Heather Cox Richardson

August 20, 2023 (Sunday)

I don’t think I’ve posted a single sunrise photo from Buddy as he heads out to work this summer, largely because it has been so rainy and foggy he hasn’t taken any.

Finally, last week, he caught this image, and it seems to me it was worth the wait.

Going to bed early tonight, so I can wake up tomorrow raring to go.

[Photo by Buddy Poland.]


August 21, 2023 (Monday)

The wildfires that raced across Maui, Hawaii, on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 8 and 9, driven by high winds across land that had been suffering a drought, have fed a familiar political narrative.

That firestorm roared into the 13,000-person town of Lahaina, killing a confirmed 114 people, with more than 1,000 still unaccounted for. It is the deadliest fire in modern U.S. history. While local officials had warned that such a fire was likely, emergency systems were either understaffed or unprepared, or failed for other reasons. Figuring out exactly what happened and why, mourning the dead and injured, and rebuilding, will take years.

President Joe Biden received notice of a brush fire on August 8 as part of his “daily extreme weather memo,” and over the next two days received additional briefings.

“Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the wildfires in Maui, and our prayers are with those who have seen their homes, businesses, and communities destroyed. We are grateful to the brave firefighters and first responders who continue to run toward danger, putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives,” President Biden said in a statement on August 9. He explained that he had ordered all federal assets on the island to help with the response, including the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, as well as the Department of Transportation to coordinate commercial airlines for evacuation.

The next day, August 10, Biden began a speech about the PACT Act in Salt Lake City by saying: “[L]ook, before I begin, I want to say a word about the devastating wildfires that have claimed at least 36 lives in Maui, in Hawaii. [W]e have just approved a major disaster declaration…for Hawaii, which will get aid into the hands of the people… desperately needing help now. [A]nyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately.”

He explained the moves the administration had already made and promised, “I just got off the phone, before I got here, for a long conversation with Governor Josh Green this morning and let him know I’m going to make sure the state has everything it needs from the federal government to recover…. In the meantime, our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers—every asset we have will be available to them. And we’ve seen—they’ve seen their home, their business destroyed, and some have lost loved ones. And it’s not over yet.”

On that day, August 10, Biden signed a disaster declaration, saying that a major disaster existed in Hawaii, and ordered federal aid to the state to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Federal funding helps with temporary housing and home repairs, some property losses, debris removal, and hazard mitigation.

By August 15, almost 500 federal personnel had been deployed to Maui, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had provided 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots, and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies to six shelters run by the American Red Cross and Maui County for survivors who couldn’t go home. FEMA had also approved Critical Needs Assistance (CNA), which provides a one-time payment of $700 per household to those without housing to replace vital items like medication on an emergency basis.

The Small Business Administration had begun making low-interest federal disaster loans available to Hawaii businesses and nonprofit organizations. The Department of Agriculture approved Hawaii’s request for extra Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency retroactive to August 8, which gave Medicare and Medicaid greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs for beneficiaries, then deployed disaster response personnel to Hawaii.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was on the island clearing roads, stabilizing the electrical grid, and working with the Environmental Protection Agency to remove hazardous waste. The U.S. Forest Service Incident Management Teams and Wildfire Liaisons worked with state officials to put the fires out and prevent flare ups, while the U.S. Fire Administration was working to support local firefighters. The Department of Defense was moving supplies across the state.

On August 17, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and Republic of Korea (ROK) president Yoon Suk Yeol arrived for Friday’s historic trilateral summit at Camp David, and Biden fell publicly silent about Maui. Promptly, the right wing insisted that he had done nothing for Hawaii. In fact, public documents suggest Biden was speaking daily with state officials in Hawaii and increasing the federal response there. By August 19 there were more than 1,000 federal personnel on the ground. “We’ve offered whatever support the governor needs,” General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

Whether or not you agree with the level of response the Biden administration has provided to those suffering in the fires, the pattern of using the media to establish a narrative that the administration is ignoring Americans when it clearly is not is almost exactly what happened with the East Palestine, Ohio, railway disaster in February 2023. Then, pro-Russian accounts promptly began to argue that the Biden administration was ignoring a disaster at home—when emergency personnel were on the ground immediately—in order to fund Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invasion.

Now, behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno, a specialist in disinformation, noted that the X (Twitter) account that seeded the “Hawaii, not Ukraine” narrative was created just last month and that accounts associated with both Russia and China are amplifying the narrative that Biden has neglected Maui. It seems telling that the same right-wing “independent journalist” who went to East Palestine has flown into Maui to attack Biden’s response, showing up on Trump ally Steve Bannon’s “War Room.”

Indeed, one of Biden’s strongest suits is his foreign policy initiatives, and as Republican presidential candidates have virtually nothing to offer on that front, some Republicans seem to be trying to use the Maui fire as a way to undercut Biden’s foreign policy triumphs. Increasingly, they are turning against aid to Ukraine as they back former president Trump, who boasted on Friday that he was “the apple of [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] eye. Supporting Ukraine in its battle against Putin’s authoritarianism has been a key aspect of Biden’s attempt to protect democracy at home and around the world, and as the 2024 election approaches, House Republicans, at least, are reluctant to continue funding that effort.

Today the extremist House Freedom Caucus released a list of what it demands before it will agree even to a short-term measure to fund the government this fall; Ukraine funding is one of the things to which they object.

Today the president and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Maui, where after seeing the devastation, President Biden said that “the country grieves with you, stands with you, and we’ll do everything possible to help you recover, rebuild, and respect culture and traditions when the rebuilding takes place.” He promised that we will “rebuild the way the people of Maui want to build.”

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) said, "We in Hawaii have been through hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions—but we have never seen such a robust federal response. Thank you.”


August 22, 2023 (Tuesday)

Law professor Bruce Mann’s 2002 book on the early history of American debt, Republic of Debtors, explained how early Americans redefined bankruptcy to excuse defaulting on commercial debt as a result of the volatility of market forces, while retaining the old idea that defaulting on personal debt was a moral failing. Their argument was that commercial debtors could not avoid economic risk because they engaged in market activity, while farmers, tradesmen—ordinary people—should order their affairs so that they did not take on debt they could not repay.

Mann pointed out that this new understanding was “an oddly narrow understanding of economic risk, excluding as it did the hazards and chance that could rain economic ruin on farmers, tradesmen, and other nonmerchants. Moreover, it treated noncommercial debt as somehow avoidable and hence nonpayment” as a moral failing.

The difference between the willingness of right-wing lawmakers to afford debt relief to business owners—often including themselves—through the Paycheck Protection Program and their staunch opposition to the Biden administration’s student loan relief programs suggest that a perceived difference between commercial debt and personal debt in the United States is alive and well.

Rising costs of college and cuts to government support for education mean that more than 45 million people across the country owe more than $1.6 trillion in federal loans, an amount equal to the size of the Australian economy. That debt absorbs money people at the lower end of the economic scale would otherwise invest in homes, consumer goods, and so on, and the Biden administration has made it a priority to relieve some of that debt.

When she was the California attorney general, Vice President Kamala Harris took on predatory for-profit colleges and won $1 billion for defrauded veterans and students, and when he ran for office, Biden promised to forgive federal student debt for those earning less than $125,000.

Since the Supreme Court on June 30, 2023, rejected the administration’s plan to forgive more than $400 billion in student debt borrowed through government programs, the administration has turned to other approaches.

In April it began to fix the administrative errors that had kept borrowers from receiving relief through income-driven repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program under which they borrowed the money. Those plans were always intended to offer a way to eliminate student debt, but the Government Accountability Office in 2022 found that poor record keeping meant that that promise had not been honored. On July 14 the administration announced that fixes to those programs would relieve more than 800,000 borrowers of more than $39 billion in student debt.

At the time, Biden did not mince words. “Republican lawmakers—who had no problem with the government forgiving millions of dollars of their own business loans—have tried everything they can to stop me from providing relief to hardworking Americans. Some are even objecting to the actions we announced today, which follows through on relief borrowers were promised, but never given, even when they had been making payments for decades. The hypocrisy is stunning, and the disregard for working and middle-class families is outrageous.”

Since then, the administration has provided relief to others caught in the system as well, including relief of $45.7 billion for 662,000 public service workers, $10.5 billion for 491,000 borrowers with a total and permanent disability, and $22 billion for nearly 1.3 million borrowers who were cheated by their schools, saw their schools close, or are covered by a related court settlement.

