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Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson

Ahavati
Ahavati
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March 22, 2021

The Biden administration has been quite open about its belief that we are in a global war to reestablish the security of democracy in the face of rising authoritarianism. On February 4, President Biden said in a speech at the State Department that American diplomacy must be “rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken followed up a month later by emphasizing that America would rebuild alliances to “renew democracy, because it’s under threat.” Blinken noted that authoritarianism and nationalism are rising around the world, including in the United States, and that the U.S. would work with allies to counter it. “We will stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, the rule of law,” he said.

To that end, the Biden administration has joined our partners to take a strong stand for human rights and democracy.

In his confirmation hearings, Blinken promised to repudiate the previous administration’s attack on LGBTQ individuals and to champion LBGTQ rights around the world.

On March 8, Blinken and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden hosted the 15th annual International Women of Courage Awards in a virtual ceremony honoring women nominated by U.S. embassies around the world for making a difference in their communities, their countries, or the world. They emphasized that the U.S. will stand with women and girls everywhere.

Today, the Treasury Department joined the European Union, Canada, and Britain in announcing sanctions against six Chinese officials because of the continuing human rights abuses against the minority Uyghur population of that country. The administration has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the 12 million Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province, who are mostly Muslim and who have been herded into “re-education camps,” used as forced labor, and forcibly sterilized.

These sanctions come after last week’s sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials because of their suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong. Just days after administration officials imposed those sanctions, Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan began a discussion with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, by taking a provocative stand and insisting that Beijing needs to return to the rules-based system that democratic allies built after World War II. Sullivan said: ”We do not see conflict but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for principles, for our people, and for our friends.”

China responded by suggesting that it considers the U.S. a waning power that it no longer has to appease with gestures toward human rights. In a 16-minute lecture, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, accused Blinken and Sullivan of hypocrisy and arrogance, calling attention to police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and America’s own human rights challenges. He later suggested that the U.S. no longer can claim to represent the views of the world, and said that “China’s development and growing strength are unstoppable.”

The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against two members of the Myanmar military, which staged a coup against that country’s civilian government, a coup that is still roiling the nation. In those sanctions, the U.S. joined the E.U., Canada, and the United Kingdom, while two of Myanmar’s neighboring countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, issued strong statements condemning the violence.

It is also preparing sanctions against Russia for its attempt to swing the 2020 election and for its massive hack of U.S. businesses and governmental agencies last year. Unlike his predecessor, Biden has refused to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreeing with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that Putin was a killer. In this stance against Russia, too, the U.S. has partners: British special forces have been ordered to counter the activities of Russian military intelligence.

Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hinted to India that its planned purchase of a Russian missile system could bring U.S. sanctions, saying “[w]e certainly urge all our allies and partners to move away from Russian equipment… and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf….”

China has invited Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, to meet with Chinese officials in Beijing.

The Biden administration is not just trying to defend democracy overseas. It is also trying to reclaim democracy here at home. Since 1981, Republicans have focused on cutting taxes and turning over our public infrastructure to private individuals, and as their agenda became less and less popular, they have relied on voter suppression and gerrymandering to stay in power. With Republicans in charge of the Senate, they could kill even enormously popular bills that passed the House of Representatives, and now that Democrats are in charge, the filibuster enables them to do the same.

The Biden administration has used its success with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to illustrate that government can actually be a dramatic force for good. This weekend, the number of coronavirus vaccines delivered was over 3 million a day, and President Biden beat his own goal of reaching 100 million vaccines in arms within his first hundred days by a month.

The passage of the American Rescue Plan, which 77% of the American people wanted and which promptly put desperately needed money into people’s pockets, has encouraged the White House to turn to a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package. The details of the plan are still fluid, but it appears that this plan will have two parts: one focused on infrastructure, including hundreds of billions of dollars to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges, and one focused on the societal issues that Biden calls the “caregiving economy,” including universal prekindergarten and free tuition for community colleges, as well as funding for childcare. This plan will likely be funded, at least in part, by tax increases on those who make more than $400,000 a year.

They are reclaiming the government for the American people.

But Republicans, who generally cling to the idea that, as President Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem,” are determined to stop Democrats from enacting their agenda. Legislators in 43 states have proposed more than 250 bills to suppress voting. Getting rid of Democratic votes would put Republicans back into power even if they could not command a real majority.

To combat this rigging of the system, Democrats in the House passed HR 1, a sweeping bill to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and limit the power of dark money in our elections. The “For the People Act” has now gone on to the Senate, where Republicans recognize that it would “be absolutely devastating for Republicans in this country.”

