but with no factual basis.

More dangerous, and slightly more realistic—or at least achievable—are calls for a coup to topple the Biden presidency, which these opponents view as illegitimate. Over the weekend,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 June 2021 at 10:35 am

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