Heather Cox Richardson

January 21, 2023 (Saturday)

Tomorrow marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that for the first trimester of a pregnancy, “the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated. If that decision is reached, the judgment may be effectuated by an abortion free of interference by the State.”

It went on: “With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the ‘compelling’ point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to [prohibit] abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

The wording of that decision, giving power to physicians—who were presumed to be male—to determine with a patient whether the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated, shows the roots of the Roe v. Wade decision in a public health crisis.

Abortion had been a part of American life since its inception, but states began to criminalize abortion in the 1870s. By 1960, an observer estimated, there were between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal U.S. abortions a year, endangering women, primarily poor ones who could not afford a workaround.

To stem this public health crisis, doctors wanted to decriminalize abortion and keep it between a woman and her doctor. In the 1960s, states began to decriminalize abortion on this medical model, and support for abortion rights grew.

The rising women’s movement wanted women to have control over their lives. Its leaders were latecomers to the reproductive rights movement, but they came to see reproductive rights as key to self-determination. In 1969, activist Betty Friedan told a medical abortion meeting: “[M]y only claim to be here, is our belated recognition, if you will, that there is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until we assert and demand the control over our own bodies, over our own reproductive process….”

In 1971, even the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention agreed that abortion should be legal in some cases, and vowed to work for modernization. Their convention that year reiterated the “belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves” but also called on “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

By 1972, Gallup pollsters reported that 64% of Americans agreed that abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans, who had always liked family planning, agreed, as did 59% of Democrats.

In keeping with that sentiment, in 1973 the Supreme Court, under Republican Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a decision written by Republican Harry Blackmun, decided Roe v. Wade, legalizing first-trimester abortion.

The common story is that Roe sparked a backlash. But legal scholars Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel showed that opposition to the eventual Roe v. Wade decision began in 1972—the year before the decision—and that it was a deliberate attempt to polarize American politics.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon was up for reelection, and he and his people were paranoid that he would lose. His adviser Pat Buchanan was a Goldwater man who wanted to destroy the popular New Deal state that regulated the economy and protected social welfare and civil rights. To that end, he believed Democrats and traditional Republicans must be kept from power and Nixon must win reelection.

Catholics, who opposed abortion and believed that “the right of innocent human beings to life is sacred,” tended to vote for Democratic candidates. Buchanan, who was a Catholic himself, urged Nixon to woo Catholic Democrats before the 1972 election over the issue of abortion. In 1970, Nixon had directed U.S. military hospitals to perform abortions regardless of state law, but in 1971, using Catholic language, he reversed course to split the Democrats, citing his personal belief "in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn.”

Although Nixon and Democratic nominee George McGovern had similar stances on abortion, Nixon and Buchanan defined McGovern as the candidate of “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion,” a radical framing designed to alienate traditionalists.

As Nixon split the U.S. in two to rally voters, his supporters used abortion to stand in for women’s rights in general. Railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, in her first statement on abortion in 1972, activist Phyllis Schlafly did not talk about fetuses: “Women’s lib is a total assault on the role of the American woman as wife and mother and on the family as the basic unit of society. Women’s libbers are trying to make wives and mothers unhappy with their career, make them feel that they are ‘second-class citizens’ and ‘abject slaves.’ Women’s libbers are promoting free sex instead of the ‘slavery’ of marriage. They are promoting Federal ‘day-care centers’ for babies instead of homes. They are promoting abortions instead of families.”

A dozen years later, sociologist Kristin Luker discovered that “pro-life” activists believed that selfish “pro-choice” women were denigrating the roles of wife and mother. They wanted an active government to give them rights they didn’t need or deserve.

By 1988, radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh demonized women’s rights advocates as “feminazis” for whom “the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur.” The complicated issue of abortion had become a proxy for a way to denigrate the political opponents of the radicalizing Republican Party.

Such threats turned out Republican voters, especially the evangelical base. But support for safe and legal abortion has always been strong. Today, notwithstanding that it was overturned in June 2022 by a Supreme Court radicalized under Republican presidents since Nixon, about 62% of Americans support the guidelines laid down in Roe v. Wade, about the same percentage that supported it fifty years ago, when it became law.

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January 22, 2023 (Sunday)

We need to put on the record another public mass shooting over the weekend. It happened in Monterey Park, California, last night, when a gunman killed ten people and wounded ten others.

This morning, a shooter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, injured twelve people in what appears to have been a targeted attack at a nightclub, and this afternoon, in another targeted attack, a gunman wounded eight people in Shreveport, Louisiana.

This was not the picture I intended to post tonight, but it seems appropriate.

Again.

[Photo, “Peace,” by Peter Ralston]

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January 23, 2023 (Monday)

Today a jury found three members of the Oath Keepers gang, along with a fourth defendant associated with them, guilty of seditious conspiracy for their actions surrounding the January 6th insurrection in 2021. In October a different jury also found the founder of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, as well as their Florida leader, Kelly Meggs, guilty of seditious conspiracy. Five members of another extremist gang, the Proud Boys, are currently on trial on that charge and others.

Today’s defendants, Joseph Hackett, 52; Roberto Minuta, 38; David Moerschel, 45; and Edward Vallejo, 64, were found guilty of a rack of other charges, too, but the seditious conspiracy charges are the biggies. Such indictments are rare and indicate a careful plot against our democracy. They are hard to prove. These six convictions—so far—are a big win for Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Justice Department.

At Talking Points Memo, Nicole Lafond notes that defense attorneys for the Oath Keepers argued that the fault for January 6th was not that of their clients. “Responsibility really rests at our politicians’ feet,” attorney Scott Weinberg said. “The president and Stewart Rhodes were claiming that the world is coming to an end even before the election.”

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol recommended that the Department of Justice consider criminal charges against former president Trump, the man behind the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It also called a number of his associates co-conspirators.

So far, those charges have not materialized, and Trump is running for president in 2024.

That campaign is off to a rocky start. Trump is supposed to kick it off next week in Columbia, South Carolina, but Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post report that he’s having trouble lining up politicians to show up. They’re not willing to indicate support for him yet.

Scherer and Dawsey note that South Carolina has two homegrown candidates, former governor Nikki Haley and current senator Tim Scott, who might want to run. In addition, Trump has recently alienated evangelicals—his formerly rock-solid base—by blaming them for his 2020 loss. It is also possible that his many legal troubles will catch fire, burning up his presidential chances. His secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security advisor John Bolton are apparently testing the waters themselves, publicly needling each other. Bolton recently said Trump’s support is in “terminal decline,” and after Trump called former cabinet members considering a campaign “disloyal,” Pompeo told Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade, “I never said I wouldn’t run.”

Another issue dropped today, huge in itself and at least tangentially related to the former president.

On Saturday, authorities from the Department of Justice arrested Charles McGonigal, 54, at JFK Airport as he returned from a trip to Sri Lanka. McGonigal worked for the FBI from 1996 to 2018.

On October 4, 2016, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey named McGonigal the head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York field office. As the special agent in charge, McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs. Before that, he was the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Charges against McGonigal—who is one of the highest ranking FBI members ever charged with a crime—stem from his connection to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. The United States sanctioned Deripaska in 2018 for working for the Russian state to destabilize Ukraine. Deripaska was also a close associate of political operative Paul Manafort, who ran Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Manafort was convicted in 2018 of a number of crimes associated with his ties to Russia. Trump pardoned him.

McGonigal, along with Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who has worked as an interpreter for U.S. courts, is charged with violating sanctions by taking money from Deripaska to investigate one of his rivals, and with money laundering. In a separate indictment, McGonigal is accused of hiding multiple cash payments from a foreign intelligence official and of trying to get the sanctions on Deripaska removed.

As Marcy Wheeler of Emptywheel points out, the Department of Justice is pursuing this case so far as about public corruption, not about national security. But it is surely significant that the man who was supposed to be in charge of protecting the U.S. from Russian oligarchs went to work for one as soon as he left the FBI, and perhaps sooner. And that oligarch was connected to Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.

While there is a lot we still don’t know, we do know that in 2018, Comey told Congress he worried that officials in the FBI’s New York field office had given Trump ally Rudy Giuliani sensitive information in the last days of the 2016 election, after Giuliani had said so in front of television cameras. Giuliani made that claim in October, after McGonigal took over that office.

We know that Comey told investigators that he released news of the reopened investigation of Clinton’s emails—against Department of Justice policy, right before the election with voting already underway—out of concern that “people in New York” would leak that information. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates was clearer. She told the inspector general that Comey and other FBI officials “felt confident that the New York Field Office would leak it and that it would come out regardless of whether he advised Congress or not.”

We also know that after McGonigal left the FBI, he went to work for Brookfield Properties, the multibillion-dollar real-estate company in New York that handled the bailout of Jared Kushner’s 666 Fifth Avenue by a $1.1 billion, 99-year lease—all paid up front—thanks to the Qatar Investment Authority.

None of those things is currently on the table in the indictments, and they might not turn out to be significant. But my guess is that this case will continue to develop.

Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York told Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave that they had agreed with McGonigal’s attorney for him to be released on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond, co-signed by two other people.

Another prominent legal case touching on the Trump years wrapped up today when it took a jury only two hours to find another January 6 defendant guilty of all charges for which he was on trial. Richard “Bigo” Barnett, 62, of Gravette, Arkansas, who was photographed with his feet on then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, was found guilty of civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, carrying a dangerous weapon into a restricted building—he was the one with a stun gun in a walking stick—and five other counts. Barnett said he ended up in the speaker’s office by accident while he was looking for a bathroom.

And legal commentator Joyce White Vance of Civil Discourse points out that tomorrow, a judge in Fulton County, Georgia, will hold a hearing to decide whether to release the report of the grand jury that investigated Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

You can see why Republicans are nervous about leaping aboard the Trump train for 2024.

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January 24, 2023 (Tuesday)

The fact that former vice president Mike Pence’s lawyer disclosed on January 18, 2023, that Pence also had documents with classified markings at his Indiana home should tell us a couple of things.

First, the discovery suggests that it is apparently not uncommon for officials to find such documents among their papers, although the level of classification clearly matters. There have been complaints for a long time that people overuse classification in general at the lower levels. We do not know the level of classification of the documents found at the Biden and Pence residences, but it is possible to imagine lower-level documents slipped in among their papers when they were packed up to move from one office to another.

Indeed, former National Security Agency top lawyer Glenn Gerstell told Dustin Volz and Warren P. Strobel of the Wall Street Journal that problems arise when officials move in and out of office. “At the end of an administration there is obviously a desire, and a requirement, by the outgoing administration to remain active until the last minute,” he said. “You’re almost asking for trouble.”

Second, it highlights the difference between officials like Biden and Pence who inadvertently find such documents among their other papers and alert the National Archives and Research Administration (NARA), and those who stonewall NARA and the FBI, as Trump did. This distinction is really the crux of the difference between Biden and Pence, on the one hand, and Trump, on the other.

On January 18, Pence’s lawyer Greg Jacob wrote to the acting director of NARA that ”a small number of documents bearing classified markings…were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last Administration. Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence…and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.”

The letter says that, after hearing about the discovery of documents marked classified in Biden’s possession, Pence, “out of an abundance of caution,” hired lawyers with experience in handling classified documents to look through records stored in his home. When they turned up such documents, they locked them up “pending further direction on proper handling from the National Archives.”

The letter ended: “Vice President Pence has directed his representatives to work with the National Archives to ensure their prompt and secure return. Vice President Pence appreciates the good work of the staff at the National Archives and trusts they will provide proper counsel in response to this letter.”

Law professor and legal commentator Ryan Goodman tweeted: “This is how you keep your client out of jail.” He added: “Like the known facts in Biden case, the strong contrast with Trump’s conduct shows why Trump is in so much legal jeopardy and stands to be indicted.”

Today, Judge Robert McBurney, who oversaw the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential vote in Georgia, heard arguments about whether to release the grand jury’s report. Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis urged McBurney not to release the report, for which many media outlets have been clamoring. “In this case, the state understands the media’s inquiry and the world’s interest. But we have to be mindful of protecting future defendants’ rights,” Willis said. She went on to say that decisions about charging individuals in that case are “imminent.”

That is, Willis signaled that her office is likely to indict certain people, and she worries that releasing the report will taint the trials.

Also today, Representative George Santos (R-NY) revised his financial reports to say that a $500,000 loan to his campaign did not, in fact, come from his personal funds. Nor did a $125,000 loan that had also previously been attributed to him, according to the new filings. But while that new paperwork said Santos did not, in fact, put up the money, it didn’t say where the funds did come from.

Santos’s troubles are pulling in Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the powerful lawmaker who backed Santos during the campaign. Donors told Pamela Brown and Gregory Krieg of CNN that they supported the unknown Santos because of Stefanik’s endorsement and now feel betrayed. Santos’s extraordinary lies taint the Republicans as a whole in New York, while the conference’s determination to stand behind him to keep his vote in House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s weak majority ties the party to power rather than principle.

That drive for power is behind the so-called weaponization committee, put together by McCarthy to fulfill a promise to the right-wing extremists whose votes he needed to become speaker. This committee is the new House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, placed with the Judiciary Committee, and Jim Jordan (R-OH) will chair it. Yesterday in The Bulwark, Jill Lawrence explained that the true goal of the committee is “shoveling paranoia and distortion into the news stream” to make right-wing voters distrust the government even more than they already do. David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who left the party in 2018, told Lawrence: “It’s a drug they’re going to put out on the street for conservative media and conservative voters.”

McCarthy released the names of the Republican committee members today. There was such interest from Republicans in participating that McCarthy has expanded the original fifteen members of the committee. So far, he has named 12 Republicans. Led by Jordan, they are dominated by extremists and seem likely to try mostly to get airtime on right-wing media, just as Lawrence and Jolly say.

McCarthy fulfilled another promise to the extremists today when he refused to seat Democratic representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, saying that he appreciated the loyalty of House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to his colleagues and continuing, “But I cannot put partisan loyalty ahead of national security, and I cannot simply recognize years of service as the sole criteria for membership on this essential committee. Integrity matters more.”

Because the Intelligence Committee is a select committee, McCarthy has the power to reject members. But this is a breach indeed. He wrote to Jeffries that, in his opinion, the use of the Intelligence Committee in the previous two congresses had made the nation “less safe.”

Under Schiff, who was chair in those congresses, the committee exposed that then-president Trump had withheld aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Trump to undermine then-candidate Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential run. Schiff then led the House’s impeachment case in the Senate trial.

During those impeachment hearings, Republicans tried to get Swalwell kicked off the committee after news broke that an accused foreign agent had raised money for his campaign in 2014 and put an intern in his House office. She had targeted a number of rising politicians but did not, apparently, do anything illegal or gain access to any classified information.

When informed by the FBI of concerns about the agent, Swalwell immediately cut ties with her and worked with the FBI. An FBI official said Swalwell was “completely cooperative” and “under no suspicion of wrongdoing.” To justify getting rid of Swalwell, McCarthy fell back on what he said was classified information the FBI had shared in a briefing, although other Republican colleagues who had been briefed at the time expressed no concerns then or later, and McCarthy did not express concerns about the other politicians the agent had targeted.

McCarthy apparently promised to go after Schiff and Swalwell as payback for the removal from all committee assignments—by bipartisan votes—of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) after it turned out she had endorsed violence against Democratic leaders, and of Paul Gosar (R-AZ) after he published an animated video showing himself attacking Biden and killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Finally, another mass shooting on Monday took seven more lives. So far, 2023 is at an all-time high for mass shootings at this point in the calendar. California has been particularly hard hit in the past weeks, and today its governor, Gavin Newsom, called out Republicans for standing in the way of gun safety.

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January 25, 2023 (Wednesday)

Democrats are generally staying out of the way and letting Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans make a spectacle of themselves. In order to get the votes to become speaker, McCarthy had to give power to extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and now has openly brought her on board as a close advisor, making the extremists the face of the new MAGA Republican Party. If McCarthy appears to have abandoned principle for power by catering to the far right, Representative George Santos (R-NY) hasn’t helped: stories of his lies have mounted, and financial filings yesterday suggest quite serious financial improprieties.

Even the Senate Republicans seem to be keeping their heads down while the House Republicans perform for their base. Demanding big cuts in spending before they agree to raise the debt ceiling has put the House Republicans in a difficult spot. They have been clear that they intend to slash Social Security and Medicare, only to have Trump, who was the one who originally insisted on using the debt ceiling to get concessions out of Democrats, recognize that such cuts are enormously unpopular and say they should not touch Medicare and Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they will stay out of debt ceiling negotiations until the House Republicans come up with a viable plan.

While the House Republicans take up oxygen, the Democrats are highlighting for the American people how, over the past two years, they have carefully and methodically changed U.S. policy to stop the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few.

In July 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to promote competition in the economy. Since the 1980s, he said, when right-wing legal theorist Robert Bork masterminded a pro-corporate legal revolution against antitrust laws, the government had stopped enforcing laws to prevent giant corporations from concentrating their power. The result had been less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses, less bargaining power for workers, and higher prices for consumers.

“[T]he experiment failed,” he said.

Biden vowed to change the direction of the government’s role in the economy, bringing back competition for small businesses, workers, and consumers. Very deliberately, he reclaimed the country’s long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both presidents Roosevelt—Republican Theodore, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses and then by championing competition.

The administration put together a whole-of-government approach to restore competition based on the 72 separate actions outlined in Biden’s executive order. A terrific piece today by David Dayen in The American Prospect suggests that the effort has worked. Overall, Dayen concludes, the executive order of July 9, 2021, was “one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR.”

While administrations since Reagan have judged whether consolidation is harmful solely by its effect on consumer prices, the Biden approach also factors in the welfare of workers, including their ability to negotiate higher wages. It has also taken on the sharing of medical patents that have raised costs of drugs and equipment like hearing aids by preventing others from entering the market. It has taken on large businesses’ strangling of start-up competitors simply by buying them out before they take off. And, crucially, it has claimed the ability to review previous mergers that it now deems in violation of antitrust laws, citing the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil.

Dayen notes that one of the causes for a sharp drop in mergers and acquisitions in the second half of 2022 is that government agencies are willing to enforce antitrust laws. “Just about everything on competition has been hard-fought,” he writes, “[b]ut there’s plenty of evidence of real movement.”

Not only government agencies, but also the Democratic Congress—along with some Republicans—passed a number of laws that have shifted the economic policy of the nation. Biden is fond of saying that he doesn’t believe in trickle-down economics and that he intends to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. New numbers suggest the policies of the past two years are doing just that.

The December jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that job growth continues strong. The country added 223,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate went down slightly to 3.5 percent. The last two years of job growth are the strongest on record, and the country has recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic. According to the White House, 10.7 million jobs were created and a record 10.5 million small businesses’ applications were filed in the past two years.

On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that median weekly earnings rose 7.4% last year, slightly faster than inflation. For Black Americans employed full time, the median rise was 11.3% over 2021. A median Hispanic or Latino worker’s income saw a 4.8% raise, to $837 a week. Young workers, between 16 and 24, saw their weekly income rise more than 10%. Also seeing close to a 10% weekly rise were those in the bottom tenth of wage earners, those making about $570 a week. The day after the Wall Street Journal’s roundup, Walmart, which employs 1.7 million people in the U.S., announced it would raise its minimum wage to $14 an hour, up from $12.

Democrats promised that the CHIPS and Science Act would bring “good paying” jobs to those without college degrees by investing in high-tech manufacturing. A study by the Brookings Institution out yesterday notes that the act has already attracted multibillion-dollar private investments in New York, Indiana, and Ohio and that two thirds of the jobs they will produce are accessible to those without college degrees. Those jobs do, in fact, pay better than most of those available for those without college degrees, although Brookings urged better investment in training programs to make workers ready for those jobs.

The Inflation Reduction Act gave Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and capped the cost of insulin for those on Medicare at $35 a month (Republicans blocked an attempt to make that cap available for those not on Medicare). It made hearing aids available over the counter, making them dramatically cheaper, and it also expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a record number of Americans enrolled in the ACA in the last open enrollment period: 16.3 million people.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that much of the investment from these laws is going to Republican-dominated states even though their Republican lawmakers opposed the laws and voted against them. The clean energy investments of the Inflation Reduction Act are going largely to those states, bringing with them additional private investment. A solar panel factory is expanding into Greene’s own district despite her vocal opposition both to alternative energy and to the Inflation Reduction Act.

For 40 years the Republican Party offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy was seen hampering the accumulation of wealth and thus as an attack on individual liberty. The government stopped working for ordinary Americans, and perhaps not surprisingly, many of them have stopped supporting it. Biden refused to engage with the Republicans on the terms of their cultural wars and has instead reclaimed the idea that government can actually work for the good of all by keeping the economic playing field level for everyone.

Biden and members of his administration are taking to the road to tout their successes to the country, especially to those places most skeptical of the government. If they can bring the Republican base around to support their economic policies, they will have realigned the nation as profoundly as did FDR and Theodore Roosevelt before them.

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January 26, 2023 (Thursday)

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) today asked six former presidents and their vice presidents to look to see if they have any presidential records, including documents marked classified, in their possession. It sent the letters to representatives for former presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan and former vice presidents Mike Pence, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Dan Quayle. It did not make a similar request to former president Jimmy Carter because although he was the one who signed the Presidential Records Act into law, it did not go into effect until he left office.

This request illuminates the crucial importance in our society of disinformation: deliberate lies or misdirection to convince people of things that are not true.

At this point, documents bearing classification markings have turned up in the possession of Trump, Biden, and Pence. The NARA request suggests the possibility that other high-ranking officials also have documents that they are unaware they hold. Trump and his allies insist that the special counsel investigating him for potential criminal behavior means that he is being treated differently than the others, with the implication that he is being treated unfairly.

But the issue has never been about the documents themselves, although it is a problem that any of the former officials have documents marked classified. The issue was that NARA repeatedly asked Trump to produce documents it knew he had, and that he repeatedly refused even after being subpoenaed. Finally, the Department of Justice felt obliged to get a court order to search his property, and even now his lawyers refuse to sign off on paperwork saying he has turned in all the documents he stole. In contrast, Biden and Pence apparently did not know they had any documents with classified markings, alerted NARA as soon as they realized it, and have cooperated with authorities.

The cases are not the same.

For a long time now, the right wing has muddied the political waters by creating such confusion over things that should be clear—flooding the zone with sh*t, as Trump advisor Stephen Bannon put it—that people can’t figure out what is really going on.

An attempt to continue that strategy is what’s behind the House Republicans’ establishment of a select subcommittee on the “weaponization” of the federal government, positioned under the Committee on the Judiciary. The representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has put on that committee are grandstanders, and they have indicated they plan to argue that the Biden administration has politicized the government. Considering the representatives involved, we can expect lots of yelling and sound bites for right-wing media, designed to build the narrative they want their voters to believe.

But the truth is that it was the Trump administration that sought to weaponize the government against their perceived enemies. News broke today that Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, deliberately tried to use the Department of Justice to undermine the officials who had—according to the Justice Department’s own independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz—launched the Russia investigation properly and with good reason.

The story, by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner in the New York Times, also told us more. After the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailing contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives came out, Barr consistently spun the information inaccurately to make the best possible case for Trump. He convinced many Americans to think that there was nothing between the Trump campaign and Russia, although in fact Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that came out afterward concluded the opposite.

Barr undermined not only the Mueller report but also the inspector general’s report, ignoring its findings and telling the press—inaccurately—that the FBI had opened the Russia investigation on the “thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient,” or “without any basis.” (In fact, the FBI opened the inquiry when an Australian diplomat warned that a member of the Trump campaign had boasted that Russian operatives had “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Australia and the United States, along with Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, are part of an intelligence alliance known informally as Five Eyes. It was this information that Horowitz found compelling enough to open an investigation.)

After the Mueller report’s release, Barr appointed a special counsel, John Durham, to investigate the investigators. Durham used the very tactics of which the Republicans’ accused the Democrats, using bad information to try to get information on a private citizen. But no matter how hard he tried, he did not, in fact, turn up information indicating the investigators had conducted themselves improperly.

What Durham did find, though, were accusations from Italian officials that Trump himself might have engaged in financial crimes. The accusations were too serious for him and Barr to ignore. Barr authorized Durham’s inquiry to become a criminal inquiry, but here’s the kicker: when news of that new phase became public, Barr sat back as media spun the new criminal inquiry as proof of misbehavior on the part of those who had conducted the Russia inquiry. Trump even told followers that the criminals were former president Barack Obama, former vice president Joe Biden, and leading FBI and intelligence officials. The actual target of the criminal investigation was Trump himself.

In the end, Durham never found anything to contradict Inspector General Horowitz’s report saying the Russia investigation was begun properly, and the only cases he brought failed. But the cozy relationship between him and Barr violated department policy for special counsels, according to legal analyst Lisa Rubin, as they allegedly discussed the case frequently, including occasionally over drinks. A special counsel is supposed to be independent.

The New York Times article details how the Trump administration worked overtime to use the apparatus of government to convince the American people that there was nothing to the Russia investigation, although repeated reports said otherwise.

This story seems especially relevant in light of the arrest this week of Charles McGonigal, who was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York Field Office from 2016 to 2018 and, before that, was the section chief of the Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs. McGonigal is charged with working for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. Deripaska was also a close associate of political operative Paul Manafort, who ran Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In a powerful Twitter thread today, scholar of authoritarianism Timothy Snyder noted that authorities, as well as the American people, have not taken the threat of Russian influence in our politics seriously enough. He pointed out that in 2016, McCarthy himself i said he thought Putin was paying Trump, and now, just after the McGonigal story broke, McCarthy threw Adam Schiff—who was key in chasing down Trump’s machinations over Ukraine—off the House intelligence committee. “Schiff is [an] expert on Russian influence operations,” Snyder wrote. “It exhibits carelessness about national security to exclude him. It is downright suspicious to exclude him now.”

Meanwhile, newly elected House Republican Cory Mills of Florida, endorsed by Trump, handed out defused grenades today on the floor of the House. Mills is an election denier who boasted on his website that he sold tear gas used on Black Lives Matter protesters. Mills accompanied the grenades with a note suggesting he was sending them because McCarthy has put him on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

But, as with most of the performances coming out of the right wing these days, that explanation seems intended to be misdirection. It’s impossible to ignore the threat wrapped up in handing a colleague a grenade.

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Can we just put this on endless loop for the MAGAts? They are not even comparable. And Il Douche is an idiot.

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Archive link courtesy of @smulder in another thread

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The cliips Seth Meyers played last night, with the usual suspects contradicting themselves in a single interview on Fox, and getting no push back (condemning Biden, but dismissing Pence doing THE VERY SAME FUCKIN’ THING) was insane… They are bound and determined to keep from living in reality and with the truth… It’s beyond frustrating…

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January 27, 2023 (Friday)

Tonight’s news dump is horrific: video footage of five Memphis, Tennessee, police officers kicking and beating 29-year-old FedEx worker and photographer Tyre Nichols, a Black man, after what appears to have been a routine traffic stop on the night of January 7. He died in the hospital three days later.

At least some of the five officers, all of whom are Black, were members of a special unit created in 2021 called SCORPION, for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. It was supposed to address violent crime.

Last week the five men, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith, were fired from the police force. Yesterday they were charged with a number of crimes, including second-degree murder.

There is a great deal to say here, but everything I write seems to flatten Mr. Nichols’s life into the few minutes of brutal beating that led to his death.

It seems to me that I should stand aside tonight and let Mr. Nichols represent himself.

His photography is here:

https://thiscaliforniakid2.wixsite.com/tnicholsphotography

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Sad Anthony Anderson GIF

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January 28, 2023 (Saturday)

Two relatively small things happened this week that strike me as being important, and I am worried that they, and the larger story they tell, might get lost in the midst of this week’s terrible news. So ignore this at will, and I will put down a marker.

At a press conference on Thursday, Representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Daniel Goldman (D-NY), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Colin Allred (D-TX), Mike Levin (D-CA), Josh Harder (D-CA), and Raul Ruiz (D-CA), and Rob Menendez (D-NJ), announced they have formed the Congressional Dads Caucus.

Ironically, the push to create the caucus came from the Republicans’ long fight over electing a House speaker, as Gomez and Castro, for example, were photographed taking care of their small children for days as they waited to vote. That illustration of men having to adjust to a rapidly changing work environment while caring for their kids “brought visibility to the role of working dads across the country, but it also shined a light on the double standard that exists,” Gomez said. “Why am I, a father, getting praised for doing what mothers do every single day, which is care for their children?”

He explained that caucus “is rooted in a simple idea: Dads need to do our part advancing policies that will make a difference in the lives of so many parents across the country. We’re fighting for a national paid family and medical leave program, affordable and high-quality childcare, and the expanded Child Tax Credit that cut child poverty by nearly half. This is how we set an equitable path forward for the next generation and build a brighter future for our children.”

The new Dads Caucus will work with an already existing caucus of mothers, represented on Thursday by Tlaib.

Two days before, on Tuesday, January 24, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor released its initial findings from the new National Database of Childcare Prices. The brief “shows that childcare expenses are untenable for families throughout the country and highlights the urgent need for greater federal investments.”

The findings note that higher childcare costs have a direct impact on maternal employment that continues even after children leave home, and that the U.S. spends significantly less than other high-wage countries on early childcare and education. We rank 35th out of 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) made up of high-wage democracies, with the government spending only about 0.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) compared to the OECD average of 0.7%.

These two stories coming at almost the same time struck me as perhaps an important signal. The “Moms in the House” caucus formed in 2019 after a record number of women were elected to Congress, but in the midst of the Trump years they had little opportunity to shift public discussion. This moment, though, feels like a marker in a much larger pattern in the expansion of the role of the government in protecting individuals.

When the Framers wrote the U.S. Constitution, they had come around to the idea of a centralized government after the weak Articles of Confederation had almost caused the country to crash and burn, but many of them were still concerned that a strong state would crush individuals. So they amended the Constitution immediately with the Bill of Rights, ten amendments that restricted what the government could do. It could not force people to practice a certain religion, restrict what newspapers wrote or people said, stop people from congregating peacefully, and so on. And that was the opening gambit in the attempt to use the United States government to protect individuals.

But by the middle of the nineteenth century, it seemed clear that a government that did nothing but keep its hands to itself had almost failed. It had allowed a small minority to take over the country, threatening to crush individuals entirely by monopolizing the country’s wealth. So, under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, Americans expanded their understanding of what the government should do. Believing it must guarantee all men equal rights before the law and equal access to resources, they added to the Constitution the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, all of which expanded, rather than restricted, government action.

The crisis of industrialization at the turn of the twentieth century made Americans expand the role of the government yet again. Just making sure that the government protected legal rights and access to resources clearly couldn’t protect individual rights in the United States when the owners of giant corporations had no limits on either their wealth or their treatment of workers. It seemed the government must rein in industrialists, regulating the ways in which they did business, to hold the economic playing field level. Protecting individuals now required an active government, not the small, inactive one the Framers imagined.

In the 1930s, Americans expanded the job of the government once again. Regulating business had not been enough to protect the American people from economic catastrophe, so to combat the Depression, Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to use the government to provide a basic social safety net.

Although the reality of these expansions has rarely lived up to expectations, the protection of equal rights, a level economic playing field, and a social safety net have become, for most of us, accepted roles for the federal government.

But all of those changes in the government’s role focused on men who were imagined to be the head of a household, responsible for the women and children in those households. That is, in all the stages of its expansion, the government rested on the expectation that society would continue to be patriarchal.

The successful pieces of Biden’s legislation have echoed that history, building on the pattern that FDR laid down.

But, in the second half of his Build Back Better plan—the “soft” infrastructure plan that Congress did not pass—Biden also suggested a major shift in our understanding of the role of government. He called for significant investment in childcare and eldercare, early education, training for caregivers, and so on. Investing in these areas puts children and caregivers, rather than male heads of households, at the center of the government’s responsibility.

Calls for the government to address issues of childcare reach back at least to World War II. But Congress, dominated by men, has usually seen childcare not as a societal issue so much as a women’s issue, and as such, has not seen it as an imperative national need. That congressional fathers are adding their voices to the mix suggests a shift in that perception and that another reworking of the role of the government might be underway.

This particular effort might well not result in anything in the short term—caucuses form at the start of every Congress, and many disappear without a trace—but that some of Congress’s men for the first time ever are organizing to fight for parental needs just as the Department of Labor says childcare costs are “untenable” strikes me as a conjunction worth noting.

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