Ozzy’s “interaction” with the Alamo was indeed a hoot. HCR has that review of the Forget the Alamo book linked in her notes. It says in part,
The authors frame perceptions of the Alamo in a novel way, employing the contrasting experiences of two British musicians: Phil Collins and Ozzy Osbourne. Collins learned about the Alamo as a boy in the 1950s, from television and the movies, and he fell hard for the Fess Parker/John Wayne representation.
Osbourne knew nothing of the Alamo in 1982, when a music tour took him to San Antonio. “Ozzy was having a rough day,” the authors explain; before the day ended, he had been arrested for urinating on the cenotaph commemorating the Alamo defenders.
The authors don’t pursue the Osbourne angle beyond employing him as a stand-in for the revisionist school of Alamo history, which “metaphorically amounts to peeing on the Alamo legend.” They get more mileage out of Collins, who compiled a collection of memorabilia related to the Alamo. How closely related became a matter of intense interest among Texans after Collins agreed to donate the collection to the state, to be housed in a museum built for the purpose. The museum would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and the project at once became a political battleground between traditionalists and revisionists. Collins got whipsawed in the debate, the more so when the provenance of many of his artifacts was challenged, as well it might have been, given the lack of documentation for many of the artifacts and the cottage industry that had developed in Alamo fakes and forgeries.
The freshest work in this book deals with the Collins controversy and makes a persuasive case that Collins was taken for a ride. The authors asked the Alamo’s official historian, Bruce Winders, what he thought of Collins. “He had been a rock star, and as you age, that all started to go away,” Winders said. “He was kind of at a loss. He was trying to figure out who he was now. And the Alamo filled that void for him. It was a phase for him. His Alamo phase.” Winders was asked whether the name of one dealer in particular who sold material to Collins set off any alarm bells. “Bells?” said Winders. “All the bells. Yeah, kind of like Notre Dame.” The authors can’t resist quoting the London Daily Mail declaring that Collins’s Alamo obsession showed him to be “one drumstick shy of a pair.”
Winders lost his job amid the scuffling, and Collins threatened to withdraw his collection. Texas elected officials, including George P. Bush, who as land commissioner had charge of the Alamo, moved quickly to reassure him. But in the crossfire of Texas politics, Bush found himself, and his Alamo project, under attack from the Republican right even as lefties denounced the Alamo as a continuing symbol of white supremacy.
Notwithstanding the book’s title, the authors — Texans all three — explain in their conclusion that they don’t really want Texans to forget the Alamo, only the “whitewashed” version. It’s a worthy sentiment, if hardly original. And it does bear repeating, since the politicians aren’t paying any more attention to historians than they ever have.
July 8, 2021 (Thursday)
Today, President Joe Biden announced that the military mission of the United States in Afghanistan will end on August 31. We have been in that country for almost 20 years and have lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.
Leaving Afghanistan brings up just how much the world has changed in the past two decades.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him, along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power, but when the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, its members quickly regrouped as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. propped up in their place. By 2018, the Taliban had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan.
In the years since 2001, three U.S. presidents have tried to strengthen the Afghan government to keep the nation from again becoming a staging ground for terrorists that could attack the U.S. But even a troop surge, like the one President Barack Obama launched into the region in 2009, could not permanently defeat the Taliban, well funded as it is by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system it operates in the shadow of the official government.
Eager to end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” the previous president, Donald Trump, sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.
The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they have not killed any American soldiers since the deal was signed.
Biden has made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan, but he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. Meanwhile, by announcing the U.S. intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”
In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Today, the president explained that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned. He claimed that the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan. It had killed Osama bin Laden and destroyed a haven for international terrorists.
But the U.S. had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people, he said. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”
For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And, he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”
Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are now in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”
But Biden’s argument for leaving Afghanistan is based not just on the U.S. having achieved its original stated goals and his own dislike of endangering our military personnel. He wants the U.S. to adjust to the reality that the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.
Since 9/11, the international terrorist threat has spread far beyond Afghanistan and is now far easier to target with financial measures than with soldiers. So, for example, in April, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Pakistani nationals for money laundering in what was likely an attempt to stop the money flowing to the Taliban through Pakistan, money that keeps the Taliban alive. It has also sanctioned Russia for backing the Taliban in its attempt to assassinate American military personnel.
Bruce Riedel, an expert on U.S. security, South Asia, and counter-terrorism at the Brookings Institution who was with the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded in 1979, concluded after Biden made his withdrawal announcement in April that it is not clear that the Taliban will take over Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. The country remains mired in a civil war, and who the winner will be remains open.
Threats to America are more likely to come these days from cyber attacks, like the one that hit the U.S. on the Friday before the holiday weekend. Apparently originating in Russia, that ransomware attack hit supply chains. Like the one that hit Colonial Pipeline in May, disrupting fuel supplies to the Southeast, such attacks have potential to do enormous damage. Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country harbors hackers, that critical infrastructure is off limits, and that the U.S. will retaliate for any such attacks.
Finally, of course, Biden can turn his attention from Afghanistan in part because the U.S. has not suffered a major attack by foreign terrorists since 2001. Now, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, our primary danger from terrorism is homegrown and comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
July 9, 2021 (Friday)
On July 9, 1868, Americans changed the U.S. Constitution for the fourteenth time, adapting our foundational document to construct a new nation without systematic Black enslavement.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had prohibited slavery on the basis of race, but it did not prevent the establishment of a system in which Black Americans continued to be unequal. Backed by President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over the presidency after an actor had murdered President Abraham Lincoln, white southern Democrats had done their best to push their Black neighbors back into subservience. So long as southern states had abolished enslavement, repudiated Confederate debts, and nullified the ordinances of secession, Johnson was happy to readmit them to full standing in the Union, still led by the very men who had organized the Confederacy and made war on the United States.
Northern Republican lawmakers refused. There was no way they were going to rebuild southern society on the same blueprint as existed before the Civil War, especially since the upcoming 1870 census would count Black Americans as whole persons for the first time in the nation’s history, giving southern states more power in Congress and the Electoral College after the war than they had had before it. Having just fought a war to destroy the South’s ideology, they were not going to let it regrow in peacetime.
