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Fighting a Fundamentalist University’s Anti-LGBTQ Policies

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Authoritarianism is ugly even in religious dress. Joy Ashford writes in Washington Monthly:

Elizabeth Hunter had fewer than 700 Twitter followers when her Christian college administrators discovered her tweets in 2018. Officials at Bob Jones University, a nondenominational Christian school in South Carolina, called her into the Student Life Office seemingly at random. When Hunter entered, she noticed a manila envelope that contained printouts of tweets they had flagged as “inappropriate.”

The Head of Student life at BJU started the meeting with questions about a tweet she’d posted on sexual assault. (She had expressed exasperation with a male classmate who claimed women were “just looking for attention” if they came forward years after an incident.) Then, they brought up two other tweets.

“Happy pride to all my friends in and out of the closet. You’re incredibly brave, and I love you,” read one. In another, she shared her excitement after meeting the author of the novel that was adapted into Love, Simon, and said that she, too, was writing a book with queer protagonists. The administrator, according to Hunter, stared at her coldly. “Are you a homosexual?” he asked.

Hunter was choked up and unable to respond. When she was hauled before administrators, Hunter was still struggling to figure out her own identity—and had only told “like three people” she wasn’t straight. She told the administrator she was probably asexual “like the Apostle Paul” because she wasn’t attracted to men. He wasn’t satisfied. “He repeatedly asked me if I was homosexual, like he wanted me to ‘confess to being gay,’ which I refused to do,” Hunter told me. “But I also refused to say that I was straight, because I couldn’t lie.”

Hunter left the meeting “traumatized.” As a punishment, the school removed the redhead with a broad smile from her leadership position as the director at the campus TV news station, fined her $75 for violating “the spirit” of the Student Handbook, and mandated that she attend three counseling sessions with the college’s Dean of Women. (The BJU Student Handbook is a rigid instruction manual for students. It says of music, for instance,  “all musical choices are to be intentionally conservative in style and are to avoid the markers of our current corrupt culture which often finds its musical expression in rock, pop, jazz, country, rap or hip-hop.”) Bob Jones University did not respond to a request for comment.

For the remainder of her time at the university, Hunter “tried to keep [her] head down,” she recalls; putting her Twitter on private. But before graduation she was summoned to another meeting with administrators, where they warned her “don’t think we’re not watching you” and “your sins will find you out.” Those Orwellian tactics succeeded at intimidating her; she felt like she couldn’t tell anyone else what had happened, not even her roommate. “I had no one to turn to,” Hunter said.

At most colleges, she would have been able to go to the school’s Title IX office and file a discrimination complaint. But even though most of Hunter’s tuition at Bob Jones was paid for by a federal grant, the school’s Title IX Office had a “religious exemption” from federal law requiring them to investigate claims of discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ people.

But Hunter’s not silent anymore. Three years after that meeting, she is now the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Department of Education challenging the constitutionality of Title IX, which grants an exemption to religious colleges and universities to discriminate against gay and transgender students, faculty, and staff.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2020 by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), argues that a “religious exemption” this broad for schools that use public funds is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs are advocating not for religious colleges to change their beliefs on LGBTQ identities, but to allow students to disagree with those beliefs without facing expulsion or discrimination. Hunter joined the suit, which was filed in Oregon with 32 other plaintiffs, after a friend and potential plaintiff asked her if she wanted to get involved. REAP wanted to make Hunter the lead because of BJU’s involvement in a similar 1974 anti-discrimination case. “If schools want to discriminate [against these students], they need to do it on their own dime, not with taxpayer money,” Paul Southwick, the director of REAP, told me.

As the face of the lawsuit, Hunter has taken something of a 180-turn since her nightmarish senior year. While Hunter once tried to keep her experience at Bob Jones under wraps, now she is hoping that, by going public, she can galvanize a movement to prevent others from having to endure what she did.

After Hunter’s episode with BJU’s administrators, she struggled with depression and anxiety and felt suicidal. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the first time. She remembers foster care as “literal hell on earth.” The state had removed her from her parent’s custody because of “severe neglect,” and she and her sisters were then placed with a foster family part of an evangelical Baptist group she described as a “cult.”

Hunter’s youngest sister Tammy recalled that their foster mother would punish them arbitrarily and “was probably screaming like every day.” Hunter, who was the oldest, would often take her sisters’ punishments. Their foster mother would hit Hunter’s back with a leather belt “because the Bible says to whip children that are evil,” Tammy recalls. “Elizabeth tried in her own way as a kid to protect us.”

Hunter credited her survival to her ability to “dissociate and imagine a better life”—a skill she said she learned from being an avid reader. Only one other friend she grew up with earned a college degree, she said, and did so at an unaccredited Bible college. When Hunter mused about  going to college, her friends and family often responded by asking, “How are you going to be a housewife and do that?”

Hunter’s foster parents wanted her to do online college and stay at home or attend an unaccredited Bible college, but she was determined to find a place that “felt like a real college.” So, she chose Bob Jones because it was closer to a conventional college experience but not a place that her parents would disown her for attending. While at BJU, however, she became increasingly disillusioned with evangelicalism. In high school and college, she had interned for Republican politicians, including her Texas Congressman Dan Flynn and presidential candidate Marco Rubio. (Bob Jones University itself has had a major role in South Carolina’s often pivotal Republican presidential primary.) She said Trump’s 2016 victory awakened her to fundamentalist hypocrisy. Around that time, she began listening to podcasts from more liberal-minded Unitarian and Quaker Christians. She credited one, in particular—Kevin Garcia’s “A Tiny Revolution”—for opening her to not only a more liberal Christianity, but queer Christianity as well.

After she graduated from BJU, Hunter was liberated. She moved to Florida, worked at Disney World, joined an LGBTQ Disney Workers chat, and “made a bunch of gay friends.” By December . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2021 at 3:09 pm

Rachel Maddow speaks on Frederick Douglass

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Rachel Maddow:

In 1845, Frederick Douglass, the great American abolitionist, published the first of what would become three autobiographical accounts of his life. The first one was called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave.

Frederick Douglass is, of course, one of the greatest Americans of all time. His autobiographies about life as a slave and his struggle to become free, in addition to everything else he did in his life, those written works are some of the most influential written American accounts of anything on any subject.

In Narrative of the Life, which is the most widely read of the three of his three autobiographical accounts but also in the subsequent autobiographies he wrote as well, including the next one, My Bondage and My Freedom, one of the most harrowing things that Frederick Douglass describes about his own life is a yearlong period when the man who owned him as a slave decided that young Frederick Douglass was incorrigible.

