Sunday, February 28, 2021

Last Call For Un-Vaccination Nation

As The Atlantic's Derek Thompson notes, the roughly one-quarter to one-third of Americans that are actively refusing a COVID-19 vaccine have multiple different reasons for not trusting or wanting it for them or their families, and finding the alchemical formula for convincing them otherwise is the major public health issue of our time.

Why wouldn’t someone want a COVID-19 vaccine?

Staring at the raw numbers, it doesn’t seem like a hard choice. Thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day. Meanwhile, out of the 75,000 people who received a shot in the vaccine trials from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax, zero died and none were hospitalized after four weeks. As the United States screams past 500,000 fatalities, the choice between a deadly disease and a shot in the arm might seem like the easiest decision in the world.

Or not. One-third of American adults said this month that they don’t want the vaccine or are undecided about whether they’ll get one. That figure has declined in some polls. But it remains disconcertingly high among Republicans, young people, and certain minority populations. In pockets of vaccine hesitancy, the coronavirus could continue to spread, kill, mutate, and escape. That puts all of us at risk.

Last week, I called several doctors and researchers to ask how we could reverse vaccine hesitancy among the groups in which it was highest. They all told me that my initial question was too simplistic. “Vaccine hesitancy” isn’t one thing, they said. It is a constellation of motivations, insecurities, reasonable fears, and less reasonable conspiracy theories.

“I call it vaccine dissent,” Kolina Koltai, who studies online conspiracy theories at the University of Washington, told me. “And it’s way more complicated than being anti-vaccine. It goes from highly educated parents who are interested in holistic, naturalistic child-rearing to conspiracy theorists who want to abolish vaccines entirely.”

“I call it vaccine deliberation,” said Giselle Corbie-Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina and the director of the UNC Center for Health Equity Research. “For Black and Brown people, this is a time of watchful waiting. It’s a skepticism of a system that has consistently demonstrated that their health is not a priority.”

“It’s not vaccine hesitancy among American Indians, but rather hesitancy and distrust regarding the entire government,” said Margaret Moss, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota. “After decades of distrust, on top of centuries of genocide, now they appear and say, ‘Here, you have to take this!’”

Let’s not forget vaccine indifference. Two-thirds of Republicans under 30 without a college degree say that they are “not concerned at all” about COVID-19 in their area, according to polling from Civiqs. The same percentage of this group says that they won’t take the vaccine, making them the most vaccine-resistant cohort among all of those surveyed.

Dissent. Deliberation. Distrust. Indifference. Vaccine hesitancy is not one thing. It’s a portfolio. And we’re going to need a portfolio of strategies to solve it.

Kolina Koltai has been studying online disinformation since 2015, with a special focus on anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. “People come into the space for a variety of reasons,” she said. “At first, it was mostly parents, more women than men, and overwhelmingly white, ranging from stay-at-home moms to people with high levels of education who wanted a naturalistic upbringing for their child.” The group didn’t initially have a political lean. But in the past few years, Republican politicians have played more directly to anti-vaccine fears, pulling these groups to the right.

Today, resistance among the GOP seems to be the most significant problem for vaccinating the country. Just half of Republicans say that they plan to get the shot, while the share of pro-vaccine Democrats has increased to more than 80 percent.

Online denialism and conspiracy theorizing about the COVID-19 vaccine is more complex than previous anti-vaccine skepticism, Koltai said. “Crisis often breeds conspiracies, and the extended nature of this public-health crisis has given conspiratorial people lots of time to build elaborate theories,” she told me. Beyond the more outlandish theories—for example, that Bill Gates is using the shots to inject Americans with his microchips—she said that most online skepticism is more prosaic. People claim that the vaccine trials were rushed and shoddy. They worry about the long-term side effects of a newfangled chemical that monkeys around with our cells. They read news reports of people getting sick after having taken the shots, and become afraid.

“You shouldn’t say that people are idiots for believing false or misleading information, because they’re not idiots,” she said. “That’s part of what makes this such a hard problem to solve.”


This is the country that gave us Jonas Salk's polio vaccine. This is also the country that gave us the Tuskeegee Experiment and gave smallpox-laden blankets to Native Americans, and to this day uneven health outcomes for people of color continue to exist.
There are reasons for distrust. But there's also a lot of disinformation out there, and there are also more than 500,000 Americans dead.

That last part is the most important and why we need to solve this problem, and it's going to take a multi-directional, multi-disciplinary solution.

Another #MeToo Moment, Con't

A second former aide has accused New York Dem Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, as state Republicans (and not a small number of Democrats) call for his resignation and/or impeachment over COVID-19 spread in nursing homes.
A second former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is accusing him of sexual harassment, saying that he asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.

The aide, Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until she left in November, told The New York Times that the governor had harassed her late last spring, during the height of the state’s fight against the coronavirus.

Ms. Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.

Mr. Cuomo said in a statement to The Times on Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and had “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He said he had requested an independent review of the matter and asked that New Yorkers await the findings “before making any judgments.”
Ms. Bennett said that during the June encounter, the governor, 63, also complained to her about being lonely during the pandemic, mentioning that he “can’t even hug anyone,” before turning the focus to Ms. Bennett. She said that Mr. Cuomo asked her, “Who did I last hug?”

Ms. Bennett said she had tried to dodge the question by responding that she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody?’” she said.

Mr. Cuomo never tried to touch her, Ms. Bennett said, but the message of the entire episode was unmistakable to her.

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Ms. Bennett said. “And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Cuomo said he wants a full, fair, and independent investigation into the matter and has asked state AG Tisha James and Janet DiFiore, the state's Chief Judge of the state's Court of Appeals, to do just that.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the state's attorney general and chief appeals court judge to jointly appoint an independent lawyer to investigate claims that he sexually harassed at least two women who worked for him. 
The move came after legislative leaders assailed Cuomo's plan to appoint a retired federal judge to conduct the probe.

“The Governor’s Office wants a review of the sexual harassment claims made against the Governor to be done in a manner beyond reproach,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to the governor, said. “We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics."

Garvey said the Democratic governor's administration has asked Attorney General Letitia James and Janet DiFiore, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, “to jointly select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report.”

Garvey said the report “will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge.”


Tish James is calling BS on this, as state law makes it clear that it's her call. Cuomo has to face the music sooner rather than later, resignation, impeachment, or election.

Or indictment. 

It's ironic that Cuomo would be prosecuted successfully by Tisha James before Donald Trump would be, but we Democrats have to take a close look at the failures of our own leaders before we can truly fix everyone's problems.

Regardless, Cuomo's days look to be numbered.

Sunday Long Read: Dinner With Old Friends

This week's Sunday Long Read is Tananarive Due's Vanity Fair interview with Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins on the 30th anniversary of Silence of the Lambs, one of the scariest movies nerdy teenage me could have seen as the 90's were just getting underway.

When Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins joined me on a video call to talk about The Silence of the Lambs for the movie’s 30th anniversary, they hadn’t seen each other in more than a decade, so there was more giddy laughter than you would expect from a conversation about murder and mayhem.

