Heather Cox Richardson

July 29, 2021 (Thursday)

The ripples of the explosive testimony of the four police officers Tuesday before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol continue to spread. Committee members are meeting this week to decide how they will proceed. Congress goes on recess during August, but committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) suggested the committee would, in fact, continue to meet during that break.

Committee members are considering subpoenas to compel the testimony of certain lawmakers, especially since the Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would not assert executive privilege to stop members of the Trump administration from testifying to Congress about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. This is a change from the Trump years, when the Department of Justice refused to acknowledge Congress’s authority to investigate the executive branch. This new directive reasserts the traditional boundaries between the two branches, saying that Congress can require testimony and administration officials can give it.

Further, the Department of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it should defend Congress members involved in the January 6 insurrection. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) sued Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, as well as the former president and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, for lying about the election, inciting a mob, and inflicting pain and distress.

Famously, Brooks participated in the rally before the insurrection, telling the audience: “[W]e are not going to let the Socialists rip the heart out of our country. We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections, and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.” “Today,” he said, “Republican Senators and Congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft, and vote for keeping America great.”

“[T]oday is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” he said. He asked them if they were willing to give their lives to preserve “an America that is the greatest nation in world history.” “Will you fight for America?” he asked.

To evade the lawsuit, Brooks gave an affidavit in which he and his lawyers insisted that this language was solely a campaign speech, urging voters to support Republican lawmakers in 2022 and 2024. But he also argued that the Department of Justice had to represent him in the lawsuit because he was acting in his role as a congress member that day, representing his constituents.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice declined to take over the case, pointing out that campaign and electioneering activities fall outside the scope of official employment. It goes on to undercut the idea of protecting any lawmaker who participated in the insurrection, saying that “alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a Member of Congress is employed to perform.” This means Brooks is on his own to defend himself from the Swalwell lawsuit. It also means that lawmakers intending to fight subpoenas are going to be paying for their own legal representation.

If the committee does, in fact, start demanding that lawmakers talk, Brooks is likely on the list of those from whom they will want to hear. Trying to bolster the new Republican talking point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should have been better prepared for the insurrection (this is a diversion: she has no say over the Capitol Police, and she did, in fact, call for law enforcement on January 6), Brooks told Slate political reporter Jim Newell that he, Brooks, knew something was up. He had been warned “on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.” “That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told Newell. “To cover up the body armor.”

Brooks is not the only one in danger of receiving a subpoena. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) admitted on the Fox News Channel that he spoke to the former president on January 6, although he claimed not to remember whether it was before, during, or after the insurrection. He tried to suggest that chatting with Trump on January 6 was no different than chatting with him at any other time, but that is unlikely to fly. Jordan also repeatedly referred to Trump as “the president,” rather than the former president, a dog whistle to those who continue to insist that Trump did not, in fact, lose the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, it looks more and more like Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), are eager to change the subject. McCarthy today tried to walk back his previous blaming of Trump for the events of January 6, trying instead to tie Pelosi to the riot. He told reporters that when he said on January 6 that “[t]he President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters” and that Trump “should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” he made the comment without “the information we have today.” Then he tried to blame Pelosi for the Capitol Police response.

McCarthy seems unable to figure out how to handle the changing political dynamic and is continuing to shove the octopus of his different caucus interests into the string bag he’s holding only by promising that the Republicans will win in 2022. To that end, he is essentially walking away from governance and focusing only on the culture wars.

In addition to pulling the Trump Republicans off the select committee on the insurrection, he also pulled all six of the Republicans off a key committee on the economy, the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. At a time when voters in all parties are concerned with the huge divergence in income and wealth in this country, a divergence that rivals that of the 1850s, 1890s, and 1920s, members of this committee could make names for themselves.

Ohio Republican Warren Davidson was one of those removed from the committee; he told Cleveland media he had been “looking forward” to participating and would “gladly rejoin” the committee if McCarthy relented, but it was Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, still on the committee, who got the headline and the approving story.

Instead of this productive sort of headline, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) staged an event in which they tried to visit the accused January 6 rioters at a Washington, D.C., jail. Refused entry, Gohmert told the press: “We’re in totalitarian, Marxist territory here. This is the way third-world people get treated.”

McCarthy and fellow Trump supporters are trying to get their own headlines by opposing new mask mandates as the Delta variant of coronavirus is gathering momentum across the country. On Tuesday, the attending physician for the United States Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, reinstated the use of masks in the House of Representatives and recommended it in the smaller Senate. On Wednesday, Pelosi required the use of masks in the House, and reminded members that they would be fined for refusing to wear them. All of the Democrats in the House are vaccinated; it appears that only about half of House Republicans are.

Today, House Republicans launched a revolt against mask use. They are trying to adjourn the House rather than gather with masks. Chip Roy (R-TX), said "This institution is a sham. And we should adjourn and shut this place down.” Representatives Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), all maskless, gave Roy a standing ovation. Today, a group of House Republicans without masks posed for cameras as they tried to gain entrance to the Senate.

Consolidating around Trump after his November loss was always a gamble, but increasingly it looks like a precarious one. Just this week, the former president tried to sabotage the infrastructure deal, and 17 senators ignored him. In Texas, on Tuesday, Trump’s ability to swing races was tested and failed when the candidate he backed—even pumping a last-minute $100,000 into the race—lost.

McCarthy has promised to win in 2022 with culture wars rather than governing, and that looks like an increasingly weak bet. But make no mistake: the ace in his vest remains the voter suppression laws currently being enacted across the country.


July 30, 2021 (Friday)

This will be very brief because I am without power again, and am operating on a generator that is undoubtedly keeping the neighbors awake.

Today, the Department of Justice ruled that the Treasury Department can release to Congress six years of former president Trump’s tax returns. Trump was the first president since Richard M. Nixon to refuse to disclose his taxes, and the House Ways and Means Committee requested them in April 2019.

The fight to obtain Trump’s tax returns has stretched on for years, and it has finally been resolved in a way consistent with the law that covers this case, which says: “Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary [of the Treasury] shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.”

It remains possible that Trump will contest this decision in court. If he does not, Congress will finally have access to Trump’s tax returns.

Incredibly, after all these years, this is not today’s big story.

Today’s bigger story is that the House Oversight Committee released notes taken by the acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue during a phone call between former president Donald Trump and acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen on December 27, 2020. Rosen took over at the Department of Justice after Attorney General William Barr left on December 14.

The notes record how the former president tried to get the Department of Justice to say that the 2020 election was “corrupt” in order to overturn it. In the call, Trump listed the many ways in which he believed the results were false, insisting that the election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan all were “corrupted” and said it was statistically impossible for him to have lost the election.

Rosen “Told him flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence… we looked at allegations but they don’t pan out.”

When Rosen told the former president that the Department of Justice “can’t and won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,” Trump said: “Don’t expect you to do that, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”

The January 6 insurrection was ten days later.


August 1, 2021 (Sunday)

Last Sunday, educator and civil rights leader Dr. Robert Parris Moses died at 86.

Born in New York City in 1935, the son of a homemaker and a janitor, Moses was working on a PhD at Harvard when his parents’ health brought him back to New York City. There, he began to teach math in 1958.

In 1960, images of Black Americans in the South picketing for their rights “hit me powerfully, in the soul as well as the brain,” he later said. He moved to Mississippi and began to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”). In 1961, he began to direct SNCC’s Mississippi Project to promote voter registration in Mississippi, where, although about 40% of the state’s population was Black, most Black Americans had been frozen out of the polls through poll taxes, subjective literacy tests, and violence. In his quest to get people registered to vote, Moses endured attacks from thugs wielding knives, white supremacists wielding guns, and law enforcement officers wielding power. He earned a reputation for being quiet and calm in times that were anything but.

By 1964, Moses was one of the key leaders in the effort to register Black voters in Mississippi. In April, working with Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker, he helped to found the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge Mississippi’s all-white Democratic Party.

