Heather Cox Richardson

June 1, 2021 (Tuesday)

Today, more than 100 scholars who study democracy issued a letter warning that “our entire democracy is now at risk.” The letter explains that the new election laws in Republican-led states, passed with the justification that they will make elections safer, in fact are turning “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”

If we permit the breakdown of democracy, it will be a very long time before we can reverse the damage. As a nation spirals downward, the political scientists, sociologists, and government scholars explain, “violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally.”

The scholars called for federal action to protect equal access to voting and to guarantee free and fair elections. Voting rights should not depend on which party runs the state legislature, and votes must be cast and counted equally, regardless of where a citizen lives. They back the reforms in the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and curbs the flood of money into elections.

They urged Congress “to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake.”

“History,” they wrote, “will judge what we do at this moment.”

But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today, President Joe Biden noted that the events that transpired in the Greenwood district of that city 100 years ago today were written out of most histories. The Tulsa Massacre destroyed 35 blocks of the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, wiping out 1100 homes and businesses and taking hundreds of Black lives, robbing Black families of generational wealth and the opportunities that come with it.

Biden pointed out that he was the first president to go to Tulsa to acknowledge what happened there on May 31 and June 1, 1921. But, he said, “We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or doesn’t impact us today, because it does.” He drew a direct line from the terrorism at Greenwood to the terrorism in August 2017 at Charlottesville, Virginia, to the January 6 insurrection. Citing the intelligence community, he reminded listeners that “terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not Isis. Not al-Qaeda. White supremacists.”

Victims’ trauma endures, too, and it eventually demands a reckoning when “what many people hadn’t seen before, or simply refused to see, cannot be ignored any longer.” Today, Americans are recognizing “that for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up. Instead of if you do well, we all do well.” Biden promised to invest in Black communities extensively to unlock creativity and innovation.

Then the president took on the elephant in the room: voting. On Saturday, Biden took a stand against the state voter suppression laws being passed in Republican-dominated legislatures that, as he said, attack “the sacred right to vote.” They are “part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” They are “wrong and un-American.”

Biden called on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the voting protections the Supreme Court stripped out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act with the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. He called on “all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.

In Tulsa today, Biden called the Republican efforts to restrict voting a “truly unprecedented assault on our democracy.” He urged voting rights groups to redouble their efforts to register and educate voters, and then he put pressure on Democratic senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), who continue to say they will not challenge the Republican use of the filibuster to stop passage of voting rights bills. Biden promised to fight “like heck with every tool in my disposal” to get the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed.

He has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the effort. Today, she released a statement placing today’s fight for voting rights in the context of our history. “[M]any have worked—and many have died—to ensure that all Americans can cast a ballot and have their vote counted,” she said. “Today, that hard-won progress is under assault.” She promised to work with voting rights organizations, community organizations, the private sector, and Congress to strengthen voting rights.

“The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process,” she said. “This is the work of democracy.”

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June 2, 2021 (Wednesday)

The big story today is that in Israel, a coalition of eight very different parties has come together to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power after 12 years. Netanyahu, who was a close ally of former president Trump, is currently on trial for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust while in office. For the first time, the coalition that will replace him includes a party that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel. According to the deal, hardliner Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before turning the office over to center-left leader Yair Lapid, who hammered out the arrangement. The deal has to be accepted by the Israeli parliament, which is expected to do so.

As soon as the coalition announced it was approaching agreement, Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee flew to Israel to offer support to Netanyahu and to call President Biden weak. Cruz released a video that he claimed was of a home destroyed by a Hamas rocket that killed “an elderly woman’s caretaker.” Considering that Cruz left Texas to go to Cancun in the midst of the deadly freeze in that state that killed at least 111 people, it seems likely that his concern for the 12 Israelis killed in the 11 recent days of fighting was related less to humanitarianism than to wooing U.S. pro-Israel voters.

Other stories from today are the kind that advance bigger stories, nothing that stands alone as a game changer.

Like Cruz, Fox News Channel personalities seem to have forgotten the old saying that politics stops at the water’s edge, an expression meaning that Americans don’t criticize the government to other nations. FNC personality Sean Hannity has been cheering on Russian President Vladimir Putin while calling President Biden “weak and… a cognitive mess,” telling the president he shouldn’t go to the scheduled summit on June 16, and not to forget “your warm milky and your sippy cup.”

Today, we learned that, during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice secretly seized phone records from four New York Times reporters. We already knew it had seized records from reporters affiliated with CNN and the Washington Post. The department appeared to be trying to figure out the source of leaks from the FBI.

