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Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson

Ahavati
Ahavati
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February 13, 2021

Today the Senate acquitted former president Donald Trump of the charge of inciting an insurrection. Fifty-seven senators said he was guilty; 43 said he was not guilty. An impeachment conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate, so he was acquitted, but not before seven members of his own party voted to convict him.

The only real surprise today was this morning, when five Republicans joined 50 Democrats to vote in favor of calling witnesses.

That vote came after Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) last night released a statement recounting an angry conversation between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Trump during the violence, in which Trump refused to call off the rioters and appeared to taunt McCarthy by telling him that the rioters were “more upset about the election than you are.” Herrera Beutler’s statement suggested that Trump had deliberately abandoned Vice President Mike Pence and the lawmakers to the insurrectionists, although Trump’s lawyer had definitively declared during the trial that Trump had not been told that Vice President Mike Pence was in danger.

The vote to hear witnesses threw the Senate into confusion as senators were so convinced the trial would end today that many had already booked flights home. The House impeachment managers said they wanted to call Herrera Beutler to testify; Republican supporters of Trump warned they would call more than 300 witnesses, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris.

After the two sides conferred, the House managers gave up demands for witnesses in exchange for reading Herrera Beutler’s statement into the record as evidence. While there was a widespread outcry at what seemed to be a Democratic capitulation, there were reasons the Democrats cut this deal. Witnesses to Trump’s behavior, like McCarthy, did not want to testify and would have been difficult. The Republicans as a group would have dragged the process on well into the spring, muddying the very clear story the impeachment managers told. They allegedly said that if the Democrats called witnesses, they would use the filibuster to block all Democratic nominees and legislation.

So much pundits have noted.

But today was not just about Trump; it was part of a longer struggle for the future of the country.

Trump’s lawyers proceeded in the impeachment trial with the same rhetorical technique Trump and his supporters use: they flat-out lied. Clearly, they were not trying to get at the truth but were instead trying to create sound bites for right-wing media, the same way Trump and the rest of his cabal convinced supporters of the big lie that he had won, rather than lost, the 2020 election. In that case, they lied consistently in front of the media, but could not make anything stick in a courtroom, where there are penalties for not telling the truth.

In the first impeachment hearings, Trump supporters did the same thing, shouting and lying to create sound bites, and while the sworn testimony was crystal clear, their antics left many Americans convinced not of the facts but that then-President Trump was being persecuted by Democrats who were trying to protect Hunter Biden. So, while it’s reasonable to imagine that witnesses would illustrate Trump’s depravity, it seems entirely likely that, as Trump’s lawyers continued simply to lie and their lies got spread through right-wing media as truth, Americans would have learned the opposite of what they should have.

Instead, the issue of Trump’s guilt on January 6 will play out in a courtroom, where there are actual rules about telling the truth. Trump’s own lawyers suggested he should answer for his actions in a court of law, and in a fiery speech after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell set up the same idea. But even if that does not happen, the Capitol rioters will be in court, keeping in front of Americans both the horrific events of January 6 and their contention that they showed up to fight because their president asked them to.

The constant refrain of the January 6 insurrection mirrors the Republicans’ use of sham investigations to convince people that Democrats are criminals—think, for example, of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails—except, this time, the cases are real. This should address the problem of manufactured sound bites, and should benefit the Democrats with voters, especially as Republicans are now openly the Party of Trump.

McConnell tried to address the party’s capitulation immediately after the vote with a speech blaming Trump for the insurrection and saying that his own vote to acquit was because he does not think the Senate can try a former president. This is posturing, of course; McConnell made sure the Senate did not take up the House’s article of impeachment while Trump was still in office, and now says that, because it did not do so, it does not have jurisdiction.

[ Continued below ]


Ahavati
Ahavati
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McConnell is trying to have it both ways. He has made it clear he wants to free the Republican Party from its thralldom to Trump, and he needs to do so in order to regain both voters and the major donors who have distanced themselves from party members who support the big lie. But he needs to keep Trump voters in the party. So he has bowed to the Trump wing in the short term, apparently hoping to retain its goodwill, and then, immediately after the vote, gave a speech condemning Trump to reassure donors that he and the party are still sane. He likely hopes that, as the months go by and the Republicans block President Biden’s plans, alienated voters and donors will come back around to the party. From this perspective, the seven Republican votes to convict Trump provide excellent cover.

It’s a cynical strategy and probably the best he can do, but it’s a long shot that it alone will enable the Republicans to regain control of the House and the Senate in 2022. For that, the Republicans need to get rid of Democratic votes.