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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The bill will die so long as Republican senators can block it with the filibuster, and if it does, the Republican voter suppression laws that cut Democrats out of the vote will stand, making it likely that Democrats will not be able to win future elections. That reality has put reforming the filibuster back on the table. While President Biden, as well as Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all expressed a wish to preserve at least some version of the filibuster, they are now all saying they might be willing to reform it. This might mean making election bills exempt from the filibuster the way financial bills are, or going back to the system in which stopping a measure actually required talking, rather than simply threatening to talk.

Both parties recognize that their future hangs on whether HR 1 passes, and that hangs on the filibuster.

—-

Submitted March 23, 2021

Notes:

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/biden-admin-announces-sanctions-against-chinese-officials-over-human-rights-n1261745

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0070

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/top-u-s-china-diplomats-have-public-spat-alaska-summit-n1261490

https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2021/03/22/infrastructure-biden-drug-reform/

https://www.propublica.org/article/mo-brooks-compared-bidens-election-to-the-start-of-the-civil-war-now-he-wants-a-senate-seat

https://www.state.gov/a-foreign-policy-for-the-american-people/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-22278037

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/xinjiang-sanctions-european-union/2021/03/22/1b0d69aa-8b0a-11eb-a33e-da28941cb9ac_story.html

https://www.axios.com/sidney-powell-dismiss-dominion-lawsuit-cf25a9bd-5aed-4908-959e-c5f9ea9aa425.html

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/04/us-imposes-more-sanctions-on-myanmar-calls-on-china-to-help-end-coup.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/19/world/asia/china-us-alaska.html

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/20/politics/biden-russia-china-tough-rhetoric-foreign-policy/index.html

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-voting-bills-tracker-2021

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/gop-warns-hr-absolutely-devastating-republicans/story

https://share.america.gov/international-women-courage-awards/

https://www.ebar.com/news/news//301675

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/20/lloyd-austin-india-sanctions-s400-missile-477304

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0071

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9384953/SAS-ordered-counter-Russian-meddling.html

https://apnews.com/article/aung-san-suu-kyi-global-trade-myanmar-civil-disobedience-coronavirus-pandemic-f914e0305ce0d3fb9c9115559708d383

https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/content-series/atlantic-council-strategy-paper-series/strategic-context-the-rules-based-international-system/

https://www.rt.com/russia/518544-china-invite-lavrov-meeting/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/03/22/press-briefing-by-white-house-covid-19-response-team-and-public-health-officials-18/

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March 23, 2021

Ten more people in Boulder, Colorado, died yesterday, shot by a man with a gun, just days after we lost 8 others in Atlanta, Georgia, shot by a man with a gun.

In 2017, after the murder of 58 people in Las Vegas, political personality Bill O’Reilly said that such mass casualties were “the price of freedom.”

But his is a very recent interpretation of guns and their meaning in America.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is one simple sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There’s not a lot to go on about what the Framers meant, although in their day, to “bear arms” meant to be part of an organized militia.

As the Tennessee Supreme Court wrote in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”

The path to today’s insistence that the Second Amendment gives individuals a broad right to own guns comes from two places.

One is the establishment of the National Rifle Association in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship skills of American citizens who might be called on to fight in another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting, complete with hefty cash prizes in newly organized tournaments. Just a decade after the Civil War, veterans jumped at the chance to hone their former skills. Rifle clubs sprang up across the nation.

By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular American sport. “Riflemen” competed in the Olympics, in colleges and in local, state and national tournaments organized by the NRA. Being a good marksman was a source of pride, mentioned in public biographies, like being a good golfer. In 1925, when the secretary of the NRA apparently took money from ammunitions and arms manufacturers, the organization tossed him out and sued him.

NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. In 1931, amid fears of bootlegger gangs, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. It backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee (PAC) in 1975, and two years later elected an organization president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

This was the second thing that led us to where we are today: leaders of the NRA embraced the politics of Movement Conservatism, the political movement that rose to combat the business regulations and social welfare programs that both Democrats and Republicans embraced after World War Two. Movement Conservatives embraced the myth of the American cowboy as a white man standing against the “socialism” of the federal government as it sought to level the economic playing field between Black Americans and their white neighbors. Leaders like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater personified the American cowboy, with his cowboy hat and opposition to government regulation, while television Westerns showed good guys putting down bad guys without the interference of the government.

