Heather Cox Richardson - Letters From an American II

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May 23, 2021 (Monday)


On Sunday, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus forced a commercial airliner, operated by Ryanair, flying from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, out of the sky as it passed through the airspace over Belarus. A MiG-29 fighter jet diverted the plane to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, after ground support warned its pilots (falsely) there was a bomb on board.

There wasn’t a bomb on the plane; there was an opposition journalist, 26-year-old Roman Protasevich (also spelled Raman Pratasevich), who was traveling with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who is a law student and a Russian citizen. Once the plane was on the ground, security forces took the two of them away. Pratasevich told another passenger: “I am facing the death penalty.” Three other passengers also stayed in Minsk; Lithuanian authorities are trying to figure out who they were.

Lukashenko, who has been called “Europe’s Last Dictator,” has been president of Belarus since 1994 and claimed to be reelected on August 9, 2020, with 80% of the vote, although before the election the president’s security forces threw journalists, political opponents, activists, and human rights defenders in jail. After the election, security forces arrested almost 7000 people in four days, denying many food and water and torturing hundreds of them. By mid-November, the number arrested had climbed to more than 25,000 people.

The European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom did not recognize Lukashenko’s claim of an election victory. They called for an end to the political prosecutions and a new election.

In Belarus, which has a population of about 9.5 million, hundreds of thousands of protesters were more direct. They took to the streets, calling for new elections and Lukashenko’s resignation. Protasevich was not in the country. He had begun protesting Lukashenko as a teenager; he was arrested and beaten in 2012 when he was 17 for running opposition groups on social media. He fled Belarus in 2019 and, from exile, was one of the journalists who operated a communications channel to provide information about the democratic movement during the demonstrations. The government declared him a “terrorist” in absentia. Terrorism carries the death penalty in Belarus.

To capture Protasevich, Lukashenko has committed an act of state-sponsored piracy against two European Union countries, a European-registered airline, and passengers who are mostly European Union citizens. This is an astonishing move that likely has something to do with Lukashenko’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian officials praised the hijacking, calling it a “brilliant special operation.”

Russia and Belarus loosely agreed to form a unified state in 1996 and made the agreement tighter in 1999, but Lukashenko has not been eager to give up control of his country. As his grip on his people has weakened, though, Lukashenko has turned to Russia, which gave Belarus a loan of $1 billion in December 2020. Lukasheko and Putin are scheduled to meet this week.

Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic, an authoritative scholar of authoritarianism, notes that autocrats are watching to see how the West reacts, since they, too, would like to be able to control their dissident communities in exile, showing them: “You are not safe. You are never safe. Not even if you live in a democracy; not even if you have political asylum; not even if you are sitting on a commercial plane, thousands of feet above the ground.”

Immediately after the hijacking, Western leaders, including the secretary-general of NATO, the president of the European Commission, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, condemned it. Today, European leaders imposed sanctions on Belarus and prohibited airplanes from the European Union from flying over Belarus. As the U.S. lets Europe take the lead on the response, it is demonstrating definitively that the U.S. and European countries are united and that the divisions fostered under the former president are gone.

This afternoon, Belarus released a 29-second video of Pratasevich that appeared to be a forced confession. Tonight, President Biden issued a statement saying "The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Pratasevich…. This outrageous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press."

The National Security Council then shared a readout of a call between NSC adviser Jake Sullivan and the Belarus opposition leader who likely won the 2020 election, indicating American support for “the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, new documents unsealed in the Paul Manafort case today show that the Trump campaign chair did, indeed, collude with his partner Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian operative, before the 2016 election. The documents come from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s case arguing that Manafort had not delivered his side of the plea bargain he had made. They show that Manafort—whom Trump later pardoned—repeatedly lied to federal investigators during their interviews. He lied about his contact with Kilimnik and about discussing a peace plan between Ukraine and Russia that would create an autonomous eastern Ukraine—that is the region Russia wants—and about sharing internal polling data with Kilimnick.

In separate news, we also learned that a security unit in the Commerce Department turned into a rogue counterintelligence operation over the past few years, collecting information on hundreds of people suspected of talking critically about the 2020 U.S. census or of having ties to China. John Costello, who was a deputy assistant secretary of intelligence and security in the department during the Trump administration, told Washington Post reporter Shawn Boburg that the office “has been allowed to operate far outside the bounds of federal law enforcement norms and has created an environment of paranoia and retaliation.” The unit seems to have become a tool to target employees of Chinese descent.

When they took over, Biden officials ordered the unit to stop all activities until further review.

A new Gallup poll today finds that 53% of Republicans think that Trump won the 2020 election. But only 26% of Americans identify as Republicans. Journalist Richard Hine crunched the numbers and notes that those percentages boil down to about 14% of Americans who think Trump is still president. They are a minority, but they believe the former president, who continues to insist that he won the 2020 election despite all evidence to the contrary.
 

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May 25, 2021 (Tuesday)


A year ago today, 46-year-old George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis as then–police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. As bystanders begged Chauvin to get up, a teenage girl walking by had the presence of mind to video what was happening. Thanks to that girl, Darnella Frazier, we all could hear Floyd telling Chauvin, “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd’s murder sparked more than 4700 protests across the nation that popularized both the idea that policing must be reformed and the concept that American systems, starting with law enforcement and moving to include housing, healthcare, education, and so on, are racially biased. In the past fourteen months, support for the Black Lives Matter movement among white people has jumped 5%, fueled mostly by younger people.

