Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

Trump’s voter fraud crusade continues to unravel, apologize, and retreat

leave a comment »

Shouted accusations are being belatedly followed by muttered retractions and apparently painful apologies (usually issued in a frantic effort to evade a lawsuit). In the Washington Post Aaron Blake tracks some of this revision of views and retraction of statements:

The 2020 election is a case study in how unproved claims can be weaponized. For decades, former president Donald Trump’s party warned of significant voter fraud while successfully pushing policies such as voter ID. In 2016, Trump laid a predicate for contesting an election by suggesting there was massive fraud, even in an election he had won. By 2020, when Trump lost, it culminated in a huge portion of the electorate believing a “stolen election” theory for which there is vanishingly little actual evidence.

Some have done more than raise questions, though. They, like Trump and often in search of his allies’ support, have alleged actual massive fraud.

But now they’ve been asked to account for it. And crucially and increasingly, they have backed down.

The most recent example came Friday night — a time routinely used to bury bad news. In a statement, former Trump lawyer Joe diGenova apologized to Christopher Krebs, a Trump administration official who had debunked Trump’s fraud claims and whose execution diGenova had endorsed. DiGenova had said Krebs “should be drawn and quartered” and “taken out at dawn and shot.”

“On November 30, 2020, I appeared on the ‘Howie Carr Show.’ During the show, I made regrettable statements regarding Christopher Krebs, which many interpreted as a call for violence against him,” diGenova said. He added that “today I reiterate my public apology to Mr. Krebs and his family for any harm my words caused. Given today’s political climate, I should have more carefully expressed my criticism of Mr. Krebs, who was just doing his job.”

DiGenova’s apology refers to a past apology made on Newsmax’s airwaves, but back then he went even further in downplaying his comments. He maintained at the time that it was a poorly chosen joke and said that he apologized “for any misunderstanding of my intentions.”

The statement very notably comes months after Krebs announced in December that he was suing diGenova for defamation.

But Krebs is hardly the first to gain key concessions after launching legal action. Over and over, some of those spouting the most vociferous claims of electoral fraud — or providing a forum for them — have been forced to back off them.

Early on came Fox News and Fox Business Network running awkward segments on shows that had featured such claims — and whose hosts were later sued, alongside Fox — with an election expert dismissing claims of wrongdoing by voting machine companies. One of the hosts, Lou Dobbs, was soon pulled off the air.

Fellow conservative outlet Newsmax, where diGenova made his comment about Krebs, read its own disclaimer emphasizing the claims it had aired were unproved. At one point, it even sought to shut down Trump ally and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell as he was spouting such claims, with a host walking off the set when Lindell wouldn’t yield.

Another conservative cable TV outlet, One America News, sought to distance itself from Fox and Newsmax as an unapologetic promoter of Trump’s theories. But it, too, removed several stories from its website delving into the details of alleged fraud. And when it later ran Lindell’s infomercial on the topic, it included a lengthy disclaimer that sought to insulate itself from what he said. (Lindell has since been sued by Dominion Voting Systems, but he personally hasn’t backed down.)

Even Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani had a disclaimer attached to his radio program, which Giuliani bristled at as if he was unaware it was coming.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has also acknowledged to the New York Times that she worried about legal exposure from former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell making extreme allegations about voting machines while speaking at a news conference hosted by McDaniel’s employer. McDaniel acknowledged she was “concerned it was happening in my building” and thought about “what is the liability of the RNC if these allegations are made and unfounded?”

Lastly — at least before Friday — came Powell. She, too, has been sued. But in a recent filing, her lawyer argued that “reasonable people” wouldn’t take her claims as fact and that they would understand them as political rhetoric aimed at allowing the legal system to decide such cases. This despite Powell having said that she had conclusive proof of her bizarre claims and that the proof — in her words the “Kraken” — was forthcoming. The Kraken never arrived, and now Powell’s argument is basically that she shouldn’t be expected to produce it, even with the legal process of discovery providing an ideal venue.

That’s a case in point when it comes to these claims. All told, here is a list of people who have backed off (at least somewhat) in fear of litigation: Fox, Newsmax, OAN, Giuliani’s radio host, the RNC and now two former Trump lawyers.

The dynamics in each case are unique, and tempering your comments or comments made on your platform doesn’t mean admitting to wrongdoing. But these legal cases would be a great venue in which the defendants (and potential defendants) could press their case and actually defend the things that were said. Defamation involving public figures is also a high bar, in which you don’t even need to prove that what you said was true, but merely that it wasn’t knowingly false and that it wasn’t malicious. They have overwhelmingly chosen a different path: to distance from and disown the comments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 3:46 am

Republicans going off in all directions

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson has a post that’s worth reading because it sets out a variety of developing issues, including a serious conflict within the Republican party regarding the direction it should take. She writes:

Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.

In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).

President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.

The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.

Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.

Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.

While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.

On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.

But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.

Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.

Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and some interesting aspects are discussed later in the column.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 10:47 am

“I Needed a Job. He Asked If I Was Proposing Marriage.”

leave a comment »

The creepiness and moral turpitude of Donald Trump and his administration have far-reaching ripple effects. Deboarh Kopaken provides examples in the Atlantic:

I was 8 when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. For several years, I was afraid to sit in a well-lit room after sundown, because I was next on the kidnappers’ list, and they were lurking in my backyard. I was sure of this.

Was my fear justified? Of course not. Was it real? One hundred percent yes.

Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst on his last day in office. When I heard the news, I cheered. The woman had been kidnapped at 19, raped, and held in a dark closet for 57 days, after which, suffering from Stockholm syndrome, she robbed a bank with her captors. Pardoning her seemed not only fair, but just.

Exactly 20 years later, on his last day in office, Donald Trump pardoned Ken Kurson. When I read the news, I cursed. This pardon was neither fair nor just.

Kurson was the editor of the Observer when it was owned by his friend Jared Kushner. Last fall, Kurson was arrested and charged with cyberstalking three people and harassing two others. According to the federal complaint, Kurson posted multiple malicious professional reviews of a former friend he spuriously blamed for the end of his marriage. He used an alias to send the friend’s colleagues and others threatening emails accusing her of sleeping with her boss, then stalked her at her workplace until her employers were forced to hire a security firm to protect her. His lawyer argued in a statement that the charges were overblown, and he was pardoned before the case went to trial.

After Kurson’s arrest, I kept scanning the news, hoping that Trump would be too busy being a sore loser and inciting insurrection to pardon Kurson. I was wrong. Which meant I would now spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

From November 2014 to late 2016, Ken Kurson sexually harassed me. I wrote about the degrading experience for this magazine in 2018. I composed the essay in the form of a tongue-in-cheek listicle (“How to Lose Your Job From Sexual Harassment in 33 Easy Steps”), because all too often, as we keep learning (and learning and learning), sexual harassment is not just one event or off-color comment, nor is it just the suggestive emails that followed: “In another life, I’d be Mr. Copaken”; “I love your sloppy seconds”; “Are you proposing marriage to me?” It’s a systematic abuse of power that can deny its victims work, money, and health insurance.

Kurson invited me to lunch after one of my stories for another publication went viral, and said he had a full-time job for me with benefits. I told my current boss I was quitting, only for Kurson to say that it was never an actual job offer, and that he couldn’t match my salary. But he dangled the possibility of a full-time position if I kept freelancing for him, while sending me wildly inappropriate emails about his crumbling marriage. I worried that he might be vengeful. “I consider this the Observer’s story,” he once wrote about one of my article pitches, “and you know I come from a grudge-holding desert people.”

I thought he was joking, but after that story was published in The New York Times, he stopped answering my emails for more than a month. Later, when I asked about a late payment for an article, he replied to say the money had finally been deposited in my account, adding, “Sorry you’re broke… Are you in love w anyone?”

(When The Atlantic asked Kurson for comment, he denied that there had been a job offer. About the emails, he said, “All of us have used language in the past that we now wish had been more artful,” adding, “I try my best to treat everyone I meet with kindness and respect.”)

At the time, I was a solo mother of three––two of them in college. With crushing tuition bills, an expensive cascade of illnesses requiring surgeries, and an empty bank account, I’d had to move to cheaper digs and nab the first full-time job with benefits I could find, as a flack for the pharmaceutical industry. This, along with ageism and a shrinking media industry, has derailed my journalism career to this day.

Following the publication of my story in The Atlantic in 2018, I was not surprised to be inundated with similar tales of woe. I was surprised by the number of tales featuring the same antagonist. I created a spreadsheet to organize them. Here are some excerpts:

“Ken was a creep to me, condescending as well … ”

“Your frightening experience with him gave me flashbacks … The way he spoke to me haunts me to this day … Drag the ogre into the daylight.”

“I woke up to your article about Ken Kurson. I had an insane, if not criminal, experience with him that I’d love to talk to you about.”

This last one was chilling. It came from a woman who knew one of the people Kurson was later charged with cyberstalking, and said she had received threatening emails from Kurson herself. When I called her, she recounted both stories of harassment. The behavior she described did indeed sound criminal. And vindictive. I shared it with Jesse Drucker, an investigative journalist at the Times. “Jesse, I need help,” I said. “I want to help this woman, but I feel like I’m out of my league.”

I forwarded him my spreadsheet, with the obvious caveat not to share it further. Then, just as Drucker started looking into each allegation, Trump nominated Kurson to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Because of course this happened.