Douglass’ owner decided that Frederick Douglass needed in effect to be tamed, to be broken. And so he shipped Frederick Douglass off to a man that is literally known as a slave breaker. The slave breaker was named Edward Covey. C-O-V-E-Y.

This is part of how Frederick Douglass describes him in My Bondage and My Freedom. He says, quote, “I have now lived with him [meaning his slave owner] nearly nine months, and he had given me a number of severe whippings, without any visible improvement in my character or my conduct. Now he was resolved to put me out as he said, quote, to be broken.”

There was, in the Bay Side, a man named Edward Covey, who enjoyed the execrated reputation of being a first rate hand at breaking young Negroes. Breaking.

Frederick Douglass then goes on in chapter after chapter after chapter in this autobiography. Look at this. The experiences at Covey’s, unusual brutality at Covey, driven back to Covey’s. You know, Covey’s manner of proceeding to whip, right? Chapter after chapter after chapter, he describes this experience, the way that Edward Covey tortured him and beat him nearly to death and worked him nearly to death all the try to destroy Frederick Douglass’ spirit, to try to destroy his mind, to turn him into a docile slave who would work out question whereupon he would then be returned to his owner.

And because Douglass is so capable and so brilliant, his own recounting of what happened to him in that period of his life, what happened to him when his slave owner sent him to Edward Covey, what happened to him at Edward Covey’s hands, what happened to him when he stayed for a year at Edward Covey’s farm and Covey was tasked there with breaking him, because Frederick Douglass is such a luminous, important, brilliant, inspiring, incredible figure, unparalleled figure in American history, because of what we know he is capable of, because of what we know what his mind was capable of and what he did for his country in his life, when he recounts what happened to him at the hands of Edward Covey, it is the most dispiriting and desolate and just miserable thing that Douglass writes about.

He wrote:

I shall never be able to narrate the mental experience through which it was my lot to pass during my stay at Edward Covey’s. I was completely wrecked, changed and bewildered, goaded almost to madness at one time and at another reconciling myself to my wretched condition. I suffered bodily as well as mentally.

“The overwork and brutal chastisements of which I was the victim, combined with that ever gnawing and soul devouring thought, I am a slave, a slave for life, a slave with no rational ground to hope for freedom, it rendered me a living embodiment of mental and physical wretchedness.

That was Frederick Douglass’ account of his own life in that lowest period in his own life. And that written account did more than any other to galvanize the American abolitionist movement to bring an end to slavery. Of course, it was not fiction. It really happened and it happened as Frederick Douglass said it did and Edward Covey was a real person who operated a slave breaking operation at his farm to which Frederick Douglass was sent.

Now, if you go back to that initial description, Douglass describes Covey’s farm as being on the Bay Side. What he meant by that is that the farm was on the far side of Chesapeake Bay, the far side of Chesapeake Bay from the mainland of Maryland, which is where Douglass was being sent there from.

Edward Covey’s farm, his slave breaking operation which he tortured Frederick Douglass and countless others was this house and its surrounding farmland on the eastern shore of Maryland, in a town that’s now called St. Michael’s.

The farm and the house at the farm itself had a name, a fitting name. It was called Mount Misery.
About 15 years ago now, a literature professor wrote a very thoughtful piece in the Baltimore Sun newspaper suggesting a new future for Mount Misery, suggesting that the United States of America should consider buying Mount Misery to make it a commemorative site. He argued, would not the most fitting outcome for Mount Misery be as a monument or museum wherein a key moment from the country’s past can find a rightful place in the public memory. The old Edward Covey house deserves our understanding and preservation, the fight between slave and slave breaker that took place there is emblematic of two of the elemental themes of American history, the horrors of legally sanctioned racial violence and also the nobility of the struggle against it.

And then her;`s actually the kicker from that piece. The professor writes, “Preserving Mount Misery as a public site of contemplation where the meanings of democracy and despotism are given a human face also would help keep St. Michael’s from being merely a resort for the wealthy.”

A resort for the wealthy? Check this out. The occasion for that call that well-argued piece in the Baltimore Sun that Mount Misery should be purchased and preserved by this country as a monument to the epic violence committed there against slaves in great numbers but specifically against one of the greatest Americans of all time, the key role that the torture in that house played in turning on our American conscious to eventually overthrow slavery, the occasion for that call to preserve Mount Misery as a monument to the hell that happened there, the reason the Baltimore Sun published that just less than 15 years ago now was this revelation that was published in the New York Times exactly 15 years ago today.

On June 30th, 2006, it’s titled “Weekends with the President’s Men.” It is kind of a kicky sidebar piece in the New York Times that was published in the summer of 2006. And that piece revealed that that site on the eastern shore of Maryland, Mount Misery, that house, that farm had actually been recently purchased and was now being lived in as a private home.

Can you imagine, right? First of all, the house is still called Mount Misery today. That`s still the name by which it is known. Who would want to live in a place called Mount Misery?

But then you get to the reason that it`s called Mount Misery, right? It was the home, the same building standing there since 1804. Frederick Douglass was tortured there in 1833 and 1834. It`s the same actual physical place in which the great Frederick Douglass was tortured and beaten and worked nearly to death every day for a year.

Whether or not you think that place should be purchased by this country and made into a memorial for the worst most violent evils of slavery and their role on turning on American’s conscious to end slavery, again, that’s a substantive and interesting proposal. Whether or not you are into that idea, would you want to live there yourself? Would you like to wake up there in the morning and plan breakfast, have that be your home? Who would do that?

That article published in the New York Times“15 years ago today was actually controversial at the time that it was published because in writing that piece it did reveal the exact home address of a senior government official who in fact had made Mount Misery his private home. His name is Donald Rumsfeld, and he was at the time, the summer of 2006, struggling to the end of his disastrous tenure as Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration.

He lived at the time at Mount Misery. He bought the place in 2003 as he was leading the nation into the invasion of Iraq. That was where he went to get away from Washington while running two disastrous wars. He would like to have the Chinook helicopter drop him off at the slave breaker’s home where Douglass was tortured to death. He could relax there.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 10:31 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

How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered

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George Packer vocally and enthusiastically backed the idea of the US invading Iraq by the US during the George W. Bush administration, when Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense and Dick Cheney was Vice President. Cheney and Rumsfeld seemed to work closely together. Packer now writes in the Atlantic:

In 2006, soon after I returned from my fifth reporting trip to Iraq for The New Yorker, a pair of top aides in the George W. Bush White House invited me to lunch to discuss the war. This was a first; until then, no one close to the president would talk to me, probably because my writing had not been friendly and the administration listened only to what it wanted to hear. But by 2006, even the Bush White House was beginning to grasp that Iraq was closer to all-out civil war than to anything that could be called “freedom.”