The late Jonathan Demme’s movie was, of course, based on the best-selling novel by Thomas Harris. It’s the story of FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who’s sent to the figurative depths of hell to probe the mind of the refined, if cannibalistic, serial killer Hannibal Lecter and secure his advice about capturing another depraved murderer named Buffalo Bill (played by Ted Levine). There has always been criticism of the way Silence represents transgender issues, which Foster speaks to here. But despite that asterisk, the movie swept all five of the top Oscar categories1, a feat not equaled in the decades since. It has spawned sequels, parodies, and the TV shows Hannibal and Clarice, not to mention the oft-repeated lines about a particular kind of wine and the perils of not properly moisturizing one’s skin.

Foster’s and Hopkins’s careers have yielded many marvels in the intervening years, including, most recently, the former’s turn as a dogged lawyer fighting for the freedom of a Muslim prisoner at Guantánamo Bay in The Mauritanian and the latter’s in a tour de force as a man battling dementia in The Father.

Our conversation? You guessed it. It was like having old friends for dinner.

When was the last time you watched Silence?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: I saw it about five years ago.

JODIE FOSTER: I saw it just a couple years ago. They were doing something at, like, the oldest movie theater in Los Angeles, and they had a 35-millimeter print, and the boys had never seen The Silence of the Lambs, so I took them all to see the movie. And I kind of thought like, Oh, you know, it’s an older movie, and it’s not going to be scary to them.

Was it still pretty intense?

FOSTER: I think it was. And what’s surprising about that is that there’s really no blood and gore. There’s only really one scene that is at all gory. The movie is so scary because it seeps into people’s consciousness through fears. It really works on fear more than anything else.

What was seeing it again like for you, Tony?

HOPKINS: I’m thrilled that the movie worked. I’m proud to be in it. I was in the theater, in London, and my agent phoned me—Jeremy Conway, his name was—and he said, “I’m sending a script over to the theater called The Silence of the Lambs.” I said, “Is it a children’s story?” I didn’t know. “No,” he said. “It’s with Jodie Foster.” I said, “Oh.”

I think Jodie just won the Oscar for The Accused, actually. So I came to the dressing room and I started reading it, and I got through about 10 pages. When [the FBI agent] Crawford2 said, “You don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head,” I thought, Ooh, that’s it. I phoned my agent, and I said, “Is this an offer? This is the best part I could ever…” He said, “Well, it’s not a big part.” I said, “I don’t care.”

The way Ted Tally had written it—it was so indelible in my mind. [Laughs.] I don’t know what it is that’s in my brain—I’m fairly normal most of the time—but I know what scares people, and I believe that stillness is the key. You know, we don’t look at anyone too long. We look away, or we laugh to disarm ourselves. But if you stare at someone for more than 10 seconds, it scares them. And you can do it, you can test people. I knew instinctively that I should be absolutely still. All the talk about “He’s a monster…” I thought, Well, go to the opposite. Play him nice.

FOSTER: We met at a reading. I didn’t really get a proper meet with Tony. So we’re sitting across from each other, and he launches in, and we start the reading. And I was just petrified. [Laughs.] I was kind of too scared to talk to him after that.

He did another movie, and I started the film without him. I still kept that kind of hold-your-breath feeling about the character just from that first reading. Jonathan wanted to use this technique that Hitchcock talked about, where you have the actors use the camera as the other person. And I think there was something really interesting about that for the film, but that also meant that Tony and I couldn’t see each other. For a lot of the close-ups, we were looking into a camera lens and the other person was just a voice in the background. And—remember?—they had to lock you into the glass prison cell. So he would do a whole day inside the prison cell, and they wouldn’t let him out. We’d just do his side. And then the next day, we’d do my side.

HOPKINS: Also, they discovered before we started filming that there would be a problem if there were bars on the prison cell for left and right eyelines. So the designer—it was Kristi Zea—came up with a Perspex thing, which makes it even more frightening, because he’s like a tarantula in a bottle. No visual borderline between the two. It was more terrifying, because it’s a dangerous creature in a bottle who can do anything. He could break the glass.

This one is fascinating, folks. This is one of my all-time Top 10 movies, and I'm glad to see both Hopkins and Foster still talk about this film.

Still not eating dinner at his house though. 

And Why Should We Believe You, America?

Joe Biden tells the world America is back. The world is no longer giving Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt, and unless Biden delivers very quickly on the diplomatic scene, we'll be done as a major diplomatic player for a generation or longer.

For President Biden and his circle, a low point in America’s global standing under President Donald Trump came when he blew up a meeting of U.S. allies in 2018, accusing close partners of “robbing” the United States and hurling insults at his Canadian host.

So it was no accident that Biden’s push to reclaim American leadership in recent days has pointedly included a starring role for Canada, as the new administration seeks to woo an array of allies with a message that “America is back.”

But it’s increasingly clear that Biden cannot simply sweep up the broken diplomatic china and restore the world order that reigned when he was vice president. There is one simple reason: Allies know Trumpism could always come back, either in a 2024 bid by Trump himself or from another presidential hopeful offering a similar pitch.

That has left friends and foes alike with doubts about the value of any new American commitments, given the country’s deep political divide and the possibility that the pendulum could swing back in four years. Allies have begun hedging their bets, musing about a Europe-only security force and exploring wider trade with China.

That’s even true for America’s closest allies, like Great Britain. “The Bidenites say with good reason that they recognize that ‘not politics as usual’ was the theme of the election in the past few years,” Karen Pierce, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, said. “It is a theme that they know they’re going to have to contend with.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said “there’s no doubt” that foreign leaders now wonder about America’s reliability, given the country’s divisions and the persistence of support for Trump.
Biden directly addresses those doubts in his conversations with his foreign counterparts, Sullivan said in an interview, reminding allies of a history of bipartisan support for institutions such as NATO.

“The president has laid out a strong case about why that is not isolated to one party or one president, that the last four years were an aberration and not some kind of new normal,” Sullivan said.

Biden has spoken to roughly a dozen heads of state since taking office. In addition to recommitting to NATO, the United Nations and global climate efforts, Sullivan said, Biden starts nearly all the calls by recognizing any global agenda for the United States is tied to addressing not only the pandemic at home, but the country’s internal divisions.

“That work at home is vital to our credibility internationally,” Sullivan said, summarizing Biden’s message.
Good thing, because America's global credibility is zero. The fact that Dems are holding on to power by dangling from a cliff is a worst-kept secret in the world right now, and any single mistake plunges the world into chaos and flame as America burns.  

It will take decades for anyone to even remotely trust us again.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Last Call For Cashing In On Khashoggi

Our fragile diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia would apparently be jeopardized if the Biden administration actually leveled travel sanctions against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan for ordering of the death of US journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

President Biden has decided that the price of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is too high, according to senior administration officials, despite a detailed American intelligence finding that he directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident and Washington Post columnist who was drugged and dismembered in October 2018.

The decision by Mr. Biden, who during the 2020 campaign called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value,” came after weeks of debate in which his newly formed national security team advised him that there was no way to formally bar the heir to the Saudi crown from entering the United States, or to weigh criminal charges against him, without breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies.