Drucker’s story, “The Trump Administration Considers an Old Friend: Ken Kurson,” appeared on May 11. “Concerning Ms. Copaken’s account, Mr. Kurson said, ‘I categorically deny any claim of inappropriate behavior.’”

In response to his denial, I posted a Twitter thread presenting some of the written evidence, email by creepy email.

At the end of the thread, I wrote the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the FBI gets involved.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 5:36 pm

Why tearing down Fauci is essential to the MAGA myth

leave a comment »

Michael Gerson was a speechwriter for George W. Bush and is currently a columnist. Here’s a recent column that appeared in the Washington Post that reflects the despair of traditional Republicans (among whom he counts himself) in the face of MAGA madness:

MAGA political philosophy is not systematic, but it is comprehensive. Right-wing populism offers a distorted lens to view nearly all of life.

Through this warped lens, progress toward equal rights is actually the oppression of White people. Free and fair elections, when lost, are actually conspiratorial plots by the ruthless left. But perhaps the most remarkable distortion concerns the MAGA view of covid-19.

We have all seen the basic outlines of pandemic reality. Experts in epidemiology warned that the disease would spread through contact or droplets at short distances, which is how it spread. The experts recommended early lockdowns to keep health systems from being overwhelmed, and the lockdowns generally worked. The experts said Americans could influence the spread of the disease by taking basic measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. The disease was controlled when people did these things. The disease ran rampant when they did not, killing a lot of old and vulnerable people in the process.

There were, of course, disagreements along the way about the length of lockdowns and the form of mandates. But on the whole, American citizens have witnessed one of the most dramatic vindications of scientific expertise in our history. We have been healthier when we listened to the experts and sicker when we did not.

This is the context in which the MAGA right has chosen to make Anthony S. Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 — the villain in their hallucinogenic version of pandemic history.

It is worth disclosing when a columnist has a personal connection to a public figure. I have known Fauci since I was in government during the early 2000s and watched him help create the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He is the best of public service: supremely knowledgeable, personally compassionate, completely nonpolitical, tenacious in the pursuit of scientific advancement and resolute in applying such knowledge to human betterment. He has no other ambition or agenda than the health of the country and world.

Yet slamming Fauci was a surefire applause line at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Former Trump administration officials continue to target him. Republican members of Congress vie with one another to put Fauci in his place.

For Trump officials, including Donald Trump himself, this makes perfect sense. If Fauci has been right about covid, then playing down the disease, mocking masks, modeling superspreader events, denying death tolls, encouraging anti-mandate militias and recommending quack cures were not particularly helpful. If Fauci has been right, they presided over a deadly debacle.

When former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro claims that Fauci is “the father of the actual virus” or former chief of staff Mark Meadows complains about Fauci’s indifference to the (nearly nonexistent) flow of covid across the southern border, the goal is not really to press arguments. It is to create an alternative MAGA reality in which followers are free from the stress of truth — a safe space in which more than half a million people did not die and their leader was not a vicious, incompetent, delusional threat to the health of the nation.

Metaphorically (but only barely metaphorically), there is a body on the floor with multiple stab wounds. The Trump administration stands beside it with a bloody knife in its hand. It not only claims to be innocent. It claims there is no blood. There is no body. There is no floor.

Congressional Republicans who criticize Fauci to prove their populist manhood are even more pathetic. Their self-abasement is voluntary. Watching Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) debate science with Fauci during committee hearings is like watching Albert Einstein being disputed by his dry cleaner. Fauci is often reduced to making obvious points in a patient voice. Fauci deserves his Presidential Medal of Freedom just for his heroic forbearance.

All these critics of Fauci have chosen to attack the citadel of science at its strongest point. With squirt guns. While naked and blowing kazoos.

This useless exertion is somehow wrapped in the language of freedom. Freedom from the servitude of a piece of cloth on your face that might save your neighbor’s life. Freedom to light off fireworks below a potential avalanche. . .

Continue reading. The column concludes:

Fauci is practicing epidemiology. His critics are practicing idiocy. Both are very good at their chosen work.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 12:11 pm

America’s Immigration Amnesia: Despite recurrent claims of crisis at the border, the United States still does not have a coherent immigration policy

leave a comment »

Caitlin Dickerson writes in the Atlantic:

In the early 2000s, Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas were accustomed to encountering a few hundred children attempting to cross the American border alone each month. Some hoped to sneak into the country unnoticed; others readily presented themselves to officials in order to request asylum. The agents would transport the children, who were exhausted, dehydrated, and sometimes injured, to Border Patrol stations and book them into austere concrete holding cells. The facilities are notoriously cold, so agents would hand the children Mylar blankets to keep warm until federal workers could deliver them to child-welfare authorities.

But starting in 2012, the number of children arriving at the border crept up, first to about 1,000 a month, then 2,000, then 5,000. By the summer of 2014, federal officials were processing more than 8,000 children a month in that region alone, cramming them into the same cells that had previously held only a few dozen at a time, and that were not meant to hold children at all.

As the stations filled, the Obama administration scrambled to find a solution. The law required that the children be moved away from the border within 72 hours and placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, so they could be housed safely and comfortably until they were released to adults willing to sponsor them. But HHS facilities were also overflowing. The department signed new contracts for “emergency-influx shelters,” growing its capacity by thousands of beds within a matter of months. Government workers pulled 100-hour weeks to coordinate logistics. And then, seemingly overnight, border crossings began to drop precipitously. No one knew exactly why.

“The numbers are unpredictable,” Mark Weber, an HHS spokesperson, told me in 2016, just as another child-migration surge was beginning to crest. “We don’t know why a bunch of kids decided to come in 2014, or why they stopped coming in 2015. The thing we do know is these kids are trying to escape violence, gangs, economic instability. That’s a common theme. The numbers have changed over the years, but the themes stayed the same.”

The cycle repeated itself under President Donald Trump in 2019, and is doing so again now. And as border crossings rise and the government rushes to open new emergency-influx shelters, some lawmakers and pundits are declaring that the Biden administration is responsible for the surge. “The #BidenBorderCrisis was caused by the message sent by his campaign & by the measures taken in the early days of his new administration,” Marco Rubio tweeted last week. The administration is “luring children to the border with the promise of letting them in,” Joe Scarborough, the Republican congressman turned cable-television host, told millions of viewers during a recent segment.

But for decades, most immigration experts have viewed border crossings not in terms of surges, but in terms of cycles that are affected by an array of factors. These include the cartels’ trafficking business, weather, and religious holidays as well as American politics—but perhaps most of all by conditions in the children’s home countries. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found that young peoples’ “motives for migrating to the United States are often multifaceted and difficult to measure analytically,” and that “while the impacts of actual and perceived U.S. immigration policies have been widely debated, it remains unclear if, and how, specific immigration policies have motivated children to migrate to the United States.”

The report pointed out that special protections for children put into place under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 may have shifted migration patterns by encouraging parents to send their children alone rather than travel as a family. But it found that blaming any one administration for a rise in border crossings ultimately made no sense—the United States has offered some form of protection to people fleeing persecution since the 1940s, and those rights were expanded more than 40 years ago under the Refugee Act of 1980.

This is not to say that President Joe Biden’s stance on immigration—which has thus far been to discourage foreigners from crossing the border while also declaring that those who do so anyway will be treated humanely—has had no effect on the current trend. Like other business owners, professional human traffickers, known as coyotes, rely on marketing—and federal intelligence suggests that perceived windows of opportunity have been responsible for some of their most profitable years.

For example, border crossings rose in the months before President Trump took office in part because coyotes encouraged people to hurry into the United States before the start of the crackdown that Trump had promised during his campaign. With Trump out of office, some prospective migrants likely feel impelled to seek refuge now, before another election could restore his policies.

But placing blame for the recent increase in border crossings entirely on the current administration’s policies ignores the reality that the federal government has held more children in custody in the past than it is holding right now, and that border crossings have soared and then dropped many times over the decades, seemingly irrespective of who is president.

Given, then, that the movement of unaccompanied minors has long ebbed and flowed—we are now experiencing the fourth so-called surge over the course of three administrations—why do border facilities still appear overwhelmed? The answer, in part, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2021 at 1:36 pm

Trump’s secret sit-down with Ohio candidates turns into ‘Hunger Games’

leave a comment »

Alex Isenstadt reports in Politico:

It was a scene right out of “The Apprentice.”

Donald Trump was headlining a fundraiser on Wednesday night at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Fla. But before the dinner began, the former president had some business to take care of: He summoned four Republican Senate candidates vying for Ohio’s open Senate seat for a backroom meeting.

The contenders — former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, former state GOP Chair Jane Timken, technology company executive Bernie Moreno and investment banker Mike Gibbons — had flown down to attend the fundraiser to benefit a Trump-endorsed Ohio candidate looking to oust one of the 10 House Republicans who backed his impeachment. As the candidates mingled during a pre-dinner cocktail reception, one of the president’s aides signaled to them that Trump wanted to huddle with them in a room just off the lobby.

What ensued was a 15-minute backroom backbiting session reminiscent of Trump’s reality TV show. Mandel said he was “crushing” Timken in polling. Timken touted her support on the ground thanks to her time as state party chair. Gibbons mentioned how he’d helped Trump’s campaign financially. Moreno noted that his daughter had worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign.