That need was part of what was behind the party’s support for Trump’s big lie. The essence of that lie was that Trump won the 2020 election because the votes of Democrats, especially people of color, were illegitimate. Republican lawmakers were happy to sign on to that big lie: it is a grander version of their position since 1986. Even now, those Republicans who backed the big lie have not admitted it was false. Instead, they are using the myth of fraudulent Democratic votes to push a massive attack on voting rights before the 2022 election.

But they are no longer setting the terms of the country’s politics. By refusing to engage with the impeachment trial, Biden and his team escaped the trap of letting Trump continue to drive the national narrative. Instead, they are making it a priority to protect voting rights. At the same time, they are pushing back against the Republican justification for voter suppression: that widespread voting leads to Black and Brown voter fraud that elects “socialists” who redistribute money from “makers” to “takers.” Biden’s team is using the government in ways that are popular with voters across the board: right now, for example, 79% of Americans either like Biden’s coronavirus relief package or think it is too small.

It was disheartening today to see that even trying to destroy the American government was not enough to get more than seven Republican senators to convict the former president. But it is not at all clear that tying their party to Trump is a winning strategy.

—-
Submitted February 14, 2021

Notes:

https://www.npr.org/sections/trump-impeachment-trial-live-updates/2021/02/13/967623840/senate-voting-on-whether-to-call-witnesses-in-impeachment-trial

Republican threats:

Richard W. Painter
@RWPUSA
Senate Republicans apparently threatened to use the filibuster to stop all other senate business -- including COVID19 relief for desperate American families -- if this trial were to continue and hear witnesses.  Never before has the GOP stooped so low to defend Donald Trump.

https://twitter.com/RWPUSA/status/1360664445240885248

Berman:
Ari Berman
@AriBerman
Insane stat via @atausanovitch: 34 GOP senators representing just 14.5% of population can block conviction of president who tried to violently overthrow American democracy. US Senate & American politics deeply broken


https://twitter.com/AriBerman/status/1360664480280150016

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-bousquet-republicans-suppress-mail-voting-20210213-dn2gmoa7k5gf5fzt7oe6yvkhru-story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/11/opinion/biden-economic-plan.html

JohnnyBlaze
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Ahavati said:It was disheartening today to see that even trying to destroy the American government was not enough to get more than seven Republican senators to convict the former president. But it is not at all clear that tying their party to Trump is a winning strategy.

It's a terrible and short term strategy at best. Trump is going to be dogged with a multitude of lawsuits and investigations for the next 4 years. Nothing will be as damaging as the Capitol Riot evidence, but it will all continue snowballing into an unmanageable size.

Ahavati
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February 15, 2021

Monday federal holidays generally mean that not much gets done. Today was a bit of an exception, since we are dealing with the fallout from the Senate’s refusal to convict former president Trump for the January 6 insurrection.

For the Republicans, that acquittal simply makes the split in the party worse. First of all, it puts the Republicans at odds with the majority of Americans. According to a new ABC/Ipsos poll, 58% of us think Trump should have been convicted, and more than three-quarters of us—77%-- think the senators’ votes reflected partisanship rather than the facts.

But Republicans disagree. Trump packed state Republican positions with his supporters because he was afraid he would face primary challengers in 2020, and those loyalists are now defending him. State Republican parties have censured a number of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump; of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict, Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) have already been censured, and a censure effort is underway against Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 75% of Republicans want Trump to continue to lead the party.

But 21% don’t, and between 24% and 28% blame him for the January 6 riot.

That split means the Republican Party, which was already losing members over the insurrection, stands to lose even more of its members if it continues to defer to the former president. Already, the Democratic National Committee has prepared a video advertisement to circulate on digital platforms, highlighting Republicans leaving their party. It includes a clip from former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele saying that “when you’re losing Republican members and you’re left with QAnon and Proud Boys, you’ve got to reassess whether or not you are even close to being a viable party.” The video ends with Biden urging Americans to come together and to “help us unite America and build back better.”

For Democrats, the Senate trial put on display for the American public an impressive group. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) gave the lead impeachment manager from Trump’s first Senate trial, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) a run for his money as a model for brains and morals. But Raskin was not alone. Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-US Virgin Islands) and Representative Joseph Neguse (D-CO), relatively unknown outside of their home districts, got significant positive national attention during the trial, suddenly becoming household names. The entire Democratic team shone and indicated that the young Democrats have quite a deep bench of talent, especially in contrast to the younger Republicans, who seem to excel in media appearances more than in policy.

Democrats recognize that the Senate acquittal means there is considerable interest in an actual accounting of what happened in the insurrection. Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she will urge the House to establish an independent commission, like the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks, to study what led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Members of both parties have asked for such a commission.

