Heather Cox Richardson

Yeah… just thinking “I remember trying to be one of those Americans you are praising now for not falling to nativism and hatred. Y’all sure didn’t seem to like us much then.”

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rose colored glasses GIF by The Maury Show

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Echoes of July 31st and August 4th, 1914, Lustgarten Berlin.

Making history, indeed.

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September 12, 2021 (Sunday)

It’s been a very long week indeed, but the sun will come up again tomorrow, and we will tackle it all again then.

[Photo “Breakwater Dawn” by Peter Ralston.]

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September 13, 2021 (Monday)

As the coronavirus continues to burn across the United States, Republicans are maintaining their opposition to President Joe Biden’s new requirement that certain groups, including those who work at companies that employ more than 100 people, should either be vaccinated or be tested frequently for the virus. They insist that vaccination should be voluntary, but have no solution to the new spike in coronavirus infections and deaths.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis is threatening to sue cities that impose vaccine requirements, saying such mandates will hurt the economy by threatening jobs. More than 11,215 Florida residents are currently hospitalized with Covid-19.

More than 243,000 children tested positive for the virus last week, the second highest number of pediatric cases since the pandemic started. About 2200 are currently hospitalized.

Democrats continue to develop the infrastructure measure they expect to pass through reconciliation, thus being able to steer the bill through the Senate without facing a filibuster (budget reconciliation bills can’t be filibustered). A recent poll conducted for CNN by the independent research firm SSRS found that 93% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents think it is important to the party’s identity to believe that the federal government should do more to help people.

The price tag on the new measure is currently around $3.5 trillion. As E. J. Dionne points out in the Washington Post, that number covers 10 years of spending, a period of time in which the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of production, is expected to be $288 trillion. So that $3.5 trillion makes up around just 1.2 percent of the economy. It’s a big number, but not a large percentage for an investment in childcare, elder care, education, and addressing climate change.

The Democrats propose to fund the bill not with deficit spending alone, as so many of our investments have been funded of late, but by cutting spending elsewhere and by raising revenue by restoring some of the taxes Republicans cut in 2017. The Democrats also propose raising taxes on individuals who make more than $400,000 a year, or couples who make more than $450,000 a year. There is a growing impulse to level the economic playing field in this country as growing inequality makes the news more frequently. As Dr. Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, told Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein, the wealth of the top 400 people in the U.S. has increased by $1.4 trillion since 2019.

While the moderate Democrats and the progressive wing of the party are sparking breathless news stories as they hash out their differences, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Republicans refuse to participate in this process at all.

Perhaps the biggest breaking news today, although it, too, is a continuation of a longer theme, is that, in California’s recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom, the campaign website of challenger Republican Larry Elder, a right-wing talk show host, is already claiming he lost the election because of fraud. “Statistical analyses used to detect fraud in elections held in 3rd-world nations (such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran) have detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor,” the website says. “The primary analytical tool used was Benford’s Law and can be readily reproduced.”

But the election isn’t until tomorrow.

The theme that Democrats win elections only by cheating became popular in Republican circles after the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which made it easier for poor people to vote. Republicans said Democrats, who passed the measure, were simply packing elections with their own voters. There was not then, and there is not now, evidence of widespread fraud in American elections.

Former president Donald Trump harped on the idea that Democrats cheated in the 2016 election—he insisted he would have won the popular vote as well as the vote in the Electoral College if it hadn’t been for fraudulent Democratic votes—and that idea is, of course, at the heart of his complaint about Biden’s election in 2020. There is no evidence for these accusations; they are lies. And yet, that recent CNN/SSRS poll found that 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents think believing that Trump won the 2020 election is important to their identity as Republicans.

California has about half as many registered Republicans as it does registered Democrats, and Newsom won in 2018 by almost 24 percentage points, so if Newsom wins tomorrow’s election it will hardly be an upset. But Elder is already claiming fraud and refusing to say he will accept the results of the election—the same playbook Trump used in 2016 and 2020. Tonight, a pastor at a rally for Elder prayed: “We don’t even look at the polls because we are looking to you, Lord. Lord, we pray that you would take down the current government…. We ask this state will be set free, and you would start with Larry Elder.”

If losers in a democracy refuse to accept the legitimacy of elections, the system falls apart.

The growing radicalism of the Republican Party is putting pressure on Democrats to pass a voting rights act to counteract the vote-suppressing measures that Republican-dominated states are enacting. Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hopes to bring a voting rights bill backed by West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin to the floor for a vote as early as next week.