In 1972, the Republican platform had called for gun control to restrict the sale of “cheap handguns,” but in 1975, as he geared up to challenge President Gerald R. Ford for the 1976 presidential nomination, Movement Conservative hero Ronald Reagan took a stand against gun control. In 1980, the Republican platform opposed the federal registration of firearms, and the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate—Reagan-- for the first time.

When President Reagan took office, a new American era, dominated by Movement Conservatives, began. And the power of the NRA over American politics grew.

In 1981, a gunman trying to kill Reagan shot and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady, and wounded Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. After the shooting, Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation that became known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, or the Brady Bill, to require background checks before gun purchases. Reagan, who was a member of the NRA, endorsed the bill, but the NRA spent millions of dollars to defeat it.

After the Brady Bill passed in 1993, the NRA paid for lawsuits in nine states to strike it down. Although until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendment concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun, in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.

In 1991, when the Brady Bill cases came before the Supreme Court as Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court declared parts of the measure unconstitutional.

Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, it was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election. In that year, the landmark Supreme Court decision of District of Columbia v. Heller struck down gun regulations and declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

Increasingly, NRA money backed Republican candidates. In 2012, the NRA spent $9 million in the presidential election, and in 2014 it spent $13 million. Then, in 2016, it spent more than $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

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The unfettered right to own and carry weapons has come to symbolize the Republican Party’s ideology of individual liberty. Lawmakers and activists have not been able to overcome Republican insistence on gun rights despite the mass shootings that have risen since their new emphasis on guns. Even though 90% of Americans—including nearly 74% of NRA members— recently supported background checks, Republicans have killed such legislation by filibustering it.

Maybe this time things will be different. Today President Biden called for the Senate to pass measures already passed by House lawmakers for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

More important, perhaps, is that new voices are making themselves heard on this issue. The political participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) jumped by 91% in Georgia in 2020 and was key to electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate. The Georgia murders, six of which took the lives of women of Asian descent, have inspired this community to demand policy changes that address hate crimes and violence.

Judy Chu (D-CA), chair of the 21-person Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told Politico’s Maya King: “Certainly for AAPIs who may not have been involved before, this is a wake up call to say, ‘You need to be involved.’”

—-

Submitted March 24, 2021

Notes:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-mass-shootings-are-not-the-price-of-freedom/2017/10/05/d268dc8c-a928-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2017/oct/03/chris-abele/do-90-americans-support-background-checks-all-gun-/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/23/guns-boulder-shooting-assault-weapons-ban/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/23/politics/biden-gun-control-colorado-atlanta/index.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/us/politics/senate-gun-control.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/23/georgia-asian-communities-political-outreach-477606

https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2016/11/the-nra-placed-big-bets-on-the-2016-election-and-won-almost-all-of-them/

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/06/the-nra-spent-dollar30-million-to-elect-trump-was-it-russian-money

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Mar 24, 2021   

Last night, federal prosecutors filed a motion revealing that a leader of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers claimed to be coordinating with the Proud Boys and another far-right group before the January 6 insurrection.

After former President Donald Trump tweeted that his supporters should travel to Washington, D.C., on January 6 for a rally that “will be wild!,” Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, wrote on Facebook: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!”

In a series of messages, Meggs went on to make plans with another individual for an attack on the process of counting the electoral votes. On December 25, Meggs told his correspondent that “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act…. Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

The Big Lie, pushed hard by Trump and his supporters, was that Trump had won the 2020 election and it had been stolen by the Democrats. Although this was entirely discredited in more than 60 lawsuits, the Big Lie inspired Trump supporters to rally to defend their president and, they thought, their country.

The former president not only inspired them to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. A story today by Allan Smith of NBC News shows that as soon as Trump began to ask for funds to bankroll election challenges, supporters who later charged the Capitol began to send him their money. Smith’s investigation found that those who have been charged in the Capitol riot increased their political donations to Trump by about 75% after the election.

In the 19 days after the election, Trump and the Republican National Committee took in more than $207 million, prompted mostly by their claims of election fraud. John Horgan, who runs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University, told Smith that “Trump successfully convinced many of his followers that unless they acted, and acted fast, their very way of life was about to come to an end…. He presented a catastrophic scenario whereby if the election was — for him — lost, his followers would suffer as a result. He made action not just imperative, but urgent, convincing his followers that they needed to do everything they could now, rather than later, to prevent the ‘enemy’ from claiming victory.”

