Heather Cox Richardson - Letters from an American

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Trying to fall in line with the new direction of the board, I've decided to make a thread dedicated to Heather Cox Richardson's daily posts. I had started another thread which was meant to include these posts, but her posts are so long I feel they clutter a thread meant to catch a broader spectrum of topics. So from now until after the presidential election I'm going to post her daily articles here.


August 4, 2020 (Tuesday)

Today, the major domestic news was last night’s Axios interview, in which reporter Jonathan Swan challenged Trump’s assertions and revealed just how shallow the president’s understanding of the pandemic, mail-in voting, and so on, really are. The interview showed little that we didn’t already know, but to see the president dismiss the 156,000 deaths from coronavirus, for example, by saying “it is what it is,” was nonetheless shocking.

Everything else today was about partisanship. Trump followed up last night’s interview with another gaffe this morning. At a press conference, he demonstrated that he could not pronounce “Yosemite,” one of the nation’s best known national parks. Trying to read it from a sheet of paper, he tried twice to come up with the right pronunciation—Yoh-sem-it-ee—and instead settled on “YO-se-MIGHT” and then “Yo-se-min-NIGHT.”

Yosemite is quite a common word in America, and observers expressed surprise that Trump was apparently not familiar enough with it to recognize it, especially since he was saying the word to publicize the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which he claimed rivaled the accomplishments of President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt did not initiate the federal protection of conservation land but broadened it so dramatically he is known as the “conservation president.”

The new law provides up to $9.5 billion over five years to begin addressing long-overdue maintenance at national parks, and it passed on a bipartisan vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) who passed away last month, introduced the bill last year. Trump came around to the bill only after two Republican Senators, Corey Gardner (R-CO) and Steve Daines (R-MT), told him it would help their reelection bids.

Nonetheless, Trump claimed all credit for the bill for Republicans. He invited no Democrats to the signing, and when reporters asked Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, why Democrats had been excluded, she said “the only thing we’re recognizing about congressional Democrats right now is how appalling it is that there are Americans... who are going without paychecks because they refuse to partner with Martha McSally, Republicans and the president to make sure those payments go out."

This is political spin. The reality is that the Democrats passed a coronavirus relief bill in May and the Republican Senate refused to take it up. Senate Republicans turned to the construction of their own bill too late, and now cannot agree on their own package. So now Democrats are negotiating directly with the White House. While the two sides are apparently making some progress, it’s slow going.

While he could not find a way to put together a coronavirus relief bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has continued to push through judicial nominations.

The political calculation behind the Republican attack on mail-in voting was also clear today. Republicans have previously endorsed mail-in voting, but Trump’s insistence that mail-in voting will cause fraud and the “most corrupt election” in American history has apparently discouraged Republican voters from applying for ballots. Republican leaders are panicked.
So today the president did an abrupt about-face, at least for the Republican state of Florida. “Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting,” Trump tweeted today, “in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!”

Today the New York Times also reported that at least four of the people involved in trying to get Kanye West on the ballot this fall are prominent Republican political activists, suggesting that they are hoping the rapper and artist West will be a spoiler for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Trump himself retweeted a post suggesting that West could “siphon black votes away from Biden.” There are some signs that this political gambit is not in West's best interest. His family members have apologized for West’s recent erratic behavior and noted that he suffers from mental illness.

Tonight Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) tweeted “Shocked & appalled—I just left a 90 minute classified briefing on foreign malign threats to our elections. From spying to sabotage, Americans need to see & hear these reports…. Protect our democracy from destruction by declassifying key intel describing the danger of foreign subterfuge to our elections. Congress has been briefed, but sworn to secrecy—unacceptably.” He said no more than this, but it is noteworthy that Blumenthal sits on the Committee on Armed Services, where he sits on the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity.