The two aides wanted to know what had gone wrong. They were particularly interested in my view of the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his role in the debacle. As I gave an assessment, their faces actually seemed to sag toward their salads, and I wondered whether the White House was so isolated from Iraqi reality that top aides never heard such things directly. Lunch ended with no explanation for why they’d invited me. But a few months later, when the Bush administration announced Rumsfeld’s retirement, I suspected that the aides had been gathering a case against him. They had been trying to push him out before it was too late.

Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. He was worse than the closest contender, Robert McNamara, and that is not a competition to judge lightly. McNamara’s folly was that of a whole generation of Cold Warriors who believed that Indochina was a vital front in the struggle against communism. His growing realization that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable waste made him more insightful than some of his peers; his decision to keep this realization from the American public made him an unforgivable coward. But Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind.

Rumsfeld was working in his office on the morning that a hijacked jet flew into the Pentagon. During the first minutes of terror, he displayed bravery and leadership. But within a few hours, he was already entertaining catastrophic ideas, according to notes taken by an aide: “best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].” And later: “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” These fragments convey the whole of Rumsfeld: his decisiveness, his aggression, his faith in hard power, his contempt for procedure. In the end, it didn’t matter what the intelligence said. September 11 was a test of American will and a chance to show it.

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

He believed in regime change but not in nation building, and he thought that a few tens of thousands of troops would be enough to win in Iraq. He thought that the quick overthrow of Saddam’s regime meant mission accomplished. He responded to the looting of Baghdad by saying “Freedom’s untidy,” as if the chaos was just a giddy display of democracy—as if it would not devastate Iraq and become America’s problem, too. He believed that Iraq should be led by a corrupt London banker with a history of deceiving the U.S. government. He faxed pages from a biography of Che Guevara to a U.S. Army officer in the region to prove that the growing Iraqi resistance did not meet the definition of an insurgency. He dismissed the insurgents as “dead-enders” and humiliated a top general who dared to call them by their true name. He insisted on keeping the number of U.S. troops in Iraq so low that much of the country soon fell to the insurgency. He focused his best effort on winning bureaucratic wars in Washington.

By the time Rumsfeld was fired, in November 2006, the U.S., instead of securing peace in one country, was losing wars in two, largely because of actions and decisions taken by Rumsfeld himself. As soon as he was gone, the disaster in Iraq began to turn around, at least briefly, with a surge of 30,000 troops, a policy change that Rumsfeld had adamantly opposed. But it was too late. Perhaps it was too late by the early afternoon of September 11.

Rumsfeld had intelligence, wit, dash, and endless faith in himself. Unlike McNamara, he never expressed a quiver of regret. He must have died in the secure knowledge that he had been right all along.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 6:31 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

Donald Rumsfeld, despicable person, dies at age 88

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Update: See also “The Hell Donald Rumsfeld Built.”

Spencer Ackerman has a good obituary of Rumsfeld in the Daily Beast:

The only thing tragic about the death of Donald Rumsfeld is that it didn’t occur in an Iraqi prison. Yet that was foreordained, considering how throughout his life inside the precincts of American national security, Rumsfeld escaped the consequences of decisions he made that ensured a violent, frightening end for hundreds of thousands of people.

An actuarial table of the deaths for which Donald Rumsfeld is responsible is difficult to assemble. In part, that’s a consequence of his policy, as defense secretary from 2001 to 2006, not to compile or release body counts, a PR strategy learned after disclosing the tolls eroded support for the Vietnam War. As a final obliteration, we cannot know, let alone name, all the dead.

But in 2018, Brown University’s Costs of War Project put together something that serves as the basis for an estimate. According to Neda C. Crawford, Brown’s political-science department chair, the Afghanistan war to that point claimed about 147,000 lives, to include 38,480 civilians; 58,596 Afghan soldiers and police (about as many American troops as died in Vietnam); and 2,401 U.S. servicemembers.

Rumsfeld was hardly the only person in the Bush administration responsible for the Afghanistan war. But in December 2001, under attack in Kandahar, where it had retreated from the advance of U.S. and Northern Alliance forces, the Taliban sought to broker a surrender—one acceptable to the U.S.-installed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld refused. “I do not think there will be a negotiated end to the situation, that’s unacceptable to the United States,” he said. That statement reaped a 20-year war, making it fair to say that the subsequent deaths are on his head, even while acknowledging that Rumsfeld was hardly the only architect of the conflict.

Crawford in 2018 also tallied between 267,792 and 295,170 deaths to that point in Iraq. That is almost certainly a severe undercount, and it includes between a very conservatively estimated 182,000 to 204,000 civilians; over 41,000 Iraqi soldiers and police; and 4,550 U.S. servicemembers. As one of the driving forces behind the invasion and the driving force behind the occupation, Rumsfeld is in an elite category of responsibility for these deaths, alongside his protege Dick Cheney and the president they served, George W. Bush.

Rumsfeld’s depredations short of the wars of choice he oversaw—and yes, responding to 9/11 with war in Afghanistan was no less a choice than the unprovoked war of aggression in Iraq – were no less severe. His indifference to the suffering of others was hardly unique among American policymakers after 9/11, but his blitheness about it underscored the cruel essence of the enterprise. When passed a sheet of paper that, in bureaucratic language, pitched a torture technique of forcing men held captive at Guantanamo Bay for hours on end, Rumsfeld scribbled a shrug on it: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day.” Months earlier, when Rumsfeld was banking on using the U.S. military to invade Iraq, a reporter asked about using U.S. forces to provide security for rebuilding Afghanistan at a moment before Taliban resistance coalesced. “Ah, peacekeeping,” he sneered in return, explaining that such tasks were beneath U.S. forces.

But to those forces, for whom he was responsible, he was no less indifferent. In Kuwait in December 2004, National Guardsmen preparing for deployment confronted Rumsfeld in the hope of enlisting his help with a dire circumstance. They were scrounging through scrap heaps for metal to weld onto their insufficiently armored vehicles so the RPGs they were sure to encounter wouldn’t kill them. Rumsfeld let it be known that the war mattered, not the warfighter. “You go to war with the Army you’ve got, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time,” he replied.

