Heather Cox Richardson

October 8, 2021 (Friday)

By midnight last night, four of former president Donald Trump’s closest allies were required to turn over documents to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The four are former chief of staff Mark Meadows, social media manager Dan Scavino, adviser Steve Bannon, and former Defense Department official Kash Patel.

Today, committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) released a statement saying that Meadows and Patel “are, so far, engaging” with the committee, but that “Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President.”

Meanwhile, Bannon told his podcast audience that he will have 20,000 “shock troops” ready to take over the country. “We control this country,” he said. “We have to start acting like it.” Bannon is using Trump’s reliance on executive privilege to defy the congressional subpoenas. Legal observers say this is a stretch, since Bannon was not part of the executive branch after 2017.

The committee expects all the witnesses to cooperate. “[W]e will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” they wrote.

It seems significant that Meadows and Patel are not, apparently, relying on the former president to protect them, while Bannon is. Scavino has been eluding the subpoena, but Rawstory reported tonight that he had finally been served.

Bannon and Patel are scheduled to testify before the committee on October 14, while Scavino and Meadows are scheduled for October 15. Their cooperation—or lack of it—will then become very clear.

Today, the pressure on the former president got higher when the White House declined to assert executive privilege over some of the documents requested by the January 6 committee. Former president Trump’s attorneys had requested that the Biden administration withhold documents about Trump’s actions on January 6. NBC News reported this afternoon that White House Counsel Dana Remus has sent a letter to the National Archives saying that “President Biden has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified as to any of the documents.”

“These are unique and extraordinary circumstances,” Remus added. “Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the President’s constitutional responsibilities. The constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield, from Congress or the public, information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself.”

According to MSNBC, those documents include Twitter messages, phone and visitor logs, videos and photos of Trump’s events, all documents and communications related to Vice President Mike Pence’s movements and security, the planning around the counting of the certified votes, and any other documents concerning either the rally at the Ellipse or the Capitol riot.

In other news, the Republican attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, asked a federal appeals court to reinstate S.B. 8, the so-called heartbeat bill banning abortion six weeks into a pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit granted his request to suspend the order blocking the law. So S.B. 8 is back in force.

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October 9, 2021 (Saturday)

Spent the day with family and friends, and they wore me out!

The only sunrise I’m going to be awake for in the next several hours is the one below. I’ll see you all tomorrow.

[Photo by Buddy Poland]

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October 10, 2021 (Sunday)

The fight over raising the debt ceiling reveals that the Trump wing has taken control of the Republican Party.

Defaulting on our debt for the first time in our history would have crushed our economy and forfeited our international standing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that a default would be “catastrophic,” creating “a permanently weaker nation.”

Financial analysts at Moody’s Analytics noted that when a problem with word-processing equipment at the Treasury led it inadvertently to miss payments on Treasury bills in 1979, the resulting jump in interest rates ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that default would undermine our international reputation.

But when the House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling, Senate Republicans killed the measure with the filibuster, the Senate rule that allows debate to continue without a vote until 60 members of the Senate vote to end debate—a rule that essentially means it takes 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to pass any bill the minority wants to block.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed that the ceiling must be raised. But then he insisted he would not allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. He told them they must pass a measure raising the debt ceiling in a reconciliation package, which cannot be filibustered but which would make it harder for Democrats to pass their popular infrastructure measures. Democrats noted that the Republicans ran up the debt and now should agree to pay it, and they refused to try to rush through a reconciliation package to shield the Republicans from their responsibility.

And then, as business leaders began to map out a pressure campaign to get McConnell to drop the filibuster, he backed down and agreed…not to allow a simple majority vote, but to find ten votes to break a filibuster.

As co-host of Pod Save America Dan Pfeiffer noted in his newsletter The Message Box, that approach suggested that McConnell has lost control of his caucus. Any senator can vote against allowing a simple majority, and it seems McConnell could not trust the other Republican senators to permit a vote and so had to try to force the Democrats to do things his way. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called his bluff.

McConnell scrounged up the votes he needed but then wrote a scathing letter to President Joe Biden, announcing he would “not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” But the truth is that he is putting the best spin he can on the fact he can’t help even if he wanted to: he no longer controls the caucus.

Immediately, former president Trump issued a statement blaming McConnell for “folding to the Democrats, again. He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country!”