Today the administration released the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, a new repayment plan to bring order and relief to federal student borrowers. It is an income-driven repayment plan that is based on a borrower’s income and family size rather than their loan balance, prevents the balance from growing because of unpaid interest, and forgives the remaining balance after a number of years. “The benefits of the SAVE plan will be particularly critical for low- and middle-income borrowers, community college students, and borrowers who work in public service,” the White House said.

Relieving student debt helps those at the lower end of the economy, which will boost economic growth, but there is also a political payoff in these efforts for the administration. As Democratic strategist and pollster Celinda Lake and documentary filmmaker Mac Heller pointed out in the Washington Post in July, in the eight years between the 2016 and 2024 elections, 32 million Americans have become eligible to vote. In the same eight years, as many as 20 million older voters have died.

Lake and Heller note that younger Americans are focused on issues, rather than individuals, and skew progressive (prompting some Republicans to talk about raising the voting age to 25). Fulfilling a campaign promise that overwhelmingly benefits those under 50—parents as well as students—is good politics, blending in with the members of Gen Z (the generation born between the mid to late 1990s and early 2010s) forming political PACs of their own and running for office.

A new legal filing from prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s office will likely be less good politics for Republicans. Prosecutors today explained to Florida-based U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon why they had continued to investigate the case of the national security documents Trump took, refused to return, and then hid at the Trump Organization’s property at Mar-a-Lago even after they filed indictments against Trump and his aide Walt Nauta.

Prosecutors said that a key witness in that case had retracted false testimony after replacing his Trump-funded lawyer with a public defender. That new testimony implicated Trump and another aide in the attempt to cover up Trump’s retention of the documents, and that new testimony was behind the superseding indictments released in that case in late July.

Prosecutors say that witness is expected to testify against Trump and his aides.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called this “a very significant development. Trump already faced overwhelming evidence in the Mar-a-Lago case. But this flipper may change the calculus for Trump’s co-defendants. They are much younger than Trump, and they face the prospect of years in prison if convicted.”

If politics is rocky these days, everyday life is less so thanks to the vote of 86% of the members of the Teamsters union today to approve their new 5-year contract with UPS, heading off what would have been a bruising strike.


August 23, 2023 (Wednesday)

Yesterday, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with the ambassador from the People’s Republic of China, Xie Feng, in advance of her trip to Beijing and Shanghai next week. China’s economy has been slowing down alarmingly recently, with falling consumer prices, a deteriorating real estate sector and market, high youth unemployment, and slumping exports, and international leaders are concerned that China’s economic troubles could spread.

Earlier this week, the Commerce Department removed 27 Chinese companies from export restrictions after they met checks about the end use of their products, that is, verified that U.S. exports were not being passed on to terrorists or countries under U.S. sanctions. China’s Ministry of Commerce praised that decision, saying it was “conducive to the normal trade between Chinese and American companies and is in line with the common interests of both parties…. It is entirely possible to find a solution that benefits companies on both sides.”

In China, Secretary Raimondo will meet with senior Chinese government officials and U.S. business leaders. National security advisor Jake Sullivan yesterday told reporters that “her trip is an encapsulation of the approach that the Biden administration is taking, where we are engaged in an intense competition with the PRC, but intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage that competition so that it doesn’t tip over into conflict and also so that we create every opportunity to work together with the PRC on issues that are in our mutual interest.”

He echoed the frequent statements of the administration when he continued: “Secretary Raimondo will carry with her the message that the United States is not seeking to decouple from China, but rather to de-risk, and that means protecting our national security and ensuring resilient supply chains alongside our allies and partners while we continue our economic relationship and our trade relationship.”

Raimondo’s outreach comes as the administration announces another round of senior officials’ trips to Indo-Pacific countries.

On September 4th, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit. ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic organization made up of 10 member states in Southeast Asia that have a total population of more than 600 million people. Harris’s mother was a doctor from India, and that personal connection to the Indo-Pacific has made her an especially effective U.S. leader in that region. This is her third trip to Southeast Asia in the past two years: she went to Singapore and Vietnam in 2021 and to Thailand and the Philippines in 2022.

At the summits, she will work with other Indo-Pacific leaders—the U.S. is an Indo-Pacific leader itself, of course—to address the climate crisis, maritime security, infrastructure, and economic growth, and on efforts to uphold and strengthen international rules and norms in the region.

Just as Harris is leaving Indonesia on September 7, President Biden will travel to New Delhi, India, for the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit. The G20 is a forum made up of 19 countries and the European Union, and works to address major issues related to the global economy. In India, Biden will focus on issues from “the clean energy transition and combating climate change, to mitigating the economic and social impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, to increasing the capacity of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, to better fight poverty and take on the significant transnational challenges that are afflicting countries across the world,” Sullivan said.

Of this laundry list, Sullivan said, Biden hopes to encourage countries of the Global South to get behind the modernization of development banks as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy begun in 2013 to invest in more than 150 developing countries. Yesterday, Sullivan said that Biden is eager to reshape and scale up the World Bank to reduce global poverty and promote inclusive economic growth, “while also addressing global challenges from climate to migration and to the recovery from COVID-19.”

Biden nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born American business executive, to be the president of the World Bank, Sullivan said, “precisely to make this vision a reality,” and has asked Congress to beef up funding for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, proposals that Sullivan said “will generate nearly $50 billion in lending for middle-income and poor countries from the United States alone. And because our expectation is that our allies and partners will also contribute, we see these proposals ultimately leveraging over $200 billion. That is the proposal that President Biden will carry with him to Delhi and that he will work with the Congress on to deliver through the supplemental funding request,” Sullivan said.

The U.S. must, he said, provide support to developing countries, maintain strong global solidarity in the face of Russia’s illegal war, and to offer “a credible alternative to the coercive and unsustainable lending practices at the PRC.” He noted that the U.S. ability to mobilize financial power is one of its most valuable assets (which, although he did not say it, is one of the reasons the Republican threat to undermine our finances is so enormously destructive).

Reflecting the importance of the G20, Biden will commit to the U.S. hosting the G20 in 2026.

If the U.S. is trying to expand its influence, things are not going swimmingly for the world’s autocrats. Today, a plane on which Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin of Russia was allegedly on board crashed, taking all three pilots and seven passengers’ lives. While it is not clear whether Prigozhin was actually on the plane, national security analyst Mark Hertling took the position that it doesn’t matter whether he was on board or not, because the loss of Prigozhin from the head of Wagner will infuriate the Wagner mercenaries, who are being merged with the regular Russian military, and who were much better paid under Prigozhin than are regular Russian soldiers.

This fury will not calm things inside increasingly unstable Russia. As Ukraine’s troops are advancing, slowly but surely, “this is not a good time to start reforming the military,” Hertling told CNN. “Even if it’s part of a charade,” chair of the Human Rights Foundation (and world chess champion) Garry Kasparov wrote, “it reflects chaos among Ukraine’s enemies, murderous energy turned against one another. Dictatorships are stable until they are not, hard but brittle like glass.”

And then there are events here at home. Last night’s news that one of Trump’s aides at Mar-a-Lago had recanted previous false testimony and had outlined the involvement of the former president and his other aides in trying to destroy security recordings and then cover up that effort was just some of the chum that Trump world is stirring up lately.

Those indicted alongside Trump on RICO charges in Georgia have been surrendering to authorities or making demands of Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis. Today, Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro asked for an exceptionally fast trial, likely hoping to get it over with before more information comes out, prompting Los Angeles Times senior legal affairs columnist Harry Litman to explain: “All of these moves—the latest being Chesebro’s speedy trial motion—bring home the elementary fact that now that the concrete prospects for trial and punishment are forcing a sober look at everyone’s self-interests, which means their departure from Trump’s. A critical time.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force (CFETF) established by Attorney General Merrick Garland in May 2021 to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud, announced its results today. The Department of Justice is bringing federal criminal charges against 371 defendants for offenses related to more than $836 million in alleged COVID-19 fraud, most of it related to the two largest Small Business Administration pandemic programs: the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, both funded by the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In April 2020, Trump removed the inspector general tapped to chair a special oversight board Congress put in place to oversee the distribution of the act’s funds.

The release quotes acting director of the CFETF Michael C. Galdo, who “said that 63 of the defendants had alleged connections to violent crime, including violent gang members also accused of using pandemic funds to pay for a murder for hire. Twenty-five defendants have alleged connections to transnational crime networks.”