Early reviews suggest that the policy of trying to help people in crisis has been a success. A study from the University of Michigan reveals that the December 2020 Covid-19 relief bill and the March 2021 American Rescue Plan dramatically improved American lives. Food insufficiency fell by more than 40%, financial instability fell by 45%, and adverse mental health symptoms fell by 20%. The study suggests that “the speed, breadth, and flexibility” of the programs, especially the use of cash transfers, was key to easing material hardship.

Opponents of the programs argue that hardship would have improved anyway, since tax credits arrived in April. Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute told New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, “It’s not sustainable to just give people enough cash to eliminate poverty…. And in the long run it can have negative consequences by reducing the incentives to work and marry.”

Today, in order to reach his goal of having 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated by July 4, Biden announced that certain child care chains and YMCAs would provide free child care while parents and caregivers get their shots, and that certain pharmacies will be open all night for vaccinations. The administration has enlisted barbershops and hair cutting salons in Black communities to hold vaccine clinics—these locations are important community centers that were key to organizing during the Civil Rights Movement—and Anheuser-Busch, the beer corporation, has announced it will buy a beer for the first 200,000 applicants over the age of 21 if the U.S. meets Biden’s goal.

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The aforementioned letter:

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If they did not pay for this travel themselves, it would be great to see that emphasized in the press. The press manages to cover a lot of comments coming from the governor of Texas and MTG about who pays for the salaries and activities of elected officials, as well as how they are spending their time… :thinking:

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June 3, 2021 (Thursday)

Ten days after he was taken from a plane diverted to Minsk by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on state television. Visibly injured, Protasevich praised Lukashenko and parroted his government’s story that protests are backed by the West. He disavowed his past opposition and confessed to organizing “mass unrest.”

By the end of the interview, he was crying. “I never want to get into politics again. I want to hope that I can correct myself and live an ordinary peaceful life, to have a family, children, stop running away from something.”

Protasevich faces the death penalty.

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to stay in power. As Josh Marshall writes at Talking Points Memo, Netanyahu’s supporters are threatening the incoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett—himself a hard-liner—and his supporters. A Netanyahu ally in the Israeli legislature—the Knesset—says he is simply going to refuse to hold the vote that’s necessary to recognize the new government. It’s not clear how long he can do that, but every day increases the pressure on members of Bennett’s party to break away from the new coalition. That would keep Netanyahu in power.

The coalition that is trying to oust Netanyahu is a coming together of left and right out of fear that Netanyahu is destroying the rule of law and setting up one-man rule. Marshall notes that “[w]hen you lose an election, you’re supposed to leave. Netanyahu’s not leaving.” The situation is volatile.

In the U.S., Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review confirmed the scoop by Maggie Haberman of the New York Times on Tuesday that former president Trump believes he will be “reinstated by August.” He believes that the so-called “audits” of the 2020 election results from Arizona, Georgia, and possibly other states will put him, and former senators David Perdue of Georgia and Martha McSally of Arizona, back into office.

This is a fantasy. Aside from the fact there is no evidence of any irregularity in the 2020 votes, we have no mechanism for such a “reinstatement” in our system. But by telling his supporters that he will be president again in August, he is setting up a scenario where they will be angry enough to fight for that to happen, always with the idea that they are defending American democracy, not attacking it, just as they did on January 6 when they tried to “Stop the Steal.”

The “audit” now underway in Arizona by the private company Cyber Ninjas has been widely discredited as a partisan hack job by “auditors” who have no idea what they’re doing, but Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania have now called for a similar “audit” in their state. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, opposes the plan, and says, “what is going on in Arizona is not an audit. It is funded by partisan political benefactors, it is directed by partisan political operatives to reach a partisan political conclusion, which is… not an audit.”

One of the Pennsylvania Republicans pushing the “audit” in his state is Doug Mastriano, who called for the Republican state legislature to appoint its own delegates to the Electoral College rather than following the actual results of the vote, and then helped to organize busses to go to Washington, D.C., for the January 6 insurrection, at which he was present. Mastriano has recently met with Trump; they talked about launching an “audit” in Pennsylvania.

In Georgia, a state judge has permitted a reexamination of 147,000 mail-in ballots from Democratic Fulton County, and in Wisconsin, the speaker of the state assembly, Representative Robin Vos, had said he is hiring retired police officers to investigate the 2020 election.

These “audits” don’t have to find anything; the fact that they exist at all is enough to do what they are designed to do: undermine voters’ faith in the system at the same time they indicate that no election result that elects a Democrat is legitimate.