On September 22, Trump explained that to stop the Democrats, the Republicans might have to burn down the country: “The way I look at it,” he wrote, “what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country. Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States.”

Those who agree with Trump are now in charge of the Republican Party.

Today, on Fox News Sunday, the second-ranking Republican in the House, Steve Scalise (R-LA), refused repeatedly to say that Biden had won the 2020 election. Although then–attorney general and Trump loyalist Bill Barr said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and state election officials and judges have all agreed there were no irregularities that would have changed the outcome, Scalise backed Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the 2020 election.

He did so by arguing that certain states had not followed the Constitution when state judges, governors, and election officials expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic. There is no indication that those adjustments changed the outcome of the election, but in summer 2020 Trump became fixated on the idea that mail-in voting hurt his reelection campaign.

As soon as Trump lost the election, he began to try to get officials to cheat to say he won, and then to replace officials who refused with those he thought would help him keep the presidency. On January 2, he tried to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” 11,780 votes in Georgia—one more than Biden’s margin of victory. Then he fired the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, BJay Pak, because he would not produce evidence of fraud, replacing him with someone Trump hoped would.

Now, across Republican-dominated states, Trump Republicans are doing the same thing: attacking those Republican officials who refuse to say the 2020 election was stolen and replacing them with partisans who will. In Hood County, Texas, where Trump won 81% of the vote, his supporters are trying to get rid of the Republican elections official who is trying to preserve the security of elections by, for example, excluding from a private meeting a journalist from One America News.

At the local level, anti–mask mandate and anti-vaccine protesters are bullying school board members and town officials to demand that local leaders bow to their wishes, and they are threatening violence in a way that looks much like the rise of anti-socialist gangs in the 1930s that fed the rise of fascism.

Last week, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is currently defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, told an audience that he would have 20,000 “shock troops” on hand to take over the government and deconstruct it as soon as Republicans again are in charge. “We control this country,” he said. “We have to start acting like it.”

Today, on the birthday of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an officer as she tried to break through a barricaded door to stop the counting of the ballots that would make Biden president, Trump recorded a video for a family event saying: “There was no reason Ashli should have lost her life that day. We must all demand justice for Ashli and her family.”

Last night, in Iowa, Trump held a “rally.” Mainstream Republican officials, including Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, attended. Right on cue, a Trump supporter told a reporter: “We’re just sick of it, you know, and we’re not going to take it any more. I see a civil war coming….”

Today’s split in the Republican Party mirrors the split in the Democrats in 1860. The leadership is made up of extremists who consider their opponents illegitimate, maintain they alone understand the Constitution, and are skewing the mechanics of our electoral system to keep themselves in power. In 1860, the Democratic Party split, its moderates joining with the fledgling Republicans to defend the United States of America.

Then, as now, the radicals calling for the destruction of the nation were a shrinking minority desperate to cling to power. Then they took up arms to divide the nation in two and keep power in their part of it; now they are launching a quieter war simply by rigging future elections to conquer the whole nation.

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If you really feel this way, Donny, when are you reporting to prison? Because that’s the only path to justice for anyone killed on the day you started an insurrection.

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October 11, 2021 (Monday)

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post today ran op-eds from Republicans or former Republicans urging members of their party who still value democracy to vote Democratic until the authoritarian faction that has taken over their party is bled out of it.

In the New York Times, Miles Taylor and Christine Todd Whitman wrote, “We are Republicans. There’s only one way to save our party from pro-Trump extremists.” Taylor served in the Department of Homeland Security and was the author of the 2018 New York Times piece by “Anonymous” criticizing former president Trump. Whitman was governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, after which she headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush.

Taylor and Whitman note that “rational Republicans” had hoped after Trump’s defeat that they might take back the party, but it is clear now, they write, that they are losing the party’s “civil war.” But while they originally hoped to form a new party, they now agree that the only way to stop Trumpism “is for us to form an alliance with Democrats to defend American institutions, defeat far-right candidates, and elect honorable representatives next year—including a strong contingent of moderate Democrats.” To defend democracy, they write, “concerned conservatives must join forces with Democrats on the most essential near-term imperative: blocking Republican leaders from regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives” and the Senate.

They call for Republicans to put country over party and back moderate Democrats, while also asking Democrats to concede that “there are certain races where progressives simply cannot win and acknowledg[e] that it makes more sense to throw their lot in with a center-right candidate who can take out a more radical conservative.”