The Justice Department said that 119 of the defendants pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, courts ordered $57 million in restitution, and prosecutors worked with law enforcement to secure forfeiture of over $231.4 million.

Tonight, eight Republican candidates for the presidency will debate on stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, without former president Trump, who is the front-runner for the nomination, participating. Trump’s people saw no reason for him to risk his position in a debate, and instead are using the event to conduct counterprogramming. After considering upstaging the debate by surrendering to authorities in Georgia at the same time, they settled on recording an interview with former Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson to be aired in a competing time slot.

While Trump was not there, President Biden was: his “Dark Brandon” ads trumpeting his administration’s successes appeared before the broadcast.


August 24, 2023 (Thursday)

[Note: There is a discussion of rape in paragraph 8.]

Today a former U.S. president and the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination turned himself in to be arrested in Georgia. He had to because a grand jury of ordinary Americans indicted him, along with 18 other defendants, for conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

For the first time in U.S. history, there is a mugshot of a former president.

And, for that matter, mugshots of his chief of staff and key advisors. With noon tomorrow, August 25, the deadline for the defendants to surrender, they have been showing up since Tuesday, when Scott Hall, accused of breaching election equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, became the first of the defendants to surrender.

Since then, several of the lawyers behind the election scheme, including John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Rudy Giuliani have surrendered.

So have Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff, and David Shafer, the former chair of the Georgia Republican Party.

All but one—Harrison Floyd, the former executive director of Black Voices for Trump, who is charged with harassing election worker Ruby Freeman and who had previously assaulted an FBI agent—have been released on bail.

Trump is the first president to be charged with crimes, and he is facing an astonishing 91 counts in four different cases, two at the state level in New York and Georgia, and two at the federal level.

In addition, Trump, his two elder sons, and the Trump Organization are also facing an October trial in a civil fraud case in New York City, after which he has a January trial in a defamation suit from writer E. Jean Carroll for denying that he raped her (a judge recently agreed that his sexual assault of her was rape by common understanding, although the narrow definition of rape in the New York penal code meant that a New York jury in May did not find him liable for it).

And then there are the criminal charges. In New York he is charged with 34 counts surrounding an alleged hush-money scheme before the 2016 election.

He has been charged with 40 counts in the federal case concerning his theft and concealment of national security documents at his organization’s Mar-a-Lago property. In a separate federal case, he is charged with 4 counts of conspiring to defraud the government, obstruct an official proceeding, and take away voters’ right to have their vote counted.

In the Georgia case for which he was arrested today, he has been charged with 13 crimes under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute of Georgia, a law that permits a group working together for a criminal purpose to be charged as a criminal organization.

True to form, Trump appears to have timed his surrender to make the evening news. And then, after he surrendered, he posted his mugshot himself on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, telling his supporters: “NEVER SURRENDER!”

In our system, Trump, like any defendant, is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But here’s the thing: At last night’s Republican primary debate, all the candidates except former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (polling at 3.3%) and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (polling at 0.7%) pledged they would support Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee even if he’s convicted.

In the 1960s, Republicans made a devil’s bargain, courting the racists and social traditionalists who began to turn from the Democratic Party when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to make inroads on racial discrimination. Those same reactionaries jumped from the Democrats to create their own party when Democratic president Harry S. Truman strengthened his party’s turn toward civil rights by creating a presidential commission on civil rights in 1946 and then ordering the military to desegregate in 1948. Reactionaries rushed to abandon the Democrats permanently after Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, joining the Republicans at least temporarily to vote for Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, who promised to roll back civil rights laws and court decisions.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was the final straw for many of those reactionaries, and they began to move to the Republicans as a group when Richard Nixon promised not to use the federal government to enforce civil rights in the states. This so-called southern strategy pulled the Republican Party rightward.

In 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan appeared at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, a few miles from where three civil rights workers had been murdered in 1964 for their work registering Black Mississippians to vote, and said, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan tied government defense of civil rights to socialism, insisting that the government was using tax dollars from hardworking Americans to give handouts to lazy people, often using code words to mean “Black.”

Since then, as their economic policies have become more and more unpopular, the Republicans have kept voters behind them by insisting that anyone calling for federal action is advocating socialism and by drawing deep divisions between those who vote Republican, whom they define as true Americans, and anyone who does not vote Republican and thus, in their ideology, is anti-American.

From there it has been a short step to arguing that those who do not support Republican candidates should not vote or are voting illegally (although voter fraud is vanishingly rare). And from there, it appears to have been a short step to trying to overturn the results of an election where 7 million more Americans voted for Joe Biden, a Democrat, than voted for Trump and where the Electoral College vote for Biden was 306 to 232, the same margin Trump called a landslide in 2016 when it was in his favor.

The Republicans on stage last night have abandoned democracy, and in that they accurately represent their party. It is no accident that in addition to the Georgia party chair indicted for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Wisconsin Republican Party chair Brian Schimming was also mentioned in the Georgia indictment as part of the conspiracy for his role in the scheme to use false electors to steal the election for Trump, though he was not charged; former Arizona Republican chair Kelli Ward is in the crosshairs for her own participation in the scheme in Arizona; and in a different case, former Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddoch has pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges for her part in the attempt to steal the White House.

State leaders have taken their cue from the top: Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel also apparently participated in Trump’s fake elector scheme to steal the presidency.

It is quite a thing to see leading Republicans—including a former president—in mugshots for their assault on our democracy and to know that party leadership supports their actions. Indeed, it is unprecedented, and for those who remember what a grand party the Republicans have been at times in their history—Lincoln, after all, was a Republican, and so were Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower—it is a sad end.

But an end it is. The authoritarians who have taken over the party have abandoned their history and are now building something altogether different.


Question in regard to the mugshot: news around here had it that the sucker is using it on merch to generate money.

Please, someone tell me that the image is actually property of Georgia and there is a non-commercial clause somewhere in the usage rights. That a suspect in a case is making money of their mugshots is not really something I want to believe.


Per something on PetaPixel (that @BakaNeko linked to in one of the mugshot threads) this seems a bit unclear in Georgia:
[…] that there is no Georgia state law that specifically says all works created by state employees are in the public domain, or that all works are copyrightable. It appears to be relatively uncharted, ambiguous territory.

Mugshots taken by federal law enforcement agencies are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright law.

IIRC, in Florida mugshots are public domain. I think I read that on Jimbopedia a while back.


August 25, 2023 (Friday)

Tomorrow, civil rights activists will gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., both to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and to emphasize that the struggle for civil rights is ongoing.

Monday, August 28, is the actual anniversary of the 1963 march, which is famous today primarily because it was the occasion when the final speaker, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.

While that speech is often excerpted to sound like King’s concerns were simply about the way individuals thought about race, in fact, the march’s organizers, Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, focused on economic discrimination and the lack of decent jobs for Black Americans. In the process of organizing the march, they brought on board not only civil rights organizers but also white labor organizer Walter Reuther, the head of the United Auto Workers.

King acknowledged the economic focus of the march when he centered his speech around the idea that Black Americans had received “a promissory note” that had become “a bad check, a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.” “But,” he said, “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

Dr. King was not the only speaker that day; he anchored the event. Before him spoke the chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a young John Lewis. Just 23 years old, he had been one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans in 1961 to challenge segregation. “It was very violent. I thought I was going to die. I was left lying at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery unconscious,” Lewis later recalled.

At the Washington march, Lewis railed against the systems that kept Black Americans in poverty and permitted white men to commit violence against them, and explained that the remedy for the economic deprivation and racial violence Black Americans suffered was not in the civil rights bill proposed by the administration of President John F. Kennedy, but in the power of peaceful demonstrations and the vote. “‘ONE MAN, ONE VOTE’…must be our [cry],” he told the crowd.

“The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery,” Lewis said. “The nonviolent revolution is saying, ‘We will not wait for the courts to act, for we have been waiting for hundreds of years. We will not wait for the president, the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure, that could and would assure us a victory.’”

The March on Washington gave national media coverage to the civil rights movement, and it, along with the assassination of President Kennedy less than three months later and the disappearance of three young men registering Black Americans to vote in Mississippi in 1964, gave momentum to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination and protected voting rights.