Congress rejected Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction.
But then congressmen had to come up with their own plan. After months of hearings and debate, they proposed amending the Constitution to settle the outstanding questions of the war. Chief among these was how to protect the rights of Black Americans in states where they could neither vote nor testify in court or sit on a jury to protect their own interests.
Congress’s solution was the Fourteenth Amendment.
It took on the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision declaring that Black men "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens.”
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
The amendment also addressed the Dred Scott decision in another profound way. In 1857, southerners and Democrats who were adamantly opposed to federal power controlled the Supreme Court. They backed states’ rights. So the Dred Scott decision did more than read Black Americans out of our history; it dramatically circumscribed Congress’s power.
The Dred Scott decision declared that democracy was created at the state level, by those people in a state who were allowed to vote. In 1857, this meant white men, almost exclusively. If those people voted to do something widely unpopular—like adopting human enslavement, for example—they had the right to do so and Congress could not stop them. People like Abraham Lincoln pointed out that such domination by states would eventually mean that an unpopular minority could take over the national government, forcing their ideas on everyone else, but defenders of states’ rights stood firm.
And so, the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government the power to protect individuals even if their state legislatures had passed discriminatory laws. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” it said. And then it went on to say that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
The principles behind the Fourteenth Amendment were behind the 1870 creation of the Department of Justice, whose first job was to bring down the Ku Klux Klan terrorists in the South.
Those same principles took on profound national significance in the post–World War II era, when the Supreme Court began to use the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment aggressively to apply the protections in the Bill of Rights to the states. The civil rights decisions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools, and the Loving v Virginia decision permitting interracial marriage, come from this doctrine. Under it, the federal government took up the mantle of protecting the rights of individual Americans in the states from the whims of state legislatures.
Opponents of these new civil rights protections quickly began to object that such decisions were “legislating from the bench,” rather than permitting state legislatures to make their own laws. These opponents began to call for “originalism,” the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted only as the Framers had intended when they wrote it, an argument that focused on the creation of law at the state level. Famously, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, an originalist who had called for the rollback of the Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, for a seat on that court.
Reacting to that nomination, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) recognized the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to equality: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….”
It’s a funny thing to write about the Fourteenth Amendment in the twenty-first century. I am a scholar of Reconstruction, and for me the Fourteenth Amendment conjures up images of late-1860s Washington, D.C., a place still plagued by malaria carried on mosquitoes from the Washington City Canal, where generals and congressmen worried about how to protect the Black men who had died in extraordinary numbers to defend the government while an accidental president pardoned Confederate generals and plotted to destroy the national system Abraham Lincoln had created.
It should feel very distant. And yet, while a bipartisan group of senators rejected Bork’s nomination in 1987, in 2021 the Supreme Court is dominated by originalists, and the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment seem terribly current.
July 10, 2021 (Saturday)
In July, living in Maine is often like living in a painting. After being on the water all day, I am falling into bed and letting my friend Peter take the wheel with a picture that captures the wonder around us in these magical summer days.
I’ll see you tomorrow.
[“Easting,” by Peter Ralston.]
July 11, 2021 (Sunday)
On Friday, as President Joe Biden signed “An Executive Order Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” he echoed the language of his predecessors. “[C]ompetition keeps the economy moving and keeps it growing,” he said. “Fair competition is why capitalism has been the world’s greatest force for prosperity and growth…. But what we’ve seen over the past few decades is less competition and more concentration that holds our economy back.”
Biden listed how prescription drugs, hearing aids, internet service, and agricultural supplies are all overpriced in the U.S. because of a lack of competition (RFD TV, the nation’s rural channel, has a long-running ad complaining of the cost of hearing aids). He also noted that noncompete clauses make it hard for workers to change jobs, another issue straight out of the late nineteenth century, when southern states tried to keep prices low by prohibiting employers from hiring Black workers away from their current jobs.
“I’m a proud capitalist,” Biden said. “I know America can’t succeed unless American business succeeds…. But let me be very clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation. Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want…. “[W]e know we’ve got a problem—a major problem. But we also have an incredible opportunity. We can bring back more competition to more of the country, helping entrepreneurs and small businesses get in the game, helping workers get a better deal, helping families save money every month. The good news is: We’ve done it before.”
Biden reached into our history to reclaim our long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both Roosevelt presidents—Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses, and then by championing competition.
Civil War era Republicans had organized around the idea that the American economy enjoyed what they called a “harmony of interest.” By that, they meant that everyone had the same economic interests. People at the bottom of the economy, people who drew value out of the products of nature—trees, or fish, or grain—produced value through their hard work. They created more value than they could consume, and this value, in the form of capital, employed people on the next level of the economy: shoemakers, dry goods merchants, cabinetmakers, and so on. They, in turn, produced more than they could consume, and their excess supported a few industrialists and financiers at the top of the pyramid who, in their turn, employed those just starting out. In this vision, the economy was a web in which every person shared a harmony of interest.
But by the 1880s, this idea that all Americans shared the same economic interest had changed into the idea that protecting American businesses would be good for everyone. American businessmen had begun to consolidate their enterprises into trusts, bringing a number of corporations under the same umbrella. The trusts stifled competition and colluded to raise the prices paid by consumers. Their power and funding gave them increasing power over lawmakers. As wealth migrated upward and working Americans felt like they had less and less control over their lives, they began to wonder what had happened to the equality for which they had fought the Civil War.
Labor leaders, newspapers, and Democratic lawmakers began to complain about the power of the wealthy in society and to claim the economic game was rigged, but their general critiques of the economy simply left them open to charges of being “socialists” who wanted to overturn society. Congress in 1890 finally gave in and passed an antitrust act, but it was so toothless that only one senator in the staunchly pro-business Senate voted against it, and no one in the House of Representatives voted no.
Then, around 1900, the so-called muckrakers hit their stride. Muckrakers were journalists who took on the political corruption and the concentration of wealth that plagued their era, but rather than making general moral statements, they did deep research into the workings of specific industries and political machines—Standard Oil, for example, and Minneapolis city government—and revealed the details behind the general outrage.
