Heather Cox Richardson

May 10, 2022 (Tuesday)

That Republicans appear to be on the cusp of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion seems to have thrown them into confusion. Since Nixon first raised the issue of abortion as a political wedge in 1972, the year before Roe (recall that Nixon characterized 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern as the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion”), they have used the issue to raise money and turn out voters. But now, with the prize seemingly within reach, they are ratcheting up their demands, at least in part to continue to raise money and to turn out voters. They also need to re-create their sense of grievance against the “libs” they have just “owned.”

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade seemingly on the horizon, right-wing lawmakers are now escalating their attacks on national policies their base voters oppose. This means, for example, that Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and Mississippi governor Tate Reeves are standing behind the “trigger laws” they have signed to take effect as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. Other lawmakers are suggesting they are willing to outlaw contraception, and pharmacists in Texas are already refusing to fill prescriptions for medications commonly prescribed for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

And for all that ending Roe was supposed to turn the issue of abortion over to the states to decide as they wished, there is now talk of advancing a national ban on abortion so that states could not, in fact, choose to protect abortion rights.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is backing federal legislation to punish corporations who pay to fly their employees to different states for abortion care and gender-affirming care for their children. “Our tax code should be pro-family and promote a culture of life,” Rubio said. “Instead, too often our corporations find loopholes to subsidize the murder of unborn babies or horrific ‘medical’ treatments on kids. My bill would make sure this does not happen.”

In Michigan, Republican Ryan Kelley, who is running for governor, has openly attacked the idea of democracy. “Socialism—it starts with democracy,” he said. “That’s the ticket for the left. They want to push this idea of democracy, which turns into socialism, which turns into communism in every instance.” Kelley’s distinction between “democracy” and a “constitutional republic” is drawn from the John Birch Society in the 1960s, which used that distinction to oppose the idea of one person, one vote, that supported Black voting.

In turn, the Birchers drew from the arguments of white supremacists during Reconstruction after the Civil War, who warned that Black voters would elect leaders who promised them roads, and schools, and hospitals. These benefits would cost tax dollars that in the postwar South would have to be paid largely by white landowners. Thus, white voters insisted, Black voting would lead to a redistribution of wealth; by 1871, they insisted it was essentially “socialism.”

That context explains Kelley’s insistence that “we truly are losing our country to the radical left.” But the argument is not only racial and economic. American evangelicals are converting to the Russian Orthodox Church out of support for its nativism, white nationalism, rejection of LGBTQ rights and abortion, and support for authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin. Like him, they object to the diversity inherent in democracy.

Journalists for Business Insider ran the numbers and found that 84% of the state lawmakers who have sponsored trigger laws are men, five states had no women sponsors for trigger laws, all but one of the 13 governors who have signed trigger laws are men, and 91% of the senators who confirmed the antiabortion majority on the Supreme Court are men. These men are overwhelmingly Republican: 86% of the trigger law sponsors were Republican, all of the antiabortion justices were nominated by Republicans, and 94% of the senators who voted to confirm the antiabortion justices were Republicans.

At the same time that a small minority is imposing its will on the majority of Americans, Republicans are insisting they, not those who are losing their rights, are the victims.

When the draft first leaked, there was outrage across the right as people jumped to the conclusion that the draft had leaked from the office of a liberal justice. A Newsmax host even claimed that newly confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had leaked the draft, although she will not take a place on the court until Justice Stephen Breyer steps down.

There are almost none of those accusations now, since leaks have continued, and they are clearly coming not from the offices of the liberal justices, but from the right-wing justices. On May 7, a Washington Post story had several comments about ongoing deliberations reported by “conservatives close to the court.” Law professor and legal analyst Steve Vladeck called such sievelike behavior “stunning.”

Now the argument that Republicans are victims centers around the protests over the draft decision, some of which have taken place in front of the homes of the Supreme Court justices. The protests have been peaceful in reality, but the right wing has portrayed them as violent—so violent, in fact, that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) compared them unfavorably with the events of January 6, which, in his rewriting of history, he claimed were peaceful. The rumor—unsourced, and later proved false—that Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the draft decision, had to be moved to an undisclosed location swept right-wing media.

Portraying the Republicans as victims of a mob reached ridiculous proportions when Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) called the police Saturday night because someone had written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of her home in Bangor: “Susie, please, Mainers want WHPA→ vote yes, clean up your mess.” WHPA, the Women’s Health Protection Act, is a bill that would protect abortion rights and block medically unnecessary restrictions and bans on the procedure.

Collins cast a deciding vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, stating she was confident he would not overturn Roe v. Wade. Collins says she will vote against WHPA because she believes it goes too far.

The apparent outrage over protests in the wake of the leaked draft decision seems disingenuous considering the violence of antiabortion activists, who have burned down clinics, murdered abortion providers, and continue to accost patients at clinics. Indeed, the Supreme Court struck down a law creating a buffer zone around clinics to stop harassment of patients on the grounds that such protest was free speech covered by the First Amendment. More generally, there has been little concern from Republicans about the armed protests that have taken place over vaccine and mask mandates and over the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory during the past two years.