The Senate trial also gave powerful proof of just how undemocratic the Senate has become. Voting rights journalist Ari Berman noted that the “57 senators who voted to convict Trump represent 76.7 MILLION more Americans than 43 senators who voted to acquit.”

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne noted that the adherence of all but seven senators to Trump “should end the absurd talk that there is a burden on President Biden to achieve a bipartisan nirvana in Washington. If most Republicans can’t even admit that what Trump did is worthy of impeachment, how can anyone imagine that they would be willing and trustworthy governing partners?”

Dionne added that the acquittal made an overwhelming case for getting rid of the filibuster, which in its current incarnation effectively means that no legislation can pass without support from 60 senators. Thanks to the 50-50 split in the Senate, getting to 60 means getting 10 Republican votes. This is impossible, Dionne says, because clearly “There are not 10 Republican Senate votes to be had on anything that really matters.”

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is simply working around Republican lawmakers, starting with the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly stand against the bill, in part because it calls for $350 billion to provide aid to states and cities. But Republican governors and mayors are desperate for the assistance. Republican voters like it, too.

Last Friday, Biden invited governors and mayors from both parties to the White House to ask them what they needed most. The Republican mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, told reporters that he had had more contact with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the first weeks of their administration “than I had spoken to the prior administration in the entirety.”

Biden is about to hit the road to try to convince Senate Republicans to support the relief package, going directly to the people to sell his ideas.

The Democrats also have another trick to lay on the table to get Republican support. Today, Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced they would back the return of a new version of so-called “earmarks,” more formally known as “member-directed spending,” in legislation.

These “Community-Focused Grants,” as the new lingo calls them, are funds that individual congress members can direct toward their districts. In the past, earmarks were made by lawmakers and were occasionally havens for corruption—which is what people remember—but even at their worst, they made up less than 1.1% of federal spending and tended to actually produce things that districts needed.

Democrats cleaned the system up before then-House Speaker John Boehner declared a moratorium on it in 2011. After the ban, the government still targeted federal money to get votes, but the power to make those calls shifted to the executive branch rather than Congress. For much federal spending, Congress appropriates the amounts but the executive branch decides where to spend it. A 2020 congressional study established that presidents use that money “to influence policy and support their preferred projects without receiving approval from Congress.” To that, we can add that a president targeted federal money to try to buy reelection.  

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
Ahavati
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In the past, congressional earmarks were a key feature in bipartisanship: they gave reluctant lawmakers a reason to support legislation they might otherwise hesitate about. The new rules will likely be different than the old ones in that they apparently will be targeted to public entities that ask for a grant. They will provide a challenge for Republicans—who actually like these grants, normally—because they will undercut Republicans’ stance against appropriation bills. They might also swing some Republicans behind the coronavirus bill.

Biden demonstrated national unity yesterday when he issued a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas in response to a request from Republican Governor Greg Abbott. Such a declaration frees up the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and federal funds to provide help to the region, which is suffering from bitter cold temperatures that have shut down power and left residents without electricity in unheated homes—a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. Biden’s quick response recalls the way presidents have traditionally responded to state crises, and the governor of the state in which Trump supporters tried to run Biden’s campaign bus off the road acknowledged Biden’s response.

“I thank President Biden for quickly issuing a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas as we continue to respond to severe winter weather conditions throughout the state,” Abbott’s press release stated.

—-

Submitted February 16, 2021

Notes:

https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/abcnews-impeachment-poll

Ronald Brownstein

@RonBrownstein
New @QuinnipiacPoll captures the squeeze on GOP. Vast majority of its voters (75%) want big future role for Trump. But 21% don't want a big role for him; 24-28% of Rs blame him for the riot. If even a minority of those uneasy Rs drift away from a Trump-led GOP, it's catastrophic


Andrew Solender
@AndrewSolender
Here's where we are with state GOPs:

Censured
Cassidy
Burr

Censure effort underway
Sasse
Collins
Toomey (PAGOP chair already condemned his vote)


No action
Murkowski
Romney


More here 👇
forbes.com/sites/andrewso…

North Carolina GOP ‘Unanimously’ Censures Sen. Burr For Voting To Convict Trump
Burr called it a ‘truly sad day’ for North Carolina Republicans, accusing the party of choosing ‘loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party.’
forbes.com


https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewsolender/2021/02/15/north-carolina-gop-unanimously-censures-sen-burr-for-voting-to-convict-trump/

https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3691

earmarks:

Jake Sherman
@JakeSherman
NEWS in @PunchbowlNews AM .. ☀️ Earmarks are back

@rosadelauro and @SenatorLeahy are set to announce that earmarks are back.