And yet, the rate of deaths at the hands of law enforcement officials has not changed, and Black people are three times more likely than white people to die at the hands of law enforcement even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed.

In April, a jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He will be sentenced in June.

After the jury convicted Chauvin, President Joe Biden promised Floyd’s family that he would deliver a police reform bill. Today he and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Floyd’s family privately in the Oval Office for more than an hour, but the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act has not become law. The act bars the use of chokeholds and makes it easier to prosecute police officers, but lawmakers have been unable to compromise over so-called “qualified immunity,” a federal doctrine established in 1967 by the Supreme Court that protects officials—including law enforcement officers—from personal liability for much of their behavior while they execute their professional duties. Members of both parties, though, say a deal on the measure is in sight.

Today we learned that the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., has recently called together a special grand jury to hear a number of cases, including whether to indict former President Trump, other people in charge of running his company, or the Trump Organization itself. That a grand jury is considering whether a former president committed a crime is unprecedented.

It also suggests that Vance believes there is evidence of a crime. There appears to be a focus on whether the Trump Organization manipulated the value of real estate to make it seem more valuable when trying to get loans against it, and less valuable when listing it for tax valuations. Investigators are also looking at compensation for Trump Organization executives.

Vance began to investigate in 2018 after Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to making hush-money payments for Trump and to lying to Congress.

The former president also responded today to a lawsuit filed by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who in March filed a lawsuit against Trump; Donald Trump, Jr.; Alabama Representative Mo Brooks; and Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani for inciting the insurrection of January 6. Trump’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the president has “absolute immunity conveyed on the President by the Constitution as a key principle of separation of powers." The memo is the usual political attack we have come to expect from Trump, but it’s interesting: his claim that he enjoys absolute immunity leaves the rest of the defendants out in the cold.

On January 22, just two days after President Biden took office, Lincoln Project founder George Conway published a piece in the Washington Post noting that Trump’s frantic efforts to stay in office might well have been “a desperate fear of criminal indictment.” Trump needed the protection of the presidency to avoid the fallout from his connections with Russia; the Ukraine scandal; and bank, insurance, and tax fraud. Conway noted that refusing to prosecute ex-presidents would undermine the rule of law because it would place them above the law: they could do whatever they wished as president—including trying to overthrow our democracy—knowing they would never answer for it.

Trump, of course, has refused to admit he lost the 2020 election. Today, he issued a statement suggesting that all potential prosecution of him would be political, saying that he was “far in the lead for the Republican Presidential Primary and the General Election in 2024.”

Trump’s memo also suggested he had a First Amendment right to say whatever he wished about the 2020 election, but in January, criminal law professor Joseph Kennedy of the University of North Carolina School of Law pointed out that while Trump’s speech might have been protected, he had a legal duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, a duty that meant he should have immediately told his supporters to stop what they were doing on January 6. His supporters breached the Capitol shortly after 2:00 p.m., and he did not ask them to leave until 4:17, in a video that was itself incendiary.

Meanwhile, the “audit” of 2020 ballots in Maricopa County hit another pothole when the Pennsylvania-based technology company in charge of running the recount refused to renew its contract, which expired on May 14, the day the process was supposed to be done. Wake Technology Services Inc. was subcontracting under Cyber Ninjas. A different technology company has taken over from Wake TSI.

The Nevada Republican Party has its own troubles. It recently censured Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, charging that she had failed “to investigate election fraud” in the 2020 election. Recently, one of the people who claimed to have voted for that censure said on a podcast that he is a member of the far-right Proud Boys. He said he and about 30 of his friends had been urged by state Republican leaders to step into the political fray on the side of the former president and were, he claimed, the deciding votes on the censure. Republicans in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and in Washoe County, which includes Reno, are now trying to clean the Proud Boys and their ilk out of the party, while Trump loyalists are now trying to purge the party of anti-Trump people.

As of today, 50% of adult Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and on May 24th, the seven-day average of new cases was the lowest it has been at any point since last June. But those numbers are driven by the vaccinated part of the population. Among those who are unvaccinated, the rate of disease and death is estimated to be as high as it was in late January.
 

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May 26, 2021 (Wednesday)


Today, President Joe Biden asked the intelligence community to increase its efforts to figure out where the coronavirus started. At stake is not only isolating the origins of a deadly pandemic to make sure the same mistakes are not made again, but also a new U.S. approach to China by the Biden administration.

First, what this is not: a continuation of the Trump administration’s attempt to blame China for a bioweapon launched against the world as a way to deflect attention from the former president’s botched handling of the pandemic that has, at this point, left at least 592,000 Americans dead. Trump initially praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for his handling of the coronavirus, but at the time the coronavirus first started to make its presence felt in the U.S.,Trump was celebrating a deal with China to purchase American agricultural products, a sale Trump believed would help him with farmers in the 2020 election after his tariffs had hamstrung the U.S. agricultural sector.

Once the pandemic really hit and it became clear the administration had no real plan to handle it, Trump began to try to deflect blame onto China for hiding the origins of the coronavirus, and then onto the World Health Organization for deferring to China as it tried to respond to the crisis. As he called the novel coronavirus the “China virus”—drawn out like a schoolyard insult—attacks on Asian Americans skyrocketed. Trump supporters, like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), implied that the Chinese had released the virus as a bioweapon.