This week Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rob Portman (R-OH) traveled to Eastern Europe, where they met with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile in Lithuania, to illustrate their support for democracy. “The U.S. stands in bipartisan solidarity with the people of Belarus in their pleas for an accountable government,” said Shaheen.

The senators went on to Ukraine and Georgia, where they reiterated their support for democracy there and called for a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Murphy said: “[W]e know that the best defense against Russian interference is a strong, resilient democracy….”

Shaheen added, “This bipartisan trip sends a clear message that the United States is committed to rebuilding our transatlantic relations and reasserting U.S. global leadership to promote democratic values.”

The first National Security Study Memorandum of Biden’s presidency, issued today, formally establishes the fight against corruption as a core U.S. National Security Interest. It begins by noting that corruption “provides authoritarian leaders a means to undermine democracies worldwide.” To combat that corruption, Biden vows to combat “all forms of illicit finance” in the U.S. and internationally. He will “robustly” implement the law that requires all shell companies to disclose who owns them, a rule in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Congress passed over Trump’s veto on January 1, 2021. (Remember I wrote then that this piece of the law would end up being important?)

The memorandum promises to “hold accountable corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators,” including by seizing stolen assets. The U.S. government will work with international partners to stop the strategic corruption that enabled bad actors to interfere in U.S. elections—a shot across Russia’s bow—and work across offices, agencies, and departments—State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy, and so on—to develop government-wide policies that will root out corruption.

“[B]y effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies,” the memorandum reads.

The Biden administration announced today that it plans to distribute at least 80 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the rest of the world by the end of June. Biden said: "We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”

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This galls me more than I thought. Because the US are late, and this feels like window dressing.

That said, everything helps. We need more. Much more.

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I would do any number of embarassing and demeaning things if it meant we got those. We need those laws.

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geez. no wonder the right wing calls him weak. if you’re not bullying someone into submission, you just aren’t doing leadership right. /s

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June 4, 2021 (Friday)

Today, Facebook officials announced that they would continue former president Trump’s suspension for at least two years from his February 7 suspension, when he continued to praise the mob in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. After two years, the company will reassess his ban, deciding “whether the risk to public safety has receded.” Facebook promised that it would begin holding political figures to common standards for hate speech, rather than giving them a pass on the grounds their actions are noteworthy. If, in their opinion, noteworthiness requires an exception, they will explain why.

In their announcement of new standards for the platform, Facebook seemed to accept that bad actors have used it to swing political events. It listed the tens of thousands of accounts it has banned, and promised to continue to stay on top of them, although it blamed the events of January 6 on “the insurrectionists and those who encouraged them.” The new policies are a new development in the world of social media, as a major platform tries to show politicians concerned about the spread of disinformation on the platform that it can police itself.

Former president Trump reacted angrily to this ongoing suspension. His campaign’s use of social media, especially Facebook, was instrumental in his 2016 win.

Now without access to Twitter, where he had tens of millions of followers (although not all were real), or Facebook, where he had millions, he is having trouble staying relevant. He tried to move his followers to a webpage where he posted his statements on current affairs, but this Wednesday his team abandoned the page after it failed to gain much of a following.

We learned today that a New York state special grand jury in Manhattan has heard testimony from Jeffrey McConney, a senior finance executive at the Trump Organization who has been with the company for 34 years. McConney cannot be charged for anything he reveals on the subject of his testimony, but neither can he refuse to answer questions. (Because he cannot incriminate himself, he cannot use the Fifth Amendment). He can, though, be prosecuted for perjury if he lies.

Rumblings suggest that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is hoping to flip Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. Information from McConney could help that process.

Tomorrow night, the former president will address the North Carolina Republican Party, a lead-in to the old campaign-style rallies he plans to start holding next month in Ohio, Alabama, and Florida. Republican officials are begging him to talk about policy and the 2022 election, but he appears to be focused on his conviction that he won in 2020, believing that the so-called “audit” in Arizona and other states will prove he won. He has been telling people he will be “reinstated” in August.

Having tied the party tightly to the former president because of his ability to reach and rile up voters, Republican leaders now have to deal with the fact that he no longer can reach them effectively, and that his own troubles are, at the very least, distracting.

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June 5, 2021 (Saturday)

Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light.

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism.

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

[U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress]

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June 6, 2021 (Sunday)

Saturday evening, just in time for the anniversary of D-Day today, President Joe Biden published an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining that his upcoming trip to Europe is part of a larger defense of democracy.

This week, Biden will be meeting with the Group of Seven—also known as the G7—an informal organization of wealthy democracies including Canada, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. He will meet with leaders of the European Union and with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a 30-nation military alliance begun in 1949 “to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of the peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

“In this moment of global uncertainty, as the world still grapples with a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Biden wrote, “this trip is about realizing America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrating the capacity of democracies to both meet the challenges and deter the threats of this new age.”