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September 14, 2021 (Tuesday)

This morning, the team of Democratic senators working on a voting rights measure that could meet the demands of conservative Democratic West Virginia senator Joe Manchin released their bill. The 592-page document is described as a bill “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box and reduce the influence of big money in politics, and for other purposes.” Led by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the senators have called their effort the “Freedom to Vote Act.”

This new measure is a pared-down version of the For the People Act passed by the House earlier this year before being blocked by Republicans in the Senate. It makes it easier to vote, allowing for automatic voter registration and mail-in voting. It protects the voting rights of minorities and establishes what forms of identification can be required for voter IDs. It makes Election Day a federal holiday and protects election workers from partisan pressure. The bill also tries to slow the flood of “dark money” from undisclosed sources into campaigns and bans partisan gerrymandering.

Senate Democrats could not pass the measure without significant changes to make it acceptable to Manchin, and he has worked to craft this new measure that he has argued—without public evidence—will attract Republican votes. His hope is to pass the bill with the ten Republican votes necessary to override a filibuster. If those votes are not forthcoming, he and the rest of the Democrats will have to confront the reality that they must preserve either the right of Americans to vote—the centerpiece of our democracy—or the filibuster.

After the bill was released, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promptly announced that Republicans would not support It. He says there’s no reason for the federal government to be “taking over how we conduct elections in this country.” This prompted Princeton historian Kevin Kruse to note that the Senate renewed the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2006 by a vote of 98–0, and to suggest that Republicans have significantly revised their definition of federal overreach in the last 15 years.

The protection of voting rights seems more vital than ever today, as excerpts from a new book by veteran journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa revealed just how precarious the last days of the Trump presidency were. The portrait they reveal is of a man so desperate to retain his hold on the presidency that those around him thought he was mentally unhinged, while they also tried to do what he wanted so they wouldn’t upset him.

Trump tried hard to convince then–Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the electoral college votes from the states. Pence tried to oblige him, eventually turning to former Vice President Dan Quayle, who had served in the George H. W. Bush administration, to see if there was any way he could do what Trump asked. According to Woodward and Costa, Pence repeatedly asked Quayle if there was anything he could do. Quayle answered: “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

But Trump didn’t want to take no for an answer. When Pence refused, Trump allegedly told him: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.” He later told the vice president: “You’ve betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”

The account casts Pence’s role in the January 6 insurrection in a new light.

The book also says that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, was so worried that Trump’s mental state around the time of the election would lead him to attack China that twice Milley called his Chinese counterpart Li Zuocheng secretly to assure him that the U.S. would not launch a surprise attack. Milley was not the only one worried about the president: when Trump refused to concede the election, CIA Director Gina Haspel allegedly told Milley, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup. The whole thing is insanity. He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum.” Haspel worried Trump might attack Iran.

Milley also allegedly told top military commanders that they should involve him if then-president Trump ordered a nuclear strike. That conversation was in part a reaction to a phone call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), two days after the assault on the Capitol, in which the Speaker demanded to know: “What precautions are available to prevent an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or from accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike?”

When Milley tried to reassure her, she continued: “What I’m saying to you is that if they couldn’t even stop him from an assault on the Capitol, who even knows what else he may do? And is there anybody in charge at the White House who was doing anything but kissing his fat butt all over this?”

“He’s crazy. You know he’s crazy,” Pelosi said, according to a transcript of the call Woodward and Costa saw. “He’s crazy and what he did yesterday is further evidence of his craziness.” Milley replied to the House Speaker: “I agree with you on everything.”

The picture the book excerpts paint of Trump is of an unhinged man screaming obscenities at his advisers, unwilling to accept limits to his power. The book also highlights the role of Steve Bannon, who urged Trump to fight the January 6 counting of the ballots.

We also learned today that Trump’s own senior advisers were warning as early as February 2020 that the nation was dangerously unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, even as Trump was publicly saying the administration’s response to the crisis had been “pretty amazing.” A House committee is discovering information about that response from messages retrieved from the personal email accounts the advisers used.

The revelations about the former president, along with the efforts of administration and military leaders to either support or thwart him, highlight just how close the nation came to a disaster, and that the danger continues. But preventing that danger was never Milley’s responsibility alone. The Constitution provides two safeguards against an unstable leader who might, for example, launch a war simply to keep himself in power. One is the 25th Amendment, which provides an emergency mechanism for removing a dangerous president, but while there was talk of using that amendment to remove Trump after January 6, the amendment’s reliance on presidential appointees to trigger it meant that this particular president would not be threatened with removal in that way.

The other safeguard is the power of impeachment and removal from office upon conviction. Democrats did try to impeach and remove Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in early 2020 over the Ukraine scandal, only to have Senate Republicans stand firmly behind their president and vote to acquit.