When a reporter asked Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) if he was “comfortable with the protests that we saw outside the homes of Supreme Court justices,” Schumer answered that he is, so long as they are peaceful. “Yes. My house, there’s protests three, four times a week outside… That’s the American way to peacefully protest… [his phone rings]…that’s my wife. Maybe there’s a protest outside."

With all this going on, Americans’ confidence in the Supreme Court has collapsed since Trump packed it with a 6–3 right-wing majority. Half of U.S. voters and 53% of Americans in general now have little to no confidence in the court.

11 Likes

Wonder Years Reaction GIF

11 Likes

May 11, 2022 (Wednesday)

In the last year, the Republican Party has transformed.

The modern Republican Party rose to power in 1980 promising to slash government intervention in the economy. But that was never a terribly popular stance, and in order to win elections, party leaders wedded themselves to the religious right. For decades, party leaders managed to deliver economic liberties to business leaders by tossing increasingly extreme rhetoric and occasional victories to the religious right. Now, though, that radicalized minority is driving the party. It has thrown overboard the idea of smaller government to drive economic growth and embraced the idea that a strong government must enforce the religious and social beliefs of their base on the rest of the country.

This religiously based government wants to control not just individuals, but also businesses. We are seeing not only the apparent overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but also the criminalization of contraception, attacks on gay and trans rights, laws giving the state the power to design school curricula, fury at immigrants, book banning, and a reordering of the nation around evangelical Christianity.

Today, when the Senate voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill protecting the constitutional right to abortion as originally recognized in Roe v. Wade, all of the Republicans voted against it, along with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin said the bill was too broad, although he did not say in what way.

Modern Republicans are not limiting this strong state to the policing of individuals. They are using it to determine the actions of businesses. Even two years ago, it was unthinkable that Florida governor Ron DeSantis would try to strip its longstanding governing power from the Walt Disney Company to force the company to shut up about gay rights, and yet, just last month, that is precisely what happened.

Similarly, in his quest to weaponize the issue of immigration, Texas governor Greg Abbott drastically slowed the trade routes between Texas and Mexico between April 6 and April 15, costing the country $9 billion in gross national product and prompting Mexico to change the route of a railway connection worth billions of dollars from Texas to New Mexico. And now Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is proposing to use the government to strip Disney of its copyrights, a plan Professor Paul Goldstein of Stanford Law School, who specializes in intellectual property, calls “blatantly unconstitutional.”

This is no longer your mother’s Republican Party, or your grandfather’s…or his grandfather’s.

Today’s Republican Party is not about equal rights and opportunity, as Lincoln’s party was. It is not about using the government to protect ordinary people, as Theodore Roosevelt’s party was. It is not even about advancing the ability of businesses to do as they deem best, as Ronald Reagan’s party was.

The modern Republican Party is about using the power of the government to enforce the beliefs of a radical minority on the majority of Americans.

After more than a year of emphasizing that he could work with Republicans, President Joe Biden yesterday went on the offensive against what he called “the Ultra-MAGA Agenda.”

He focused on Florida senator Rick Scott’s “11-Point Plan to Rescue America,” which offers a blueprint for creating the modern Republican vision, beginning with its statement that “[t]he nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated.” To protect that family, Scott not only wants to end abortion rights, but also proposes requiring all Americans, no matter how little money they make, to pay income taxes, and to make all laws—including, presumably, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and so on—expire every five years. Congress can then just repass the ones it likes, he says.

Yesterday, Biden laid out the difference between his economic plan and Scott’s. He pointed out that his policies of using the government to support ordinary Americans have produced 8.3 million jobs in 15 months, the strongest job creation in modern history. Unemployment is at 3.6%, and 5.4 million small businesses have applied to start up this year—20% more than in any other year recorded.

Now, he says, the global inflation that is hurting Americans so badly is his top priority. To combat that inflation by taking on the price of oil, he has released 240 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to boost supplies, and increased domestic oil production. To lower prices, he has untangled supply chains, and now he wants to reduce our dependence on oil by investing in renewables, to restore competition in key industries (like baby formula) now dominated by a few companies, and to take on price gouging. And he has asked the wealthiest Americans “to pay their fair share in taxes,” since “[i]n recent years, the average billionaire has paid about 8% in federal taxes.”

Biden wants to take on household finances quickly by letting Medicare negotiate prices for prescription drugs to lower prices—as other developed nations do—and cap the price of insulin.

In contrast, he said, Republicans are proposing to raise taxes on 75 million American families, more than 95% of whom make less than $100,000 a year. “Their plan would also raise taxes on 82% of small-business owners making less than $50,000 a year,” he said, but would do nothing to hold corporations accountable, even as they are recording record profits. The plan to sunset laws every five years would give Republicans leverage to get anything they want: “Give us another tax cut for billionaires, or Social Security gets it.”

Biden pointed out that while Republicans attack Biden’s plans as irresponsible spending, in fact the deficit rose every year under Trump, while Biden is on track to cut the deficit by $1.5 trillion this year. Reducing government borrowing will ease inflationary pressures.