Their stories built pressure to regulate the robber barons, as they were called by then, but Congress, dominated by business interests, had no interest. Instead, President Theodore Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft, tended to rein in the trusts through the executive branch of the government, especially by legal action undertaken by the Department of Justice.
On Friday, Biden promised to use the power of the executive branch to rein in corporations, much as Theodore Roosevelt did during his terms of office. But there was more to Biden’s statement than that. His emphasis on restoring competition is from the next historical phase of antitrust action.
In the 1912 election, political language turned away from the evils of trusts and toward the economic competition so central to American life. Both Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson centered their campaigns around the idea that big business was strangling competition. Wilson called for a “New Freedom” that would get rid of the trusts once and for all and return the nation to a world of small enterprise and opportunity. Roosevelt scoffed at this idea. He talked of the “New Nationalism,” in which a large government would restore competition by regulating big businesses. (He said that if you got rid of trusts and then looked away, they would immediately spring up again.)
While their solutions were different, both Roosevelt and Wilson had reframed the stratified economy not solely as a problem, but also as an opportunity. Trimming the sails of the corporations was not an attack on the liberty of industrialists, but rather a restoration of the competition that had, in the past, enabled the country’s economy to thrive. And, once elected, Wilson managed to get key items of that agenda passed through Congress.
That positive emphasis on competition carried into the administration of the next Roosevelt president, FDR. Biden noted that FDR called for Congress to pass an economic bill of rights, including “the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.” And indeed, the idea of restoring a level playing field for all businesses, rather than letting them succeed or fail based on the whims of economic wirepullers, persuaded businessmen who had previously opposed regulation to line up behind the establishment of our Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.
Americans have lost this tradition since 1980, Biden said, when we abandoned the “fundamental American idea that true capitalism depends on fair and open competition.” Reframing business regulation as “laws to promote competition,” he promised 72 specific actions to enforce antitrust laws, stop “abusive actions by monopolies,” and end “bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices, fewer options for workers and consumers alike.”
For 40 years, the Republican Party has offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy is seen as an attack on individual liberty because it hampers the accumulation of wealth. Biden’s speech on Friday reclaims a different theme in our history, that of government protecting individualism by keeping the economic playing field level.
July 12, 2021 (Monday)
Today’s news all centered around the Big Lie that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
Yesterday, Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the audience cheered through his meandering speech, in which he insisted that he won the 2020 election. “The entire system was rigged against the American people and rigged against a fair, decent and honest election,” he said. CNN’s Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked Trump’s speeches for years, called the speech “untethered to reality.”
But Trump was not alone: the whole three-day event featured speakers, including Representatives Ronny Jackson and Louie Gohmert, both Texas Republicans, focused on that Big Lie.
Just how untethered from reality this argument is became clear today when U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker held a hearing on whether the lawyers who tried to overturn the 2020 election results in Michigan should face sanctions. Those lawyers, dubbed the “Kraken” by one of their leaders, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell, produced close to 1000 pages of affidavits intending to cast doubt on the election results. Michigan and the city of Detroit filed complaints with the bar after the lawsuits failed, calling for punishment for the lawyers who had signed on to the effort.
As today’s hearing proceeded, it became clear that the so-called Kraken lawyers had made no effort to verify much of anything they presented to the court. Repeatedly, Parker asked if anyone had tried to verify any of the affidavits they had filed; repeatedly, they indicated they had not. At one point, Parker said, “I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an affidavit” like this. “This is really fantastical,” Parker said. “How can any of you, as officers of the court, present this type of an affidavit?”
Parker suggested that the whole point of the lawsuits in the first place was to spread lies to make people think the election wasn’t legitimate. "My concern is that counsel here has submitted affidavits to suggest and make the public believe that there was something wrong with the election…that’s what these average affidavits are designed to do, to show there was something wrong in Michigan….”
Although Kraken lawyer Juli Haller began to cry during the hearing, Trump-affiliated lawyer Sidney Powell made it clear that, far from backing down, she wanted to move forward. Repeatedly, she and other lawyers demanded a trial or at least an evidentiary hearing, clearly trying to legitimize their claims by presenting them in an official setting. Like other Trump supporters, Powell is hoping to use official procedures to legitimize lies. We saw this in the hearings before Trump’s first impeachment, when lawmakers such as Jim Jordan (R-OH) used the official proceedings to construct a narrative for rightwing media.
David Fink, an attorney representing Detroit, called that pattern out: "Because of the lies spread in this courtroom, not only did people die on January 6, but many people throughout the world…came to doubt the strength of our democratic institutions in this country.”
Also today, news broke that, back in November, the Republican National Committee’s chief counsel, Justin Riemer, called claims that Trump had won the election “a joke.” Speaking of the lawyer pushing such claims, Riemer said, “They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing.”
And yet, the Republican Party itself is tethering itself to Trump.
In Oklahoma and Alaska, state Republican Party leaders have backed Trump-supporting challengers to James Lankford (R-OK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Lankford was actually speaking on the floor of the Senate on January 6, preparing to object to some of the certified ballots, when the rioters broke into the Capitol. After the insurrection riot, Lankford chose not to continue his objection to the counting. He now faces a primary challenger.
So does Murkowski, who, when party leaders similarly primaried her with someone backed by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2010, won a write-in campaign. Shortly after the insurrection, Murkowski said to a reporter: "I will tell you, if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”
In Pennsylvania, the chair of the state senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee, Trump-ally state senator Doug Mastriano, is demanding an Arizona-type recount of the 2020 vote in his state. Blocked by Democratic governor Tom Wolf and the state’s attorney general, Mastriano today issued a statement saying he would continue to fight for what he called a “forensic investigation.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, at least 51 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers are leaving the state to block Republicans from passing voter restriction laws. By fleeing the state, they will deprive the legislatures of enough lawmakers to do business, a number called a “quorum.” The Texas legislature is in special session this summer in part because the Democrats blocked these laws in the same way in May. In response, Texas governor Greg Abbott vetoed funding for the legislature. Today, once again, he accused them of abandoning the duties for which voters elected them.