Americans determined to bring that law to life set out to increase the voting registration efforts they had been making for years. Near Selma, Alabama, in February 1965, white law enforcement officers beat and shot an unarmed 26-year-old, Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was marching for voting rights. He died eight days later.

Black leaders in Selma planned to march the 54 miles from Selma to the state capitol at Montgomery to draw attention to the murder and to voter suppression. As Lewis and 600 marchers stopped to pray at the end of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate brigadier general, grand dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, and U.S. senator, mounted police troopers charged them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.

After the Selma attack, President Lyndon Baines Johnson called for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. By a bipartisan vote, it did so, and on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.

The federal protection of minority voting was a game changer, and opponents fought it. Since Reconstruction, reactionary racists had maintained that Black voters would elect lawmakers who would give them benefits that could only be paid for through tax levies on those with property, which generally meant white men. Black voting, they insisted, would lead to a redistribution of wealth and thus was essentially socialism.

As the Democratic Party under Johnson moved away from its historic racism, those who insisted that Black voting was socialism and segregation should be the law of the land began to swing behind the Republicans, whose opposition to government regulation of business and provision of a basic social safety net made them take a stand against a powerful federal government.

Once entrenched in the Republican Party, the idea that minority voting meant a redistribution of wealth led party leaders both to whittle away at federal power and to insist that Black and Brown voters were illegitimate. By 1986, Republicans talked of cutting down Black voting with a “ballot integrity” initiative, and they bitterly opposed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, more popularly known as the Motor-Voter Act, which Democrats passed to make it easier to register to vote at certain state offices. The following year, losing Republican candidates argued they had lost because of “voter fraud,” and in 1996, House and Senate Republicans launched yearlong investigations into elections that they insisted, without evidence, Democrats had stolen thanks to illegal voters.

By 2013 the quest to purge minority voters led to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to voting in states with histories of racial discrimination.

Ultimately, in late 2020, Republicans led by then-incumbent president Donald Trump organized to deprive Americans, overwhelmingly minority Americans in places like Fulton County, Georgia, and Detroit, of their vote. As the federal indictment for his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election reads, he and his co-conspirators tried “to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”

As civil rights leaders gather in Washington, D.C., today, they hope to emphasize that voting rights remain central to racial and economic equality. According to the voting-rights-focused Brennan Center, since 2013, 29 states have added 94 restrictions on the right to vote, and now House Republicans have proposed what they call the “American Confidence in Elections” Act, or ACE, which limits mail-in ballots and drop boxes, prohibits taking food and water to those waiting in line to vote, lifts remaining restrictions on campaign spending, and abolishes federal efforts to combat disinformation. Although Republicans point to increased voting in 2022 to insist that such measures don’t hurt voting rates, the Brennan Center showed that under Georgia’s new rules, the gap between white voting and nonwhite voting is the highest it’s been since at least 2014: white voting was 8.6 percentage points higher than nonwhite voting in 2022.

In contrast, Senate Democrats have reintroduced the Freedom to Vote Act, which sets national standards to protect voting access, protects election officials and workers (who have experienced attacks since 2020), prohibits partisan gerrymandering, and cuts back on the dark money that floods our elections since the Supreme Court permitted it in its 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision. When the House passed a version of the Freedom to Vote Act in 2021, every Republican in the Senate voted it down.

And yet, the Freedom to Vote Act is popular, with a supermajority of likely voters—70%— supporting its provisions shortly after it was first introduced in 2021. Protecting the vote is a cause behind which the Biden administration, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, stands.

In 2022, speaking in the Georgia district that elected John Lewis to Congress, Harris warned that we must not be deceived into thinking laws that make it harder to vote are normal, and she noted that those pushing such laws “are not only putting in place obstacles to the ballot box, they are also working to interfere with our elections to get the outcomes they want and to discredit those they don’t. That is not how a democracy should work.”

At tomorrow’s march, the Reverend Dr. King’s son Martin Luther King III and his wife Arndrea Waters King say they plan to call on Congress to pass voting rights legislation. “This is not about issues for one group or one ethnic group,” Mr. King said. “It’s about Americans. It’s about creating a climate for America to fulfill its true promise for all of its citizens.”


August 26, 2023 (Saturday)

On this date in 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State received the official notification from the governor of Tennessee that his state had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment, and the last one necessary to make the amendment the law of the land once the secretary of state certified it. He did that as soon as he received the notification, making this date the anniversary of the day the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

The new amendment was patterned on the Fifteenth Amendment protecting the right of Black men to vote, and it read:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Like the momentum for the Fifteenth Amendment, the push for rights for women had taken root during the Civil War as women backed the United States armies with their money, buying bonds and paying taxes; with their loved ones, sending sons and husbands and fathers to the war front; with their labor, working in factories and fields and taking over from men in the nursing and teaching professions; and even with their lives, spying and fighting for the Union. In the aftermath of the war, as the divided nation was rebuilt, many of them expected they would have a say in how it was reconstructed.

But to their dismay, the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly tied the right to vote to “male” citizens, inserting the word “male” into the Constitution for the first time.

Boston abolitionist Julia Ward Howe, the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, was outraged. The laws of the age gave control of her property and her children to her abusive husband, and while far from a rabble-rouser, she wanted the right to adjust those laws so they were fair. In this moment, it seemed the right the Founders had articulated in the Declaration of Independence—the right to consent to the government under which one lived—was to be denied to the very women who had helped preserve the country, while white male Confederates and now Black men both enjoyed that right.

“The Civil War came to an end, leaving the slave not only emancipated, but endowed with the full dignity of citizenship. The women of the North had greatly helped to open the door which admitted him to freedom and its safeguard, the ballot. Was this door to be shut in their face?” Howe wondered.

The next year, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, and six months later, Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe founded the American Woman Suffrage Association.

The National Woman Suffrage Association wanted a larger reworking of gender roles in American society, drawing from the Seneca Falls Convention that Stanton had organized in 1848.

That convention’s Declaration of Sentiments, patterned explicitly on the Declaration of Independence, asserted that “all men and women are created equal” and that “the history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her,” listing the many ways in which men had “fraudulently deprived [women] of their most sacred rights” and insisting that women receive “immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

While the National Woman Suffrage Association excluded men from its membership, the American Woman Suffrage Association made a point of including men equally, as well as Black woman suffragists, to indicate that they were interested in the universal right to vote and only in that right, believing the rest of the rights their rivals demanded would come through voting.

The women’s suffrage movement had initial success in the western territories, both because lawmakers there were hoping to attract women for their male-heavy communities and because the same lawmakers were furious at the growing noise about Black voting. Wyoming Territory granted women the vote in 1869, and lawmakers in Utah Territory followed suit in 1870, expecting that women would vote against polygamy there. When women in fact supported polygamy, Utah lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to take their vote away, and the movement for women’s suffrage in the West slowed dramatically.

Suffragists had hopes of being included in the Fifteenth Amendment, but when they were not, they decided to test their right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment in the 1872 election. According to its statement that anyone born in the U.S. was a citizen, they were certainly citizens and thus should be able to vote. In New York state, Susan B. Anthony voted successfully but was later tried and convicted—in an all-male courtroom in which she did not have the right to testify—for the crime of voting.

In Missouri a voting registrar named Reese Happersett refused to permit suffragist Virginia Minor to register. Minor sued Happersett, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The justices handed down a unanimous decision in 1875, deciding that women were indeed citizens but that citizenship did not necessarily convey the right to vote.

This decision meant the fat was in the fire for Black Americans in the South, as it paved the way for white supremacists to keep them from the polls in 1876. But it was also a blow to suffragists, who recast their claims to voting by moving away from the idea that they had a human right to consent to their government, and toward the idea that they would be better and more principled voters than the Black men and immigrants who, under the law anyway, had the right to vote.

For the next two decades, the women’s suffrage movement drew its power from the many women’s organizations put together across the country by women of all races and backgrounds who came together to stop excessive drinking, clean up the sewage in city streets, protect children, stop lynching, and promote civil rights.

Black women like educator Mary Church Terrell and journalist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, publisher of the Woman’s Era, brought a broad lens to the movement from their work for civil rights, but they could not miss that Black women stood in between the movements for Black rights and women’s rights, a position scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw would identify In the twentieth century as “intersectionality.”

In 1890 the two major suffrage associations merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association and worked to change voting laws at the state level. Gradually, western states and territories permitted women to vote in certain elections until by 1920, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Alaska Territory, Montana, and Nevada recognized women’s right to vote in at least some elections.