At the Washington Post, Max Boot takes an even stronger stand: “I’m no Democrat—but I’m voting exclusively for Democrats to save our democracy.” Boot is a Russian-American specialist in foreign affairs who identifies as a conservative but no longer supports the Republican Party. He writes: “I’m a single-issue voter. My issue is the fate of democracy in the United States. Simply put, I have no faith that we will remain a democracy if Republicans win power. Thus, although I’m not a Democrat, I will continue to vote exclusively for Democrats—as I have done in every election since 2016—until the GOP ceases to pose an existential threat to our freedom.”

Boot singles out the dueling reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the nine ways in which Trump tried to pressure then–acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to back his claims of election fraud. The Democrats on the committee established these efforts with an evidence-based report, only to have the Republicans on the committee, led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), respond that the president was simply trying to promote confidence in the election results and that since he did not ultimately replace Rosen with another lawyer who promised to use the Justice Department to challenge the election—after the other leaders of the Justice Department threatened to resign in a mass protest—he did not actually abuse his office.

Boot writes, “It is mind-boggling that a defeated president won’t accept the election outcome…. What is even more alarming is that more than 60 percent of Republicans agree with his preposterous assertion that the election was stolen and want him to remain as the party’s leader.”

Taylor, Whitman, and Boot are hardly the first to be calling out the anti-democratic consolidation of the Republican Party. Yesterday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, managed Trump’s first impeachment trial, and sits on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, gave an interview to CBS’s Face the Nation in which he called the Republican Party “an autocratic cult around Donald Trump” that is “not interested in governing” or “maintaining the solvency of the country.”

But what makes today’s op-eds stand out is that they are from former Republicans, that they are calling not for a separate party but for Republicans to shift their votes to the Democrats, and that their identification of the Republicans as an existential threat to our democracy is being published in major newspapers.

Mainstream television and newspapers have been slow to identify the radicalization of the Republican Party as a threat to democracy. The Eastman memo, uncovered by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa at the end of September in their new book Peril, flew largely under the radar screen, explained away as more of Trump being Trump even as it laid out, in writing, the steps to overturn the 2020 election and even as we knew that the former president tried to put that plan into place. A study by Media Matters showed that ABC, NBC, and CBS all chose not even to mention the memo; they reach more than 20 million Americans.

On Saturday, a monologue by comedian Bill Maher about the Eastman memo titled “Slow Moving Coup” laid out in 8 minutes how Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and how, when officials resisted him, he set out to solidify his power for 2024. Maher woke people up to the ongoing crisis in our democracy.

Maher’s monologue, along with the draft Senate Judiciary Committee report, which sets out in detail the efforts the former president made to bend the Department of Justice to his will, seems to have driven home to members of the press the fact that they cannot present today’s news as business as usual, especially after their presentation of the debt ceiling crisis as a political horse race when one side was trying to save the country and the other to destroy it. In the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday, journalist Will Bunch wrote: “The future of American democracy depends, frankly, on whether journalists stop burying their head in ‘the work’ of balanced-but-misleading reporting and admit that, yes, actually, we are at war.”

Bunch pointed out that on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize went to two journalists, Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Both have braved political persecution and threats to hold the autocratic leaders of their countries—Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin—to account, battling against the online disinformation and attacks on the press that shore up their support.

“In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism,” Ressa said in 2020. Disinformation, she said, “is how you transform a democracy. This is death by a thousand cuts. The same thing is happening in the United States. I think the goal of influence operations or information operations is to seed it, repeat it, incite hate and…change the way real people think, and that impacts the real world. This is happening all around the world. That’s what the research has shown us, that’s what the data shows us.”

In 1854, the elite slaveholders who controlled the Democratic Party at the time pressured Congress to bow to their will and overturn the Missouri Compromise that had kept enslavement out of the western territories. Northern men, who disagreed among themselves on party allegiance, and immigration, and economic policies, and women’s rights, and Black rights, recognized that the acquisition of new western slave states would mean it was only a question of time until the enslavers took over the federal government and made their oligarchical system national.