And yet, the Republicans’ argument for further restricting the vote is based on the Big Lie that the state needs to be protected from voter fraud after the 2020 election.
Tomorrow, President Joe Biden will go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make a speech on voting rights. He is expected to call out the Big Lie and to talk about “actions to protect the sacred, constitutional right to vote.”
July 13, 2021 (Tuesday)
“Are you on the side of truth or lies; fact or fiction; justice or injustice; democracy or autocracy?”
In a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia today, President Joe Biden asked his audience to take a stand as he called defending the right to vote in America, “a test of our time.”
Biden explained that the 2020 election has been examined and reexamined and that “no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.” The Big Lie that Trump won is just that, he said: a big lie.
Nonetheless, 17 Republican-dominated states have enacted 28 laws to make it harder to vote. There are almost 400 more in the hopper. Biden called this effort “the 21st-century Jim Crow,” and promised to fight it. He pointed out that the new laws are doing more than suppressing the vote. They are taking the power to count the vote “from independent election administrators who work for the people” and giving it to “polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties.”
“This is simple,” Biden said. “This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.”
While Biden was on his way to Philadelphia, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives were fleeing the state to deny the Republicans in the legislature enough people to be able to do business. They are trying to stop the Republicans from passing measures that would further suppress the vote, just as they did when they left the state in May. Along with voting measures, the Texas Republicans want to pass others enflaming the culture wars in the state: bills to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools (where it is not taught) and to keep transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams. Both of these issues are part of a wider program pushed by national right-wing organizations.
When the Democrats left the state two months ago, Republican governor Greg Abbott was so angry he vetoed funding for the legislature (that effort is being challenged in court). This time, he has vowed to arrest the Democratic members and hold them inside the Capitol until the special session of the legislature ends in late August. This threat has no effect outside of Texas, where state authorities have no power, and even within the state it is unclear what law the legislators are breaking.
But it does raise the vision of a Republican governor arresting Democratic lawmakers who refuse to do his bidding.
What is at stake in Texas at the local level is that Abbott is smarting from two major failures of the electrical grid on his watch: one in February and one in June. What is at stake at the national level is that the electoral math says that Republicans cannot expect to win the White House in the future unless they carry Texas, with its 40 electoral votes, and the state seems close enough to turning Democratic that Abbott in 2020 ordered the removal of drop boxes for ballots. The electrical crisis of February, which killed nearly 200 Texans and in which Republican senator Ted Cruz was filmed leaving the state to go to Cancun, has hurt the Republican Party there.
And so, Abbott and his fellow Republicans are consolidating their power, planning to “win” in 2022 and 2024 by making sure Democrats can’t vote.
Biden today went farther than he ever has before in calling out Republicans for what they are doing. He described the attempt to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to rig the vote before 2022 for what it is: an attempt to subvert democracy and steal the election. “Have you no shame?” he asked his Republican colleagues.
But as strongly as Biden worded his speech, the former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, David Frum, in The Atlantic today went further.
“Those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing,” Frum wrote. “Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.” Since the insurrection, he noted, Trump supporters have embraced the idea that the people who hold office under our government are illegitimate and that, therefore, overturning the election is a patriotic duty.
“It’s time,” Frum said, “to start using the F-word.” The word he meant is “fascism.”
“We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said today…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
We must, he said, have “the will to save and strengthen our democracy.”
July 14, 2021 (Wednesday)
Yesterday, news broke that, under pressure from Republican leaders, Republican-dominated Tennessee will no longer conduct vaccine outreach for minors. Only 38% of people in Tennessee are vaccinated, and yet the state Department of Health will no longer reach out to urge minors to get vaccinated.
This change affects not only vaccines for the coronavirus, but also all other routine vaccines. On Monday, Tennessee’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones sent an email to staff saying there should be “no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines” and “no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine.” The HPV vaccine protects against a common sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer, among other cancers.
Staff were also told not to do any “pre-planning” for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.
On Monday, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s former top vaccine official, was fired without explanation, and Republicans have talked about getting rid of the Department of Health altogether, saying it has been undermining parents by going around them and straight to teens to promote vaccines.
Video editor J.M. Rieger of the Washington Post put together a series of videos of Republicans boosting the vaccine and thanking former president Donald Trump for it only to show the same people now spreading disinformation, calling vaccines one of the greatest scandals in our history, and even comparing vaccines to the horrors of the Nazis.
This begs the question: Why?
Former FBI special agent, lawyer, and professor Asha Rangappa put this question to Twitter. “Seriously: What is the [Republicans’] endgame in trying to convince their own voters not to get the vaccine?” The most insightful answer, I thought, was that the Republican’s best hope for winning in 2022—aside from voter suppression—is to keep the culture wars hot, even if it means causing illness and death.
The Republican Party continues to move to the right. During his time in office, the former president put his supporters into office at the level of the state parties, a move that is paying off as they purge from their midst those unwilling to follow Trump. Today, in Michigan, the Republican Party chair who had criticized Trump, Jason Cabel Roe, resigned.
Candidates who have thrown their hat into the ring for the 2022 midterm elections are trying to get attention by being more and more extreme. They vow to take on the establishment, support Trump and God, and strike terror into the “Liberals” who are bringing socialism to America. Forty QAnon supporters are running for Congress, 38 as Republicans, 2 as Independents.
And yet, there are cracks in this Republican rush to Trumpism.
Yesterday, on the Fox News Channel, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that “Joe Biden is the president of the United States. He legitimately got elected.” Trump supporters immediately attacked McCarthy, but the minority leader is only too aware that the House Select Committee on the Capitol Insurrection will start hearing witnesses on July 27, and the spotlight on that event is highly unlikely to make the former president—and possibly some of the Republican lawmakers—look good.
Already, the books coming out about the former administration have been scathing, but tonight news broke of new revelations in a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Leonnig and Rucker interviewed more than 140 members of the former administration and say that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley was increasingly upset as he listened to Trump lie about having won the election, believing Trump was looking for an excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and call out the military.
