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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

The Billionaires Funding the Coup’s Brain Trust

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Andy Kroll reports in Rolling Stone:

The Claremont Institute, once a little-known think tank often confused with the liberal-arts college of the same name, has emerged as a driving force in the conservative movement’s crusade to use bogus fraud claims about the 2020 election to rewrite voting laws and remake the election system in time for the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election. Most infamously, one of the group’s legal scholars crafted memos outlining a plan for how then-Vice President Mike Pence could potentially overturn the last election.

Conservative mega-donors like what they see.

The biggest right-wing megadonors in America made major contributions to Claremont in 2020 and 2021, according to foundation financial records obtained by Rolling Stone. The high-profile donors include several of the most influential families who fund conservative politics and policy: the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee, and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh.

The Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation donated $240,000 to Claremont in 2020 and approved another $400,000 to be paid out in the future, tax records show. The Bradley Foundation donated $100,000 to Claremont in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021, according to tax records and a spokeswoman for the group. The Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of several charities tied to the late right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, supplied another $450,000 to Claremont in 2020, according to its latest tax filings.

Claremont’s own tax filings show that its revenue rose from 2019 to 2020 by a half-million dollars to $6.2 million, one of the highest sums since the organization was founded in 1979, according to the most recent available data. A Claremont spokesman said the group wouldn’t comment about its donors beyond publicly available data but estimated that Claremont’s revenue for the 2021 fiscal year had increased to $7.5 million.

The DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes are among the most prominent donor families in conservative politics. For Bradley and Scaife, the giving to Claremont tracks with a long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, from the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the “bill mill” American Legislative Exchange Council, to anti-immigration zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.

Bradley in particular has given heavily to groups that traffic in misleading or baseless claims about “election integrity” or widespread “voter fraud.” Thanks to a $6.5 million infusion from the Bradley Impact Fund, a related nonprofit, the undercover-sting group Project Veritas nearly doubled its revenue in 2020 to $22 million, according to the group’s tax filing. Bradley is also a long-time funder of the Heritage Foundation, which helped architect the wave of voter suppression bills introduced in state legislatures this year, and True the Vote, a conservative group that trains poll watchers and stokes fears of rampant voter fraud in the past.

The Bradley Foundation was founded in 1942 by the Bradley family. Brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley co-founded the Allen-Bradley company, which would later provide much of the funding for the Bradley Foundation. The nonprofit, which has given out more than $1 billion in its history, no longer has any Bradley family members on its board.

But while the Bradley donations are to be expected, the contributions from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation to Claremont are perhaps more surprising. Betsy DeVos, in one of her final acts as Trump’s education secretary, condemned the “angry mob” on January 6 and said “the law must be upheld and the work of the people must go on.”

A spokesman for the DeVoses, Nick Wasmiller, said Betsy DeVos’s letter “speaks for itself.” He added: “Claremont does work in many areas. It would be baseless to assert the Foundation’s support has any connection to the one item you cite.” While the foundation’s 2020 tax filing said its grants to Claremont were unrestricted, Wasmiller said the filing was wrong and the money had been earmarked. However, he declined to say what it was earmarked for.

The donations flowing into Claremont illustrate that although the group’s full-throated support for Trump and fixation on election crimes may be extreme, they’re not fringe views when they have the backing of influential conservative funders. “Were it not for the patronage of billionaire conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would likely be relegated to screaming about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, president of government watchdog group Accountable.US.

The Claremont spokesman responded to Herrig’s comment by saying . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 5:59 pm

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

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Jason Kottke notes:

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit,

Continue reading. . .

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 1:24 pm

A determined effort to destroy the United States

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If this isn’t domestic terrorism and sedition, I don’t know what is. Heather Cox Richardson:

January 11, 2022 (Tuesday)

The United States came perilously close to losing its democracy in 2020, when an incumbent president refused to accept the results of an election he lost and worked with supporters to declare himself the winner and remain in power.

We are learning more about how that process happened.

Yesterday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed that it has been looking at attempts to overturn the election not just at the national level but also at the state level. It has gathered thousands of records and interviewed a number of witnesses to see what Trump and his loyalists did to overturn the 2020 election in the four crucial states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In those states, officials generally tried to ignore the pressure from Trump and his loyalists to overturn the election. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, was uncomfortable enough with a call from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on the subject that he recorded a call in which Trump urged him to “find” the votes Trump needed to win the state.

In Pennsylvania, right-wing Republican Representative Scott Perry tried to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes for Biden and to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (who took over when Attorney General William Barr resigned on December 23) with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who promised to challenge the election results.

But it turns out there was more. We knew that Trump supporters in Wisconsin had submitted fake election certificates to the National Archivist, but yesterday, public records requests by Politico revealed that Trump loyalists in Michigan and Arizona also submitted false certificates to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) declaring Trump the winner of Michigan’s and Arizona’s electoral votes. In Arizona, they actually affixed the state seal to their papers. NARA rejected the false certificates and alerted the secretaries of state. (Shout-out here to the NARA archivists and librarians, who are scrupulous in their roles as the keepers of our national history.)

Today, the committee issued more subpoenas, this time for documents and testimony from Andy Surabian, Arthur Schwartz, and Ross Worthington. Surabian and Schwartz were strategists communicating with Donald Trump, Jr., and Kimberly Guilfoyle about the rally on the Ellipse on January 6 before the crowd broke into the Capitol. Worthington helped to write the speech Trump gave at the rally.

The committee today also debunked a story circulating on right-wing media that government agencies rather than Trump loyalists were behind the January 6 insurrection. Arizona resident Ray Epps was captured on video in Washington on January 5 and 6, and Trump allies, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have argued that he was a government agent trying to entrap Trump supporters. The committee says that it interviewed Epps and that he had told the members “he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”

“Sorry crazies, it ain’t true,” committee member Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted.

As the attack on our country has become clearer, the determination to restore our democracy has gained momentum.

Today, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took to the road to champion voting rights. They went to the district of the late Representative John Lewis, the Georgia congressman for whom one of the voting rights bills before the Senate is named.

Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times in his quest to regain the vote for Black Americans. On March 7, 1965, as  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 9:53 pm

Can a President do nothing illegal while in office?

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Trump and his loyalists/minions certainly seem to think that Trump cannot be held legally accountable for anything he did while in office. Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta held a hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine whether three lawsuits against former president Trump and a number of his loyalists should be permitted to go forward.

The lawsuits have been filed by Democratic members of the House and Capitol Police officers injured on January 6 against Trump, lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), and others. The plaintiffs are trying to hold Trump and his team liable in a civil suit for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

But the questions in these three cases mirror those being discussed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and touch on whether the former president committed a crime by inciting insurrection or by standing back while the rioters stopped the official proceedings of Congress (which itself is a crime).

Most significantly, Judge Mehta grappled with the meaning of Trump’s refusal to call off the rioters for 187 crucial minutes during the insurrection as they stormed the Capitol. This is a key factor on which the January 6th committee is focused, and Mehta dug into it.

While Trump’s lawyer tried to argue that the president could not be in trouble for failing to do something—that is, for failing to call off the rioters—the judge wondered if Trump’s long silence indicated that he agreed with the insurrectionists inside the Capitol. “If my words had been misconstrued…and they led to violence, wouldn’t somebody, the reasonable person, just come out and say, wait a second, stop?” he asked.

The judge also tried to get at the answer to whether the actions of Trump and his loyalists at the rally were protected as official speech, or were part of campaign activities, which are not protected. Brooks told the judge that everything he did—including wearing body armor to tell the crowd to fight—was part of his official duties. The Department of Justice said this summer that it considered the rally a campaign event and would not defend Brooks for his part in it.

Trump’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, argued that Trump is absolutely immune from any legal consequences for anything he said while president. “So the president, in your view, is both immune to inciting the riot and failing to stop it?” Mehta asked.

When Binnall suggested the judge was holding Trump to a different standard than he would hold a Democrat, Mehta called the charge “simply inappropriate.”