Suffragists recognized that action at the federal level would be more effective than a state-by-state strategy. The day before Democratic president Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in 1913, they organized a suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., that grabbed media attention. They continued civil disobedience to pressure Wilson into supporting their movement.

Still, it took another war effort, that of World War I, which the U.S. entered in 1917, to light a fire under the lawmakers whose votes would be necessary to get a suffrage amendment through Congress and send it off to the states for ratification. Wilson, finally on board as he faced a difficult midterm election in 1918, backed a constitutional amendment, asking congressmen: “Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

Congress passed the measure in a special session on June 4, 1919, and Tennessee’s ratification on August 18, 1920, made it the law of the land as soon as the official notice was in the hands of the secretary of state. Twenty-six million American women had the right to vote in the 1920 presidential election.

Crucially, as the Black suffragists had known all too well when they found themselves caught between the drives for Black male voting and women’s suffrage, Jim Crow and Juan Crow laws meant that most Black women and women of color would remain unable to vote for another 45 years. And yet they never stopped fighting for that right. For all that the speakers at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Equality were men, in fact women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Amelia Boynton, Rosa Parks, Viola Liuzzo, and Constance Baker Motley were key organizers of voting rights initiatives, spreading information, arranging marches, sparking key protests, and preparing legal cases.

And now women are the crucial demographic going into the 2024 elections. Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg noted in June that there was a huge spike of women registering to vote after the Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, and that Democratic turnout has exceeded expectations ever since.


And so, hopefully, the fat is in the fire for Republicans, because their dog has caught the car.



August 27, 2023 (Sunday)

Buddy and I spent today visiting family on a nearby island. There is news, but I am quite happy to have left it behind for a day.

I’ll be back at it tomorrow, but until then, here was the view coming in from the island in Buddy’s boat this evening.

It has been a good day.


August 28, 2023 (Monday)

After making it clear that she would run her courtroom in the interests of justice without reference to the 2024 presidential election, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has set March 4, 2024, as the start date for former president Trump’s trial on four criminal counts for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Those charges are not about anything Trump said. The 45-page indictment acknowledges Trump’s right to speak about the election and even to lie that he had won, and the Department of Justice did not charge him with incitement. The indictment charges Trump with being part of three conspiracies: one to defraud the United States by “using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit” to stop the lawful government function of determining the results of a presidential election, a second conspiracy to obstruct the lawful January 6 congressional proceeding to count and certify the results of the presidential election, and a third conspiracy to take away from other Americans “a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.”

Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith’s office had asked the judge for a January 2 start date, saying the date “serves the public’s interest and the interests of justice, while also protecting the defendant’s rights and ability to prepare for trial.” (A Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll from August 18–21 bears out this position: it shows that 61% of the American people believe that Trump should go to trial for election subversion before the Republican primaries.)

Trump’s lawyers countered with a proposal to start the trial in April 2026, an extraordinary request that they attributed to the need to sift through enormous amounts of evidence—12.8 million pages worth—but which might well have been an attempt to get the judge to split the difference and give Trump a court date in 2025, after the 2024 election.

Trump has told his aides he intends to solve his legal problems by winning the next election.

Today, Department of Justice prosecutor Molly Gaston responded to Trump’s request by noting that 7.8 million pages of that material either came from Trump himself—tweets, for example—or from those associated with him, or had been public for months already. She noted that Trump’s lawyers themselves have publicly called the case a “regurgitation” of the report from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and noted that the Department of Justice had been careful to make sure the new material it provided is easy to review.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba didn’t help the Trump camp yesterday when she told Fox News Sunday that Trump wouldn’t need to prepare for his many legal cases because he’s “incredibly intelligent.” Nonetheless, Trump lawyer John Lauro used the March 4 trial date to begin laying the groundwork to argue he could not provide adequate representation.

Before she set the date, Chutkan said, she conferred with New York state judge Juan Merchan, who is set to preside over Trump’s trial for campaign violations when he paid hush money to an adult film actress to cover up an affair. That case is scheduled to start on March 25. Trump’s federal trial for his theft of national security documents and hiding them at Mar-a-Lago is currently scheduled to begin in May 2024.

The trial date on racketeering charges in Georgia for a conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election has not been set yet, but today the arraignment for all 19 defendants was set for September 6, 2023.

In the midst of all these court dates, Judge Chutkan’s establishment of March 4 for the federal trial over Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election means that Trump-appointed federal judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the Mar-a-Lago documents trial and who seems eager to protect the former president, will have far less power to shape public perceptions of the cases against Trump. Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman noted: “This is the centerpiece now of accountability for Trump, which is as it should be.”

Meanwhile, in an Atlanta courtroom, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows took the stand to try to get charges against him as part of the Georgia indictments transferred to federal court with the ultimate goal of getting them dismissed. Meadows took the unusual step of testifying himself in the case, and he argued for a sweeping interpretation of a chief of staff’s official duties.

He claimed that it was his job as chief of staff to address anything that might distract Trump or divert his attention, and therefore his work to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election fell within his job description. If so, his case belongs in federal court because federal officials are protected from state prosecution over things they did as part of their official duties. But working for a political campaign is explicitly not part of an officer’s duties: the Hatch Act prohibits federal officials from engaging in partisan activities while on duty.

U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones said he would rule as quickly as he can after considering the arguments.

Three Republican false electors from Georgia have also asked to move their cases to federal court, arguing that they were acting at the direction of Trump and his people, who were agents of the federal government. So has lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who tried to take over the office of attorney general to push Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, and who was employed at the time by the Department of Justice.

Nicole Narea of Vox noted that dividing up the defendants in the Georgia indictments serves Trump’s case by slowing everything down as Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis has to prosecute each defendant separately. Cornell University law professor Randy Zelin told Narea that such a scenario will permit Trump’s lawyers to prepare their defense based on the previous cases. It is, he said, “a defense lawyer’s dream.”

Republicans are planning to stand behind Trump, echoing his lawyer’s argument that Trump is being prosecuted selectively because he is Biden’s political opponent. John Lauro called the case a “show trial,” suggesting Lauro does not see any reasonable likelihood that he can produce evidence to convince a jury Trump is not guilty.

Republicans in Congress appear to be in a similar place, apparently planning to defend Trump not by arguing he is not guilty, but by launching more investigations to tarnish Democrats, as they did with the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and as Trump did in his attempt to get Ukraine president Voldymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into President Biden’s son Hunter in 2019.

Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), chair of the Judiciary Committee, has demanded that Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney Fani Willis turn over internal documents related to the grand jury’s indictment of Trump on racketeering charges, implying that they will show illegitimate coordination between her and the Department of Justice, when in fact federal and state prosecutors often confer on cases that involve both of their jurisdictions.

House Republicans also are moving forward on impeaching President Joe Biden, although there is no evidence that there are any grounds for such a proceeding. One Republican lawmaker told CNN’s Melanie Zanona: “There’s no evidence that Joe Biden got money, or…agreed to do something so that Hunter could get money…. And they can’t impeach without that evidence. And I don’t…think the evidence exists.”

But polls last spring indicated that the American people think the Republicans’ investigations are a waste of time. Now the lack of evidence for an impeachment inquiry makes some Republican lawmakers unwilling to vote for one, just as they were unwilling to vote to “expunge” the former president’s impeachments, recognizing that such votes might turn off some of their more moderate voters. So the extremists eager to run the playbook of using an investigation are talking about skipping a formal vote and just launching an inquiry without one.

Trump yesterday wrote on his social media network: “You don’t need a long INQUIRY to prove it, it’s already proven…. Either IMPEACH the BUM, or fade into OBLIVION. THEY DID IT TO US!”

But Republicans who jump on board this effort will be working against the American people. According to that Politico/Ipsos poll, 59% of Americans think the Justice Department decided to indict Trump after a fair evaluation of evidence and the law.

And the March 4 trial date means backing Trump for the Republican presidential nomination has a new pitfall. March 4 is the day before Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will hold Republican presidential primaries. Philip Bump of the Washington Post noted today that by mid-March, more than half the delegates allotted for the Republican nomination will have been assigned and, since the Republicans have designed their nomination process to consolidate quickly with winner-take-all primaries, Trump could win the Republican nomination in the midst of his trial for trying to overturn the foundational principle of our democracy.