On July 24, less than two weeks ago, the four Democrats on the Gang of Eight—the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress who deal with national security—demanded that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accurately warn Americans of the foreign threat to our elections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Mark Warner (D-VA) were clear that foreign actors are attacking us. “Almost exactly four years ago, we first observed the Russians engaging in covert actions designed to influence the presidential race in favor of Donald Trump and to sow discord in the United States. Now, the Russians are once again trying to influence the election and divide Americans, and these efforts must be deterred, disrupted and exposed,” they wrote.
The director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), William Evanina, tried to suggest that China, Russia, and Iran were equally responsible for attacking the 2020 election. They are, he says, using “influence measures in social and traditional media in an effort to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, to shift U.S. policies, to increase discord and to undermine confidence in our democratic process.”
The NCSC is part of the office of the Director of National Intelligence, now overseen by Trump loyalist John Ratcliffe. Trump, of course, dismisses the idea that Russia intervened on his behalf in 2016, despite findings to the contrary by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.

The four top Democrats were alarmed at Evanina’s attempt to make it look like there was simply a general attack on the U.S. election rather than one that called out what appears to be evidence that Russia, especially, is at work again to shape the election.

“A far more concrete and specific statement needs to be made to the American people, consistent with the need to protect sources and methods,” wrote Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff, and Warner. “We can trust the American people with knowing what to do with the information they receive and making those decisions for themselves. But they cannot do so if they are kept in the dark about what our adversaries are doing, and how they are doing it. When it comes to American elections, Americans must decide.”
 

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August 5, 2020 (Wednesday)


Trump dominated the news today, which is usually a sign of negative news stories and his need to create distractions from them.

There were certainly negative news stories. The acting inspector general for the State Department is resigning, effective Friday. Stephen Akard took office less than three months ago after Trump fired his predecessor, Steve Linick, apparently at the urging of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Linick was investigating Pompeo’s emergency declaration to permit an $8.1 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia over the objections of lawmakers of both parties.

Linick was also investigating the story that Trump asked the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Robert “Woody” Johnson, to ask the UK’s then-Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, to bring the British Open to Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland in 2018. The British Open is a valuable event: in 2019, it brought more than 100 million pounds to the host town where it was played. (This translates to more than $130 million.)

The report about this attempt to use the power of the government for Trump's financial interests was about to come out when Linick was fired. The second-in-command at the UK embassy, deputy chief of mission Lewis Lukens, whom Johnson pushed out of his position after Lukens called the golf course request unethical and possibly illegal, gave an interview to Rachel Maddow tonight. He said State Department leadership is unwilling to try to stop this sort of self-dealing amongst Trump’s appointees because they know they will lose.
Akard gave no reason for his departure, but it might well be connected with either of these investigations.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating potential insider trading over the late July launch of Kodak Pharmaceuticals, a new branch of the old camera and film company intended to begin the process of bringing the production of drugs back to the United States.

Under the Defense Production Act, the Trump administration provided a $765 million loan to support the launch of Kodak Pharmaceuticals. The deal shot Kodak stock upward by more than 2,757%. But there was suspicious activity around this deal. The day before Trump’s announcement of it, the Eastman Kodak Company gave its CEO, Jim Continenza, 1.75 million stock options. Indeed, since May, when talks with the administration about manufacturing the ingredients for pharmaceuticals began, Kodak handed out 240,000 stock options to board members.

Kodak says the timing of the options was a coincidence: the board's compensation committee meeting happened to fall on the day before the announcement. When asked by a reporter about what had happened at Kodak, Trump says he “wasn’t involved in the deal.” This afternoon, the co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement Steve Peikin announced he is stepping down. He did not give a reason.

In an interview on the Fox News Channel, Trump said that schools should reopen because children are “almost immune from COVID-19.” Facebook removed the video because “this video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.” The Trump campaign tweeted the video, and Twitter, too, required the account to delete it, blocking the account until it did.

Former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the 2016 FBI investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Yates defended the FBI’s observation of Trump’s former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn. That investigation was necessary to see if Flynn's interactions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak endangered national security, she said. By promising to end US sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration after Russia invaded Ukraine and then attacked the 2016 election, "General Flynn had essentially neutered the US government's message of deterrence," Yates said.