The party’s association with Trump and his ilk did not help it in today’s recall election in California. As of 11:00 pm California time, voters rejected the recall of Democratic governor Gavin Newsom by more than 66%. In thanking his supporters, Newsom claimed his victory showed that voters said yes to science, vaccines, “ending this pandemic,” “people’s right to vote without fear,” a woman’s “fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body”; yes to diversity, inclusion, pluralism, economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice. Californians—and Americans, Newsom said—are making choices.

Newsom’s Republican challenger has already claimed his loss was due to voter fraud.

That claim highlights the crucial difference between voter fraud and election fraud. Republicans are using the claim of voter fraud—the idea of individual corrupt voters—to launch election fraud, the overturning of a free and fair election. While voter fraud is vanishingly rare, the voter suppression measures passed by Republican-dominated states mean that election fraud is looming and likely… unless Congress passes the Freedom to Vote Act.

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September 15, 2021 (Wednesday)

Today’s news can wait for tomorrow. Tonight, a thank-you.

Exactly two years ago today, after about a six-week hiatus during the summer, I wrote a Facebook post that started: “Many thanks to all of you who have reached out to see if I’m okay. I am, indeed (aside from having been on the losing end of an encounter with a yellow jacket this afternoon!). I’ve been moving, setting up house, and finishing the new book. Am back and ready to write, but now everything seems like such a dumpster fire it’s very hard to know where to start. So how about a general overview of how things at the White House look to me, today…”

I went on to explain that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), had written a letter to then–acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, on Friday, September 13, telling Maguire he knew that a whistleblower had filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who had deemed the complaint “credible” and "urgent.” This meant that the complaint was supposed to be sent on to the House Intelligence Committee. But, rather than sending it to the House as the law required, Maguire had withheld it. Schiff’s letter told Maguire that he knew about the complaint and that Maguire had better hand it over. Schiff speculated that Maguire was covering up evidence of crimes by the president or his closest advisors.

Readers swamped me with questions. So I wrote another post answering them and explaining the news, which began breaking at a breathtaking pace.

And so, these Letters from an American were born.

In the two years since then, we have lived through the Ukraine scandal—the secret behind the whistleblower complaint in Schiff’s letter—which revealed that then-president Trump was secretly running his own foreign policy team to strong-arm Ukraine into helping the president’s reelection campaign.

We lived through the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October 2019, leaving our former Kurdish allies to be murdered by Turkish troops. ISIS freed compatriots from jails and launched new attacks, and Russian troops moved into the positions we had held in the region.

We lived through the impeachment hearings, the trial of former president Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, then the president’s acquittal on those charges and his subsequent purge of career government officials and their replacement with Trump loyalists.

Then, on February 7, just two days after Senate Republicans acquitted him, Trump picked up the phone and called veteran journalist Bob Woodward to tell him there was a deadly new virus spreading around the world. It was airborne, he explained, and was five times “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” “This is deadly stuff,” he said. He would not share that information with other Americans, though, continuing to play down the virus in hopes of protecting the economy.

The pandemic, more than 660,000 of us—1 American in 500—have not lived through.

We have, though, lived through the attempts of the former president to rig the 2020 election, the determination of American voters to make their voices heard, the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, the election of Democrat Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and the subsequent refusal of Trump and his loyalists to accept Biden’s win.

And we have lived through the unthinkable: an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob determined to overrule the results of an election and install their own candidate in the White House. For the first time in our history, the peaceful transfer of power was broken.

Rather than disappearing after the inauguration of President Biden, the reactionary authoritarianism of the former president’s supporters has grown stronger. Senate Republicans acquitted Trump for a second time in his second impeachment trial-- this time for incitement of insurrection-- and in Republican-dominated states across the country, legislatures have passed laws to suppress Democratic voting and to put the counting of votes into partisan hands.

We have seen the attempts of Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress to move America past this dark moment by making coronavirus vaccines widely available and passing the American Rescue Plan to rebuild the economy. We have watched the U.S. withdraw from the longest war in our history, losing 13 military personnel in the exit from Afghanistan that brought out more than 130,000 evacuees.

And we are, today, watching the fight over the survival of our democracy.

If you are tired, you have earned the right to be.

And yet, you are still here, reading.

I write these letters because I love America. I am staunchly committed to the principle of human self-determination for people of all races, genders, abilities, and ethnicities, and I believe that American democracy could be the form of government that comes closest to bringing that principle to reality. And I know that achieving that equality depends on a government shaped by fact-based debate rather than by extremist ideology and false narratives.

And so I write.