The scene illustrated what has become a central dynamic in the nascent 2022 race. In virtually every Republican primary, candidates are jockeying, auditioning and fighting for the former president’s backing. Trump has received overtures from a multitude of candidates desperate for his endorsement, something that top Republicans say gives him all-encompassing power to make-or-break the outcome of primaries.

And the former president, as was so often the case during his presidency, has seemed to relish pitting people against one another.

One person familiar with what transpired in Wednesday evening’s huddle described it as “Hunger Games,” an awkward showdown that none of them were expecting. Making matters even more uncomfortable, this person said, was that the rival candidates sat at a circular table, making it so that each had to face the others.

Trump kicked off the meeting by asking everyone to tell him about how the race was going. Timken, who was Trump’s handpicked state party chair, was the first to speak. She talked about the early support she’d received and how she’d worked to reelect him.

Two people familiar with the discussion said that Trump at one point reminded Timken that she’d initially defended Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) after he’d voted for Trump’s impeachment in January. That evening’s fundraiser was to benefit Max Miller, a former Trump White House aide who was running to unseat Gonzalez, and the former president spoke derisively about the member of Congress throughout the evening, several attendees said. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2021 at 12:31 pm

A scorching reply to Georgia’s vile new voting law unmasks a big GOP lie

leave a comment »

Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The 2020 elections in Georgia should have been cause for celebration among everyone, not just Democrats who won the state’s presidential and Senate races. Amid extremely challenging conditions, election officials took smart, public-spirited steps to ensure that as many voters as possible could participate.

And it worked. Turnout was high on Election Day and during the Senate runoffs, especially among African American voters.

That should have been widely cheered. Yet it’s precisely what the state’s Republican officials apparently want to ensure never happens again.

Georgia Republicans just passed a far-reaching voter suppression law that is shockingly blatant in its efforts to restrict voting. It was signed Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), as one Democratic lawmaker who sought to watch was arrested.

In multiple ways, the measure appears designed to target African American voters, the very voters who drove the 2020 Democratic wins. That complaint is at the core of a new lawsuit filed on Thursday night against the law.

But the lawsuit also exposes — in a fresh way — the appalling dishonesty of Republicans who continue using former president Donald Trump’s lie about the election to justify voter suppression efforts everywhere.

Voter suppression on steroids

Most conspicuously, the new law bars third-party groups from sharing food and water with people waiting in voting lines. It imposes new ID requirements for vote-by-mail, restricts drop boxes for mail ballots and bans mobile voting places, among many other things.

The lawsuit by several voting rights groups — represented by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias — argues that the package unduly burdens the voting rights of all Georgians, disproportionately African Americans, violating the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

The lawsuit cites the extremely high voter turnout in the general and runoff elections, facilitated amid a raging pandemic by vote-by-mail, which was used by African American voters at higher rates than White voters.

The law is largely targeted toward that fact, the lawsuit argues. Restrictions on drop boxes and mobile voting units come after both were heavily utilized in Fulton County, a populous, majority-Black area. African Americans are more likely to use drop boxes because they more often work multiple jobs, the suit argues.

Meanwhile, bans on sharing food and water target the fact that voting lines and wait times tend to be longer in African American areas. And Black voters are disproportionately less likely to have the right ID to qualify to vote by mail, the lawsuit argues.

The critical point is that the past election worked, due to the very practices Republicans now want to curb. Organizers distributed food and water, enabling voters to brave lines. Election officials used expanded vote-by-mail, drop boxes and mobile units to facilitate pandemic voting.

“This successful mobilization was widely heralded as crucial in facilitating Black voter turnout,” the lawsuit notes. Which is precisely the problem, the lawsuit argues: What Republicans want to avert is another such “successful mobilization.”

Republicans give away the game

The justification that Republicans themselves offer for these measures gives away the real game here. Defenders say they are needed to ensure the integrity of future elections and boost public confidence in them.

But the elections in Georgia actually were conducted with absolute integrity, and the Republican secretary of state has himself attested to this. That official, Brad Raffensperger, declared the elections “safe” and “secure.”

This caused Raffensperger to become the target of Trump’s rage. But that doesn’t mean what Raffensperger said isn’t true. It is true.

This was confirmed in a statewide audit. Indeed, Raffensperger has attested to the integrity of Georgia elections more generally, declaring: “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.”

Which raises the question: Why are these new measures needed, if Georgia elections are already secure and trustworthy? Why, to avert another “successful mobilization.”

As the lawsuit argues, the very fact that GOP election officials confirmed the integrity of Georgia elections shows the measures “serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters.” . . .

Continue reading.

The column concludes:

p class=”font–body font-copy gray-darkest ma-0 pb-md ” data-el=”text”>All this points to a bigger lie. All across the country, Republicans are escalating voter suppression efforts, fake-justified by the lie that the election was stolen from Trump.

In the softer version of this, it’s fake-justified by the notion that many Republican voters believe that to be true and just need their “confidence” restored to ensure future participation.

But the real way to restore such confidence is to tell voters the truth: That the election was an inspiring success amid very difficult conditions — and its outcome was unimpeachably legitimate — precisely because of the integrity of election workers everywhere. Grounds for confidence in future elections

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:37 pm

Trump Complains Government Is ‘Persecuting’ Capitol Rioters

leave a comment »

The situation in the US is actively getting more dangerous because Donald Trump is leading and fomenting an already-violent insurrection against the government — against the administration, really, to force someone — Congress, Georgia Governor, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence… anyone — to provide an election “count” sufficient to put Trump back in the White House. And he’s not going to shut up until he is in the White House. He’ll butt into every situation he can. As we’ve seen, he has zero sense of shame and zero decorum.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the most dangerous, long-lasting changes effected by Donald Trump is the rightward extension of the Republican coalition. A wide array of far-right militias and cults was either created or inspired to join the Republican Party by Trump’s racist, paranoid, and authoritarian rhetoric. Now those groups are the subject of regular apologias in party-aligned media.

The new reality was driven home in Trump’s interview with Laura Ingraham Thursday night. At one point, the Fox News host, whose “interview” was more like an exchange of talking points, brought up a new report that the Homeland Security Department will be giving more attention to right-wing domestic extremism. “The idea is to identify people who may, through their social-media behavior, be prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists,” Ingraham noted. “Mr. President, their DHS is going after people who may be your supporters.”

It is worth pausing for a moment to record that Ingraham’s reaction to a description of people “prone to influence by toxic messaging spread by foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic extremists” is hey, they’re talking about us!

Trump, taking the cue, denounced federal authorities for charging his supporters with crimes. “They go after that, I guess you’d call them leaning toward the right … those people, they’re arresting them by the dozens,” he complained.

Ingraham did not follow up by asking who was being arrested by the dozens. But Trump’s answer became clear a few questions later. Ingraham prompted him with a safe question about the security fencing around the Capitol, a precaution even Democrats have deemed excessive long after the insurrection ended.

Rather than simply denounce the fencing, Trump launched into . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2021 at 2:14 pm

When lies come home to roost

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.

After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”

In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.

The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.

In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”

And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.

On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”

And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.

So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.

The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.

Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.

To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 9:06 pm

How a Federal Agency Excluded Thousands of Viable Businesses From Pandemic Relief

leave a comment »

Lydia DePillis reports in ProPublica:

Like every other storefront in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, the Coffee House — a cavernous student hangout slinging espresso and decadent pastries since 1987 — saw its revenue dry up almost overnight last spring when the coronavirus pandemic made dining indoors a deadly risk. Unlike most, however, the business wouldn’t have access to the massive loan fund that Congress made available for small enterprises in late March.

The reason had nothing to do with the business itself, which had been having one of its best years ever, according to its owner, Mark Shriner. Rather, it all came down to one box on the application for the Paycheck Protection Program money, which asked whether the company or any of its owners were “presently involved in any bankruptcy.” Shriner had filed for Chapter 13 in 2018 after a divorce and was still making court-ordered debt payments, so he checked “yes.” He was automatically rejected and lost about $25,000 in payroll and other costs that the program would have covered.

“My money is my store’s money. When I got divorced and she was entitled to half, it’s not like a company can raise money real quick,” Shriner said, noting the way in which many small businesses are structured as pass-through entities that pay taxes on any profits as individual income. “All these businesses that had a tough time and are trying to make payments at the same time are getting kind of hosed.”

Thousands of people file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy every year — 282,628 did so in 2019 alone. Although it’s not clear how many of them own businesses, all of those individuals were barred from the PPP program, along with the thousands of businesses currently working through a reorganization plan under Chapter 11 and the family farms that file under the lesser-known Chapter 12.

In December, Congress allowed the Small Business Administration to give exceptions to some debtors. But so far the SBA has stuck to its position that debtors in bankruptcy aren’t entitled to government aid. “Currently, the SBA is administering the law as written,” SBA spokeswoman Shannon Giles emailed in response to questions.

Although Shriner did receive the $10,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance payment, which doesn’t have to be repaid, the SBA turned him down for a larger Economic Injury Disaster Loan because of his personal credit. Instead, he took out two loans worth $107,000 from Square — with total fees of nearly $12,000 — to keep the lights on and the staff paid as they operated on a drastically limited basis, still down by more than half since before the pandemic.