In the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that the FBI interview conducted in January 2017, after Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak had come to light, were simply an attempt to reopen a closed case to hurt Trump. Yates reminded him that the FBI had decided to close the Flynn case before the Kislyak conversations, and those chats changed the landscape. "They were absolutely material to a legitimate investigation…. Interviewing General Flynn was right at the core of the FBI's investigation at this point to try to discern what are the ties between the Trump administration and the Russians."
Yates called the attempt of the Justice Department, now overseen by Attorney General William Barr, attempt to dismiss the Flynn case after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI “highly irregular.”

As so many of recent Republican investigators have, though, Graham seemed less concerned with learning what happened than with establishing his own narrative. He interrupted Yates so many times both another Senator and the witness herself called him out on it.
And then there were the distractions.

With the White House and House leaders unable to reach an agreement on a coronavirus bill, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporter Wolf Blitzer that if Congress could not pass a bill, Trump would issue an executive order to cover the issue.

The Constitution establishes that all appropriations bills must originate in the House of Representatives. The House did, in fact, pass a coronavirus bill back in May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to take it up. Now he is sitting out the last-minute negotiations as lawmakers try to find a way to help out the roughly 32 million Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits, since the $600 weekly boost the federal government has added since the spring has ended.

With the Republican National Convention in disarray, Trump today floated the idea of giving his speech accepting the nomination from the White House because, he says, the Hatch Act prohibiting the use of public office for partisan purposes does not apply to the president.
This prompted pushback from members of both parties. The Hatch Act prohibits the use of public office for partisan purposes. While the president and the vice president are indeed exempt from that act, none of the staff that would have to be involved are. Further, using the White House to give a major campaign speech is a major breach of both tradition and decorum. It’s likely that Trump floated this idea as a distraction from the ongoing bad news about coronavirus, or some of the other stories circulating that reflect badly on the administration.
The distractions did not manage to cover up for this:

Tonight, the New York Times broke the story that the Manhattan District Attorney subpoenaed Trump’s records from Deutsche Bank last year and the bank handed them over. Deutsche Bank was the only bank willing to work with Trump after his many bankruptcies. It lent Trump or his company more than $2 billion in the past twenty years.

Earlier this week, we learned that the Manhattan district attorney’s office is looking not only at hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep them quiet about sexual affairs with Trump, but also at the crimes of tax fraud, insurance fraud, and bank fraud. The district attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr, is pushing to get Trump’s tax returns to cross-check them with the Deutsche Bank records.

At about 7:30 tonight, the New York Attorney General’s Press Office announced that Attorney General Letitia James will be making “a major national announcement” tomorrow at 11:30 AM.
 

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Who is Heather Cox Richardson?

And, other than the fact that she can poke holes in Donald Trump’s pronouncements (not exactly a high bar there) why should I care what she thinks?
 

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August 6, 2020 (Thursday)

Last night, the New York Attorney General’s Press Office announced that Attorney General Letitia James would make “a major national announcement” today at 11:30 AM. When she appeared, she announced she was launching a lawsuit to disband the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA was chartered in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship of Americans who might be called on to fight another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting. By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular sport.
In the 1930s, amid fears of organized crime, 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. NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between, on the one hand, law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and on the other hand, criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. The NRA 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 in 1975, and two years later elected a president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

The NRA had gone into politics. Its officials now opposed all limits on gun ownership, even though basic safety measures have always been popular, even within the NRA’s own membership. In 1980, the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time ever, standing behind Ronald Reagan. Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, the NRA was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election.

In 2016, donations to the NRA jumped sharply. While in 2012, it spent $9 million, and in 2014 it spent $13 million, 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.

In February 2018, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR), began an investigation of the NRA, its donors, and its role in the 2016 election.

On July 15, 2018, the federal government arrested Russian national Maria Butina and charged her with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior registration.” Butina and Russian government official Alexander Torshin began coming to the U.S. for NRA events in 2014. Butina moved to the U.S. in 2016 on a student visa, intending to gain access to the American political system through the NRA and to push U.S. policy closer to Russian interests.