That summer, Moses led the Freedom Summer Project to bring together college students from northern schools to work together with Black people from Mississippi to educate and register Black voters. On June 21, just as the project was getting underway, Ku Klux Klan members working with local law enforcement officers murdered three organizers outside Philadelphia, Mississippi: James Chaney, from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner from New York. The white supremacists buried the bodies in an earthen dam that was under construction. When the men disappeared, Moses told the other organizers that no one would blame them for going home. His quiet leadership inspired most of them to stay.

On August 4, investigators found the bodies of the three missing men. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party met on August 6 and decided to challenge the Mississippi Democratic Party to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention. And yet, when the Democratic National Convention met, the Democratic National Committee leaders and President Lyndon B. Johnson chose to recognize the all-white Democratic Party rather than the integrated ticket of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

At the end of 1964, Moses resigned from his leadership position in Mississippi, worried that his role had become “too strong, too central, so that people who did not need to, began to lean on me, to use me as a crutch.” Key to Moses’s leadership was that he did not want to be out front; he wanted to empower others to take control of their own lives.

Civil rights historian Taylor Branch told reporter Julia Cass in a story Mother Jones published in 2002: “Moses pioneered an alternative style of leadership from the princely church leader that [the Reverend Martin Luther] King [Jr.] epitomized…. He was the thoughtful, self-effacing loner. He is really the father of grassroots organizing—not the Moses summoning his people on the mountaintop as King did, but, ironically, the anti-Moses, going door-to-door, listening to people, letting them lead.”

Moses was disillusioned when the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party did not win the right to represent the state in the Democratic National Convention. For all the work that individual sharecroppers and hairdressers and housewives had done in Mississippi, national leaders had let them down. “You cannot trust the system,” he said in 1965. “I will have nothing to do with the political system any longer.”

Moses turned to protesting the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Janet, moved to Tanzania when he was drafted despite being five years over the cutoff age. After 8 years in Africa, the Moses family moved back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Moses resumed his doctoral work in the philosophy of mathematics.

Back in America, Moses turned his philosophy of empowerment to the schools, advancing the idea that mathematical literacy is central to the ability of young people to participate in the twenty-first-century economy. In the 1980s, he launched The Algebra Project to give young Americans access to higher mathematics. “I believe that the absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout this country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered Black voters in Mississippi was in 1961,” he wrote. “In the 1960s, we opened up political access…. The most important social problem affecting people of color today is economic access, and this depends crucially on math and science literacy, because the American economy is now based on knowledge and technology, not labor.”

Moses’s focus on empowerment and self-determination was very much in keeping with the original concept of American democracy.

And yet, his efforts, along with those of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to turn to national politicians to cement gains at the grass roots were not in vain. In 1965, Congress passed and Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, protecting the rights of Black Americans to vote, focusing on states with historical voter suppression.

Just fifteen years later, in 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan spoke at Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he defended state’s rights, and the unwinding of the civil rights advances of the post–World War II years began.

Now, in 2021, we seem to be headed back to the one-party society Moses fought. In response to record voter turnout in the 2020 election, 18 states have passed 30 new laws that make it harder to vote. At the same time, Republican-dominated legislatures are gathering into their own hands the power to override the voters.

In Louisiana on Friday, Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder removed three Democrats and one unaffiliated member from committee leadership positions in retaliation for their unwillingness to override the Democratic governor’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in school sports. They will be replaced by Republicans.

In Georgia, legislators have begun the process of transferring control of the elections in Fulton County, one of the most reliably Democratic counties in the nation, from county officials to Republican state officials.

Public schools are also under attack, with Republicans threatening to cut funding to schools that require masks to stop the spread of coronavirus or that teach “divisive concepts” that make students uncomfortable, usually topics that involve race.

Republican lawmakers have proposed attaching funding to students rather than to schools, enabling parents to use tax dollars to enroll their children in private schools. This sounds like a revival of the all-white “segregation academies” that sprang up in the South after the Supreme Court required desegregation of public schools. Those academies, funded with public money, were so successful that, according to Professor Noliwe Rooks, an Americanist who specializes in issues of race and education and who chairs the Africana Studies department at Brown University, in 1974, 3,500 academies in the South enrolled 750,000 white children. As white students left the public schools, funds available to educate the many Black and few white children left behind fell drastically.

Unequal educational options were hallmarks of the one-party state systems Moses worked to undermine. When he explained The Algebra Project, Moses called the historically limited educational opportunities for Black children in America “sharecropper schooling.” “[Y]ou went through it, but your options were you were going to chop and pick cotton or do domestic work….”

In 1965, Congress and the president finally recognized that all the organizing in the world couldn’t overcome the apparatus of a rigged system. They used the power of the federal government to turn the work of individuals like Bob Moses, scholar and visionary, organizer and teacher, into the law of the land.

But watching the turbulence in American life last year, Moses warned that the nation “can lurch backward as quickly as it can lurch forward.”


August 2, 2021 (Monday)

Today, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on Facebook a photo of Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson visiting him. Carlson is broadcasting his television show from Hungary this week, before he speaks on Saturday at MCC Feszt, an event hosted by a government-sponsored university whose mission is to produce a conservative elite.

Hungary is a country in central Europe of about 10 million people who have, in the decade since Orbán took power for the second time, watched their democracy erode. On paper, Hungary is a democracy in that it still holds elections, but it is, in fact, a one-party state overseen by the prime minister.

Orbán has been open about his determination to overthrow the concept of western democracy, replacing it with what he has, on different occasions, called “illiberal democracy,” or “Christian democracy.” He wants to replace the multiculturalism at the heart of democracy with Christian culture, stop the immigration that he believes undermines Hungarian culture, and reject “adaptable family models” with “the Christian family model.”

No matter what he calls it, Orbán’s model is not democracy at all. As soon as he retook office in 2010, he began to establish control over the media, cracking down on those critical of his party, Fidesz, and rewarding those who toed the party line. In 2012, his supporters rewrote the country’s constitution to strengthen his hand, and extreme gerrymandering gave his party more power while changes to election rules benefited his campaigns. Increasingly, he used the power of the state to concentrate wealth among his cronies, and he reworked the country’s judicial system and civil service system to stack it with his loyalists. While Hungary still has elections, state control of the media and the apparatus of voting means that it is impossible for Orbán’s opponents to take power.

Trump supporters have long admired Orbán’s nationalism and centering of Christianity, while the fact that Hungary continues to have elections enables them to pretend that the country remains a democracy.

Currently, political patterns in America look much like those Orbán used to gather power into his own hands. Republican-dominated legislatures are passing new measures to suppress the vote, aided by the Big Lie that former president Trump did not lose the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters are focusing on the so-called “forensic audit” of Maricopa County in Arizona, paid for and conducted by Trump loyalists who insist that Trump actually won despite the repeated investigations that have proved the election was clean.

Today, a piece by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker revealed how the money for that audit is coming not from local protesters, but rather from “sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives.” Those organizations “have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.”

Mayer details how organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the anti-regulation FreedomWorks, and the Judicial Education Project (which is tied to Leonard Leo, a chair of the Federalist Society, which has worked since the 1980s to stack the courts with originalists) have turned from their previous advocacy to focus on voter suppression. These groups are bankrolled by Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, whose board member Cleta Mitchell was on Trump’s January 3, 2021, call to Georgia election officials.

In the Washington Post, Greg Sargent noted that the goal of these audits is to undermine Americans’ faith in elections altogether. Continued questioning of election results even after repeated recounts and verification makes any outcome seem untrustworthy. In such a case, a state legislature might argue it was justified either in “finding” enough votes to swing an election—as Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do in Georgia in 2020—or in throwing out the vote altogether and advancing its own slate of electors to the Electoral College.