If Rumsfeld was indignant at the question, it reflected the unreality he inhabited and the lies he told as easily as he breathed. He wrapped himself in a superficial understanding of epistemology (“there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns…”) that a compliant press treated as sagacity. He wore a mask of assuredness, a con man’s trick, as he said things that bore no resemblance to the truth, such as his September 2002 insistence that he possessed “bulletproof” evidence of a nonexistent alliance between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. As resistance in Iraq coalesced in summer 2003, Rumsfeld said it couldn’t be “anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance,” even as a reporter quoted U.S. military doctrine explaining why it was. He insisted, “I don’t do quagmires” when quagmires were all he did.

He had reason to suspect he would get away with it. Manipulating the media was, to Rumsfeld, a known known, since reporters loved Rumsfeld before they hated him. U.S. News & World Report put a grinning Rumsfeld on the cover above the headline “Rum Punch.” (“A Secretary of War Unlike Any Other… You Got A Problem With That?”) Vanity Fair dispatched Annie Liebovitz to photograph him amongst Bush’s war cabinet. People magazine called him the “sexiest cabinet member” in 2002. A typical thumbsucker piece, this one in the Los Angeles Times of August 17, 2003, began with the falsity that “Donald H. Rumsfeld has won two wars and won them his way…” The conservative press reflected the subtext. “The Stud” was what National Review called the septuagenarian Rumsfeld as it depicted him in a come-hither pose. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. He wasn’t any good at his job, and he never recognized that nor expressed any regret or remorse. He was a man who couldn’t be bothered.

Written by Leisureguy

1 July 2021 at 10:28 am

GOP: “Let’s hold off on addressing climate change until it is too late”

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Last week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis became the latest Republican governor to sign a bill making it harder for citizens to shift away from the fossil fuels that are changing the climate. The move came after Miami, which is in danger as sea levels rise, proposed cutting carbon emissions by banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings. The bill was written by lawyers for utility companies, based on a pattern written by the American Gas Association. Lobbyists for the Florida Petroleum Association, the Florida Natural Gas Association and the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Home Builders Association, and the National Utility Contractors Association of Florida supported the bill.

Nine other Republican states have already passed similar legislation.

Republican-led states are defending the use of fossil fuels in other ways. News that President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was urging major U.S. banks to invest responsibly with an eye to the climate crisis, led the state treasurers of West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota to write to him expressing their “deep concern” that he, along with other members of the Biden administration, was pressuring banks “to refuse to lend to or invest in coal, oil, and natural gas companies, as a part of a misguided strategy to eliminate the fossil fuel industry in our country.” They accused the Biden administration of “picking economic winners and losers” according to “Biden’s own radical political preferences,” and thus depriving “the people” of agency.

Coal, oil, and natural gas are crucial to their states’ economies, they said, providing “jobs, health insurance, critical tax revenue, and quality of life.” They warned that they would withhold public funds from any banks that refused to lend to fossil fuel industries.

And yet, historically, the government has picked fossil fuels as a winner that outranks any other energy source. While Republicans tend to claim any spending for alternative energies is wasteful, a recent report by the Stockholm Environment Institute, a nonprofit think tank, says that U.S. subsidies to new oil and gas projects inflate their value by up to $20 billion per year. This would seem to fly in the face of Republican complaints about “socialism” in which the government picks winners and losers.

A recent Morning Consult poll shows that 50% of voters say climate change is a critical threat to America. Another 26% think it is important, but not critical. Among Democrats, 75% think climate change is crucial, while another 17% say it is important. Among Republicans, 21% say that climate change is crucial, while another 37% say it is important, but not crucial.

With this support for addressing climate change, why do Republicans appear to be dead set against dealing with it in a meaningful way and instead are propping up the fossil fuels that feed that change?

At the nomination hearing for now–Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has promised to protect our lands, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told Haaland that his state collects more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands in the state, and warned that the Biden administration is “taking a sledgehammer to Western states’ economies.”

Oil produces the most revenue for Texas, which earned $16.3 billion from oil in 2019, an amount that made up 7% of the state’s revenue. Oil revenues accounted for 70% of state revenues ($1.1 billion) in Alaska in 2019, 52% of state revenues ($2.2 billion) in Wyoming in 2017, and 45% of the revenues ($1.6 billion) in North Dakota in 2017.

But production declines in the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic have hurt these fossil fuel states. Wyoming expects to have 29% less money than it expected in 2021–2022. Alaska expects an estimated 18% budget deficit in fiscal 2021. Without money coming in from fossil fuels, people will have to make up the difference by paying taxes, an unpopular outcome, especially in Republican-dominated states, or by losing even more services.

Reducing dependence on fossil fuels will also cost current jobs, and one of the hallmarks of an economy developed around an extractive industry is that it tends to have little flexibility. The rural American West was developed around extractive economies, with a few wealthy men employing lots of workers, and its limited economy means that workers cannot transition easily into other fields.

Fossil fuel advocates also contribute mightily to Republican campaigns, adding financial interest to party members’ general dislike of regulation. In Florida, utility companies employ an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators. “It’s no secret we play an active role in public policy,” a spokesman for a Florida utility told Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson in 2016.

This week, in the Pacific Northwest, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 June 2021 at 5:53 am

The land was worth millions. A Big Ag corporation sold it to Sonny Perdue’s company for $250,000

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“Corruption” with a capital “C.” Desmond Butler reports in the Washington Post:

It was a curious time for Sonny Perdue to close a real estate deal.

In February 2017, weeks after President Donald Trump selected him to be agriculture secretary, Perdue’s company bought a small grain plant in South Carolina from one of the biggest agricultural corporations in America.

Had anyone noticed, it would have prompted questions ahead of his confirmation, a period when most nominees lay low and avoid potential controversy. The former governor of Georgia did not disclose the deal — there was no legal requirement to do so.

An examination of public records by The Washington Post has found that the agricultural company, Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), sold the land at a small fraction of its estimated value just as it stood to benefit from a friendly secretary of agriculture.

Perdue did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the real estate deal. Jackie Anderson, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based ADM, denied that the company sold the property at a discount, saying that ADM began negotiations with Perdue’s former company, AGrowStar, in 2015 — well before Trump was elected — and could not find another buyer.

“This was nothing more than a business decision to sell a significantly underperforming asset,” she said.

Danny Brown, the former president of AGrowStar, confirmed negotiations began in late 2015. But Brown said ADM wanted $4 million for the plant — 16 times what Perdue’s company ultimately paid for it.