No private companies. Non profits and localities eligible. [/b]

https://twitter.com/JakeSherman/status/1361311221245476865

This is a BIG legislative development. Lots of impacts. Ill lay them out in this thread
February 15th 2021


https://twitter.com/JakeSherman/status/1361311221245476865

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/tamara-keith-and-amy-walter-on-trumps-control-of-the-republican-party

https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/538915-new-dnc-video-highlights-republicans-leaving-gop-over-jan-6-riot

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/02/15/riot-commission/


Ari Berman
@AriBerman
Shocking stat: 57 senators who voted to convict Trump represent 76.7 MILLION more Americans than 43 senators who voted to acquit
February 13th 2021


https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-trumpism/2021/02/14/17037b70-6f02-11eb-93be-c10813e358a2_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/local-republicans-support-biden-covid-relief-plan/2021/02/14/9791d4ba-6d65-11eb-9ed1-73d434b5147f_story.html

https://modernizecongress.house.gov/imo/media/doc/ModernizationCommittee_10152020r1Compressed%20(newest%20gpo%20report).pdf

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/09/944314781/democrats-want-to-bring-earmarks-back-as-way-to-break-gridlock-in-congress

https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-announces-approval-of-federal-emergency-declaration-for-severe-winter-weather

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/02/14/president-joseph-r-biden-jr-approves-texas-emergency-declaration/

https://www.npr.org/2020/11/01/930083915/trump-speaks-fondly-of-supporters-protecting-biden-bus-in-texas

Ahavati
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February 16, 2021

History was in the news today in three very different ways.

First up is the deep freeze in Texas, which overwhelmed the power grid and knocked out electricity for more than 3.5 million people, leaving them without heat. It has taken the lives of at least 23 people.

Most of Texas is on its own power grid, a decision made in the 1930s to keep it clear of federal regulation. This means both that it avoids federal regulation and that it cannot import more electricity during periods of high demand. Apparently, as temperatures began to drop, people turned up electric heaters and needed more power than engineers had been told to design for, just as the ice shut down gas-fired plants and wind turbines froze. Demand for natural gas spiked and created a shortage.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) told Sean Hannity that the disaster “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal” for the United States, but Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the organization in charge of the state’s power grid, told Bloomberg that the frozen wind turbines were the smallest factor in the crisis. They supply only about 10% of the state’s power in the winter.

Frozen instruments at gas, coal, and nuclear plants, as well as shortages of natural gas, were the major culprits. To keep electricity prices low, ERCOT had not prepared for such a crisis. El Paso, which is not part of ERCOT but is instead linked to a larger grid that includes other states and thus is regulated, did, in fact, weatherize their equipment. Its customers lost power only briefly.

With climate change expected to intensify extremes of weather, the crisis in Texas indicates that our infrastructure will need to be reinforced to meet conditions it was not designed for.

Second, there was an interesting development today with regard to the January 6 insurrection. Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), in his personal capacity, not as a member of Congress, sued Donald Trump—in his personal capacity—Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Proud Boys International, LLC; and Oath Keepers. The lawsuit is backed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and argues that these four people or entities each “intended to prevent, and ultimately delayed, members of Congress from discharging their duty commanded by the United States Constitution to approve the results of the Electoral College in order to elect the next President and Vice President of the United States.”

That language is significant. While the lawsuit lays out in detail the actions of the former president and Giuliani and the domestic terrorists in the lead-up to January 6, as well as the events of that day (making its 32 pages an excellent synopsis of the material the House impeachment managers laid out in the Senate trial), Thompson is making a very specific claim.

Thompson accuses the four defendants of “conspiring to prevent him and other Members of Congress from discharging… official duties.” This puts them afoul of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, designed to break that deadly organization in the years after the Civil War when its members were intimidating and assaulting Black and white Republicans in the South. The law makes anyone who has “conspire[d] to prevent, by force, intimidation, or threat, any person from… discharging any duties [of an officer of the United States]” “liable to the party injured.”

Thompson points out that he is 72, within the age group hardest hit by the coronavirus, and the lockdown precautions put his health at risk. This speaks to the part of the law that calls out perpetrators who “injure [an officer] in his person or property on account of his lawful discharge of the duties of his office, or while engaged in the lawful discharge thereof… so as to molest, interrupt, hinder, or impede him in the discharge of his official duties.”

The law allows a successful plaintiff to claim money not only to make up for the damages the perpetrators caused, but also to punish the perpetrators and to try to warn others against trying anything similar. And that is what Thompson has asked for.