Northern men recognized they must put their political differences aside until they saved democracy. Abraham Lincoln later remembered that men were “thunderstruck and stunned” by the passage of the law that overturned the Missouri Compromise, “and we reeled and fell in utter confusion. But we rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach—a scythe—a pitchfork—a chopping axe, or a butcher’s cleaver…. “‘[O]ur drill, our dress, and our weapons, are not entirely perfect and uniform,” Lincoln said, but “[w]hen the storm shall be past, [men] shall find us still Americans; no less devoted to the continued Union and prosperity of the country than heretofore.”

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After wondering why the MSM has done a terrible job of calling out the previous administration and GOP/GQP activities, I think owners of those companies have been conned, too. They probably still believe that party is pro-business, even while reporting on governors restricting business owners’ rights. When will they figure out that they’d be shut down after being demonized as disloyal to Dear Leader, and only right-wing outlets are sure to survive?

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Maybe. But we also know that in the 1920s in Italy and in the 1930s in germany business owners were often enthusiastic supporters of fascists, as they put the screws to the leftists. When you’re that wealthy, you tend to be incredibly divorced from the reality of what fascism can mean. People suffering and dying is less important than ensuring the “wheels of economic progress” are protected… Can’t have those unwashed masses cutting into the bottom line.

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October 12, 2021 (Tuesday)

Tonight the House voted to raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion, which should keep the country afloat until December 3. The vote was 219 to 206, with all Republicans either voting no or refusing to vote.

Republican representative Andy Biggs from Arizona moved to adjourn Congress rather than take the vote at all. Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) said he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling because government spending funds “tyranny” over people’s lives. He complained about “a border that’s not secure,” “Critical Race Theory being taught to our children,” and a litany of other Republican talking points.

The debt ceiling needs to be raised not to pay for future spending, but for past spending, including the $7.8 trillion the Republicans put on the national tab during the four years of the Trump presidency.

Permitting the nation to default on its debts would crash the economy and destroy our international standing, likely for the foreseeable future. But Republicans are willing to do that if it means regaining power by playing to their base.

With Democrats in control of the national government, Republicans are retreating to the states to launch their bid to take back national power. Having cemented their control of Republican-dominated states with new election laws that suppress Democratic voting or give control of certifying elections to Republican boards, Republicans are much more concerned about challenges from the right than they are about having to moderate their stands.

This has made them increasingly radical. Today, on the day that CNN reported that official deaths from coronavirus have reached 715,000, Ohio Republican representative Jim Jordan tweeted that Ohio should end all vaccine mandates. That would include vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella, among other diseases.

Texas governor Greg Abbott went further. He signed an executive order prohibiting “any entity” from enforcing a vaccine mandate in Texas. This was not just a play to anti-vaxxers, but a declaration that his state is supreme over the federal government. Last month, President Joe Biden announced vaccine requirements for all federal workers and contractors, and today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the Department of Labor announced a vaccine or testing requirement for any company with 100 or more employees.”

This is not the first time Abbott has made such a demonstration. In June, he and Arizona governor Doug Ducey sent a letter to the other 48 governors asking them to send reinforcements to the southern border to do the job the Biden administration was, they wrote, “unwilling or unable” to do.

Six Republican governors answered their call with support that was more symbolic than powerful. Florida governor Ron DeSantis sent 50 law enforcement officers; Ohio governor Michael DeWine sent 185; Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts sent 24. Iowa governor Kim Reynolds sent “up to 30” National Guard troops; Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson sent 40; and South Dakota governor Kristi Noem sent “up to 50,” allegedly funded by a private donation. She boasted of this deployment at the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) and on the Fox News Channel.

Those troops have been quietly brought home over the past few months, but their deployment demonstrated the states’ willingness to flex their muscles against the federal government and has forced the military into the center of the enforcement of right-wing ideology.

And, of course, the Texas anti-abortion law, S.B. 8, has offered a blueprint for other states to take away their citizens’ constitutional rights by turning over enforcement of the law to private individuals rather than the state. All constitutional rights—including all civil rights—could be overturned by vigilantes under this policy.

The Republicans’ resorting to cementing their power in the states echoes the path of southern Democrats in 1860. Aware they had lost control of the national government, they turned to radicalizing their states, then forced the states out of the Union quickly, before popular opposition could mobilize against secession.

When radicals took to the states to cement their power in 1860, the federal government had little power to stop them.