Officials said a consensus developed inside the White House that the price of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.

For Mr. Biden, the decision was a telling indication of how his more cautious instincts kicked in, and it will deeply disappoint the human rights community and members of his own party who complained during the Trump administration that the United States was failing to hold the crown prince, known by his initials M.B.S., accountable for his role.

Many organizations were pressing Mr. Biden to, at a minimum, impose the same travel sanctions against the crown prince as the Trump administration imposed on others involved in the plot.

Mr. Biden’s aides said that as a practical matter, Prince Mohammed would not be invited to the United States anytime soon, and they denied that they were giving Saudi Arabia a pass, describing series of new actions on lower-level officials intended to penalize elite elements of the Saudi military and impose new deterrents to human rights abuses.

Those actions, approved by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, include a travel ban on Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, who was deeply involved in the Khashoggi operation, and on the Rapid Intervention Force, a unit of the Saudi Royal Guard.

The declassified intelligence report concluded that the intervention force, which operates under the crown prince, directed the operation against Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate on Oct. 2, 2018, to get papers he needed for his forthcoming marriage, and, with his fiancée waiting outside the gates, was instead met by an assassination team.

An effort by the Saudi government to issue a cover story, contending that Mr. Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, collapsed in days.
So what will Joe Biden actually do about it?

President Joe Biden on Saturday said his administration would make an announcement on Saudi Arabia on Monday, following a U.S. intelligence report that found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Biden administration has faced some criticism, notably an editorial in the Washington Post, that the president should have been tougher on the crown prince, who was not sanctioned despite being blamed for approving Khashoggi’s murder.

Asked about punishing the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, who is also known as MbS, Biden said: “There will be an announcement on Monday as to what we are going to be doing with Saudi Arabia generally.”
So we'll find out soon.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorist Problem, Con't

 Richard Holzer, who plead guilty to an attempt to firebomb a Colorado synagogue in 2019, has been sentenced to 20 years.

Although the plot was thwarted, U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said Holzer had sought “to terrorize the Jewish community” of Pueblo, a city of 112,000 residents about 100 miles south of Denver.

“It is one of the most vulgar ... evil crimes that can be committed against an entire group of people,” Moore said while imposing the sentence sought by prosecutors.

Holzer declined to speak at the hearing.

The defendant pleaded guilty in October to one count of trying to obstruct religious services by force, and one count of attempting to destroy a building used in interstate commerce, according to his plea agreement.

Holzer, who lived in Pueblo, was arrested in November 2019 following an undercover sting by federal agents tracking his social media postings, in which he professed a hatred of Jews, according to an FBI arrest warrant affidavit.

Posing as fellow racists, undercover agents reached out to Holzer and later met with him as he broached the idea of blowing up the synagogue, the affidavit said. Ultimately, the agents provided him with inert pipe bombs and sticks of dynamite before arresting him, court documents showed.

The judge rejected arguments by defense lawyers that Holzer has renounced his racist views, noting that since his arrest he has reached out to other white supremacists and continued to invoke Nazi imagery.

“The notion that he’s turned some corner is fantasy,” Moore said
Radicalized here in the States and unleashed upon the populace. This was somebody so awful even the Trump-era FBI brought him in.

And yes, he's a terrorist and he's going to jail. It's the slightly less stupid ones at large we have to worry about.

A sitting member of Congress appeared at a white nationalist convention Friday night, marking new GOP support for the racist movement. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) spoke in Orlando, Florida, at the America First Political Action conference, a far-right event meant to mimic the establishment Republican Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

After Gosar’s speech, AFPAC organizer Nick Fuentes, who marched in the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and was outside the Capitol with his supporters during the Jan. 6 riot, took the podium that warned that “white people are done being bullied.” Fuentes praised the fatal riot as “awesome,” describing it as “light-hearted mischief.” He also mocked Gosar’s colleague, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), for needing a wheelchair, saying Cawthorn couldn’t “stand up” for his constituents.

“‘I’m gonna take a stand?’” Fuentes said. “How? How are you gonna do that?”

Gosar was joined at the event by former Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who lost his congressional committee seats after defending white nationalism.

Gosar attempted to distance himself from the white nationalist event Saturday morning at a panel on CPAC. Without mentioning what he was specifically referring to, Gosar said, “I want to tell you—I denounce when we talk about white racism. That’s not appropriate.”

The FBI is reportedly investigating a large bitcoin payment Fuentes and other far-right figures received ahead of the riot. A former Fuentes associate has claimed the white nationalist leader, who has also attempted to downplay the number of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust by comparing them to cookies made by Cookie Monster, has had his bank accounts frozen by federal authorities in the aftermath of the riot.

Even now, even after January 6, Republican members of Congress still show up at events with avowed white supremacist domestic terrorists. They have learned nothing, and still don't care.

Don't Care Where You Go But You Can't Stay Here

A federal judge has struck down the CDC moratorium on evictions, siding with Texas landlords in a dangerous decision that could mean the end of the Fair Housing Act and the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development. Vox's Ian Milihiser explains:

For nearly a year, millions of Americans who are unable to pay their rent due to the economic crisis triggered by Covid-19 have had some protections against eviction. Both the CARES Act, which became law last March, and the second Covid-19 relief bill, which was signed in December, included temporary moratoriums on many evictions.

In the interim periods when these statutory safeguards against eviction are not in effect — the CARES Act’s moratorium expired after 120 days, and the second relief bill’s moratorium expired on January 31 — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a similar moratorium using its own authority, citing a federal law that permits the CDC director to “make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.”

On Thursday evening, a Trump-appointed judge on a federal court in Texas handed down a decision that calls into question the legality of these moratoriums. Currently, there is no congressional moratorium on evictions in place, only the CDC moratorium, although it is likely that the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill currently being negotiated in Congress will implement a new statutory moratorium.

Though Judge J. Campbell Barker’s order in Terkel v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only explicitly strikes down the CDC’s moratorium, Barker’s opinion is fairly broad and suggests that congressional regulation of evictions may also be unconstitutional. His opinion, if embraced by higher courts, could endanger any federal regulation of the housing market, including bans on discrimination in housing.

The opinion is a mélange of libertarian tropes, long-discarded constitutional theory, and statements that are entirely at odds with binding Supreme Court decisions.

The thrust of Barker’s Terkel opinion is that the Constitution’s commerce clause, which provides that Congress may “regulate commerce ... among the several states,” is not broad enough to permit federal regulation of evictions.

But, as the Supreme Court explained in United States v. Lopez (1995), the commerce clause gives Congress broad authority to regulate the national economy — including any activity that “‘substantially affects’ interstate commerce.” Though Lopez struck down a federal law prohibiting individuals from bringing guns near school zones, the Lopez opinion emphasizes the breadth of Congress’s power to regulate the economy. “Where economic activity substantially affects interstate commerce,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the Court, “legislation regulating that activity will be sustained.”

To get around decisions like Lopez, Barker argues that evicting someone from a home that they pay thousands of dollars a year to rent is not an “economic activity.”