Butina became romantically involved with Republican political operative Paul Erickson, who had worked for Republican insurgent candidate Pat Buchanan in 1992, was friends with criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and later represented John Wayne Bobbitt in media deals after Bobbitt’s wife Lorena cut off his penis with a kitchen knife. (Surgeons reattached it.)

Erickson promised to help Butina gain access to Republican lawmakers. When federal investigators began to monitor Butina, he came to their attention, and they discovered his businesses were designed to defraud investors. In November 2019, Erickson pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in an unrelated case. Last month, he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

But when their NRA scheme was still intact, Butina and Torshin attended NRA annual meetings and other NRA events at the invitation of its leaders, who invited the two to events like the National Prayer Breakfast, where they could meet Republican lawmakers. In turn, Butina and Torshin invited NRA leaders to Moscow, where they met with leaders who promised lucrative business opportunities with Russian oligarchs, including the opportunity to produce weapons for the Russian military. Some of the Russians they met were under sanctions from the U.S. government.

In April 2019, Butina pleaded guilty to working as a foreign agent without registering with the U.S. Department of Justice. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a sentence Russian President Vladimir Putin, who insisted she was being railroaded, called “arbitrary.” In September 2019, the Democrats on the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance outlined the work of Butina and Torshin in the U.S., and called the NRA “a foreign asset.”

Butina served 15 months in the Tallahassee Federal Correction Institution before being deported to Moscow. Reporters from RT, the state-sponsored Russian media outlet, traveled on the plane with her. Supporters greeted her at the Moscow airport with flowers and cheers, giving her a hero’s welcome. Once back in Moscow, she said she had been pressured to plead guilty to a crime, but all she was doing was “hosting friendship dinners.” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry, told ABC News: “the only thing she was doing was supporting bilateral relationship and friendship between peoples. ... She did nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong.”

There is at least some reason to wonder if the sudden jump in NRA donations in 2016 had something to do with the Russian oligarchs who were talking with its leaders. When Senator Wyden requested information about their donors, NRA leaders stated categorically they did not accept money from “foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections,” which is illegal. But then they said it had, in fact, accepted less than $1000 from Torshin, for a membership. And then they told Wyden that it had actually taken money from 25 Russian individuals for memberships or magazine subscriptions, totaling about $2512.85.

This last letter to the senator concluded, “We believe this and our previous letters have provided enough information to address any legitimate concerns about these issues. Therefore, given the extraordinarily time-consuming and burdensome nature of your requests, we must respectfully decline to engage in this beyond the clear answers we have already provided.” Wyden noted that “the notion that all of these important oligarchs who had involvement with the N.R.A. and were close to Putin were spending money on a few magazine subscriptions doesn’t strike me as very plausible.”

The lawsuit announced this morning concerned a different kind of NRA spending. For six and a half years, NRA leaders have misspent funds, lavishing the money of the nonprofit organization on their own lifestyles. In 2015, the NRA had a surplus of almost $28 million. By 2018, it was running a $36 million deficit. This spending came to light after Republican operative Oliver North, a key player in the Iran-Contra Scandal, became president of the organization in September 2018. In April 2019, North called for an investigation into the NRA’s finances and asked longtime chief executive of the organization Wayne LaPierre to resign. LaPierre responded that North was trying to get him out of the organization by threatening to release “damaging” information about him. North resigned.

Now New York Attorney General Letitia James has taken up the issue. She sued LaPierre. She also sued John Frazer, the organization’s general counsel; Josh Powell, a former top lieutenant of LaPierre; and Wilson Phillips, a former chief financial officer. Their trips to the Bahamas, Nieman Marcus clothing, and nights at the Four Season cost the organization $64 million over the past three years. James wants to bar all four men from running non-profits in New York in the future. “It’s clear that the NRA has been failing to carry out its stated mission for many, many years and instead has operated as a breeding ground for greed, abuse and brazen illegality,” James said. “Enough was enough. We needed to step in and dissolve this corporation.”