For all their bluster before the media, key figures in the events of January 6 appear to be increasingly uncomfortable. Last night, Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) joined other Trump administration figures when he announced that he would not appear before the January 6th committee. It has asked him to testify voluntarily, since he has acknowledged that he spoke to Trump on January 6, and since the committee has at least one text from him appearing to embrace the theory that the election results could be overturned.

Jordan claimed that the committee has no legitimate legislative purpose, although a judge has said otherwise.

Observers today noted that Jordan is denying that he recognizes the authority of Congress, and pointed out that in 2015, then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, in fact, recognize that authority when she testified for 11 hours before ​​a Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Today, establishment Republicans showed some resistance to Trump’s attempt to remake the Republican Party as his own when they . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 3:17 am

The Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Begging for Pardons Sound an Awful Lot Like Confederate Soldiers

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In Mother Jones Anthony Conwright points out an interesting similarity:

Receiving a presidential pardon for subverting the government is not a novelty in the United States, though the Trump era made it almost a stamp of approval for criminal behavior. In an interview with Rolling Stone, an organizer of the “Stop the Steal” movement claimed that, before the Capitol breach, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) promised a “full pardon” for their “hard work” and said Trump was also on board.

“I would have done it either way with or without the pardon,” the organizer, who was granted anonymity by Rolling Stone, added. Gosar joined 197 other House Republicans who voted not to impeach Donald Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” absolving Trump of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which forbids any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from “hold[ing] any office…under the United States,” itself a pardon of sorts.

Of course, now that Trump is out of office, the January 6 rioters aren’t going to get pardoned anytime soon. But the insurrectionists and their leaders have an awful lot in common with another group of white people who tried to destroy the country: Confederate soldiers. And the era of Reconstruction offers lessons for what happens when the government allows traitors posing as patriotic legislators to remain in its midst.

On December 8, 1863, while the war was still raging, Abraham Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which, in a bid to popularize emancipation, gave a full pardon to all Confederates who took an oath of allegiance to the United States, excepting the highest-ranking officials. Once 10 percent of those who voted in the 1860 election took the oath of allegiance, a state could be readmitted to the union. Private property of Southerners would be restored, so long as emancipation was accepted. The goals of Lincoln’s proclamation were to “suppress the insurrection” and provide a pathway for Confederate states to join the union; in other words, to allow the South to turn over a new leaf and help the country move forward.

Radical Republicans feared Lincoln’s 10 percent plan was too lenient. They were proved right when, after Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson—who not a year earlier gave a speech saying, “I am for a white man’s government, and in favor of free white qualified voters controlling this country, without regard to negroes”—began undermining Reconstruction. He started by pardoning high-ranking Confederates. Among them was Harry T. Hayes, a former Confederate general who led the rebels at Gettysburg. Following Hayes’ pardon, he became sheriff of New Orleans and in 1866 deputized fellow Confederates to disrupt a Louisiana constitutional convention. When a delegation of 130 Black citizens marched to the convention to extend voting rights to free Black people, remove Black Codes, and disenfranchise ex-Confederates, Hayes and his deputies fired upon the group, killing at least 40 free Black people in what is known as the New Orleans massacre.

In a speech, Johnson blamed the massacre on the “Radical Congress” pushing for a “new government” that intended “to enfranchise one portion of the population, called the colored population, who had just been emancipated, and at the same time disenfranchise white men.”

Trump, who opposed redesignating military bases named after Confederate generals, echoed Johnson days after the insurrection, blaming “antifa people.” He repeated the refrains he’d been pounding on for months, falsely accusing predominantly Black counties of election fraud. “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats.” Trump’s “radical-left Democrats” are Johnson’s “Radical Congress,” a coalition of progressives who attempted to thwart their president’s anti-Black agenda. Like Johnson, Trump views Black suffrage as antithetical to his political existence. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Trump’s lies about the insurrection were a remastering of the South’s “lost cause,” a Confederate myth that the Civil War was not a battle for slavery but for “states’ rights” against Northern aggressors, and that white enslavers were benevolent owners of Black human beings. The lost cause presented Confederates with an attractive concession: The South lost the war not because their position was morally repugnant but because the North had superior resources.

Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, touted the “lost cause” in his autobiographyThe Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. “I confidently refer for the establishment of the fact that whatever of bloodshed, of devastation, or shock to republican government has resulted from the war, is to be charged to the Northern States.” Davis was pardoned on December 25, 1868, when Johnson extended amnesty to each person who’d participated in the rebellion—which jettisoned Davis’ trial for treason and contravened Republicans’ attempts to punish Confederate soldiers—ultimately expunging every Confederate of crimes against the United States. (Although Davis was pardoned by Johnson, he was not allowed to vote or hold office. Davis was posthumously awarded “full rights of citizenship” in 1978 by Jimmy Carter.)

Trump reappraised the violence, treachery, and death his supporters caused on January 6 as honorable protest of “innocent people” whose rights were plundered. In Trump’s contemporary fiction, he did not lose the election—his presidency was overthrown by Democratic marauders, and he lacked the political resources to surmount their coup. In the year since,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 4:25 pm

The failure to protect

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Heather Cox Richardson writes about January 6:

Just before sunrise on a November day in 1861, Massachusetts abolitionist Julia Ward Howe woke up in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. She got out of bed, found a pen, and began to write about the struggle in which the country was engaged: could any nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” survive, or would such a nation inevitably descend into hierarchies and minority rule?

Howe had faith in America. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” she wrote in the gray dawn. “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.”

She thought of the young soldiers she had seen the day before, huddled around fires in the raw winter weather, ringing the city to protect it from the soldiers of the Confederacy who were fighting to create a nation that rejected the idea that all men were created equal: “I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps; I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps, His day is marching on.”

Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic became inspiration for the soldiers protecting the United States government. And in a four-year war that took hundreds of thousands of lives, they prevailed. Despite the threats to Washington, D.C., and the terrible toll the war took, they made sure the Confederate flag never flew in the U.S. Capitol.

That changed a year ago today.

On January 6, 2021, insurrectionists determined to overturn an election and undermine our democracy carried that flag into the seat of our government. Worse, they did so with the encouragement of former president Trump and members of his party.

This morning, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol tweeted out a brief timeline of what happened:

At 8:17 in the morning, Trump lied that states wanted to correct their electoral votes and pressured Vice President Mike Pence to send the electoral votes back to the states. If Pence would cooperate, he tweeted, “WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Starting at 12:00 noon, Trump spoke for an hour to supporters at the Ellipse, telling them, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more.” He urged them to march to the Capitol.

Between 12:52 and 1:49, pipe bombs were found near the Capitol grounds at Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters. (We learned today that Vice President–elect Kamala Harris, then a senator from California, was in the DNC at the time.)

At 1:00, Congress met in joint session to count the certified electoral ballots, confirming Biden as president. Pence began to count the ballots. He refused to reject the ballots Trump wanted thrown out, writing in a letter before the joint session, “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.”

From 1:00 to 1:13, the mob began to charge the Capitol.

Between 1:30 and 1:59, Trump supporters continued to move from the Ellipse to the Capitol, overwhelming the Capitol Police, who were ordered to pull back and request support.

Between 2:12 and 2:30, the mob broke into the Capitol building, one man carrying the Confederate battle flag. Both the House and the Senate adjourned, and members began to evacuate their chambers.

From 2:24 to 3:13, with the rioters inside the Capitol, Trump tweeted that “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done…. USA demands the truth!” and then “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement…. Stay peaceful!” (One of Trump’s aides today revealed that the former president did not want to tweet the words “stay peaceful” and was “very reluctant to put out anything when it was unfolding.”)

At 4:17, shortly after Biden had publicly called on Trump to end the siege, Trump issued a video insisting that the election was fraudulent but nonetheless telling the mob to “go home. We love you, you’re very special.”

At 5:20, the first of the National Guard troops arrived at the Capitol. Law enforcement began to push the insurrectionists out of the building and secure it.

At 8:06, the building was secured. Pence reopened the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reopened the House.