Now, as scientists revisit the question of whether the coronavirus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, Cotton is suggesting he was right all along. But, in fact, Biden’s demand for a fact-based investigation is not an attempt to scapegoat China and Americans of Chinese descent for political points at home—after all, he just signed a bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans—rather, it appears to be an attempt to advance a new China policy based on clear-eyed competition as opposed to the attempts at cooperation that have characterized U.S. policy since Nixon.

At the same time, this policy stands a good chance of undercutting the support Trump garnered among workers who resented losing their jobs to China, without adopting Trump’s isolationism. (Trump’s own merchandise was made overseas, including in China.)

Biden has been very clear that he sees the nation’s foreign policy as key to his attempt to rebuild America. His National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has emphasized that the Biden administration has called for a “foreign policy for the middle class” that prioritizes protecting the American worker from foreign competition and making sure that American industry stays strong and provides good jobs. Repairing the economy and democracy at home is a way to keep the nation strong and safe from international aggression, Biden officials say.

And China is the country to which Biden is looking. In his address to Congress on April 28, Biden said: “America is moving—moving forward—but we can’t stop now. We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century. We’re at a great inflection point in history.” He vowed to make “sure every nation plays by the same rules in the global economy, including China,” and said the U.S. would “stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and American industries, like subsidies...to state-owned… enterprises and the theft of American technology and intellectual property.”

Today, Kurt Campbell, the Biden administration’s top official for Asia, said that the era of cooperation with China has come to an end and the two countries are entering a period of competition. The U.S. intends to address that competition by strengthening our traditional alliances. Meanwhile, the president and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are using the need to compete with China as an incentive to rebuild our domestic economy. In his April 28 address to Congress, Biden said he told President Xi, “We welcome the competition. We’re not looking for conflict.”

Like President Biden, Blinken insists the shift in the nation’s stance toward China is not antagonistic, as the previous administration’s was, but realistic. In an interview with Financial Times, Blinken said, “This is not about initiating a Cold War. This is all about doing our part to make sure that democracy is strong, resilient, and meeting the needs of its people.” He continued: “You know what we've seen over the last 15 years is unfortunately something of a democratic recession around the world: countries falling back on the basic metrics of democracy. The United States has had its own challenges visible for the world to see when it comes to democracy.”
 
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May 27, 2021 (Thursday)


Today the focus is on the Senate and whether it will pass the bill the House passed last week to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Thirty-five Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to create the commission.

Today, four former leaders of the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement urging the Senate to pass the bill. Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson, who served in the Barack Obama administration, joined Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, who served under George W. Bush, to tell the Senate, “We must understand how the violent insurrection at the Capitol came together to ensure the peaceful transfer of power in our country is never so threatened again.” They called for senators to “put politics aside and create a bipartisan, independent 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposes the commission, as does former president Trump, who called it a “Democrat trap.” It will take ten Republicans voting with the Democrats to overcome a Republican filibuster of the bill, and such a bipartisan effort is unlikely. So far only Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), both of whom have their own power bases outside of the national Republican Party, have indicated they will vote for the commission.

Democrats can put together their own committee to figure out what happened on January 6, but Republicans will undoubtedly accuse them of partisanship and dismiss whatever they uncover. Democrats would prefer to have an independent, bipartisan investigation.

Today, the mother and partner of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the January 6 insurrection, were in Washington, D.C., pleading with Republican senators to support the creation of an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Joining them were D.C. Police officer Michael Fanone and U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn, both of whom protected congress people during the riot, in which 140 police officers were injured.

Murkowski told Gladys Sicknick, “I’m heartsick that you feel you need to advocate to members of Congress that we stand up and say the truth is hard but the truth is necessary.”

After their visit, McConnell pressured Republican senators to filibuster the bill as “a personal favor” to him. Murkowski commented: "To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on Jan. 6, I think we need to look at that critically. Is that really what this is about, one election cycle after another?"

Republicans are saying that they don’t want the commission because they’re afraid it will hurt them in the 2022 midterm elections. The tactic of using investigations to taint elections, of course, has been the Republicans’ go-to specialty since the mid-1990s, when Republicans “investigated” suspected cases of election wins through so-called “voter fraud” to convince Americans that voter fraud—which is statistically insignificant in the U.S.—is a problem.

That use of investigations continued until it became a key factor in the 2016 election, when investigations into the 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, along with accusations that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had misused an email server, helped to sway the election’s outcome. Tellingly, using an investigation to taint an election was the goal behind the scandal that led to former president Trump’s first impeachment, after he tried to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Joe Biden’s son Hunter—not to launch an investigation, but only to announce one—to weaken Biden before the 2020 election.

In this case, though, the House bill, which adopted all the key Republican demands, requires that the commission issue its final report by the end of 2021.

McConnell doesn’t want the publicity associated with the insurrectionists, but also likely doesn’t want to run the risk of losing any Republican senators who might turn out to be associated with the rioters. The Senate is precariously balanced at 50-50, and the organizing resolution the senators adopted on February 3, 2021, is based on that even split. McConnell filibustered that resolution until he got a Democratic commitment to preserve the filibuster.

So, an independent investigation of the insurrection has the potential to affect not only individual senators, but also the balance of the Senate and the power the Republicans continue to hold in it, sharing power with the Democrats despite the fact they represent 40.5 million fewer people than the 50 Democrats do.

Thus the fight to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6 has become a key test for the Senate filibuster and the power it enables Republicans to exert over our government. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is one of the two holdouts on the Democratic side to preserve the filibuster, says “there is no excuse for any Republican to vote against” the bill but maintains that “ten good people” in the Republican Party will come around to vote in favor.
 