Mayer points out that organizations funded by the Bradley Foundation are, indeed, talking about taking the choice of electors away from voters and giving it instead to state officials.

Carlson has shown support for Hungary in the past. Notably, in 2019, he endorsed that country’s anti-abortion and anti-immigration policies; in that year, according to investigative researcher Anna Massoglia of Open Secrets, Hungary paid a D.C. lobbying firm $265,000, in part to arrange an interview on Carlson’s show.

But for him to visit Orbán and to broadcast from Hungary right now, when American democracy is under the very sort of threat Orbán represents, seemed to me to be a deliberate demonstration of the Trump Republicans’ plans for our future.


August 3, 2021 (Tuesday)

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: former president Trump has raised $102 million since he left office, but aside from a recent donation of $100,000 to his chosen candidate in a Texas race which is not yet in the public disclosures (she lost), has spent none of it on anything or anyone but himself. Since January, he has convinced donors to fund his challenge to Biden’s election and to fund Trump-like candidates in the midterm elections. But election filings and a release of donors to the Arizona “audit” show he has not put any money toward either. So far, about $8 million has gone to the former president’s legal fees, while funds have also gone to aides.

The second piece of news that is surprising and yet not surprising is an ABC story revealing that on December 28, 2020, the then-acting pro-Trump head of the civil division of the Department of Justice, Jeffrey Clark, tried to get then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue to sign a letter saying: “The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States. The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.”

It went on to say, “While the Department of Justice believe[s] the Governor of Georgia should immediately call a special session to consider this important and urgent matter, if he declines to do so, we share with you our view that the Georgia General Assembly has implied authority under the Constitution of the United States to call itself into special session for [t]he limited purpose of considering issues pertaining to the appointment of Presidential Electors.”

The letter then made the point clearer, saying the Georgia legislature could ignore the popular vote and appoint its own presidential electors.

This is classic Trump: try to salt the media with the idea of an “investigation,” and then wait for the following frenzy to convince voters that the election was fraudulent. Such a scheme was at the heart of Trump’s demand that Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, and the discrediting of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over an investigation into her use of a private email server.

In this case, Donoghue and Rosen wanted no part of this antidemocratic scheme. Donoghue told Clark that there was no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election and wrote: “There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this.” Rosen agreed, saying “I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”

The less obvious story today is the more interesting one.

Trump and his loyalists feed off Americans who have been dispossessed economically since the Reagan revolution that began in 1981 started the massive redistribution of wealth upward. Those disaffected people, slipping away from the secure middle-class life their parents lived, are the natural supporters of authoritarians who assure them their problems come not from the systems leaders have put in place, but rather from Black people, people of color, and feminist women.

President Joe Biden appears to be trying to combat this dangerous dynamic not by trying to peel disaffected Americans away from Trump and his party by arguing against the former president, but by reducing the pressure on those who support him.

A study from the Niskanen Center think tank shows that the expanded Child Tax Credit, which last month began to put up to $300 per child per month into the bank accounts of most U.S. households with children, will primarily benefit rural Americans and will give a disproportionately large relative boost to their local economies. According to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “the…nine states that will gain the most per capita from the expanded child allowance are all red states.”

The White House noted today that the bipartisan infrastructure deal it has pushed so hard not only will bring high-speed internet to every household in the U.S., but also has within it $3.5 billion to reduce energy costs for more than 700,000 low-income households.

Also today, after pressure from progressive Democrats, especially Representative Cori Bush (D-MO), who led a sit-in at the Capitol to call for eviction relief, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in counties experiencing high levels of community transmission of Covid-19, it is extending until October 3 the federal moratorium on evictions that ended this weekend. It is doing so as a public health measure, but it is also an economic one. It should help about 90% of renters—11 million adults—until the government helps to clear the backlog of payments missed during the pandemic by disbursing more of the $46 billion Congress allocated for that purpose.

Today, the president called out Republican governors who have taken a stand against mask wearing and vaccine mandates even as Covid-19 is burning across the country again. Currently, Florida and Texas account for one third of all new Covid cases in the entire country, and yet their Republcan governors, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, are signing legislation to keep Floridians and Texans unmasked and to prevent vaccine mandates. Biden said that he asks “these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”

At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last night, Biden told attendees that Democrats “have to keep making our case,” while Republicans offer “nothing but fear, lies, and broken promises." “We have to keep cutting through the Republican fog,” he said, “that the government isn’t the problem and show that we the people are always the solution.” He continued, “We’ve got to demonstrate that democracies can work and protect."


August 4, 2021 (Wednesday)

Today seemed to mark a popular backlash against Republican lawmakers who have been downplaying the coronavirus pandemic. The Delta variant of the deadly virus is ripping through unvaccinated populations in the U.S. with an average of 85,000 new cases a day, numbers that rival those of February, before we had accessible vaccines. One in three cases in the nation comes from either Florida or Texas.

Lawmakers in South Carolina, Iowa, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and Utah have prohibited schools from requiring masks, and South Carolina, Iowa, Florida, Montana, Arizona, South Dakota, Texas, and Tennessee prohibit local governments from doing so.

Yesterday, President Joe Biden called out governors, especially Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, for banning mask mandates and refusing to require the vaccine. At a press conference, Biden said “to these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”

Today DeSantis responded: “I am standing in your way.” After sitting on Biden’s criticism for almost a day, DeSantis could find as a response only an attack on Biden for allegedly ignoring the “border crisis.” DeSantis blamed Florida’s devastating virus numbers on immigrants coming over the nation’s border with Mexico into Texas.

The recent attention to the methods of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who rose to power by stoking anti-immigrant hatred and who continues to whip up a frenzy over immigration despite the fact that refugees coming into Hungary have dropped to unremarkable levels, shows the Republican fallback on immigrant caravans to distract from their own scandals in a new light.

In fact, our southern border remains closed because of public health directives put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unaccompanied minors are admitted so that they do not become victims of gangs or sex traffickers, and their numbers likely hit an all-time high of about 19,000 in July. Those children are processed and then transferred to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which then finds suitable foster situations for them while they await immigration hearings.

Interestingly in terms of the timing of DeSantis’s outburst, today the Mexican government sued a number of U.S.-based gun manufacturers for lax controls that permit illegal weapons to flow over the border. A 2016 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that about 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico came from the United States.

Back in the U.S., the president has mandated vaccines in the federal government and has asked private employers to require vaccines. Google, Walmart, Disney World, and Microsoft, among many others, including hospitals and more than 400 private universities, are requiring masks or vaccines. So is Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker, who today issued a mask requirement for schools and a vaccine mandate for workers in state prisons and other facilities.

By Labor Day, the Food and Drug Administration is expected to give final approval to coronavirus vaccines, reassuring people reluctant to get the vaccine that it is safe.

Increasingly, people dying of Covid-19 or their survivors are publicly begging their friends and neighbors to get the vaccine. In addition to videos and facebook posts, a six-minute television segment on CBS This Morning featured Republican Representative Julia Letlow of Louisiana, who lost her husband to the disease in December. She is using her story to try to change people’s minds about refusing the vaccine.

Implied in these calls to ignore the disinformation out there about the vaccine is criticism of those Republican leaders who have pushed that disinformation.

Rising case numbers put lawmakers who have downplayed the virus in a tight spot. A new poll today from St. Pete Polls shows that DeSantis’s popularity has fallen behind that of a Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, in the 2022 governor’s race. Forty-nine percent of Floridians disapprove of DeSantis’s job performance, while only 44% approve. He is in positive numbers only with voters older than 70. In contrast to the older folks, most voters disapprove of his opposition to masks in schools.

Other Republican governors have expressed regret that they were so quick to outlaw masks. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson today said he wished he hadn’t signed into law a measure banning state and local mask mandates. He has called the legislature into special session to change the law, claiming that he signed the previous measure because “I knew it would be overridden by the legislature if I didn’t sign it.”