March 4 is also a historically significant date. Until 1936 it was the date on which presidential inaugurations were held (unless it fell on Sunday, in which case the inauguration was moved to the following day, Monday, March 5). Lawmakers chose that date because it was the one on which, in 1789, the Constitution went into effect.


although, to be fair, they would have done this even if ■■■■■ wasn’t on trial. ( see also: “her emails…” )


August 29, 2023 (Tuesday)

“For far too long, Americans have paid more for prescription drugs than any major economy. And while the pharmaceutical industry makes record profits, millions of Americans are forced to choose between paying for medications they need to live or paying for food, rent, and other basic necessities. Those days are ending,” President Joe Biden declared today.

The government announced the first ten drugs whose prices it will negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for about 65 million Medicare recipients. Until now, the United States has been virtually alone as the only country in which the government did not negotiate or regulate medicine prices, instead allowing companies to set whatever prices they believe the market will bear. Since their products often are the difference between life and death, it turns out the market will bear quite high prices, but—as Biden observed—those prices often force consumers to sacrifice in other ways to afford them.

A 2021 study by the RAND corporation found that drug prices average 2.56 times higher in the U.S. than in 32 other countries. For name brand drugs, U.S. prices were 3.44 times those in comparable nations.

As Amy Goldstein and Daniel Gilbert explained today in the Washington Post, when Congress created Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program, it covered drugs administered in a health care setting but excluded those a patient took at home. In 2003, after almost 40 years of medical innovation had significantly changed our management of chronic illnesses, Congress included those drugs under a separate Medicare plan—Part D—or as part of managed-care plans, but to get Republicans behind the bill, Congress explicitly prohibited the government from negotiating the prices of medications.

In 2021 a nearly three-year investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, then overseen by Democrats as they held the majority in the House of Representatives, concluded that “[d]rug companies have raised prices relentlessly for decades while manipulating the patent system and other laws to delay competition from lower-priced generics. These companies have specifically targeted the U.S. market for higher prices, even while cutting prices in other countries, because weaknesses in our health care system have allowed them to get away with outrageous prices and anticompetitive conduct.”

Republicans sided with the drug company executives who insisted that high prices were necessary to create an incentive for drug companies to innovate, as their investment in research and development depends on the revenue they expect from new drugs. But the committee’s report said their investigation concluded that “sky-high drug prices are not justified by the need to innovate. The largest drug companies spend more on payouts for investors and executives than on research and development. And many blockbuster drugs rely on scientific discoveries from research funded by taxpayers, while drug companies’ R&D spending often focuses on minor changes to extend patent protection and block lower-priced competitors.”

In 2022, Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act without a single Republican vote. That law permits the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices the government will pay.

The ten drugs listed in today’s announcement are among those with the highest total spending in Medicare Part D, and today the Department of Health and Human Services released a report that 9 million seniors paid a total of $3.4 billion for these drugs in 2022. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that provides budget and economic information to Congress, estimates that government negotiation over these drugs will save taxpayers about $98.5 billion over ten years. If a drug maker refuses to negotiate, it either will face a significant tax or must withdraw from Medicare and Medicaid.

This measure is extraordinarily popular. More than eighty percent of Americans want the government to be able to negotiate drug costs.

The new negotiated prices are scheduled to go into effect in 2026. Pharmaceutical companies are suing to stop the law, claiming it is unconstitutional, although when asked by reporters today about the lawsuits, domestic policy advisor Neera Tanden pointed out that the government “negotiates prices for every other element” Medicare covers of the health care system, including rates for doctors, other providers, and hospitals. “The only reason why Medicare has not been negotiating drug prices is because Pharma got a sweetheart deal decades ago to basically prohibit negotiations,” she said. “Negotiations are part of [a] market system. It’s very normal for that to happen.”

“This plan is a key part of Bidenomics, my economic vision for growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up—not the top down,” Biden said. “And it’s working.”


August 30, 2023 (Wednesday)

Four days ago, on Saturday, August 26, in the early afternoon, a heavily armed, 21-year-old white supremacist in a tactical vest and mask, who had written a number of racist manifestos and had swastikas painted on his rifle, murdered three Black Americans at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida. He had apparently intended to attack Edward Waters University, a historically Black institution, but students who saw him put on tactical gear warned a security guard, who chased him off and alerted a sheriff’s deputy.

As David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo put it two days later, “America is living through a reign of white supremacist terror,” and in a speech to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law on Monday, President Joe Biden reminded listeners that “the U.S. intelligence community has determined that domestic terrorism, rooted in white supremacy, is the greatest terrorist threat we face in the homeland—the greatest threat.”

Biden said he has made it a point to make “clear that America is the most multiracial, most dynamic nation in the history of the world.” He noted that he had nominated the first Black woman, Ketanji Brown Jackson, for the Supreme Court and has put more Black women on the federal circuit courts than every other U.S. president combined. Under him, Congress has protected interracial and same-sex marriages, and his administration has more women than men. He warned that “hate never dies. It just hides.”

But in his Editorial Board newsletter, John Stoehr pointed out that the increasing violence of white supremacists isn’t just about an “ideology of hate” rising, but it is “about a minority faction of the country going to war, literal war, with a majority faction.” He pointed to former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin’s recent prediction of civil war because “We’re not going to keep putting up with this…. We do need to rise up and take our country back.” Stoehr calls these white supremacists “Realamericans” who believe they should rule and, if they can’t do so lawfully, believe they are justified in taking the law into their own hands.

Indeed, today’s white supremacist violence has everything to do with the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protected the right to vote guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870 after white supremacists refused to recognize the right of Black Americans to vote and hold office. Minority voting means a government—and a country—that white men don’t dominate.

In the 1870s, once the federal government began to prosecute those white men attacking their Black neighbors for exercising their right to vote, white supremacists immediately began to say that they had no issues with Black voting on grounds of race. Their issue, they said, was that Black men were poor, and they were voting for lawmakers—some Black but primarily white—who supported the construction of roads, schools, hospitals, and so on. While these investments were crucial in the devastated South and would help white Americans as well as Black ones, white supremacists insisted that such government action redistributed wealth from white people to Black people and thus was a form of socialism.

It was a short step from this argument to insisting that Black men shouldn’t vote because they were “corrupting” the American system. By 1876, former Confederates had regained control of southern state legislatures, where they rewrote voting laws to exclude Black men and people of color on grounds other than that of race, which the Fifteenth Amendment had made unconstitutional.

By the end of the nineteenth century, white southerners greeted any attempt to protect Black voting as an attempt to destroy true America. Finally, in North Carolina in 1898, Democrats recognized they were losing ground to a biracial fusion ticket of Republicans and Populists who promised economic and political reforms. Before that year’s election, white Democratic leaders ran a viciously racist campaign to fire up their white base. “It is time for the oft quoted shotgun to play a part, and an active one,” one woman wrote, ”in the elections.”

Blocking Fusion voters from the polls and threatening them with guns gave the Democrats a victory, but in Wilmington the biracial city government had not been up for reelection and so remained in power. Vigilantes said they would never again be ruled by Black men and their unscrupulous white allies who intended to “dominate the intelligent and thrifty element in the community.” They destroyed Black businesses and property and killed as many as 300 Black Americans, then portrayed themselves as reluctant victims who had been obliged to remove inefficient and stupid officials before they reduced the city to further chaos.

In 2005, white supremacists in North Carolina echoed this version of the Wilmington coup, claiming it was a natural reaction to “oppressive radical social policies” and a “carnival of corruption and criminality” by their opponents, who used the votes of ignorant Black men to stay in power.

That echo is no accident. The 1965 Voting Rights Act ended the power of white supremacists in the Democratic Party once and for all, and they switched to the Republicans. Then-Democratic South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond had launched the longest filibuster in U.S. history to try to stop the 1957 Civil Rights Act; Republican candidate Richard Nixon deliberately courted him and those who thought like him in 1968.

Republicans adopted the same pattern Democrats had used in the late nineteenth century, claiming their concerns were about taxes and government corruption, pushing voter suppression legislation by insisting they cared about “voter fraud,” insisting their opponents were un-American socialists attempting to overthrow a fairly-elected government.

This political side of white supremacy is all around us. As Democracy Docket put it last month, “Republicans have a math problem, and they know it. Regardless of their candidate, it is nearly certain that more people will vote to reelect Joe Biden than his [Republican] opponent.” After all, Democrats have won the popular vote since 2008. Under these circumstances and unwilling to moderate their platform, “Republicans need to make it harder to vote and easier to cheat.”