Republicans responded to the president with fury, recognizing just how unpopular Scott’s plan would be if people were aware of it. They suggested that it is a fringe idea; host Dana Perino of the Fox News Channel tried to argue that Scott “is eating alone at the lunch table.” Scott promptly called Biden “unwell,” “unfit for office,” and “incoherent, incapacitated and confused,” and said he should resign.

While Republicans have not championed Scott’s program, they have let it stand alone to represent them. White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that Scott’s plan is the only one the Republicans have produced, since Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not release any plans before the 2022 midterm elections, preferring simply to attack Democrats. Until he does, Scott is speaking for the party. And Scott is hardly a fringe character: as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he is in charge of electing Republicans to the Senate. Psaki went on to read a list of Republicans who supported Scott’s plan, including the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, who applauded Scott’s “real solutions to put us back on track.”.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also called out Republican far-right extremism yesterday in her defense of abortion rights, hitting again and again on how their stripping away of a right established almost 50 years ago is dangerous and radical. Polls show that a majority of Americans want the court to uphold Roe v. Wade, while a Monmouth poll published today shows that only about 8% of Americans want abortion to be illegal in all cases, as new trigger laws are establishing.

The unpopularity of the probable overturning of Roe v. Wade also has Republicans backpedaling, trying to argue that losing the recognition of a constitutional right that has been protected for fifty years will not actually change abortion access. Ignoring both the move toward a national abortion ban and the voting restrictions newly in place in 19 states that cement Republican control, they say that voters in states can simply choose to protect abortion rights if they wish. Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson said, “It might be a little messy for some people,” but Wisconsin women could obtain an abortion by driving to Illinois. “[I]t’s not going to be that big a change,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

If overturning Roe v. Wade is such a nothingburger, why has the radical right fought for it as a key issue since the 1980s? In any case, Republicans are no longer able to argue that their extremists are anything other than the center of the party. As Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the third officer in Republican leadership in the House, said after Biden spoke: “I am ultra MAGA. And I’m proud of it.”

11 Likes

May 12, 2022 (Thursday)

Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas for testimony to five members of Congress: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). The committee previously invited them to cooperate voluntarily, and they refused. The committee has evidence that these five, in particular, know crucial things about the events of January 6 and activities surrounding the attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s election.

McCarthy communicated with Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. A recently released tape shows McCarthy claiming that Trump admitted some guilt over the attack.

Perry tried to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to overturn the election.

Jordan was part of meetings and discussions after the election to overturn its results. He also communicated with Trump on January 6th, including in the morning, before the attack took place.

Biggs was part of the planning for January 6, including the plan to bring protesters to Washington, D.C. He also worked to convince state officials that the election was stolen. Former White House officials say Biggs sought a presidential pardon in connection with the attempt to overturn the election results.

Wearing body armor, Brooks spoke at the January 6 rally, where he told rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Since then, he has said Trump tried to get him to help “rescind the election of 2020” and put Trump back in the White House.

Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said: “We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done.”

This is an escalation of the committee’s investigation into the attempt to keep Trump in power, and today we learned more about what Trump’s presidency meant for national security.

The Department of Justice has opened a grand jury investigation into the handling of the classified documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors have issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to get the boxes of documents and have asked to interview people who worked in the White House in the last days of Trump’s presidency. A spokesperson for Trump said: “President Trump consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable law and regulations. Belated attempts to second-guess that clear fact are politically motivated and misguided.”

We also learned more about the people Trump’s presidency empowered.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) and charged with examining waste, fraud, and any other issues relating to the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, issued a report today laying out how meatpacking giants got around local and state health officials trying to protect workers.

Working with Under Secretary of Food Safety Mindy Brashears at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who industry lobbyists boasted “hasn’t lost a battle for us,” top executives of JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to get Vice President Mike Pence to throw his weight behind keeping workers in the plant. Less than a week later, Pence said at a press conference that meatpacking workers “need…to show up and do your job.” Industry leaders wrote a proposed executive order for Trump to issue, declaring a meat shortage and invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure that the plants continued to operate. Less than a week later, Trump issued a similar executive order.

But there wasn’t actually a shortage. Even as John H. Tyson, chair of Tyson’s board, ran full-page ads in national newspapers warning that “[t]he food supply chain is breaking” and “[o]ur plants must remain operational so we can supply food to our families in America,” U.S. pork exports were at a three-year high.

At the same time, companies asked for federal liability protection against lawsuits if workers got Covid-19 on the job. And they did get sick. Taylor Telford of the Washington Post noted that research from the University of California at Davis showed that about 334,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to meatpacking plants across the country. They have caused more than $11 billion in economic damage. Not, apparently, to the meatpacking companies, however. According to a Reuters story from December 2021, meat packers’ profits jumped 300% during the pandemic.

This story points to a larger problem of the consolidation of food production, a problem we are seeing right now in the acute shortage of baby formula in the U.S., where supplies are 43% below normal. The problem stems primarily from a recall of formula produced by Abbott, the country’s largest producer of infant formula, in its Sturgis, Michigan, factory after Cronobacter bacteria, which can cause a potentially deadly infection in infants, was found in test samples.