The new spike in infections has meant an uptick in vaccinations, with numbers matching those of early July. On Tuesday, Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, reported that Louisiana has seen a 302% increase in the average number of newly vaccinated per day; Mississippi, 250%; Alabama, 215%; and Arkansas, 206%. On Tuesday, almost a month late, the nation met the goal President Joe Biden had set for July 4 of having at least one vaccine shot in 70% of eligible Americans. About 49% of all eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated.

Today, two parents of school-aged children in Arkansas sued the state over its law banning the use of masks in schools. They are seeking immediate “protection from an irrational act of legislative madness that threatens K-12 public school children with irreparable harm.” “Without immediate intervention by the Arkansas judiciary,” the lawsuit says, “the restrictions imposed on state and local officials by Act 1002 will result in many more Arkansas children becoming very sick, and some of them will inevitably die.”


August 5, 2021 (Thursday)

I wrote a letter tonight about the rising radicalism of the Republican Party. But then, sorting through the dark chaos of today’s news, I found myself thinking instead about the Battle of Mobile Bay, which happened on this date in 1864.

By the spring of 1864, victory in the Civil War depended on which side could endure longest. Confederates were starving as they mourned their many dead; Union supporters were tired of losing sons to battles that seemed to accomplish nothing. President Abraham Lincoln knew he must land a crushing blow on the South or lose the upcoming presidential election. If he lost, the best Americans could hope for was a negotiated peace that tore the nation in two. In March 1864, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant commander-in-chief of all the Union armies, hoping that this stubborn westerner could win the war.

Grant set out to press the Confederacy on all fronts. In the past, the Union armies had acted independently, permitting Confederates to move troops to the places they were most needed. Grant immediately coordinated all the Union armies to move against the South at once.

In the East, the Army of the Potomac would hit Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In Georgia, William T. Sherman’s western troops would smash their way from Tennessee to Atlanta. Finally, Grant wanted the U.S. Navy to move against Mobile, Alabama, a port on the Gulf Coast so well protected by shifting sands that it had become the major harbor for the blockade runners that still linked the Confederacy to Europe. Grant hoped this strategy would lock the South in a vise.

By midsummer, the plan had faltered. The Army of the Potomac had stalled in Virginia after an appalling 17,000 casualties at the Battle of the Wilderness, 18,000 at Spotsylvania, and another 12,000 at Cold Harbor, where soldiers pinned their names and addresses to the backs of their uniforms before the battle so their bodies could be identified. Sherman was stopped outside Atlanta. And the navy had run aground up the Red River in Louisiana as it made a feint in that direction before the move against Mobile Bay. Union morale was so low that even President Lincoln thought he would lose the election and the war would end in an armistice.

By late summer, the pressure was on Admiral David G. Farragut to deliver a victory in Mobile Bay. After weeks of waiting for reinforcements, on the morning of August 5, Farragut ordered the captains of the fourteen wooden ships and four ironclads under his command to “strip your vessels and prepare for the conflict.” At 5:40 a.m., with the wooden ships lashed together in pairs and the ironclads protecting them, the vessels set out in a line to pass the three forts and four warships that guarded the harbor above water, and the minefield that guarded all but a 500-yard channel below. The admiral’s flagship, the Hartford, was in the second pair in line, behind the Brooklyn and its partner.

As the ships proceeded under heavy fire, going slowly to stay behind the lumbering ironclads, the foremost ironclad hit a torpedo, turned over, and sank instantly, taking all hands with it. Aware he was on the edge of the minefield, the commander of the Brooklyn hung back, throwing the whole line into confusion under the pummeling of the land batteries. Farragut ordered the captain of the Hartford to take over the lead. As the Hartford passed the stalled Brooklyn, the Brooklyn’s captain warned that they were “running into a nest of torpedoes.”

“Damn the torpedoes!” Farragut allegedly shot back. “Full speed ahead!”

By 10:00 a.m., the U.S. Navy had taken Mobile Bay, cutting off all Confederate contact with Europe. It was the victory the Union needed, and others followed in its wake: Atlanta fell on September 2, and the Army of the Potomac began to gain ground in Virginia. Finally able to believe that victory was near, voters rallied behind Lincoln’s determination to win the war and backed his administration in November. They gave him 55% of the popular vote and gave the Republicans supermajorities in both the House and the Senate.

Damn the torpedoes, indeed.


August 6, 2021 (Friday)

Fifty-six years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The need for the law was explained in its full title: “An Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, and for other purposes.”

In the wake of the Civil War, Americans tried to create a new nation in which the law treated Black men and white men as equals. In 1865, they ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing enslavement except as punishment for crimes. In 1868, they adjusted the Constitution again, guaranteeing that anyone born or naturalized in the United States—except certain Indigenous Americans—was a citizen, opening up the suffrage to Black men. In 1870, after Georgia legislators expelled their newly seated Black colleagues, Americans defended the right of Black men to vote by adding that right to the Constitution.

All three of those amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—gave Congress the power to enforce them. In 1870, Congress established the Department of Justice to do just that. Reactionary white southerners had been using state laws, and the unwillingness of state judges and juries to protect Black Americans from white gangs and cheating employers, to keep Black people subservient. White men organized as the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize Black men and to keep them and their white allies from voting to change that system. In 1870, the federal government stepped in to protect Black rights and prosecute members of the Ku Klux Klan.

With federal power now behind the Constitutional protection of equality, threatening jail for those who violated the law, white opponents of Black voting changed their argument against it.

In 1871, they began to say that they had no problem with Black men voting on racial grounds; their objection to Black voting was that Black men, just out of enslavement, were poor and uneducated. They were voting for lawmakers who promised them public services like roads and schools, and which could only be paid for with tax levies.

The idea that Black voters were socialists—they actually used that term in 1871—meant that white northerners who had fought to replace the hierarchical society of the Old South with a society based on equality began to change their tune. They looked the other way as white men kept Black men from voting, first with terrorism and then with state election laws using grandfather clauses, which cut out Black men without mentioning race by permitting a man to vote if his grandfather had; literacy tests in which white registrars got to decide who passed; poll taxes; and so on. States also cut up districts unevenly to favor the Democrats, who ran an all-white, segregationist party. By 1880 the south was solidly Democratic, and it would remain so until 1964.

Southern states always held elections: it was just foreordained that the Democrats would win them.

Black Americans never accepted this state of affairs, but their opposition did not gain powerful national traction until after World War II.

During that war, Americans from all walks of life had turned out to defeat fascism, a government system based on the idea that some people are better than others. Americans defended democracy and, for all that Black Americans fought in segregated units, and that race riots broke out in cities across the country during the war years, and that the government interned Japanese Americans, lawmakers began to recognize that the nation could not effectively define itself as a democracy if Black and Brown people lived in substandard housing, received substandard educations, could not advance from menial jobs, and could not vote to change any of those circumstances.

Meanwhile, Black Americans and people of color who had fought for the nation overseas brought home their determination to be treated equally, especially as the financial collapse of European countries loosened their grip on their former African and Asian colonies, launching new nations.

Those interested in advancing Black rights turned, once again, to the federal government to overrule discriminatory state laws. Spurred by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, judges used the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to argue that the protections in the Bill of Rights applied to the states, that is, the states could not deprive any American of equality. In 1954, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the former Republican governor of California, used this doctrine when it handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional.

White reactionaries responded with violence, but Black Americans continued to stand up for their rights. In 1957 and 1960, under pressure from Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, Congress passed civil rights acts designed to empower the federal government to enforce the laws protecting Black voting.

In 1961 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) began intensive efforts to register voters and to organize communities to support political change. Because only 6.7% of Black Mississippians were registered, MIssissippi became a focal point, and in the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, organized under Bob Moses (who passed on July 25 of this year), volunteers set out to register voters. On June 21, Ku Klux Klan members, at least one of whom was a law enforcement officer, murdered organizers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner near Philadelphia, Mississippi, and, when discovered, laughed at the idea they would be punished for the murders.