But I have come to understand that I am simply the translator for the sentiments shared by hundreds of thousands of people who are finding each other and giving voice to the principles of democracy. Your steadfast interest, curiosity, critical thinking, and especially your kindness—to me and to one another—illustrates that we have not only the power, but also the passion, to reinvent our nation.

To those who read these letters, send tips, proofread, criticize, comment, argue, worry, cheer, award medals (!), and support me and one another: I thank you all for taking me along on this wild, unexpected, exhausting, and exhilarating journey.

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September 16, 2021 (Thursday)

Disgraced retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn is endorsing candidates for office.

Flynn advised former president Trump’s 2016 campaign and was Trump’s first national security adviser. He served for just 22 days before having to resign after news broke that he had lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” lying to the FBI but withdrew the plea two weeks before sentencing. Then–attorney general William Barr directed the Department of Justice to drop all charges against Flynn before former president Donald Trump pardoned him on November 25, 2020.

Just days later, Flynn retweeted a news release from a right-wing Ohio group called “We the People Convention.” That release contained a petition asking Trump to declare martial law, suspend the Constitution, silence the media, and have the military “oversee a national re-vote” of the 2020 election. The petition ended by calling on Trump “to boldly act to save our nation…. We will also have no other choice but to take matters into our own hands, and defend our rights on our own, if you do not act within your powers to defend us.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley immediately opposed Flynn’s suggestion. He distanced the military from talk of a coup. “Our military is very very capable… we are determined to defend the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “No one should doubt that.” A defense official told Military Times that the idea of Trump declaring martial law and having the military redo the election is “insane in a year that we didn’t think could get anymore insane.”

But Trump did not back down. On December 2, he released a video he said was “maybe the most important speech I’ve ever made.” It was a 46-minute rant insisting that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he won the 2020 election. While he lost virtually every court challenge he mounted and his own attorney general, William Barr, said there was no evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of the election, Trump insisted that there was “massive” voter fraud and called on the Supreme Court to “do what’s right for our country,” including throwing out hundreds of thousands of Democratic votes so “I very easily win in all states.”

Flynn had been an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy, taking an oath to it on July 4, 2020. On January 8, 2021, Twitter permanently banned Flynn, along with others who were promoting the views of the QAnon conspiracy that Trump actually won the 2020 election.

But, far from disappearing, Flynn has continued to speak to pro-Trump groups and to rebuild his brand, going so far in May as to call for a coup in the U.S. like that happening in Myanmar, where in February the military seized power from the democratically elected government.

Flynn appears to be regaining ground among Trump loyalists. Yesterday, in Michigan, he endorsed a Republican candidate for secretary of state, the official in charge of elections. The candidate, Kristina Karamo, tweeted that she was honored to receive the endorsement of Flynn, whom she called “a victim of political persecution” who “continues to fight fearlessly for [America]. His selflessness, wisdom, and kindness encourages us all.”

Today, Flynn endorsed Eric Greitens for a Missouri senate seat. Greitens resigned from the Missouri governorship in 2018, after accusations that he had threatened and assaulted an affair partner and suggestions that he had used an email list from a nonprofit for his political campaign. Greitens resigned in disgrace but is trying to relaunch his political career as a Trump supporter, running for the Senate seat of retiring Missouri Senator Roy Blunt. Greitens has picked up the endorsements of a number of Trump loyalists, although he has not yet received the endorsement of Trump, despite courting it quite eagerly.

In his announcement of support for Greitens, Flynn made a play for the leadership of the MAGA movement by attacking the Republicans who refused to get on board with Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

His announcement played off Tuesday’s news that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who had opposed his talk of a military coup to keep Trump in office, had reassured his Chinese counterpart that the United States would not attack without provocation and notice despite the former president’s erratic and dangerous behavior during the last weeks of his term. Trump Republicans are demanding Milley’s resignation, but their determination to undermine Milley by portraying him as a tool of what they are calling the “radical left” has been evident for a while. In the spring, Republican lawmakers complained that, as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn [the military] into pansies.” Milley defended the idea that it is important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read” and said, “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white, and I want to understand it.” Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson called him “a pig” and “stupid.”

In his message endorsing Greitens, Flynn brought these themes together and seemed to be trying to advance his own future in the government in place of Trump: “America needs fighters,” he said. “Worse than the radical leftists, the corrupt Deep State, the mainstream media, and Big Tech are the feckless and spineless Republicans who have utterly surrendered…. [T]hose who betrayed President Trump the most were not the leftists but the cowardly Republicans in Name Only…. We don’t need any more insiders or career politicians in Washington, especially not those with ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” an apparent reference to Milley’s calls with his counterpart in China. Flynn applauded Greitens’ suggestion that the 2020 election was stolen, and then said he was proud to stand with Greitens “in our shared mission to revive our Republic.”