“The law at issue in Lopez criminalized the possession of one’s handgun when in a covered area,” Barker wrote. “The order at issue here criminalizes the possession of one’s property when inhabited by a covered person. Neither regulated activity is economic in material respect.”

Merely quoting this argument is enough to refute it. Again, Barker claims that removing someone from a home that they rent, for money, because that individual failed to pay the agreed-upon sum of money, is not an economic activity.

But just in case it isn’t obvious that Barker is wrong, the Supreme Court’s decision in Russell v. United States (1985) directly contradicts him. Russell held that “the congressional power to regulate the class of activities that constitute the rental market for real estate includes the power to regulate individual activity within that class.”

Barker’s opinion is still wrong even if you accept his claim that evicting someone from a rental home is not an economic activity
It is wrong, but if five of the Supreme Court decide it's not wrong, that housing is solely the domain of the states and that it cannot be federally regulated, well that's basically the end of the Civil Rights era. We go right back to Jim Crow if that's true. If Lopez and Russell are thrown out, then the vast majority of federal oversight vanishes.

And that brings back the worst of the bad old days.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Last Call For Trumpy The Golden Calf

The Republican Mammon Machine is beyond self-parody now, literally with a graven golden image of Trump to worship at CPAC this weekend.
The Golden Calf is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. The Israelites, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, have a crisis of faith while God is speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai. They melt down the golden jewelry to construct a physical god — a statue in the shape of a calf — to worship in place of their abstract, invisible deity. It’s a story about the allure of idolatry, how easy it is to abandon one’s commitments to principle in favor of shiny, easy falsehoods.

This biblical tale trended on Twitter in the US Friday morning because of the following video, filmed on the first day of the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Someone involved in the conference constructed a golden statue — not of a calf, but of Trump — and wheeled it out to cheers from conference attendees. “That is so cool,” one of the onlookers says.

There are so many reasons why this is a perfect metaphor for the state of the GOP after the Trump presidency.

The party sacrificed its commitment to political principles, including previously cherished ideals like free trade, on the altar of Trumpism. White evangelicals abandoned their alleged commitments to godliness in public servants and embraced a man accused of serial sexual assault who had an affair with a porn star and paid her hush money to cover it up. Conservatism, once seen as a high-minded intellectual tradition, became undeniably base and degraded in the Trump years.

But above all else, the statue points to the way in which the GOP remains the party of Trump even after his presidency — gaudy golden aesthetic and all. The party’s base is so committed to the former president that they construct idols of him, literally, to stand up at their premier political conference.

The party leadership understands that, of course. It’s why the vast bulk of the GOP Senate caucus embraced flimsy constitutional rationales for acquitting Trump in the most recent impeachment trial, despite clear evidence that he incited the January 6 riot at the US Capitol that threatened their lives. They are too afraid of their own voters to turn on Trump, and so have no choice but to embrace him — despite knowing how much of a threat he poses to their party and American democracy.

Trump’s hold is so powerful, in fact, that even his children are now considered leading possibilities for the 2024 GOP nomination — despite the complete lack of relevant qualifications.

This is the GOP, the cultist worship of Trump party.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Hundreds, if not thousands of GOP elected officials at the local and state level continue to confess the public delusion that Democrats "stole" the election from Trump, and that this "theft" justifies any and every possible future activity that Trump cultists want to take against Democrats and the people who voted for them.

A faction of local, county and state Republican officials is pushing lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories that echo those that helped inspire the violent U.S. Capitol siege, online messaging that is spreading quickly through GOP ranks fueled by algorithms that boost extreme content.

The Associated Press reviewed public and private social media accounts of nearly 1,000 federal, state, and local elected and appointed Republican officials nationwide, many of whom have voiced support for the Jan. 6 insurrection or demanded that the 2020 presidential election be overturned, sometimes in deleted posts or now-removed online forums.

“Sham-peachment,” they say, and warn that “corporate America helped rig the election.” They call former president Donald Trump a “savior” who was robbed of a second term — despite no evidence — and President Joe Biden, a “thief.” “Patriots want answers,” they declare.

The bitter, combative rhetoric is helping the officials grow their constituencies on social media and gain outsized influence in their communities, city councils, county boards and state assemblies. And it exposes the GOP’s internal struggle over whether the party can include traditional conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists and militias as it builds its base for 2022.

Earlier this month, the FBI knocked on the door of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan vice president Londa Gatt to ask where she was on the day of the Capitol attack.

Gatt, a Bikers for Trump coordinator who roars, leather-vested, alongside political rallies on her Harley-Davidson, had helped organize busloads of Trump supporters to join her in Washington on Jan. 6. She says she climbed the scaffolding outside the Capitol building that day “to take a picture of the whole view.” And she said she gladly told FBI agents that she did nothing wrong, and left the scene right away as things turned violent.

Since then, Gatt has shared hashtags tied to QAnon conspiracy theories online and posted that she has Trump’s personal email. She recently asked her Facebook friends who participated in Capitol intrusions to send messages directly to Trump explaining that he didn’t incite them, but instead they acted of their own volition. “The lawyers need our help,” she posted.

Gatt is among many conservatives organizing on Twitter, Facebook, Parler, Gab and Telegram, and is working on a digital strategy going forward under different monikers.

“We were cheated out of our legit president and we have no voice because our vote didn’t count,” she told The Associated Press. “I’m getting ready to start opening up some new pages, focus on getting out people who voted against Trump and replace those with conservative Republicans
We have already seen this rhetoric lead to an armed terrorist insurrection attack on the US Capitol.
Republicans simply do not care. The party of weaponized white grievance is gearing up for wave after wave of assaults on Democrats and their voters, armed violence, and worse, and the party is openly fomenting the lies that lead to January 6th.

It's not just Trump spewing these lies, it's all of them.

How do you find unity with that?

Minimum Waging War, Con't

The Democrats are headed for stupid, prideful, self-inflicted disaster again, and it could destroy the entire American Relief Plan bill. WaPo's Jacqueline Almany:
The Democratic Party's liberal wing is mounting a pressure campaign to overrule a decision from the Senate parliamentarian after their hopes to include a $15-an-hour minimum-wage increase in the coronavirus relief bill were dealt a major blow.

Liberals are furious with the late-breaking — but not entirely unexpected — ruling from the nonpartisan Senate umpire last night that the provision cannot remain in President Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package as written. Elizabeth MacDonough sided against Democrats, determining that the push to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour does not meet the criteria to be considered under fast-track budget rules they're using to pass the bill with a simple majority.

The progressive base understands that Vice President Harris can disregard the parliamentarian,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told Power Up. “[Vice President Nelson] Rockefeller did it in 1975 and according to parliamentarian Robert Dove, Vice President [Hubert] Humphrey did routinely. There is no way any senator would sink the final [coronavirus] bill, despite what they may say now. This simply comes down to whether the VP will choose to include the $15 or not.”

A long shot: The White House has publicly ruled out overruling the parliamentarian — and it's unlikely that all 50 Senate Democrats would stand united on this even if it got on board. It's hard to imagine Harris would be the tiebreaking vote “since at least one Senate Democrat — Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) — has said he would not vote to overrule the parliamentarian,” per our colleague Erica Werner.