That year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which strengthened voting rights. On March 7, 1965, in Selma, Alabama, marchers led by John Lewis (who would go on to serve 17 terms in Congress) headed for Montgomery to demonstrate their desire to vote. Law enforcement officers stopped them on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and beat them bloody.

On March 15, President Johnson called for Congress to pass legislation defending Americans’ right to vote. It did. And on this day in 1965, the Voting Rights Act became law. It became such a fundamental part of our legal system that Congress repeatedly reauthorized it, by large margins, as recently as 2006.

But in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts gutted the provision of the law requiring that states with histories of voter discrimination get approval from the Department of Justice before they changed their voting laws. Immediately, the legislatures of those states, now dominated by Republicans, began to pass measures to suppress the vote. Now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated states have increased the rate of voter suppression, and on July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court permitted such suppression with the Brnovich v. DNC decision.

If the Republicans are allowed to choose who will vote in the states, they will dominate the country in the same way that the Democrats turned the South into a one-party state after the Civil War. Alarmed at what will amount to the loss of our democracy, Democrats are calling for the federal government to protect voting rights.

And yet, 2020 made it crystal clear that if Republicans cannot stop Democrats from voting, they will not be able to win elections. And so, Republicans are insisting that states alone can determine who can vote and that any federal legislation is tyrannical overreach. A recent Pew poll shows that more than two thirds of Republican voters don’t think voting is a right and believe it can be limited.

And so, here we stand, in an existential crisis over voting rights and whether it is states or the federal government that should decide them.

Right now, there are two major voting rights bills before Congress. The Democrats have introduced the For the People Act, a sweeping measure that protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, stops the flow of cash into elections, and requires new ethics guidelines for lawmakers. They have also introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which focuses more tightly on voting and restores the protections provided in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Republican senators have announced their opposition to any voting rights bill, so any law that gets through will have to get around a Senate filibuster, which cannot be broken without 10 Republican senators. Democrats could break the filibuster for a voting rights bill, but Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) indicated earlier this summer they would not support such a move.

And yet, there are signs that a voting rights bill is not dead. Democratic senators have continued to work to come up with a bill that can make it through their party, and there is no point in doing that if, in the end, they know they cannot make it a law. “Everybody’s working in good faith on this,” Manchin told Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post. “It’s everybody’s input, not just mine, but I think mine, maybe…got us all talking and rolling in the direction that we had to go back to basics,” he said.

Back to basics is a very good idea indeed. The basic idea that we cannot have equality before the law without equal access to the ballot gave us the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and established the power of the federal government over the states to enforce them.


August 7, 2021 (Saturday)

While I try to post a picture on weekends, I don’t want to fail to put in this record that today’s testimony by Jeffrey A. Rosen, acting attorney general during the Trump administration, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strikes me as being a game-changer.

New York Times reporter Katie Benner broke the news way back in January that a relatively unknown lawyer in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, worked secretly with then-president Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Clark was a political appointee in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice until he was moved in September 2020 to the civil division.

Rosen replaced Attorney General William Barr when Barr resigned on December 23, 2020. But immediately, when Rosen refused to entertain the idea of overturning the election, Trump considered firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark. Rosen and his acting deputy attorney general, Richard P. Donoghue, along with top leaders in the Department of Justice all threatened to resign if Trump made the change, and the then-president backed down.

The news that Clark and Trump were working together to overturn the election sparked congressional investigations in the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday July 28, from the House committee, we learned that Trump had pressured Rosen daily to help him overturn the election. And we learned that Donoghue had taken notes of the calls.

On Friday, July 31, the House Oversight and Reform Committee released some of those notes. They were explosive. On December 27, Rosen said that the Department of Justice had concluded the election was legitimate and that it “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.” Trump replied that he just wanted the department to “say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”

The next day, Clark tried to get Rosen and Donoghue to sign off on a letter claiming that the election had been fraudulent and saying that the Georgia legislature should appoint a different set of presidential electors on the grounds that the election there was full of irregularities.

The Justice Department had already determined that the election was, in fact, legitimate, and not marred by fraud. Donoghue responded to Clark that “there is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this…. [T]his is not even within the realm of possibility.” Rosen wrote: “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter."

According to an article in the New York Times by Katie Benner today, Rosen has been in talks with the Department of Justice for months to determine what information he could offer without disclosing information covered by executive privilege. On July 27, the Department of Justice said it would not restrict the testimony of former officials to the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and shortly after, former president Donald Trump said he would not sue to stop them from testifying.

Clark did not comment, but in January he said that while he had “a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president,” all of his official communications with Trump “were consistent with law.”

According to Benner, as soon as he got the all-clear, Rosen scheduled interviews with the congressional committees and with the inspector general of the Department of Justice to tell as much as he could of what he had seen before anyone tried to stop him. He met with the inspector general yesterday, and today he talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than six hours.

Richard P. Donoghue has also agreed to testify, as have other Department of Justice officials.

What this means is that congressional investigating committees now have witnesses to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that tonight the Senate voted 67-27 to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill forward, just hours after Trump called it a “disgrace” and warned, “It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.” And yet, 18 Republicans joined the Democrats, reflecting the reality that 72% percent of Americans support the measure and going on the record against it, as Republicans did in March with the popular American Rescue Plan, is even less attractive now than it was then.

Tonight’s vote suggests that Republicans are not all going to continue to move in lockstep with the former president. Those cracks could well widen as more and more information about his administration comes out.


August 8, 2021 (Sunday)

On the heels of yesterday’s testimony by former acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen before the Senate Judiciary Committee, former president Trump hit the Fox News Channel to try to turn the conversation back to an attack on President Joe Biden’s handling of the coronavirus.

“Could you imagine if I were president right now and we had this massive attack from the coronavirus?” he asked host Dan Bongino. “If that were me, they would say, ‘What a horrible thing, what a horrible job.’ And I don’t ever hear that.” Of course, we did have just such an attack on his watch. The pandemic Biden is trying to end began during Trump’s term, when more than 400,000 people died.

But there is something more at stake here than Trump’s vanity. This attempt to rewrite the history of the coronavirus pandemic illuminates the urgency of the fight for our democracy.

The reason that Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson’s broadcasts last week from Hungary were so shocking was that his praise of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s policies, which have dramatically eroded Hungarian democracy, threw into the open the Republican Party’s embrace of authoritarianism.

Orbán’s own swing toward authoritarianism came after he whipped up supporters with attacks on immigrants in the surge of migrants coming through Serbia into Hungary in 2015. He ordered a wall built on the Hungary-Serbia border and sent the bill to Brussels, saying the European Union should pay for Hungary’s efforts to protect Europe from the illegal migrants. Since then, migration to—and through—Hungary has plummeted while only about 2 people a day ask for asylum. The country does not have a particularly high percentage of immigrants—only about 5% of the population was born elsewhere—but Orbán continues to stoke anti-immigrant fires, convincing his supporters that they are constantly under siege. Now dominated by Orbán’s government, the media hypes his accusations.

Trump announced his presidential run in 2015 with an attack on immigrants, of course, and that anti-immigrant stance ran through his administration. Last week, Carlson expressed admiration for Orbán’s attack on immigration, but that attack on immigration is far more central to our current political situation than it immediately appears.

When President Joe Biden took office, his top priority was to get Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus, which was devastating the country. He refused to criticize how Republican governors had handled the crisis with the idea that this would be an issue around which Americans could unite, and that unity might then help us get beyond the polarization that has paralyzed us for so long.

In response, Republican pundits, especially those on the Fox News Channel, undermined support for the vaccine. Right-wing accounts on social media warned people the vaccine was dangerous and said that Covid-19 was a hoax, or almost certainly survivable. Trump supporters became one of the populations that were reluctant to get vaccinated. We are now facing a new, very contagious variant—the Delta variant—which appears to be more dangerous even than the original virus and which is infecting children more effectively than the original did. National infection numbers are around 100,000 a day, about the same rate we were suffering in February, before the vaccine was widely available.