“The biggest consequences are that we haven’t had the time to take a week and shut down and plot our way forward, come up with a to-go menu or some new things, because we’re busy working the counter trying to save money,” Shriner said. “A lot of other businesses that got PPP have been able to hire people to help them head in a different direction, get apps made, fix their websites, that kind of thing.”


.
The prohibition on PPP loans going to debtors began with the SBA’s original concept for the program: It extended its 7(a) loan program, its most common credit offering for small businesses, which already bars bankrupt companies. New pandemic relief measures were basically grafted on to those rules, which reflect an agency position dating back to its beginnings in the 1950s that bankrupt companies were more likely to default.

“SBA has an institutional prejudice against people who file bankruptcy,” said Ed Boltz, a North Carolina bankruptcy lawyer who serves on the board of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “The attitude of government in a lot of things is, ‘Bankruptcy is hard and confusing and these people are probably bad people.’”

Almost immediately, this position was challenged in courts across the country. In Hidalgo County, Texas, for example, an emergency medical transportation company in bankruptcy sued after it was denied a PPP loan. A bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction against the SBA, saying it was in the public interest during the pandemic to make sure the company’s trucks and helicopters could keep ferrying patients to hospitals. In June, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that decision, saying the judge had exceeded his authority.

Meanwhile, the SBA hastily published a rule explicitly barring companies in bankruptcy from participating in its pandemic relief program. “The Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary, determined that providing PPP loans to debtors in bankruptcy would present an unacceptably high risk of an unauthorized use of funds or non-repayment of unforgiven loans,” the rule read. “In addition, the Bankruptcy Code does not require any person to make a loan or a financial accommodation to a debtor in bankruptcy.”

Around the same time, a Florida radiology center also serving COVID-19 patients received a PPP loan, even though it was reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When it filed for approval with its bankruptcy court to take on the additional debt, the SBA objected again. The bankruptcy court found in favor of the radiologists in June, writing that “it is plain Congress did not intend to exclude chapter 11 debtors from the Paycheck Protection Program.” In December, however, the 11th Circuit overturned the lower court and sided with the government.

Maury Udell, the radiology company’s lawyer, said he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. The PPP is more of a grant than a loan, he argues, since all companies had to do in order for the money to be forgiven is spend most of it on payroll. Bankrupt companies are arguably more likely to do so, given that they’re on court-ordered plans for how they must manage their expenses. Besides, the program did not require that companies demonstrate their ability to repay — plenty of businesses on very shaky footing applied for and received funding, sometimes filing for bankruptcy later.

“The SBA’s argument for not allowing Chapter 11 debtors is that the risk of nonpayment is high,” Udell said. “That’s not a factor in whether you were approved. It’s just as high as anyone else, because there’s no other underwriting guidelines.”

Frustration with the SBA’s position mounted through the fall until December, when Congress passed a fresh round of $900 billion in pandemic-related relief, along with the regular budget. It included $285 billion for a second draw of PPP loans, and a bit of potential relief for debtors: an amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that allows PPP loans to businesses that have filed for bankruptcy under Chapters 12, 13 and Subchapter V, a new category for small businesses established in 2019. (Chapter 11 debtors were left out.)

However, there was a catch: In order to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2021 at 12:15 pm

Sidney Powell Now Argues “No Reasonable Person” Would Believe Her Voter Fraud Lies Were “Fact”

leave a comment »

Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive
Sir Walter Scott

Zoe Tillman reports in Buzzfeed News:

Sidney Powell argued Monday that she couldn’t be sued for defamation for repeatedly promoting false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being rigged because “no reasonable person would” believe that her comments “were truly statements of fact.”

In the months after the election, the Texas-based attorney became one of the most public faces of a campaign to discredit President Joe Biden’s win. Vowing to “release the Kraken,” she pushed the lie that the election was stolen from former president Donald Trump. In numerous TV and public appearances, as well as in court, Powell spread conspiracy theories that two voting equipment companies, Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, were part of a Democrat-backed scheme to “steal” the election by rigging voting systems to flip votes for Trump to Biden, count ballots more than once, and fabricate votes for Biden.

Now facing billion-dollar lawsuits from both companies and having lost all of her court cases challenging the election, Powell is on the defensive. On Monday, her legal team filed a motion to dismiss Dominion’s $1.3 billion lawsuit, or at least to move it from the federal district court in Washington, DC, to Texas. They argued that the election fraud narrative that Powell had spent months touting as grounds to undo the presidential election was “hyperbole” and political speech entitled to protection under the First Amendment.

Even if Powell’s statements were presentations of fact that could be proven as true or false, her lawyers wrote, “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

Powell deflected blame to the Trump supporters who adopted the conspiracy theories and lies that she and other Trump allies pushed and that ultimately fueled the insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6. Her lawyers wrote that she was just presenting her “opinions and legal theories on a matter of utmost public concern,” and that members of the public who were interested were “free” to look at the evidence and make up their own minds or wait to see how the evidence held up in court.

Even as Powell tried to distance herself from responsibility for the conspiracy theories she promoted after the election, she also disputed that the statements at issue were, in fact, false. She argued that Dominion was a “public figure” because of its prominent role in the election process, a status that set the bar higher for proving defamation and meant Dominion had to show that she acted with “actual malice.” Powell’s lawyers argued that Dominion couldn’t meet that standard because “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.”

Powell’s lawyers argued that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Emphasis added in the above.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2021 at 11:26 am

More about discrimination against Asians: Some recent history

leave a comment »

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

On Tuesday, in Georgia, a gunman murdered 1 man and 7 women, at three spas, and wounded another man. All three of the businesses were operating legally, according to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and had not previously come to the attention of the Atlanta Police Department, although all three had been reviewed by an erotic review site. The man apprehended for the murders was 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is described as deeply religious. Six of the women killed were of Asian descent.

Yesterday, at the news conference about the killings, the sheriff’s captain who was acting as a spokesman about the case, Jay Baker, told reporters that Long was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.” The spokesman went on to say that the suspect “apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction,” that had spurred him to murder, and that it was too early to tell if the incident was a “hate crime.” Long told law enforcement officers that the murders were “not racially motivated.” He was, he said, trying to “help” other people with sex addictions.

Journalists quickly discovered that Baker had posted on Facebook a picture of a shirt calling COVID-19 an “IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA.”

As Baker’s Facebook post indicated, the short-term history behind the shooting is the former president’s attacks on China, in which he drew out the pronunciation of the name to make it sound like a schoolyard insult.

The story behind Trump’s attacks on China was his desperate determination to be reelected in 2020. In 2018, the former president placed tariffs on Chinese goods to illustrate his commitment to make the U.S. “a much stronger, much richer nation.” The tariffs led to a trade war with China and, rather than building a much stronger nation, resulted in a dramatic fall in agricultural exports. Agricultural exports to China fell from $15.8 billion in 2017 to $5.9 billion in 2018.

To combat the growing unrest in the agricultural regions of the country, where farm bankruptcies grew by nearly 20% in 2019, Trump paid off farmers hurt by the tariff with subsidies, which made up more than one third of U.S. farm income in 2020. In June 2019, he also begged Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win the 2020 election. He told him that farmers were important to his election prospects, and begged Xi to buy more soybeans and wheat from U.S. farmers.

In January 2020, Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed a deal that cut some U.S. tariffs in exchange for Chinese promises to buy more agricultural products, as well as some other adjustments between the two countries. On January 22, Trump tweeted: ““One of the many great things about our just signed giant Trade Deal with China is that it will bring both the USA & China closer together in so many other ways. Terrific working with President Xi, a man who truly loves his country. Much more to come!”

But, of course, the novel coronavirus was beginning to ravage the world.

On January 24, Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

Five days later, at a signing ceremony, he said: “I think our relationship with China now might be the best it’s been in a long, long time.”

On February 7, Trump called journalist Bob Woodward and said of the coronavirus, “This is deadly stuff. You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed…. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” Still, on February 10, he told supporters in New Hampshire that the coronavirus would “miraculously” go away when the weather got warmer, and in mid-February, he defended Xi’s handling of the epidemic, saying China was working hard and “doing a very good job” and that they “have everything under control.”

Shortly after the U.S. shut down to combat the pandemic in mid-March, Trump began to turn on China. On March 22, after 33,000 Americans had tested positive for the virus and 421 had died of it, Trump seemed to think better of his praise for Xi. He insisted that China had not told him about the deadly nature of the virus, and began to call it the “Chinese virus,” or the “Chy-na virus.”

By April 17, a Republican strategy document urged candidates to deflect attention from the nation’s disastrous coronavirus news by attacking China, which “caused this pandemic by covering it up, lying, and hoarding the world’s supply of medical equipment…. China… has stolen millions of American jobs, [and] sent fentanyl to the United States.” Democrats would not stand up to China, the document told Republican candidates to say, but “I will stand up to China, bring our manufacturing jobs back home, and push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.”

In May, Trump announced the U.S. would leave the World Health Organization because it had been too easy on China in the early days of the pandemic.

To undercut his own association with China, Trump somewhat nonsensically tried to link his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, to China. He claimed—falsely—that China had paid Biden’s son, Hunter, $1.5 billion. He and his appointees Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, Attorney General William Barr, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, all claimed—again falsely– that China was interfering in the election to help Biden.

This week, the intelligence community reported that, in fact, China did not try to influence the election because it did not “view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk getting caught meddling.”