As James announced her lawsuit, the Washington D.C. Attorney General, Karl Racine, sued NRA Foundation, the organization’s charitable arm that teaches, for example, firearm safety, say it has been diverting funds to the NRA to pay for top official’s spending sprees.

The NRA immediately countersued, claiming James’s lawsuit was about politics, not the law, and that James is violating the First Amendment to the Constitution, which mandates that the government must not hamper free speech. Mr. LaPierre said: “This is an unconstitutional, premeditated attack aiming to dismantle and destroy the N.R.A. — the fiercest defender of America’s freedom at the ballot box for decades. We’re ready for the fight. Bring it on.”

Asked to comment, Trump said “That’s a very terrible thing that just happened. I think the NRA should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life.”
 

Go Bama

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Who is Heather Cox Richardson?

And, other than the fact that she can poke holes in Donald Trump’s pronouncements (not exactly a high bar there) why should I care what she thinks?
From Wiki:

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, the American West, and the Plains Indians. She previously taught at MIT and the University of Massachusetts. Richardson has authored six books.


As for why you should care what she thinks, I'm not sure how to answer that question other than what I get out of her posts. Her historical perspective and access to facts of which I am not aware make her a valuable source for daily news. In a short article she gives a different perspective than any other author I have read.

I started this thread because several readers responded positively every time I posted her articles. The articles are long so I decided to make a thread dedicated to her posts to keep other threads uncluttered.

Currently, I am reading her book, "How the South Won the Civil War." I find it enlightening also.
 

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August 7, 2020 (Friday)


America’s top news continues to touch on the upcoming election.
The Friday night news dump was about the United States Postal Service. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump loyalist, has recently created new rules for the agency that have dramatically slowed the delivery of mail just as mail-in voting for 2020 has begun. Today, DeJoy overhauled the USPS, releasing a new organizational chart that displaces postal executives with decades of experience and concentrates power in DeJoy himself. Twenty-three executives have been reassigned or fired; five have been moved in from other roles. The seven regions of the nation will become four, and the USPS will have a hiring freeze. DeJoy says the new organization will create “clear lines of authority and accountability.”

There is reason to be suspicious of DeJoy’s motives. Not only have his new regulations slowed mail delivery, but also under him the USPS has told states that ballots will have to carry first-class 55-cent postage rather than the normal 20-cent bulk rate, almost tripling the cost of mailing ballots. This seems to speak to Trump’s wish to make mail-in ballots problematic for states. And DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, whom Trump has nominated to become ambassador to Canada, own between $30.1 million and $75.3 million of assets in competitors to the USPS. This seems to speak to the report issued by the Trump administration shortly after the president took office, calling for the privatization of the USPS.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called out the policies that slowed the delivery of essential mail, “including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters.” They called for DeJoy’s recent changes to be reversed.

But that was not the only news today that touches on the election. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released a statement saying that the 2020 election is being threatened by foreign actors.

It was a carefully worded statement, obviously trying to say that China, Russia, and Iran were equally involved in affecting the upcoming election. But the assessment simply says that China prefers that Trump not win reelection and has said so, and that Iran will probably spread disinformation and anti-American content online.

Russia, in contrast, is actively at work to help Trump and hurt presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “For example,” Evanina writes, “pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

Derkach has repeatedly met with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has publicized information Derkach has provided. Derkach “doesn’t seem pro-Russian to me,” Giuliani said. In contrast, Michael Carpenter, a former senior Defense Department official now advising Biden on foreign policy, says Derkach’s trickle-release of tapes purporting to be damaging to Biden are “a KGB-style disinformation operation tied to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine whose chief aim is to make deceptive noise in the U.S. election campaign to advance the interests of their oligarchic backers, the Kremlin, and the faltering Trump campaign.”