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May 29, 2021 (Friday)


This afternoon, Republicans in the Senate killed the bill to establish a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. The vote was 54 to 35, and yet the thirty-five “no” votes won because of the current shape of the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break, even if the minority doesn’t show up to vote.

For their part, having killed the bipartisan, independent commission, Republicans are now complaining that the Democrats might set up a committee on their own. Maine Senator Susan Collins told Politico, “The most likely outcome, sadly, is probably the Democratic leaders will appoint a select committee. We’ll have a partisan investigation. It won’t have credibility with people like me, but the press will cover it because that’s what’s going on.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could indeed set up such a House committee, although she has been clear that she preferred the bipartisan approach. Such a select committee could issue subpoenas and hold hearings to investigate the people involved in the attack. Republicans, who likely fear some of their own would be implicated, are already claiming such a committee would be partisan. President Biden could also set up a commission, which he could then staff in a bipartisan fashion, but without congressional support it could not issue subpoenas.

On Thursday, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continued to hope Republicans would vote for the commission, saying, "...the Democrats have basically given everything they've asked for, any impediment that would have been there, and there's no reason not to now unless you just don't want to hear the truth." Today, after the vote, he said, “I never thought I’d see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. I’m going to fight to save this country.”

Indeed, by refusing to investigate what is arguably the most dangerous attack on our democracy in our history, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has brought out into the open just how radical the Republican Party has become.

As if in illustration of the party’s increasingly antidemocratic radicalism, in Georgia last night, Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) continued to stoke the same Big Lie that drove the insurrectionists, claiming (falsely) that former president Trump won the 2020 election. The two representatives are on a tour of rallies, possibly to distract from the scandals in which they’re embroiled. Last night, Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking, told attendees that the nation’s founders wrote the Second Amendment to enable citizens to rise up against the government. “It’s not about hunting, it’s not about recreation, it’s not about sports,” he said. “The Second Amendment is about maintaining, within the citizenry, the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.”

As the audience cheered, Gaetz continued: “I hope it never does, but it sure is important to recognize the founding principles of this nation and to make sure that they are fully understood.”

For his part, President Biden appears to be trying to undercut the increasingly radical Republicans by trying to improve conditions across the country, especially for those hurting economically as the nation’s factories automate and as their jobs move overseas.

When he took office, his first order of business was to get the coronavirus under control, demonstrating that the federal government could, indeed, do good for the people. That has been a roaring success, with about 62% of American adults currently having received at least one vaccine. Biden is now aiming to have 70% of American adults vaccinated by July 4. New cases are plunging as the vaccines take effect, and the country is reopening rapidly.

Biden also turned quickly to repairing the economy, with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which expanded unemployment benefits and the child tax credit. That credit will start to show up in people’s bank accounts in mid-July and is expected to cut child poverty in half.

So far, Biden’s approach to turning the mood of the country seems to be working: while his predecessor is polling at 39% approval and 57% disapproval, Biden is currently enjoying a 63% job approval rating.

We’ll see how these two themes play out. Today, Biden released a proposed $6.01 trillion budget, tying together three plans he’s already proposed—the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, and $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending—and adding more to invest in education, health, science, and infrastructure. The proposal increases defense spending by 1.7% and nondefense spending by 16%. Overall, it increases federal spending to levels like those of WWII. By 2031, it would peg spending at $8.2 trillion. Deficits would run higher than $1.3 trillion for the next ten years but then would begin to decrease.

The president proposes to pay for the additional spending by increasing revenue by $4.17 trillion through taxes on individuals who have an annual income of more than $1 million and by revising the top capital gains rate to 39.6%, plus a 3.8% Medicare surtax, bringing the rate to 43.4%. (The current rate is 20% plus the Medicare surtax, making it 23.8%). The White House figures the capital gains tax reform should raise about $322 billion over the next decade.

The budget shows Biden aiming to rebuild the middle class and make America globally competitive again. Acting director of Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young said that the administration had earlier called for such investment because, “The country had been weakened by decades of underinvestment in these areas.” The 2022 budget would, she said, “grow the economy, create jobs, and do so responsibly by requiring the wealthiest Americans and big corporations to pay their fair share.”

Doubling down on the 2017 Trump tax cuts, which funneled money upward even as corporate tax revenues fell 31%, Republicans have vowed to oppose all tax increases and want no part of Biden’s proposed spending.

Today, McConnell responded to the budget proposal with words that were somewhat unfortunate coming, as they did, on the same day the Republicans refused to create a bipartisan commission to investigate an attack on our government. “If Washington Democrats can move beyond the socialist daydreams and the go-it-alone partisanship,” he said, “we could get a lot of important work done for our country.”
 
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May 29, 2021 (Saturday)


A red, white, and blue morning from Buddy this week. He says he didn't tweak it at all-- this is exactly how it came from his iPhone when he was headed out to haul.

I'm going to go all American Studies on you and say that the colors of this image jumped out at me immediately as a modern reflection of Frederic Church's 1861 painting "Our Banner in the Sky," which Church painted to show how, as the Civil War broke out, the heavens indicated their support for the United States by reflecting the nation's colors in the setting sun.

I like that Buddy's image is of the sunrise.

Am still making up for lost sleep from the semester. Will see you tomorrow.
 