As Trump politicized the pandemic and attacked China, hate crimes against Asian-Americans began to rise; there were about 3800 of them between March 19, 2020 and February 28, 2021. In cities, hate incidents increased by 150%.

In this context, the suggestion of a police spokesman who had posted pictures celebrating a shirt that called Covid-19 the “VIRUS IMPORTED FROM CHY-NA” that a gunman had killed six women of Asian descent because he had had “a really bad day,” along with the officer’s apparent acceptance of Long’s statement that the killings were not racially motivated, outraged observers.

That seemingly cavalier dismissal of the dead while  . . .

Continue reading. And do read the rest — it’s good to know (or to refresh one’s memory).

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2021 at 4:32 pm

Incompetence and Doomsday

leave a comment »

A reader pointed out this piece by Claire Berlinski in a comment (thanks, Damon), and I’m glad he did. It begins:

That was an edifying spectacle in Iowa, wasn’t it. David French wrote something I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time. There has been a broad breakdown in competence in the United States. No one quite understands why. But as he points out, American history, roughly since the turn of the century, has been a history of staggering incompetence, as an exercise in counterfactual imagination suggests:

What are the ripple effects if Palm Beach County election officials designed a less-confusing ballot for the 2000 election? How does America change if our intelligence agencies were more accurate in their assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs? Or, if we still failed on that front, how is our nation different if military and civilian leaders had not made profound mistakes at the start of the Iraq occupation?

We can do this all day. Let’s suppose for a moment that industry experts were better able to gauge the risks of an expanding number of subprime mortgage loans. . Would we be more trusting of government if it could properly launch a health care website, the most public-facing aspect of the most significant social reform in a generation? How can we accurately judge foreign threats if ISIS is dubbed a “jayvee team” the very year that it explodes upon the world stage and creates the largest jihadist state in modern history?

The United States was once known for extraordinary competence. Consider the D-Day invasion, the Manhattan Project, the Berlin Airlift, the moon landing: In example after example, the United States government—not the private sector, note—mobilized vast talent to overcome historically unprecedented military, economic, technological, and governance challenges. So widely-known was our government for competence that to this day, we’re the object of conspiracy theories worldwide. Whatever we do, however dumb and cack-handed, is presumed to be deliberate, because so mighty a superpower as the United States could not possibly be capable of screwing up in such stupid ways. Just yesterday I was assured that the CIA had unleashed the Wuhan coronavirus—cui bono, after all? How could I be so naive as to think it a mere coincidence that the virus just spontaneously emerged near a virus research facility?

This kind of thinking owes much to the belief that the United States’ government is greatly more competent than it is. That belief, in turn, is a function of our competence of yore. Nothing we’ve done in this century would warrant it.

The loss of competence is bipartisan. The GOP is gloating over the Iowa meltdown. They would, but they shouldn’t. The worst American mistakes of this century were made under the GOP’s watch. I don’t think this is significant, though. They could just as easily have been made with Democrats in power. As usual, partisanship is preventing us from thinking about problems that are bipartisan, national, and systemic.

What exactly has gone wrong?

The Software of American Public Problem Solving

The historian Philip Zelikow wrote one of the best analyses of this problem I’ve read—the best, in fact—in a little-remarked essay for the Texas National Security Review. “The “hardware” of policymaking,” he writes, “—the tools and structures of government that frame the possibilities for useful work”—are obviously important:

Less obvious is that policy performance in practice often rests more on the “software” of public problem-solving: the way people size up problems, design actions, and implement policy. In other words, the quality of the policymaking.

“Software,” he argues, includes organizational cultures for obtaining and evaluating information, doing analysis, and recording what has been done. It includes commonly understood habits that routinely highlight gaps in information or analysis.

These are the qualities, he argues, that made for competent policy in the mid-twentieth century—and they neither came out of the academy nor did they return to the academy. Rather, they came from the strong, decentralized problem-solving culture of American business, and from the military—in turn influenced by British staffing systems, which Americans envied and imitated.

the wartime and immediate postwar experience profoundly influenced organizational culture for another generation or so. A great many Americans had been drawn into the work of higher-level policy design on numerous topics. “One analyst referred to [the war] as the largest program in postdoctoral education for faculty in the nation’s history.”

The military and business cultures of the United States in this period, he notes, “were intensely oriented toward practical problem-solving.”

They emphasized meticulous written staff work: unending flows of information and estimates, habitual preparation of meeting records or minutes, constant and focused debates about priorities and tradeoffs, and guidance directives drafted with concise precision that a lawyer would envy.

The result, especially by 1943 and afterward, was marked in dozens of projects from the atom bomb to the Marshall Plan to the Berlin Airlift. Any close study of such efforts reveals superior construction of large-scale, complex multi-instrument policy packages, including frequent adjustments.

The point about constant adjustment and iteration is notable. Even in military technology, most of the key Allied innovations turned out to be second-generation innovations. In other words, they were not the airplanes or ships that were available or in production at the start of the war. Instead, they were new or improved models of every kind, several of which had not even been imagined before the war. They were developed with agility and on a massive scale by a number of agencies and scores of companies in response to ongoing lessons learned, lessons that were constantly, consciously being extracted and studied.

It is difficult for those who have not pored through the archives to appreciate the scale and scope of this work, ranging from economic statecraft to amphibious operations to science policy. The extraordinary sets of official history volumes from World War II, familiar to historians of the period, give a sense for the work. They are also a striking illustration of the organizational culture that would produce such meticulous and admirable historical analyses.

The organizational culture that accomplished so much during the war was passed along mainly through imitation and apprenticeship. But the best practices did not migrate into standardized training or academic degree programs. [my emphasis]

Naturally, as that generation aged and died, these skills atrophied. That generation knew a great deal about making effective policy. They could not figure out how to teach it to the next generation. They failed to put into place an appropriate educational system for training an equally competent policy-making class.

This is a powerful explanation. It fits the facts. It makes intuitive sense.

It explains, too, something else that has always puzzled me. Whenever  . . .

Continue reading. Damon provided a separate link to the piece from which Berlinski quotes extensively: “To Regain Policy Competence: The Software of American Public Problem-Solving,” by Philip Zelikow in the Texas National Security Review. (One hopes that a number of people in Texas will pay attention to his article following the catastrophic failure of the Texas power grid from problems repeatedly pointed out to the utility companies, the Texas government, and ERCOT (Electric “Reliability” Council of Texas).

The piece is about incompetence in government, but the private sector has proved equally if not more incompetent and with less reason: the mania for cutting taxes (the government’s only source of operating funds) have left the government grievously underfunded to carry out its tasks and responsibilities, to the point where the USDA has asked meat producers to take over the inspection of meat (can anyone detect the conflict of interest there), the FAA had Boeing do its own inspections and review in aircraft construction (do you recall the 737 MAX disasters (plural)?), the FDA is having pharmaceutical companies inspect their own products, and the IRS is too short-staffed to do any complex audits, so tax cheating is probably endemic now among those whose returns are complex. (Simple tax returns, like those filed by the lower middle class, are easy to audit, so they continue to be audited.) Worse, because the IRS is short-staffed and underfunded, it no longer does random audits, which provide statistical knowledge of how much tax cheating is being done and by what means.

In private industry, we have seen General Motors fail at building and selling cars, Wall Street fail spectacularly, bringing down the national economy through subprime mortgages and credit default swaps (and suddenly seeing that government assistance is a good thing), Purdue Pharma wrecking lives across the country.

In the private sector the root cause seems to me to be hypercapitalism, in which the sole goal is to increase profits, which leads to cutting costs and cutting corners. The shoddy results inevitably inch toward failure. That is the attitude that destroyed the Texas power grid, and that is the attitude that slashes taxes to underfund government so government services suffer.

And the root of that is manic individualism, the idea that a person is independent of community and so long as s/he gets what s/he wants, the rest can go to hell. Until individuals regain a sense of being a part of a community — not just an interest group — I doubt the situation will improve.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2021 at 12:34 pm

Is the GOP an Authoritarian Party?

leave a comment »

Michael A. Cohen (the journalist, not the lawyer) writes at Truth and Consequences:

In 2018, two Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt published a book titled “How Democracies Die.” The two authors examined how democracies have historically fallen victim to the pull of authoritarianism. They argue that the process does not usually occur via a military coup but rather through the ballot box and the gradual erosion of political norms and capture of democratic institutions by would-be autocrats.

Levitsky and Ziblatt lay out four key warning signs of authoritarian behavior, as documented below:

The authors, whose book was published in early 2018, conclude that Donald Trump had demonstrated all four types of behavior. He refused to accept credible electoral results; described partisan rivals as criminals; endorsed violence by his supporters; and recommended restrictions on civil liberties, threatened media organizations and praised repressive measures in other countries.

In the three years since the book appeared, Trump exhibited even more antidemocratic behavior. But looking at this chart again raises a more pressing question: has the Republican Party become an authoritarian political party? Let’s take a look at this one by one (I’ve added in italics all the questions asked by Levitsky and Ziblatt that could be answered yes).

“Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.”

  • “Do they reject the Constitution or express a willingness to violate it?

  • “Do they suggest a need for antidemocratic measures, such as canceling elections, violating or suspending the Constitution, banning certain organizations, or restricting basic civil or political rights?”

  • “Do they attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections, for example, by refusing to accept credible electoral results?”