Flynn seems to be trying to pick up Trump’s falling mantle as the former president himself appears to be losing relevance.

In Tuesday’s recall election in California, Democrats framed the choice as one between Governor Gavin Newsom and his Trump-like chief rival, and voters resoundingly rejected the Republican. Even among Trump’s usual base, his appeal seems to be fading. According to sportswriter Dan Rafael, who specializes in boxing, sources have told him that the September 11 fight between Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort—the fight Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., commented on—garnered only about 150,000 pay-per-view buys, which means it grossed about $7.5 million. This is, Rafael says “a massive $ loser…not remotely close to covering even the purses, not to mention rest of expenses.”

Flynn’s attempt to reinsert himself into American politics is a story that I’m watching, but the bigger news today is coming out of China, where the country’s second-largest property developer, China Evergrande Group, is tottering. Evergrande has assets of $355 billion; it employs 200,000 staff members and hires about 3.8 million people a year for its different projects.

The slowing property markets in China and a government crackdown on reckless borrowing have weakened the huge entity. Its collapse would destabilize Chinese banks. People worried about the safety of their investments, and vendors worrying they will not be paid have begun to protest outside the company’s main headquarters; they have been removed by security. Observers expect the Chinese government will help to manage any forthcoming collapse, but the ripples from such a failure will likely be felt around the world.

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im failing to see the problem…

Pansies

( looks quite nice to me )

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Indeed, and now that we no longer have a “Department of War,” how about a Department of Peace?

I’d have no problem at all with its logo being a pansy.

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Something I found interesting is that the name “pansy” is from French pensée meaning thought, apparently because the flowers look like contemplative faces. Which would make them a great logo for something actually sensible, instead of whatever macho nonsense Cruz prefers.

That said, if the military are literally going to turn into pansies…well, it might still be for the better, but we should at least give recruits a chance to opt out first.

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September 17, 2021 (Friday)

One hundred and fifty nine years ago this week, in 1862, 75,000 United States troops and about 38,000 Confederate troops massed along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

After a successful summer of fighting, Confederate general Robert E. Lee had crossed the Potomac River into Maryland to bring the Civil War to the North. He hoped to swing the slave state of Maryland into rebellion and to weaken Lincoln’s war policies in the upcoming 1862 elections. For his part, Union general George McClellan hoped to finish off the southern Army of Northern Virginia that had snaked away from him all summer.

The armies clashed as the sun rose about 5:30 on the clear fall morning of September 17, 159 years ago today. For twelve hours the men slashed at each other. Amid the smoke and fire, soldiers fell. Twelve hours later, more than 2000 U.S. soldiers lay dead and more than 10,000 of their comrades were wounded or missing. Fifteen hundred Confederates had fallen in the battle, and another 9000 or so were wounded or captured. The United States had lost 25% of its fighting force; the Confederates, 31%. The First Texas Infantry lost 82% of its men.

That slaughter was brought home to northern families in a novel way after the battle. Photographer Alexander Gardner, working for the great photographer Matthew Brady, brought his camera to Antietam two days after the guns fell silent. Until Gardner’s field experiment, photography had been limited almost entirely to studios. People sent formal photos home and recorded family images for posterity, as if photographs were portraits.

Taking his camera outside, Gardner recorded seventy images of Antietam for people back home. His stark images showed bridges and famous generals, but they also showed rows of bodies, twisted and bloating in the sun as they awaited burial. By any standards these war photos were horrific, but to a people who had never seen anything like it before, they were earth-shattering.

White southern men had marched off to war in 1861 expecting that they would fight and win a heroic battle or two and that their easy victories over the northerners they dismissed as emasculated shopkeepers would enable them to create a new nation based in white supremacy. In the 1850s, pro-slavery lawmakers had taken over the United States government, but white southerners were a minority and they knew it. When the election of 1860 put into power lawmakers and a president who rejected their worldview, they decided to destroy the nation.

Eager to gain power in the rebellion, pro-secession politicians raced to extremes, assuring their constituencies that they were defending the true nature of a strong new country and that those defending the old version of the United States would never fight effectively.

On March 21, 1861, the future vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, laid out the world he thought white southerners should fight for. He explained that the Founders were wrong to base the government on the principle that humans were inherently equal, and that northerners were behind the times with their adherence to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and…entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.” Confederate leaders had corrected the Founders’ error. They had rested the Confederacy on the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

White southern leaders talked easily about a coming war, assuring prospective soldiers that defeating the United States Army would be a matter of a fight or, perhaps, two. South Carolina Senator James Chesnut Jr. assured his neighbors that there would be so few casualties he would be happy to drink all the blood shed in a fight between the South and the North. And so, poorer white southerners marched to war.