Milley compared the former president’s language to that of Hitler and was so worried Trump was going to seize power that Milley began to strategize with other military leaders to keep him from using the military in illegal ways, especially after Trump put his allies at the head of the Pentagon. “They may try, but they’re not going to f—ing succeed,” he allegedly said.
In addition to damaging stories coming out about the former president, news broke yesterday that Fitch Ratings, a credit rating company, is considering downgrading the AAA rating of the United States government bonds. The problem is not the economy. In fact, the Fitch Ratings report praises the economy, saying it “has recovered much more rapidly than expected, helped by policy stimulus and the roll-out of the vaccination program, which has allowed economic reopening…. [T]he scale and speed of the policy response [is] a positive reflection on the macroeconomic policy framework. Real economic output has overtaken its pre-pandemic level and is on track to exceed pre-pandemic projections…”
Although the report worries about the growing debt, we also learned yesterday that the deficit for June dropped a whopping 80% from the deficit a year ago, as tax receipts recover along with the economy. Year-to-date, the annual deficit is down 18% from last year.
The problem, the report says, is politics. And it is specific. “The failure of the former president to concede the election and the events surrounding the certification of the results of the presidential election in Congress in January, have no recent parallels in other very highly rated sovereigns. The redrafting of election laws in some states could weaken the political system, increasing divergence between votes cast and party representation. These developments underline an ongoing risk of lack of bipartisanship and difficulty in formulating policy and passing laws in Congress.”
More Gilead bullshit. This action is killing people as we speak. It will just take decades to directly affect them.
The Tennessee Republican Party is Pro-Cancer.
cause remember, kids aren’t people ( despite all the abortion rhetoric ) they are property, and deserve to be fully controlled by their parents ( the father probably. )
there’s really no word i hate more than bipartisanship at this point. for as strong as that statement is, it’s still a complete weasel.
what they mean is ongoing republican obstructionism. unless they truly believe that becoming gilead would be good for the dollar. ( and they can’t, seeing how every modern republican president has tanked the economy )
July 15, 2021 (Thursday)
Today Americans began to see the concrete effects of the American Rescue Plan show up in their bank accounts, as the expanded child tax credit goes into effect for one year. Through this program, the Child Tax Credit increased to $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6. All working families will get the full credit if they make up to $150,000 for a couple or $112,500 for a family with a single parent. The government sent payments for almost 60 million children on Thursday, totaling $15 billion.
This is a really big deal. In America, one in seven children lives in poverty. This measure is expected to cut that poverty nearly in half. Studies suggest that addressing childhood poverty continues to pay off over time, as it helps adults achieve higher levels of mobility.
But this huge achievement of the Biden presidency—every single Republican voted against it—has taken a backseat in the news to two blockbuster stories about the former president.
The first is the continuing information coming from a forthcoming book by Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker called I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year. Their eye-popping accounts of the days surrounding the January 6 insurrection broke last night with accounts of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, comparing the former president to Hitler and fearing that he was going to refuse to leave office.
In response, the former president and his supporters are attacking Milley. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson showed an image of Milley with a gay pride flag, an anti-fascist sign, and a reference to “thoroughly modern Milley,” a play on a popular film title from 1967.
The former president released a long and rambling statement, rehashing past grievances, that nonetheless had a statement that stood out. “I never threatened, or spoke about, to anyone, a coup of our Government,” he said. “[I]f I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.” It was an odd denial.
Also interesting in the book excerpts were stories that suggest why Republican leaders were eager to avoid an investigation into the insurrection.
Accounts in the excerpts told of Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) confronting Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) during the insurrection. “That f–king guy Jim Jordan,” she allegedly told Milley. “That son of a bitch… While these maniacs are going through the place, I’m standing in the aisle and he said, ‘We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.’ I smacked his hand away and told him, ‘Get away from me. You f–king did this.’” Cheney has accepted a position on the House select committee to investigate the insurrection, set up after the Republicans killed the bipartisan, independent commission.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who almost ran into the rioters, also blamed his colleagues. While they were being sheltered in a secure room, he allegedly went up to Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had supported Trump’s challenge to the election, and told them: “This is what you have caused.”
The second big story came this morning in the form of an article from The Guardian, which purported to reveal leaked documents from the Kremlin in which Putin and Russian leaders agreed in January 2016 to make Trump president to sow discord in the United States in order to get U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Crimea overturned. The documents described Trump as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex.”
There are many reasons to be skeptical of this “leak,” but, in the end, whether true or not, it doesn’t tell us much that we don’t already know. There is ample evidence, articulated most clearly in the Senate Intelligence Report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, that Russia worked hard to get Trump elected in 2016.
What is interesting about this story is, if you will pardon this fan of Sherlock Holmes, “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” In that old Arthur Conan Doyle tale, the key to the mystery was that the family dog didn’t bark at an intruder in the night and therefore must have known the villain.
Shortly after The Guardian story broke, Trump himself announced that he and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) were meeting over general issues, although these two big stories simply had to be on the agenda, not least because McCarthy was caught on tape in June 2016 saying: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” (Dana Rohrabacher was a Republican representative from California.) Later today, through his spokesperson, Trump appeared to call the story “fake news,” along with his usual descriptions of stories of his connections to Russia, but, despite a flurry of statements he issued today, these comments were not issued as a statement but were only quoted in his spokesperson’s tweets.
As near as I can tell, the former president is the only Republican who has responded to the story. Other leaders are talking about the border, masks, Cuba, and Britney Spears. Their lack of a response to a deeply damaging story about the leader of their party suggests to me that, at best, they are hoping the story will disappear and, at worst, they believe it’s true.
July 16, 2021 (Friday)
This morning, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told reporters that the seven-day average of Covid-19 cases has jumped almost 70 percent in the last week. Yesterday the U.S. had more than 33,000 new cases. Hospital admissions have jumped about 36% over the same period, to about 2,790 a day. And, after dropping for weeks, the seven-day average of deaths per day has also increased, rising 26% to 211 deaths per day.