The timing of the sale just as Perdue was about to become the most powerful man in U.S. agriculture raises legal and ethics concerns, from the narrow question of whether the secretary followed federal financial disclosure requirements to whether the transaction could have been an attempt to influence an incoming government official, in violation of bribery statutes, ethics lawyers say.

“This stinks to high heaven,” said Julie O’Sullivan, a Georgetown University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “It deserves a prosecutor’s attention,” she added. “Only a prosecutor with the powers of the grand jury can find out, in fact, whether there was a quid pro quo that existed at the time of the deal.”

Public officials are barred from accepting anything of value if the benefit is given “with intent to influence.” ADM, which spent millions of dollars lobbying the U.S. government during the Trump presidency, certainly had many interests before the USDA during Perdue’s tenure.

“We did not receive any special favors from Mr. Perdue during his administration,” Anderson said, “and it is unfair and inaccurate to imply that we did.”

ADM sold the plant in Estill, S.C., to Perdue’s then-company, AGrowStar, for $250,000 — a fraction of what county and independent appraisers say it is worth. Six years earlier, ADM had paid more than $5.5 million for the same land, a figure that closely matches assessments by independent experts contacted by The Post, who analyzed the value based on state records and drone footage of the property.

Months after Perdue took over the U.S. Department of Agriculture, his family trust sold AGrowStar to a group of investors along with all of its real estate for an undisclosed amount. According to Brown, AGrowStar sold for about $12 million.

The real estate sales illustrate the limits of the financial disclosure rules intended to reveal potential conflicts of interest before confirmation. Officials are not required to detail their companies’ transactions or any business deals completed before their confirmations. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2021 at 9:01 am

1 truth and 3 lies about Critical Race Theory

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Judd Legum has an illuminating column today:

Between now and November 2022, you will be hearing a lot about Critical Race Theory (CRT). On Saturday night, former President Trump bashed CRT during his first rally since leaving the White House. Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the “END CRT Act.” In the first two weeks of June, CRT was mentioned 408 times on Fox News

Why has a complex academic legal framework that has been around since the 1980s suddenly become a hot political topic? We don’t have to speculate. Right-wing operatives have stated publicly that they plan to use CRT to elect more Republicans. 

Steve Bannon, who advised Trump in the White House and now hosts an influential podcast on the right, said putting CRT at the center of the political discussion was the key to Republican success in 2022 and beyond:

I look at this and say, “Hey, this is how we are going to win.” I see 50 [House Republican] seats in 2022. Keep this up. I think you’re going to see a lot more emphasis from Trump on [CRT] and [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis and others. People who are serious in 2024 and beyond are going to focus on it.

Trump, Cruz, Bannon, and many other Republicans say that CRT is an insidious force that is being imposed in schools, corporations, and the government. This is how Cruz describes CRT in his new bill. 

By teaching that certain individuals, by virtue of inherent characteristics, are inherently flawed, critical race theory contradicts the basic principle upon which the United States was founded that all men and women are created equal.

This is a false description of CRT. (It is also an inaccurate historical description of the Declaration of Independence, which states “all men are created equal.” And it was referring only to white men.) 

But understanding politics in the months ahead will require understanding the truth about CRT — and how CRT is being distorted and manipulated. 

The truth about Critical Race Theory

At its heart, Critical Race Theory emerged from a group of legal scholars trying to answer a question: Why, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created formal legal equality between racial groups, does substantive racial inequality persist?

Let’s explore how this works with a concrete example. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including the three lies. This is probably behind a paywall, but this guy is good and worth a subscription.

Later in the column:

The purpose of CRT is to understand the structural causes of racial inequality — large and small — in order to dismantle them and create a fairer society. CRT scholars use similar analysis to explain how the law creates racial inequality in health, education, and other areas. 

Disagreeing with some or all of CRT does not make you a racist. CRT is a lively field of academic study and many CRT scholars disagree with each other

But Chris Rufo, an operative affiliated with the Manhattan Institute who popularized opposition to CRT through frequent appearances on Fox News, acknowledged in March that he is simply using CRT as a vessel to fill with whatever concepts he thinks are politically unpopular. By their own admission, the current crop of CRT critics is not engaged in a good faith argument. They are misrepresenting and distorting CRT for political purposes.

From a column by Philip Bump in the Washington Post:

Christopher Rufo is broadly and appropriately credited with seizing on critical race theory as a useful point of focus. He’s been upfront about both how the term is being redefined and why.

The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’ ” he wrote on Twitter this year. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

In other words, critical race theory would become a stand-in for a range of “unpopular” cultural struggles — most of which, given the descriptor, will focus on race.

Rufo has also been explicit about one of the things that he says should be slotted under the umbrella of critical race theory: communism.

Written by Leisureguy

28 June 2021 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Politics

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

Gov. Greg Abbot of Texas will have blood on his hands

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That phrase means that he is responsible for unnecessary deaths (cf. Donald J. Trump). Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, made good on his threat to defund the legislature after Democrats walked out on May 30 in order to deny the Republicans the number of people they needed to hold a vote on a bill that dramatically reworked Texas elections.

In part, Abbott is likely trying to distract Texans from yet another crisis in the state’s independent energy grid, operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Four months ago, the electric grid failed during a cold wave, leaving more than 3 million people without electricity or heat. More than 100 people died. Now, mechanical failures during a heat wave have pushed the state to the verge of blackouts and have prompted ERCOT to ask people to turn their AC to higher temperatures, turn off their lights, and avoid using appliances that take a lot of electricity.

To make matters worse, yesterday the Public Utility Commission of Texas lifted a moratorium on electricity disconnections put in place on private utilities because of the pandemic and extended because of the February storm. It is not clear how many people will be affected by this change, but two public utilities in Austin and San Antonio say that in late May a quarter of a million households owed an average of $600 on past-due bills.

So it makes sense for Abbott—who has been throwing himself behind Trump-like causes anyway these days—to stir up headlines by defunding the legislature and blaming Democrats, even though, once the election bill failed, a number of Republicans told political journalist Judd Legum, who writes at Popular Information, that they did not know where some of the measures in it had come from and did not like them. For example, one lawmaker said that the provision to enable Texas judges to declare an election “void” at their discretion if someone charged that it had been fraudulent, “would be horrendous policy.” (That section of the bill was actually titled “OVERTURNING ELECTIONS.”) In any case, Abbott’s gesture will hit not legislators, but staffers.