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, who is scrutinizing Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the Ukrainian company on whose board he sat, seems also to be entertaining the idea that Derkach’s tapes show Biden’s corruption. Johnson is working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Their actions prompted Pelosi and Schumer to ask the FBI to brief all members of Congress about the ongoing Russia disinformation campaign. What they got, apparently, was today’s announcement.

Meanwhile, news dropped today that while Trump has refused to bring up with Putin the reports that Russian operatives paid Taliban-linked fighters to kill American or allied troops, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did so. Pompeo was allegedly “livid’ at the bounty story. It seems likely that Pompeo’s newfound independence has more to do with his political ambitions than with the principle of protecting our troops. Certainly, with the president calling the bounty story a “hoax,” it is unlikely the Russians will pay Pompeo’s anger any attention.

Staunch Trump supporter and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. will be taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the presidency of Liberty University after Falwell posted to Instagram a picture of himself with his pants unzipped and open, with his arm around a young woman similarly undressed. Liberty University is an evangelical college, and was founded by Falwell’s father.

This will not help the president. Evangelical support for Trump has been wavering such that Trump yesterday felt obliged to tell supporters in Ohio that Biden, a staunch Catholic who has been open about his faith, believes in “no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God.”

Last night, a judge ruled that Trump can no longer stall a defamation lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist who claims Trump raped her twenty years ago. Carroll sued Trump when he called her a liar. Her lawyers will now be able to depose Trump, and to try to get a DNA test from him to compare the results to material on the dress she was wearing when he allegedly attacked her. Today Carroll tweeted at the president: “IT’S ON!! See you in court.”

Talks between Democratic leadership and the White House over a new coronavirus relief bill fell apart today. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) first refusing to take up the bill the House passed in May and now boycotting the negotiations, the job of writing a new bill has fallen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The Democrats have proposed a $3.4 trillion bill that extends federal unemployment benefits, provides $915 billion in direct aid to workers, shores up state and local governments, and provides $3.6 billion to enable officials to run the 2020 election. The White House wants a $1 trillion bill that provides significantly less money in direct aid, election protection, and so on. It also does not want to provide aid to schools unless they reopen in person immediately.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of being unwilling to compromise because the cratering economy will hurt Trump’s reelection prospects. Today, the Democrats offered to compromise with a bill that appropriates $2 trillion, but Meadows and Mnuchin rejected it out of hand. “The Speaker made a very fair offer — let’s narrow each — and you should’ve seen the vehemence,” Schumer said. “You should’ve seen their faces, ‘absolutely not.’ I said, ‘you mean you want it to go almost all in your direction or you won’t negotiate?’ and they said, ‘yeah.'"

Tonight, at a press conference at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said that with the talks falling apart, he will provide money for the programs he wants—including payroll tax cuts that will take money from Social Security-- through executive orders. “If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need,” Trump said. But this action would create a crisis, since the Constitution gives to the House of Representatives sole authority to appropriate money.

The Founders gave the House of Representatives what is known as “the power of the purse” because they wanted to guarantee that the Chief Executive would never be able to dictate laws solely on his own authority.
 

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August 8, 2020 (Saturday)


Today’s announcement that Trump was providing economic relief through executive action after Congress failed to pass a coronavirus bill was an attempt to drive a narrative that will give Trump an issue for the upcoming election.

The story is this: On May 15, the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill, known as the HEROES Act, short for Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. It provided relief for workers, protected renters, shored up cratering state budgets, funded emergency changes to the 2020 election, and supported hospitals and schools.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take it up. In an interview on the Fox News Channel, he said "We will let you know when we think the time is right to begin to move again.” That time was apparently not until the end of July, just as federal funding for a supplement to unemployment benefits ran out and a moratorium on evictions ended.

Then, with unemployed Americans facing a wall and the economy facing a cliff, Senate Republicans began to negotiate their own coronavirus relief package, but it became clear quickly that they could not agree. Senators up for reelection wanted popular measures that would help their constituents; others opposed further federal spending. Unable to come up with a plan, McConnell bowed out of further negotiations.
That left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The administration officials proposed $1 trillion in aid, and cutting out state support and election funding, among other things. When the Democrats yesterday offered to compromise on a $2 trillion bill, the White House rejected it out of hand.