And yet, on Monday, Trump’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, moved to dismiss the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against her. Powell helped to craft the Big Lie, and won the president’s attention with her determination to combat the results of the election and restore Trump to the presidency. In January, Dominion sued Powell for $1.3 billion after her allegations that the company was part of an international Communist plot to steal the 2020 presidential election.

On Monday, Powell argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that her statements about a scheme to rig the election “were truly statements of fact.” Eric Wilson, a Republican political technologist, explained away the Big Lie to NBC News’s Smith: “[T]here are a lot of dumb people in the world…. And a lot of them stormed the Capitol on January 6th.”

And yet, 147 Republicans—8 senators and 139 representatives—signed onto the Big Lie, voting to sustain objections to the counting of the electoral votes on January 6.

So the Republicans are left with increasing evidence that there was a concerted plan to attack the Capitol on January 6, fed by the former president, whose political campaign pocketed serious cash from his declarations that he had truly won the election and that all patriots would turn out to defend his reelection. Those claims were pressed by a lawyer who now claims that no reasonable person would believe she was telling the truth.

The Republicans tied themselves to this mess, and it is coming back to haunt them. President Biden’s poll numbers are high, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Friday showing that 59% of adults approve of Biden’s overall performance. (Remember that Trump never broke 50%). They are happy with his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the economy.

Rather than trying to pass popular measures to make up the ground they have lost, Republicans are trying to suppress voting. By mid-February, in 43 states, Republicans had introduced 253 bills to restrict voting. Today, Republicans in Michigan introduced 39 more such bills. In at least 8 states, Republicans are trying to gain control over elections, taking power from nonpartisan election boards, secretaries of state, and governors. Had their systems been in place in 2020, Republicans could have overturned the will of the voters.

To stop these state laws, Democrats are trying to pass a sweeping federal voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which would protect voting, make it easier to vote, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics. The bill has already passed the House, but Republicans in the Senate are fighting it with all they’ve got.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told them: “This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues: Why are you so afraid of democracy? Why, instead of trying to win voters over that you lost in the last election, are you trying to prevent them from voting?”

—-

Submitted March 25, 2021

Notes:

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/24/980754255/new-evidence-points-to-coordination-among-extremist-groups-ahead-of-capitol-riot

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/07/us/elections/electoral-college-biden-objectors.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/24/us/politics/republicans-election-laws.html

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-voting-bills-tracker-2021

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2021/03/24/republicans-seek-michigan-election-law-changes-after-2020-losses/6982647002/

https://twitter.com/kyledcheney/status/1374689633376862211

The last link is a biggie ^

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March 25, 2021

There is only one story today.

It is not the coronavirus pandemic, although 547,000 of us have died of Covid-19, and a study today suggested that we could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths if we had adopted masks and social distancing early on. It is not the coronavirus even though today President Joe Biden noted that we will reach 100 million vaccinations tomorrow and that he aims to reach 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office….

It is not the situation on our southern border, where a surge of migrants apparently matches the seasonal pattern of people trying to make it into the United States….

It is not the economy, although the U.S. Treasury said today it had issued 37 million payments this week, worth $83 billion, from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan....

The story today—and always—is the story of American democracy.

Tonight, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a 95-page law designed to suppress the vote in the state where voters chose two Democratic senators in 2020, making it possible for Democrats to enact their agenda. Among other things, the new law strips power from the Republican secretary of state who stood up to Trump’s demand that he change the 2020 voting results. The law also makes it a crime to give water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

The Georgia law is eye-popping, but it is only one of more than 250 measures in 43 states designed to keep Republicans in power no matter what voters want.

This is the only story from today because it is the only story historians will note from this era: Did Americans defend their democracy or did they fall to oligarchy?

The answer to this question right now depends on the Senate filibuster. Democrats are trying to fight state laws suppressing the vote with a federal law called the For the People Act, which protects voting, ends partisan gerrymandering, and keeps dark money out of elections.

The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives, is now going to the Senate. There, Republicans will try to kill it with the filibuster, which enables an entrenched minority to stop popular legislation by threatening to hold the floor talking so that the Senate cannot vote. If Republicans block this measure, the extraordinary state laws designed to guarantee that Democrats can never win another election will stay in effect, and America as a whole will look much like the Jim Crow South, with democracy replaced by a one-party state.

Democrats are talking about reforming the filibuster to keep Republicans from blocking the For the People Act.

They have been reluctant to get rid of the filibuster, but today President Joe Biden suggested he would be open to changing the rule that permits Republicans to stop legislation by simply indicating opposition. Republicans are abusing the filibuster, he says, and he indicated he would be open to its reform.