Thompson appears to be trying to defang the insurrectionists by going after their bank accounts. Bleeding white supremacist gangs dry through lawsuits has proved surprisingly effective in the past. In 1999, a lawsuit bankrupted the Idaho Aryan Nations white supremacists; in 2008, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued a Ku Klux Klan group in Kentucky and won a $2.5 million settlement. Going after Trump, Giuliani, and the organizations central to the January 6 insurrection by taking their money would likely make insurrectionists think twice before they tried such a thing again.

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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Third, President Joe Biden held a televised town hall tonight to sell the idea of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. He answered in detail questions about domestic insurrection, the minimum wage, white supremacy, coronavirus, and vaccines. But what stood out was an exchange between the president and the mother of a young man with health issues who cannot get on a list in Wisconsin to get the coronavirus vaccine. Biden told the woman that he could make recommendations to the states, but the order in which they chose to administer the vaccine was up to them.

“But here’s what I’d like to do,” he continued. ”If you’re willing, I’ll stay around after this is over and maybe we can talk a few minutes and see if I can get you some help.”

This is a powerful echo of an exchange President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had with a Black Mississippi farmer, Sylvester Harris, in 1934. In the depths of the Great Depression, Harris was about to lose his cotton farm because he couldn’t make the mortgage payments. In desperation, he traveled a dozen miles into town, picked up a telephone, and called the White House. News stories told readers that Harris had reached FDR, who had promised to stop the impending foreclosure of Harris’s mortgage, and within days, the bank gave him an extension.

In the exchange, Americans saw a president who cared, and a government that finally, after its previous leaders had told them to get out of a terrible catastrophe on their own, responded to their needs.

—-

Submitted February 17, 2021

Notes:

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/16/us/winter-storm-weather-live

➖Dustin Miller➖
@spdustin
@Acyn “The main factors: Frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and even nuclear facilities, as well as limited supplies of natural gas.”

Source:
bloomberg.com/news/articles/…
https://t.co/GqintJ1jYf
Acyn Torabi@Acyn

Abbott: This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America... https://t.co/Q2jmZHcO6f
February 17th 2021

22 Retweets61 Likes
https://kvia.com/news/el-paso/2021/02/15/el-pasos-not-seeing-power-outages-like-the-rest-of-texas-and-heres-why/

https://www.energy.gov/oe/services/electricity-policy-coordination-and-implementation/transmission-planning/recovery-act-0

https://www.ksat.com/news/local/2021/02/16/why-does-texas-have-its-own-power-grid/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/02/16/ercot-texas-electric-grid-failure/

https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna27728315

https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.dcd.227536/gov.uscourts.dcd.227536.1.0_1.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/us/politics/naacp-sues-trump-giuliani-proud-boys-capitol.html

JohnnyBlaze
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^ Hitting them in their pocketbooks might be an effective strategy, but with all the shenanagins that can be pulled by declaring bankruptcy, I have doubts that anything would ever be paid out by Donald Trump and Guiliani.

Maybe I'm being too cynical.

Ahavati
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February 17, 2021

The crisis in Texas continues, with almost 2 million people still without power in frigid temperatures. Pipes are bursting in homes, pulling down ceilings and flooding living spaces, while 7 million Texans are under a water boil advisory.

Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, put on Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!... If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising! [sic]…. This is sadly a product of a socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts…. I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!... Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish [sic],” he said.

After an outcry, Boyd resigned.

Boyd’s post was a fitting tribute to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who passed today from lung cancer at age 70. It was Limbaugh who popularized the idea that hardworking white men were under attack in America. According to him, minorities and feminists were too lazy to work, and instead expected a handout from the government, paid for by tax dollars levied from hardworking white men. This, he explained, was “socialism,” and it was destroying America.

Limbaugh didn’t invent this theory; it was the driving principle behind Movement Conservatism, which rose in the 1950s to combat the New Deal government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure. But Movement Conservatives' efforts to get voters to reject the system that they credited for creating widespread prosperity had little success.

In 1971, Lewis Powell, an attorney for the tobacco industry, wrote a confidential memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce outlining how business interests could overturn the New Deal and retake control of America. Powell focused on putting like-minded scholars and speakers on college campuses, rewriting textbooks, stacking the courts, and pressuring politicians. He also called for “reaching the public generally” through television, newspapers, and radio. “[E]very available means should be employed to challenge and refute unfair attacks,” he wrote, “as well as to present the affirmative case through this media.”

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This “Fairness Doctrine” meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about “welfare queens” and same-sex bathrooms, and “makers” and “takers,” Limbaugh played “Barack the Magic Negro,” talked of “femiNazis,” and said “Liberals” were “socialists,” redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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By the end of the 1980s, Limbaugh’s show was carried on more than 650 radio stations, and in 1992, he briefly branched out into television with a show produced by Roger Ailes, who had packaged Richard Nixon in 1968 and would go on to become the head of the Fox News Channel. Before the 1994 midterm elections, Limbaugh was so effective in pushing the Republicans’ “Contract With America” that when the party won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, the Republican revolutionaries made him an honorary member of their group.