When the counting of the ballots resumed, 147 Republicans maintained their objections to at least one certified state ballot.

Early on the morning of January 7, Congress confirmed that Joe Biden had been elected president with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232. It was not a particularly close election: Biden’s victory in the popular vote was more than 7 million.

For almost a year, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 2:34 am

Capitol Rioter Admits False Statements to FBI, but Prosecutors Haven’t Charged Him With a Felony

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The reason, I imagine, is that the FBI is strongly conservative and so has considerable sympathy for the “patriots” who attacked the Capitol. Certainly, Muslims who lie to the FBI get no slack.

Trevor Aaronson reports in the Intercept:

IT WASN’T HARD for the FBI to identify Jeff Grace as one of the rioters in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A 61-year-old long-haul truck driver from Washington state, Grace was in the background of one of the most ridiculous and iconic photographs from that day: the shot of a man in a red, white, and blue Trump hat waving to the camera while carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern through the rotunda. Grace’s bald head was visible in the background.

“You know the guy carrying the lectern out?” Grace would later ask a Texas police officer, in a video Grace recorded and posted online during a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border while he was on pretrial release.

“Yes, sir,” the officer responded.

“Look at the old man behind him,” Grace boasted. “That’s me.”

FBI agents arrested Grace at his home in Battle Ground, Washington, near the Oregon border, about three weeks after the Capitol riot.

According to a review of court records by The Intercept in collaboration with the Prosecution Project, Grace is one of 707 Americans charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with crimes related to the January 6 riot, during which five people died. As with 316 of those criminal defendants, or 45 percent of the total, Grace faces only misdemeanor charges for his part in a violent mob that overran barricades and killed and injured police officers at the Capitol as part of an effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president

After his arrest, Grace told FBI agents that he had lost track of his son, Jeremy, with whom he had traveled from Washington state, during the melee and that he entered the U.S. Capitol without him. He also denied to federal agents that he was a member of the Proud Boys, a far-right militant group that has been responsible for violence throughout the United States.

According to The Intercept’s analysis of federal court records, the Justice Department has charged at least 47 alleged members and affiliates of the Proud Boys with crimes related to the Capitol riot, including some with conspiring to obstruct a congressional proceeding. The Proud Boys represented the largest militant-group contingent during the insurrection; the far-right Oath Keepers made up the second-largest contingent, with 29 alleged Oath Keepers charged for their roles in the insurrection. The FBI appeared to be concerned in advance about possible violence from the Proud Boys on January 6, 2021, with at least one informant providing firsthand details about the group’s activities to the FBI.

Federal prosecutors allege that Grace made two false statements to FBI agents: when he said he wasn’t with his son in the Capitol and when he said he wasn’t a member of the Proud Boys. Grace’s son has since also been charged with misdemeanors related to the January 6 riot, after investigators found videos among deleted files on Grace’s phone showing father and son together inside the Capitol.

Months after Grace pleaded not guilty to the federal misdemeanor charges, Justice Department prosecutors alleged in court that he engaged in armed clashes in Texas and Oregon. Prosecutors asked a judge to force Grace to relinquish his guns while he awaits trial. “Grace’s recent escalation in which he twice brought a firearm to pre-planned confrontations with others and vowed to continue doing so establishes that the proposed amendment is reasonably necessary to protect the safety of the community,” Mona Sedky, a federal prosecutor, wrote in a court filing.

A judge agreed and ordered Grace to turn over his guns to local police in Washington state. But the Justice Department has not brought additional charges for Grace’s false statements to the FBI, which would transform Grace’s case into a far more serious prosecution. Making false statements to FBI agents is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and in international terrorism cases, prosecutors commonly file the charge. More than 150 defendants with alleged links to foreign terror groups have been charged with making false statements since 9/11, often for alleged offenses similar to Grace’s: misleading statements about their involvement in extremist groups or about people with whom they’re associated.

Grace has complained in videos he’s posted to YouTube that the Justice Department is treating him unfairly. “How do you feel free thinking that I don’t deserve to carry my firearms?” Grace asked in one video.

But Grace is in fact benefiting from a long-running double standard in how the Justice Department prosecutes violent domestic extremists compared with extremists associated with international groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Since 9/11, for example, Muslims involved in bombing cases are often charged with using weapons of mass destruction, an anti-terrorism charge that comes with decades in prison, while anti-abortion extremists who’ve bombed reproductive health clinics have faced lesser explosives charges for similar crimes.

“There is no question that the FBI and federal prosecutors have treated white supremacist and far-right violence far more leniently than Muslims they accuse of supporting terrorism and even more leniently than nonviolent protesters opposing racism and police violence,” said Michael German, a former FBI undercover agent who investigated domestic extremists and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The felony charge of making false statements to federal agents is particularly emblematic of the double standard. The Justice Department gave Grace a pass on the charge, but federal prosecutors have not been as generous in similar cases involving alleged Islamist extremists.

A few months after prosecutors charged Grace for his role in the Capitol riot, for example, they . . ..

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2022 at 2:13 pm

January 6th was part of something larger — that we must confront now

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David Troy writes in Medium:

In 2009, Peter Thiel said, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” There exists today a coordinated effort to eliminate democracy, driven by libertarian billionaires like Thiel, a global network of anti-tax advocates, white supremacists, oil interests, and organized crime, all aligned in common purpose. This is incompatible with this country’s founding principles and must be countered forcefully.

The January 6th insurrection was an attack on American democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. A broader view of history reveals that this was just one facet of a much larger effort by the fossil fuel industry to destroy governments in its way using psychological warfare (including movement infiltrationtargeting lawmakers with sophisticated influence campaigns, and fake front groups), and pushing for changes in monetary policy.

We are at a crossroads. The global fossil fuel industry thinks in terms of decades and centuries. American democracy operates on two and four year cycles. The two are simply no match. Oil revenues can purchase influence and astroturfing cheaply, totally overwhelming our democracy. And once American democracy falls, others are not far behind.

We must, before it’s too late, bring the influence of the carbon fuel industry under control, and curb cryptocurrencies through strong regulation and taxation. As weather disasters become increasingly dire, we must confront the fact that attacks on democracy and monetary policy are in fact attacks on the planet. And we must stand up against the international fascist network seeking to use America’s collapse as a blueprint.

The current assault is a culmination of about 100 years of effort. In 1933, a network associated with the National Association of Manufacturers and the petroleum industry attempted to recruit Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler to overthrow the government, leading an army of “500,000 veteran super-soldiers” to capture or kill FDR, and reinstate the gold standard he had abandoned to fund the New Deal. They studied emerging fascism in Italy and France to plan their attack; Butler turned the plotters in to Congress.

The far right Council for National Policy, one network whose members planned and executed the January 6th attack, was created in 1981 with funding from the Hunt Brothers — oil billionaires whose net worth was sufficiently threatened by inflation that they attempted to corner the global silver market the year before. The idea of “sound money,” out of reach of central banks like the Federal Reserve, has long been a fixation of oil barons.

Koch Industries, through its network of affiliates such as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, ALEC and the Federalist Society, has funded multiple efforts to obstruct the transition from carbon fuels, including the 5–4 capture of the Supreme Court. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has documented this Koch operation in a series of 10 speeches on the Senate Floor.

Today’s GOP agenda has been so overtaken by the Koch brand of libertarianism, powered by Austrian-school economics and funding from the Mercer, Scaife, Bradley, and Olin families, as to be indistinguishable from the 1980 libertarian party platform in which Vice Presidential candidate David Koch proposed nothing less than the dismantling of the administrative state — a concept later echoed by Steve Bannon and his Council for National Policy (CNP) counterparts.

Dr. Robert Brulle, a visiting scholar at Brown University, found that in recent decades, the oil and gas industry has increasingly shifted its focus from funding relatively ineffective and inexpensive “climate denial science” to spending hundreds of millions of dollars per year on population-centered psychological warfare and influence campaigns focused on “climate obstruction.”

Another key front in the effort to obstruct climate regulation is . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2022 at 1:56 pm

One Single Day. That’s All It Took for the World to Look Away From Us.

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Again, a gift link that bypasses the paywall. Francis Fukuyama writes in the NY Times:

The Jan. 6 attack on Congress by a mob inspired by former President Donald Trump marked an ominous precedent for U.S. politics. Not since the Civil War had the country failed to effect a peaceful transfer of power, and no previous candidate purposefully contested an election’s results in the face of broad evidence that it was free and fair.

The event continues to reverberate in American politics — but its impact is not just domestic. It has also had a large impact internationally and signals a significant decline in American global power and influence.

Jan. 6 needs to be seen against the backdrop of the broader global crisis of liberal democracy. According to Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom in the World report, democracy has been in decline for 15 straight years, with some of the largest setbacks coming in the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India. Since that report was issued, coups took place in Myanmar, Tunisia and Sudan, countries that had previously taken promising steps toward democracy.

The world had experienced a huge expansion in the number of democracies, from around 35 in the early 1970s to well over 110 by the time of the 2008 financial crisis. The United States was critical to what was labeled the “Third Wave” of democratization. America provided security to democratic allies in Europe and East Asia, and presided over an increasingly integrated global economy that quadrupled its output in that same period.

But global democracy was underpinned by the success and durability of democracy in the United States itself — what the political scientist Joseph Nye labels its “soft power.” People around the world looked up to America’s example as one they sought to emulate, from the students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to the protesters leading the “color revolutions” in Europe and the Middle East in subsequent decades.

The decline of democracy worldwide is driven by complex forces. Globalization and economic change have left many behind, and a huge cultural divide has emerged between highly educated professionals living in cities and residents of smaller towns with more traditional values. The rise of the internet has weakened elite control over information; we have always disagreed over values, but we now live in separate factual universes. And the desire to belong and have one’s dignity affirmed are often more powerful forces than economic self-interest.

The world thus looks very different from the way it did roughly 30 years ago, when the former Soviet Union collapsed. There were two key factors I underestimated back then — first, . . .

Continue reading. Gift link = no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2022 at 1:35 pm

Conservatism and Fascism Are Not the Same Thing

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The US is in serious danger of collapsing into a repressive and authoritarian state. Jonathan Chait writes about that in New York:

The Republican evolution into an authoritarian party is the most important development of the current political era. The conservative movement has a long tradition of anti-democratic thought, which Donald Trump catalyzed and which has accelerated since he departed office into his movement’s defining ethos.

Hardly a day goes by without some horrifying new expression of the right’s contempt for democracy. Here is Republican senator Rand Paul defining a “stolen” election as “targeting and convincing potential voters to complete [ballots] in a legally valid way.” Here is conservative talk-show host Jesse Kelly warning, “When I take power, communists” — Kelly’s term for liberals — “will not be allowed to hold jobs. Their children won’t be allowed in schools.” Here is an essay in a conservative journal urging the right to openly celebrate January 6 “as our Storming of the Bastille … One side is prepared to do everything necessary to secure their political power, so the other side must be prepared to resist every step of the way with equal determination.”

Ideas like this are not representative of the Republican Party — at least not yet. What they represent is a fringe that is creeping closer and closer to control over the GOP and meeting less and less resistance.

It is vital to understand the interplay between authoritarian logic and standard-issue conservative politics. My long-standing contention is that the two overlap heavily — that is, rather than having descended suddenly in the form of Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the party, right-wing authoritarianism grew out of the conservative movement organically. Trump articulated deep-seated fears that the conservative agenda could not prevail under liberal democratic conditions because the right would be outnumbered either economically (the takers would confiscate the wealth of the makers) or demographically. Conservatives turn to authoritarianism for the same reason communists turn to revolution: They don’t believe they can accomplish their policy goals democratically.

Jason Stanley has proposed a much more sweeping claim. Stanley, a philosophy professor at Yale, argues in the Guardian that the Republican Party has entered what he calls “fascism’s legal phase.” Stanley’s essay, which attracted widespread praise from progressive intellectuals on Twitter, treats conservative policy goals as inherently authoritarian. The total conflation of conservative policy goals with authoritarianism is ill conceived and ultimately counterproductive to the goal of defending democracy and clearly understanding the threats it faces.

ne of the things you learn in your first week of an introductory philosophy course on logic is how to identify a logical fallacy. The most common is called “affirming the consequent.” The structure of this fallacy takes the form:

If A, then B;
Therefore, A.

For example:

If it is raining, there won’t be a baseball game that day;
There isn’t a baseball game today;
Therefore, it must be raining.

Stanley has presumably learned about this, having secured a job in a philosophy department at a high-quality institution like Yale. Oddly, though, his entire essay is built on this well-known fallacy.

Stanley bases his conclusion that the Republican Party is fascist on a series of juxtapositions. For instance, “The Nazis used Judeo-Bolshevism as their constructed enemy. The fascist movement in the Republican Party has turned to critical race theory instead.”

Does this mean opposition to critical race theory is fascistic? This would come as a surprise to critics of CRT on the center-left as well as the right. Or does Stanley merely mean to say that opposing critical race theory is something a fascist would do? If so, he’s probably right. A right-wing fascist is certainly going to fulminate against left-wing theories. But so too would a perfectly democratic right-of-center party. Nothing about the CRT debate gives insight into the Republican Party’s authoritarian bent any more than the absence of baseball today indicates rain.

Drawing out his analogy to Hitler’s rise, Stanley notes that the Nazi Party “increased its popularity over many years in part by strategically masking its explicit antisemitic agenda to attract moderate voters,” focusing its attacks on communists and other unpopular left-wing targets. But how do we tell a right-wing fascist party strategically masking its fascist agenda from a conservative party that is appealing to moderate voters because it is engaging in democratic politics?

Stanley provides his readers no tools to make this distinction. Instead he simply lumps all right-wing politics into the same bin. He points out that right-wing extremists seize on left-wing protests to create a crisis atmosphere that justifies extreme countermeasures:

In its most recent iteration, in the form of the reaction against Black Lives Matter protesters and the demonization of antifa and student activists, a fascist social and political movement has been avidly stoking the flames for mass rightwing political violence, by justifying it against these supposed internal enemies.

Yet Stanley seems to present any criticism of left-wing protests as laying the groundwork for fascism:

Street movements in the US have often been accompanied by vigorous campus protests, from the protests against the Vietnam war of the 1960s, to recent campus protests for racial justice that attracted media rebuke (paradoxically, for “chilling free speech”). Politicians in both parties have feasted on these moments, using them to troll for votes.

I’ve read this passage and the surrounding text a half-dozen times attempting, fruitlessly, to locate a clear statement of how these positions relate to fascism. It seems to me that some criticisms of left-wing protests are perfectly consistent with democratic politics while others are not, and distinguishing between the two is the vital thing. Stanley simply doesn’t bother parsing the difference.

On gender controversies, he is more alarmingly cogent. I don’t see any other way to read this passage except as a claim that restricting abortion is ipso facto fascistic:

Fascist ideology strictly enforces gender roles and restricts the freedom of women … According to National Socialist ideology, abortion, at any point in pregnancy, was considered to be murder … The recent attack on abortion rights, and the coming attack on birth control, led by a hard-right supreme court, is consistent with the hypothesis that we are, in the United States, facing a real possibility of a fascist future.

I urge you to read the entire thing to see that I am not omitting the caveat where Stanley says, Of course you can oppose legal abortion without being a fascist. No passage like that exists. If you think opposing abortion (which, to be clear, I do not) is fascistic, then you don’t recognize any boundary between conservatism and fascism at all.

Why am I quibbling with Stanley’s logic, or lack thereof, if I agree with his conclusion that the Republican Party is increasingly authoritarian? Because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2022 at 8:15 pm

If American democracy is going to survive, the media must make this crucial shift

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Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post (gift link; no paywall):

In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, mainstream journalists have done a lot of things right. They’ve published major investigations, pointed out politicians’ lies and, in many cases, finally learned how to clearly communicate the facts of what happened leading up to that horrendous riot at the U.S. Capitol — and what is happening now as pro-Trump Republicans steadily chip away at the very checks and balances that saved American democracy last year.

Much of this work has been impressive. And yet, something crucial is missing. For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public.

“We are losing our democracy day by day, and journalists are individually aware of this, but media outlets are not centering this as the story it should be,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar of autocracy and the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.”

That American democracy is teetering is unquestionable. Jan. 6 is every day now, in the words of a recent New York Times editorial that noted the growing evidence: election officials harassed by conspiracy theory addicts, death threats issued to politicians who vote their conscience, GOP lawmakers pushing measures to make it harder for citizens to vote and easier for partisans to overturn legitimate voting results.

“The reactionary counter-mobilization against democracy has accelerated,” wrote historian Thomas Zimmer, a visiting professor at Georgetown. “It’s happening on so many fronts simultaneously that it’s easy to lose sight of how things are connected.”

[A Trump lawyer wrote an instruction manual for a coup. Why haven’t you seen it on the news?]

To be sure, even some of the most studiously neutral of news organizations are doing important journalism on this subject.

“ ‘Slow-motion insurrection’: How GOP seizes election power,” read the headline of an Associated Press news story last week. It detailed the ways in which Republicans aligned with former president Donald Trump, after the near-miss of last year’s coup attempt, “have worked to clear the path for next time.”

The story explained what’s happening in the battleground states that could determine the next occupant of the White House: “In Michigan, the Republican Party is restocking members of obscure local boards that could block approval of an election. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislatures are backing open-ended ‘reviews’ of the 2020 election, modeled on a deeply flawed look-back in Arizona.” Writer Nicholas Riccardi stated his findings in his own equivocation-free words, without washing it through the voice of some academic or activist: “The efforts are poised to fuel disinformation and anger about the 2020 results for years to come.”

Similarly, NPR recently ran a seven-minute segment on what it called “the clear and present danger of Trump’s enduring ‘Big Lie.’ ” As NYU’s Jay Rosen noted, the piece was admirably direct in its language: “No dilution via ‘both sides,” no ‘critics say,’ Just a straight-up warning.” And on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this weekend, moderator Chuck Todd — who has deservedly drawn criticism in recent months for too often allowing GOP talking points to go unchallenged — stepped up in a significant way to detail the “big lie” spread by Trump allies this past year to evoke the specter of a supposedly stolen presidential election.

More pointedly, the Atlantic magazine — which positions itself as centrist rather than left-leaning — published an entire issue in December devoted to the topic of democracy under threat. The cover headline’s message was hard to miss: “January 6 was practice.” The cover story by Barton Gellman began with this chilling paragraph:

“Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.”

[Words matter. So these journalists refuse to call GOP election meddling an ‘audit.’]

All of this is good, necessary and important. The Atlantic, particularly, seems to have taken on the challenge.

But, in general, this pro-democracy coverage is not being “centered” by the media writ large. It’s occasional, not regular; it doesn’t appear to be part of an overall editorial plan that fully recognizes just how much trouble we’re in.

That must change. It’s not merely that . . .

Continue reading. Gift link: no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2022 at 1:29 pm

Investigation developments reported by Heather Cox Richardson

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

A quick review to get us up to speed for what promises to be a fraught week, launching a fraught year.

The big story of the new year is what we will learn from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, whose members have announced they will hold public hearings early in 2022. As the New York Times editorial board put it in the paper’s January 1, 2022, edition, “Every Day Is January 6 Now.”

The New York Times editorial board—which consists of opinion journalists who weigh in on important issues—warned that the attack on democracy we witnessed so traumatically on January 6 has not ended. It persists in ongoing threats to election officials, threats to murder opponents, and new state laws skewing elections toward Republicans.

“In short,” they wrote, “the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends.”

The board called for Republicans to be honest with their voters and to fight their party’s extremists. It called for Democrats to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, at least. And it called for “Americans of all stripes who value their self-government” to “mobilize at every level…to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy.”

There were two stories that dropped late on Friday, December 31, New Year’s Eve, that reflect on the ongoing story of the attempt to undermine our democracy.

First, former New York City Police commissioner Bernard Kerik, a high-school dropout who began a meteoric rise to prominence after working as Trump loyalist Rudy Giuliani’s chauffeur and bodyguard, delivered documents to the committee. Convicted in 2010 of tax fraud, ethics violations, and making false statements to loan officers and the federal government when being investigated for government positions, Kerik has been fiercely loyal to Trump, who granted him a full pardon in February 2020.

The documents Kerik’s lawyer delivered on Friday included a 22-page document titled “STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS PLAN—GIULIANI PRESIDENTIAL LEGAL DEFENSE TEAM.” Its subtitle was “We Have 10 Days To Execute This Plan & Certify President Trump!”

The document laid out a pressure campaign directed at “SWING STATE REPUBLICAN SENATORS—AZ, GA, MI, NV, PA, WI,”  “REPULBICAN [sic] MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE, and “REPUBLICAN MEMBERS OF THE SENATE.”  It laid out the false argument that the election had been stolen, offered messaging to push these false claims, and provided a list of outlets and influencers to use, including the House “Freedom Caucus” members. It called for protests around the country, including at “weak Members’ homes.”

Kerik’s lawyer also delivered a list of documents Kerik is withholding on the grounds that they are “attorney work product.” Although Kerik is not himself an attorney, the list indicates that the documents he is withholding were reviewed or written by an attorney.

The documents Kerik is withholding included a three-page letter with an eye-popping title: “DRAFT LETTER FROM POTUS TO SEIZE EVIDENCE IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY FOR THE 2020 ELECTIONS.” Drafted on December 17, the letter might well refer to the plan advanced by Trump’s disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn and then-attorney Sidney Powell in mid-December 2020 that Trump should declare martial law, seize voting machines, and “rerun” the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, the Big Lie behind this document—that our election system is hopelessly corrupt and Trump was cheated—continues to be proved false. Also on Friday, the first piece of the audit of the 2020 election in Texas, launched in September after former president Trump demanded that Texas governor Greg Abbott investigate the election in the state, came out. Friday’s report said the investigators found nothing out of the ordinary.

Today, members of the January 6 committee revealed some of what they have learned. On ABC’s This Week, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told host George Stephanopoulos that “we have uncovered some things that cause us real concern,” and that “[i]t appeared to be a coordinated effort on the part of a number of people to undermine the election.”

On the same program and on CBS’s Face The Nation, committee vice chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) painted a picture of Trump watching the attack on the Capitol from the private dining room in the White House, refusing to call off the rioters despite the pleas of his staff, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and even his own daughter Ivanka.

His refusal to act, Cheney continues to emphasize, was a “supreme dereliction of duty.” He was the only person who could have stopped the rioters—many of whom have since told courts that they were there because they believed he had called them to be—and he refused to act. Instead, he tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence was a coward, and made at least one phone call to a senator demanding a delay in counting the electoral votes. When he finally did release a video telling the rioters to leave, more than three hours after the attack started, Trump acknowledged that he did, in fact, know that he commanded them.

We’ll see where this goes, but to this historian and non-lawyer (!) it does seem like he’s coming perilously close to being called out for leading a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Aside from the story of what Trump was doing—or not doing—in those crucial hours, Cheney’s interviews this morning revealed that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 8:20 pm

Shaken by the Jan. 6 attack, Capitol workers quit jobs that once made them proud

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Paul Schwartzman and Peter Jamison have an interesting report in the Washington Post of an ominous trend in public service: justifiable fear of the public. (Link is a gift link that bypasses the paywall). Their report begins:

The House staffer quit after awakening one night and imagining a pack of Proud Boys amassing outside his apartment door. Another left after questioning whether strangers he encountered had helped plot the insurrection. A police officer resigned, still agitated by the frantic voices of co-workers she recalled hearing on her radio scanner that day.

“What’s the plan?” one had asked.

“I’ve got an officer down!” another had shouted.

A year ago, they all worked at the U.S. Capitol, a citadel of American democracy they believed was as impervious to attack as any center of Washington power. But Jan. 6, 2021, upended all that. An invading mob of Donald Trump’s followers destroyed that sense of security — not only on that day but in the long year that followed.

“There’s a dark cloud over Capitol Hill,” said Jodi Breiterman, a Capitol Police officer who submitted retirement papers in November after almost 21 years on the force, and will officially leave the agency in mid-January. “I look at officers’ faces, and they’ve changed. They’ve lost weight and they don’t know why.”

In the months since the insurrection, senators and representatives have chronicled the trauma of Jan. 6, recalling how they cowered behind seats in the House chamber and barricaded themselves in offices as Trump acolytes pounded on doors and shouted threats of violence.

Yet alongside the political leaders, there were hundreds of Capitol workers who suffered their own trauma that day. They are the supporting cast on the edges of Washington’s biggest stage: the legislative aides, police officers, custodians and cafeteria workers who keep the business of government moving and ensure that the Capitol is safe, clean and well-functioning.

In many cases, they soldiered on after the insurrection, entrenched in positions that can be high-pressure and demanding even on routine days. But for other Capitol workers, Jan. 6 became a psychic tipping point, a reason to leave jobs that had made them targets for threats and potential danger.

“The idea that you’re in a place where your life is at risk was just — on top of everything else — the clinching factor for me,” said Rich Luchette, 35, a former senior adviser to Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.). “It becomes overwhelming at some point.”

A sign of the enduring trauma, Luchette said, occurred a week or so after the insurrection, when the sounds of partying neighbors woke him up in his Navy Yard apartment. As he opened his eyes, his first thought was: “Are there Proud Boys out in the hallway?”

Luchette had considered looking for a new job before Jan. 6. By July, he had found one.

In any given year, staff turnover at the Capitol is constant, making it difficult to quantify the number of employees who quit or retired because of the insurrection. More than 100 U.S. Capitol Police officers had departed as of early December, a figure that was a sharp increase over the previous year.

On a typical day, the 290-acre Capitol complex is a veritable city unto itself, spread out over multiple blocks, with its own subway system, an array of cafeterias and a workforce approaching 30,000 people.

Jan. 6 was anything but typical, with the coronavirus having kept many employees at home. Yet, no matter where they were as the insurrection unfolded, Capitol employees could not help but feel violated as they saw rioters invade and vandalize their workplace.

Another former House staffer, a Democrat who quit months after Jan. 6, said the toll of that day grew as time passed.

“I got to the point where my mental health just took an absolute nose dive because I was still trying to process all this stuff,” said the former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears retribution from Trump supporters.

Death threats continued to arrive daily by phone from constituents who were convinced that Democrats had stolen the election. “It absolutely broke me to know that people would be fine if my boss was dead, if I was dead, if my co-workers were dead,” she said. “The American people stopped believing in the institution. And if they don’t believe in it, what the hell are any of us doing working for it?” . . .

Continue reading. (Again: this is a gift link that bypasses the paywall.)

The effort to destroy the US government and bring down US democracy is serious and on-going.

Written by Leisureguy

2 January 2022 at 7:03 am

Year-end good news

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Heather Cox Richardson shares some good news — and some other news:

Year-end accounts of the U.S. economy are very strong indeed. According to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal—which are certainly not giddy media outlets—U.S. economic output has jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades. China’s growth in the same period will be 4%, and the eurozone (which is made up of the member countries of the European Union that use the euro) will grow at 2%.

The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”

In February, Biden’s first month in office, the jobless rate was 6.2%; today it has dropped to 4.2%. This means the Biden administration has created 4.1 million jobs, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined. Wages in America are growing at about 4% a year, compared with less than 1% a year in the eurozone, as worker shortages and strikes at places like Deere & Co. (which makes John Deere products) and Kellogg’s are pushing wages up and as states increase minimum wages.

The American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats in March without a single Republican vote, cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. More than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured have gotten healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million. When Biden took office, about 46% of schools were open; currently the rate is 99%. In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it.

Support for consumers has bolstered U.S. companies, which are showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%. Companies have reduced their debt, which has translated to a strong stock market.

The American economy is the strongest it’s been in decades, with the U.S. leading the world in economic growth…so why on earth do 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy (according to a CNN/SSRS poll released yesterday)?

That disapproval comes partly from inflation, which in November was at 6.8%, the highest in 39 years, but inflation is high around the world as we adjust to post-pandemic reopening. Gas prices, which created an outcry a few weeks ago, have come down significantly. Patrick De Haan, an oil and refined products analyst at GasBuddy, an app to find cheap gas prices, tweeted today that average gas prices have fallen under $3 a gallon in 12 states and that in 36 U.S. cities, prices have fallen by more than $0.25 a gallon in the past 30 days. Falling prices reflect skyrocketing gasoline inventories.

Respondents also said they were upset by disruptions in the supply chain. But in fact, the much-hyped fear that supply chain crunches would keep packages from being delivered on time for the holidays has proved to be misguided: 99% of packages are arriving on time. This is a significant improvement over 2020, and even over 2019. It reflects that companies have built more warehouse space and expanded delivery hours, that people have shopped early this year, and that buyers are venturing back into stores rather than relying on online shopping.

What it does not reflect is a weakened retail market. Major ports in the U.S. will process almost one-fifth more containers in terms of volume than they did in 2019. Container traffic at European ports has stayed flat or declined. Consumer goods are flying off the shelves at a rate about 45% higher than they did in 2018: it looks like Americans will spend about 11.5% more in this holiday season than they did in 2020. Indeed, according to Tom Fairless in the Wall Street Journal, American consumer demand was the key factor in the global supply chain bottlenecks in the first place.

And yet 63% of the poll’s respondents to the CNN/SSRS poll said that the nation’s economy is in poor shape. And here’s why: 57% of them say that the economic news they’ve heard lately has been mostly bad. Only 19% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy.

How people think about the country depends on the stories they hear about it.

Those maintaining the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election know that principle very well.

Yesterday, former national security advisor Michael Flynn filed a request for a restraining order against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a temporary injunction against a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Today, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Tampa denied Flynn’s request, noting that his lawyers had not followed correct procedure. On Twitter today, legal analyst Teri Kanefield pointed out that, like so many others launched by Trump loyalists, Flynn’s lawsuit was not an actual legal argument but part of the false narrative that Trump and his loyalists are being persecuted by Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stole the election.

That was the strategy behind the  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2021 at 1:57 pm

Hidden Pentagon Records Reveal Patterns of Failure in Deadly Airstrikes

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The NY Times has a lengthy article on how the US military attempted to cover up the fact that it was killing large numbers of civilians, including children in airstrikes. This is a gift link: no paywall.

This is the first part of a series. Part 2 examines the air war’s human toll.

Shortly before 3 a.m. on July 19, 2016, American Special Operations forces bombed what they believed were three ISIS “staging areas” on the outskirts of Tokhar, a riverside hamlet in northern Syria. They reported 85 fighters killed. In fact, they hit houses far from the front line, where farmers, their families and other local people sought nighttime sanctuary from bombing and gunfire. More than 120 villagers were killed.

In early 2017 in Iraq, an American war plane struck a dark-colored vehicle, believed to be a car bomb, stopped at an intersection in the Wadi Hajar neighborhood of West Mosul. Actually, the car had been bearing not a bomb but a man named Majid Mahmoud Ahmed, his wife and their two children, who were fleeing the fighting nearby. They and three other civilians were killed.

In November 2015, after observing a man dragging an “unknown heavy object” into an ISIS “defensive fighting position,” American forces struck a building in Ramadi, Iraq. A military review found that the object was actually “a person of small stature” — a child — who died in the strike.

None of these deadly failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

These cases are drawn from a hidden Pentagon archive of the American air war in the Middle East since 2014.

The trove of documents — the military’s own confidential assessments of more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, obtained by The New York Times — lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting, and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children, a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.

The documents show, too, that despite the Pentagon’s highly codified system for examining civilian casualties, pledges of transparency and accountability have given way to opacity and impunity. In only a handful of cases were the assessments made public. Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action. Fewer than a dozen condolence payments were made, even though many survivors were left with disabilities requiring expensive medical care. Documented efforts to identify root causes or lessons learned are rare.

The air campaign represents a fundamental transformation of warfare that took shape in the final years of the Obama administration, amid the deepening unpopularity of the forever wars that had claimed more than 6,000 American service members. The United States traded many of its boots on the ground for an arsenal of aircraft directed by controllers sitting at computers, often thousands of miles away. President Barack Obama called it “the most precise air campaign in history.”

This was the promise: America’s “extraordinary technology” would allow the military to kill the right people while taking the greatest possible care not to harm the wrong ones.

The ISIS caliphate ultimately crumbled under the weight of American bombing. For years, American air power was crucial to the beleaguered Afghan government’s survival. And as U.S. combat deaths dwindled, the faraway wars, and their civilian tolls, receded from most Americans’ sights and minds.

On occasion, stunning revelations have pierced the silence. A Times investigation found that a Kabul drone strike in August, which American officials said had destroyed a vehicle laden with bombs, had instead killed 10 members of one Afghan family. The Times recently reported that dozens of civilians had been killed in a 2019 bombing in Syria that the military had hidden from public view. That strike was ordered by a top-secret strike cell called Talon Anvil that, according to people who worked with it, frequently sidestepped procedures meant to protect civilians. Talon Anvil executed a significant portion of the air war against ISIS in Syria.

The Pentagon regularly publishes bare-bones summaries of civilian casualty incidents, and it recently ordered a new, high-level investigation of the 2019 Syria airstrike. But in the rare cases where failings are publicly acknowledged, they tend to be characterized as unfortunate, unavoidable and uncommon.

In response to questions from The Times,  . . .

Continue reading. There a lot more. And it’s a gift link = no paywall.

Later in the report:

He described minimizing the risk of harm to civilians as “a strategic necessity as well as a legal and moral imperative,” driven by the way these casualties are used “to feed the ideological hatred espoused by our enemies in the post 9/11 conflicts and supercharge the recruiting of the next generation of violent extremists.”

Yet what the hidden documents show is that civilians have become the regular collateral casualties of a way of war gone badly wrong.

To understand how this happened, The Times did what military officials admit they have not done: analyzed the casualty assessments in aggregate to discern patterns of failed intelligence, decision-making and execution. It also visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials. In the coming days, the second part of this series will trace those journeys through the war zones of Iraq and Syria.

Taken together, the reporting offers the most sweeping, and also the most granular, portrait of how the air war was prosecuted and investigated — and of its civilian toll.

The military likes to use the word “honor.” I wonder what they think it means. I don’t think it means killing a multitude of civilians with no warning. That’s usually called “terrorism.’P

Written by Leisureguy

20 December 2021 at 5:25 pm

The FDA is a poor agency (because it does not do its job) and Congress is doing a poor job of oversight regarding the FDA

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After Congress told the FDA to move on setting standards and issuing approvals for over-the-counter sales of hearing aids (i.e., directly from manufacturer to consumer), the agency did nothing for four years. It was only after President Biden came into office and order the agency to move that they grudgingly did their job. (Matt Stoller in Big has some good columns, which I blogged, on the hearing-aid cartel and how it sells in the US for an average price of $2400 a device that costs $68 in the UK — see this post.

But the FDA not only allows people to be (in effect) defrauded, it also sits back and watches as they are killed. Here are two reports from ProPublica. The first from August 5, 2021, is “Thousands of Patients Were Implanted With Heart Pumps That the FDA Knew Could Be Dangerous,” by Neil Bedi, and it begins:

John Winkler II was dying of heart failure when doctors came to his hospital bedside, offering a chance to prolong his life. The HeartWare Ventricular Assist Device, or HVAD, could be implanted in Winkler’s chest until a transplant was possible. The heart pump came with disclaimers of risk, but Winkler wanted to fight for time. He was only 46 and had a loving wife and four children, and his second grandchild was on the way.

So, in August 2014, Winkler had surgery to implant the device. A golf-ball-sized rotor was attached to his left ventricle to pump blood through a tube and into his aorta. A cable threading out of a small incision in his waist connected to a battery-powered controller strapped to his body. If something went wrong, an alarm as loud as a fire drill would sound.

Winkler returned home weeks later and, as he regained his strength, became hopeful about the future. He started making plans to visit colleges with his daughter, and was able to host his parents and new grandchild for Christmas. “He was doing so much better,” his wife, Tina Winkler, said. “We thought he was coasting until he got his transplant.”

What John Winkler didn’t know: Months before his implant, the Food and Drug Administration put HeartWare on notice for not properly monitoring or repairing HVAD defects, such as faulty batteries and short circuits caused by static electricity, that had killed patients. The agency issued a warning letter, one of its most serious citations. It demanded fixes within 15 days, but took no decisive action as problems persisted.

Ten days after Christmas 2014, Winkler’s two teenage children heard the HVAD’s piercing alarm and ran upstairs. They found their father collapsed on his bedroom floor, completely unresponsive. Kelly, 17, dropped to his side and tried to copy how people on television did CPR. She told her brother to call 911, and over the device’s siren did her best to hear instructions from the operator.

When paramedics arrived and assessed her father, one made a passing comment that has haunted Kelly ever since: “Well, his toes are already cold.” He died two days later. Medtronic, the company that acquired HeartWare in 2016, settled a lawsuit by the family last year, admitting no fault. Tina Winkler believes her children blamed themselves for their father’s death. “Those two kids have never been the same,” she said. “I think they feel like they didn’t do things they needed to do.”

But it was the FDA that failed to protect Winkler and thousands of other patients whose survival depended on the HVAD, a ProPublica investigation found.

As HeartWare and Medtronic failed inspection after inspection and reports of device-related deaths piled up, the FDA relied on the device makers to fix the problems voluntarily rather than compelling them to do so.

The HVAD was implanted into more than 19,000 patients, the majority of whom got it after the FDA found in 2014 that the device didn’t meet federal standards. By the end of last year, the agency had received more than 3,000 reports of patient deaths that may have been caused or contributed to by the device.

Among them were reports of deaths the company linked to serious device problems: a patient who vomited blood as a family member struggled to restart a defective HVAD; a patient who bled out internally and died after implant surgery because a tube attached to the pump tore open; a patient whose heart tissue was left charred after an HVAD short-circuited and voltage surged through the pump.

The ineffective regulatory oversight of the HVAD is emblematic of larger, more systemic weaknesses.

For decades, the FDA and its Center for Devices and Radiological Health have been responsible for ensuring that high-risk medical devices are safe and effective. Yet they mostly rely on manufacturers to identify and correct problems. The agency says it can seize products, order injunctions against companies or issue fines, but it rarely does so, preferring instead for companies to make fixes voluntarily.

When federal investigators found repeated manufacturing issues with the HVAD for years, the FDA didn’t penalize the company, even as the company issued 15 serious recalls of the device starting in 2014, the most of any single high-risk device in the FDA’s database. Thousands of patients with  . . .

Continue reading. People at the FDA, including in particular the head of the agency, should be held criminally liable for those deaths.

The other report, published today, is by Neil Bedi and Maryam Jameel. It begins:

For the roughly 2,000 Americans who rely on it to keep their hearts going, the implanted pump is impossible to ignore.

They feel it pressing inside their ribs when they lean over. Or they ache from the weight of its controller strapped to their shoulders. Some can even hear the device’s whirring hum deep inside their chests.

Most of all, they now live with the stress of knowing the HeartWare Ventricular Assist Device has such serious issues — a higher rate of deaths and strokes than an alternative pump and a history of unexplained malfunctions — that the Food and Drug Administration and the device’s maker agreed this summer it should be taken off the market.

Those who already have the heart pump, also known as the HVAD, can’t simply get it removed or replaced. The required surgery is typically considered more dangerous than leaving it in.

They are now stuck in a medical dilemma that could have been prevented.

As we detailed in August, the FDA and HVAD maker Medtronic allowed the device to be implanted into thousands of people for years, even as federal inspectors found serious manufacturing problems, the company issued many high-risk safety alerts and people died after their implants malfunctioned. The FDA and Medtronic said they believed the benefits outweighed the risks for HVAD patients with severe heart failure, until this year when data was published showing a higher frequency of deaths and strokes compared to patients with a competing device.

The company has pledged to do everything it can to support the remaining HVAD users. Medtronic said it would provide patients with educational materials, financial assistance and technical support. “The wellbeing and experiences of patients are vitally important to us, which is why we’ve set up patient support programs, services, and feedback mechanisms,” a company spokesperson said in a written statement.

The FDA said it would “actively provide oversight of Medtronic to monitor their recall of the device and ensure that patient care remains a top priority.”

But when we spoke to people across the country who are living with HVADs, they said they’d experienced little of the promised support and had encountered financial and emotional hardships.

Here, in their own words, is what they told us. . .

Continue reading.

Best healthcare system in the world? I think not.

Trump Admin Sabotaged COVID Efforts to Score Political Points, House Probe Finds

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Corbin Bolies reports in Daily Beast:

A House oversight panel found former President Donald Trump and his administration routinely undermined efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic last year, prolonging a deadly public health disaster in the hopes of winning an election he eventually lost.

The conclusion was part of a 46-page report released Friday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. The report collated documents that had largely been released in the preceding months, including documents showing that the Trump administration prevented public officials from giving public briefings on the virus and attempted to play down the importance of testing.

But it also showed the Trump administration’s malfeasance throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in new ways, including the ways they infuriated public health officials who felt they couldn’t do their jobs.

Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the panel how he felt the directive to change mask guidance for churchgoers in May 2020 may have put them at unnecessary risk. He wrote in one email that he felt “very troubled… that there will be people who will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do.”

The beleaguered COVID-19 response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, also attempted to express her frustration with the administration’s lack of effort. She said she refused to participate in a meeting with a “fringe groups” of officials who pushed the idea of herd immunity.

“These are people who believe that all the curves are predetermined and mitigation is irrelevant—they are a fringe group without grounding in epidemics, public health or on the ground common sense experience,” she wrote in an August 2020 email to Marc Short, the then-chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. “I am happy to go out of town or whatever gives the WH cover.”

Birx also told the committee that Dr. Scott Atlas, the conspiracy theorist turned Trump adviser, worked to change guidance to avoid testing asymptomatic individuals exposed to COVID-19—even though it contradicted the science surrounding the virus.

The committee said these and other examples proved the  . . .

Continue reading. The President of the United States should, IMO, protect the public. Obviously, some disagree.

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2021 at 3:13 pm

The Paperwork Coup

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David A. Graham writes in the Atlantic:

This is a tale of two coups—or rather, two attempted coups.

One is the well-known January 6 insurrection, memorialized in iconic photographs, gripping videos, and minute-by-minute reconstructions, and followed by hundreds of arrests, more than 50 convictions, and a House select-committee investigation. The other attempt took place over weeks and was mostly waged in closed-door meetings, legal memos, and private phone calls; it has thus far produced little accountability.

In the days ahead of January 6, experts worried over what chicanery might happen inside the House chamber during certification, but that threat was quickly overshadowed by the violence outside. There are many reasons for this eclipse. One is the simple, disturbing drama of the insurrection, revived on Monday when Representative Liz Cheney read panicked texts from members of Congress, then under siege in the Capitol, and Fox News hosts, beseeching Mark Meadows to get then-President Donald Trump to stop the riot. Anyone can grasp what was going on immediately, regardless of how they feel about it, whereas a coup planned in dry legal language is more opaque and abstract. The violence was thus a natural messaging focus for Democrats who wanted to punish and, if possible, banish Trump. Meanwhile, information on Trump’s procedural efforts to steal the election has emerged only slowly and in small bits.

But this is a moment for reassessment. Evidence about the insurrection suggests that although the mob was an obvious threat to human life, it was never an especially serious one to American democracy. Coordination within the crowd seems to have been sporadic, and if White House officials were in touch with organizers, they weren’t likely directing them. Moreover, it’s not clear how the insurrection might have successfully kept Trump in office, even if it had managed to prevent certification that day. This was an inchoate moan, a spasm of despair for a cause already lost.

Meanwhile, we now have a better sense of how dangerous what we might call the “paperwork coup” was. The theory under which Trump and his cronies attempted to steal the election was not especially elaborate or persuasive, but it didn’t need to be. It was coherent, and if a few things had happened differently—most especially, if Vice President Mike Pence had gone along with it—the result would have been chaos at the least and possibly a second Trump term and widespread conflict at worst. The violence on January 6 broke a long string of peaceful transfers of power in the United States. If the paperwork coup had worked, though, peace might have prevailed—but the transfer of power might not have happened.

What Trump was trying to do is not in question. He has always understood, and demonstrated repeatedly throughout his presidency, that voters treat as scandalous what is hidden but are more apt to accept what is done openly. So this coup attempt was no secret. Trump made clear starting the night of the election that he intended to try to cling to the White House by hook or by crook. Because neither he nor anyone else has ever produced credible evidence that fraud shifted the results of the election, this would have been plain theft. The surprising thing, which more recent revelations help underscore, is that what looked from the outside like one of Trump’s classic chaotic improvisations was in fact a concerted effort, coordinated among multiple Trump loyalists over a matter of weeks.

Some of Trump’s veteran lieutenants, accustomed to accommodating his eccentricities and outrages, drew a line here. In the early days after the election, aides anonymously assured reporters that Trump’s refusal to concede was just a short-term denial. As it became clear that wasn’t true, and as Trump mounted more desperate efforts to halt the certification process, Attorney General Bill Barr, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and the lawyers Jay Sekulow and Eric Herschmann were among the aides who had stuck with Trump through all sorts of dubious maneuvers but who now refused to get involved, recognizing that he had lost the election.

Rather than face reality, Trump tried to create his own—and the first step was to find lackeys who would make-believe with him. This proved easy. They included Rudy Giuliani, who had by then proved no ask was too far; the attorneys Jenna Ellis, who seems to have gone along despite having some hesitations, and Sidney Powell, who had none; the law professor John Eastman, who lent (and sacrificed) his long-standing credibility in conservative legal circles; Philip Waldron, a retired Army colonel turned cybersecurity consultant; and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

By the start of 2021, Trump was close to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 December 2021 at 1:02 pm

PowerPoint to overthrow democracy tracks Trump’s public statements

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This Popular Information column by Judd Legum is important. It begins:

A 38-page PowerPoint that lays out a brazen plan to overthrow democracy landed in the inbox of former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 5. Meadows turned over the information to the special Congressional committee that is investigating the events that preceded the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

While it is a remarkable document, a close examination of the chaotic days following the 2020 presidential election reveals the core arguments of the PowerPoint largely track what Trump was saying publicly. The media, however, has characterized the contents of the PowerPoint as “extreme,” and “wild,” casting doubt whether its recommendations were “seriously… considered.” This is revisionist history.

Meadows, through his attorney, attempted to wave off interest in the document. Meadows’ lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, told reporters that Meadows “merely received it by email in his inbox and did nothing with it.” But Phil Waldron, a retired colonel who was involved in producing the PowerPoint, told the Washington Post that he spoke with Meadows “eight to 10 times” and briefed numerous members of Congress on the PowerPoint before January 6.

While the 38-page PowerPoint has not been released, a 36-page version — that is reportedly almost identical — has surfaced online. One key slide is the list of “Recommendations” that appears on page 23.  . .

Continue reading. It’s important. The US is under attack by domestic enemies.

Written by Leisureguy

14 December 2021 at 6:42 pm

Liz Cheney reads texts Republicans sent to Mark Meadows

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Kevin Drum has a good post on this, and I think you should read it. Also, watch this video (also included in his post):

Written by Leisureguy

13 December 2021 at 10:42 pm

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