The story today is not about coronavirus vaccines, or border solutions, or economic recovery, because all of those things depended on the election of Joe Biden. If the Republicans get their way, no matter how popular Democrats are, they will never again get to direct the government.

—-

Submitted March 26, 2021

Notes:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-economy/u-s-covid-response-could-have-avoided-hundreds-of-thousand-of-deaths-research-idUSKBN2BH1DK

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/georgia-voting-restrictions/2021/03/25/91009e72-8da1-11eb-9423-04079921c915_story.html


Better pay attention, People.

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March 28, 2021

Since the Civil War, voter suppression in America has had a unique cast.

The Civil War brought two great innovations to the United States that would mix together to shape our politics from 1865 onward:

First, the Republicans under Abraham Lincoln created our first national system of taxation, including the income tax. For the first time in our history, having a say in society meant having a say in how other people’s money was spent.

Second, the Republicans gave Black Americans a say in society.

They added the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing human enslavement except as punishment for crime and, when white southerners refused to rebuild the southern states with their free Black neighbors, in March 1867 passed the Military Reconstruction Act. This landmark law permitted Black men in the South to vote for delegates to write new state constitutions. The new constitutions confirmed the right of Black men to vote.

Most former Confederates wanted no part of this new system. They tried to stop voters from ratifying the new constitutions by dressing up in white sheets as the ghosts of dead southern soldiers, terrorizing Black voters and the white men who were willing to rebuild the South on these new terms to keep them from the polls. They organized as the Ku Klux Klan, saying they were “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy, and patriotism” intended “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… [and] to aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws.” But by this they meant the Constitution before the war and the Thirteenth Amendment: candidates for admission to the Ku Klux Klan had to oppose “Negro equality both social and political” and favor “a white man’s government.”

The bloody attempts of the Ku Klux Klan to suppress voting didn’t work. The new constitutions went into effect, and in 1868 the former Confederate states were readmitted to the Union with Black male suffrage. In that year’s election, Georgia voters put 33 Black Georgians into the state’s general assembly, only to have the white legislators expel them on the grounds that the Georgia state constitution did not explicitly permit Black men to hold office.

The Republican Congress refused to seat Georgia’s representatives that year—that’s the “remanded to military occupation” you sometimes hear about-- and wrote the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution protecting the right of formerly enslaved people to vote and, by extension, to hold office. The amendment prohibits a state from denying the right of citizens to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

So white southerners determined to prevent Black participation in society turned to a new tactic. Rather than opposing Black voting on racial grounds—although they certainly did oppose Black rights on these grounds-- they complained that the new Black voters, fresh from their impoverished lives as slaves, were using their votes to redistribute wealth.

To illustrate their point, they turned to South Carolina, where between 1867 and 1876, a majority of South Carolina’s elected officials were African American. To rebuild the shattered state, the legislature levied new taxes on land, although before the war taxes had mostly fallen on the personal property owned by professionals, bankers, and merchants. The legislature then used state funds to build schools, hospitals, and other public services, and bought land for resale to settlers—usually freedpeople—at low prices.

White South Carolinians complained that members of the legislature, most of whom were professionals with property who had usually been free before the war, were lazy, ignorant field hands using public services to redistribute wealth.  

Fears of workers destroying society grew potent in early 1871, when American newspaper headlines blasted the story of the Paris Commune. From March through May, in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War, French Communards took control of Paris. Americans read stories of a workers’ government that seemed to attack civilization itself: burning buildings, killing politicians, corrupting women, and confiscating property. Americans worried that workers at home might have similar ideas: in italics, Scribner’s Monthly warned readers that “the interference of ignorant labor with politics is dangerous to society.”

Building on this fear, in May 1871, a so-called taxpayers’ convention met in Columbia, South Carolina. A reporter claimed that South Carolina was “a typical Southern state” victimized by lazy “semi-barbarian” Black voters who were electing leaders to redistribute wealth. “Upon these people not only political rights have been conferred, but they have absolute political supremacy,” he said. The New York Daily Tribune, which had previously championed Black rights, wrote “the most intelligent, the influential, the educated, the really useful men of the South, deprived of all political power,… [are] taxed and swindled… by the ignorant class, which only yesterday hoed the fields and served in the kitchen.”