But that's not stopping the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus from reaching out to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain seeking support to overturn the decision, according to a Democratic lawmaker.

“We cannot allow the advisory opinion of an unelected parliamentarian and Republican obstructionism stop us from delivering on our promise to voters,” the CPC tweeted last night. 
The package that will be voted on by the House today will include the minimum wage hike. “House Democrats believe that the minimum-wage hike is necessary,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Therefore this provision will remain in the American Rescue Plan on the floor [Friday]. Democrats in the House are determined to pursue every possible path in the Fight for 15.”  
This sets up Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) for a tricky decision, per Erica. “He could take out the minimum-wage language before putting the bill on the Senate floor, or try to keep it in the bill — whether by challenging the parliamentarian’s ruling or trying to rewrite the provision in such a way that it could pass muster under the Senate’s complicated rules.” Democrats are pressing the bill forward without GOP support by using the budget reconciliation process that bypasses the 60 votes normally required for significant legislation — but has strict rules limiting what can be included.  
Schumer vowed to fight but didn't specify how: “We are deeply disappointed in this decision. We are not going to give up the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 to help millions of struggling American workers and their families,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, without specifying how they could fight. “The American people deserve it, and we are committed to making it a reality.”

Remember: The minimum wage increase was always a long shot, parliamentarian ruling aside. “Manchin and a second Senate Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), had indicated opposition to including the minimum-wage increase in Biden’s covid relief bill anyway, so even if the parliamentarian had allowed it, it’s not clear the provision would have been able to advance,” Erica notes. “Nevertheless, liberals had been holding out hope of being able to keep all Democrats onboard to approve the overall bill with the minimum wage included.”


The House and Nancy Pelosi say "Raise the minimum wage".  There's not 50 Senate votes for it. Manchin and Sinema are against it, and they effectively have veto power. The worst-case scenario, which in my opinion is somewhat likely, is that Schumer miscalculates and the bill vote fails in the Senate for lack of votes from the Dems, and the whole package comes crashing down.

Republicans are licking their chops at the prospect, and they will assuredly run commercials about how Biden ran on the stimulus checks that Trump was able to deliver, and Biden wasn't, even though Republicans will have voted against it.

If Harry Reid was still in charge, I'd know he'd get Manchin and Sinema in line. But we have Chuck Schumer, and well, let's just say his track record has been untested for a long, long time.

We'll see what happens in the senate next week, but Pelosi and the House are going to lay down their marker big time later today. The most likely option is that the minimum wage hike is removed in the senate, and then the Dems have to fight it out back behind the Capitol building next to the flagpole after school.

Like the children they apparently are.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Syria's As A Heart Attack, Con't

The more things change, the more some things stay the same, and they have for basically half my lifetime now.
The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike in Syria against a structure belonging to what it said were Iran-backed militia, two officials told Reuters.

The strike comes after a series of recent rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the strike was approved by President Joe Biden.


So yeah, that part hasn't changed one goddamn bit from Trump.

A Taxing Explanation, Con't

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance now has Trump's tax returns and has had them since the Supreme Court made their decision earlier this week, and a massive trove of Trump Organization tax documents to boot.

Tax records that former President Donald Trump tried to keep secret for years are now in the hands of the New York district attorney. 
Prosecutors obtained the records on Monday, just hours after the US Supreme Court denied Trump's last-ditch effort to keep the records private, a spokesperson for the district attorney said. 
The millions of pages of documents, sources say, contain Trump's tax returns spanning from January 2011 to August 2019, as well as financial statements, engagement agreements, documents relating to the preparation and review of tax returns, and work papers and communications related to the tax returns. 
Though the documents handed off from Trump's long-time accounting firm Mazars won't be released to the public because they're subject to grand jury secrecy rules, their delivery caps off an extraordinary 17-month quest by the former President and his lawyers to block investigators from obtaining the records. 
New York District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in tax fraud, insurance fraud and other schemes to defraud, including potentially providing false information to financial institutions or banks about the value of certain buildings and assets. 
With the records now in hand, Vance and his fellow prosecutors will be able to dig deeper into investigative theories, pursue interviews with key witnesses, and determine whether they believe any state laws have been violated. 
"Our office obtained the records on Monday," said Vance spokesman Danny Frost.
Mazars' spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment. 
The records may be critical to the investigation because they are likely to contain documents that reflect the decision-making behind valuations and tax write-offs, which may be important to determine whether there was intent to commit a crime. The investigators have wanted to review the documents before calling key witnesses before the grand jury, people familiar with the inquiry said.
As to what happens now, it could be months or years before Vance presses charges, if ever. The big question is who in Vance's office will leak the worst parts of Trump's returns, setting up a howling firestorm that will almost certainly set off violent Trump cultists to target Vance's office in Manhattan.
That leak is coming. I guarantee it.

A Stimulating Proposal, Con't

A new Morning Consult/Politico poll finds more than three-quarters of voters want the Democrats' COVID-19 stimulus package, including 60% of Republicans.

As the House prepares to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package this week and the Senate readies to take it up for debate soon after, lawmakers are gearing up for another partisan fight.

While Republicans in Congress have balked at the overall price tag for Biden’s proposed package, new Morning Consult/Politico polling shows that the public — including Republican voters — overwhelmingly supports the legislation.

In the poll, which was conducted Feb. 19-22 among 2,013 registered voters and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points, 76 percent said they back the stimulus package, including 52 percent who said they “strongly” support the bill. Only 17 percent of voters said they oppose it.

Support is highest among Democrats, 70 percent of whom said they strongly back the legislation, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to some Americans, $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments, funding to support the reopening of K-12 schools and higher education and an extension of increased unemployment benefits until September. Nineteen percent said they somewhat support it.

A combined 71 percent of independents said they support the stimulus package, compared with 22 percent who oppose it.

While Republicans offered the lowest amount of support, more than half of GOP voters still back the stimulus package at 60 percent. Thirty percent said they somewhat or strongly oppose the package.

The stimulus package and Biden’s other economic plans have enjoyed support from voters so far. Sixty-four percent of voters said in January that they strongly backed additional economic stimulus, and 51 percent said in a separate poll that the federal government should continue spending even at the expense of the national debt.

As for individual measures, Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan garnered 56 percent support from voters, and 67 percent said they supported Biden’s executive order to expand access to food stamps.
So yes, GOP voters, and most voters, want the package passed. But this doesn't mean any Republicans will pay the price for voting against it, which they all most certainly will. After all, Republicans want things like universal background checks on firearms sales, and clean air and water, and working roads and bridges, but Republicans in Congress vote against that stuff all the time and they never pay a price for it.

This won't be any different, even when it passes 51-50 thanks to Madam Vice President.  But the economy will solely belong to Biden and the Democrats after that day, and the GOP will never miss an opportunity to attack them over it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Last Call For Mail Pattern Badness

Trump holdover Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before Congress today about his plans to wreck the Post Office, with Biden unable to directly fire him due to federal laws he sneeringly told lawmakers on Capitol Hill to "get used to" him being in charge of the USPS.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told a House panel Wednesday that his forthcoming strategic plan for the U.S. Postal Service may include slowing first-class mail and removing a significant amount of mail from air transportation.