Identifying the need for unified effort to end the coronavirus pandemic and to push back against the governments of China and Russia, Biden called for America once again to lead the world from a position of strength. He pointed to America’s rebounding economy, thanks to the vaccine distribution program and the American Rescue Plan, as an indication that the U.S. is recovering, and noted that “we will be stronger and more capable when we are flanked by nations that share our values and our vision for the future—by other democracies.”

Biden called attention to the fact that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pulled off a major deal on Saturday when she led the G7 finance ministers to reverse forty years of corporate tax cuts and agree to a global minimum tax of at least 15% on multinational corporations. After the deal, Spain, which is not part of the G7, endorsed the plan. Negotiators hope to expand the deal to the G20—twenty countries whose economies make up around 80% of world trade—this fall.

This agreement is a huge deal. If accepted, it would stop countries from trying to attract multinational businesses by cutting taxes on them, a so-called “race to the bottom” that reduces the amount of tax money available for public investment while pumping money into the largest multinational corporations. In 1980, the average global corporate tax rate was about 40%. By 2020, it was about 23%. By 2017, multinational firms had about $700 billion stashed in tax havens.

Yellen’s plan would help pay for Biden’s domestic agenda by making a domestic tax increase on corporations more acceptable to Republicans. Trump’s 2017 tax cut, passed by a strict partisan vote, slashed domestic corporate taxes from 35 to 21 percent. Trump promised that the cuts would help everyone by supercharging the economy and would pay for themselves. But in fact, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, 60% of the benefits of the tax cuts went to those in the top 20% of the economy, and corporate tax revenues fell 31% in the first year after congress passed the tax cut. In that year—which was before the coronavirus pandemic—our deficit exploded to $984 billion, unheard of in a time without a recession or a war. The cuts did not produce economic growth, either: the economy grew at 2.9%, the same as it did in 2015.

Biden wants to take the domestic corporate tax rate back to 28%, hoping to raise $3 billion to pay for infrastructure and education. This plan is popular with 65% of registered voters, while only 21% oppose it, but it faces huge headwinds among Republican lawmakers, who have said that higher domestic corporate taxes would simply send businesses overseas. An international tax floor helps to defang that fear. In addition, some U.S. companies are willing to exchange slightly higher taxes for certainty in international tax rules.

Countries have talked about international cooperation on taxes for many years, and Yellen’s fast victory in finding common ground has economic experts calling it “impressive,” although much more work will be necessary to get the plan accepted by national governments both overseas and at home. International treaties require a two-thirds majority in the Senate to pass, and Republicans, who have vowed to oppose any tax increases, are unlikely to approve.

Nonetheless, Biden is continuing to press forward. His op-ed makes the case for clean energy and infrastructure investment to enable democracies both to compete with China and to protect their people against unforeseen threats. He plans to reiterate U.S. support for our allies “who see the world through the same lens as the United States” before he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Biden’s administration has broken the recent U.S. policy of seeing Russia as a monolith. He has pressured Putin over human rights, election interference, and cybersecurity, but has indicated he is willing to work with him on arms control and international stability. He promises to stand firm on the issue of human rights as a defining feature of his foreign policy.

Biden recognizes that we are at a defining moment in world history. In his op-ed, he asks: “Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world? Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century prove their capacity against modern-day threats and adversaries?”

Autocratic leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin, have said that democracy is obsolete and autocracy is the form of government that will dominate the future. Biden is dedicating his presidency to the defense of democracy. Can democracy stand firm in the modern day?

Says Biden: “I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the chance to prove it.”

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June 7, 2021 (Monday)

Complaining that “the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail yesterday saying that he would vote against S1, the For the People Act, arguing that protecting the right to vote should “never be done in a partisan manner.” Because Republicans do not support federal voting rights, he says, passing such a measure would “all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen.”

Critics immediately jumped on this declaration, noting that the For the People Act would address state laws enacted by Republicans alone to restrict voting and gerrymander states in a partisan fashion. Voting rights scholar Ari Berman tweeted: “I don’t recall Republicans asking for bipartisan support before they introduced 400 voter suppression bills & enacted 22 new voter suppression laws in 14 states so far this year.”

Essentially, Manchin appears to be blaming the person calling the fire department, rather than the arsonist, and then saying the firefighters need to work with the guys holding the gasoline cans and matches.