On Jan. 6, 139 House Republicans and 8 Republican senators voted to reject certified – and credible – election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. That is 65.8 percent of the GOP caucus in the House and 16 percent of Senate Republicans. Over the weekend, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is the number two ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, refused to acknowledge that Joe Biden had legitimately won the 2020 election.

It’s essential to recognize that this is a shift in Republican behavior. While Trump consistently lied about the 2016 election, claiming, for example, that there had been massive fraud and he had actually won the popular vote, other Republican leaders largely rejected or refused to endorse Trump’s argument. In 2020, while they didn’t go as far as Trump did in trying to steal the election, their refusal to acknowledge Biden’s victory and votes against certification represented an unambiguous effort to delegitimize an electoral result. The trend seems to be picking up steam among down-ballot Republicans. This past week, former Senator David Perdue of Georgia announced that he would not be running for his seat again, but in his statement suggested that he had lost because of “illegal votes,” which is a completely false assertion.

On the question of antidemocratic measures that seek to restrict basic civil or political rights, Republicans have engaged in a feeding frenzy since the 2020 election.

  • According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks anti-voting measures, “thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year.”

  • In Georgia, Republicans have proposed “tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting.” The legislation would create a new photo ID requirement for absentee ballots, shrink the window in which one can request a ballot, limit the use of drop-boxes, and prevent early voting on Sunday, which has traditionally been when many Black voters go to the polls.

  • In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has put his support behind legislation that would enact a “slate of new voting restrictions that would make it more difficult for voters to receive and return mail-in ballots in future Florida elections.”

  • In Arizona, GOP state legislators are pushing a bill requiring absentee ballots to be notarized, putting in place tougher voted ID requirements, and eliminating no-excuse absentee voting. Similar legislation has been introduced in Georgia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.

  • In Iowa, legislation has been proposed to cut mail-in and in-person early voting from 28 to 19 days and prohibit absentee ballot request forms from being sent to eligible voters.

  • South Carolina Republicans would make it harder to satisfy witness requirements for absentee ballots and impose a signature matching requirement. This measure has already been rejected by a federal court.

Republicans have, of course, been doing this for years. But the 165 bills imposing greater voting restrictions is more than a fourfold increase from a year ago – and appears to be a direct response to the party’s failure to hold the presidency in the 2020 election. This represents an ongoing effort to restrict basic civil and political rights.

“Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.”

  • “Do they claim that their rivals constitute an existential threat, either to national security or to the prevailing way of life?

  • Do they baselessly describe their partisan rivals as criminals, whose supposed violation of the law (or potential to do so) disqualifies them from full participation in the political arena?”

During his Jan. 6 speech that incited the Capitol riot, Trump told his supporters to “fight like hell, or you won’t have a country anymore.” In the past, he has referred to Democrats as “treasonous,” “anti-American,” and “enemies.” The implicit message is that turning the country over to Democrats would, in effect, destroy America, i.e., constitute an existential threat.

It’s a notion that Republicans have taken to heart. According to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth pondering — are we witnessing the end of US democracy?

Written by LeisureGuy

25 February 2021 at 10:39 am

A former Border Patrol agent is now one of its loudest critics — and has years of first-hand knowledge of the Border Patrol and how it works

leave a comment »

Kristina Davis reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The migrant girl was around 6 years old, dehydrated, fluish and despondent. Her head looked too big for her body — a sign of malnutrition — and she had lice in her hair.

The girl had spent two weeks outdoors held at the sunbaked Border Patrol detention center in El Paso with her asylum-seeking family before being brought to a migrant shelter in San Diego. That’s where Jenn Budd found her in the summer of 2018, and she needed serious medical intervention.

It was Budd’s first time as a volunteer at the shelter. Still, another volunteer commented, “You’re probably used to seeing this.”

As a former Border Patrol agent, Budd had witnessed first-hand the cruelties of both the border and the agency. She says she was also a victim of them, raped in the academy, harassed on the job, and in fear for her safety when she quit after six years in 2001.

Even then, she was astonished by the girl’s condition — and that it occurred under the Border Patrol’s watch.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Budd responded before rushing the girl to the hospital in the back of her car.

There would be more trips to local hospitals over the next several months, as Budd slowly shed everything she’d been taught as an agent and embraced a new role as an immigrant activist.

Since then, Budd, 49, has become one of Border Patrol’s sharpest public critics, using her personal experience and insider expertise to call out an agency plagued by allegations of misogyny, xenophobia, corruption and human rights abuses.

Her acerbic commentary has generated a Twitter following of more than 27,000, and she is frequently quoted in national media as an expert on Border Patrol’s culture problem — a problem that persisted long before it was reinvigorated under the Trump administration.

The Border Patrol disputes her characterizations of unaddressed corruption and abuse.

“As public servants, the Border Patrol holds itself to the highest ethical standards,” a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection, the umbrella agency over Border Patrol, said in a statement. “Allegations of abuse and corruption are taken very seriously as the slightest hint erodes public confidence and subverts the Border Patrol’s ability to effectively accomplish its mission.”

Some of Budd’s critics dismiss her as a disgruntled former agent living in the past. But her commitment to activism, vulnerability and candid acknowledgement of her own complicity in a broken immigration system have set her apart.

After four years of former President Donald Trump unshackling the Border Patrol, her outspokenness is likely to resonate with a new administration that is under pressure to rein in the agency and root out any indications of a toxic culture.

“The story of Jenn Budd is the story of redemption,” said Hiram Soto, who took Budd under his wing as the then-communications director at Alliance San Diego, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights.

“It’s really the story of the United States in the moment we are going through now,” he said, “recognizing the cruelty and racism and violence that Border Patrol has inflicted on so many people, and how you can come to turn the page on that and actually find other ways to manage immigration and treat people.”

Escape to the unknown

The border was never something Budd thought about growing up White in Alabama.

But by the time she’d graduated from Auburn University with a pre-law degree, the thought of going to law school was unbearable. It would mean racking up more debt, and the lawyers she knew didn’t make much money. She’d also have to stick close to home, within the grasp of her abusive, alcoholic mother.

The Border Patrol — what little she knew of it — offered an escape.

“They told me people were bringing drugs across the border, that it was about protecting America,” she recalled. “The idea of riding ATVs and horses — I pictured in my mind kind of like a cowboy thing.”

Budd signed her employment papers two days before her 24th birthday and headed to the academy in Georgia for four months.

She was already expecting a hyper-masculine environment. She says what she found was worse: a program hostile to women recruits.

Male classmates were told by instructors to view their female counterparts as not up to the job physically or mentally, Budd said. They were told that the few women who managed to graduate did so by exchanging sexual favors — or by accusing instructors or fellow trainees of rape, she said.

Budd’s narrative would be no exception.

Budd had tried to come out as gay when she was 19, but her mother told her it would embarrass the family. She continued to hide that part of herself in the academy.

One night, a classmate insisted on walking Budd home to her townhouse. There, he raped her and punched her in the face as she tried to fight back, she said.

Budd was scared to report the attack, but she told her instructors about it a few days later when she was forced to spar in training with the classmate who’d assaulted her. They told her to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if she had a problem, she said.

She had heard what happened to women who had filed similar complaints — they were failed out of the academy, she said. Budd did not file the complaint.

Weeks later she failed her physical training run by one second, she said. The rules allowed for one more try. “I made sure I smoked the hell out of it,” she said of her second attempt.

She said she later learned from her Spanish instructor that the academy leadership had ordered him to fail her; he’d refused.

She was one of two women to graduate in her class.

It will be different in the field, she told herself.

On the line

Operation Gatekeeper was in full swing by the end of 1995, when Budd arrived as a rookie agent at the Campo station.

Launched a year earlier, the strategy poured resources and manpower into the San Diego Sector, the nation’s hotspot for illegal border crossings at the time.

The initial focus was on controlling the urban San Diego-Tijuana corridor, which in turn drove many migrants east, into the mountains of Campo.

“Working any shift in Campo was constant hiking, running, tracking all night,” she said.

Budd — at one point the only woman working patrol at the station — carried the extra pressure of proving herself to her male colleagues as she learned how to apprehend migrants and seize drug loads making their way through one of the state’s most rugged border corridors. She faced harassment instead, she said.

She’d find used condoms in her mail drawer, panties hanging from video cameras in the processing area, and even a live rattlesnake placed in the cab of her patrol truck, she said.

But mostly, she was ignored.

“I just wouldn’t get any backup,” she said.

She filed an EEOC complaint against two fellow agents, alleging they had spread rumors that she was sexually involved with a male supervisor. Others corroborated the claim, and the investigation concluded that it appeared one of the agents may have engaged in an effort to damage Budd’s professional reputation. But the actions weren’t found to be discriminatory, according to the records.

Other women have complained about sexual harassment in the agency, including a trainee in the academy class after Budd’s who said she was pushed down on a bed and groped by a male classmate. The alleged attacker, who denied the incident, said the woman brought the complaint because she was having problems with physical training, while an instructor blamed the complaint on the woman’s “immaturity” in relating to men in her class, according to EEOC records.

The EEOC complaint was ultimately sustained on appeal, with the agency found liable for harassment.

Another woman reported being raped by an instructor and male peers at a graduation party, according to a report by Newsweek.

When asked about Budd’s assertions of widespread of abuse and corruption, a CBP spokesperson described a multilayered approach to rooting out such issues.