Limbaugh told them that, under House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans must “begin an emergency dismantling of the welfare system, which is shredding the social fabric,” bankrupting the country, and “gutting the work ethic, educational performance, and moral discipline of the poor.” Next, Congress should cut capital gains taxes, which would drive economic growth, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and generate billions in federal revenue.

Limbaugh kept staff in Washington to make sure Republican positions got through to voters. At the same time, every congressman knew that taking a stand against Limbaugh would earn instant condemnation on radio channels across the country, and they acted accordingly.

Limbaugh saw politics as entertainment that pays well for the people who can rile up their base with compelling stories—Limbaugh’s net worth when he died was estimated at $600 million—but he sold the Movement Conservative narrative well. He laid the groundwork for the political career of Donald Trump, who awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a made-for-tv moment at Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address. His influence runs deep in the current party: former Mayor Boyd, an elected official, began his diatribe with: “Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!”

Like Boyd, other Texas politicians are also falling back on the Movement Conservative narrative to explain the disaster in their state. The crisis was caused by a lack of maintenance on Texas’s unregulated energy grid, which meant that instruments at coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants froze, at the same time that supplies of natural gas fell short. Nonetheless, Governor Greg Abbott and his allies in the fossil fuel industry went after “liberal” ideas. They blamed the crisis on the frozen wind turbines and solar plants which account for about 13% of Texas’s winter power. Abbott told Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” Tucker Carlson told his viewers that Texas was “totally reliant on windmills.”

The former Texas governor and former Secretary of Energy under Trump, Rick Perry, wrote on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s website to warn against regulation of Texas’s energy system: “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business,” he said. The website warned that “Those watching on the left may see the situation in Texas as an opportunity to expand their top-down, radical proposals. Two phrases come to mind: don’t mess with Texas, and don’t let a crisis go to waste.”

At Abbott’s request, President Biden has declared that Texas is in a state of emergency, freeing up federal money and supplies for the state. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent 60 generators to state hospitals, water plants, and other critical facilities, along with blankets, food, and bottled water. It is also delivering diesel fuel for backup power.

—-

Submitted FEbruary 18, 2021

Notes:

https://www.bigcountryhomepage.com/news/ex-colorado-city-mayor-catching-heat-for-comments-about-citizens-affected-by-cold/

https://billmoyers.com/content/the-powell-memo-a-call-to-arms-for-corporations/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/02/17/texas-abbott-wind-turbines-outages/

Ahavati
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February 18, 2021

Today felt like a breather between the real, final end of the Trump presidency and the ramping up of the Biden years.

The Senate acquitted Trump of incitement of insurrection on Saturday. In response, the former president issued a statement reiterating all his lies in the months since the election. Then, last Tuesday, he lambasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for blaming him for the insurrection. McConnell, clearly the winner in this exchange, didn’t even bother to answer.

Trump broke his post-trial silence yesterday, calling in to the Fox News Channel to acknowledge the death of talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. “He was with me right from the beginning. And he liked what I said and he agreed with what I said. And he was just a great gentleman. Great man," Trump said.

Limbaugh’s passing felt like the end of an era.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration are unveiling proposals for the future. Today, Democrats offered a proposal for providing a path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally offered to restore the Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned.

As we dive into the Biden presidency, I have some observations:

It is much harder and more complicated to build something, as the Democrats are trying to do, than it is to destroy something. This means it will be harder to give a clear daily picture of the Biden administration than it was of the previous administration. The status of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, for example, is not clear right now because it is being marked up in committees, as such a bill should be. While the contours are likely what they were when they went in, what will emerge and then be put into a draft bill is not yet clear enough that we can talk about it definitively.

Biden also appears to favor making a number of changes in different programs to achieve a goal, rather than moving a single large piece. On the table right now, for example, is the question of the forgiveness of up to $50,000 in student loan debt. Biden said yesterday he did not favor excusing more than $10,000, but White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tonight he has asked the Department of Justice to look into whether he has the constitutional power to excuse the debt, something that is not at all clear.

My guess is that his administration will try to avoid legal questions by getting rid of predatory lending and chipping away at debt in limited, clearly legal ways, rather than facing the issue in one fell swoop. So, for example, the coronavirus relief bill contains rules that will prevent for-profit colleges from taking advantage of military veterans. It will be important to look at the big picture of Biden's policies, rather than taking stock of them in pieces.