There are currently two election reform bills before the Senate. The For the People Act covers a wide range of reforms. It sets standards for federal voting in each state, including online and same day voter registration, early voting, and mail-in ballots. It also would end the ability to invest “dark money” in politics, the system by which nonprofits, which do not have to disclose their donors, give money to political causes (this is not small change: in 2020, more than $1 billion—with a “B”—went into the election, most of it helping Democrats). It would end partisan gerrymandering—something some Democrats also oppose—and would strengthen rules about lobbying.

And here’s a twist to this story: according to political consulting firm Lake Research Partners, 68% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support the For the People Act. In a March 2021 article in the New Yorker, Jane Mayer, who is simply a crackerjack investigative reporter, broke the story that Republicans were privately dismayed at how overwhelmingly popular the For the People Act is.

In a private conference call on January 8, 2021, between one of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) policy advisers and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups, the speakers “expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors.” They concluded it wasn’t worth trying to convince voters to oppose the bill. Instead, they decided to kill it in the Senate, through strategies like the filibuster. “When it comes to donor privacy, I can’t stress enough how quickly things could get out of hand,” McConnell’s policy adviser Steve Donaldson said.

The other major piece of election reform legislation before the Senate is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the pieces of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County v. Holder decision. In 2006, the Senate renewed the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 98-0. Today, 70% of Americans support the John Lewis Act.

In his op-ed, Manchin advocated the John Lewis Act and noted that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has joined him in calling for passing the bill through the regular order. But while the Senate renewed the Voting Rights Act unanimously in 2006, it is not clear that even ten Republicans will vote to support it in 2021. Although several of the Republicans who voted for the Voting Rights Act in 2006 are still in the Senate, they now oppose the John Lewis Act. Today, Murkowski, who is the only Republican on record for the new measure, admitted it would be hard to find ten yes votes.

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post points out that if there ever were a reason to come together, it was on the bill for the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, and only six Republicans joined that effort, enabling their party to kill the measure. So the idea that there will be ten votes for the voting rights bill seems optimistic.

But there is a weird twist in all these gyrations over protecting the fundamental right of citizens to vote. In his op-ed, Manchin also said he will not agree to eliminate the filibuster, which is the Senate rule that enables the minority to block legislation simply by saying they will not permit a vote on it. People have pointed out that protecting a Senate rule rather than democracy is, well, odd…but the story might well be more complicated.

Manchin has indicated his willingness to reform the filibuster, either taking it back to the traditional form of the talking filibuster, or perhaps excluding election bills in the same way that financial bills and judicial nominees are currently not covered by the filibuster. One of the things at stake here might be that, as a Democrat in a strongly Republican state, Manchin likes that the filibuster protects him from having to vote on Democratic bills that Republicans hate. But might he be willing to do a carve out to protect voting?

Well, McConnell today said that Democrats were teeing up votes this month on paycheck fairness, gun control, and voting that are “designed to fail” in order to convince lawmakers to gut the filibuster. But what’s interesting about that declaration is that those measures are all actually popular among voters. At the same time, McConnell appeared to win the filibuster over the January 6 commission only by appealing to his caucus to vote against it as a personal favor to him. Even so, lots of senators chose to be absent on that day. It is not clear to me that McConnell is confident he can hold the filibuster wall as he was able to in the past, and having continually to defend filibusters of popular measures can only hurt the Republicans.

This afternoon, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) tweeted that she would continue to fight to get voting, ethics reform, and campaign finance reform passed through the Senate, suggesting that there is wheeling and dealing to be done.

While the fight over voting and the filibuster is taking up a lot of oxygen, there are a few other big stories breaking today. A newly released recording of a call between Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 shows Giuliani quite clearly trying to trade an investigation into Hunter Biden for the U.S. aid Congress had approved for Ukraine, and Vice President Kamala Harris is in Guatemala, where she warned migrants not to try to come to the United States without following formal procedures.

Also… the U.S. has recovered several million dollars paid to cyberhackers who held an East Coast oil pipeline hostage last month. At the time, the company, Colonial Pipeline, told reporters they had paid the ransom to get their operations back up and running quickly, but they had actually turned quickly to the FBI, which apparently asked them to pay the ransom so its officials could follow the money trail. The hackers apparently operated out of Russia, although they were not affiliated with the Russian government.

Later today, news broke that major global crime networks have been broken open as criminals were communicating on an encrypted network broken into by the Australian Federal Police and then run by the FBI. The operation involved the cooperation of 16 different countries, and it targeted some of the world’s leading criminals. Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, called it the “most sophisticated effort to date to disrupt the activities of criminals operating from all four corners of the world.”

Guessing this particular story has quite long legs….