But in 1868, in the wake of the Civil War, Congress remedied that deficiency with the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment increased the power of the federal government over the states to protect civil rights. It declared, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

That same amendment protected the sanctity of the national debt, declaring that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

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October 13, 2021 (Wednesday)

President Joe Biden has tried to move the country beyond the partisanship of the current Republican Party by focusing on making government work so that people forget their differences and direct their attention to rebuilding the country. It is not an easy task, especially when the Republicans illustrate, as they did with their votes on raising the debt ceiling, that they would happily tank the country if it means regaining power.

But Biden’s push forward is bearing fruit.

Last Friday, October 8, 130 nations agreed to a minimum global tax of 15% on companies with an annual income higher than about $866 million, stopping what is called a “race to the bottom” as different countries try to attract businesses by cutting tax rates lower and lower. The deal should immediately raise about $150 billion around the world. It also requires companies to pay taxes in countries where their goods are sold, even if their plants are elsewhere, a requirement that should move about $125 billion around the world.

This agreement, hammered out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 38 high-income democracies, has been about six years in the making. Biden helped to revive the process when he took office, knowing that his own push to restore U.S. corporate taxes to a level closer to what they were when the Republicans under Trump cut them in 2017 depends on making sure that American companies won’t simply relocate to other countries.

But he was not alone in a desire to cut back on tax havens. In November 2020, a report from the OECD showed that countries were losing about $427 billion a year as corporations and wealthy individuals hid their money in tax havens. The U.S. alone is losing about $90 billion, although the losses hit poorer companies harder because they are losing a greater proportion of their revenue. Corporations are hiding about $1.38 trillion in profits, costing their home countries about $245 billion, while wealthy individuals using tax havens cost their home countries about $182 billion a year.

In December 2020, Congress rolled into a defense spending bill a law that requires shell companies to disclose their actual owners, cutting down on money laundering. “It is absurd that the U.S. allows criminals to launder their money here. We’re the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t already require disclosure” of company ownership,” said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), who sponsored the measure.

The Pandora Papers, an exposé published last week by the Washington Post and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, explored who is using tax havens and how they are constructed. It revealed that some of them have sprung up here in the U.S., notably in South Dakota. Lawmakers of both parties say they want to pass a law requiring investigations of foreign clients moving money or assets into the U.S. financial system.

Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have not joined the global minimum tax agreement.

Today, OECD sent the deal to the finance ministers of the Group of Twenty, commonly known as the G20, consisting of 19 countries and the European Union which together make up about 90% of the gross world product, about 75–80% of international trade, and about two thirds of the world’s population. Those finance leaders are meeting today in Washington, D.C.

At the end of the month, it will go before the G20 leaders, who are meeting then in Rome. “Today’s agreement will make our international tax arrangements fairer and work better,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said. “This is a major victory for effective and balanced multilateralism. It is a far-reaching agreement which ensures our international tax system is fit for purpose in a digitalized and globalized world economy.” If it is signed in 2022, it will take effect in 2023.

In the U.S., Republicans immediately opposed the deal and said they would stop it, but on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she expects the measure to be put into the so-called reconciliation bill currently being hashed out in Congress.

Biden also announced today a deal among a number of different players to try to relieve the supply chain slowdowns that have built up as people turned to online shopping during the pandemic. Those slowdowns threaten the delivery of packages for the holidays, and Biden has pulled together government officials, labor unions, and company ownership to solve the backup.

The Port of Los Angeles, which handles 40% of the container traffic coming into the U.S., has had container ships stuck offshore for weeks. In June, Biden put together a Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, which has hammered out a deal. The port is going to begin operating around the clock, seven days a week. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to fill extra shifts. And major retailers, including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Home Depot, and Target, have agreed to move quickly to clear their goods out of the dock areas, speeding up operations to do it and committing to putting teams to work extra hours.

“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector,” a White House official told Donna Littlejohn of the Los Angeles Daily News, “so we need the private sector…to help solve these problems.” But Biden has brokered a deal among the different stakeholders to end what was becoming a crisis.

Finally, data reveals that for all the oxygen anti–vaccine mandate people are consuming, Biden’s vaccine mandates (which in many cases allow for frequent testing rather than the vaccine) work. Since last month, when requirements went into effect, vaccination rates have jumped by 20 percentage points, reaching more than 90% in many of the health care companies, schools, and other affected organizations. The rate for Americans aged 18 to 64 not covered by mandates is only 63%. The same period has seen the rate of unvaccinated Americans cut by one third. In late July, when the President announced the first vaccination requirement for the federal government, from 95 million eligible Americans to 67 million.