The July 1861 Battle of Bull Run put the conceit of an easy victory to rest. Although the Confederates ultimately routed the U.S. soldiers, the southern men were shocked at what they experienced. “Never have I conceived of such a continuous, rushing hailstorm of shot, shell, and musketry as fell around and among us for hours together,” one wrote home. “We who escaped are constantly wondering how we could possibly have come out of the action alive.”

Northerners, too, had initially thought the war against the blustering southerners would be quick and easy, so quick and easy that some congressmen brought picnics to Bull Run to watch the fighting, only to get caught in the rout as soldiers ditched their rucksacks and guns and ran back toward the capital. Those at home, though, could continue to imagine the war as a heroic contest.

They could elevate the carnage, that is, until Matthew Brady exhibited Gardner’s images of Antietam at his studio in New York City. People who saw the placard announcing “The Dead of Antietam” and climbed the stairs up to Brady’s rooms to see the images found that their ideas about war were changed forever.

“The dead of the battle-field come up to us very rarely, even in dreams,” one reporter mused. “We see the list in the morning paper at breakfast, but dismiss its recollection with the coffee. There is a confused mass of names, but they are all strangers; we forget the horrible significance that dwells amid the jumble of type.” But Gardner’s photographs erased the distance between the battlefield and the home front. They brought home the fact that every name on a casualty list “represents a bleeding, mangled corpse.” “If [Gardner] has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it,” the shocked reporter commented.

The horrific images of Antietam showed to those on the home front the real cost of war they had entered with bluster and flippant assurances that it would be bloodless and easy. Southern politicians had promised that white rebels fighting to create a nation whose legal system enshrined white supremacy would easily overcome a mongrel army defending the principle of human equality.

The dead at Antietam’s Bloody Lane and Dunker Church proved they were wrong. The Battle of Antietam was enough of a Union victory to allow President Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary emancipation proclamation, warning southern states that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State,” where people still fought against the United States, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the…government of the United States…will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons…”

Lincoln’s proclamation meant that anti-slavery England would not formally enter the war on the side of the Confederates, dashing their hopes of foreign intervention, and in November 1863, Lincoln redefined the war as one not simply to restore the Union, but to protect a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

To that principle, northerners and Black southerners rallied, despite the grinding horror of the battlefields, and in 1865, they defeated the Confederates.

But they did not defeat the idea the Confederates fought, killed, and died for: a nation in which the law distinguishes among people according to the color of their skin. Today, once again, politicians are telling their followers that such a hierarchy is the best way forward for America, and today, once again, those same politicians are urging supporters to violence against a government that defends the equality before the law for which the men at Antietam—and at Gettysburg and Cold Harbor, and at four years worth of battlefields across the country—gave their lives.

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Part of my takeaway from this is that journalists and news outlets need to change how they are reporting coronavirus casualties. We still mostly see lists of numbers, despite all the changes in technology that made photos, video, and audio easily accessible by the masses.

Too many of the reports seem like Fourth Estate failures. The main number in mobile morgue request stories is how many were ordered, so all that appears are figures like 3 or 5. It’s rare to find a report says how many bodies it takes to fill one trailer. They strip the story of meaning.

Even the videos tend to be terrible, like the one below. What’s in the headline comes up 3/4 of the way through a report that talks about the struggles of the nurses, the hospitals, and the anti-mask protesters before the anecdote from a patient. Instead of focusing on the consequences deniers and the unvaccinated are facing, they mash up all of the issues - health, medical, social, and political. They make it too easy to shrug off the mounting death toll. The tone doesn’t really convey the trauma, the terrible conditions for HCWs and patients, or the tragic end that awaits those who refuse to get the vaccine and take precautions to protect themselves.

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September 19, 2021 (Sunday)

Last Friday, Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie of U.S. Central Command admitted that the August 29 drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that the U.S. had claimed hit ISIS-K fighters had instead killed 10 civilians, including seven children. This “tragic mistake,” as he called it, at the very end of the country’s 20-year engagement in Afghanistan, opens up the larger question of the growing U.S. use of unmanned aerial systems—drones—in warfare.

Drones are a relatively new technology, and we have not yet had a national discussion about what it means to use them.

The U.S. began to develop armed drones in the early 21st century and has used them against terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. President George W. Bush used them experimentally, launching 9 drone strikes between 2004 and 2007. In 2008, he launched 34 strikes, illustrating an increasing reliance on the unmanned weapons that spared U.S. lives while disrupting terrorist camps.