The South Carolina Taxpayers’ Convention uncovered no misuse of state funds and disbanded with only a call for frugality in government, but it had embedded into politics the idea that Black voters were using the government to redistribute wealth. The South was “prostrate” under “Black rule,” reporters claimed. In the election of 1876, southern Democrats set out to “redeem” the South from this economic misrule by keeping Black Americans from the polls.

Over the next decades, white southerners worked to silence the voices of Black Americans in politics, and in 1890, fourteen southern congressmen wrote a book to explain to their northern colleagues why Democrats had to control the South. Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and its Results insisted that Black voters who had supported the Republicans after the Civil War had used their votes to pervert the government by using it to give themselves services paid for with white tax dollars.

[ Continued below ]

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Later that year, a new constitution in Mississippi started the process of making sure Black people could not vote by requiring educational tests, poll taxes, or a grandfather who had voted, effectively getting rid of Black voting.

Eight years later, there was still enough Black voting in North Carolina and enough class solidarity with poor whites that voters in Wilmington elected a coalition government of Black Republicans and white Populists. White Democrats agreed that the coalition had won fairly, but about 2000 of them nonetheless armed themselves to “reform” the city government. They issued a “White Declaration of Independence” and said they would “never again be ruled, by men of African origin.” It was time, they said, “for the intelligent citizens of this community owning 95% of the property and paying taxes in proportion, to end the rule by Negroes.”

As they forced the elected officials out of office and took their places, the new Democratic mayor claimed “there was no intimidation used,” but as many as 300 African Americans died in the Wilmington coup.

The Civil War began the process of linking the political power of people of color to a redistribution of wealth, and this rhetoric has haunted us ever since. When Ronald Reagan talked about the “Welfare Queen (a Black woman who stole tax dollars through social services fraud), when tea partiers called our first Black president a “socialist,” when Trump voters claimed to be reacting to “economic anxiety,” they were calling on a long history. Today, Republicans talk about “election integrity,” but their end game is the same as that of the former Confederates after the war: to keep Black and Brown Americans away from the polls to make sure the government does not spend tax dollars on public services.

—-

Notes: I don't link to my own books usually, but if anyone is interested, the argument and quotations here are from my second book, "The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North," (Harvard University Press, 2001).  

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Apologies for having fallen behind in my reading.

The only thing that keeps me from screaming, especially after reading this latest letter, is that a majority of Americans are not racist. If they were, we would have never made it this far. If they were, we would not have Joseph Biden as our President today.

I just hope that enough people wake the fuck up and not backslide by voting for the party that racists are overwhelmingly in favor of.

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^ The majority of Republicans who believe the 'Big Lie' have too much of an ego to every admit they were wrong.
   
March 29, 2021

Today Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, began in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The death of Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, under the knee of police officer Chauvin, who is 45 and white, sparked dramatic civil unrest in the United States. The murder was captured on video by onlookers who tried to intervene as Floyd cried for help, said he couldn’t breathe, called for his mother, and then died.

Today, prosecutors showed a 9-minute 29-second video of the murder, and told jurors to “believe your eyes.” They presented evidence from a 911 dispatcher who called a supervisor after seeing the event on a police surveillance camera. “Something was not right,” Jena Scurry said. The defense, in contrast, urged jurors to look at the scene in a larger context: the death happened in a part of the city where residents were hostile to officers, so Chauvin was concerned, and Floyd died not from the pressure on his neck but from underlying causes, including drug use.

In our adversarial justice system, each side tries to present the best case it can. The defense is doing what it is paid to do, that is, to defend the accused. The jury is supposed to remain impartial and be swayed by the evidence. Remember that Boston patriot John Adams famously defended the British soldiers accused of killing five civilians in the Boston Massacre.

The Chauvin trial is expected to take about a month.

The other big news today is the coronavirus. The increasing rate of vaccinations appears to be racing against increasing infections to see which will win.

While the Biden administration is administering vaccines at a pace that seems likely to have us at 200 million vaccines in arms by April 20, Biden’s hundredth day in office , the highly contagious variants of the disease along with loosened restrictions are driving numbers of infections back up again. On Sunday, the average from the previous week for vaccines administered hit 2.7 million a day—an impressive uptick— and today Biden announced that by April 19, more than 90% of Americans over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine and will live within five miles of a vaccination site, including 40,000 pharmacies.

But the average number of new cases of Covid-19 per day also increased. More than 30 million of us have been infected since the pandemic began. And 549,892 of us have died.