As the number of people getting a first shot has jumped to about a million a day, cases of infection are declining, and deaths have dropped to about 1,690 a day, still a shocking number but one that is finally moving in the right direction.

This afternoon, the Biden administration lifted the restrictions on travelers crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders, allowing vaccinated individuals into the country. The president and chief executive of the U.S. Travel Association, Roger Dow, told the New York Times: “After months of closure, the reopening of U.S. land borders to vaccinated visitors will bring a welcome surge in travel from our two top source markets of inbound travel, Canada and Mexico.”

Biden is trying to move the country past the partisan battles of the past several years. He is also trying to show Americans that the government is often not the problem, but rather a solution to one.

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Planting this here. Not enough junk food snacks for this:

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October 14, 2021 (Thursday)

Today Stephen K. Bannon, a one-time adviser to former president Trump, was supposed to testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Yesterday, Bannon’s lawyer sent a letter to committee chair Representative Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) saying that Bannon would neither produce documents nor testify because “President Trump”—not former president Trump—“is exercising his executive privilege; therefore, he has directed Mr. Bannon not to produce documents until the issue of executive privilege is resolved.”

This is a weird argument. Bannon was not, in fact, employed by the White House at the time of the January 6 insurrection, there is no executive privilege for a former president, the events of January 6 were not part of the duties of the president, and the current president, Democrat Joe Biden, has waived executive privilege in this case.

Furthermore, although Trump has suggested he “plans to” challenge the subpoenas on the grounds of executive privilege, he has apparently not actually done so, and he is having trouble finding lawyers willing to work for him. He has a bad reputation when it comes to paying his bills and is perceived as toxic after January 6.

When Bannon didn’t show up, committee chair Thompson issued a statement saying that the committee would “move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt.” House rules require a three-day notice for a meeting to refer Bannon, so the committee will vote next Tuesday on a contempt report. If approved, the report will go to the House, which can then vote to send it to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The former president promptly issued a statement complaining that the committee was considering criminal contempt, but the statement felt weak and repetitive—rather as if he was just going through the motions—and, ominously for Bannon, didn’t mention his former friend by name.

Even aside from this interplay, the law loomed large today in national politics.

The January 6th committee is already hearing from some of the key players in the Trump administration around the time of the insurrection. Yesterday, former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, who stepped in to head the Department of Justice after William Barr resigned in December 2020, testified before the committee.

On Tuesday, the committee issued a subpoena for Jeffrey Clark, the Justice Department attorney who tried to find a way to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump talked of replacing Rosen with Clark, only to face an all-out rebellion from within the DOJ when officials threatened to resign as a group if he went forward with the plan. Within hours of the subpoena, Clark’s current employer had scrubbed him from their website.

Today, a judge ruled that the former president has to appear for a videotaped deposition in a lawsuit in which Mexican protesters said they were attacked in 2015 outside Trump Tower in New York as they protested against his slurs against Mexican immigrants. “Donald J. Trump shall appear for a deposition October 18, 2021 at 10 a.m. … or, in the event of illness or emergency, on another mutually agreed to date on or before October 31, 2021,” Judge Doris Gonzalez’s order said.

Also today, Andrew McCabe, whom Trump fired from the FBI 26 hours before his retirement in 2018, settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice. McCabe was the deputy director of the FBI when Trump fired FBI director James Comey, and McCabe continued to explore the ties between the Trump administration and Russian operatives after Comey’s firing. Trump continued to browbeat McCabe until he was fired, just before his pension went into effect. The settlement restored his pension, paid him back pay, and provided some of his attorney’s fees. McCabe called it a “complete vindication.”

For all the other legal news in the media today, the former president seemed to focus his wrath on news from Arizona. His spokesperson hammered on the idea—now thoroughly debunked—that the vote in that county was suspicious.

But on that front, too, judges had something to say. The Arizona Senate had argued that they had the right to withhold records with information about their “audit” of the votes in that county because those records involved deliberations about the process, but today the Superior Court of Maricopa County ruled that the public’s interest in transparency trumped any argument for secrecy and that they must produce the records.