The agency said all reports of misconduct are coordinated with . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it makes you think about how the US has not addressed some of its own serious problems.

Biden has his job cut out for him, and the Border Patrol culture has proved to be strongly resistant to change, though to start over with all new personnel would be difficult — but it might be the only way.

Later in the article:

James Wong, a retired deputy assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs, said the Border Patrol’s culture problem was evident when he was overseeing investigations and vetting new applicants. The agency was plagued by cronyism, which often didn’t bode well for women deemed outsiders, he said.

“It is a male-dominated organization. They call themselves the Mean Green Machine,” Wong, who spent part of his career in San Diego and retired in 2001, said from his home in Louisiana.

“They didn’t welcome new ideas,” he added. “You were either a reflection of the group of people who hired you, or you didn’t get hired, or you didn’t get promoted.”

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2021 at 11:56 am

Thomas Friedman: What Trump, San Francisco and the Deer in My Backyard Have in Common

leave a comment »

Tom Friedman writes in the NY Times:

What do the left-wing San Francisco Board of Education, Donald Trump’s right-wing G.O.P. and all the deer that hang out in my neighborhood have in common? So much more than you’d think. And the future of American democracy rides on understanding why.

Let me start with the deer. The reason they are so comfortable lollygagging through our yards and multiplying like rabbits is that they know from experience that they have no predators — no hunters, no mountain lions out here in suburban Maryland. So, they do all sorts of stupid stuff, like walk into the middle of the road and get hit by cars, rub the bark off tree trunks and eat all our flowers.

Well, those deer are like the San Francisco Board of Education when it recently decided — in a self-parody of political correctness — to prioritize renaming 44 public schools that had been named for people who, it argued, had exhibited racist behaviors in their lifetimes, including Abraham Lincoln, Paul Revere and Senator Dianne Feinstein. They put this task ahead of getting kids back into those schools, which have been shut for the pandemic.

Such nonsense happens because, like my deer, San Francisco’s school board has no political predators. Liberal democrats dominate politics there, so there’s no serious threat from a conservative alternative.

That is a lot like Trump and his followers, whose attachment to him has become so cultlike that every other Republican leader knows that challenging Trump is potential political suicide. The result: He, too, has no serious predators (I don’t count a waffling Mitch McConnell). This reality, plus Trump’s warped character, made him so reckless that he believed that he could shoot a whole branch of the U.S. government in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and his base would stick with him. And he was right!

My deer and San Francisco’s school board are local problems. The fact that one of our two national parties would stick with a leader who dispatched a mob to ransack the Capitol in hopes of overturning our last election is an acute national problem — a cancer, in fact. And like any cancer, the required treatment is going to be painful for the patient.

For me, that starts with getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate, granting the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico statehood (they each have more U.S. citizens than Wyoming) and passing a new Voting Rights Act that forbids voter suppression. While that may sound hyperpartisan, it’s the necessary, but not sufficient, remedy for America to regain its political health.

Some quick history. A new Republican Party was supposed to have been born after Mitt Romney’s defeat by Barack Obama in 2012, when the Republican National Committee the next year produced a blueprint for a new G.O.P., called the Growth and Opportunity Project. As ABC News wrote, it was “an extensive plan the R.N.C. believes will lead the party to victory with an extensive outreach to women, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and gay voters.” A key proposal was “backing ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’”

But instead of adopting that plan, the party doubled down on its old ways: It tried to gain and hold power one more time with a guy named Trump winking at white supremacy, defending Confederate statues and using every voter suppression trick in the book to protect a predominantly white Christian America.

Why not, it asked? More and more, Republican members of the House were being elected from gerrymandered districts drawn up by Republican state legislators from gerrymandered districts. Meanwhile, the Senate overrepresented sparsely populated red states, meaning the Electoral College favored Republican presidential candidates, who could then stack the court system with conservative judges who would allow Republican politicians to suppress the votes of Black and other Democratic-leaning constituencies.

So why not rinse and repeat?

The result of years of G.O.P. reliance on this strategy is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2021 at 9:50 pm

Two officers who helped fight the Capitol mob died by suicide. Many more are hurting.

leave a comment »

I referred in the previous post to Peter Hermann’s report in the Washington Post, which begins:

Engulfed in the crush of rioters storming the Capitol, D.C. police officer Jeffrey Smith sent his wife a text that spoke to the futility and fears of his mission.

“London has fallen,” the 35-year-old tapped on his phone at 2:38 p.m. on Jan. 6, knowing his wife would understand he was referencing a movie by that name about a plan to assassinate world leaders attending a funeral in Britain.

The text confirmed the frightening images Erin Smith was watching on live stream from the couple’s home in Virginia: The Capitol had been overrun.

Six minutes after Smith sent that text, a Capitol Police officer inside the building shot and killed a woman as she climbed through a smashed window next to the House chamber.

Smith, also inside the Capitol, didn’t hear the gunshot, but he did hear the frantic “shots fired” call over his police radio. He later told Erin he panicked, afraid rioters had opened fire on police, and wondered whether he would die.

Around 5:35 p.m., Smith was still fighting to defend the building when a metal pole thrown by rioters struck his helmet and face shield. After working into the night, he visited the police medical clinic, was put on sick leave and, according to his wife, was sent home with pain medication.

In the days that followed, Erin said, her husband seemed in constant pain, unable to turn his head. He did not leave the house, even to walk their dog. He refused to talk to other people or watch television. She sometimes woke during the night to find him sitting up in bed or pacing.

“He wasn’t the same Jeff that left on the sixth. . . . I just tried to comfort him and let him know that I loved him,” she said. “I told him I’d be there if he needed anything, that no matter what we’ll get through it. I tried to do the best I could.”

Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions. After a sleepless night, he set off the next afternoon for an overnight shift, taking the ham-and-turkey sandwiches, trail mix and cookies Erin had packed.

On his way to the District, Smith shot himself in the head.

[How D.C. police made a stand against Capitol mob]

Police found him in his cherished Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River.

He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life.

For days, Smith’s wife in Virginia and his family in Illinois grieved privately.

That changed Jan. 26, when acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III testified behind closed doors to a congressional committee, telling lawmakers about the “service and sacrifices” of officers who died after having been at the siege.

Contee named three officers. One was Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who collapsed after engaging rioters and later died. Another was Howard Liebengood, 51, a Capitol officer who took his own life three days after the riot.

The third was Smith.

That two police officers had died by suicide after confronting rioters thrust the most private of acts into the national spotlight and made clear that the pain of Jan. 6 continued long after the day’s events had concluded, its impact reverberating through the lives removed from the Capitol grounds. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2021 at 11:17 am

“I Don’t Trust the People Above Me”: Riot Squad Cops Open Up About Disastrous Response to Capitol Insurrection

leave a comment »

It’s worth noting that, in the aftermath of the Trump-encouraged insurrection, two Capitol police officers have committed suicide. Here’s the report on one. Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan report in ProPubllica:

The riot squad defending the embattled entrance to the west side of the U.S. Capitol was surrounded by violence. Rioters had clambered up the scaffolding by the stage erected for the inauguration of President Joseph Biden. They hurled everything they could get their hands on at the cops beneath: rebar, plywood, power tools, even cans of food they had frozen for extra damage.

In front of the cops, a mob was mounting a frontal assault. Its members hit officers with fists and baseball bats. They grabbed at weapons slung from the officers’ waists. They unleashed a barrage of M-80 firecrackers. Soaked in never-ending streams of bright orange bear spray, the officers choked on plumes of acrid smoke that singed their nostrils and obscured their vision.

One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter’s face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

The combat veteran was hit with bear spray eight times. His experience overseas “was nothing like this,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

Over the last several weeks, ProPublica has interviewed 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers about the assault on the Capitol. Following on the dramatic video of officers defending the building that House lawmakers showed during the first day of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the interviews provide the most detailed account to date of a most extraordinary battle.

The enemies on Jan. 6 were Americans: thousands of people from across the country who had descended on the Capitol, intent on stopping Congress from certifying an election they believed was stolen from Trump. They had been urged to attend by Trump himself, with extremist right-wing and militia leaders calling for violence.

Many of the officers were speaking to reporters for the first time about the day’s events, almost all anonymously for fear of retribution. That they spoke at all is an indication of the depth of their frustration over the botched response. ProPublica also obtained confidential intelligence bulletins and previously unreported planning documents.

Combined, the information makes clear how failures of leadership, communication and tactics put the lives of hundreds of officers at risk and allowed rioters to come dangerously close to realizing their threats against members of Congress.

In response to questions for this story, the Capitol Police sent a one-sentence email: “There is a multi-jurisdictional investigation underway and in order to protect that process, we are unfortunately unable to provide any comment at this time.”

The interviews also revealed officers’ concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on Jan. 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters.

“We had intel that nothing was going to happen — literally nothing,” said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The response was, ‘We don’t trust the intel.’”

By contrast, for much of the force, Jan. 6 began like any other day.

“We normally have pretty good information regarding where these people are and how far they are from the Capitol,” said Keith McFaden, a former Capitol Police officer and union leader who retired from the force following the riot. “We heard nothing that day.”

For the members of the riot squad who formed the first line of defense on the Capitol’s lower west terrace on Jan. 6, the lack of information could not have come with higher stakes.