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June 8, 2021 (Tuesday)

After Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced this weekend that he would not support either the For the People voting act or an attempt to break the filibuster for a voting measure, but would work to get bipartisan agreement on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the rug out from under him.

McConnell said today that restoring the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that protect minority voting would give too much power to the federal government and that such protection was unnecessary anyway. “The Supreme Court concluded that conditions that existed in 1965 no longer existed,” McConnell said. “So there’s no threat to the voting rights law. It’s against the law to discriminate in voting on the basis of race already. And so I think it’s unnecessary.”

To say there is no threat to the voting rights law is delusional. The reality is that In 2013, within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision ending the Justice Department’s oversight of certain states’ voting requirements, Texas enacted a strict voter ID law. Other states quickly followed suit. And now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated state legislatures across the country are drastically curtailing voting access.

Today, more than 300 “advocacy, civic, faith and labor groups representing nearly 2.5 million Americans from 43 states and the District of Columbia” asked the president and vice president to fight for the For the People Act. “[F]air representation and voter access in America are under direct attack,” the letter read. “We are extremely worried about the very survival of our democracy. We ask that you place the urgent passage of this bill at the top of your administration’s agenda.”

This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the Senate will still vote on the For the People Act, as scheduled, in late June. He says he is open to changes to the measure if they will help get Manchin on board. But he is going to force senators to go on record for or against voting rights.

Gone are the days when McConnell could protect his caucus from unpopular votes simply by refusing to bring anything to a vote. Republicans have had to vote on the bipartisan, independent January 6 commission, which was popular, and voted to go before the country as a party protecting insurrection. Now they will have to take a stand on other popular measures like voting rights and, if the Senate breaks up the bill, getting big money out of politics, which is even more popular, and so on.

Today, Republicans filibustered a measure designed to prohibit discrimination in pay based on sex. The bill would have limited pay differentials to things like education, training, and experience, and would have prohibited employers from retaliating against workers who compared their salaries. Blaming the Democrats for advancing what he calls “partisan” bills, McConnell pointed to the equal pay act as a sign that the "era of bipartisanship is over.”

In fact, we had an illustration of what “bipartisanship” means in today’s Senate when the Senate Rules and Administration and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees that investigated the January 6 insurrection today produced a bipartisan report on the events of that day. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee chair Gary Peters (D-MI) told reporters: “There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering. . . . The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol… The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.”

To gain bipartisan support, the report focused on communications failures. It did not explore the roles of government officials, including former president Trump, in the January 6 crisis, and it did not use the word “insurrection” apart from quotations of witness testimony. The result was a curiously sanitized rendition of the events of January. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) commented: “January 6th didn’t happen because there were security failures, it happened because there was a violent mob that attacked the Capitol, and we need to know why that happened.”

McConnell’s comment about the end of bipartisanship was a sweeping declaration that he would lead Republicans in opposing the Democratic program, and that includes the American Jobs Act, the extensive infrastructure bill that President Biden initially pegged at $2.3 trillion. Biden has been negotiating with Republicans, led by Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, on the measure, but today called it quits after they refused to raise their offer more than $150 billion despite his offer to cut more than $1 trillion off his initial ask. Republicans blamed Biden for ending the talks.

Biden has not, in fact, ended the talks, though: he has handed them to a different group of lawmakers who have shown a willingness to work across the aisle. That group includes Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), who might be persuaded to be more reliable Democratic votes if they have a bigger hand in the infrastructure bill. If this group does manage to hammer out a bipartisan infrastructure package, a vote on it could undercut McConnell’s ability to hold his caucus in opposition to the Democrats.

The biggest sticking point in negotiations is that Democrats want to fund much of the American Jobs Act by increasing corporate taxes from the lows of the 2017 tax cuts (although not to the level they were before those cuts), while Republicans are adamant they will not sign on to any such increases.

The Republican position took a hit this morning, when ProPublica published an investigation based on leaked tax documents. It revealed that America’s 25 richest people—some with more than $100 billion in wealth—pay remarkably little in federal income taxes…sometimes nothing. They can avoid taxes through various accounting methods, while ordinary Americans pay full fare.

Also this morning, Biden tweeted: “I’m working hard to find common ground with Republicans when it comes to the American Jobs Plan, but I refuse to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000 a year to pay for it. It’s long past time for the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.”

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Fuck you, Joe. :rage:

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June 9, 2021 (Wednesday)

Today, President and Dr. Biden left for their first trip abroad since he took office. In the next eight days, President Biden will meet with U.S. allies in Europe before meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16. “We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back,” Biden said. “And democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges and the issues that matter most to our future.”