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May 30, 2021 (Sunday)


I wrote the following last year for a dear friend who had recently passed. She was the middle sister in this story, and as we grew up, she told us stories of Beau so that he came alive, although he died 19 years before I was born. Maybe it’s because I am a historian, but for the life of me I cannot think of those who died in our wars without thinking of the terrible holes their deaths tore in the fabric of our lives. This year, as I thought of what I might want to say about Memorial Day, it kept coming back to this: who would men like Beau have become, and what has the world lost by never knowing their children?

In the end, I decided just to rerun last year’s post from Memorial Day, because right now, anyway, I have nothing more to add:

Floyston Bryant, whose nickname was “Beau,” had always stepped in as a father to his three younger sisters when their own father fell short.

In September 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a Staff Sergeant in the 322nd Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, nicknamed "Wray's Ragged Irregulars" after their commander Col. Stanley T. Wray. By the time Beau joined, the squadron was training with new B-17s at Dow Army Airfield near Bangor, Maine, and he hitchhiked three hours home before deploying to England so he could see his family once more.

It would be the last time. The 91st Bomb group was a pioneer bomb group, figuring out tactics for air cover. By May 1943, it was experienced enough to lead the Eighth Air Force as it sought to establish air superiority over Europe. But the 91st did not have adequate fighter support until 1944. It had the greatest casualty rate of any of the heavy bomb squadrons.

Beau was one of the casualties. On August 12, 1943, while he was on a mission, enemy flak cut his oxygen line and he died before the plane could make it back to base. He was buried in Cambridge, England, at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the military cemetery for Americans killed in action during WWII. He was twenty years old.

I grew up with Beau’s nephews and nieces, and we made decades of havoc and memories. But Beau's children weren't there, and neither he nor they are part of the memories.

His sisters are all gone now, along with almost all of their friends. We are all getting older, and soon no one will be left who even remembers his name.

When Beau was a teenager, he once spent a week’s paycheck on a dress for his middle sister, so she could go to a dance.

I wish you all a meaningful Memorial Day.

Beau.jpeg
 

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May 31, 2021 (Monday)


President Joe Biden spoke at Arlington National Cemetery today to remember those who gave the “last full measure of devotion” to the United States, dying in our service. His speech was a full-throated defense of the cause for which those soldiers gave their lives: democracy.

“Democracy is more than a form of government,” Biden said. “It’s a way of being; it’s a way of seeing the world. Democracy means the rule of the people—the rule of the people. Not the rule of monarchs, not the rule of the moneyed, not the rule of the mighty—literally, the rule of the people.”

Democracy, he said, is in peril as authoritarians around the world try to destroy it. But while our democracy is imperfect, Americans “of all backgrounds, races, creeds, gender identities, sexual orientations, have long spilled their blood to defend our democracy… because they understand the truth that lives in every American heart: that liberation, opportunity, justice are far more likely to come to pass in a democracy than an autocracy.”

Biden called today’s Americans to repay their sacrifice by making America live up to the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence. “We owe them the work of our hands and our hearts, to make real the promise of a nation founded on the proposition that all of us—all of us—all of us are created equal and deserve to be treated that way throughout our lives.”

Biden’s impassioned defense of democracy is not a rhetorical device.

Just last week, the refusal of Republican leaders to back the creation of a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection illustrated that the party is now wedded to former president Trump and his ongoing determination to overturn the 2020 election. Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who headed the 9/11 Commission, told David Smith of The Guardian that the failure to create a 9/11-type commission for the events of January 6 was “a mistake and it’s a country’s loss and a democracy’s loss.” “[T]here was no real, public reason for turning it down,” he said. “I guess some people were scared of what they’d find out.”

This weekend, a QAnon conference in Dallas, Texas, featured Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump’s former lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood as keynote speakers. Republican Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas and Texas Republican Party chair Allen West were also featured. They continue to insist, against all evidence, that Trump won the 2020 election.

Powell suggested that Trump could “simply be reinstated” as president, although she said she could not be sure Trump would get credit for time lost when Biden was in the White House.

After he left office, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak—Trump pardoned him—and has fallen more and more deeply into QAnon conspiracy theories. For months, QAnon supporters have been praising the February military coup in Myanmar that overturned a democratically elected government and calling for such a coup here. During Flynn’s speech, an audience member asked why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here. The crowd cheered and Flynn replied: “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.” When the video clip of the exchange went viral, Flynn’s verified Parler account called the idea he had called for a coup “a boldface fabrication based on twisted reporting.”

The Big Lie rhetoric is behind the voter suppression bills in Republican-dominated states, where legislators insist they must combat the alleged “voter fraud” that they blame for Biden’s victory. In Texas in the middle of Sunday night, House Republicans rushed to pass a sweeping election reform bill that would make it harder to vote and easier for judges to overturn an election, although Texas had just one potential case of voter fraud in 2020, out of 11 million ballots cast.

Texas Democrats thwarted the passage of the bill by leaving the chamber until there were too few people left to make up a quorum, which is the number of people required to be there in order to hold a vote. Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, vowed to veto funding for the legislature in retaliation. “No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he tweeted. He demanded the legislature take the “must-pass” measure up again in a special session.

The approximately 60 Texas Democratic lawmakers were forced to walk away from bills they had hoped to pass, but they felt they had to send a message. State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer said, “Breaking quorum is about the equivalent of crawling on our knees begging the president and the United States Congress to give us the For the People Act and give us the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

The For the People Act would, among other things, make it easier to vote, stop partisan gerrymandering, and limit the use of money in elections. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is more limited: it would restore the parts of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, thereby returning protections to people of color voting in state with a history of racial discrimination.