Republican-dominated state legislatures are working to make it as hard as possible for minorities and younger Americans to vote, while also pushing the election denier movement to undermine the counting and certification of election results. At the same time, eight Republican-dominated states have left the nonpartisan Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a compact between the states that makes it easier to share voter information to avoid duplicate registration and voting, and three more are considering leaving.

In a special session of the Tennessee legislature this week, Republican lawmakers blocked the public from holding signs (a judge blocked the rule), kicked the public out of a hearing, and passed new rules that could prohibit Democrats from speaking. House speaker Cameron Sexton silenced young Black Democratic representative Justin Jones for a day and today suggested the Republicans might make the rule silencing minority members permanent.

In Wisconsin, where one of the nation’s most extreme gerrymanders gives Republicans dominance in the legislature, Republicans in 2018 stripped Democratic governor-elect Tony Evers of power before they left office, and now right-wing Chief Justice Annette Ziegler has told the liberal majority on the state supreme court that it is staging a “coup” by exercising their new power after voters elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz to the court by a large majority in April. Now the legislature is talking about keeping the majority from getting rid of the gerrymandered maps by impeaching Protasiewicz.

The courts are trying to hold the line against this movement. In Washington, D.C., today, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell decided in favor of Black election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who claimed that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani defamed them when he claimed they had committed voter fraud. Not only did Howell award the two women court costs and damages, she called out Giuliani and his associates for trying to keep their records hidden.

But as the courts are trying to hold the line, its supporters are targeting the courts themselves, with MAGA Republicans threatening to defund state and federal prosecutors they claim are targeting Republicans, and announcing their intention to gather the power of the Department of Justice into their own hands should they win office in 2024.

After pushing a social studies curriculum that erases Black agency and resistance to white supremacy, Florida governor Ron DeSantis on Monday suggested the Jacksonville shooting was an isolated incident.

The Black audience booed.


August 31, 2023 (Thursday)

The Biden administration emphasized today its whole-of-government response to addressing the damage caused by Hurricane Idalia—which hit Florida yesterday before moving north into Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina—and by the wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, which broke out on August 8. Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane and brought 125-mile-an-hour winds and intense flooding that have left at least three people dead. The Maui wildfires, at least one of which was apparently started by a downed electric line, have killed at least 115 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings.

Biden and Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., today, and Biden later spoke at the White House, explaining that he had spoken with the governors of all the states affected by the hurricane before the storm hit. He had approved Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s request for an early emergency declaration to free up federal funds to address the expected impacts of the storm, and federal officers surged personnel to Florida and other southeastern states to help people get to safety.

Biden emphasized that the government was also focused on recovering and rebuilding efforts in Maui, promising to respect and honor Hawaiian traditions and the needs of the local community—a deep concern among those affected by the fires. “We’re not going to turn this into a new land grab,” he said.

In addition to the $27 million dedicated to the removal of hazardous material and the $400 million dedicated to debris removal in Hawaii, Biden announced that the administration has dedicated $95 million of the funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to harden the electrical grid against climate change by burying cables or installing smart meters to pinpoint where lines are down.

“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore,” Biden said. “Just look around: historic floods—I mean historic floods; more intense droughts; extreme heat; significant wildfires have caused significant damage like we’ve never seen before. It’s not only throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the United States, but in Canada and other parts of the world.”

“When I took office,” he said, “I directed my team to raise our game in how we lead and coordinate our responses to natural disasters…to ensure we [meet] the people where they are when they need our help the most.”

At FEMA headquarters, Biden profusely thanked the FEMA employees for their “incredible contribution” to the recovery efforts. He noted that the past few years have kept FEMA going from one emergency to the next, and he thanked them for their sacrifices and the risks emergency personnel take to help our communities when they need it.

With extremist House Republicans threatening to defund the government unless their demands are met, Biden called on Congress to make sure it provides “the funds to be able to continue to show up and meet the needs of the American people to deal with immediate crises that we’re facing right now, as well as the long-term commitments that we have to make to finish the job in Maui and elsewhere.”

When a reporter asked if he could “assure Americans that the federal government is going to have the emergency funding that they need to get through this hurricane season,” Biden answered, “If I can’t do that, I’m going to point out why…. And so, I’m confident, even though there’s a lot of talk from some of our friends up on the Hill about the cost, we got to do it. This is the United States of America.”

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee, chaired by Republican James Comer of Kentucky, announced this week it will investigate the federal response to the Maui wildfires. Biden said yesterday he welcomes such an investigation, suggesting that House Republicans “should go out and talk to every elected official, from the mayors to the governors to the United States senators” who have praised the government’s response.

Biden’s use of the government contrasts sharply with former president Trump’s promise to turn the government into an agent of retribution for those he perceives as his enemies. On Tuesday, right-wing radio host Glenn Beck asked him if he would use the presidency to imprison his political opponents if he were reelected. “You said in 2016, you know, ‘lock her up.’ And then when you became president, you said, ‘We don’t do that in America.’ That’s just not the right thing to do. That’s what they’re doing. Do you regret not locking her up? And if you’re president again, will you lock people up?”

Trump replied: “[T]he answer is you have no choice because they’re doing it to us.”

Trump’s legal troubles have sparked an outpouring of violent talk from him, but it is simply an escalation of the theme he staked out at his first campaign rally in March 2023, held in Waco, Texas, a spot that is a rallying cry for those of his base who believe the government is oppressing them. There, Trump told his supporters: “I am your warrior, I am your justice…. For those who have been wronged and betrayed…I am your retribution.”

Trump promises retribution and power for those MAGA Republicans determined to impose their will on the majority of Americans, like those cheering on Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall, who claimed in a court filing on Monday that Alabama, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, can prosecute people who help women travel out of the state to obtain an abortion as part of a “criminal conspiracy.”

Today’s Republicans have abandoned the Reagan-era Republican plan to gut the federal government and are instead determined to capture it, replacing nonpartisan civil servants with Republican extremists who will carry out the ideals of Trump or any candidate like him who can defeat Biden in 2024. Their nearly-1,000-page plan, called “Project 2025,” calls for politicizing the Department of Justice and law enforcement officers and giving far more power to the president.

Today, Trump waived his right to appear at his arraignment in Fulton County on racketeering charges for his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and entered a plea of not guilty.

Also today, Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas filed their annual financial disclosure report after receiving an extension from the May deadline. Thomas’s report included three gifts of transportation from megadonor Harlan Crow and two of meals and lodging from Crow when Thomas was his guest. Thomas defended his previous omission of such gifts by saying the omission was inadvertent, as he had used old guidelines that were changed only in March 2023 (in fact, ethics experts say he should have disclosed the previous gifts at the time).

Thomas also suggested he needed to travel on private planes because “the increased security risk following the Dobbs opinion leak” meant that his “security detail recommended noncommercial travel whenever possible.”


yes, i took the bribes, but gosh darn it: i deserved that cash.

pay for it yourself, you crook :angry:

That’s what jump seats on C130s are for. There’s plenty of room for Clarence and Sam between the MREs and soiled laundry.


September 1, 2023 (Friday)

New figures out today from the Labor Department show that employers added 187,000 jobs in August, up but at a slower rate than the red-hot job market has been adding since the pandemic. Unemployment ticked up to 3.8%, in part because of the 37,000 jobs lost when the trucking company Yellow declared bankruptcy. The economy appears to be steadying, with only 1.5 jobs for every person looking, down from the 2 openings in early 2022.

As the hiring frenzies of the past two years calm down, economists expect job growth to continue in health care and education, which have made up 85% of the job growth in the past three months. After that, government investments in infrastructure under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, renewable energy thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, and semiconductor manufacturing thanks to the CHIPS and Science Act are likely to keep demand growing.

The economic numbers for the Biden administration are remarkable and demonstrate the strength of the system under which the government operated from 1933 to 1981: the idea that investing in ordinary Americans builds the economy far more efficiently than so-called “supply-side economics.” That economic ideology, advanced by the Reagan Republicans, claimed that cutting regulations and concentrating wealth at the top of the economy would enable business leaders to invest in the economy efficiently, cutting costs and driving economic growth.