Republican-led states have been hit the hardest. Last week, Florida and Texas alone made up one out of every three new cases, and now Florida is the center of the pandemic. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 23,903 new cases in Florida that day alone. Hospitals are filling up as unvaccinated Americans need medical care; Austin, Texas, activated an emergency alert this weekend as its hospitals were overwhelmed.

But Republican lawmakers stand against the mask requirements and vaccines that would help stop the spread. Texas governor Greg Abbott has banned mask and vaccine mandates across the state, as has Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson (who has since said the law was an “error”). South Carolina and Arizona have banned mask mandates in schools.

Today, in just the latest example, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said, “It’s time for us to resist. They can’t arrest all of us… No one should follow the CDC.” He claimed that masking and remote learning was physically and emotionally damaging for children, and there was no reason they should not return to school full time, without masks. He said he would work to defund any school or government agency or school that did not simply resume its pre-pandemic operations.

Instead of trying to stop the spread of the virus, Republicans are blaming Biden for it. They claim that it is sparked by his handling of immigration on our southern border and that infected immigrants are responsible for the spike in the deadly disease.

When Biden asked Republican governors on August 3 to help or get out of the way, Florida governor Ron DeSantis responded: “Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID while he lets COVID-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands. No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of COVID in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies,” and claimed: “He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border.”

DeSantis is not an outlier. Trump has pushed this line, Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity hammers on it, and right-wing publications from the Daily Wire to National Review to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page all insist that immigrants are to blame for the spread of the virus. Rand Paul has gone so far as to claim that administration officials are deliberately sending infected immigrant children around the country to spread the variant. Yesterday, Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis called for Biden’s impeachment over the issue.

In fact, the administration continues to reject or expel border crossers under a public health order known as Title 42. It does permit the entry of unaccompanied minors and some vulnerable families. Migrants who cross the border are immediately required to wear masks. They are not tested at Customs and Border Patrol unless they show symptoms, but all are tested if they move into the system, and those who test positive for coronavirus are quarantined. Those slated for deportation are quarantined before they are deported. While infection rates are climbing, because of both the Delta variant and the crowding at Border Patrol, immigrants test positive at a lower rate than the rate of non-immigrants around them.

And yet, Republicans are using the deadly new coronavirus variant to stoke anti-immigrant fires.

It is cynical, it is deadly… and it takes us one more step toward authoritarianism.


August 9, 2021 (Monday)

It appears the Senate is on track to pass the bipartisan $1 trillion “hard” infrastructure package as early as tomorrow morning.

As soon as it passes, Democrats will turn to the $3.5 trillion bill, a sweeping measure that would modernize the nation’s approach to infrastructure by including human infrastructure as well as the older “hard” projects. It establishes universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds, cuts taxes for families with children, makes community college tuition free for two years, and invests in public universities.

It invests in housing, invests in job training, strengthens supply chains, provides green cards to immigrant workers, and protects the borders with new technologies. It expands the Affordable Care Act, invests in home and community-based health care, and reduces the cost of prescription drugs.

It also invests significantly in measures to combat climate change. Focusing on clean electricity, it cuts emissions through tax incentives, polluter fees, and home electrification projects, and replaces federal vehicles with electric ones.

The bill calls for funding these measures with higher taxes on corporations.

The measure will move forward as a budget resolution that simply says how much money the government expects to need next year, and from 2023 to 2031. Once it passes, the various committees will hammer out exactly how much money should go where, and Congress will then hammer that into some form of an agreement.

Once a measure is finalized, the Senate will try to pass the bill through the process of budget reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered, meaning that it can pass with a simple majority.

If, indeed, President Joe Biden manages to pass both a bipartisan bill that pleases some Republicans and the reconciliation bill that pleases progressive Democrats, it will be an astonishing accomplishment.

One thing that is not in the larger bill is an increase to the debt limit, which will be imperative before October. Raising the debt limit is necessary because Congress has already appropriated money that the Treasury does not have, so it will have to borrow to meet existing obligations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened that neither he nor any other Republican will lift the debt limit and that Democrats must do it alone. But Democrats are not willing to raise it themselves, when it was the Republicans who ran up the debt during Trump’s term, adding $7 trillion to the debt while they slashed corporate taxes. ″The vast majority of the debt subject to the debt limit was accrued before the administration taking office,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress on Monday. “This is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”

The large infrastructure package will reshape American society to invest in ordinary Americans and to get the nation on track to face a future that does not center around fossil fuels. That such an investment is on the table right now seems like good timing, since today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations released the most thorough report on climate ever compiled, and the conclusions are a “code red for humanity,” according to United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres. The report is based on more than 14,000 studies and is endorsed by 195 governments.

It warns that we have waited too long to reduce our use of fossil fuels, guaranteeing that the globe will continue to warm for at least the next 30 years even if we address climate change immediately. This will mean more extreme weather: fires—like the Dixie fire currently raging in Northern California, which is the largest in the state’s history—floods, disease, extinctions, and social conflict. If we address the issue, though, there is still a window in which we could mitigate changes that are even more dire.

The Republicans object to the larger infrastructure bill because it uses the government to invest in the economy, which will cost tax dollars. For forty years, Republicans have called for turning the economy over to private interests and for tax cuts to free up capital for investment, which they argued would make the economy grow. But those policies have sparked discontent as they concentrated wealth upward and ran up huge deficits and debt.

Now, as Democrats want to go back to the sort of system that created our booming post–World War II economy by stopping the concentration of wealth upward and investing in infrastructure, Republicans are complaining that the cost will hobble the nation. They are threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, although as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pointed out, Congress assumed the vast majority of the debt that requires a higher limit before President Joe Biden took office.

Meanwhile, Republican policies are not looking very good right now, as Republican governors have stood staunchly against combatting Covid-19 with either masks or vaccines. The virus is now surging again in the U.S., which currently has 17% of the world’s new infections despite having the best vaccine supply. The spike is especially obvious among children, who make up 20% of the nation’s new cases, apparently becoming infected in homes where adults are not vaccinated. On ABC, Dr. Mark Kline, Physician In Chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, said: “We are hospitalizing record numbers of children. Half of the children in our hospital today are under two years of age, and most of the others are between 5 and 10 years of age.”

Cases continue to rise in Florida and Texas, where governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott have prohibited mask mandates. In Florida, journalist Katherine G. Hobbs reports: “Volusia County and Advent Health Orlando are finalizing the purchase of fleets of refrigerated mobile morgues amid Florida’s COVID surge.” In Texas, Abbott today called on Texas hospitals to postpone elective procedures in order to clear more beds for Covid patients. The state’s health department is trying to find more health care workers to come to the state to help out.

Nonetheless, DeSantis and Abbott refuse to modify their ban on mask mandates, clearly seeing a strong stand on this issue as a political statement that they believe will win them Republican voters. But as infections and deaths, especially among children, rise, the wisdom of this move is not clear.

Private companies, courts, and schools are all challenging the governors’ edict. A federal judge has overruled Florida’s prohibition on private companies from asking about vaccine status, a rule challenged by cruise ship lines, who would have faced millions of dollars in fines, although vaccine requirements are standard in other ports they visit. DeSantis says he will appeal.

In Arkansas, where only 37% of the state’s population is vaccinated, two challenges to the state’s ban on mask mandates led a judge on Friday to block the ban temporarily. One of the challenges was brought by a school where more than 900 students and staff are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak. In Texas, Austin, Houston, and Dallas Independent School Districts are instituting mask mandates in defiance of Abbott’s executive order.