In a letter to Senate Democrats on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) thanked them for a productive May session that included confirming Biden’s nominations; advancing the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) to invest in science, technology, and manufacturing; rolling back Trump-era rules that hurt the environment, consumers, and workers; and passing the Hate Crimes Act that will help protect Asian Americans from attacks.

Senate Democrats “are doing everything we can to move legislation in a bipartisan way when and where the opportunity exists,” he said. “But we will not wait for months and months to pass meaningful legislation that delivers real results for the American people.” Schumer committed to bringing to vote in the last week of the June work period the For the People Act, “legislation that is essential to defending our democracy, reducing the influence of dark money and powerful special interests, and stopping the wave of Republican voter suppression happening in the states across the country in service of President Trump’s Big Lie.”

At Arlington National Cemetery, President Biden warned us that we are fighting for “the soul of America itself.” “Folks, you all know it,” he said. “Democracy thrives when the infrastructure of democracy is strong; when people have the right to vote freely and fairly and conveniently; when a free and independent press pursues the truth, founded on facts, not propaganda; when the rule of law applies equally and fairly to every citizen, regardless of where they come from or what they look like.”

“[T]he right to vote, the right to rise in a world as far as your talent can take you, unlimited by unfair barriers of privilege and power—such are the principles of democracy.”
 

Go Bama

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I am unable to access Ms. Richardson's post today either on Facebook or on her website. It is possible that as of today, a paid subscription will be required. I don't mind paying the subscription, but I don't want to post her letters if she is now using them for income, which is her right.

I hope some of you will check and see if her letters are publicly available. This has happened once before, but her post was on FB. The next day it was available on her website. Today, I cannot access her letter either on FB or her website.

If this is the end of this thread, I'm very grateful for the letters that I have been able to read and post.
 
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UAH

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I am unable to access Ms. Richardson's post today either on Facebook or on her website. It is possible that as of today, a paid subscription will be required. I don't mind paying the subscription, but I don't want to post her letters if she is now using them for income, which is her right.

I hope some of you will check and see if her letters are publicly available. This has happened once before, but her post was on FB. The next day it was available on her website. Today, I cannot access her letter either on FB or her website.

If this is the end of this thread, I'm very grateful for the letters that I have been able to read and post.
I picked up on FB and sent to you in message.
 

Go Bama

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I picked up on FB and sent to you in message.
Thank you. The letter is now on my FB page. If it's on FB, I don't see any reason not to post it here.

June1, 2021 (Monday)


Today, more than 100 scholars who study democracy issued a letter warning that “our entire democracy is now at risk.” The letter explains that the new election laws in Republican-led states, passed with the justification that they will make elections safer, in fact are turning “several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”

If we permit the breakdown of democracy, it will be a very long time before we can reverse the damage. As a nation spirals downward, the political scientists, sociologists, and government scholars explain, “violence and corruption typically flourish, and talent and wealth flee to more stable countries, undermining national prosperity. It is not just our venerated institutions and norms that are at risk—it is our future national standing, strength, and ability to compete globally.”

The scholars called for federal action to protect equal access to voting and to guarantee free and fair elections. Voting rights should not depend on which party runs the state legislature, and votes must be cast and counted equally, regardless of where a citizen lives. They back the reforms in the For the People Act, which protects the right to vote, ends partisan gerrymandering, and curbs the flood of money into elections.

They urged Congress “to do whatever is necessary—including suspending the filibuster—in order to pass national voting and election administration standards that both guarantee the vote to all Americans equally, and prevent state legislatures from manipulating the rules in order to manufacture the result they want. Our democracy is fundamentally at stake.”

“History,” they wrote, “will judge what we do at this moment.”
But in Tulsa, Oklahoma, today, President Joe Biden noted that the events that transpired in the Greenwood district of that city 100 years ago today were written out of most histories. The Tulsa Massacre destroyed 35 blocks of the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, wiping out 1100 homes and businesses and taking hundreds of Black lives, robbing Black families of generational wealth and the opportunities that come with it.

Biden pointed out that he was the first president to go to Tulsa to acknowledge what happened there on May 31 and June 1, 1921. But, he said, “We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or doesn’t impact us today, because it does.” He drew a direct line from the terrorism at Greenwood to the terrorism in August 2017 at Charlottesville, Virginia, to the January 6 insurrection. Citing the intelligence community, he reminded listeners that “terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not Isis. Not al-Qaeda. White supremacists.”

Victims’ trauma endures, too, and it eventually demands a reckoning when “what many people hadn’t seen before, or simply refused to see, cannot be ignored any longer.” Today, Americans are recognizing “that for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester, the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine. And maybe worst of all, if I hold you down, I lift myself up. Instead of if you do well, we all do well.” Biden promised to invest in Black communities extensively to unlock creativity and innovation.

Then the president took on the elephant in the room: voting. On Saturday, Biden took a stand against the state voter suppression laws being passed in Republican-dominated legislatures that, as he said, attack “the sacred right to vote.” They are “part of an assault on democracy that we’ve seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans.” They are “wrong and un-American.”

Biden called on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the voting protections the Supreme Court stripped out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act with the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision. He called on “all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections.

In Tulsa today, Biden called the Republican efforts to restrict voting a “truly unprecedented assault on our democracy.” He urged voting rights groups to redouble their efforts to register and educate voters, and then he put pressure on Democratic senators Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), who continue to say they will not challenge the Republican use of the filibuster to stop passage of voting rights bills. Biden promised to fight “like heck with every tool in my disposal” to get the For the People and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed.