Abbott has had a good run lately: in October 2019 it announced a $3 billion share buyback program to make its stock more valuable. Two years later, last October, a whistleblower warned that the Michigan plant was in need of repair, and claimed that Abbott had falsified records and hidden information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four months later, in February 2022, the FDA warned consumers not to use products from that facility. It is now closed, and other companies are scrambling to make up the difference. Today the administration announced it would increase imports of baby formula until U.S. production comes back to normal levels.

It sure feels like we are beginning the reckoning of forty years of decisions, decisions that have concentrated power in a small minority and that have finally led us to the place where a congressional committee wants to talk with five members of Congress to hear what they know about the attempt to overturn an election so a Democratic president could not take office.

10 Likes

May 13, 2022 (Friday)

Today was White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s last day at the White House after 15 months. She set out to restore truth, transparency, and accountability of the administration to the press, and to that end she has held 224 press briefings—together, all of former president Trump’s press secretaries combined held only 205 in his four years in office. Psaki gave her first press conference on January 20, 2021, the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, telling the press, “I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play," before answering questions.

Psaki’s tenure has been notable for her ability to parry loaded questions, turning them into opportunities to provide facts and information. Her quick answers to leading questions have been labeled “Psaki bombs,” and they have enabled her to redirect the conversation without engaging in the hostility that former press secretaries sometimes fell into. Her conduct and evident respect for reporters has been an important corrective to the disrespect with which the press has often been treated by lawmakers in the recent past.

When she finished today’s briefing, she thanked members of the press. “You have challenged me, you have pushed me, you have debated me, and at times we have disagreed. That is democracy in action. That is it working.” She continued: “Thank you for what you do. Thank you for making me better. And most importantly, thank you for the work every day you do to make this country stronger.”

Karine Jean-Pierre will take Psaki’s spot as the White House press secretary. The first Black woman and openly LBGTQ person to serve as press secretary, Jean-Pierre has a background as a political analyst and worked as chief of staff for Vice President Kamala Harris during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Biden has focused on strengthening ties to Asia, and has just held the nation’s first summit in the U.S. with leaders from the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN. Those nations include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Myanmar is also a member, but its leaders were not invited because of that nation’s recent coup.

The meeting was designed to emphasize U.S. ties to the region after the previous administration pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017 and then didn’t nominate an ambassador to ASEAN. Biden is trying to lay the groundwork for future cooperation on the coronavirus, with regard to China, and against Russia; right now, he is hoping to get the ASEAN nations to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, despite the region’s ties to Moscow. The president told the leaders that the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN region are vital to the United States of America. “[A] great deal of [the] history of our world in the next 50 years is going to be written [in] the ASEAN countries and our relationship with you is the future in the coming… decades."

In his first trip to Asia as president, Biden will travel next week to South Korea and Japan. While there, he will meet with leaders from the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, a strategic alliance organized in 2007 and made up of Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S.

Meanwhile, there were signs today that the split in the Republican Party is cracking further open. Former vice president Mike Pence has announced he will be campaigning for Georgia governor Brian Kemp as he tries to keep the Republican nomination away from former senator David Perdue, who is backed by former president Trump. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, is working for Kemp’s reelection. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former president George W. Bush are also backing Kemp.

Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls the Georgia battle “a growing proxy fight…between establishment forces backing Kemp and the Trump loyalists who want to remake the state Republican Party in the former president’s mold.”

And yet, Kemp is still an extremist who toes the party line, including in his work to suppress the vote in Georgia. As Pence said of him: “He built a safer and stronger Georgia by cutting taxes, empowering parents and investing in teachers, funding law enforcement, and standing strong for the right to life.”

That embrace of that same Republican ideology in Texas has the state’s electrical grid back in the news, as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has asked consumers to scale back energy use to make up for six power-generation facilities that failed just before a hot weekend.

Most of Texas is on its own power grid, a decision made in the 1930s to keep it clear of federal regulation. This isolation means both that it avoids federal regulation and that it cannot import more electricity during periods of high demand. To keep electricity prices low, ERCOT did not prepare its equipment for freezing weather, and in February 2021 the Texas electric grid failed during a cold wave, leaving more than 3 million people without electricity or heat. Two hundred and forty-six people died, while El Paso, which is not part of ERCOT and is instead linked to a larger grid that includes other states and thus is regulated, had weatherized its equipment and its customers lost power only briefly.

The problem didn’t stop there. The then–chief executive officer of ERCOT recently testified that Texas governor Greg Abbott told ERCOT to keep the wholesale price of electricity at an astonishing $9000 per megawatt-hour (one study said this was $6,578 too high) for about three days longer than needed, thus overcharging customers by about $26.3 billion.

That money did not appear to fix the system. In June 2021, mechanical failures during a heat wave pushed the state to the verge of blackouts and prompted ERCOT to ask people to turn their AC to higher temperatures, turn off their lights, and avoid using appliances that take a lot of electricity. Now, less than a year later, the system is in trouble again.

News of the issue dropped after 5:00 this evening, prompting Democratic candidate for Texas governor Beto O’Rourke to accuse Abbott of trying to bury the story that he cannot keep the Texas power grid running. O’Rourke tweeted: “When I’m governor, we’ll fix the grid, lower energy bills and put people over profits.” Hours later, he tweeted simply: “I will fix the grid.”