Biden is the most experienced president in foreign affairs since President George H. W. Bush and has longstanding relationships with a number of the leaders with whom he will meet. He has made it clear that he understands the global stakes of this current political moment. He intends to shore up democracies around the world as they face off with autocracies. Biden has announced that the U.S. will try to enforce international law and human rights not with military force but through sanctions and soft power, but that he is willing to work with other countries within those parameters.

At a meeting of the G7, an informal organization of wealthy democracies including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, Biden is expected to announce that the U.S. will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and donate them to other countries in a bid to help vaccinate the world against the coronavirus. Currently, wealthier countries are far more likely to have access to vaccines than poorer countries. In Africa, fewer than 2% of people have received any doses.

In addition to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, the G7 is expected to focus on the climate change crisis and the rise of China as a world power. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. wants to be sure “that democracies and not anyone else, not China or other autocracies, are writing the rules for trade and technology for the 21st century."

After reinforcing traditional U.S. alliances at the G7, Biden will meet on Monday with allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the military alliance formed in the wake of World War II and from which former president Trump threatened to withdraw. NATO allies were taken aback by Biden’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Monday meeting will address that withdrawal, among other issues.

But the visit is mainly a show of solidarity. “This summit will be a strong demonstration of trans-Atlantic unity, of Europe and North America standing together in NATO,” said Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg. “Because we are stronger, we are safer together in a more unpredictable world.”

Riding on a week of meetings that illustrate the strong ties between the U.S. and its traditional allies, Biden will confer with Putin. Biden has taken a stand against Russia’s cyberhacking and violations of human rights but has offered to negotiate on nuclear weapons as well as other areas of mutual interest.

But he has been firm in his determination to hold Putin responsible for attacking our elections. In a speech to U.S. troops and their families when he arrived in England, Biden was greeted with loud applause when he said: “I’m meeting with Putin to let him know what I want him to know…. The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities. That there are consequences for violating the sanctity of democracy.”

For his part, Putin today demonstrated his faith in autocracy when a Moscow court announced after a secret hearing that those who work with opposition leader Alexei Navalny to expose Russian government corruption in any of his three organizations are “extremists.” After being poisoned last summer, Navalry returned to Russia in January, only to be tried and sentenced to prison. Now, those continuing his work, donating to it, or sharing the anti-corruption videos that have made Navalny so popular face prison sentences. The ruling will help to quell opposition to Putin before Russia’s September elections.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned the move. “With this action, Russia has effectively criminalized one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements,” he said in a statement. “The Russian people, like all people, have the right to speak freely, form peaceful associations to common ends, exercise religious freedom, and have their voices heard through free and fair elections.”

Biden is trying to reinforce democracy even while it is under threat at home. For the first time in our history, the office of the presidency did not change hands peacefully, and former president Trump continues to rally his supporters by insisting—falsely—that he won the 2020 election. Rather than reinforcing the rules of our democracy, the leaders of his party have chosen to throw their weight behind the former president.

Biden’s message about the strength of the world’s democracies is a hopeful one, but it is not necessarily one on which European allies can rely.

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June 10, 2021 (Thursday)

You might have noticed that I wrote through the weekend rather than posting a photo on Saturday, thinking that I was sort of banking time and I would take a break during the week. Well, today was my day. Lots of ongoing stories but nothing big. Went to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law (going to be their 40th this year!) and thought to call it an early night.

You know where this is going, right?

Came home and opened Twitter.

Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt, and Adam Goldman of the New York Times broke a major story tonight:

Under former president Trump, the Department of Justice secretly investigated key Democratic lawmakers.

In February 2018, the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the president became obsessed with figuring out who was apparently leaking information to the press about contacts between his people and Russia.

Under then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice subpoenaed from Apple the records of the communications of California Democrats Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, and—we learned at about 11:00 tonight—Eric Swalwell, both of whom were key critics of Trump. The department also investigated members of their families, including one child. The government seized the records of at least a dozen people.

“[G]ood God,” journalist Jennifer Rubin tweeted. “They were running a police state.” For the Department of Justice to subpoena records from congressional lawmakers is extraordinary. For it to investigate their families, as well, is mind boggling.

Department officials did not find anything, and the investigations slowed down.

Remember back in May 2019, when the Senate was interviewing William Barr, who replaced Sessions as attorney general, after his delayed release of the Mueller Report, and then-Senator Kamala Harris asked him if then-president Trump or anyone else in the White House had ever asked him to open an investigation into anyone? Barr danced around the question and then refused to answer it.