His remarks come as members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee press him and Postal Service board of governors chairman Ron Bloom about delivery service and financial crises at the nation’s mail provider, and as Democrats in Congress push President Biden to install new board members that could reshape the agency and oust DeJoy.

Republicans on the committee have largely used the hearing to defend DeJoy from attacks from Democrats about how the Postal Service handled ballots and election mail ahead of the November election, sparking tense exchanges between Democrats who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, and Republicans who attempted to baselessly overturn the election the election that removed him from office, citing falsehoods about mail-in voting.

The Postal Service bill would cut retiree health care pre-funding requirement and set on-time delivery targets. Lawmakers’ proposals seek to answer one fundamental question: How can the Postal Service continue to sustain itself and deliver to every American household and business six days a week, while the country increasingly sends less mail?

The U.S. Postal Service will buy as many as 165,000 electric delivery trucks over the next 10 years, spending $482 million to replace its 30-year-old vehicle fleet. Defense contractor Oshkosh will produce trucks with either fuel-efficient internal combustion engines or battery electric powertrains. The first vehicles will appear on the street in 2023. 
President Biden has very limited authority to oversee U.S. Postal Service operations — or Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy was hired by, and reports to, the Postal Service’s governing board, a nine-member, bipartisan, Senate-confirmed panel. Only six of the nine seats on the board were filled by President Donald Trump, leaving Biden significant sway over the future of the agency.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to fill most of the vacancies on the US Postal Service Board of Governors, fulfilling a promise that the administration would make the board and the agency a priority in the early days of his presidency. 
The nominees include Ron Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general who resigned under the previous administration; Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of American Postal Workers Union; and Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute.

The nominations come amid public outcry over delayed mail and increased pressure on Biden from Democratic lawmakers and postal service unions to take action to improve the USPS.

On Tuesday, the American Postal Workers Union called on Biden to swiftly fill the board's four vacancies. Some Democratic lawmakers have gone further, calling on Biden to remove Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

If confirmed, his nominees will answer calls to diversify the board and alleviate concerns of the unions, who have complained that the current Trump-appointed board had no one with previous postal service experience serving on it.

"I encourage you to ensure your appointees are reflective of the 600,000 dedicated workers they will lead," Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley wrote in a letter Biden last week. "We need a Board of Governors that includes women, people of color, and individuals who have direct experience working for the USPS and serving our communities."
Hopefully Bernie Sanders won't block the appointments like he did with Barack Obama, which caused all the mess in the first place.

Suriving A Neera Miss, Con't

With the scheduled respective House and Senate committee votes on Neera Tanden's nomination to head the White house Office of Management and Budget being pulled this morning until further notice, it's a near-certainty at this point that her bid is sunk, and I can't help but think she was the Biden administration's sacrificial lamb all along.

Just about everyone in Washington, D.C., could see that Neera Tanden’s nomination to head the Office of Management and Budget was beleaguered from the beginning — everyone, that is, except the White House.

At the time her nomination was announced, Democrats didn’t even control the Senate and Tanden’s history of sharp-elbowed politics and highly personal Twitter attacks had made her enemies on the left and right. But Biden and his team, headed by White House chief of staff Ron Klain, felt strongly that they could sway Republicans to back her. When Democrats won the runoffs in Georgia, their gamble looked more prescient.

Today, the White House can’t even get all Democrats on board. And Mitch McConnell is urging the GOP to band together to take Tanden down.

Biden and his aides insist that Tanden’s prospects are not doomed. But her fate now hinges on Sen. Lisa Murkowski swooping in to save the nomination. Even if the independent-minded Alaska Republican were to do that, the saga would still mark one of the biggest missteps of Biden’s still-young presidency, one that raises questions about the White House’s political acumen and its ability to manage relations on the Hill. The president himself on Tuesday seemed to accept that the Tanden nom could end in defeat.

“We’re going to push,” Biden said on Tuesday. “We still think there’s a shot, a good shot.”

Tanden’s nomination became imperiled last Friday when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition, a development that took Democrats by surprise. But the seeds of her rocky reception on the Hill were planted with White House miscalculations weeks beforehand — among them, that moderate Senate Democrats would rally behind the president’s slate of nominees and that Republican resistance would soften.

“Around here the opposition is always looking for the person that they can put a fight up about. And she would be the obvious one to cull from the herd,” said one Senate Democrat, referring to the wall of GOP opposition Tanden faced from the beginning.

For a while, the White House felt Tanden would avoid her current fate. She atoned for her now infamous Twitter behavior and put forward her personal story of a hardscrabble life, living on food stamps and raised by a single mother. And allies like former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who consults frequently with the White House, predicted that both parties would get on board due to the historic nature of her nomination: Tanden would become the first South Asian woman to head up the agency. Inside the White House, endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — an ex-OMB chief himself — were pushed out in hopes that they would give Republicans cover to back her.

Elsewhere, there was a belief that the Trump years, in which the Senate confirmed Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought as OMB directors after long careers in conservative politics, would make it difficult to oppose a nominee because of the tenor of her tweets.

“The truth is that she’s been critical of the left and the right. What the hell? I actually know her, I think she’s a good person,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I don’t think the fight’s over with. Not ‘til she’s either pulled or the vote is negative.”

But those bets weren’t supplemented by an aggressive lobbying effort on Tanden’s behalf. One senior Democratic Senate staffer complained that even early on in her confirmation fight, the White House was lackluster in its advocacy for her and tone-deaf to the chillier reception she was getting on the Hill. There were questions about how many champions she even had at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Who does she have? Ron Klain. That’s her constituency,” the staffer said.
The reality is I think her nomination was always going to be the goat staked out for the T-Rex, and of course it's a woman of color being served up to appease both moderate white Democrats like Manchin and the GOP. Maybe I'm just cynical, maybe Biden needs a reality check, maybe politics is bad.

Or maybe Manchin's just an asshole because Tanden dinged his CEO daughter for price gouging on Epipens back in 2016.


At this point it looks like a combination of all of the above. We'll see if she survives but my feeling is that she'll be pulled next week and that he replacement, who will almost certainly be another woman of South Asian descent, will also be viciously attacked by the GOP. 
Tanden is more than qualified, and has worked with and for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but she's not good enough.
Or maybe she's too good.

California Goes Anti-Viral, And Racist

In the end our healthcare system is just another example of systemic racism, where poor Black and brown folk always get worse results as a whole, and COVID-19 vaccination rates are no different, even in California

A California program intended to improve COVID-19 vaccine availability to people in hard-hit communities of color is being misused by outsiders who are grabbing appointments reserved for residents of underserved Black and Latino areas.

The program to address inequities in vaccine distribution relies on special access codes that enable people to make appointments on the My Turn vaccine scheduling website. The codes are provided to community organizations to distribute to people in largely Black and Latino communities.

But those codes have also been circulating, in group texts and messages, among the wealthier, work-from-home set in Los Angeles, The Times has learned. Many of those people are not yet eligible for the vaccine under state rules.

Some people able to make appointments have been driving to Cal State Los Angeles to get the shots.