Walensky called it “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Fully vaccinated individuals can still get Covid-19, but they are protected against the worst of it. They should not need hospitalization and will almost certainly not die. They are protected against the new Delta variant now sweeping the world, as well as against the older variants.
Jeffrey Zients, the coordinator of the Covid-19 response, told reporters that the United States has fully vaccinated more than 160 million Americans but low-vaccination pockets are driving a new spike. In the past week, just four states produced more than 40% of cases. Florida alone accounted for one in five cases.
Virtually all recent hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.
Zients explained that the administration is working to bring vaccines directly to individuals. As well, it is working with trusted messengers to urge people to get vaccinated. This week, the administration amped up its efforts to encourage vaccination by joining with Olivia Rodrigo, the wildly popular 18-year-old actress and singer, to urge young people to get vaccinated. In a video she recorded with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the chief medical adviser to the president, Fauci told Rodrigo, who was born in 2003, about the greatest concert he ever attended: he saw the Temptations and the Four Tops at the Paramount Theatre in New York City in the late 1950s.
Rodrigo’s debut single, “Drivers License,” was released on January 8 in the midst of the pandemic; it debuted at number one on Billboard Hot 100, the nation’s standard record chart. Three months later, on April 1, 2021, her second single, “Deja Vu,” debuted at number eight, and on May 14, 2021, her third single, “Good 4 U,” debuted at number one, making her the first artist in the history of the charts to debut their first three singles in the top ten (which has nothing to do with vaccines, but it’s cool).
The White House is also trying now to combat disinformation and misinformation head on. Yesterday the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on the dangers of health misinformation. A Surgeon General’s Advisory is a public statement calling attention to a public health issue and making recommendations for addressing that issue.
The advisory calls out social media for spreading false, inaccurate, or misleading information about both coronavirus and the vaccine, bad information that has led people to reject basic health measures like masks and to attack frontline workers trying to enforce those measures.
The advisory blames social media in explicit terms, noting that misinformation is framed to hit emotions so that people get outraged and spread it quickly, that technology platforms incentivize people to share such highly charged content, and that social media platforms use algorithms to steer users toward content similar to things they have previously liked, building disinformation bubbles.
“Health misinformation has cost us lives,” Murthy told reporters at the White House today. “Technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment with little accountability to their users. It allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation—what we call ‘disinformation’—to have extraordinary reach.”
“In this advisory, we’re telling technology companies that we expect more,” he said. “We’re asking them to operate with greater transparency, to modify their algorithms to avoid amplifying misinformation, and to swiftly and consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms.”
Researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate have discovered that 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media have come from just 12 people, nicknamed the “Disinformation Dozen.” Social media have been slow to remove their access to social media sites, or even their false content. According to Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, the White House has tried for weeks to get Facebook to explain how it is combating disinformation about the vaccine but has not received answers.
Republicans, already mad at social media giants for kicking off the former president, promptly claimed that Democrats were trying to censor free speech. Notably, Fox News Channel personalities and Republican leaders have been casting doubt on the vaccines since Biden took office and vowed to make combating the pandemic his signature success.
That the White House called out social media algorithms that skew information is clearly a concern for Facebook, for such algorithms could be regulated by the government while speech cannot. Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever rejected the idea that Facebook has contributed to disinformation, saying that the site has provided more good information about the coronavirus and vaccines than any other place on the internet.
As he boarded Marine One on his way to Camp David in Maryland for the weekend, reporters asked the president what he would say to social media executives about the disinformation on their platforms. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that—and they’re killing people.”
Even LinkedIn harbors anti-vaxxers and treats their poison as “discourse.”
ETA: So I just did something about it. I flagged several of the worst antivaxxers on LinkedIn for misinformation, then reached out to my closest contact at LinkedIn itself to ask them to help me reach someone who can do something about it. There is no way that LI should be promoting anti vaccine messages and profiteers.
July 17, 2021 (Saturday)
A year ago tonight, Georgia Representative John Lewis passed away from pancreatic cancer at 80 years old. As a young adult, Lewis was a “troublemaker,” breaking the laws of his state: the laws upholding racial segregation. He organized voting registration drives and in 1960 was one of the thirteen original Freedom Riders, white and Black students traveling together from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans 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.
An adherent of the philosophy of nonviolence, Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times. As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC—pronounced “snick”), he helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., told more than 200,000 people gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial that he had a dream. Just 23 years old, Lewis spoke at the march. Two years later, as Lewis and 600 marchers hoping to register African American voters in Alabama stopped to pray at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, mounted police troopers charged the marchers, beating them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.
To observers in 1965 reading the newspapers, Lewis was simply one of the lawbreaking protesters who were disrupting the “peace” of the South. But what seemed to be fruitless and dangerous protests were, in fact, changing minds. Shortly after the attack in Selma, President Lyndon Baines Johnson honored those changing ideas when he went on TV to support the marchers and call for Congress to pass a national voting rights bill. On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act authorizing federal supervision of voter registration in districts where African Americans were historically underrepresented.
When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, just 6.7 percent of Black voters in Mississippi were registered to vote. Two years later, almost 60% of them were. In 1986, those new Black voters helped to elect Lewis to Congress. He held the seat until he died, winning reelection 16 times.
Now, just a year after Representative Lewis’s death, the voting rights for which he fought are under greater threat than they have been since 1965. After the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act by taking away Department of Justice supervision of election changes in states with a history of racial discrimination, Republican-dominated state legislatures began to enact measures that would cut down on minority voting.
At Representative Lewis’s funeral, former President Barack Obama called for renewing the Voting Rights Act. "You want to honor John?” he said. “Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for.” Instead, after the 2020 election, Republican-dominated legislatures ramped up their effort to skew the vote in their favor by limiting access to the ballot. As of mid-June 2021, 17 states had passed 28 laws making it harder to vote, while more bills continue to move forward.
Then, on July 1, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court handed down Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, saying that the state of Arizona did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act when it passed laws that limited ballot delivery to voters, family members, or caregivers, or when it required election officials to throw out ballots that voters had cast in the wrong precincts by accident.