Yesterday, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats against other countries, leaders of Finland urged their nation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) immediately. NATO was formed in 1949 to resist the expansion of the Soviet Union and now stands against Russia. Finland, which shares 830 miles of border with Russia, would bring to the alliance significant power. Sweden, which borders Finland on the other side, is contemplating the same bid and is expected to announce a similar stance soon.

NATO member Turkey expressed concern about Finland and Sweden joining NATO, which might well be Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s way of putting pressure on Congress to approve of arms sales to the nation, proposed by the administration but not yet in place.

The House has, though, passed a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. In the Senate, Rand Paul (R-KY) stopped its fast passage, delaying the vote at least a week.

With a giant aid package for Ukraine on the way and what looks to be the expansion of NATO, today for the first time since February 18, six days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was able to make contact with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. They spoke for an hour. Of the subject of their conversation, the defense department readout said simply: “Secretary Austin urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication.”

10 Likes

more truly, to keep profits high. ( and im sure bitcoin mining adds to the problem. they aren’t going to stop mining no matter how often regular customers are asked to limit power use )

6 Likes

May 14, 2022 (Saturday)

An unusually warm May day had me out in the kayak today, early this year, in time to see the jellyfish bloom.

I spent a while just floating and watching the moon jellies, and thinking about time and the persistence of the Earth and its creatures, and of what matters.

And, in that vein, I’m going to share a picture I took of one of the little jellies, and then take the night off and get to bed before the clock hits double digits.

We can pick up the world again tomorrow.

10 Likes

May 15, 2022 (Sunday)

Yesterday, an 18-year-old white man murdered 10 people and wounded three others with an AR-15. The shooter traveled more than 200 miles to get to a predominantly Black neighborhood, where he put on heavy body armor and live streamed his attack as he gunned down people grocery shopping. Eleven of those he shot were Black.

The Buffalo Police Commissioner, Joseph Gramaglia, said, “The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake that this is an absolute racist hate crime. It will be prosecuted as a hate crime. This is someone who has hate in their heart, soul and mind."

Before his attack, the shooter published a 180-page screed on Google Drive. It is mostly a list of his weaponry, but in it he also explained his belief in what is known as the “great replacement theory,” embraced by white nationalists. This is the idea that white people are losing economic, cultural, and political power to Black people and other people of color. The name is usually associated with a French agitator who argued in a 2011 book that immigrants were destroying European culture, but the theory that an “other” is destroying traditional society has roots stretching far back in European history. In the twenty-first century, that theory has launched right-wing political parties and shootings around the world.

But the Buffalo shooter’s ramblings drew not only from the European theory—although there is plenty of that in his 180 pages of racism and anti-Semitism. They also drew from America’s own version of a theory of replacement.

That theory comes out of the 1870s and was explicitly connected to voting.

In 1867, Congress began the process of recognizing the right of Black people to have a say in their government. In the Military Reconstruction Act, it called for conventions in former Confederate states to write new state constitutions and permitted Black southerners to register to vote to choose delegates to those conventions. White supremacists scoffed at the idea that formerly enslaved people and those white men willing to work with them could produce coherent constitutions.

When their constitutions not only were coherent, but made adjustments to give more representation to poorer white men than the prewar constitutions had provided, white supremacists set out to make sure voters did not ratify the new constitutions. Needing to avoid the U.S. Army, still stationed in the South to protect Black people and their white allies, the white supremacists dressed up in white sheets to look like dead Confederate soldiers (no one was fooled) and tried to terrorize voters to keep them from the polls.

It didn’t work. Voters ratified the new constitutions, which guaranteed Black voting. Congress readmitted the southern states to the Union, but not until they ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. That crucially important amendment dissolved the state laws discriminating against Black Americans. It established that Black people were U.S. citizens and guaranteed that the U.S. government would see to it that no state could take away the rights of any citizen without the due process of law.

In 1870, white politicians in Georgia tried to undermine their new state constitution. The American people then ratified the Fifteenth Amendment protecting the right of Black men to vote. Congress also created the Department of Justice to enable the federal government to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, which it promptly did. Attorney General Amos Akerman, a former Confederate who had become a Republican, oversaw more than 1000 cases against the Ku Klux Klan.

With the federal government holding them to account for their racist attacks on Black Americans, southern white supremacists began to argue that their objections to Black equality were actually about voting. By 1871, they argued that Black men voted for leaders who promised roads and hospitals and schools. Those social investments would require tax levies, and since the Black population was poor almost by definition after enslavement, those taxes would fall almost entirely on the white men who owned property. In this telling, Black voting was essentially a redistribution of wealth from those with money to those without, from white men to Black men. It was socialism.

White supremacists began to say that they objected to Black voting and to the governments Black people elected not on racial grounds, but on economic ones. They promised to “redeem” the South from the profligate state governments that they said were bleeding tax dollars out of white landowners to provide services for the poor, generally characterized as Black, although there was no racial monopoly on poverty in the post–Civil War South.