In Florida, the Miami-Dade school system is the fourth largest school district in the nation. When Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made it clear that he will follow the guidance of public health experts and doctors, DeSantis threatened to withhold the salaries of any superintendents or school board members who defy his executive order prohibiting mask mandates.

Carvalho issued a statement saying “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees.”


August 10, 2021 (Tuesday)

The shocking revelations from former acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen about former president Trump’s direct efforts to use the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election, along with the horrors of spiking Covid among the unvaccinated, drove out of the news cycle a revelatory piece of news.

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor released the jobs report for August 2021. It was stronger than economists had predicted, and even stronger than the administration had hoped.

In July, employers added 943,000 jobs, and unemployment fell to 5.4%. Average hourly wages increased, as well. They are 4% higher than they were a year ago.

Harvard Professor Jason Furman, former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, tweeted: “I have yet to find a blemish in this jobs report. I’ve never before seen such a wonderful set of economic data.” He noted the report showed “Job gains in most sectors… Big decline in unemployment rate, even bigger for Black & Hispanic/Latino… Red[uctio]n in long-term unemp[loyment]… Solid (nominal) wage gains.”

“Still a long way to go,” he wrote. “[W]e’re about 7.5 million jobs short of where we should have been right now absent the pandemic. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, told New York Times reporter Nelson D. Schwartz: “It’s an unambiguously positive report…. Labor market conditions are strong. Unemployment benefits, infection risks and child care constraints are not preventing robust hiring.”

The jobs report is an important political marker because it appears to validate the Democrats’ approach to the economy, the system the president calls the “Biden Plan.” That plan started in January, as soon as Biden took office, using the federal government to combat the coronavirus pandemic as aggressively as the administration could and, at the same time, using federal support to restart the economy.

In March 2021, the Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package. In addition to strengthening healthcare systems to combat the coronavirus, it provides economic relief primarily to low- and middle-income Americans by extending unemployment benefits and the child tax credit; funding schools, housing, and local governments; providing help for small businesses; and so on.

Polls indicated that the measure was enormously popular. A Morning Consult poll from February showed that 3 out of 4 voters liked it, and local governments and state governors, including a number of Republicans, backed the bill.

But every single Republican lawmaker in the House of Representatives voted against the measure, saying it was too expensive and that it was unnecessary.

Since 1980, Republican lawmakers have opposed government intervention to stimulate the economy, insisting that private investment is more efficient. Rather than use the government as presidents of both parties from Franklin Delano Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter did to keep the playing field level and promote growth, modern-day Republicans have argued that the government should simply cut taxes in order to free up capital for wealthier Americans to invest. This, they said, would create enough growth to make up for lost tax revenues.

President Ronald Reagan began this trend with major tax cuts in 1981 and 1986. President George H.W. Bush promised not to raise taxes—remember “Read my lips: No new taxes”—but found he had to increase revenues to address the skyrocketing deficits the Reagan cuts created. When he did agree to higher taxes, his own party leaders turned against him. Then President George W. Bush cut taxes again in 2001 and 2003, despite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in 2017, Republicans under President Donald Trump cut taxes still further.

In 2017, Trump claimed the cut would be “rocket fuel for the economy.” Then–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed almost 40 years of Republican ideology when he said: “The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.” And then–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "After eight straight years of slow growth and underperformance, America is ready to take off.” (In fact, while Trump’s tax cuts meant tax revenues dropped 31%, they yielded only 2.9% growth, the exact same as the economy enjoyed in 2015, before the cuts.)

Laws like the American Rescue Plan should, in the Republicans’ view, destroy the economy. But Friday’s booming jobs report, along with the reality that the Biden administration has created an average of 832,000 new jobs per month, knocks a serious hole in that argument.

It may be that the pendulum is swinging away from the Republican conviction that tax cuts and private investment are the only key to economic growth.

Today, the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill by a vote of 69 to 30. The bill repairs roads and bridges, invests in transit and railroads, replaces lead pipes, and provides broadband across the country, among other things. In the next ten years, it is expected to create nearly 3 million jobs.

Nineteen Republicans voted in favor of the bill. There were many reasons to do so. The measure is popular with voters, and Republicans were embarrassed by their unanimous opposition to the American Rescue Plan. Indicating a willingness to work with Democrats might also undercut the Republicans’ image as obstructionists and help to protect the filibuster (a factor I’m guessing was behind McConnell’s yes vote).

But that Republicans felt they needed to abandon their position and vote yes for any reason is a big deal. “For the Republicans who supported this bill, you showed a lot of courage,” Biden told them. “And I want to personally thank you for that.”

The bill now goes to the House, which will take it up after the Senate passes a $3.5 trillion infrastructure measure through the reconciliation process, which Democrats can do with a simple majority and without Republican support. The larger package addresses climate change, child care, elder care, housing, and so on. Moody Analytics, which provides economic research and modeling, says that, if it is combined with the bipartisan bill, it will add close to 2 million jobs a year over the next ten years.

Yet, Republicans say it is a “reckless tax and spending spree.”

In contrast, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: "My largest concern is not: What are the risks if we make these big investments? It is: What is the cost if we don’t?”


Just a reminder that HCR appends sources to each daily post. In the interest of avoiding clutter, I don’t repost them here.

For example, for yesterday’s post, she added:



August 11, 2021 (Wednesday)

Four years ago today, racists, antisemites, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis, and other alt-right groups met in Charlottesville, Virginia, to “Unite the Right.” The man who organized the rally, Jason Kessler, claimed he wanted to bring people together to protest the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a local park. But the rioters turned immediately to chants that had been used by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s: “you will not replace us,” “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil.” They gave Nazi salutes and carried Nazi insignia, and many brought battle gear and went looking for fights. By the end of August 12, they had killed counterprotester Heather Heyer and had injured 19 others. After the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency, the rioters went home.

The Unite the Right rally drew a clear political line in America. Then-president Donald Trump refused to condemn the rioters, telling a reporter that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden watched the events at Charlottesville and concluded that the soul of the nation was at stake. He decided to run for president and to defeat the man he believed threatened our democracy. Biden was especially concerned with Trump’s praise for the “very fine people” aligned with the rioters. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it,” Biden said, “and in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

Four years later, it is much easier to see the larger context of the Charlottesville riot. The political threat of those gangs who tried to unite in Charlottesville in 2017 recalls how fascism came to America in the 1930s: not as an elite ideology, but as a unification of street brawlers to undermine the nation’s democratic government.

In 2018, historian Joseph Fronczak explored the arrival of fascism in the U.S. In an article in the leading journal of the historical profession, the Journal of American History, Fronczak explained how men interested in overturning Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency in 1934 admired and then imitated the violent right-wing gangs that helped overturn European governments and install right-wing dictators.

The United States had always had radical street mobs, from anti-Catholic gangs in the 1830s to Ku Klux Klan chapters in the 1860s to anti-union thugs in the 1880s. In the 1930s, though, those eager to get rid of FDR brought those street fighters together as a political force to overthrow the federal government.

While they failed to do so in an attempted 1934 coup, Fronczak explains, street fighters learned about the contours of fascism once their power as a violent street force was established. He argues that in the U.S., fascism grew out of political violence, not the other way around. Mobs whose members dressed in similar shirts, waved similar flags, and made similar salutes pieced together racist, antisemitic, and nationalistic ideas and became the popular arm of right-wing leaders. In America, the hallmark of budding fascism was populist street violence, rather than an elite philosophy of government.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville had the hallmarks of such a populist movement. Leaders brought together different gangs, dressed similarly and carrying the emblem of tiki torches, to organize and attack the government. Rather than rejecting the rioters, then-President Trump encouraged them.

From that point on, Trump seemed eager to ride a wave of violent populism into authoritarianism. He stoked populist anger over state shutdowns during coronavirus, telling supporters to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” His encouragement fed the attacks on the Michigan state house in 2020. And then, after he repeatedly told his supporters the 2020 presidential election had been stolen, violent gangs attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the government and install him as president for another term.