Trump loyalists are suddenly focusing on the supply chain delays that they say will ruin Christmas. Ohio Representative Jim Jordan tweeted today that Christmas presents were never late when Trump was in charge, leading Princeton historian Kevin Kruse to accompany Jordan’s tweet with a post of a CBS headline from December 24 of last year, saying “More than one million packages will not reach their destinations this Christmas.” Journalist Aaron Rupar, who writes the newsletter Public Notice, pointed out today that Christmas has been mentioned at least 106 times on the Fox News Channel since yesterday morning, not including reruns.

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October 15, 2021 (Friday)

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told his colleagues that on Monday evening he plans to bring up the Freedom to Vote Act and to try to get it through the Senate.

The Republicans are determined not to let Democrats level the electoral playing field. While Democrats in the House, where legislation can pass with a simple majority vote, have passed voting rights laws, Democrats in the Senate have to deal with the filibuster, which enables senators in the minority to block legislation unless the Democrats can muster 60 votes. Republicans are dead set against voting rights laws. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called voting reform “a solution in search of a problem,” driven by “coordinated lies about commonsense election laws that various states have passed.”

Are the 33 election laws 19 states have passed to restrict the vote really “commonsense election laws”?

Today, Meridith McGraw at Politico reported that America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a think tank of former Trump officials, says the priority for a second Trump administration would be new election laws. The president of AFPI, Brooke Rollins, who was in the Trump White House, said election reform would be top priority. Trump argues, without evidence, that the 2020 election was stolen. But, Rollins said, Trump might not have to push voting restrictions because the states have passed them already.

In 1776, the Founders declared “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”

There have always been fights over who should have a say in our society, and until 1870, most voters in the United States were white men. After the Civil War, in 1870, the Republicans then in charge of Congress expanded the pool of voters to enfranchise Black men attacked by white gangs and undermined by white legislators.

In that year, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution declared that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” That amendment also gave Congress power to enforce that amendment.

Almost immediately, white southerners determined to prevent their Black neighbors from affecting society through their votes began to keep Black Americans from the polls. By the early 1960s, fewer than 5% of eligible Black voters were registered in Mississippi, and when organizers tried to help them enforce their right to vote, white gangs and government officials harassed them, occasionally to the point of murder.

Appalled at the violence playing out on the streets and then again on the evening news, lawmakers in 1965 passed the Voting Rights Act. It required that states with a history of discrimination get preapproval from the Department of Justice to change state election laws. The measure passed on a bipartisan basis.

But the impulse to expand voting rights in America would face a backlash in 1986, when Reagan Republicans realized they were in danger of losing control of the government and thus losing the 1986 tax cuts. Republicans began to talk of cutting down black voting under a “ballot integrity” initiative in 1986, and new voter restrictions in Florida paid off in the 2000 election, when Republican George W. Bush won by a handful of votes there after many more votes had been suppressed.

When Democrats tried to shore up voting with an expansion of voter registration at certain state offices in 1993, with the so-called Motor Voter Law, Republicans exploded. A New York Times writer said Republicans saw the measures “as special efforts to enroll core Democratic constituencies in welfare and jobless-benefits offices.” As Democrats began to focus on expanding voting rights, Republicans focused on restricting the vote.

By 1994, losing Republican candidates were charging that Democrats won elections with “voter fraud.” In 1996, House and Senate Republicans each launched yearlong investigations into what they insisted were problematic elections, helping to convince Americans that voter fraud was a serious issue and that Democrats were winning elections thanks to illegal, usually immigrant, voters.

When voters nonetheless reelected Democratic president Bill Clinton in 1996, Republicans did their best to undermine his presidency—and eventually impeached him—but the elevation of biracial Democrat Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 prompted a new level of attacks on the electoral system. The Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision permitted a flood of corporate money to flow into the electoral system, and then, in the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, it gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

With Justice Department preclearance out of the way, states promptly began to pass discriminatory election laws. In 2021, in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Court said such laws were not prohibited, thus greenlighting the new election laws passed by Republican-dominated states after voters choose Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

And so, here we are. Republicans are trying to regain control of the government by making sure their opponents can’t vote, while Democrats are trying to level a badly tilted playing field. If the Democrats do not succeed in passing a voting rights law, we can expect America to become a one-party state that, at best, will look much like the American South did between 1876 and 1964.
Our nation will no longer be a democracy.

There are currently three voting measures before Congress. The For the People Act is a sweeping measure that cuts back on voter suppression, ends partisan gerrymandering, curbs dark money in politics, and combats corruption. The House of Representatives passed this measure in early March 2021 and sent it to the Senate, where Republicans blocked it using a filibuster.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. The House of Representatives passed this measure in late August 2021 and sent it to the Senate, where it sits under threat of a filibuster.