He has asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the effort. Today, she released a statement placing today’s fight for voting rights in the context of our history. “[M]any have worked—and many have died—to ensure that all Americans can cast a ballot and have their vote counted,” she said. “Today, that hard-won progress is under assault.” She promised to work with voting rights organizations, community organizations, the private sector, and Congress to strengthen voting rights.

“The work ahead of us is to make voting accessible to all American voters, and to make sure every vote is counted through a free, fair, and transparent process,” she said. “This is the work of democracy.”
 

Go Bama

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June 2, 2021 (Wednesday)


The big story today is that in Israel, a coalition of eight very different parties has come together to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power after 12 years. Netanyahu, who was a close ally of former president Trump, is currently on trial for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust while in office. For the first time, the coalition that will replace him includes a party that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel. According to the deal, hardliner Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before turning the office over to center-left leader Yair Lapid, who hammered out the arrangement. The deal has to be accepted by the Israeli parliament, which is expected to do so.

As soon as the coalition announced it was approaching agreement, Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee flew to Israel to offer support to Netanyahu and to call President Biden weak. Cruz released a video that he claimed was of a home destroyed by a Hamas rocket that killed “an elderly woman’s caretaker.” Considering that Cruz left Texas to go to Cancun in the midst of the deadly freeze in that state that killed at least 111 people, it seems likely that his concern for the 12 Israelis killed in the 11 recent days of fighting was related less to humanitarianism than to wooing U.S. pro-Israel voters.

Other stories from today are the kind that advance bigger stories, nothing that stands alone as a game changer.

Like Cruz, Fox News Channel personalities seem to have forgotten the old saying that politics stops at the water’s edge, an expression meaning that Americans don’t criticize the government to other nations. FNC personality Sean Hannity has been cheering on Russian President Vladimir Putin while calling President Biden “weak and... a cognitive mess,” telling the president he shouldn’t go to the scheduled summit on June 16, and not to forget “your warm milky and your sippy cup.”

Today, we learned that, during the Trump administration, the Department of Justice secretly seized phone records from four New York Times reporters. We already knew it had seized records from reporters affiliated with CNN and the Washington Post. The department appeared to be trying to figure out the source of leaks from the FBI.

Early reviews suggest that the policy of trying to help people in crisis has been a success. A study from the University of Michigan reveals that the December 2020 Covid-19 relief bill and the March 2021 American Rescue Plan dramatically improved American lives. Food insufficiency fell by more than 40%, financial instability fell by 45%, and adverse mental health symptoms fell by 20%. The study suggests that “the speed, breadth, and flexibility” of the programs, especially the use of cash transfers, was key to easing material hardship.

Opponents of the programs argue that hardship would have improved anyway, since tax credits arrived in April. Scott Winship of the American Enterprise Institute told New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, “It’s not sustainable to just give people enough cash to eliminate poverty…. And in the long run it can have negative consequences by reducing the incentives to work and marry.”

Today, in order to reach his goal of having 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated by July 4, Biden announced that certain child care chains and YMCAs would provide free child care while parents and caregivers get their shots, and that certain pharmacies will be open all night for vaccinations. The administration has enlisted barbershops and hair cutting salons in Black communities to hold vaccine clinics—these locations are important community centers that were key to organizing during the Civil Rights Movement—and Anheuser-Busch, the beer corporation, has announced it will buy a beer for the first 200,000 applicants over the age of 21 if the U.S. meets Biden’s goal.
 

92tide

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As soon as the coalition announced it was approaching agreement, Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee flew to Israel to offer support to Netanyahu and to call President Biden weak.
i can't believe these pieces of crap actually did this
 
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TIDE-HSV

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Tennessee now has two of the worst senators in the country. Both are Trump bootlickers.
Well, we have jughead and soon Brooks, I fear. It's a tight race. I understand Mo is running from a process server to avoid being sued over the insurrection...
 
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Go Bama

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Ten days after he was taken from a plane diverted to Minsk by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on state television. Visibly injured, Protasevich praised Lukashenko and parroted his government’s story that protests are backed by the West. He disavowed his past opposition and confessed to organizing “mass unrest.”

By the end of the interview, he was crying. “I never want to get into politics again. I want to hope that I can correct myself and live an ordinary peaceful life, to have a family, children, stop running away from something.”

Protasevich faces the death penalty.

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to stay in power. As Josh Marshall writes at Talking Points Memo, Netanyahu’s supporters are threatening the incoming prime minister, Naftali Bennett—himself a hard-liner—and his supporters. A Netanyahu ally in the Israeli legislature—the Knesset—says he is simply going to refuse to hold the vote that’s necessary to recognize the new government. It’s not clear how long he can do that, but every day increases the pressure on members of Bennett’s party to break away from the new coalition. That would keep Netanyahu in power.

The coalition that is trying to oust Netanyahu is a coming together of left and right out of fear that Netanyahu is destroying the rule of law and setting up one-man rule. Marshall notes that “[w]hen you lose an election, you’re supposed to leave. Netanyahu’s not leaving.” The situation is volatile.

In the U.S., Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review confirmed the scoop by Maggie Haberman of the New York Times on Tuesday that former president Trump believes he will be “reinstated by August.” He believes that the so-called “audits” of the 2020 election results from Arizona, Georgia, and possibly other states will put him, and former senators David Perdue of Georgia and Martha McSally of Arizona, back into office.