But Abbott’s attack on voting rights in Texas identifies the crux of the current crisis in American democracy. For thirty years, Republicans have strengthened their hand in elections not by adjusting their message to win more voters but by gaming the system: suppressing the vote and gerrymandering.

When voters put the Democrats in charge of the federal government in 2020, Republicans responded by trying to game the system at the state level even more completely. First, when former president Trump refused to accept his loss in the election, he and some of his cronies tried to pressure Republicans in state governments to “find” the votes he needed to win, count out Democratic ballots, or, failing either of those things, allow state legislatures to choose their own electors rather than the ones that reflected the will of the voters. Their justification was the Big Lie: that Trump had won the election but had been cheated of the White House by fraud.

Their attempts led to the January 6 insurrection but did not succeed in putting Trump back into the White House. Since then, in Republican-dominated states across the country, legislatures have used the Big Lie to justify the sort of election “reform” that cuts back voting rights and enables state officials to overturn the popular vote. If those rules go into effect, it will be virtually impossible for Democrats to win a majority in the future. And a one-party government is not a democracy.

The conflict over elections, then, is a conflict over  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 June 2021 at 9:48 pm

Democracy Is Surprisingly Easy to Undermine

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I wonder whether effective teaching of critical thinking skills, beginning in the earliest grades (see the CoRT program for an example) would help by making people less easily swayed by spurious arguments.

Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic:

Here’s a quiz: Which world leader made the following statements?

We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy.”

This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made. I want to provide an update on our ongoing efforts to expose … tremendous voter fraud and irregularities.”

“The election will be flipped, dear friends.”

If you guessed Donald Trump, you are only one-third right. The first statement was made by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, soon after his opponents formed a parliamentary coalition to oust him. He has since grudgingly made way for a new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, but he hasn’t conceded that his loss was fair. The third statement came from Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former autocratic leader. She also just lost an election, but has not yet recognized the result. But yes, Trump did make the second statement. It comes from a speech he delivered on December 2, in which he detailed “tremendous voter fraud and irregularities” at great length. Although Trump stepped down, he has also yet to admit that he lost.

And he never will. Neither Netanyahu nor Fujimori is likely to concede either, and no wonder: In all three cases, the personal stakes are high. Trump is threatened by multiple lawsuits and potential business failure. Netanyahu has already been indicted for corruption and fraud. Fujimori previously spent a year in jail while awaiting trial for allegedly collecting illegal campaign contributions, and she could conceivably be sent back.

The political stakes are high too, because—at least to hear them talk—all of these leaders claim to believe that, in addition to what they might personally suffer, their nation will pay a huge price for their loss as well. Netanyahu, who had to be ushered to his seat on the opposition benches after losing the vote, calls the new government a “dangerous coalition of fraud and surrender,” and has vowed to “overthrow it very quickly.” Fujimori has described her leftist opponent’s victory as a mortal threat to Peru and a guarantee that the country will follow Venezuela into repression and poverty. Trump, of course, has never acknowledged that there is such a thing as legitimate opposition to himself at all. Even before the election took place, he made clear that unless he won, he would not recognize the result.

The consequences for democracy—democracy around the world, not just in America, Israel, or Peru—are higher still. Elections have been stolen before. Dictators have falsified results before. But losing candidates in established democracies do not normally seek to turn their supporters against the voting system itself, to discredit elections, to undermine the very idea of competitive politics. No modern U.S. president has done so. No postwar European democratic leader has tried it either. And there is a reason: At its core, Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign presents an existential challenge not to his opponents, but to democracy itself. If, by definition, your opponent’s victory can be obtained only through fraud, then how can any election be legitimate? If, by definition, your opponent’s victory represents the death of the nation, then why should any election be allowed to take place, ever? A few days ago, I asked Larry Diamond, a scholar of democracy at Stanford, if he could think of a precedent for Trump’s fraudulent, virulent, ongoing campaign against the November election result, and he could not. “I know of no instance of an advanced industrial democracy coming anywhere near this close to abandoning fundamental standards of electoral democracy,” he told me.

Maybe we should be surprised that it hasn’t happened more often. Democracy has alway been corruptible. Aristotle dismissed democracy because it was so likely to slide into tyranny; the Founding Fathers stuffed the Constitution with checks and balances for exactly that reason. Benjamin Franklin, when once asked what America would be, “a republic or a monarchy,” responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.” More recent politicians, including some rather surprising ones, have understood the fragility of democracy too. Richard Nixon, when advisers suggested that he contest the results of the incredibly tight 1960 presidential election, refused: “Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis—and I damn well will not be a party to creating one just to become president or anything else.”

Democracy can’t function without a certain level of civic virtue, a modicum of consensus; at the very least, everybody has to agree to play by the rules. When that doesn’t happen, contested elections, violence, even civil war can result. For many decades now, Americans, like Israelis and many Europeans, have been spared those plagues. Unlike Franklin and Nixon, too many of us now take our system for granted. Few of us are mentally prepared for the highest offices of state to be occupied by people who do not play by the rules, are not suffused with civic virtue, and do not mind damaging the delicate democratic consensus if that’s what it takes to win.

For Americans, Israelis, and many others, the primary danger of “Stop the Steal” tactics lies precisely in their novelty: If you haven’t seen or experienced this kind of assault on the fundamental basis of democracy—if you’ve never encountered a politician who is actively seeking to undermine your trust in the electoral system, your belief that votes are counted correctly, your faith that your nation can survive a victory by the other side—then you might not recognize the hazard. The majority of Republican voters appear not to. Other than Representative Liz Cheney, Representative Adam Kinzinger, and a handful of other officials, even elected Republicans seem not to understand exactly how corrosive this form of politics might eventually become.

The secondary danger of these tactics is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:53 pm

The decay of American democracy is real

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From a column by Fareed Zakahria in the Washington Post:

“America is back,” Joe Biden kept repeating on his first trip abroad as president. It’s a fair description of what he accomplished — a restoration of the United States’ role as the country that can set the global agenda, encourage cooperation and deter malign behavior. So, American diplomacy is back — but is America? That’s a more complicated question.

The United States’ influence has always been built on a combination of power and purpose. Biden went into this trip with two significant achievements under his belt. First, he ramped up vaccinations so far and so fast that the United States is the first major country to enter a post-pandemic world. Second, he passed a massive relief bill that will ensure that the U.S. economy has a roaring recovery.

But prosperity alone is not enough to lead. President Donald Trump presided over a booming economy before the pandemic, yet polls showed that most leading nations neither respected him nor the United States under his leadership. . .