It’s unclear how the codes got into the hands of outsiders, but the situation has forced the state to scramble to protect the integrity of an equity program that Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials have been hailing. The state canceled appointments made with at least one of the access codes after The Times inquired about it last week.

Establishing fairness in the vaccine distribution process has loomed large over California’s vaccine rollout. Newsom has often spoken about the importance of administering vaccines “through an equity lens.” But deep inequities have still emerged in vaccine administration in the state, with white and Asian residents in affluent areas being inoculated at much higher rates than Black and Latino people in poorer areas.

Under the plan, the state aims to set aside a block of appointments every day at Cal State L.A. and the Oakland Coliseum, according to an email sent to community partners from the director of the Office of Access and Functional Needs at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The block of appointments are only accessible with a specific code, which will change periodically based on usage, according to the email.

The codes are intended for use by people in communities of color who are vaccine eligible, including healthcare workers and those older than 65, but who might otherwise struggle to get an appointment.

State officials have been contacted by over 2,000 community groups interested in participating in the program, according to Cal OES spokesperson Brian Ferguson.

But problems with the program emerged early last week, shortly after the codes became available.

Three separate access codes intended for vulnerable populations in Los Angeles strayed far from their intended recipients, making their way into more affluent professional and social networks, The Times found. In all cases, the origin of the access codes remained unclear. Those circulating the codes did not seem to be aware that they were intended for hard-hit communities. In several cases, people thought they had stumbled upon a pilot program that was open to all.

A person who shared an access code with The Times on Thursday said several of the person’s friends who were otherwise ineligible were able to make vaccine appointments at the Cal State L.A. site using the code. As of Sunday night, several of those people had been vaccinated, said the person who asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to offend friends who had shared the code. The individual, who is white, described their friends as also being white and “in a bracket where they’re very protected.”

Another person who spoke to The Times said they received a screenshot of a message with a seven-digit access code and a link to the My Turn website Tuesday morning. A doctor friend sent the link for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, the original sender wrote. “Apparently it’s a new testing site that is ‘testing out their system’ for a few days before they open up appointments for the elderly and sick, etc. Anyone can sign up if there are appointments available. Give it a try!”
All it would take is one health official deciding that Black and Latino folks didn't want, or didn't deserve, having vaccine appointments set aside, and you see how quickly wealthy white folks decided that getting the vaccine was more important than the rules...because rules are for those people and not me.

It upsets me of course, Kentucky I expect will have the same problems once Phase 1C vaccinations open up on March 5. When I say racism is systemic, this is what I mean: systems enable and reinforce racism because the people running them don't take preventing it into consideration. Technology can't solve everything, folks.



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Last Call For Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Capitol and DC Police officials testified before the Senate today about the January 6th terrorist attack on the US Capitol building, and GOP Sen. Ron Johnson did everything he could to try to deny that any of it could possibly have been related to Trump's white supremacist cultists, of which Ron Johnson is apparently a paying member.

Since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of former president Donald Trump’s supporters have suggested it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Initially, the argument was that maybe this was the work of provocateurs like antifa trying to give Trump supporters a bad name. That died down as scores of Trump supporters were arrested in connection with the violence — with some bristling at the idea that their actions would be blamed on antifa — and as GOP leaders cautioned their colleagues against the theory. Then the argument was that the storming of the Capitol wasn’t really that bad: that it wasn’t the “insurrection” that some alleged. This also runs afoul of the actual evidence.

On Tuesday, as his colleagues were trying to get to the bottom of the problems with the response to the Capitol riot, one senator united both of these theories: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Johnson recently spearheaded the effort to argue that the event wasn’t actually an armed insurrection. As he began his questioning Tuesday, he assured that what happened was indeed a tragedy. But then he spent most of his time planting seeds of doubt that the violence wasn’t actually the work of Trump supporters.

The seeds, though, rely upon very speculative evidence and a very suspect gardener.

Johnson’s argument revolved around the account of one man: J. Michael Waller. Waller wrote a piece last month that later ran in the Federalist in which he strongly suggested provocateurs were actually responsible for what happened.

It’s worth noting that Waller is a senior analyst at the Center for Security Policy, which is a hard-line right-wing think tank founded by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney. If those names ring a bell, it’s because Gaffney and the Center for Security policy had been ostracized, even by mainstream Republicans, before finding new life with the rise of Trump. In 2009, Gaffney wrote a piece about then-President Barack Obama citing supposed "mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself.”

This is the source of the information Johnson thought worth raising — quoting Waller at length — in a Senate hearing.

But even beyond the source, what Johnson cited was highly speculative. Among the things Waller argued for his theory:

  • People “wearing Trump or MAGA hats backward and who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd in terms of their actions and demeanor, whom I presumed to be antifa or other leftist agitators.”
  • Saying “the mood of the crowd was positive and festive.”
  • Emphasizing that, actually, the Trump crowd was pro-police. “Many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police ‘Back the Blue’ flags.”
  • Citing the families and physical characteristics of those gathered: “ … Some were indignant and contemptuous of Congress, but not one appeared angry or incited to riot. Many of the marchers were families with small children; many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail — traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone.”

Waller’s piece is rife with leading conclusions, most notably:

  • A very few didn’t share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn’t fit in.
  • Among them were younger twentysomethings wearing new Trump or MAGA hats, often with the visor in the back, showing no enthusiasm and either looking at the ground, glowering, or holding out their phones with outstretched arms to make videos of as many faces as possible in the crowd.
  • Some appeared awkward, the way someone’s body language inadvertently shows the world that he feel like he doesn’t fit in. A few seemed to be nursing a deep, churning rage.

If these people were provocateurs, in other words, they didn’t appear to try that hard to fit into the crowd for some reason. Waller draws numerous conclusions for which there is no real evidence in the arrest records of those who stormed the Capitol.

Waller has also in recent weeks floated the baseless idea that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) purposely allowed Capitol Police to be overrun.
Waller’s piece also relied upon the debunked idea that the preplanning of the attack points the finger elsewhere, saying it “bore the markings of an organized operation planned well in advance of the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress.” As has been discussed ad nauseam, preplanning doesn’t mean the riot wasn’t incited. Democrats have argued this incitement far predated Trump’s Jan. 6 speech to supporters who later stormed the Capitol, given Trump had long predicted a stolen election and regularly cited the prospect of violence by his supporters.

None of this nuance made its way into Johnson’s presentation.

“The last five pages is titled ‘Provocateurs Turn Unsuspecting Marchers into an Invading Mob.’ ” Johnson said toward the end. “So I’d really recommend everybody in the committee read this account. And I’ve asked that it be entered into the record.”
This of course is exactly how the Right-wing noise machine works: Crackpot white supremacist cultist writes a wildly speculative pile of crap, crap gets picked up by right-wing social media, and then by Republican lawmakers who introduce the "evidence" into official proceedings, where the media then writes about it as if it's worth considering because the GOP brought it up as official, on the record stuff.

I'm tired of it, and I'm actually glad Johnson faces Wisconsin voters in 2022, because he's the number one flip chance as far as I'm concerned.