There are two big questions the Biden administration is going to have to negotiate. One is the conflict between the constitutional role of Congress and the increasingly powerful presidency. In our system, it is Congress that is supposed to pass the nation’s laws. The president’s job is to make sure the laws are executed. But the presidency has taken on more and more power since at least the time of Richard Nixon’s administration, using the president’s direction of the executive branch to determine where the money Congress appropriates goes, for example, and sending troops to engage in military actions without a congressional declaration of war. As the Senate under McConnell has increasingly refused to act, more and more power has flowed to the White House.

Biden is an institutionalist who values the role of Congress—he was, after all, a senator for more than 35 years-- and yet the refusal of Senate Republicans to agree to any Democratic legislation means that he has launched his presidency with a sweeping range of executive actions. This runs the risk of alienating not only Republicans, but also those of his supporters who worry about the concentration of power in the presidency. His apparent refusal to use an executive order to cancel student debt without a firm declaration of legality from the Department of Justice suggests he’s trying not to push this boundary too far.  

And yet, how can he preserve the power of Congress to pass legislation if it refuses to? How can the Democrats pass popular legislation if the Republican senators refuse to budge? Observers note that Biden’s coronavirus plan is exceedingly popular: 64% of voters want to see it happen. But Republican lawmakers are all opposed to it. It’s a conundrum: how can the Democrats both preserve the power of Congress and, at the same time, actually pass popular legislation over the obstructionist Republicans who appear to be out of step with the American people?

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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Democrats are committed to passing the coronavirus relief measure with or without Republican votes, and they predict they can do so by the end of next week. But then they are hoping to pass a $3 trillion infrastructure package, and there is little hope of finding Republican votes for it. The Democrats can pass an infrastructure bill through the budget reconciliation process or by getting rid of the filibuster, but doesn’t it set a bad precedent to spend almost $5 trillion by partisan votes alone? They would prefer to negotiate with Republicans.

The question of how—or if—that can happen is tied to the other big question the Biden administration will have to deal with, and that is whether it will be the Democrats or the Republicans who manage to advance their plan for voting rights. While the first measures Democrats introduced in this session of Congress were bills to expand and protect voting, Republicans in state legislatures across the nation are considering measures to limit voting. Expanded voting rights will encourage lawmakers to vote for laws that are popular; voter suppression will make that less important. What happens in state legislatures will echo at the national level.

So there is a lot on the table going forward.

But for today, it is a bit of a wonder that the news is no longer absorbed by the latest outrage from the presidential administration. The big story continues to be the disaster in Texas… along with the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars, where it will explore the Jezero Crater. Almost four billion years ago, this was the site of a lake, and the rover will look for microfossils to bring back to Earth. It will also look for signs of life, and record sound on the planet for the first time ever.

Biden was quick to claim the theme of Perseverance for today’s nation. “Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance’s historic landing possible,” he tweeted. “Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility.”

——

Submitted February 19, 2021

Notes:

https://www.npr.org/2021/02/17/968731019/trump-praises-limbaugh-who-died-wednesday-as-a-legend

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/18/us/joe-biden-news

https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/nasa-mars-rover-landing-02-18-21/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/16/politics/trump-mcconnell/index.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/02/17/student-loan-forgiveness-biden-469677

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-doj-student-loan-idUSKBN2AH2KB

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/19/most-americans-say-another-round-of-covid-19-economic-relief-will-be-needed/

https://www.vox.com/2021/2/1/22254869/senate-budget-reconciliation-covid-relief

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/18/politics/house-democrats-covid-bill-vote/index.html

https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2021/02/10/covid-relief-package-includes-major-change-in-for-profit-colleges-rules-on-gi-bill-benefits/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/02/17/democrats-biden-recovery-package/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/21/can-joe-biden-forgive-student-debt-without-congress-experts-weigh-in.html

Ahavati
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February 19, 2021

Speaking virtually today to the Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest gathering to discuss international security policy, President Biden promised that “America is back.” He assured the world that the U.S. will work with our European partners. We are, he said, committed to NATO, which the previous president tried to undermine, and we will honor Article 5 of that compact, which says that an attack on any one NATO ally will be considered an attack on all of them. He noted that the only time this article has ever been invoked was after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Biden noted that “the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined… to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” He said we must work together to address the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic crisis, and the climate crisis.

Then he cut to the core of what is at stake.

Democracy is under assault around the world, he said. “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face — from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic — that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential — essential to meeting those challenges.”

“… [D]emocracy will and must prevail. We must demonstrate that democracies can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission.”