The Biden team has led by focusing on the big issues on which U.S. allies agree: strengthening ties among free countries, combating climate change, deterring Russian aggression in various forms, stepping up to the challenge from China. It was a far cry from the behavior of Trump, who reveled in denigrating NATO and its members.

The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was not a “superpower summit,” as some in the media described it. Russia is not a superpower. Its economy doesn’t even crack the top 10 and is in decline on many key measures. But the country, spanning 11 time zones, has one of the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons, a robust military and a United Nations veto. Under Putin, it has been eager to play the role of spoiler on the international stage — annexing territory in Europe for the first time since 1945, engaging in cyberattacks on a massive scale, and pursuing and assassinating dissidents even if they live abroad.

Biden handled the meeting with his Russian counterpart with professionalism and skill, prompting Putin to call Biden “a very experienced” statesman and “a balanced, professional man” (in contrast to his recent comments about Trump being a “colorful individual” who made “impulse-based” decisions). Despite Trump’s fawning behavior toward Putin, Putin might recognize that it is better to have a calm and rational U.S. president than a mercurial and unpredictable showman. For its part, Washington’s goal toward Russia should not be ceaseless hostility but rather some kind of stable relationship in which problems can be discussed, negotiated and managed.

The biggest news out of the Biden-Putin meeting involves cyberspace. The problem of cyberattacks, cybercrime and ransomware has grown exponentially. And yet governments have appeared either unable or unwilling to do much about it. When North Korea launched a devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures in 2014 to punish it for a movie satirizing Kim Jong Un, destroying 70 percent of the company’s computers, the U.S. government did little in response.

Biden has moved policy in this realm significantly forward, for the first time signaling that the United States would be willing to use its considerable cyber capacities to retaliate against a Russian attack.

 . . . In one fundamental way, things look worse now than in prior periods of crisis. After Watergate, many were surprised that the world looked up to the United States for facing and fixing its democratic failures. It was a sign of the country’s capacity to course-correct. But imagine if after that scandal, the Republican Party, instead of condemning Nixon, had embraced him slavishly, insisted that he did absolutely nothing wrong, settled into denial and obstructionism and proposed new laws to endorse Nixon’s most egregious conduct? Imagine if the only people purged by the party had been those who criticized Nixon?

The decay of American democracy is real. . .

Continue reading.

And see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

18 June 2021 at 2:43 pm

Climate Change Batters the West Before Summer Even Begins

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And still there are people who deny that it’s happening and fight against efforts to combat it.  Brad Plumer, Jack Healy, Winston Choi-Schagrin, and Henry Fountain report in the NY Times:

A heat dome is baking Arizona and Nevada, where temperatures have soared past 115 degrees this week and doctors are warning that people can get third-degree burns from the sizzling asphalt.

At Lake Mead, which supplies water for 25 million people in three southwestern states and Mexico, water levels have plunged to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. In California, farmers are abandoning their thirstiest crops to save others, and communities are debating whether to ration tap water.

In Texas, electricity grids are under strain as residents crank their air-conditioners, with utilities begging customers to turn off appliances to help avert blackouts. In Arizona, Montana and Utah, wildfires are blazing.

And it’s not even summer yet.

“We’re still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Things are likely to get worse before they get better.”

Global warming, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, has been heating up and drying out the American West for years. Now the region is broiling under a combination of a drought that is the worst in two decades and a record-breaking heat wave.

“The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”

With temperatures expected to keep rising as nations struggle to rein in their planet-warming emissions, the Western United States will need to take difficult and costly measures to adapt. That includes redesigning cities to endure punishing heat, conserving water, and engineering grids that don’t fail during extreme weather.

This month has offered glimpses of whether states and cities are up to that task and has shown they still have far to go.

From Montana to Southern California, much of the West is suffering from unusually high temperatures. Some 50 million Americans face heat-related warnings. Records have been tied or broken in places like Palm SpringsSalt Lake City and Billings, Montana.

As 115-degree temperatures cooked Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row Arts District on Tuesday, Timothy Medina, 58, was perched on a black metal platform 12 feet above the sidewalk, finishing the blue lettering of a sign for a coffee shop. “It’s brutal — that heat against the wall,” he said. “Let me take a quick swig of water.”

Construction workers, landscapers and outdoor painters like Mr. Medina have few options but to bear the heat. He wore jeans to avoid burning his skin, along with a long sleeve fluorescent yellow shirt and a $2 woven hat. But soon the heat was winning.

“I start feeling out of breath, fatigued,” he said.

Extreme heat is the clearest signal of global warming, and the most deadly. Last year heat killed at least 323 people in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, a record by far. . .

Continue reading. There is a lot more, and many photographs.

And from here on, it’s going to get worse. What we’re seeing now is mild compared to what’s coming. But inaction seems attractive to most. An article by Catherine Garcia in Yahoo News, “NASA: Earth is trapping ‘unprecedented’ amount of heat, warming ‘faster than expected’,” spells it out. From the article:

Since 2005, the amount of heat trapped by the Earth has roughly doubled, according to a new study by NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers.

This is contributing to warming oceans, air, and land, the scientists write in the study, published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The magnitude of the increase is unprecedented,” NASA scientist and lead author of the study Norman Loeb told The Washington Post. “The Earth is warming faster than expected.”

Using satellite data, the researchers measured the planet’s energy imbalance, which is the difference between how much energy the planet absorbs from the sun and how much is radiated back into space. If there is a positive imbalance, the Earth is absorbing more heat than it is losing; in 2005, there was a positive imbalance of about half a watt per square meter of energy from the sun, and in 2019, the positive imbalance was one watt per square meter, the Post reports.

“It is a massive amount of energy,” NOAA oceanographer Gregory Johnson, a co-author of the study, told the Post, adding that this energy increase is equivalent to everyone on Earth using 20 electric tea kettles at the same time. The team needs to . . .

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 5:19 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

To ban teaching about systemic racism is a perfect example of systemic racism

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I am indebted to The Eldest for pointing out the nice recursion of the title. Someone then commented about a video of a teacher who totally understands teenagers:

Teacher: I’m not allowed to teach you about critical race theory.

Class: What’s that?

Teacher: I’m not allowed to tell you.

Class: What?? Not fair! (Then they all looked it up in Wikipedia.)

Chris Argyris in his (excellent) books on management theory and what distinguishes a learning organization from one that resists learning. One difference, of course, is success vs. failure over the long term, but also organizations that resist learning typically have double-layer taboos on some topics within the organization: not only can you not talk about X, you also cannot talk about not talking about X. It will be interesting to see whether the Right is so far gone they will prohibit teachers from explaining why they cannot teach critical race theory. (My guess is that the Right is indeed so far gone — and even farther.)