While that attempted coup was unsuccessful, the empowerment of violent gangs as central political actors is stronger than ever. Since January 6, angry mobs have driven election officials out of office in fear for their safety. In increasingly angry protests, they have threatened school board members over transgender rights and over teaching Critical Race Theory, a legal theory from the 1970s that is not, in fact, in the general K–12 curriculum.

Now, as the coronavirus rages again, they are showing exactly how this process works as they threaten local officials who are following the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require masks. Although a Morning Consult poll shows that 69% of Americans want a return to mask mandates, vocal mobs who oppose masking are dominating public spaces and forcing officials to give in to their demands.

In Franklin, Tennessee, yesterday, antimask mobs threatened doctors and nurses asking the local school board to reinstate a mask mandate in the schools. “We will find you,” they shouted at a man leaving the meeting. “We know who you are.”


And this is terrifying, the literal definition of terrorism.

  • Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
    Terrorism 2002/2005 — FBI

This is a rapidly escalating situation. We cannot afford to ignore it, although since the vast majority of the terrorists involved are members of and supported by the “conservative” (actually fascist) political wing, any attempt to deal with them as the terrorists that they are will be met with swift and viscous blow-back. “May you live in interesting times” rings in my head pretty constantly. As a member of one of the groups likely to be targeted, I feel this very much aimed at me.


That really fucking sucks, doc.

Please know that, as I’m sure I can safely say for others here, both your work IRL and your willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with us are greatly appreciated and admired. We’re pulling for you and we got your back. :heart:


huh. well that’s not anything ive heard about before.

and now i see why…

Money was funneled thru the Sen. Prescott Bush-led Union Banking Corporation (yes, those Bushes) and the Prescott Bush-led Brown Brothers Harriman (yes, that Harriman) to the League (and to Hitler, but that’s another story). The plotters bragged about Bush’s Hitler connections and even claimed that Germany had promised Bush that it would provide materiel for the coup.


Damn, the things in our history that get hushed up! TIL!


August 12, 2021 (Thursday)

Today the big news was that the 2020 census came out. I have some things to say about it, but I wrote my way through the weekend and it has caught up to me. I’m generally good so long as I get one early night in seven, but since I missed it this week, I can’t hit that bed fast enough tonight.

In the meantime, a new photographer, who snapped this shot on her way to work at the local boat shop. I always love different perspectives.

Thanks for your patience. I’ll be back tomorrow.


[Photo “Old Shop Sunrise,” by Eva Pontrelli]


August 13, 2021 (Friday)

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released information about the 2020 census, designed to enable states to start the process of drawing new lines for their congressional districts, a process known as redistricting.

Because of that very limited intent for this particular information dump, the picture the material gives is a very specific one. The specificity of that information echoes the political history that in the 1920s began to skew our Congress to give rural white voters disproportionate power. It also reinforces a vision of America divided by race: precisely the vision that former president Trump and his supporters want Americans to believe.

The U.S. Constitution requires that the government count the number of people in the country every ten years so that lawmakers can divide up the representation in Congress, which is apportioned according to population in the House of Representatives. (The Senate is by state: each state gets two senators.)

This matters not just for the relative weight of voices in lawmaking in the House, but also because of our Electoral College. The Electoral College is how we elect the U.S. president. Each state gets the number of electors that is equal to the number of senators and representatives combined. So, if your state has 10 representatives and 2 senators, it would have 12 presidential electors.

Censuses are never 100% accurate. It’s hard to count people, especially if they don’t want to be counted. Censuses also are inherently political, since a corrupt president will not want an accurate count: they will want areas that support their party to be overcounted, while areas that support the opposite party to be undercounted.

The 1890 census is a famous example of both of these problems. Indigenous Americans who were eager to avoid the observance of the federal government out of concern for their lives moved around to avoid being counted. The process itself was notoriously corrupt because in 1889 and 1890, the Republican Party had forced the admission of six new western states—North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming—that supported the Republicans, and had insisted that the new census would show enough people there to warrant statehood. So they were eager to find lots and lots of people in those new states but very few in the populous territories of Arizona and New Mexico, which they knew would vote Democratic. (I would love to write a whole post about the 1890 census, but I will spare you.)

Today, because of the pandemic, the results of the 2020 census have been delayed, and states are already behind in their schedules to redistrict for the upcoming 2022 election. (I know, I know, but it really is right over the horizon. Some states are already thinking about moving their primary elections because there’s not enough time to redistrict before them.) So yesterday, the Census Bureau released the information states need to begin that process. It released its record of the number of people living in each state and U.S. territory.

But in addition to needing to know the actual numbers of the count, state lawmakers need to know the racial makeup of their states, since there are federal rules about making sure minority votes aren’t silenced in redistricting by, for example, splitting a minority vote into small enough groups among districts that minorities essentially don’t have a voice (this is called “cracking”), or concentrating members of one group into a single district, so they are underrepresented at the state level (this is called “packing”).

So the material that came out yesterday was not the entire information from the census; it was just the material states need for redistricting.

It shows how many people there are living in America today. Population shifts mean that Montana, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina, and Florida all picked up a seat, while Texas picked up two. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, California, and West Virginia all lost one. Within those states, cities have grown and rural counties have lost people. For the first time in our history, all ten of the country’s largest cities now have more than a million people in them.

The material released yesterday also shows the nation’s racial makeup. That information is confusing, as all self-identification on a form can be. It says that America’s white population has dropped significantly since 2010. According to the census, people who identify as white now make up 58% of the population while just ten years ago they made up 64%. But the census also shows that people who self-identify as a mixture of races has skyrocketed, climbing from 9 million in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. It seems likely that some of the drop in self-identification as white is due to people identifying themselves differently than they have in the past.

Urbanization and multiculturalism are not new to our history, and their appearance in the census led lawmakers to create an imbalance in our government in the 1920s. The Constitution says that a state can’t have a representative for fewer than 30,000 people, but it doesn’t say anything about an upper limit of constituents represented by a single representative. In 1912, when the country had 92 million people, the House had grown to 435 members.

But the 1920 census showed that more Americans lived in cities than in the country, at the same time that white Americans were all tied up in knots that those new urban dwellers were Black Americans and immigrants from southern and central Europe and Asia. Aware that continuing to allow more representatives for these growing numbers of Americans meant that the weight of representation would move away from rural white Americans and toward immigrants in cities, lawmakers refused to continue increasing the number of seats in the House. (They also passed the 1924 Immigration Act, which set quotas on how many people from each country could come to America.)

In 1929, lawmakers froze the number of representatives at 435 voting members of the House. While this number would bounce around as new states came in, for example, it has once again settled as the number of voting representatives today, when our population is 331 million.

That cap means that the size of the average congressional district is now 711,000 people, a number that is far higher than the framers intended and that favors smaller, more rural, whiter states in the House of Representatives. It also favors those states in the Electoral College, where they have more weight proportionately than they would if the House had continued to grow.

By identifying everyone by race—as it needed to, for redistricting purposes—yesterday’s census material also engages what sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields have called “racecraft,” which, by artificially dividing people along racial lines, reinforces the idea of race as the most important thing in society. Yesterday’s material does not mention, for example, income or wealth, which are not explicitly factored in when redistricting but which the last census material released on that topic suggested are at least as divisive as race.

The idea that race is paramount is, of course, the theory that the right wing would like Americans to believe, and the idea that white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color and Black Americans falls right into the right-wing argument that minorities are “replacing” white Americans.

For a century now, the machinery of redistricting has favored rural whites. With the 2020 census information reinforcing the idea that white, rural Americans are under siege, it seems unlikely that lawmakers in Republican states will want to rebalance the system.

But it seems equally unlikely that an increasingly urbanizing, multicultural nation will continue to accept being governed by an ever-smaller white, rural minority.