In the Senate, Joe Manchin (D-WV) expressed misgivings about the voting measures and vowed to hammer out a voting rights bill that could attract the votes of ten Republicans and thus break a filibuster. He and a number of Democratic colleagues announced the Freedom to Vote Act in mid-September 2021. If there are ten Republicans to support the measure, we have not yet seen them.

The Senate will vote on the Freedom to Vote Act on Wednesday.

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October 16, 2021 (Saturday)

On October 8, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, told a teacher to make sure to follow Texas’s new law requiring teachers to present opposing views on controversial subjects. The Carroll school board had recently reprimanded a fourth-grade teacher who had kept an anti-racism book in her classroom, and teachers wanted to know what books they could keep in their own classrooms.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” the curriculum director said. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” the director continued, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

The Holocaust was Nazi Germany’s systematic murder of about two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population—about six million people—during World War II.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” one teacher said.

“Believe me,” the director said. “That’s come up.”

The Texas legislature passed another law that is going into effect in December. S.B. 3, known as the Critical Race Theory bill. It specifies what, exactly, social studies courses should teach to students. Those guidelines present a vision of how American citizens should perceive their nation.

They should have “an understanding of the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government; the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States; the structure, function, and processes of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels.”

But they should get that information in a specific way: through the Declaration of Independence; the United States Constitution; the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51; excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate; and the writings of the founding fathers of the United States; the history and importance of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964; and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

While they managed to add in de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America—and I would be shocked if more than a handful of people have ever read that account of early America—there are some pointed omissions from this list. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees Black voting, didn’t make it, although the Nineteenth Amendment, which grants women the right to vote, did. Also missing is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, although the Civil Rights Act of the previous year is there.
Topics explicitly eliminated from the teaching standard are also instructive. Those things cut from the standards include: “the history of Native Americans,” and “[founding] mothers and other founding persons.”

Under “commitment to free speech and civil discourse,” topics struck from the standards include “the writings of…George Washington; Ona Judge (a woman Washington enslaved and who ran away); Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings (the enslaved woman Jefferson took as a sexual companion after the death of his wife, her half-sister),” and “any other founding persons of the United States.”

The standards lost Frederick Douglass’s writings, the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that forced Indigenous Americans off their southeastern lands, and Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists defending the separation of church and state. The standards lost “historical documents related to the civic accomplishments of marginalized populations” including documents related to the Chicano movement, women’s suffrage and equal rights, the civil rights movement, Indigenous rights, and the American labor movement.

The standards also lost “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong” and “the history and importance of the civil rights movement.” The legislature took three pages to outline all the things that teachers may not teach, including all the systemic biases the right associates with Critical Race Theory (although that legal theory is not taught in K–12 schools), and anything having to do with the 1619 Project.

Teachers cannot be forced to teach current events or controversial issues, but if they choose to do so, they must “strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” Supporters of the measure said that teachers should teach facts and not “choose sides.”

The lawmakers who wrote the new standards said they had been crafted to eliminate redundancy. In 2019, the state wrote standards to teach character traits—courage, integrity and honesty—and instructions to include particular people or events could simply duplicate those concepts. “If you want to talk about courage, talk about George Washington crossing the Delaware, or William Barret Travis defending the Alamo,” a member of the state board of education said.

Editing from our history Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers’ Association—she was eliminated by name—as well as Abigail Adams and Frederick Douglass and the 1924 Snyder Act (by which the nation recognized Indigenous citizenship) does more than whitewash our history. That editing warps what it means to be an American.

Our history is not about individual feats of courage or honesty in a vacuum. It is about the tireless efforts of people in this country from all backgrounds and all walks of life to determine their own fate and to elect a government that will support that ambition.

A curriculum that talks about individual courage and integrity while erasing the majority of us, as well as the rules that enable us to have a say in our government by voting, is deliberately untethered from national democratic principles.

It gives us a school that does not dare take a position on the Holocaust.

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October 17, 2021 (Sunday)

It’s pretty much peak leaf season in Maine now.

Here’s a picture of one of these glorious days to finish your weekend, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

I suspect it’s going to be a busy week.

[Photo by Buddy Poland.]

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