In 1876, the “Redeemers” took over the southern states, thanks partly to the rhetoric that made them sound reasonable to northern observers and largely to the violence that enabled them to keep Black men from the polls. The “Solid South” would stay Democratic until Arizona Republican senator Barry Goldwater, running for president on a platform that called for the federal government to leave states’ racial discrimination alone, won five deep southern states in 1964.

The violence of the 1876 election, along with fears of what their lives would look like in its wake, led Black Americans to leave the South in a movement known as the Exodus. In 1879 and 1880, about 20,000 Black southerners went west to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. “[T]he whole South…had got into the hands of the very men that held us slaves,” one recalled, “and we thought that the men that held us slaves was holding the reins of government over our heads…. [and] there was hope for us and we had better go.”

About two thousand of those migrants went to Indiana.

Indiana was a contested state in which the Republican and Democratic parties traded power. In 1876, it had gone to the Democrats by a few thousand votes.

When Black Americans began to come to their state, Indiana Democrats immediately howled that the Republicans were importing Black migrants to shift the state back toward the Republicans in the 1880 election. Their clamor was loud enough to cause a Senate investigation. The Democratic majority on the select committee concluded that the Republicans must have induced the Black southerners to leave their region because there was well-paid work and no violence in the South; Republicans retorted that if they were really trying to flood the electoral system, they would have left Black Americans where they were.

But the conspiracy theory took root. White Hoosier Democrats met Black migrants with showers of rocks and vowed to “clean out all the g–d d– –n n***ers in the county before the [1880] election.” After a political rally in Rockport, Indiana, Democrats attacked local Black inhabitants, shouting: “Kill them, kill them.” After they shot Uriah Webb, one rioter stood over his body and said, “One vote less,” while the others cheered Democratic presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock.

Racial hostility kept the Black population of Indiana small, but it also fed the cultural and social discrimination that made Indiana the beating heart of the resurgent Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Under violent con man David Curtis Stephenson, who raped, mutilated, and murdered a female state employee, the Indiana Ku Klux Klan developed the idea of “100% Americanism,” which argued for a hierarchy of races in which the white race was uppermost. Immigrants and Black Americans, that theory said, were destroying traditional America.

That argument has poisoned American politics since the 1870s. Yesterday, the Buffalo shooter echoed the modern European great replacement theory, but he also echoed the racial “socialist” argument of the U.S. He railed against Black Americans, whom he wildly insisted take, on average, $700,000 apiece from white Americans. He urged those who thought like him not to pay taxes, which he said would be wasted on such people. Then he warned white Americans not to become a political minority because minorities are never treated well.

Today’s Republican politicians, including Elise Stefanik of New York, the third ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, have pushed the great replacement theory for years and even after yesterday’s massacre have refused to denounce it. That theory is based in racial hate, but it is not only about racial hate. It is also about politics, and today Republicans are using it to create a one-party state.

“I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World," Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson, who is one of the country’s leading proponents of the great replacement theory, said on his show. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.”

It was not true in 1879, it is not true now, and people making this argument have blood on their hands.

12 Likes

May 16, 2022 (Monday)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her first press briefing today by noting its significance. “I just want to say a few words about how honored I am to be here with all of you today in this role, in this room, standing behind this podium,” she said. “I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts. I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position. I would not be here today if it were not for generations of…barrier-breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders…. I benefit from their sacrifices. I have learned from their excellence, and I am forever grateful to them. Representation does matter.”

She noted that President Joe Biden and the members of his administration believe that the press room belongs “to the American people. We work for them,” she said. “And I will work every day to continue to ensure we are meeting the President’s high expectation of truth, honesty, and transparency.” Jean-Pierre told members of the press she had “tremendous respect for the work that you do…. The press plays a vital role in our democracy, and we need a strong and independent press now more than ever. We might not see eye to eye here in this room all the time, which is okay. That give-and-take is…incredibly healthy, and it’s a part of our democracy.”

In honor of the press and answering questions, I’m going to catch up on some stories that are hanging out there.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has slowed, and Ukraine appears to be gaining the advantage. Today, on Russian state television, defense analyst Mikhail Khodaryonok warned that the willingness of Ukrainian forces to fight for their homeland gave them the upper hand and that the world has turned against Russia. It was a remarkable moment, and Russia specialist Tom Nichols noted that, together with Putin’s weak Victory Day speech and the fact that Russian minister of defense Sergei Shoigu finally picked up the phone when U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III called, it might indicate a change.

Today, McDonald’s announced it is leaving Russia for good because of the Ukraine invasion. It closed its 850 restaurants in March. McDonald’s was one of the first western brands to enter the region just before the USSR dissolved in 1991. Its leaving symbolizes Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world.

On May 13, the Treasury Department released a strategy for continuing to crack down on money laundering and terrorist financing in the United States. “Illicit finance is a major national security threat and nowhere is that more apparent than in Russia’s war against Ukraine, supported by decades of corruption by Russian elites,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg, who is Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes. The department will work with international partners, close loopholes, and use new technologies “to tackle the risks posed by corruption, an increase in domestic violent extremism, and the abuse of virtual assets” in order to strengthen the international financial system.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced it will make it easier for foreign manufacturers of baby formula to ship to the U.S. Regulators also say they have reached a deal to enable Abbott Nutrition to reopen the plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which closed because its machinery was contaminated. That closure stopped the production of more than 40% of the country’s baby formula, sparking the current shortage.