This is a fantasy. Aside from the fact there is no evidence of any irregularity in the 2020 votes, we have no mechanism for such a “reinstatement” in our system. But by telling his supporters that he will be president again in August, he is setting up a scenario where they will be angry enough to fight for that to happen, always with the idea that they are defending American democracy, not attacking it, just as they did on January 6 when they tried to “Stop the Steal.”

The “audit” now underway in Arizona by the private company Cyber Ninjas has been widely discredited as a partisan hack job by “auditors” who have no idea what they’re doing, but Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania have now called for a similar “audit” in their state. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, opposes the plan, and says, “what is going on in Arizona is not an audit. It is funded by partisan political benefactors, it is directed by partisan political operatives to reach a partisan political conclusion, which is… not an audit.”

One of the Pennsylvania Republicans pushing the “audit” in his state is Doug Mastriano, who called for the Republican state legislature to appoint its own delegates to the Electoral College rather than following the actual results of the vote, and then helped to organize busses to go to Washington, D.C., for the January 6 insurrection, at which he was present. Mastriano has recently met with Trump; they talked about launching an “audit” in Pennsylvania.

In Georgia, a state judge has permitted a reexamination of 147,000 mail-in ballots from Democratic Fulton County, and in Wisconsin, the speaker of the state assembly, Representative Robin Vos, had said he is hiring retired police officers to investigate the 2020 election.

These “audits” don’t have to find anything; the fact that they exist at all is enough to do what they are designed to do: undermine voters’ faith in the system at the same time they indicate that no election result that elects a Democrat is legitimate.

This week Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Rob Portman (R-OH) traveled to Eastern Europe, where they met with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lives in exile in Lithuania, to illustrate their support for democracy. “The U.S. stands in bipartisan solidarity with the people of Belarus in their pleas for an accountable government,” said Shaheen. The senators went on to Ukraine and Georgia, where they reiterated their support for democracy there and called for a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Murphy said: “[W]e know that the best defense against Russian interference is a strong, resilient democracy….”

Shaheen added, “This bipartisan trip sends a clear message that the United States is committed to rebuilding our transatlantic relations and reasserting U.S. global leadership to promote democratic values.”

The first National Security Study Memorandum of Biden’s presidency, issued today, formally establishes the fight against corruption as a core U.S. National Security Interest. It begins by noting that corruption “provides authoritarian leaders a means to undermine democracies worldwide.” To combat that corruption, Biden vows to combat “all forms of illicit finance” in the U.S. and internationally. He will “robustly” implement the law that requires all shell companies to disclose who owns them, a rule in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Congress passed over Trump’s veto on January 1, 2021. (Remember I wrote then that this piece of the law would end up being important?)

The memorandum promises to “hold accountable corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators,” including by seizing stolen assets. The U.S. government will work with international partners to stop the strategic corruption that enabled bad actors to interfere in U.S. elections—a shot across Russia’s bow—and work across offices, agencies, and departments—State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy, and so on—to develop government-wide policies that will root out corruption.

“By effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies,” the memorandum reads.

The Biden administration announced today that it plans to distribute at least 80 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to the rest of the world by the end of June. Biden said: "We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values.”
 
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Go Bama

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June 4, 2021 (Friday)


Today, Facebook officials announced that they would continue former president Trump’s suspension for at least two years from his February 7 suspension, when he continued to praise the mob in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. After two years, the company will reassess his ban, deciding “whether the risk to public safety has receded.” Facebook promised that it would begin holding political figures to common standards for hate speech, rather than giving them a pass on the grounds their actions are noteworthy. If, in their opinion, noteworthiness requires an exception, they will explain why.

In their announcement of new standards for the platform, Facebook seemed to accept that bad actors have used it to swing political events. It listed the tens of thousands of accounts it has banned, and promised to continue to stay on top of them, although it blamed the events of January 6 on “the insurrectionists and those who encouraged them.” The new policies are a new development in the world of social media, as a major platform tries to show politicians concerned about the spread of disinformation on the platform that it can police itself.

Former president Trump reacted angrily to this ongoing suspension. His campaign’s use of social media, especially Facebook, was instrumental in his 2016 win.

Now without access to Twitter, where he had tens of millions of followers (although not all were real), or Facebook, where he had millions, he is having trouble staying relevant. He tried to move his followers to a webpage where he posted his statements on current affairs, but this Wednesday his team abandoned the page after it failed to gain much of a following.

We learned today that a New York state special grand jury in Manhattan has heard testimony from Jeffrey McConney, a senior finance executive at the Trump Organization who has been with the company for 34 years. McConney cannot be charged for anything he reveals on the subject of his testimony, but neither can he refuse to answer questions. (Because he cannot incriminate himself, he cannot use the Fifth Amendment). He can, though, be prosecuted for perjury if he lies.

Rumblings suggest that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is hoping to flip Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. Information from McConney could help that process.

Tomorrow night, the former president will address the North Carolina Republican Party, a lead-in to the old campaign-style rallies he plans to start holding next month in Ohio, Alabama, and Florida. Republican officials are begging him to talk about policy and the 2022 election, but he appears to be focused on his conviction that he won in 2020, believing that the so-called “audit” in Arizona and other states will prove he won. He has been telling people he will be “reinstated” in August.

Having tied the party tightly to the former president because of his ability to reach and rile up voters, Republican leaders now have to deal with the fact that he no longer can reach them effectively, and that his own troubles are, at the very least, distracting.
 
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