Today, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned that she had a sense of “impending doom” and begged people “to just hold on a little longer,” wear masks, and get vaccinated. President Biden recorded a message urging governors who have gotten rid of mask mandates to reinstate them and to slow down plans to reopen. “Please,” he said. “This is not politics…. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down, and businesses should require masks as well. A failure to take this virus seriously — precisely what got us into this mess in the first place — risks more cases and more deaths.”

There is, of course, a backstory to the Biden officials’ pleading.

Just a year ago, on March 29, 2020, then-president Trump backed off from his insistence that the country could reopen for business on Easter Sunday, April 12, perhaps after he heard Dr. Anthony Fauci’s estimate that the nation might suffer as many as 100,000 deaths over the next year from Covid-19—a number that then seemed incredible. On March 29, our coronavirus cases topped 139,000 and at least 2425 people in the United States had died, while health care workers had inadequate protection and few supplies.

Trump tried to downplay the pandemic as he tried to reopen the nation’s economy, but apparently found some relief in the daily briefings that put him before the television cameras. On this day a year ago, he tweeted: “President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘the Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise…[“] “Because the ‘Ratings’ of my News Conferences etc. are so high, ‘Bachelor Finale, Monday Night Football type numbers’ according to the [New York Times], the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. ‘Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.’ said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!”

Last night, on a CNN documentary titled “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of Trump’s White House coronavirus response team, said that while the first surge of Covid-19 deaths—about 100,000 Americans—was unavoidable, “[a]ll the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.Birx added: “The majority of the people in the White House did not take this seriously.”

Birx was not the only former official airing grievances. Brett Giroir, the nation’s coronavirus testing chief under Trump, admitted, “When we said there were millions of tests available, there weren’t…. There were components of the test available, but not the full… deal.” Former director of the CDC Robert Redfield said that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar personally tried to change scientific reports that the White House didn’t like.

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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Today, the Biden administration announced it would investigate the interference of government officials with scientific evidence during the past administration in order to press political points. The Trump administration got rid of researchers who worked on climate change and other issues the administration disliked, ignored studies of chemical dangers, and refused to listen to doctors and public health officials regarding the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration hopes to restore faith in the government by emphasizing that it will take the advice of scientists seriously.

Tonight, the former president released a rambling statement attacking Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, calling them “self-promoters” with “bad instincts and faulty recommendations” that he “almost always overturned” and which would have “led us directly into a COVID caused depression.”

But Biden has taken the opposite tack Trump did and it is working: 71% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic.

According to polls, Republican men—Trump’s key demographic-- are reluctant to get the vaccine. A CNN poll says that 92% of Democrats have had the vaccine or plan to get a shot, while 50% of Republicans say they plan to get one. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) today urged Republican men to go ahead and get the shot. He said there is “no good argument not to get the vaccination.”  

—-

Submitted March 30. 2021

Notes:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/29/derek-chauvin-trial/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/29/politics/mitch-mcconnell-covid-19-vaccine-republican-men/index.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/29/world/pfizer-moderna-covid-vaccines-infection.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-biden-mask-mandates/2021/03/29/b7864ccc-90a8-11eb-9668-89be11273c09_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/covid-biden-mask-mandates/2021/03/29/b7864ccc-90a8-11eb-9668-89be11273c09_story.html

I’m not going to link to Trump’s statement. It is public.

Twitter avatar for @aslavitt46
Andy Slavitt
@aslavitt46
BREAKING: President Biden announces that by April 19, 90%+ of Americans over 16 will be eligible for a vaccine and live within 5 miles of a place to get a vaccination.

And 33 million vaccines available in the coming week.
March 29th 2021

1,951 Retweets12,446 Likes
https://news.yahoo.com/dr-deborah-birx-says-every-011110504.html

https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a35967420/dr-deborah-birx-cnn-coronavirus-trump-response/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/29/climate/biden-trump-science.html

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/545381-poll-biden-approval-remains-steady-amid-struggles-with-immigration

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/03/29/trump-officials-tell-all-coronavirus-response/

JohnnyBlaze
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And if I must scream, I feel it should be  at all the people still not taking Covid seriously, like those currently Spring Breaking it up without masking and distancing.

But then I bite off my tongue, because their role model was Donald Trump.

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^ Right?

March 30, 2021

It feels like the banking under the Republican Party from the Trump years is starting to erode.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, sparked a nationwide fight over police brutality against Black people, with Trump supporters coalescing around the reactionary “Blue Lives Matter” flag. But today’s trial of former law enforcement officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd produced damning evidence from six witnesses, who said they were traumatized by what they saw as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died.