A new poll by NBC shows that support for abortion rights has hit a new high, with 63% of Americans opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade. Only 5% of Americans say abortion should be illegal in all cases.

While the Supreme Court has not yet handed down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, it did today hand down Federal Election Commission v. Cruz, in which, by a vote of 6 to 3, it struck down a limit on how much of their own money a political candidate could recoup after an election. Daniel Weiner of the Brennan Center for Justice explained that before this decision, the law capped reimbursement at $250,000. The court struck down that limit on the grounds that the limit on reimbursements violated the First Amendment right to free speech.

Joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent. Contributions after an election to repay a loan are not about free speech to influence an election, she said; they enrich the candidate personally “at a time when he can return the favor—by a vote, a contract, and appointment.” Post-election contributions “pose a special danger of corruption.”

Weiner noted that few candidates lend their campaigns more than $250,000, so the effects of the decision will be limited. But this case builds on the redefinition of our political world launched by the 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the Supreme Court argued that seeking influence over politicians was a positive good. As Roberts wrote: “Influence and access ‘embody a central feature of democracy,’ that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.”

But while the court is protecting the access of wealthy donors to the democratic system, Weiner noted, it has shown no interest in protecting an individual’s right to vote. Weiner characterizes FEC v. Cruz as “another step in an extraordinary transformation, wherein First Amendment doctrines traditionally used to protect dissenting and marginalized voices now primarily get deployed to defend…the already powerful.”

There are other legal cases in the news, as well.

Last Thursday, May 12, 2022, the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice has convened a federal grand jury to look into how former president Donald Trump and his associates handled the fifteen boxes of material, some of which was top secret, that they took improperly to Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago. Today, Frank Figliuzzi, a national security analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, explained that the convening of a grand jury means that this is not just an investigation into how things might have been mishandled, but that officers of the Department of Justice think a crime may have been committed. Noting that Trump’s businesses took in $2.4 billion during his presidency, Figliuzzi suggested that investigators will likely look into whether the documents were of monetary value to Trump or others.

And today a judge granted another delay in the sentencing of former Seminole County tax collector Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty to child sex trafficking and other federal charges more than a year ago. Greenberg is an associate of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and has been cooperating with authorities. When requesting a sentencing delay in October 2021, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg told the judge, “I think this is an unusual case. The evidence takes us places. And frankly, it takes us places we did not anticipate.”

Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing.

13 Likes

This point crystallizes something that has been bugging me about the Jan 6 investigation. Why is the DOJ sitting back and watching private groups use state courts to keep insurrectionist politicians off the ballots? It’s the DOJ’s purview to investigate and enforce this. Why are they spectating?

7 Likes

I’ve been wondering that too.

Come on, Merrick! Get out there and at least make some righteous noises about all this heinous shit.

7 Likes

German media reported that it was selling it’s “restaurants” (mock marks: mine) in Russia.
I haven’t heard an explanation how this would be possible under the current sanctions.

5 Likes

May 17, 2022 (Tuesday)

On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision, which declared the segregation of public schools unconstitutional.

Today, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Buffalo, New York, where ten Americans were murdered and three wounded at a grocery store by a white supremacist on Saturday.

Biden named and described the victims, ten of whom were Black: a baker, a public school teacher, an election worker, a church deacon, a retired police officer, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers. “Individual lives of love, service, and community that speaks to the bigger story of who we are as Americans,” Biden said. We’re a “great nation because we’re a good people.”

Evil will not win in America, Biden promised. “Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.”

“What happened here is simple and straightforward,” Biden said, “Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group. A hate that through the media and politics, the Internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost, and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced—that’s the word, “replaced”—by the “other”—by people who don’t look like them and who are therefore, in a perverse ideology that they possess and [are] being fed, lesser beings.”

Biden called on “all Americans to reject [that] lie.” He condemned “those who spread the lie for power, political gain, and for profit.” “[T]he ideology of white supremacy has no place in America,” he said. “Silence is complicity.”

“We have to refuse to live in a country where fear and lies are packaged for power and for profit.

“We must all enlist in this great cause of America.

“This is work that requires all of us—presidents and politicians, commentators, citizens. None of us can stay in the sidelines. We have to resolve here in Buffalo that from…this tragedy…will come hope and light and life. It has to. And on our watch, the sacred cause of America will never bow, never break, never bend. And the America we love—the one we love—will endure.”

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who represents Buffalo, today wrote a letter to Rupert Murdoch, chair of the Fox Corporation, along with another three of the corporation’s leaders, to urge them to stop “the reckless amplification of the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory on your network’s broadcasts.” He noted that people who watch the Fox News Channel are nearly three times more likely to believe in the replacement myth than those who watch other networks. He pointed out “the central role these themes have played in your network’s programming in recent years,” especially on Tucker Carlson’s show. He wrote: “I implore you to immediately cease all dissemination of false white nationalist, far-right conspiracy theories on your network.”

New York representative Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, who paid for ads pushing the replacement myth, today said: “It is not the time to politicize this tragedy. We mourn together as a nation.” Other Republicans insisted they did not know what the Great Replacement Theory is, although a number of them are on video articulating it.

Interviewed by Silvia Foster-Frau of the Washington Post, Buffalo resident James Baldwin dismissed the notion that it was the devil who inspired the Buffalo shooter. “That’s not the devil,” he said. “That’s America. They made him, they brought him up, they put him there.”

There was other big news today. Glenn Thrush and Luke Broadwater of the New York Times reported that on April 20, attorneys in the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote to the lead investigator for the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, Timothy J. Heaphy, to ask if the committee would share transcripts from some of their interviews. Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Kenneth A. Polite Jr. and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew M. Graves told Heaphy that some of the transcripts might “contain information relevant to a criminal investigation we are conducting.”

The House committee is trying to figure out exactly what happened on January 6 and in the weeks around it. It is not conducting a criminal investigation. That ground is the turf of the Department of Justice, which has so far brought indictments against at least 828 people, more than 280 of whom have pleaded guilty. The four defendants who had a jury trial were each convicted on all counts. One defendant was acquitted by a Trump-appointed judge, who agreed with the defendant’s statement that he had not seen a police line and had possibly been waved into the building. (Video shows the defendant was not screaming or attacking anyone inside the building).

The request indicates that the Department of Justice is looking broadly at the period around January 6. It also suggests that the committee has covered a lot of ground very quickly and that its information might be of use to the Justice Department.

The committee will not simply hand over their material. Congress is part of the legislative branch of government, and the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch, so there is the issue of the separation of powers to deal with. A source told Thrush and Broadwater that the committee and the Justice Department are negotiating. The Justice Department wants the transcripts; the committee wants any relevant evidence the Justice Department has.

Legal analyst Glenn Kirschner tweeted: “Whether this was always the DOJ plan (& whether the J6 committee knew it or not), important info has been developed by the J6 panel that would not have been developed had the witnesses been subpoenaed to the grand jury (as they would have pled the 5th).” He added: “If the J6 committee investigation HAD taken a back seat to a DOJ grand jury investigation, we would go years w/out knowing what any of the 1000+ witness[es] had said. But now, we’ll have a front row seat to it all beginning June 9 AND all of those transcripts can be used in the GJ!”

Hugo Lowell, who is a congressional reporter for The Guardian, tweeted tonight that Stephanie Grisham, a former Trump aide, will be back in front of the January 6th committee tomorrow. The committee is bringing former witnesses back in to confirm evidence and details.

The committee will begin to hold its public hearings on June 9.

There are other legal cases in the news today, too, having to do with foreign influence during the Trump administration. The Department of Justice filed a civil enforcement action to force Stephen A. Wynn to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) as a foreign agent working for China. The Justice Department says that from at least June 2017 through at least August 2017, Wynn lobbied Trump and members of his administration to force out of the U.S. a Chinese national who was here for political asylum. Such a case is so exceedingly rare that the Department of Justice said it had not brought such a case in more than 30 years. Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said, “Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know.”

During this period, Wynn was one of four Republican National Committee finance chairs; the other three were Elliott Broidy, Michael Cohen, and Louis DeJoy. In 2020, Broidy pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws; he worked to win benefits for Chinese and Malaysian interests from the Trump administration. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. Louis DeJoy was appointed in May 2020 to head the United States Postal Service, where he made changes that appeared to be attempts to influence the 2020 election. Broidy recruited Wynn to work for China, thinking that Wynn’s work with the RNC, his business experience in China, and his friendship with Trump “would be helpful in getting access to Trump Administration officials.”

FARA scholar Carrie Levine tweeted: “So, to recap, DOJ is alleging that Wynn was contacting Trump administration officials to advocate for China while serving as RNC finance chair.”

In another case, a superseding indictment filed today in New York federal court accuses Trump’s good friend Thomas Barrack of accepting a pledge of $374 million from the United Arab Emirates while he was also illegally lobbying the administration for the UAE.

Today, in the wake of the Buffalo shooting, Miles Taylor—a member of Trump’s administration who warned anonymously of how dangerous Trump was—announced he was leaving the Republican Party and called on others to do the same. “In the wake of the mass shooting in Buffalo on Saturday,” he wrote, “it’s become glaringly obvious that my party no longer represents conservative values but in fact poses a threat to them—and to America.”

11 Likes

It is never the time. For anything to be done or discussed about fascism, gun nuttery, white supremacy, etc. We must never address these things! But it is always the time to gripe about BLM, Antifa, Butter Emails or Hunter Biden. These things are always on the table.

I am so fucking tired of the Qnut, fascist, authoritarian party denying the possibility of addressing issues that threaten the very existence of our democracy. Get them out of office now!!

11 Likes

Black Men Smiling GIF

10 Likes

different james baldwin of course. ( though he’d only be in his nineties i think if he were still around )

2 Likes

I know… he died in the late 80s…

5 Likes