It turns out that when Barr became attorney general in February 2019, he revived the languishing investigations, moving personnel around to ramp up the inquiry. Even after the Trump administration itself declassified some of the information that had been leaked, undercutting the argument for continuing an investigation, Barr insisted on keeping it going.

The Justice Department did not find that the Democrats they were investigating were connected with the leaks.

The DOJ also subpoenaed the records of journalists from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN to try to find leakers, a serious threat to freedom of the press.

Meanwhile, of course, as journalist Chris Hayes pointed out on Twitter, at the same time the White House and its operatives at the Department of Justice were secretly subpoenaing the records of members of Congress, they were refusing to answer congressional subpoenas of White House personnel.

In a statement tonight, Schiff said: “The politicization of the department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former president.” On CNN, he said: “While I can’t go into who received these subpoenas … I can say that this was extraordinarily broad – people having nothing to do with the intelligence matters that are at least being reported on. It just shows what a broad fishing expedition it was.” Schiff has called for the department’s inspector general to “investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president."

Swalwell’s statement was less restrained: “Like many of the world’s most despicable dictators, former President Trump showed an utter disdain for our democracy and the rule of law.”

While there are many layers to this story, it increases the political tension in the country. When Republican leaders tied themselves to Trump after he lost the 2020 election, they tied themselves to whatever came out about his actions. They have tried to explain away the January 6 insurrection and recently refused to investigate what happened on and around that day. Will they now say that it is okay for a president to use the Department of Justice secretly to investigate members of Congress who belong to the opposing party?

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June 12, 2021 (Saturday)

Yesterday, David Ignatius had a piece in the Washington Post that uncovered the attempt of the Trump administration to reorder the Middle East along an axis anchored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia (more popularly known as MBS), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and Jared Kushner of the U.S.

To make the deal, the leaders involved apparently wanted to muscle Jordan out of its role as the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, a role carved out in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan that was hammered out under President Bill Clinton. The new dealmakers apparently wanted to scuttle the U.S.-backed accords and replace them with economic deals that would reorder the region.

This story has huge implications for the Middle East, for American government, for religion, for culture, and so on, but something else jumps out to me here: this story is a great illustration of the principles behind Critical Race Theory, which is currently tearing up the Fox News Channel. Together, the attempt to bypass Jordan and the obsession with Critical Race Theory seem to make a larger statement about the current sea change in the U.S. as people increasingly reject the individualist ideology of the Reagan era.

When Kushner set out to construct a Middle East peace plan, he famously told Aaron David Miller, who had negotiated peace agreements with other administrations, that he didn’t want to know about how things had worked in the past. “He said flat out, don’t talk to me about history,” Miller told Chris McGreal of The Guardian, “He said, I told the Israelis and the Palestinians not to talk to me about history too.”

Kushner apparently thought he could create a brand new Middle East with a brand new set of alliances that would begin with changing long standing geopolitics in Jerusalem, the city three major world religions consider holy. It is eye-popping to imagine what would have happened if we had torn up decades of agreements and tried to graft onto a troubled area an entirely new way of interacting, based not on treaties but on the interests of this new axis. Apparently, the hope was that throwing enough money at the region would have made the change palatable. But most experts think that weakening Jordan, long a key U.S. ally in the region, and removing its oversight of the holy sites, would have ushered in violence.

The heart of the American contribution to the idea of reworking the Middle East along a new axis with contracts, rather than treaties, seems to have been that enough will and enough money can create new realities.

The idea that will and money could create success was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution. Its adherents championed the idea that any individual could prosper in America, so long as the government stayed out of his (it was almost always his) business.

Critical Race Theory challenges this individualist ideology. CRT emerged in the late 1970s in legal scholarship written by people who recognized that legal protections for individuals did not, in fact, level the playing field in America. They noted that racial biases are embedded in our legal system. From that, other scholars noted that racial, ethnic, gender, class, and other biases are embedded in the other systems that make up our society.

Historians began to cover this ground long ago. Oklahoma historian Angie Debo established such biases in the construction of American law in her book, “And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes” back in 1940. Since then, historians have explored the biases in our housing policies, policing, medical care, and so on, and there are very few who would suggest that our systems are truly neutral.

So why is Critical Race Theory such a flashpoint in today’s political world? Perhaps in part because it rejects the Republican insistence that an individual can create a prosperous life by will alone. It says that, no matter how talented someone might be, or how eager and dedicated, they cannot always contend against the societal forces stacked against them. It argues for the important weight of systems, established through time, rather than the idea that anyone can create a new reality.

It acknowledges the importance of history.

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Whitney Houston Agree GIF

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Still looking for le mot juste to denote this particular axis.

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Since evil was already taken, I’m considering the League of Mammon.

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