When he took office, President Barack Obama followed the trend toward drone strikes, dramatically increasing their use in the war on terror. S. E. Cupp of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that compiling numbers of drone strikes is difficult but that in 2018, The Daily Beast attributed 186 drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia to Obama in his first two years and that the Associated Press and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism counted 154 strikes in Yemen during the eight years of Obama’s tenure. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a UK-based think tank, noted 1,878 drone strikes during the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

Obama did add bureaucratic restraints to the use of drones, permitting strikes only against terrorist targets that pose a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” His administration also provided that “[a]bsent extraordinary circumstances, direct action against an identified high-value terrorist (HVT) will be taken only when there is near certainty that the individual being targeted is in fact the lawful target and located at the place where the action will occur. Also absent extraordinary circumstances, direct action will be taken only if there is near certainty that the action can be taken without injuring or killing non-combatants.” In 2016, under pressure for more transparency on his use of drones, the Obama administration began to publish the number of civilian casualties associated with drone strikes.

Once Trump took office, his administration wrote new rules for drones, permitting strikes without a threat standard against any person deemed to be a terrorist and allowing military commanders themselves to make strike decisions. It significantly increased the use of drones and revoked the Obama administration’s rule about reporting the number of civilians killed by drone strikes, calling that rule “superfluous.” According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Trump launched 2,243 drone strikes in the first two years of his presidency, a significant jump from the 1,878 launched in Obama’s eight years.

Famously, Trump launched a drone strike against top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020, killing him and nine other people. The UN’s expert on extrajudicial killings at the time, Agnès Callamard, said the attack violated international law because the U.S. had not provided evidence that Soleimani presented an imminent threat to justify the attack. The administration responded that she was “giving a pass to terrorists.”

On his first day in office, President Biden suspended Trump’s rules and began to review how the policies of both Obama and Trump had worked. On July 21, Foreign Policy reported that in its plan to end “forever wars,” the Biden administration had brought drone use to an all-time low. But his move away from drones got little attention compared to the August 29 drone strike on Biden’s watch that killed 10 civilians.

American presidents turned to the use of drones because they enabled the U.S. to attack terrorists without risking the same numbers of U.S. soldiers ground operations would require. But scholars note a significant downside to the use of drones. First of all, on occasion, they fall into enemy hands, transferring new technologies that could lead to military proliferation. Second, they lower the bar for military engagement, enabling the U.S. to insert itself into other countries at a much lower cost than in the past, opening the way for permanent hostilities around the world.

And, third, they kill civilians.

It is not clear what the ratio of military deaths to civilian deaths actually is: estimates of the civilian casualties from drone strikes range from 30% to 98%. But we do know that the U.S. admitted to killing dozens of civilians at an Afghan wedding in 2008 and more than 100 civilians in a strike on Afghanistan in 2009.

What seems to be different about the August 29 killing of civilians in Afghanistan is that the U.S. government has admitted the killings, taken responsibility for them, called them “a tragic mistake,” and offered “profound condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed.” In the wake of the strike, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered an inquiry into “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”

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Admitting error and accepting responsibility might be a significant step towards respect for international law and basic human rights. It might also be political whitewashing with no plan to change. I hope for the former, with little expectation based on our dubious history. Maybe Biden really will change this descent into madness. Hope springs eternal.

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September 20, 2021 (Monday)

So many stories landed today that some will have to wait. Tonight’s news, though, boils down to Republican attempts to retake control of the government in the 2022 elections…and, if Trump has his way, even earlier.

This morning, CNN revealed another bombshell story from the forthcoming book by veteran reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa: a six-point memo from pro-Trump lawyer John Eastman laying out a plan for then–vice president Mike Pence to steal the 2020 election for Trump.

The memo started by falsely claiming that seven states had sent competing slates of electors to the President of the Senate; in fact, Trump loyalists demanded their own electors, but each state had certified one official slate of electors. If Pence—or, if Pence recused himself, the then–Senate president pro tempore, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley—rejected the ballots from those seven states, Eastman claimed, Trump would have ten more electoral votes than Biden and would win the election.

When Democrats howled, Pence could instead assert that neither candidate had a majority and throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state would get a single vote. Since 26 of the 50 states were dominated by Republicans, Trump would win there, too.

“The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter,” Eastman wrote. “We should take all of our actions with that in mind.”

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tried to convince Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to back the scheme; someone also ran the idea past Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah. Both dismissed it. But, notably, neither revealed this extraordinary attempt to destroy our democracy.

When Pence ultimately refused to go along, Trump turned on him and told attendees at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that “if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.” He explained that “the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country,” had offered a plan, and that “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us….”