But that vision has never produced as promised, while it has dramatically concentrated wealth and power since it went into effect in 1981. “Bidenomics” is a rejection of that theory and a return to the economic vision that built the country in the fifty years before it. Investing in infrastructure and programs that help ordinary Americans puts money and the power of innovation into their hands, driving the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, as Biden puts it.

In a reflection of the plan to use the government to help those at the bottom of the economy, the administration yesterday canceled $72 million in student loans for 2,300 borrowers who were cheated by the for-profit Ashford College, which was purchased in 2020 by the University of Arizona. It says it will try to recoup the money from the University of Arizona, which denies any responsibility for the actions of Ashford or its parent company, the education technology services company Zovio.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to focus on ending abortion, and their determination is leading them to assert power over citizens of Republican-dominated states in a way that is commonly associated with authoritarian governments.

Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall claimed in a court filing on Monday that Alabama, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, can prosecute people who help women travel out of the state to obtain an abortion as part of a “criminal conspiracy.”

Today, Caroline Kitchener reported in the Washington Post that at least 51 jurisdictions in Texas have passed ordinances to make it illegal to transport anyone on roads within city or county limits to get an abortion. Their hope is to target interstates and the roads around airports to block off routes out of Texas and keep pregnant women trapped in the antiabortion state.

The laws also allow any private citizen to sue any person or organization they think is violating the ordinance, leading to expensive lawsuits against the friends and family members of the most economically vulnerable people in society. Antiabortion activists call aid to women seeking abortions “abortion trafficking,” which makes it sound like women are being forced to get an abortion, when in fact, the ordinances ensnare women who want to get an abortion and their friends, preventing them from leaving an antiabortion state. Even if such an ordinance is impossible to enforce, it legally endangers the people who would help someone trying to get an abortion, moving such reproductive care beyond the financial reach of many women, and makes people hesitant to help each other.

Such barriers are precisely the same as those for people trying to leave authoritarian countries. Someone who is prohibited from leaving a jurisdiction is not a citizen but a subject. Free and full citizens of a democracy have the right to travel, both inside the country and out of it. That right is guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the Constitution. But authoritarian countries often restrict travel for their subjects outside their borders out of concern that exposure to freer countries will weaken the authority of the government at home.

Crucially, authoritarian countries also urge people to turn on each other, reporting them to the state for punishment, often in exchange for a reward. Such a system breaks the ability of opponents to organize to resist the government because of the risk that their neighbors will sell them out.

While such circumstances affect most authoritarian governments, it is impossible to miss the parallels between these ordinances and the various laws that circumscribed the lives of Black Americans before the Civil War here in the United States. In that era, free Black Americans had to carry identification papers, known as “free papers,” to prove they should be allowed to travel. White Americans had no such requirement.

Enslaved Americans could not travel at all, of course, unless they accompanied their enslavers; they were confined to the states in which they were enslaved. When some escaped north to freedom, that restriction was enforced with the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Part of the Compromise of 1850, which was a series of laws cobbled together in an attempt to reduce the tensions between the North and the South over human enslavement, the Fugitive Slave Act required federal officials—including those in free states—to return to the South anyone a white enslaver claimed was his property. Black Americans could not testify in their own defense, and anyone helping a “runaway” could be imprisoned for six months and fined $1,000, about three years’ income. Those turning in Black refugees were paid a fee and the costs of their effort.

When citizens of free states spoke out against the Fugitive Slave Act for making them enforce laws they opposed, southern enslavers insisted they were “radicals” because they refused to enforce a law, and insisted that American democracy supported enslavement. Ten years later, extremists in the South put that argument into their political platform, saying that “the enactments of State Legislatures to defeat the faithful execution of the Fugitive Slave Law are hostile in character, subversive of the Constitution, and revolutionary in their effect.”

No longer willing to say they would accept free states in the West if voters there wanted freedom, enslavers demanded that Congress pass a new federal law to protect enslavement in the western territories. No longer defending states’ rights except when it protected them from federal intervention into the institution of slavery, they demanded the right to use the power of the federal government to control the majority of Americans who opposed enslavement.

Although the Supreme Court justified last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision by saying abortion should be a state decision, antiabortion activists are echoing enslavers in their attempt to get federal legislation to enforce their will. More than half of all abortions in the U.S. are medication abortions, and a Trump-appointed antiabortion judge in Texas, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, is currently trying to get rid of such abortions by suspending the approval of mifepristone, given by the Food and Drug Administration more than 20 years ago. Republican presidential candidates former vice president Mike Pence and South Carolina senator Tim Scott both say they support a federal ban on abortion.

Today’s attempted restriction of those who are supposed to be equal citizens from leaving extremist states raises a whole factory of red flags.

Last year, after the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision ending the recognition of the constitutional right to an abortion, I suggested to a group of people that it was only a question of time until we saw laws designed to make it impossible for women to travel across state lines. They told me there was no way such a thing could happen in the United States.

And yet, here we are.


September 2, 2023 (Saturday)

On March 4, 1858, South Carolina senator James Henry Hammond rose to his feet to explain to the Senate how society worked. “In all social systems,” he said, “there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life.” That class, he said, needed little intellect and little skill, but it should be strong, docile, and loyal.

“Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization and refinement,” Hammond said. His workers were the “mud-sill” on which society rested, the same way that a stately house rested on wooden sills driven into the mud.

He told his northern colleagues that the South had perfected this system by enslavement based on race, while northerners pretended that they had abolished slavery. “Aye, the name, but not the thing,” he said. “[Y]our whole hireling class of manual laborers and ‘operatives,’ as you call them, are essentially slaves.”

While southern leaders had made sure to keep their enslaved people from political power, Hammond said, he warned that northerners had made the terrible mistake of giving their “slaves” the vote. As the majority, they could, if they only realized it, control society. Then “where would you be?” he asked. “Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided, not…with arms…but by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”

He warned that it was only a matter of time before workers took over northern cities and began slaughtering men of property.

Hammond’s vision was of a world divided between the haves and the have-nots, where men of means commandeered the production of workers and justified that theft with the argument that such a concentration of wealth would allow superior men to move society forward. It was a vision that spoke for the South’s wealthy planter class—enslavers who held more than 50 of their Black neighbors in bondage and made up about 1% of the population—but such a vision didn’t even speak for the majority of white southerners, most of whom were much poorer than such a vision suggested.

And it certainly didn’t speak for northerners, to whom Hammond’s vision of a society divided between dim drudges and the rich and powerful was both troubling and deeply insulting.

On September 30, 1859, at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair, rising politician Abraham Lincoln answered Hammond’s vision of a society dominated by a few wealthy men. While the South Carolina enslaver argued that labor depended on capital to spur men to work, either by hiring them or enslaving them, Lincoln said there was an entirely different way to see the world.

Representing an economy in which most people worked directly on the land or water to pull wheat into wagons and fish into barrels, Lincoln believed that “[l]abor is prior to, and independent of, capital; that, in fact, capital is the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed—that labor can exist without capital, but that capital could never have existed without labor. Hence they hold that labor is the superior—greatly the superior of capital.”

A man who had, himself, worked his way up from poverty to prominence (while Hammond had married into money), Lincoln went on: “[T]he opponents of the ‘mud-sill’ theory insist that there is not…any such things as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for life.”

And then Lincoln articulated what would become the ideology of the fledgling Republican Party:

“The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account for another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor—the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all—gives hope to all, and energy and progress, and improvement of condition to all.”

In such a worldview, everyone shared a harmony of interest. What was good for the individual worker was, ultimately, good for everyone. There was no conflict between labor and capital; capital was simply “pre-exerted labor.” Except for a few unproductive financiers and those who wasted their wealth on luxuries, everyone was part of the same harmonious system.

The protection of property was crucial to this system, but so was opposition to great accumulations of wealth. Levelers who wanted to confiscate property would upset this harmony, as Hammond warned, but so would rich men who sought to monopolize land, money, or the means of production. If a few people took over most of a country’s money or resources, rising laborers would be forced to work for them forever or, at best, would have to pay exorbitant prices for the land or equipment they needed to become independent.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Lincoln’s day, but on this Labor Day weekend, it strikes me that the worldviews of men like Hammond and Lincoln are still fundamental to our society: Should our government protect people of property as they exploit the majority so they can accumulate wealth and move society forward as they wish? Or should we protect the right of ordinary Americans to build their own lives, making sure that no one can monopolize the country’s money and resources, with the expectation that their efforts will build society from the ground up?