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 2:25 pm

Leaked Audio of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse of Dealmaking on Filibuster and January 6 Commission

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A little glimpse of the process of making sausage legislation. Lee Fang and Ryan Grim report in the Intercept:

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, in a private call on Monday with a group of major donors, provided a revealing look at his political approach to some of the thorniest issues confronting lawmakers.

[report at the link includes an audio playback of the call – LG]

The remarks were given on a Zoom teleconference session that was obtained by The Intercept.

The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Among the gathering’s newsworthy revelations: Manchin described an openness to filibuster reform at odds with his most recent position that will buoy some Democrats’ hopes for enacting their agenda.

The call included several billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them Louis Bacon, chief executive of Moore Capital Management; Kenneth D. Tuchman, founder of global outsourcing company TeleTech; and Howard Marks, the head of Oaktree Capital, one of the largest private equity firms in the country. The Zoom participant log included a dial-in from Tudor Investment Corporation, the hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones. Also present was a roster of heavy-hitting political influencers, including Republican consultant Ron Christie and Lieberman, who serves as a representative of No Labels and now advises corporate interests.

The meeting was led by Nancy Jacobson, the co-founder of No Labels.

The wide-ranging conversation went into depth on the fate of the filibuster, infrastructure negotiations, and the failed effort to create a bipartisan commission to explore the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and offers a frank glimpse into the thinking of the conservative Democrat who holds the party’s fate in his hands.

Manchin told the assembled donors that he needed help flipping a handful of Republicans from no to yes on the January 6 commission in order to strip the “far left” of their best argument against the filibuster. The filibuster is a critical priority for the donors on the call, as it bottles up progressive legislation that would hit their bottom lines.

When it came to Sen. Roy Blunt, a moderate Missouri Republican who voted no on the commission, Manchin offered a creative solution. “Roy Blunt is a great, just a good friend of mine, a great guy,” Manchin said. “Roy is retiring. If some of you all who might be working with Roy in his next life could tell him, that’d be nice and it’d help our country. That would be very good to get him to change his vote. And we’re going to have another vote on this thing. That’ll give me one more shot at it.”

Regarding Blunt, Manchin appears to be suggesting — without, perhaps, quite explicitly saying so — that the wealthy executives on the call could dangle future financial opportunities in front of the outgoing senator while lobbying him to change his vote. Senate ethics rules forbid future job negotiations if they create a conflict of interest or present even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Manchin, notably, doesn’t suggest that the donors discuss a job, but rather says that people who Blunt may later be working with would be likely to have significant influence, reflective of the way future job prospects can shape the legislative process even when unspoken.

The commission, Manchin tells No Labels, is important in its own right, necessary to determine how security failed and what former President Donald Trump’s role was in the riot, if any. But it’s also critical to maintaining support for the filibuster. The January 6 commission got 56 votes, four short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster — a thorough embarrassment for those like Manchin who claim bipartisanship is still possible in the divided Senate chamber.

Manchin told the donors he hoped to make another run at it to prove that comity is not lost. He noted that Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who missed the vote, would have voted for it had he been there, meaning only three more votes are needed. “What I’m asking for, I need to go back, I need to find three more Republican, good Republican senators that will vote for the commission. So at least we can tamp down where people say, ‘Well, Republicans won’t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan.’ It just really emboldens the far left saying, ‘I told you, how’s that bipartisan working for you now, Joe?’” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2021 at 9:37 am

Big Telecom Blocks Attempt to Bring $15 Broadband To Covid Victims

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Karl Bode reports in Vice:

A Judge has sided with the broadband industry and barred New York State from offering discounted broadband to those struggling during the COVID crisis.

The order by US District Judge Denis Hurley imposes an immediate injunction on New York State, barring it from enforcing the Affordable Broadband Act (ABA), a new state law requiring ISPs provide 25 megabits-per-second broadband for no more than $15-per-month to those struggling financially during the pandemic.

The broadband industry immediately filed suit against the effort, claiming New York was barred from regulating broadband thanks in part to the Trump administration’s 2017 net neutrality repeal. The Trump FCC claimed the repeal would boost job growth and investment in the telecom sector, yet data shows neither actually happened.

Instead, the repeal left the FCC ill-equipped to protect consumers during an economic crisis by eroding much of the agency’s consumer protection authority under the Communications Act. At telecom sector request, the repeal also attempted to ban states from being able to step in and fill the consumer protection void left by an apathetic federal government.

Both broadband experts and previous court rulings have argued that when the Trump FCC gave up its authority over broadband providers, it also gave up its right to tell states what to do. Still, the broadband industry continues to use the repeal as the basis of lawsuits undermining state efforts to hold US telecom giants accountable or pass state net neutrality laws.

Judge Haley sided with industry, proclaiming that providing discounted broadband to poor Americans struggling during Covid would impose “unrecoverable losses” on the hugely profitable and heavily monopolized broadband industry.

“Beginning June 15, 2021, Plaintiffs will suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time, and the enormity of the matter—six plaintiffs with multiple member organizations attacking a statute affecting one-third of all New York households—portends a lengthy litigation,” the Judge wrote.

Dana Floberg, a telecom expert at consumer group Free Press, stated that the Biden administration could lend a hand by properly staffing the FCC and reversing the Trump administration’s net neutrality repeal.

“The path forward to reining in exorbitant internet prices is clear,” she said. “We need an FCC empowered with the legal authority to investigate and intervene in the market, and we need a long-term benefit to support internet adoption for low-income people.”

Under the law, the party in control of the White House enjoys a 3-2 partisan majority at the FCC. But the Trump administration’s rush appointment of Trump ally Nathan Simington to the agency last December left the agency intentionally gridlocked at 2-2, incapable of obtaining a majority vote on any issues of controversy.

Despite this, the Biden administration has been in no rush to appoint a new commissioner or reverse the net neutrality repeal. More than fifty consumer groups and union organizations wrote the administration this week asking for more urgency in the matter.

“Restoring the FCC’s Title II authority over broadband would give the agency the strong, flexible toolbox it needs to curtail unjust and discriminatory practices, including unreasonable pricing schemes, while avoiding the pitfalls of rate-setting,” Floberg said.

Cable and broadband providers routinely engage in all manner of dodgy pricing practices, from the use of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 June 2021 at 3:47 pm

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