The fact that voting restrictions affect racial or ethnic groups differently does not make them illegal, Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
Justice Elena Kagan wrote a blistering dissent, in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined. “If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act,” Kagan wrote, “It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out.” She explained, “The Voting Rights Act is ambitious, in both goal and scope. When President Lyndon Johnson sent the bill to Congress, ten days after John Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, he explained that it was “carefully drafted to meet its objective—the end of discrimination in voting in America.” It gave every citizen “the right to an equal opportunity to vote.”
“Much of the Voting Rights Act’s success lay in its capacity to meet ever-new forms of discrimination,” Kagan wrote. Those interested in suppressing the vote have always offered “a non-racial rationalization” even for laws that were purposefully discriminatory. Poll taxes, elaborate registration regulations, and early poll closings were all designed to limit who could vote but were defended as ways to prevent fraud and corruption, even when there was no evidence that fraud or corruption was a problem. Kagan noted that the Arizona law permitting the state to throw out ballots cast in the wrong precinct invalidated twice as many ballots cast by Indigenous Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanic Americans as by whites.
“The majority’s opinion mostly inhabits a law-free zone,” she wrote.
Congress has been slow to protect voting rights. Although it renewed the Voting Rights Act by an overwhelming majority in 2006, that impulse has disappeared. In March 2021, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act on which Representative Lewis had worked, a sweeping measure that protects the right to vote, removes dark money from politics, and ends partisan gerrymandering. Republicans in the Senate killed the bill, and Democrats were unwilling to break the filibuster to pass it alone.
An attempt simply to restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 has not yet been introduced, although it has been named: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Only one Republican, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, has signed on to the bill.
Yesterday, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), was arrested with eight other protesters in the Hart Senate Office Building for demanding legislation to protect voting rights.
After her arrest, Beatty tweeted: "You can arrest me. You can’t stop me. You can’t silence me.”
Last June, Representative Lewis told Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart that he was “inspired” by last summer’s peaceful protests in America and around the world against police violence. “It was so moving and so gratifying to see people from all over America and all over the world saying through their action, ‘I can do something. I can say something,’” Lewis told Capehart. “And they said something by marching and by speaking up and speaking out.”
Capehart asked Lewis “what he would say to people who feel as though they have already been giving it their all but nothing seems to change.” Lewis answered: “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.”
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair,” Lewis tweeted almost exactly a year before his death. “Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”
Sorry, paywalled, but I know you’re all clever critters.
July 19, 2021 (Monday)
This morning, on the Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends, personality Steve Doocy told viewers to get the coronavirus vaccine because it would “save your life” and noted that 99% of the people now dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Brian Kilmeade answered that not getting the vaccine is a personal choice and that the government has no role in protecting the population. “That’s not their job. It’s not their job to protect anybody,” he said.
It is, of course, literally the job of the government to protect us. The preamble to the Constitution reads: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
But Kilmeade’s extraordinary comment cuts to the heart of the long history from the New Deal to the present.
In the 1930s, to combat the Great Depression, Democrats under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had offered a “new deal for the American people.” That New Deal meant that the government would no longer work simply to promote business, but would regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. World War II accelerated the construction of that active government, and by the time it was over, Americans quite liked the new system.
After the war, Republican Dwight Eisenhower rejected the position of 1920s Republicans and embraced the active government. He explained that in the modern world, the government must protect people from disasters created by forces outside their control, and it must provide social services that would protect people from unemployment, old age, illness, accidents, unsafe food and drugs, homelessness, and disease.
He called his version of the New Deal “a middle way between untrammeled freedom of the individual and the demands of the welfare of the whole Nation.” One of his supporters explained that, “If a job has to be done to meet the needs of the people, and no one else can do it, then it is the proper function of the federal government.”
In this, Eisenhower and his team were echoing Abraham Lincoln, who thought about government at a time when elite southern enslavers insisted that government had no role to play in the country except in protecting property.
As a young man, Lincoln had watched his town of New Salem, Illinois, die because the settlers—hard workers, eager to make the town succeed—could not dredge the Sangamon River to promote trade by themselves. Lincoln later mused, “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.’…Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men’s property, are instances.”
So Eisenhower and his fellow Republicans were in line with traditional Republican values when they declared their support for an active government. But those who objected to what became known as the post–World War II liberal consensus rejected the idea that the government had any role to play in the economy or in social welfare.
In 1954, William F. Buckley, Jr., and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell, Jr., made no distinction between the liberal consensus and international communism when they defended Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy for his attacks on “communists” in the U.S. government. They insisted that the country was made up of “Liberals,” who were guiding the nation toward socialism, and “Conservatives,” like themselves, who were standing alone against the Democrats and Republicans who made up a majority of the country and liked the new business regulations, safety net, and infrastructure.
That reactionary mindset came to dominate the Republican Party after 1980, and now, forty years later, a television personality is taking the stand that the government has no role in protecting Americans against a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 600,000 of us.
And yet, the idea that the government has a role to play in the economy remains popular, and this is creating a problem for Republicans. As soon as they took office, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan without any Republican votes. About 60% of Americans liked the plan, and it is likely to be more popular still now that checks from the Child Tax Credit extended in it began hitting parents’ bank accounts on July 15. Even before that, at least 26 Republicans were touting the benefits of the measure to their constituents while neglecting to mention they voted against it.
Now, Congress is negotiating a two-part infrastructure plan. Biden and the Democrats have worked hard for three months to get at least 10 Republican senators to agree to a $579 billion measure that would provide hard infrastructure like roads, bridges, and broadband. Negotiators are still hammering out that agreement and Democrats are making concessions; yesterday, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, told CNN that a provision to pay for the package in part by enforcing tax laws against those ignoring them bothered Republicans enough that negotiators cut it.
And yet tonight, leading Republicans said they would not vote to advance the bill on Wednesday, citing the fact it is not fully written. Since both parties regularly move their measures forward under such circumstances, many Democrats simply see this as a delaying tactic to try to kill the measure before Congress starts a month-long break on August 6. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said for weeks that he would bring the bill up in mid-July.