Thrust into the most intense battle of the insurrection, the roughly two dozen officers bought lawmakers crucial time to scramble for safety. For about 100 heart-pounding minutes, they slipped and skidded across a stone surface slick with blood and bear spray, attempting to hold their ground against a rampaging mass of thousands.

To many of them, it felt like no one was in charge of the Capitol’s defense. All they could hear on the police radio were desperate cries for help.

At one point, the combat veteran was forced to stumble back from the line, his face so covered in bear spray he could barely see or breathe.

When he came to, a surge spilled over to his south. The crowd pushed over several bike racks. He realized the unfathomable had happened. His squad had lost the line; the mob could now enter the Capitol. There was no choice but to fall back. The officers stumbled over blood and debris until they were pressed against a limestone wall at the rear of the terrace. The mob had them cornered.

The officers, drained from their standoff, found a narrow staircase leading to an entrance of the building. But it could fit only one officer at a time. So they took turns climbing it as the crowd closed in, screaming obscenities and threatening murder.

“You fucking faggots!” one shouted. “You’re not even American!”

Waiting to climb the stairs, the combat veteran feared the worst. “This is where they’ll find my body,” he thought. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and right now it looks very much as though Republicans will vote against any accountability. (Republicans claim they are the party of “personal responsibility.” They are the opposite.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2021 at 10:55 am

The next insurrection will be more practiced and effective

leave a comment »

People’s Rights founder Ammon Bundy (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria write in Popular Information:

The January 6 siege of the United States Capitol was not an isolated incident. It is the latest in a series of attacks by violent extremists seeking to undermine federal and state governments. Now, a new organization called “People’s Rights” seeks to bring more sophistication and efficiency to these anti-government efforts. And it is already having considerable success. 

The leader of People’s Rights, which was founded last March, is Ammon Bundy. He was the infamous “leader of the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon — a deadly 41-day standoff between federal agents and militants who rejected the federal government’s authority over public lands across the West. ” Bundy and his heavily-armed associates seized the refuge to protest the conviction of two Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, who were “sentenced to prison for setting fires on federal lands.” Bundy demanded “that the government relinquish ownership” of the refuge and “free the Hammonds.”

The standoff ended when Bundy was arrested at a traffic stop outside the refuge. Bundy was tried in October 2016 on federal weapons and conspiracy charges but, astoundingly, was acquitted by a jury. 

In 2018, Trump gave Bundy what he wanted, pardoning the Hammonds and releasing them from federal prison. “The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West,” the White House said.

Bundy’s new organization is even more ambitious. People’s Rights wants to enable people to “call a militia like they’d call an Uber and stage a protest within minutes.” Bundy claims People’s Rights has 50,000 members in 35 states. The goal, according to Bundy, is to be able to “dispatch 10 protesters to a scene in 10 minutes, 100 in 100 minutes and 1,000 in 1,000 minutes.”

Bundy did not travel to DC on January 6, but urged his followers to go. In a video posted at the end of December, Bundy said he wanted to “express his support for what is happening in Washington on January 6.” Bundy called it an “opportunity to stand for a Constitutional republic.” He also viewed it as a recruiting opportunity for People’s Rights. He told members traveling to DC to “spread the word” and download banners from the People’s Rights website to take with them. “Don’t wear a mask. Stand for freedom,” Bundy concluded. 

Jennifer Rokala, who runs the Center for Western Priorities, called Bundy’s 2016 occupation of the refuge a “dress rehearsal” for the January 6 siege. “The extremist ideologies and tactics that led to the violent occupation of public lands in Oregon are the same ideologies that President Trump has stoked among his supporters,” she said in a statement Thursday.” 

Bundy and People’s Rights have also engaged in . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2021 at 3:38 pm

She Lived Through the Capitol Attack. Now This GOP Staffer Is Calling Out Her Friends’ Conspiracies.

leave a comment »

Cameron Joseph reports in Vice News:

As pro-Trump rioters attacked the U.S. Capitol, GOP aide Leslie Shedd helped barricade her office door with a couch and prayed she and her colleagues wouldn’t have to use the two baseball bats they’d found as makeshift weapons. 

That’s when the misinformation started pouring in.

As friends and family texted to make sure she was safe, two claimed in separate conversations that the rioters were really left-wing agitators in disguise, not the Trump supporters who’d flocked by the thousands to a rally where the president claimed the election was stolen from him. A third floated a conspiracy theory involving the Capitol Police.

“People online saying it could be antifa dressed as MAGA people,” one friend wrote, arguing it was really “BLM and antifa people” and citing a debunked story that a busload of antifascists had been spotted at the U.S. Capitol.

Shedd, the GOP’s House Foreign Affairs Committee communications director, let him have it.

“I’m locked in my office still and two bombs were blown up within two blocks of my office and like five blocks from my house, and a woman died,” she messaged him. “I really can’t go down the insane conspiracy debunking thing right now. This was MAGA people and Trump supporters 100%. That is a fact.”

Most Americans don’t have a harrowing personal tale from the day of the Capitol insurrection, but anyone with conservative friends and family on Facebook knows that Shedd’s online interactions aren’t all that unusual. One-third of Americans have seen posts on Facebook or other platforms supporting those who stormed into the Capitol, three-quarters of Republicans believe the myth that there was widespread voter fraud in the last election, and a quarter of Republicans at least partly believe in QAnon, according to recent polls. If they’re not willing to hear out a friend who actually works in the government—and personally witnessed the Capitol Hill riots—who will they listen to?

The wake-up call

Shedd used to politely change the topic when friends would float fringe right-wing conspiracy theories, and she usually ignored fringey Facebook posts from high school or college friends from back in her home state of South Carolina. But the attacks on the Capitol were a wake-up call. 

“I sat down and thought about what responsibility I have for what happened. What role did I play in January 6 happening? I always tried to be honest and forthcoming with people,” she told VICE News. “I’m a communicator. This is my job. I of all people should use my skill to figure out ways to politely push back on disinformation of any kind, even if that makes me uncomfortable or upsets people.”

Since the Capitol attack, Shedd says she’s had more than a dozen conversations with friends trying to knock down their conspiratorial beliefs. No, the election wasn’t stolen by Democrats. No, the Capitol rioters weren’t a false flag operation. No, QAnon isn’t real.

“I want to throw something out there as someone who works for the federal government and on Capitol Hill and has worked for multiple national and statewide campaigns,” she posted on Facebook on Jan. 27. “Turns out all our lives are generally boring because – spoiler alert – there is NO mass conspiracy within the government. QAnon is a cult.”

“Do you think that I am a pedophile that also eats children?” she continued. “If not, stop listening to anyone who ‘supports’ or claims to be QAnon adjacent or spreads QAnon beliefs to you.”

When some conservatives accused New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of exaggerating her own story of surviving Jan. 6, Shedd defended her:

“That’s what it felt like. People were running and making loud noises in the hallway, alarms are going off and any noise you hear is terrifying. They’ve gotten into your building,” Shedd told VICE News in defense of AOC.

Shedd was in the same building as Ocasio-Cortez on the day of the attack. She spent January 6 huddled in her Rayburn House Office Building office with her boss, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, and a half-dozen staffers. When the building was locked down, they barricaded the main door with a couch and propped chairs against the other exterior doors.

The emergency alarm of the building entrance kept blaring, just down the hallway from their office. They heard banging. At one point, they heard a “mad rush” of yelling people run down the hall outside their office. Shedd isn’t sure if it was cops or rioters. They took in a refugee—a friend of Shedd’s who’d been trapped when the building locked down and was hiding under a set of stairs because they couldn’t get back to their office.

Before she left the office, Shedd posted on Facebook to let her friends know she was safe—and to put on notice the GOP lawmakers who were preparing to vote against certifying the election results.

“To those Members who supported this farce, I hope you seriously look at what happened today. Your words and your actions have consequences. And the violence we have seen today is what happens when people in power purposefully mislead the public,” she warned.

Shedd got home, had a large glass of wine, and passed out. It wasn’t until the next day that the emotional toll of the day hit her, when she burst into tears during a phone call with her parents.

“People who were actually in the Capitol building definitely had a much bigger threat against them and were in a worse situation,” she said. “I’m grateful I wasn’t in the Capitol building. But being locked down in our offices like that, not knowing what’s going on and not knowing what’s going on—it was very, very frightening.”

Shedd is uniquely positioned to convince some people to think harder about their views. She’s a longtime GOP staffer who voted for Trump and has worked on a conservative presidential campaign (Carly Fiorina in 2015), a major Senate race (Ohio in 2018), for a large state party (the Georgia GOP in 2014), and for three conservative Republican congressmen. If her friends aren’t going to listen to the mainstream media, at least they’ll hear her out, right?

“For some people, it probably helps to hear someone like me say these things,” she said.

Experience doesn’t count

But she’s frustrated she’s not making more progress. A lot of the conversations, she said, have been like “beating my head against a wall.” At one point she wrote a three-page email debunking a series of false claims about the election only to have her friend respond with other disinformation. Half of the conversations have been about . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

That last paragraph describes something I’ve noted is fairly common: people faced by a refutation simply ignore it and move on to make other arguments, never responding to the arguments presented to them. When that happens, communication seems impossible: such a person is set to “transmit” with “receive” being out of operation.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2021 at 1:39 pm

%d bloggers like this: