Heather Cox Richardson

September 8 2023 (Friday)

It turns out the special purpose grand jury of Fulton County, Georgia, created in May 2022 to investigate the attempt to disrupt the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, recommended criminal charges against more people than the 19 the traditional grand jury indicted in August. Their report, published today, shows that a majority of the 23-person special grand jury also recommended the state bring charges against South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham and the two Georgia senators in early 2020: David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The special purpose grand jury also recommended charges against Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and Boris Epshteyn, Trump advisor Michael Flynn, and all the false electors.

In most of the votes, it appeared there was one staunch vote opposed to bringing charges against anyone associated with Trump.

Also today, U.S. district judge Steve C. Jones for the Northern District of Georgia denied the request of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows to move his prosecution to federal rather than state court. This is important. Meadows had argued that the crimes for which the Fulton County grand jury indicted him were part of his duties as a federal official. If the judge had agreed, the removal of his case to federal court would have enabled Meadows to argue that his case should be dismissed because his actions were part of his official duties. But the judge determined that Meadow’s actions were part of his work for the Trump campaign and thus could stay in state court.

To make his case, Meadows testified himself, a high-risk step that now leaves him, as legal analyst Harry Litman of the Los Angeles Times put it, “in a very bad place. He gambled heavily on winning & then getting immunity. Now his ability to cooperate w/ either Jack Smith or Fani Willis is a) of much less value & b) possibly even off the table. He is in a world of hurt.”

Meadows has already appealed.

Other defendants, including Trump himself, were hoping their cases would be removed to federal court, but the decision in Meadows’s case does not bode well for them.

It would be a shame if the growing legal troubles of the Trump conspirators overshadow the work of the Biden administration on the global stage this week as it seeks to counter the power and influence of China by supporting other countries in the region. Vice President Kamala Harris took the lead in a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she participated in the U.S.–Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

ASEAN is a political and economic group of 10 countries that, combined, have more than 600 million people. Within that group, different countries seek stronger ties either with the U.S. or with China, and Harris has become a key figure in the administration’s attempt to bolster U.S. interests there. This was her third trip to Southeast Asia as vice president and fourth to Asia.

In Jakarta, Harris told Chris Megerian of the Associated Press: “We as Americans…have a very significant interest, both in terms of our security but also our prosperity, today and in the future, in developing and strengthening these relationships.” She said the government must “pay attention to 10, 20, 30 years down the line, and what we are developing now that will be to the benefit of our country then.” Southeast Asia has a young population, with two thirds of it under 35; makes up the fourth-largest market for U.S. exports; and is a passageway for one third of global shipping.

As Harris returned to the U.S., Biden left for New Delhi, India, for the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit. On Friday he and Indian prime minister Narenda Modi had a bilateral meeting, and on Saturday and Sunday he will participate in the G20 summit. The G20 is a forum made up of 19 countries and the European Union that works to address issues relating to the global economy. G20 countries are responsible for 85% of the world’s economy and 75% of the world’s trade. The G20 is meeting September 8–10 in New Delhi.

On Tuesday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. focus at the G20 will be to emphasize the scaling up of development banks, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which provide funding for developing countries. In August, Biden asked Congress to increase funding for the World Bank, and at the G20, Biden will call on G20 members “to provide meaningful debt relief so that low- and middle-income countries can regain their footing after years of extreme stress,” Sullivan said.

The U.S. will also emphasize the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI), a collaborative effort by the Group of Seven (G7) put together in 2022 to fund infrastructure projects from rail to solar to supply chains in developing nations. The G7 is a political forum made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the European Union (EU).

At the center of the G20 meeting is the issue of money for developing countries. In 2013, China launched the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to invest in infrastructure development in more than 150 countries as part of its assumption of a greater role in world affairs. The U.S. and key allies, including Japan and Australia, saw the plan as an effort to tie world trade to China.

But now, economic troubles in the wake of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic have made BRI debt less attractive to borrowing countries, while China has tightened up lending to reduce its own risk in the midst of an economic downturn. China is planning a big celebration for the tenth anniversary of the initiative in October, but European leaders are not planning to attend. In August, Italy, which was the only G7 country to join BRI, announced it was withdrawing.

Meanwhile, China’s president Xi Jinping will not attend this week’s G20 for the first time since he took office in 2012, possibly signaling internal turmoil in China or Xi’s frustration with what he sees as its increasing orientation toward the U.S., especially the growing ties between the U.S. and India, which shares a contested 2,100-mile border with China. In his place, Premier Li Qiang, the second-ranking leader in the People’s Republic of China, will attend the meeting.

Xi appears to be focusing less on the G20 now and more on BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies that began in 2009 with four countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—and added South Africa in 2010. When the group suggested earlier this year that it might admit more member states, more than 40 expressed interest, and BRICS has invited six to join: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is with the president in New Delhi, where today she told the press that the U.S. is “committed to supporting emerging markets in developing countries” and outlined the ways in which the U.S. hopes to increase access to funds, especially to address climate change. She said the administration is asking Congress for $2.25 billion for the World Bank and a loan of up to $21 billion for the IMF, and is looking to find a way to provide debt relief for struggling countries.

After attending the G20, Biden will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, as part of what national security advisor Jake Sullivan called “a vision for facing the 21st century together with an elevated and energized partnership.”

Russia is also part of the G20, but Russian president Vladimir Putin will not attend, sending foreign minister Sergey Lavrov instead. While that absence can be attributed to the increasing isolation of Putin and Russia by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there might also be a different source of tension between the normally cooperative Russia and India. Last month, both countries launched lunar probes. India’s landed successfully and has been completing scientific studies.

Russia’s crashed.

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Well, not quite yet. But maybe soon?

:wink: :grimacing:

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September 9, 2023 (Saturday)

At the Group of 20 (G20) meeting today in New Delhi, leaders announced plans for a new rail and shipping corridor that will connect India and Europe through the Middle East. This ambitious plan is part of Biden’s larger vision of creating high-quality infrastructure projects and the development of economic corridors that together should promote sustainable growth in low- and middle-income countries. The theory is that enhanced global trade should reduce economic gaps among countries, expand access to electricity and telecommunication, and promote clean energy.

They also agreed to continue developing the Lobito Corridor, a rail line linking the port of Lobito, Angola, on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with the city of Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Africa’s interior mining region. The White House and U.S. allies in this project say they are hoping that an injection of money to build infrastructure will support a transparent and developed critical minerals sector that will advance global supply chains for those minerals while benefiting local economies in Angola, Zambia, and DRC.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the history of Africa has reason to be skeptical of this plan, although Japan and India don’t carry the same colonial baggage European countries do in Africa. G20 leaders are trying to combat the legacy of colonialism by expanding the table of leadership to those countries previously excluded. In New Delhi the G20 admitted the African Union as a permanent member. The African Union was formed in 2001, and its 55 member states cover more than 12 million square miles and have a total population of more than 1.3 billion people. The G20 is now effectively the Group of 21.

Funding for the projects will come through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI), the Group of Seven’s answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The G7 is a political bloc of advanced economies that share values of liberal democracy.

In a joint statement, the leaders of India, Brazil, South Africa, and the United States said they met on the margins of the G20 “to reaffirm our shared commitment to the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation to deliver solutions for our shared world.” Aside from the U.S., the three countries making that statement are all members of BRICS, the economic bloc that includes China.

Their statement, along with the fact that each of those countries will hold the presidency of the G20 for the next four years, indicates G20 pressure on China. So does the fact that the president of the World Bank, nominated by Biden, is former MasterCard chief executive officer Ajay Banga, an American citizen who was born in India. Banga is both familiar with financial services and deeply concerned about inclusive and sustainable growth.

The economic news coming out of New Delhi shows the global side of Biden’s political vision. Led by the U.S., the G20’s call for massive investment in developing the infrastructure and economies of other countries echoes the post–World War II Economic Recovery Act of 1948, better known as the Marshall Plan. Under this plan, the U.S. spent more than $13 billion to help Europe rebuild its infrastructure and economy. This rebuilding stabilized European governments and provided the U.S. with reliable trading partners.

“One Earth, One Family, One Future,” Biden told a meeting of the PGI. He called for “building sustainable, resilient infrastructure; making quality infrastructure investments; and creating a better future [that] represents greater opportunity, dignity, and prosperity for everyone.”

The idea that public investment in infrastructure serves democratic goals fell out of favor in the U.S. in the 1980s. Leaders insisted that private investment reacted more efficiently to market forces whereas government investment both distorted markets and tied up money that private investment could use more effectively. In fact, the dramatic scaling back of public investment since then has not led to more efficient development so much as it has led to crumbling infrastructure and its exploitation by private individuals.

In late July the New York Times noted that since 2019, billionaire businessman Elon Musk has steadily taken over the field of satellite internet, infrastructure that is hugely important for national security. In just four years Musk has launched into space more than 4,500 satellites—more than 50% of all active satellites. This means that Musk’s Starlink is often the only way for people in places hit by disasters or in war zones to communicate.

On Thursday, excerpts from a forthcoming biography of Elon Musk by historian Walter Isaacson revealed that Musk “secretly told his engineers to turn off [Starlink] coverage within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast” after learning that the Ukrainian military was sending six small drone submarines packed with explosives at the Russian naval fleet based in Crimea. After talking to Russian leaders, who said they would respond with nuclear weapons—later events suggest this was a bluff—Musk shut off Starlink, the drone submarines lost the connectivity they needed to find their targets, and the weapons simply washed ashore.

According to Isaacson, Ukrainian officials begged Musk to turn the coverage back on, but he refused, saying that Ukraine “is now going too far and inviting strategic defeat.” He told U.S. and Russian officials that he wanted Starlink to be used only for defense. Then he offered a “peace plan” that required Ukraine to give up territory to Russia and reject plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Later, he again disabled Starlink coverage in the midst of a Ukrainian advance.

Isaacson portrays Musk as frustrated by being dragged into a war. “Starlink was not meant to be involved in wars,” Musk told Isaacson. “It was so people can watch Netflix and chill and get online for school and do good peaceful things, not drone strikes.” Since the story broke, Musk has defended his unwillingness to be in the middle of a war.

But Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, pointed out on Musk’s own social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that the same Russian fleet Musk protected went on to fire missiles at Ukrainian cities, killing civilians, including children. Russia is also attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure for exporting grain, which threatens the price and availability of food in Africa.

The privatization of the functions of government in the U.S. has given a single man the power to affect global affairs, working, in this case, against the stated objectives of our own government. Republican leaders eager to push that privatization have made their case by turning voters against taxes, although the tax cuts put in place since 1981 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and corporations, permitting a few individuals to amass fortunes: Forbes, for example, estimates Musk’s net worth at $251.3 billion.

On Friday the Internal Revenue Service announced that increased federal funding under the Inflation Reduction Act and the help of artificial intelligence will enable a new push to go after 1,600 millionaires who owe at least $250,000 and 75 large businesses with assets of about $10 billion apiece that owe hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the plan “goes to the heart of Democrats’ effort to ensure the wealthiest are paying their fair share.” It also goes to the heart of the idea that billionaires must not be able to impose their will on the rest of us by virtue of their monopolization of key aspects of our infrastructure. Still, Republicans continue to argue for private investment according to market forces. Opposing taxes and the government programs they fund, they have clawed back as much of the new funding for the IRS as they have been able, and they continue to call for more cuts.

This week, as a fight over funding the government by the end of the month looms, the implications of the parties’ different visions of government could not be clearer.

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Yeah. They probably aren’t even a G20 nation without oil&gas sales to Europe, and it looks like that ship has sailed.

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September 11, 2023 (Monday)

Yesterday, President Joe Biden was in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong announced they were elevating U.S.-Vietnam relations from the comprehensive partnership agreement President Barack Obama signed in 2013 to a comprehensive strategic partnership, Vietnam’s highest tier of international partnership. The earlier measure called for cooperation in transnational crime and public health; the new measure will boost Vietnam’s high-technology sector and security.

The visit to Vietnam was part of the administration’s continuing push to loosen China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific by strengthening other countries in the region. China has had a comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam since 1998; Russia has had one since 2012.

Biden’s visit to Vietnam came just after Vice President Kamala Harris’s attendance at the U.S.- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Biden’s attendance at the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi, where he and the leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa—all members of BRICS, the economic bloc that includes China—reaffirmed their “shared commitment to the G20 as the premier forum for international economic cooperation to deliver solutions for our shared world.”

Biden’s Indo-Pacific strategy has been central to his presidency, and he has marked a number of firsts in U.S.-Indo-Pacific relationships. In September 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. announced a trilateral security pact called AUKUS. In May 2022 the White House held the ASEAN summit in Washington, D.C., for the first time in the organization’s 45-year history; later that summer the U.S. opened a number of embassies in the Pacific Islands region and appointed the first-ever U.S. envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum. In June 2023, Biden hosted a state dinner for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. In August, Biden held a historic trilateral meeting at Camp David with the leaders of Japan and the Republic of Korea.

At the same time, the administration has worked to improve communications with China. In June 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing for two days and met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Since then, the administration has tried to demonstrate that it is willing to work with China on economic issues, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to China in July and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited at the end of August.

Raimondo emphasized that the U.S. is not interested in “containing China’s economic development,” as Chinese leaders have charged, but needs to protect U.S. national security, preventing exports of U.S. technology that can be used by the Chinese military. Raimondo emphasized that the world needs the U.S. and China to manage their relationship “responsibly.” She said the Biden administration wants “to have a stable commercial relationship, and the core to that is regular communication.”

Chinese officials praised Raimondo, saying her visit rendered “rational, candid, pragmatic and constructive communications on China-U.S. relations and economic and trade cooperation.” But facing the twin problems of a faltering economy and negative population growth, Xi appears to be trying to shore up an economic bloc—BRICS—in which China can exercise a more powerful influence than it can in the G20. He chose not to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi, possibly to downplay India’s growing global power, and observers were concerned that Premier Li Qiang, who attended in his place, might throw a monkey wrench in the works of a G20 joint statement. Instead, Xi’s absence allowed India’s president Modi to take center stage, and the summit produced a joint statement on its first day.

After the summit, Biden traveled to Vietnam, which shares an 806-mile (~1,300 km) land border with China and has an ongoing dispute with China over Beijing’s asserting authority over parts of the South China Sea that are more than 1,000 miles (~1,600 km) from China’s coast. Last month, satellite images appeared to show that China is building an airstrip on an island Vietnam claims as its territory.

Amidst news that Vietnam is secretly engaged in talks to buy arms from Russia, Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told the press that the U.S.-Vietnam partnership shows that the U.S. and aligned countries can offer an alternative to countries that have previously worked with Russia and are now finding that relationship “increasingly uncomfortable.” When asked if that partnership might eventually include military aid, Finer responded that the partnership is “comprehensive and strategic” and that “[i]t’s hard to imagine a relationship that is both comprehensive and strategic that doesn’t have a security dimension.”

While acknowledging in speeches the changing relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam over the past 50 years, Biden was careful not to appear to have forgotten the American experience in the Vietnam War. Before leaving for India and Vietnam, he awarded the Medal of Honor to 81-year-old Captain Larry Taylor, who as a 1st lieutenant during the war in Vietnam flew his Cobra attack helicopter into heavy enemy fire to rescue four members of a reconnaissance team who were surrounded by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops in a maneuver army officers said had never before been attempted.

In more than 2,000 combat missions, Taylor never lost a man. “You just do whatever is expedient and do whatever to save the lives of the people you’re trying to rescue,” he said. After his discharge from the Army in 1970, Taylor ran a roofing and sheet metal company in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In Hanoi, Biden visited a memorial for the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for five and a half years from 1967, when he was shot down, to 1973. “I miss him,” Biden said. “He was a good friend.” Biden and McCain served in the Senate together for three decades. Biden’s tribute to McCain contrasted sharply with the 2019 request from then-president Trump’s White House team that a warship named for McCain, his father, and his grandfather, be hidden from Trump during a visit to Japan. McCain had clashed with Trump despite their shared political affiliation.

Like Biden, Vietnam’s leader Vo Van Thuong welcomed “an enduring, stable long-term framework that opens up a vast space for further development of the bond between us for decades to follow.” But he did note in his remarks at a state luncheon at the presidential palace that President Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War, had asked President Harry Truman for just such a relationship only months after Vietnam gained its independence from France in 1945. “As history would have it, this desire had to confront countless turmoil and challenges,” he said, “all of such we have overcome…. From former enemies to Comprehensive Strategic Partners, this is truly a model in the history of international relations as to how reconciliation and relationship-building should proceed after a war.”

In other international news today, the administration announced it has cleared the way for a deal with Iran to release five U.S. citizens detained in Iran. Last month, Iran moved four dual citizens from the infamous Evin Prison to house arrest, and now it is expected to release those four and one more who was already under house arrest in exchange for five Iranian prisoners and the release of $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue currently held in South Korea.

Several Republicans have opposed the deal. The senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James E. Risch of Idaho, said that the “unfreezing” of funds “incentivizes hostage taking & provides a windfall for regime aggression,” and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called the money “ransom” and said it was a “craven act of appeasement.”

But in an op-ed on the national security website Defense One last month, Ryan Costello, the policy director for the National Iranian American Council, called the deal a win-win. The Iranian money will be released to Qatar, which will release it for purchases of food and medicine, which are not sanctioned. Medicine is desperately needed in Iran, and as Biden said in 2020: “Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people.”

Today is the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Chile that overthrew the democratically elected government of leftist President Salvador Allende, a coup aided by the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency under President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger. The State Department issued a statement calling the anniversary “an opportunity to reflect on this break in Chile’s democratic order and the suffering that it caused.”

While remaining silent on the U.S. role in that coup, the State Department noted that the Biden administration had sought to be transparent about that role by declassifying information. It said, “We pay our deepest respects to the victims of the repression that followed and honor the extraordinary bravery and sacrifices of countless Chileans who stood up for human rights and fought for an end to dictatorship and a peaceful return to democracy,” and it reaffirmed the U.S. “fullest commitment to supporting democracy and upholding human rights.”

This reassurance likely seems too easy to the human rights advocates who worry that stronger U.S. ties to India and Vietnam, both of which have troubling human rights records, will send a message that the U.S. is willing to tolerate human rights violations in strategically important countries. Biden says he pushes human rights in private talks with those countries’ leaders.

After commemorating the attacks of September 11, 2001, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at Ground Zero in New York City, and at the Pentagon in 2021 and 2022, Biden today spoke at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, on his way home from Vietnam. He called for national unity to honor the nearly 3,000 people lost that day, urging people to remember “what we can do together. To remember what was destroyed, what can we repair, what was threatened, what we fortified, what was attacked—an indomitable American spirit prevailed over all of it.”

In his speech, Biden recalled Senator McCain as a man who always put country “above party, above politics, above his own person. This day reminds us we must never lose that sense of national unity. So, let that be the common cause of our time: let us honor September 11 by renewing our faith in one another.”

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September 12, 2023 (Tuesday)

Members of the House of Representatives returned to work today after their summer break. They came back to a fierce fight over funding the government before the September 30 deadline, with only 12 days of legislative work on the calendar. That fight is also tangled up with Republican extremists’ demands to impeach President Joe Biden—although even members of their own caucus admit there are no grounds for such an impeachment—and threats to the continued position of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as speaker of the House.

It’s an omnishambles, a word coined in 2009 by the writers of the BBC political satire The Thick of It, meaning “a situation, especially in politics, in which poor judgment results in disorder or chaos with potentially disastrous consequences.”

It fits.

In August, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed 12 spending bills covering discretionary funding—about 27% of the budget—by bipartisan votes, within limits set as part of the deal Speaker McCarthy made with President Biden to prevent the U.S. defaulting for the first time in history.

But the House left for summer break without being able to pass more than one of the 12 necessary bills. The extremists in the House Freedom Caucus oppose the spending levels Biden and McCarthy negotiated, insisting they amount to “socialism,” although with the exception of the Covid-19 blip, discretionary federal spending has stayed level at about 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product since 1954.

The Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee has reneged on the deal McCarthy struck, producing bills that impose cuts far beyond those McCarthy agreed to. In particular, it cut Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for programs to address climate change and the Internal Revenue Service, which has been badly underfunded since at least 2010, leaving wealthy tax cheats unaudited. The cuts are ideological: the bills have cut funding for food assistance programs for pregnant mothers and children, grants to school districts serving impoverished communities, the Environmental Protection Agency, agencies that protect workers’ rights, federal agencies’ civil rights offices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the IRS (on top of clawing back funding in the IRA), and so on.

Although appropriations bills are generally kept clean, the extremists have loaded the must-pass bills with demands unrelated to the bill itself. They have put measures restricting abortion and gender-affirming care in at least 8 of the 12 bills. Even if such measures could make it through the Democrat-dominated Senate—and they can’t—President Biden has vowed to veto them.

Even fellow Republicans are balking at the attempt of the extremists to get their ideological wish list by holding the government hostage. Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters she doesn’t see how the Republicans are going to get the bills out of the committee, let alone pass them. “Overall, I think it’s going to be very, very hard to get these bills forward,” she said.

Far from negotiating with McCarthy over the break, Freedom Caucus members appear to be increasing their demands as a shutdown looms. In August, the caucus announced it would not support even a short-term funding bill unless it also included their own demands for border policy, an end to what they call “woke” policies in the Department of Defense, and what they call the “unprecedented weaponization” of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They also oppose funding for Ukraine to enable it to fight off Russia’s invasion.

They have hinted they will use procedural votes to prevent any large spending bill from getting to the floor at all. One of the tools at their disposal is a challenge to McCarthy’s leadership, which thanks to the deal he struck to get the speakership in the first place, a single member can bring. Today, Florida representative Matt Gaetz threatened to “lead the resistance” if McCarthy worked with Democrats to fund the government.

They have offered McCarthy a way to avoid that showdown: impeach President Joe Biden, although there is no evidence the president has committed any “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for an impeachment.

Today, McCarthy availed himself of that escape clause. On the first day back from a 45-day August break, rather than tackling the budget crises, he endorsed an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

This is a fascinating moment, as the Republicans have opened an impeachment inquiry into Biden with no evidence of wrongdoing. For all their breathless statements before the TV cameras, they have not managed to produce any evidence. Trump’s own Department of Justice opened an investigation into Biden four years ago and found nothing to charge. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes, Biden’s taxes are public, and a U.S. attorney has been scrutinizing Biden’s son Hunter for years; red flags should have been apparent long ago, if there were any.

Just yesterday, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) tore apart the talking points far-right Republicans have been using to smear the president. He noted that none of the bank records Representative James Comer (R-KY) has referenced show any payments to President Biden, none of the suspicious activity reports the Oversight Committee has reviewed suggest any potential misconduct by Biden, none of the witness accounts to the Oversight Committee show any wrongdoing by Biden, Hunter Biden’s former business associates explicitly stated they had no reason to think President Biden was involved in his son’s business ventures, and so on.

This inquiry is not actually about wrongdoing; it is a reiteration of the same plan Trump tried to execute in 2019 when he asked Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to smear Biden before the 2020 presidential election. By launching an inquiry, Republicans can count on their false accusations spreading through the media, tainting their opponents even without evidence of wrongdoing. See, for example, Clinton, Hillary: emails.

McCarthy insisted to reporters that an impeachment inquiry would simply give House committees leverage to subpoena officials from the White House, but during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice issued an opinion that the House must take a formal vote to validate an impeachment inquiry. It did so in reaction to then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s launch of an impeachment inquiry without such a vote, and the decision invalidated subpoenas issued as part of that inquiry. Pelosi went on to hold a vote and to launch an official inquiry.

It will not be so easy for McCarthy. He has not wanted to hold a vote because outside of the Freedom Caucus, even Republicans don’t want to launch an impeachment inquiry when there is no evidence for one. Senate Republicans today were quick to tell reporters they were skeptical that McCarthy could get enough votes in the House for an article of impeachment, and they were clear that a Senate trial was not an option. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO), himself a member of the Freedom Caucus, said: “The time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden—if there’s evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor. That doesn’t exist right now.”

The attack on Biden is a transparent attempt to defend former president Trump from his own legal troubles by suggesting that Biden is just as bad. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin today also defended Trump, saying that his prosecutions show that the United States is fundamentally corrupt. His comment made former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) seem to wash her hands of the modern incarnation of her political party. “Putin has now officially endorsed the Putin-wing of the Republican Party,” she wrote. “Putin Republicans & their enablers will end up on the ash heap of history. Patriotic Americans in both parties who believe in the values of liberal democracy will make sure of it.”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) summed up the day: “So let me get this straight: Republicans are threatening to remove their own Speaker, impeach the President, and shut down the government on September 30th—disrupting everyday people’s paychecks and general public operations. For what? I don’t think even they know.”

The center-right think tank American Action Forum’s vice president for economic policy, Gordon Gray, had an answer. Ever since the debt ceiling fight was resolved, he told Joan E. Greve of The Guardian, “there’s a big chunk of House Republicans who just want to break something. That’s just how some of these folks define governing. It’s how their constituents define success.”

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Yungblud Reaction GIF by Music Choice
It’s true, but still…

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September 13, 2023 (Wednesday)

Russian president Vladimir Putin met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un today in Russia’s far east. His need to turn to North Korea’s isolated leader is a dramatic fall for Putin, who just four years ago was hobnobbing with then-president Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Now, thanks to his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Putin, too, is isolated, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and under an arrest warrant.

It is no wonder that shortly before he met with Kim, Putin said of Trump’s 2024 presidential run: “We surely hear that Mr. Trump says he will resolve all burning issues within several days, including the Ukrainian crisis. We cannot help but feel happy about it.” Trump has said he will end the war in a day if he’s reelected, and has called for withholding funds to Ukraine until the Department of Justice and the FBI investigate President Joe Biden.

At the meeting, Putin and Kim vowed to strengthen the ties between the two countries, and Kim expressed total support for Putin as Russia’s isolation grows, calling their stance a “fight against imperialism” and saying at a state dinner that he is “certain that the Russian people and its military will emerge victorious in the fight to punish the evil forces that ambitiously pursues hegemony and expansion.”

And yet it is Russia that is attacking other nations, including the U.S.: on September 7 the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 11 Russian men for their participation in cyberattacks against governments, businesses, and major hospital chains around the world. The U.S. Treasury Department and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency say the hackers are associated with Russian intelligence services.

Russia is looking for artillery munitions from North Korea to continue its war against Ukraine; North Korea wants ballistic missile technology from Russia to develop its space and satellite program. Kim cannot get that technology elsewhere because of sanctions intended to keep him from developing nuclear weapons. Sergey Radchenko, a senior professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who studies Russian and Chinese national security, concluded that we might be seeing an alliance between North Korea and Russia that, among other things, is likely to increase North Korea’s assertiveness.

That Putin feels the need to cozy up to Kim indicates the war is not going as he would like. Indeed, last night Ukraine hit the main base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea, destroying two vessels and the port infrastructure. The Ukrainian military claimed responsibility for the strike, underlining its growing strength in Russian-occupied areas…

In a major speech today at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained the place at which the United States finds itself in both foreign and domestic affairs. He told the audience that the end of the Cold War, a period of competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies, ushered in “the promise of an inexorable march toward greater peace and stability, international cooperation, economic interdependence, political liberalization, human rights.” That postwar period did, indeed, lift more than a billion people from poverty, eliminate deadly diseases, and usher in a period of historically low conflicts between nations, despite challenges such as the 2008 global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and regional conflicts like those in Rwanda and Iraq.

“But,” Blinken said, “what we’re experiencing now is more than a test of the post–Cold War order. It’s the end of it.”

The relative geopolitical stability of the post–World War II years has given way to the rise of authoritarian powers, he said. Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is the most immediate threat to “the international order enshrined in the UN charter and its core principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence for nations, and universal indivisible human rights for individuals.” But the People’s Republic of China “poses the most significant long-term challenge,” he said, “because it not only aspires to reshape the international order, it increasingly has the economic, the diplomatic, the military, the technological power to do just that.”

As partners, “Beijing and Moscow are working together to make the world safe for autocracy,” Blinken warned.

As the competition between the two systems ramps up, many countries are hedging their bets, while the influence of nonstate actors—international corporations, public service nongovernmental organizations, international terrorists, transnational criminal organizations—is growing. At the same time, the sheer scale of global problems like climate change and mass migration is making cooperation across borders more difficult.

The international economic order of the past several decades is flawed in ways that have caused people to lose faith in it, Blinken explained. Technology and globalization have hollowed out entire industries and weakened workers, while laws protected property. Inequality grew dramatically between 1980 and 2020, with the richest 0.1% accumulating the same wealth as the poorest 50%. “The longer these disparities persist,” Blinken pointed out, “the more distrust and disillusionment they fuel in people who feel the system is not giving them a fair shake. And the more they exacerbate other drivers of political polarization, amplified by algorithms that reinforce our biases rather than allowing the best ideas to rise to the top.”

Democracies are under threat, Blinken said. “Challenged from the inside by elected leaders who exploit resentments and stoke fears; erode independent judiciaries and the media; enrich cronies; crack down on civil society and political opposition. And challenged from the outside, by autocrats who spread disinformation, who weaponize corruption, who meddle in elections.”

The post–Cold War order is over, Blinken said. “One era is ending, a new one is beginning, and the decisions that we make now will shape the future for decades to come.”

The U.S. is in a position of strength from which it seeks to reinforce a rules-based international order in which “goods, ideas, and individuals can flow freely and lawfully across land, sea, sky, and cyberspace, where technology is used to empower people—not to divide, surveil, and repress them,” where the global economy is defined by fair competition and widespread prosperity, and where “international law and the core principles of the UN Charter are upheld, and where universal human rights are respected.” Such a world would serve humanity’s interests, as well as our own, Blinken said; its principles are universal.

“[O]ur competitors have a fundamentally different vision,” he said. “They see a world defined by a single imperative: regime preservation and enrichment. A world where authoritarians are free to control, coerce, and crush their people, their neighbors, and anyone else standing in the way of this all-consuming goal.”

They claim that the norms and values that anchor the rules-based international order are imposed by Western nations, that human rights are up to nations themselves, and that big countries should be allowed to dictate to their smaller neighbors.

“The contrast between these two visions could not be clearer. And the stakes of the competition we face could not be higher—for the world, and for the American people.”

Blinken explained that the Biden administration has deliberately integrated domestic and foreign policy, crafting industrial strategy to rebuild the U.S. and to address the wealth disparities that create deep political resentment, while aligning that domestic strength to foreign policy. That foreign policy has depended on strengthening alliances and partnerships, building regional integration so that regions address their own interests as communities, closing the infrastructure gap between nations, and strengthening international institutions—rejoining the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, working to expand the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and so on.

Blinken said that such investments will lead nations to stand up to “the Beijings and Moscows of the world” when they claim this system serves the West and try to tear it down, and answer back: “No, the system you are trying to change is our system; it serves our interests.” At the same time, such investments will offer new markets for American workers and businesses, more affordable goods for American consumers, more reliable food and energy supplies, more robust health systems to stop deadly disease, more allies to address global challenges.

Looking back from the future, Blinken said, “the right decisions tend to look obvious, the end results almost inevitable. They never are. In real time, it’s a fog.”

“We must put our hand on the rudder of history and chart a path forward, guided by the things that are certain even in uncertain times—our principles, our partners, our vision for where we want to go,” Blinken said, “so that, when the fog lifts, the world that emerges tilts toward freedom, toward peace, toward an international community capable of rising to the challenges of its time.”

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September 14, 2023 (Thursday)

Yesterday, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced he would not run for reelection. That announcement came just as The Atlantic published an excerpt from a forthcoming biography of Romney by McKay Coppins in which Romney expressed disgust with his Republican colleagues for feeding Trump’s lies to their voters in exchange for power and acknowledged that “[a] very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”

Coppins had access to Romney’s private journals, correspondence, and interviews. He describes Romney as isolated from other Republicans in Washington, unwelcome first because he was disgusted by Trump and vowed to be independent of him and then because, in the first impeachment trial, Romney voted to convict on one of two charges.

Romney said that “[a]lmost without exception” his Republican colleagues “shared my view of the president,” but they refused to speak up out of fear that their voters would turn against them. Coppins recounts a weekly caucus lunch at which Republicans gave Trump a standing ovation, listened as he boasted and rambled through remarks, and then burst into laughter as soon as Trump left.

That loyalty appears to have been behind leaders’ refusal to address rumors of violence on January 6, 2021. According to Coppins, on January 2, 2021, Senator Angus King (I-ME) warned Romney that a high-ranking Pentagon official had told King that right-wing extremists online appeared to be planning to attack the government on January 6 to stop what Trump had told them was the stealing of the 2020 presidential election. They talked of guns and arson and bombs, and they talked of targeting the traitors in Congress, among whom they counted Romney for his vote to convict Trump on one count in his first impeachment trial. King was concerned for Romney’s safety.

Romney promptly texted then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to recount the conversation. “There are calls to burn down your home, Mitch; to smuggle guns into DC, and to storm the Capitol,” Romney wrote. “I hope that sufficient security plans are in place, but I am concerned that the instigator—the President—is the one who commands the reinforcements the DC and Capitol police might require.” McConnell never answered.

When even after the events of January 6, fellow senators continued to execute their plan of objecting to the counting of electoral votes for certain states, Romney called them out on the floor of the Senate for “being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy.”

Romney recalled that some senators refused to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial out of concerns for their safety and that of their families. Romney himself had hired a security detail for his family since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but at $5,000 a day such security was out of reach for most of his colleagues.

Just eleven years ago, Romney was the 2012 Republican nominee for president. Almost 61 million Americans voted for him. Now he is leaving public service with voters calling him a traitor and threatening his life.

In the House of Representatives today, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had to pull back one of the eleven spending bills that Congress needs to pass before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 to fund the government. Extremists say they will not bring any of those bills to the floor without deeper cuts than McCarthy agreed to in a deal with President Biden earlier this year.

In a conference meeting today, McCarthy allegedly exploded at the extremists stopping the budget process, who hold over him their power to challenge his speakership. “If you want to file a motion to vacate,” he said, “then file a f*cking motion.” Rather than backing down, an extremist leader, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), continued to needle McCarthy on social media.

The House went home for the weekend. While it made no progress on the budget this week, Speaker McCarthy did manage to initiate an impeachment inquiry into President Biden in an unsuccessful attempt to appease the extremists. According to Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Alyce McFadden of the New York Times, those extremists have been conferring with Trump.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who has led calls to impeach Biden, told the reporters that she told Trump she wanted the impeachment inquiry to be “long and excruciatingly painful for Joe Biden.” Ultimately, she says, she wants a “long list of names” of those she claims are involved in crimes with the Bidens, and when Trump wins the presidency in 2024, she wants “to go after every single one of them and use the Department of Justice to prosecute them.”

Today the independent counsel appointed by then-president Trump to investigate Biden’s son Hunter charged Hunter with three felonies related to the fact that he falsely claimed he was not using illegal drugs when he applied to buy a handgun that he owned for about 11 days in 2018. Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman noted that in June, after five years of investigation, the Justice Department negotiated a plea agreement with Hunter Biden’s lawyers in which Biden would plead guilty to two tax offenses and receive probation, and a gun charge would be dropped after two years if he continued to stay drug-free.

Although Biden had taken the unusual step of retaining Trump’s appointee, then–U.S. attorney David Weiss, to continue to investigate Hunter even after Trump’s term ended, to avoid any appearance of interference, Republicans protested what they saw as preferential treatment for the president’s son, harassing Weiss’s team and FBI agents and their families. Then the deal fell apart for reasons unrelated to Hunter.

And now Weiss has brought more charges. Litman notes that “the charges Weiss brought are rarely pursued for their own sake. The department does bring such charges against defendants who use improperly obtained firearms to commit other crimes. And in one or two instances, prosecutors appear to have used such charges against defendants whom they knew to be particularly dangerous. But this indictment over an isolated lie by a relatively harmless firearm applicant seems to be without precedent.”

But, Litman notes, the Republicans now have something with which “to muddy the waters with respect to Trump’s multiple criminal indictments.” As if on cue, House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) claimed that “[m]ountains of evidence reveals that Hunter Biden likely committed several felonies and Americans expect the Justice Department to apply the law equally. Today’s charges are a very small start, but unless U.S. Attorney Weiss investigates everyone involved in the fraud schemes and influence peddling, it will be clear President Biden’s DOJ is protecting Hunter Biden and the big guy.”

Yesterday, President Biden spoke at a campaign reception. “Everybody always asks about impeachment,” he said, but he didn’t think much about it. He noted that Greene had vowed to impeach him the first day she was elected, and said: “I get up every day…not focused on impeachment. I’ve got a job to do. I’ve got to deal with the issues that affect the American people every single solitary day.”

That focus today demonstrated the vision Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have for the U.S. After yesterday’s meeting between Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan today held a trilateral call with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea, honoring the agreement forged at the historic trilateral summit of the three countries at Camp David in August. Together, they noted that North Korean arms exports to Russia would directly violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, including ones for which Russia itself voted.

And in Largo, Maryland, today, after listing the economic accomplishments of his administration, Biden called out the Republicans for their lack of policy plans. For all the time they spend attacking Bidenomics, he said, “here’s what they never do: They never talk about what they want to do… They tell you what they’re against. What are they for? It’s like they want to keep it a secret.”

Biden pointed out that just months ago, Republicans threatened to default on the U.S. debt, and now they are breaking the commitment they made to resolve that standoff. Working from a budget produced in June by the Republican Study Committee, which has 156 out of 222 of the Republican members in the House, Biden explained that Congressional Republicans now are doubling down on the old trickle-down economics that “hollowed out…the middle class…blew up the deficit…produced an anemic economic growth…and…stripped the dignity and pride and hope out of a community, one after another.”

“[Y]ou hear from our friends on the other side, the MAGA Republicans, what’s wrong with America. Everything’s wrong with America. They keep telling us America is failing,” Biden said. “Well, they’re wrong. They’re failing. America is not failing. America is winning. And there’s one reason for it: you. All you people get up every single morning and go out to try to do the right thing. You, the American people—you’re the one with grit and determination. Not me or your elected officials. You.”

“We’re the only nation based on an idea—an idea. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Look,” Biden said, “we’ve never fully lived up to it,’’ but “[w]e’ve never walked away from it.”

“These other guys are trying to walk away from it.”

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US Constitution; Amendment 14, Sec 3.

This is what it was written for. Remove them now, not later.

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September 15, 2023 (Friday)

At 10:22 this morning, a Jewish temple in Birmingham, Alabama, blew the shofar, and churches rang their bells four times.

It was at that moment, sixty years ago, that a bomb ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It was Youth Day in the historic brick church on Sunday, September 15, 1963, and five young girls dressed in their Sunday best were in the ladies’ lounge getting ready for their part in the Sunday service that was about to start. As Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins were chatting and adjusting their dresses, a charge of dynamite stashed under the steps that led to the church sanctuary blasted into the ladies lounge, killing the four girls instantly. Standing at the sink in the back of the room, Addie’s sister Sarah survived with serious injuries.

Just five days before, Black children had entered formerly all-white schools after an August court order required an end to segregation in Birmingham’s public schools. This decision capped a fight over integration that had begun just after the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision in which the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional.

In that same year, in the wake of the successful 381-day Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott to protest that city’s segregated bus system, Birmingham’s Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, along with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and strategist and civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, started the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to challenge segregation through nonviolent protest, rather than trusting the work to the courts alone.

On September 9, 1957, Shuttlesworth and his wife Ruby, along with other Black parents, tried to enroll their children in the city’s all-white flagship John Herbert Phillips High School. A mob of white Ku Klux Klansmen met them at the school, attacking them with chains and bats; someone stabbed Ruby Shuttlesworth in the hip with a pocketknife, and an amateur videographer captured a man named Bobby Frank Cherry on video reaching for brass knuckles before diving back into the attack on Shuttlesworth.

Cherry had no children at the school.

Over the next several years, the Ku Klux Klan lost the political struggle over civil rights, and its members increasingly turned to public violence. There were so many bombings of civil rights leaders’ homes and churches that the city became known as “Bombingham.” When the Freedom Riders, civil rights workers who rode interstate buses in mixed-race groups to challenge segregation, came through Birmingham, police commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor looked the other way as KKK members beat the riders with baseball bats, chains, rocks, and lead pipes.

Connor was a perfect foil for civil rights organizers, who began a campaign of nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation in Birmingham. One of the organizers’ tactics was to attract national attention by provoking Connor, and participants in the movement began sit-ins at libraries, kneel-ins at white churches, and voter registration drives. Shuttlesworth invited King to Birmingham to help.

In April 1963, Connor got an injunction barring the protests, and promised to fill the jails. He did. King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a product of Connor’s vow, smuggled out of jail on bits of paper given to him by a sympathetic inmate. In the letter, King responded to those who opposed the civil rights protests and, claiming to support civil rights, said that the courts were the proper venue to address social injustice. King agreed that the protests created tension, but he explained that such tension was constructive: it would force the city’s leaders to negotiate. “‘Wait,’” he reminded them, “has almost always meant ‘never.’”

But Connor’s tactics had the chilling effect he intended, as demonstrators shied away from being arrested out of fear of losing their jobs and being unable to provide for their families. So organizers decided to invite children to join a march to the downtown area. When the children agreed, the SCLC held workshops on the techniques of nonviolence and warned them of the danger they would be facing.

On May 2, 1963, they gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church, just blocks away from Birmingham’s City Hall. As students moved toward City Hall in waves, singing “We Shall Overcome,” police officers arrested more than 600 of them and blocked the streets with fire trucks. The national news covered the story.

The next day, Bull Connor tried another tactic to keep the young protesters out of the downtown: fire hoses set to the highest pressure. When observers started to throw rocks and bottles at the police with the fire hoses, Connor told police officers to use German shepherd dogs to stop them. Images from the day made the national news and began to galvanize support for the protesters.

By May 6, Connor had turned the state fairgrounds into a makeshift jail to hold the overflow of protesters he was arresting, and national media figures, musicians, and civil rights activists were arriving in Birmingham. By May 7 the downtown was shut down while Connor arrested more people and used fire hoses again. The events in Birmingham were headline news.

By May 10, local politicians under pressure from businessmen had agreed to release the people who had been arrested; to desegregate lunch counters, drinking fountains, and bathrooms; and to hire Black people in a few staff jobs.

After Connor’s insistence that he would never permit desegregation, white supremacists in Birmingham felt betrayed by the new deal, basic though it was. Violence escalated over the summer, even as King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail was widely published and praised and as civil rights activists, fresh from the Birmingham campaign, on August 28 held the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., where King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.

For white supremacists in Birmingham, the children and the 16th Street Baptist Church where they had organized were the symbols of the movement that had beaten them.

Their fury escalated in summer 1963 when a lawsuit the Reverend Shuttlesworth had filed to challenge segregation in public schools ended in August with a judge ordering Birmingham public schools to desegregate.

Five days after the first Black children entered a white school as students, four members of the Cahaba River Group, which had splintered off from another Ku Klux Klan group because they didn’t think it was aggressive enough, took action. Thomas Blanton, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, and Bobby Frank Cherry—the same man who in 1957 had beaten the Reverend Shuttlesworth with brass knuckles for trying to enroll his children in school—bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church. "Just wait until Sunday morning and they’ll beg us to let them segregate,” Chambliss had told his niece.

The death of innocent children—on a Sunday morning, in a house of God—at the hands of white supremacists drew national attention. It woke up white people who had previously been leery of civil rights protests, making them confront the horror of racial violence in the South. Support for civil rights legislation grew, and in 1964 that support helped legislators to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Still, it seemed as if the individual bombers would get away with their crimes. In 1968, the FBI investigation ended without indictments.

But it turned out the story wasn’t over. Bill Baxley, a young law student at the University of Alabama in 1963, was so profoundly outraged by the bombing that he vowed someday he would do something about it. In 1970, voters elected Baxley to be Alabama’s attorney general. He reopened the case, famously responding to a Ku Klux Klan threat by responding on official state letterhead: “kiss my *ss.”

The reluctance of the FBI to share its evidence meant that Baxley charged and convicted only Robert Chambliss—whose nickname in 1963 was “Dynamite Bob”—for the murder of Denise McNair.

But still the story wasn’t over. Another young lawyer named Doug Jones was in the courtroom during that trial, and in 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Jones as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Jones pursued the case, uncovering old evidence and finding new witnesses. Herman Cash had died, but in 2001 and 2002, representing the state of Alabama, Jones successfully prosecuted Thomas Edwin Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry for first-degree murder.

Chambliss, Cherry, and Blanton all died in prison: Chambliss in 1985, Cherry in 2004. Blanton died in 2020.

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Looking at that timeline, what is still unresolved for the survivor of the bombing, and current events…

Struggling Bet Networks GIF by BET

:fist:t4:

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September 17, 2023 (Sunday)

Friday, September 15, was the fourth anniversary of these Letters from an American, although they did not then have a title. When I posted a roundup of what I thought was going on in the government on Facebook that day, I had no idea it was going to be anything other than a marker for the future.

I wrote a review of Trump’s mental decline amidst his faltering presidency, stonewalling of investigations of potential criminal activity by him or his associates, packing of the courts, and attempting to use the power of the government to help his 2020 reelection. And I added: “None of this would fly in America if the Senate, controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, were not aiding and abetting him.”

“This is the story of a dictator on the rise,” I wrote, “taking control of formerly independent branches of government, and using the power of his office to amass power.”

Just four days later, the story that there was an intelligence community whistleblower had broken wide open. When I wrote on September 19, it was about how, on September 13, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote to then–acting director of national intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire accusing him of illegally withholding from the committee a whistleblower complaint made by someone in the intelligence community. The inspector general of the intelligence community, Trump appointee Michael Atkinson, had determined the complaint was credible and urgent. Under the law, that determination meant that Congress must see it.

But Maguire refused to turn it over.

Maguire had been in the job only a month. Trump’s previous director of national intelligence, the well-regarded former senator Dan Coats (R-IN), had earned Trump’s wrath in 2018 when he confirmed—a day after Trump had denied it—that the United States intelligence community had concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

Trump fired Coats just three days after the phone call that had sparked the whistleblower complaint: the phone call in which Trump had asked Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor” before the administration would release the money Congress had appropriated to help Ukraine fight the ongoing Russian presence after its 2014 invasion.

Coats’s natural replacement was the deputy director of national intelligence, career intelligence professional Sue Gordon, but Trump forced her out. Instead, he tried to replace her with loyalist Representative John Ratcliffe (R-TX), but the Senate balked then at confirming a man without the national security credentials required by law (it would agree to Ratcliffe in May 2020). Then he turned to Maguire, slotting him in as an “acting” officer so he could avoid Senate confirmation.

“A Director of National Intelligence has never prevented a properly submitted whistleblower complaint that the [inspector general] determined to be credible and urgent from being provided to the congressional intelligence committees. Never,” Schiff said in a statement. “This raises serious concerns about whether White House, Department of Justice or other executive branch officials are trying to prevent a legitimate whistleblower complaint from reaching its intended recipient, the Congress, in order to cover up serious misconduct.”

As I had noted just four days earlier, there was already plenty of reason to worry about what was going on in the administration—not least over the DNI position—but the whistleblower threw things into a new realm. A member of the legislative branch—Congress—had directly accused a member of the executive branch—possibly even the president— of violating a specific law.

And so we were off to the races.

The question at the heart of the four years since then has been whether the rule of law on which the United States of America was founded will survive.

Within months the fight over the whistleblower complaint had become an impeachment. The evidence against the president was so overwhelming that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said: “Out of one hundred senators, you have zero who believe you that there was no quid pro quo. None. There’s not a single one.”

And yet, Republican senators stood behind Trump. “This is not about this president. It’s not about anything he’s been accused of doing,” McConnell (R-KY) told his colleagues. “It has always been about November 3, 2020. It’s about flipping the Senate.”

His acquittal made Trump determined to take revenge and to cement his power. As the Covid-19 pandemic shattered the country in summer 2020, he claimed he had “absolute authority” to force states to reopen. “When somebody is President of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump stated, adding that “[t]he federal government has absolute power” and that he had the “absolute right” to use that power if he wanted to.

Trump’s determination to hold onto power metastasized into his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election…and still, Republican senators refused to hold him to account.

That poison has continued to spread. On May 27, 2023, the Republican-led Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach Texas attorney general Ken Paxton on 20 counts of corruption and bribery. Paxton is supported by hard-right wealthy donors and has used his position to advance Trump’s fortunes rather than to defend Texas laws. According to Axios’s Mike Allen, Trump allies Steve Bannon and Charlie Kirk fired up their supporters to flood senators’ phones to demand acquittal, while party leaders warned senators that they would face well-funded primary opponents if they voted to convict.

On Saturday the Texas Senate acquitted Paxton of all charges, with only two Republicans voting to convict. Trump promptly congratulated Paxton on his “Texas sized VICTORY” and attacked the Republicans who had voted to impeach him.

The Dallas News warned: “We have come to a place of great danger, where the plain evidence of corruption can no longer overcome the majority party’s determination to protect its self-interest and its agents.”

But this is not the only story of the past four years. At the same time Republican Party leaders have abandoned the rule of law, the rest of us have realized how imperative it is to demand its restoration.

The other thing that happened on September 15, 2023, was that copies of the new book arrived. It is called Democracy Awakening for a reason. From the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration—the largest single-day demonstration in world history—to Alexander Vindman’s declaration in the first impeachment hearings that “Here, right matters,” to the lawyers protecting immigrant rights and election laws, the Black Lives Matter movement, the refusal of Republican officials to help Trump overturn the election, the work of election officials to ensure a fair vote count, the determination of law enforcement officers like Michael Fanone to defend the U.S. Capitol, the testimony of those like Cassidy Hutchinson, and the determination of the majority to make its voice heard, from where I sit it looks like the American people are waking up to the defense of our democracy.

The past four years have been quite a ride. For me, what began as a Facebook post has grown into a community I am ever so proud to be a part of.

I’m eager to see what comes next.

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Whatever happened to Maguire? He wasn’t confirmed, so his position should not have protected him from legal jeopardy for that cover-up.

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September 18, 2023 (Monday)

Headlines this morning said that “Congress” is in crisis. But that construction obscures the true story: the Republicans are in crisis, and they are taking the country down with them.

The most immediate issue is that funding for the government ends on September 30. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, is moving forward on a strongly bipartisan basis with 12 appropriations bills that reflect the deal President Biden hammered out with Speaker Kevin McCarthy in May to get House Republicans to agree not to default on the United States debt. That deal, the Washington Post editorial board pointed out today, was a comprehensive compromise that should have been a blueprint for the budget.

But extremist House Republicans reject it, and there is no sign that House Republicans can even agree among themselves on a replacement, let alone on one that can make it through the Senate and past the president’s desk. Extremists in the Freedom Caucus insist they will not agree to any budget that accepts the deal McCarthy cut with Biden. In addition, although appropriations bills are traditionally kept clean of volatile issues, the extremists have loaded up this year’s appropriations bills with so-called poison pills: rules that advance their attempt to impose their ideology on the country but are unacceptable to Democrats. McCarthy had to pull back the Pentagon spending bill on Thursday before the House went home for the weekend, leaving without any plan in place for funding the government.

Over the weekend, six Republicans from five different party factions offered a plan for a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. Designed to appeal to the extremists, the plan goes back on the deal McCarthy struck with Biden. It proposes a 1% cut to the federal budget, but that 1% is not applied evenly: the defense budget and the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs would not take any cuts—Republicans have learned how voters react to hurting veterans—requiring an 8% cut to everything else. It includes the border measures the extremists want, and provides no money either for Ukraine or for disaster assistance.

It’s not clear that Republican House members will vote for the bill, and if they do, the bill is unlikely, encumbered as it is, to make it through the Senate.

What the House Republicans have managed to do recently is to try to appease the extremists by launching an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, claiming that he enriched himself through his son Hunter’s business dealings when he was vice president. McCarthy had to open the inquiry himself, without a House vote, because lacking any evidence, he didn’t have the votes to set such an inquiry in motion. On the Fox News Channel on Sunday, Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) said McCarthy has given him the role of assisting in the inquiry, but admitted: “We don’t have the evidence now, but we may find it later."

To try to get at the president, the Republicans have hammered at his son Hunter, who has begun to push back, today filing a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service for failing to keep his tax information private as the law requires. He is referring to the two men who testified before House committees trying to find dirt on Hunter Biden and who made the rounds of reporters with their allegations that the IRS did not adequately pursue charges against him.

Meanwhile, video has emerged of the conditions under which extremist Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) was kicked out of a kid-friendly Beetlejuice performance last weekend. Boebert has repeatedly accused those protecting LGBTQ civil rights of “grooming” children for sexual activity. Not only was she vaping, she and her date were groping each other quite intensely. Boebert is in the process of getting a divorce, and her date, it turns out, is co-owner of a gay-friendly bar that has hosted drag shows.

Things are not all ducky with Republicans in the Senate, either. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) refuses to lift his hold on more than 300 military promotions until the Pentagon changes its policy of allowing service members leave time and travel expenses to obtain abortion care. While he insists he is doing no damage to the military, actual military officers, as well as members of his own party, disagree. They say the holds are hollowing out our military leadership and that the damage will take years to repair, since the promotion holds also stop junior officers from moving up. Those holds mean lower pay and retirement, tempting junior officers to move out of the military to higher-paying private sector jobs.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) today wrote a public letter to Tuberville asking him to remove his hold and warning that “harming American service members as leverage in Washington political battles” set a “very dangerous precedent.” They also noted that in a survey of VFW members, including those in Alabama, “VFW members strongly conveyed that politicians should not be able to harm the troops over political disputes and that political decisions that harm the troops would affect the way they would vote in upcoming elections.”

And now Trump, who leads the extremists, has suddenly changed course on abortion, the leading issue for most of his base, in order to weaken his rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida governor Ron DeSantis. After packing the Supreme Court with three extremists who helped to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by which the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to an abortion, Trump yesterday said the six-week abortion ban DeSantis signed, which would ban abortion before most women know they’re pregnant, was “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” although he also appeared to endorse abortion bans in general. Trump’s vice president Mike Pence, in contrast, is calling for a federal ban on abortion.

Republicans have finally recognized that about 63% of Americans think abortion should be legal in “all or most circumstances,” according to a new poll by 19th News and SurveyMonkey. But only 9% believe it should be illegal in all cases, although 14 states have enacted such extensive bans. The survey also found that support for abortion rights has increased since the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Trump has suddenly also become more problematic for the Republicans. On Sunday night, Trump doubled down on his past antisemitism by sharing a Rosh Hashanah message that celebrated the Jewish New Year by accusing “liberal Jews” of voting to “destroy” America and Israel.

Then, ​​today, Katherine Faulders, Mike Levine, and Alexander Mallin of ABC News reported that long-time Trump assistant Molly Michael told agents investigating Trump’s mishandling of classified documents that he wrote to-do lists for her on the back of documents with classified markings.

Meanwhile, the administration continues to go about the daily work of governance.

On Sunday, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan met in Malta with China’s top diplomat to keep communications between the two countries open. Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Vice President Han Zheng of China on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “The world expects us to responsibly manage our
relationship,” Blinken said. "The United States is committed to doing just that.”

Also on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly today, 32 coastal Atlantic countries from Africa, Europe, North America, South America, and the Caribbean launched the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation. This new multilateral forum echoes regional organizations the administration has backed elsewhere and seeks to establish a mechanism for implementing “a set of shared principles for the Atlantic region, such as a commitment to an open Atlantic free from interference, coercion, or aggressive action,” as well as coordinated plans for addressing issues including climate change.

Finally, five Americans who have been imprisoned in Iran are home tonight, along with two of their spouses. In exchange, the U.S. freed five Iranian citizens who were imprisoned or were about to stand trial, although three of them declined to return to Iran (two have chosen to stay in the U.S., and another went to a third country). The Republic of Korea has released $6 billion of Iran’s money to Qatar for use for humanitarian aid to Iranian citizens suffering under the sanctions that prevent medicines and food from coming into the country.

Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian that the funds had not previously been frozen; they were held up in South Korea because of that country’s own regulations. Under Trump, Iran spent heavily from similar accounts in China, Turkey, and India. Now that they are released, the funds will have more legal restrictions than they did when they were in South Korea.

The Biden administration has prioritized bringing home wrongfully detained Americans. Today’s events bring the number of those the administration has brought home to 35.

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This part will be ignored by the Right to paint it as “we paid ransom” for the US citizens. Push bak is required on this!!

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Oh, they are already on it.

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September 19, 2023 (Tuesday)

House Republicans appear to be barreling toward a government shutdown, unable to agree even to debate a bill to fund the military. That rejection made Republican leadership pull from the floor a continuing resolution to fund the government into October. Extremist members simply refuse to agree to any bill that doesn’t cave to their demands. And, as NBC News reporters note, “The House [Republican] chaos is worse than it may appear.” The bills over which they are currently fighting cannot possibly pass the Senate. Government funding ends on September 30.

And so a small minority of extremists are threatening to shut down our government. Such a shutdown would have global as well as domestic repercussions: the Pentagon warned that a government shutdown would disrupt U.S. military aid to Ukraine, including training for military forces. Hamstringing our ability to help Ukraine stand against Russia, refusing to fund the Pentagon, and Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military promotions that has left more than 300 top military positions vacant all undermine our national security. This is an astonishing position for Republicans, who used to pride themselves on their support for the military.

That such a small number of extremists can shut down our country speaks to the power of voting. Four days ago, Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a month-long tour of college campuses to mobilize younger voters to “fight for our freedoms.” Today is National Voter Registration Day, and in Reading, Pennsylvania, she noted that young people have spent their whole lives in the climate crisis, have seen the Supreme Court stop recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, and have spent their earlier years practicing active shooter drills. They are now stepping up to lead the country toward solutions.

Harris told a cheering, overflow audience at the Reading Area Community College that voting “determines whether the person who is holding elected office is going to fight for your freedoms and rights or not. Whether that be the freedom that you should have to just be free from attack, free from hate, free from gun violence, free from bias, free to love who you love and be open about it, free to have access to the ballot box without people obstructing your ability to exercise your civic right to vote, in terms of who will be the people holding elected office and leading your country.”

The political power of young voters will be important in determining the outcome of the 2024 elections. In Pennsylvania today, Democratic governor Josh Shapiro announced automatic voter registration when people are getting or renewing a driver’s license. The governor tweeted: “We got traffic moving on I-95 in just 12 days. We delivered universal free breakfast for 1.7 million students. And today, we implemented automatic voter registration. There’s more to do, but we’re getting stuff done in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

In Congress today, the Democrats, led by Representative Terri Sewell (D-AL) reintroduced the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which passed the House in 2021 but was stopped by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

This measure would restore and modernize the 1965 Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted it. Until that decision, Congress had regularly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act on a bipartisan basis, but as soon as the decision was handed down, Republican-dominated state legislatures passed voter suppression laws, gerrymandered their states, and closed polling sites, measures that made it more difficult for Black Americans, many of whom backed Democrats, to vote. In the decade since the decision, Sewell noted, at least 29 states have passed a total of almost 100 laws restricting voting.

Sewell represents Selma, Alabama, where civil rights activist and, later, Georgia representative John R. Lewis was beaten by law enforcement officers when he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge with other civil rights activists marching for the right to vote. She noted, “Generations of Americans—many in my hometown of Selma, Alabama—marched, fought, and even died for the equal right of all Americans to vote. But today, their legacy and our very democracy are under attack as MAGA extremists target voters with new laws to restrict voting access. Ten years after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight for voting rights has never been more urgent.”

The reason for voter suppression was made clear again today when, in a pattern that has continued since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, no longer recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, Democrats won two elections. In New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter flipped a state House seat formerly held by a Republican. And in Pennsylvania, Democrat Lindsay Powell won a special election in Pittsburgh, enabling Democrats to hold control of the Pennsylvania House.

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Some Dems seem to cling to bipartisanship like it’s a raft going over a waterfall. Well, this is the final test. If they can’t peel off a handful of moderate Republicans in the House to get the (negotiated, compromise) budget approved, then they need to let go of it completely.

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There’s another test coming in the Senate, because of this:

I agree with Beau’s take that Democrats should not fall for this, but we’ll see…

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