Aside from the obvious, Eastman’s memo raises three interesting points. First, it refers to the idea that Pence might hand over the count to Grassley, a plan that needs more investigation. Second, it relies on the work of emeritus Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, who tweeted that it took snippets of his work out of context to create “a totally fake web of ‘law’ that no halfway decent lawyer would take seriously…. Ludicrous but scary as hell. Think 2024. Those guys mean business…” And, third, it debunks the current right-wing talking point that Trump wanted only to question the results of the election. Clearly, he wanted to be declared the winner.

Even after President Joe Biden was sworn in, Trump supporters continued to insist that the election had been fraudulent. Famously, the Arizona state senate hired a company called Cyber Ninjas to reexamine the votes from Maricopa County, although the county board of supervisors, a majority of whom were Republicans, had already audited the ballots and the machines and found no problems. The county board strongly opposed the new “audit.”

The Cyber Ninjas examined ballots for bamboo to see if China had hacked the election, used insecure practices, rejected observers, and finally sent voting information to Montana for analysis. Documents released by the state senate under a court order in late August revealed that groups backed by pro-Trump loyalists Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and two correspondents from the One America News Network paid for the Arizona investigation.

Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the state senate and the Cyber Ninjas had to release the records concerning their activities. Cyber Ninjas is refusing to do so, offering as a reason—among others—that it is busy writing its report (which is already four months late) and document production will take time away from that effort. Its lawyer says it will “produce documents out of goodwill and its commitment to transparency” when it has time, but does not recognize any legal obligation to do so.

Seeking an Arizona-type “audit” in Pennsylvania, Republicans in that state’s legislature last Wednesday voted to issue subpoenas for personal information of about 6.9 million state voters, including names, addresses, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Republicans say a private company needs that information to fix issues in election procedures uncovered in 2020, but the Republican leader of the investigation has declined to say how the information will be used.

Democrats sued Friday to stop the release of the voter information, and two Democratic representatives to Congress have asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether the subpoenas could violate federal laws by leading to voter intimidation.

A new story sheds more light on the election reform Republicans are talking about. On May 6, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis raised eyebrows when he signed a new election law in front of television cameras for the Fox News Channel, excluding all other media. While Republicans insisted they wrote new election laws to prevent voter fraud—despite the lack of evidence of any such widespread fraud—internal emails and text messages from Florida Republicans revealed today by Politico show that their concerns were actually about gaining advantage in the 2022 elections.

Joe Gruters, the state senator who chairs the Florida Republican Party, repeatedly said in public that the new bill would “make it as easy as possible to vote, and hard as possible to cheat.” But in private text exchanges with state representative Blaise Ingoglia, the former chair of the Florida party, Gruters called for getting rid of existing mail-in ballot requests, saying that keeping them would be “devastating,” since Democrats used them more frequently than Republicans. “We cannot make up ground,” Gruters wrote. “Trump campaign spent 10 million. Could not cut down lead….” Ingoglia told Politico: “This was a policy decision all along and had nothing to do with partisan reasons.”

Finally, tonight, the immigration issue is back in the news. Republicans have tried to make immigration their key issue for 2022, but the terrible surge in coronavirus in Republican-dominated states like Texas has captured the news cycle. For the past few days, though, the rise in Haitian refugees on the U.S. southern border has reclaimed headlines. Haitians have long come to the southern border for admission to the U.S., but the recent earthquake in Haiti, along with the assassination of the country’s president and hopes that the Biden administration will be welcoming, has brought 12,000–15,000 Haitians in the past few weeks.

The situation there remains much as it has always been under Biden: the administration kept the public health guidelines established during the pandemic under former president Trump, and it is turning away most adult immigrants and refugees. It has been returning Haitians to Haiti by plane, with seven flights daily set to begin on Wednesday.

But right-wing media is, once again, insisting that Biden is allowing a flood of immigrants to overrun the U.S. At the same time, images of white border patrol agents on horseback riding down Haitian migrants, with their reins swinging, has horrified those who see in them the history of southern slave patrols hunting enslaved Americans. The Biden administration will have to thread a very thin political needle: disavowing the actions of the border patrol agents without opening itself to Republican attacks that it is “soft” on immigration. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has launched an inquiry into the agents’ behavior.

For his part, Trump does not want to wait until 2022 for a change in government. On Friday, he wrote to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger charging that 43,000 Georgia ballots were “invalid.” He called for Raffensperger to decertify the 2020 election “and announce the true winner,” warning that the nation “is being systematically destroyed by an illegitimate president and his administration.”

Trump is under criminal investigation in Georgia for his previous attempts to overturn the state’s election results.

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WTF?

Since when is it okay to tell a court you need more time than it gives you to do something?

Arrest these criminals!

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