If the bipartisan bill fails, the Democrats can simply fold the provisions in it into their larger infrastructure bill that they intend to pass through budget reconciliation, which cannot be blocked by a filibuster. This larger, $3.5 trillion measure includes funding for human infrastructure, such as childcare, and for addressing climate change. It also will move corporate taxation from the 21% established by the 2017 tax cut up to about 28%. (It was 35% before the 2017 tax cut.)
The Democrats need to get these measures through because they are facing serious financial deadlines. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 suspended the debt ceiling—the amount the country can borrow—only until July 31 of this year. And the budget needs to be hammered out by September 30. If it isn’t, government funding can be extended by a continuing resolution, but in the past, Republicans have sometimes chosen to shut down the government instead.
All of this will take place while the House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection will be holding hearings. Today, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made it clear he intends to disrupt those hearings: three of the five people he named to the committee—Jim Banks (R-IN), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Troy Nehls (R-TX)—voted to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona, thus helping to legitimize the Big Lie that led to the insurrection.
McCarthy made Banks the ranking member, suggesting that he expects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to reject Jordan, but there is already outcry at the idea of any of these three investigating events in which they participated. Already, Banks has indicated that he is not really interested in studying the events of January 6, saying tonight that Speaker Pelosi “created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
McCarthy’s other two appointments are Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).
In today’s struggle over the nature of government, the Democrats are at a disadvantage. They want to use the government to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, just as Lincoln and FDR and Eisenhower advocated. To drive their individualist vision, though, all the Republicans have to do is stop the Democrats.
July 20, 2021 (Tuesday)
Today, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York indicted three men for illegally influencing the foreign policy positions of a presidential candidate and then, after the election, of the United States government.
They were acting in the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy country in the Persian Gulf. The candidate was Donald Trump, and one of the three men was his ally Thomas Barrack. Another was Matthew Grimes, a 27-year-old employee who reported to Barrack. The third was UAE citizen Rashid al-Malik Alshahhi, who lived in California until 2018, leaving abruptly after the FBI interviewed him about the case.
The return of Barrack to the news recalls the outsized influence of foreign actors in the previous administration, and how U.S. policy appeared to change to suit their interests. On Twitter, Mark Mazetti of the New York Times wrote: “One of the mysteries of Trump’s first six months was why the administration came out of the gate so hot for Saudi and UAE—with Trump traveling to Saudi Arabia and then going along with the Qatar blockade. The Tom Barrack indictment explains a lot.”
A billionaire private equity real-estate investor and longtime ally of Trump, Barrack was a key fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, which he advised between April and November 2016. In June 2018, New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick wrote a profile of Barrack, explaining that he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles and so grew up speaking Arabic, which helped him do business and make contacts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Barrack got to know Trump in the real estate world of the 1980s, and by 2010, he acquired $70 million of Jared Kushner’s debt and retired enough of it to keep Kushner from bankruptcy. When Trump launched his 2016 campaign with anti-Muslim rhetoric, Barrack calmed his Middle East contacts down, assuring them that Trump was simply using hyperbole.
Barrack urged Trump to hire Paul Manafort—fresh from his stint working for a Ukrainian oligarch—and served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee. Grimes and Barrack proposed to contacts in the UAE that it should use “its vast economic surplus to obtain a level of influence…which the country should rightfully command.” They suggested it should use financial investments to “increase [its] influence with USA and European governments and people.”
A final draft of their proposal explained that “[w]hile the primary purpose of the platform [will be] to achieve outsized financial returns, it will also…garner political credibility for its contributions to the policies of [the recently elected Candidate, hereinafter, the ‘President-Elect’]…We will do so by sourcing, investing, financing, operationally improving, and harvesting assets in those industries which will benefit most from a [President-Elect] Presidency.”
Barrack’s investment firm raised more than $7 billion between 2016 and 2018, 24% of it from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
According to today’s charges, once Trump was in office, Barrack continued to lobby for the UAE until April 2018. He allegedly worked with allies in the UAE to draft passages of Trump’s speeches, hone press materials, and prepare talking points to promote UAE interests. Without ever registering as a foreign agent, he worked to change U.S. foreign policy and appoint administration officials to meet a “wish list” produced by UAE officials.
Barrack helped to tie the Trump administration to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, turning the US away from Qatar, an ally that hosts US air bases (although they are now being closed as bases and in the process of becoming housing for our Afghan allies before their US visas come through). From the beginning, the administration worked closely with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who controls $1.3 trillion in sovereign wealth funds and essentially rules the UAE, and with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), whom Prince Mohammed championed.
In May 2017, Trump advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, along with Saudi and UAE leaders, met without the knowledge of then–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to talk about blockading Qatar. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a blockade on June 5, 2017, Trump cheered them on, although the State Department took a neutral stand and the Pentagon thanked Qatar for hosting US troops.
Today, prosecutors said that Barrack provided foreign government officials “with sensitive non-public information about developments within the Administration, including information about the positions of multiple senior United States government officials with respect to the Qatari blockade conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.”
They say he also “met with and assisted senior leaders of the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia], a close ally of the UAE.”
In May 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared an emergency to bypass congressional oversight of an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. After the UAE signed onto the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with Israel, the U.S. sold them another $23 billion of arms, including 50 F-35 advanced fighter planes.
Barrack and Grimes were arrested this morning in California.
When announcing the arrests, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said, “American citizens have a right to know when foreign governments, or their agents, are attempting to exert influence on our government. This is especially important to Americans during a Presidential election year, and the laws on the books were created to protect our nation from such untoward influence. This case is about secret attempts to influence our highest officials.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division Mark J. Lesko said, “Through this indictment, we are putting everyone—regardless of their wealth or perceived political power—on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said, “These arrests serve as a warning to those who act at the direction of foreign governments without disclosing their actions, as well as those who seek to mislead investigators about their actions, that they will be brought to justice and face the consequences.”
Prosecutors warned that Barrack was a flight risk because of his wealth, private jet, and “deep and longstanding ties to countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States”: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
Barrack’s lawyer says that Barrack “has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” possibly indicating a willingness to flip.
A judge has ordered Barrack be held in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.
Then why is Kusher walking around free?