It shows. Democrats are setting out to demonstrate that democracy works. While Republicans have become the party of obstruction, starving the government while turning the nation over to business leaders in the belief that the market will most effectively order society, Biden is advancing government policies that are hugely popular among Democrats and Republicans both. Timothy Egan of the New York Times today compared Biden to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the creation of a government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.

More than 72% percent of Americans like Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Sixty-one percent want a $15 federal minimum wage, which is currently in the American Rescue Plan. Sixty-three percent want the U.S. to be in the Paris climate agreement (which we officially rejoined today), and 83% want undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, the so-called Dreamers, to have a path to citizenship. Biden promised 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days; we should actually hit that goal by late March— a month early-- even if the pace stays where it is.

Biden is making a clear contrast between his approach and that of his predecessor. Speaking at a Pfizer vaccine plant in Michigan today, he said: “"My predecessor -- as my mother would say, God love him -- failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers. That changed the moment we took office."

Sixty-one percent of Americans say they are optimistic about the next four years.

Not just Biden, but other Democrats are also working to show that our government can reflect the community values of our people. Yesterday, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) was being roasted for taking his family on a vacation to Cancun when his constituents were suffering without heat, power, and supplies, former Representative Beto O’Rourke (D), who ran against Cruz in 2018 and lost, was running a phone bank to connect hundreds of thousands of older Texans with services.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who is often demonized by Republicans, also worked to demonstrate unity and government working for the people: she launched a fundraiser on social media and raised $2 million for the red state of Texas.

In contrast to Democrats and Independents, who are optimistic about the future, 65% of Republicans say they are pessimistic about it, and they seem determined to stop Biden in his tracks. They seem to be planning on regaining power by stopping people from voting, thus abandoning democracy altogether.

Republican state legislatures across the country are using the former president’s big lie to insist that they must change voting laws to stop voter fraud. The idea behind the attack on the Capitol on January 6 was that Democrats had stolen the election from the Republican incumbent. This was a lie, disproven in courts, recounts, and state legislatures, but it is now the excuse for suppressing the popular vote. This week, the Republican State Leadership Committee announced it was creating a commission to examine election laws “to restore the American people's confidence in the integrity of their free and fair elections" by "making it easier to vote and harder to cheat."

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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Republican state lawmakers are attacking the expanded access to voting put in place in 2020, especially mail-in voting. Although there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in 2020, and repeated studies have shown voter fraud is vanishingly rare, 33 states are considering more than 165 bills to restrict voting, more than four times the number from last year. These bills are intended to stop mail-in voting, increase voter ID requirements, make it harder to register to vote, and expand purges of voter rolls.

But, even as Republicans are trying to curtail voting, Democrats are trying to expand it. Lawmakers in 37 states have introduced 541 bills to expand mail-in voting, expand early voting, promote voter registration, and restore the right to vote for those who have lost it. At the national level, the first measure Democrats introduced into Congress this year was the “For the People Act,” which embraces the policies in the state bills and also reforms campaign financing, requires candidates to disclose the previous ten years of their tax returns, and ends gerrymandering.

The current struggle over our government and our democracy is in the news in another way today, too. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that a grand jury had indicted six more people for “conspiring to obstruct the United States Congress’s certification of the result of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, among other charges.” They join three others already charged for trying to “corruptly obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding."

In his speech, Biden emphasized not just the importance of democracy, but also how much work it is to keep it. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it. We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of our history; it’s the single best way to revitalize the promise of our future.”

He did indeed sound like FDR when he concluded: “if we work together with our democratic partners, with strength and confidence, I know that we’ll meet every challenge and outpace every challenger.”

—-

Submitted February 20, 2021

Notes:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/19/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-2021-virtual-munich-security-conference/

https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/pr/six-individuals-affiliated-oath-keepers-indicted-federal-grand-jury-conspiracy-obstruct

https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_110496.htm#:~:text=Article%205%20provides%20that%20if,Article%205

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/17/world/covid-19-coronavirus#bidens-early-goal-of-100-million-shots-in-100-days-has-become-a-low-bar-as-the-pace-of-vaccinations-rises

https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3688

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/19/politics/ted-cruz-beto-o-rourke-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-aoc-texas-disaster/index.html

Biden Pfizer quotation:

Yamiche Alcindor
@Yamiche
Pres Biden takes aim at Trump while at MI vaccine facility: "My predecessor -- as my mother would say God love him -- failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers. That changed the moment we took office."
February 19th 2021

2,380 Retweets15,408 Likes


https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-february-2021

https://www.surveymonkey.com/curiosity/nyt-february-2021-cci/[/b]

JohnnyBlaze
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^ Regarding NATO, no country is island. Great to hear.

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