Today a federal judge ruled that the non-disclosure agreement the former president required employees to sign is so broad and vague it is unenforceable. There has always been a question of whether public employees can be forced to swear to a vow of secrecy, but Trump’s Department of Justice was willing to try to enforce his NDAs. While Trump’s lawyers say they disagree with the new ruling and are considering an appeal, this ruling opens the door to more tell-all books about what happened inside the White House during the previous administration.  

Also today, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that a defamation lawsuit against the former president by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos could go forward. The suit had been on hold because Trump’s lawyers argued that a sitting president could not face legal action. While two previous courts ruled against him, today’s decision is from the highest court in New York. It opens up the possibility that Trump will face a deposition in which he could be asked, under oath, about sexual assault accusations.  

On Friday, former president Trump told the Fox News Channel that his supporters were “hugging and kissing” the law enforcement officers at the Capitol on January 6, but now two U.S. Capitol Police officers have sued the former president for inflaming the insurrectionists on January 6, nearly leading to their deaths. James Blassingame, who has been on the force for 17 years, and Sidney Hemby, who has served for 11 years, blame Trump for the injuries they suffered defending the Capitol. They note his December 19, 2020, tweet in which he told supporters: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild!”

News broke today that Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a major Trump supporter, is being investigated by the Department of Justice for traveling with a 17-year-old girl he paid to accompany him. The probe began during the last administration under Attorney General William Barr, and is linked to a political ally of Gaetz’s, Joel Greenberg, a former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who last summer was indicted on sex trafficking charges. Greenberg was associated with Trump ally Roger Stone.

Gaetz has seemed to flounder since this story broke. He gave an interview on personality Tucker Carlson’s show on the Fox News Channel that Carlson himself called “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.” Gaetz’s denial of the story seemed quite carefully worded. Then he suggested that he and his family were victims of an extortion scheme from someone associated with the Department of Justice. He insists the investigation is happening because he is a “well-known outspoken conservative,” but the probe began under the previous president.

Earlier today, Axios broke the story that Gaetz is considering leaving Congress to take a job at Newsmax, the right-wing news outlet.

These stories are enough to spell a bad day indeed for supporters of the former president, but there is an even bigger story, broken yesterday by the incomparable Jane Mayer at the New Yorker.

[ Continued below ]

Ahavati
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While Republicans insist that the For the People Act voting rights act, H.R. 1, is a partisan plan, in fact, a leaked conference call from January 8 between a policy advisor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and leaders of a number of conservative groups showed the participants’ concern that H.R. 1 is quite popular even with Republicans. Across the political spectrum, ordinary Americans especially like its provision to limit the dark money that has flowed into our elections since the 2010 Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, permitting billionaires to buy an election’s outcome.

In the 2020 federal election cycle, dark-money groups spent more than a billion dollars. More than 654 million came from just fifteen groups, the top of which is connected to McConnell. In February, a Data for Progress poll showed that 68% of likely voters, including 57% of Republicans, like the bill that would staunch the flow of this money.

To kill the measure, a research director for an advocacy group run by the Koch brothers said that Senate Republicans would have to use “under-the-dome-type strategies.” That is, they would have to leverage congressional rules, like the filibuster, to make sure the bill doesn’t pass.

—-

Submitted March 31, 2021

Notes:

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/nyt-matt-gaetz-investigated-for-possible-relationship-with-17-year-old

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/gaetz-implodes-in-surreal-tucker-carlson-appearance

Twitter avatar for @atrupar
Aaron Rupar
@atrupar
Matt Gaetz vows to Tucker Carlson he didn't "travel" with a 17-year-old, but his denial seems pretty specific and carefully worded Image
March 31st 2021

2,084 Retweets10,539 Likes
https://www.axios.com/matt-gaetz-retirement-congress-newsmax-e1a0e6bb-0279-4e97-ab22-508e28f4347a.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/us/politics/matt-gaetz-sex-trafficking-investigation.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-30/trump-sued-by-2-capitol-police-officers-for-inciting-wild-riot

https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/26/politics/donald-trump-january-6-rioters-arrests/index.html

https://www.politico.com/news/2021/03/30/trump-campaign-non-disclosure-agreement-478648

https://www.newsweek.com/gop-opposes-hr-1-poll-finds-majority-republicans-support-election-reform-bill-1572166

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/nyregion/trump-defamation-summer-zervos.html

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/inside-the-koch-backed-effort-to-block-the-largest-election-reform-bill-in-half-a-century

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