Replaying The Texas Blues

Democrats came close in Texas, but fell short in a major way, particularly among Latino voters. According to the Texas Democratic party itself, the reason was simple: lack of door-knocking sunk the Dems in a COVID-19 restricted campaign.

Texas Democrats conceded that Republicans won the state's turnout battle in the 2020 election by staying in the field despite the coronavirus pandemic, while the state's Democrats relied on digital and more unreliable telephone contact with voters.

According to a post-election report provided in advance to NBC News, the party lost its "most powerful and competitive advantage" when it didn't dispatch volunteers to canvass in person, following the directive of Joe Biden's campaign after the pandemic hit.

"Our inability to campaign was really devastating for us, especially with our main base. Our main base is Latino voters, and they do not take well to mail and texting contact," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said.

The report, released Monday, found that even though Democrats turned out at higher rates than expected, so did Republican voters, who outperformed the higher Democratic turnout.

The party struggled to reach voters "for whom we did not have phone numbers, who are disproportionately young [and] rural," as well as people of color.

Despite early hopes that they could turn the state blue, Democrats didn't win any new congressional seats or flip the state House, and former President Donald Trump got higher vote shares than expected in heavily Hispanic counties.

The report did not find a Latino shift to Republicans and Trump; about two-thirds of the state's Hispanics continue to support Democrats.

"Many have interpreted this as 'Latinos voted for Trump,' but it's more accurate to say, 'Latinos who were already Republicans turned out more than Latino Democrats,'" said the report, assembled by Hudson Cavanaugh, the state party's director of data science.

Support for Trump increased significantly in mostly rural, majority Latino counties, accounting for an estimated 17,000 net votes, according to the report.

Latinos moved to Trump in the Rio Grande Valley and in some parts of the Texas Panhandle, although they also supported Democratic candidates lower on the ballot.

Republicans were able to make headway in the conservative state with rhetoric blasting the Democrats' progressive wing on police reform — reduced to "defunding the police" — and on moving away from fossil fuels, which the GOP emphasized could affect jobs in Texas.
That lack of face-to-face contact really hurt the Dems in fighting GOP disinformation, and they lost the state because of it.  Here's hoping that 2022 goes better, but with Texas gerrymandering by the GOP on the way, it may not matter much now that districts will be redrawn within an inch of their lives to favor Republicans.
That combined with voter suppression and states like Texas may be entirely out of reach...unless Dems can pass voting rights legislation, which the GOP will never allow in the Senate.
That means getting rid of the filibuster, and well, we've been down this road before.


A Taxing Explanation, Con't

Well, and just as I was resigning myself to the Supreme Court sitting on the Trump tax return decision for months or longer in order to protect him from prosecution, it seems SCOTUS has finally gotten around to doing the right thing.
The Supreme Court has cleared the way for prosecutors in New York City to receive eight years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records as part of an ongoing investigation into possible tax, insurance and bank fraud in Trump’s business empire.

The high court’s decision to turn down Trump’s request for a stay of a grand jury subpoena advances a criminal probe by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. that appears to be one of the most serious of an array of legal threats Trump faces in his post-presidency.

The justices issued no explanation for the denial and no member of the court publicly noted any dissent.

Last July, the justices unanimously rejected Trump’s broad claims that he was absolutely immune from state and local criminal investigations while serving as president. However, the decision allowed Trump to pursue other arguments against a wide-ranging subpoena served on the Trump Organization in August 2019.

A federal appeals court rejected those arguments in October 2020, prompting Trump’s lawyers to make another run at the Supreme Court. An agreement with Vance put the subpoena fight on hold while the justices considered Trump’s request for a stay.

The precise contours of Vance’s investigation remain uncertain, but it appears to be centered on allegations from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that the firm manipulated real estate valuations in order to maximize collateral for loans and minimize real estate taxes. Cohen also claimed that Trump committed fraud in dealings with insurance companies. Trump and the Trump Organization have denied the allegations.

The decision is the first breakthrough for investigators in accessing Trump’s financial records after numerous attempts by House Democrats and debates among federal investigators who worked for special counsel Robert Mueller. The House has been pursuing Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm, Mazars USA, as well as a top Trump creditor, Deutsche Bank. But those cases have been tied up in courts for years, with no end in sight.
So finally Cyrus Vance and company can get around to running the numbers, and hopefully soon running a grand jury indictment on Trump.  I like it when I'm worried about what turns out to be pretty much nothing, and the right thing happens sooner rather than later.

It's a nice change of pace from the last four years.

And speaking of the last four years...

Donald Trump’s yearslong quest to prevent the public, Congress, or law-enforcement officials from seeing his tax statements came to a resounding end with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling. He did not take the defeat in stride. Instead, the former president released a statement that, even by Trumpian standards, brims with anger.

Trump’s response bears every hallmark of an authentically Trump-authored text, as opposed to the knockoff versions produced by his aides. It is meandering, filled with run-on sentences, gratuitous insults, and exclamation points. Trump’s position on the tax returns rests on a series of assertions, ranging from his false claim that Robert Mueller found “No Collusion” to his insistence that he actually won the 2020 election to his extremely ironic complaint that prosecutors targeting their political opponents is “fascism, not justice.” (Trump, of course, spent his presidency publicly demanding his Attorneys General investigate his political rivals.)

The statement does contain one unambiguously true point: “This is something which has never happened to a president before.” That’s correct, because every president for the past several decades has voluntarily released his financial information. Only Trump refused.
Trump literally accuses the Supreme Court of enabling a "fishing expedition" and blames Andrew Cuomo for all of this, calling it "fascism, not justice." Oh yes, and he still claims he won the election.

I swear, I know indictments aren't coming, the risk to Manhattan, the great probability of the NYPD fascists aiding and abetting attacks on the DA's office and outing jurors, Trump whipping up rage to foment another attack, but damn I want this asshole in supermax.

Donald Trump is much worse than Nixon, and yet Trump's poll numbers never sunk to the mid-20s during his presidency, the way Nixon's did, even after two impeachments. Nixon was eventuslly regarded as the greatest living monster in American politics. Much of America still doesn't see Trump that way.

Many Americans assume that everyone in big business cooks the books. They think New York real estate is a tough, cutthroat enterprise, and that you have to work the angles to make money.

Many Americans won't understand what the crimes are. They'll be bored by the details. They won't see how they were harmed by what Trump did. Remember when The New York Times obtained Trump tax records and ran a massive story about the financial chicanery they revealed? Most of America yawned.

I'd love to see Trump go to prison. But I'd also love to see him become the national pariah that Nixon became, someone who's an embarrassment even to his party-mates. We're not there yet. And a long investigation into business crimes, followed by a trial focused on a complicated parsing of financial documents, won't get us there.
Trump made at least $1.6 billion while in office, according to ethics watchdog CREW. At least 40% of the country will cheer that news because that's how it's supposed to work, and Trump was at least an honest criminal because all politicians are crooks, and Trump won the game of who can win the most money off the political grift, the most American thing possible. He's a hero to a third of the country for exactly that reason.

I still don't think Trump will ever be indicted for anything.
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