This opened the way for Trump to step in.

This evening, from his golf club at Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump signed three memorandums and one executive order that bypass Congress to provide the relief the White House wanted. Trump said these measures would provide economic relief for struggling Americans by providing temporary benefits, deferring taxes, and by ending evictions.

It is not clear the measures will do any such thing.

The Constitution establishes that only the House of Representatives can initiate a revenue bill, so Trump cannot come up with new money. Tonight’s memo on relief relies on Trump’s emergency powers. It calls for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use about $70 billion from the Department of Homeland Security’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to provide an additional $300 of unemployment benefits weekly. But since the law requires states to kick in 25% matching funds for expenditures from the DRF, the memo also calls on states to use their allocation of the $80 billion still unspent from the earlier coronavirus CARES Act to put an additional $100 weekly into relief, for a total of a $400 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits. Trump has also told states to identify funds they can spend if the DRF falls to $25 billion.

States are struggling from the collapse of tax revenues due to the pandemic. They are facing major layoffs and program cuts. Republicans oppose shoring them up apparently with the hope of forcing the states into a restructuring that will cut social benefits. The requirement in this memo will stress them more.

It is also unclear how long the DRF’s money will hold out, since more than 30 million Americans are currently collecting unemployment benefits.

Another of Trump's memos relies on the law that gives the Treasury Secretary leeway to delay tax filing and collection in case of disasters. Trump directs the Treasury Secretary to defer payroll taxes for workers making less than about $100,000 a year, starting on September 1. Members of both parties disliked this idea, but it has long been one of Trump’s favorite provisions. He insists it will inject money into the economy, although there is argument over that.

The taxes would still be due, just not until next year. But Trump appears to want to end them altogether. Trump’s lawyer Jenna Ellis tweeted “This is actually the biggest news of the day: President Trump said that if he is re-elected, he will look into terminating the payroll tax permanently!”
It is the payroll tax that funds Social Security and partly funds Medicare.
Another memo extends the deferral of student loan payments set up under the CARES Act until December 31. Under the earlier act, it expired in September.

Like the payroll tax memo, the “Executive Order on Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners” starts by noting that the coronavirus began in China and from there reiterates some of Trump’s favorite claims about the success of his administration. Then the memo notes how hard-hit people of color have been by Covid-19, and points out that POC are at most danger of eviction. But the memo does not, in fact, provide anything to stop that process. It simply asks various administration officials to consider whether anything can be done to help.

So what’s the story behind these four executive actions, announced late Saturday, just in time to make it onto all the Sunday talk shows?
McConnell may have sat out the negotiations because he knew he could never get Republican senators to agree on a bill. But by pulling Republicans out of negotiations, he set up a narrative that pitted Democrats against the Trump White House. The White House refused to negotiate, cut off talks, and now Trump has declared that he has the power to fix the problem himself.

But it is not at all clear that he does have the power to reallocate funds as he has. Under the Constitution, Congress controls spending, and the president is supposed to execute the laws Congress writes. Congress allocated the money that he now wants to use for pandemic relief for other purposes.

So there will almost certainly be pushback on Trump’s actions on legal grounds. But, with Senate Republicans out of negotiations, Republicans can frame legal pushback as Democrats objecting to the relief Americans so desperately need, even though the Democrats have been pushing for a relief bill for almost three months, and it is the Republicans who have been unable to produce one.

Such a construction seems to be what Trump and Republican leaders have in mind. Far from being neutral documents to solve a crisis, the documents themselves attack the Democrats for playing “political games.” In his remarks on his memos and order, Trump said: “Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have chosen to hold this vital assistance hostage on behalf of very extreme partisan demands and the radical left Democrats and we just can't do that…. This is a bill supported by Biden, and Biden is totally controlled now by the Bernie Sanders left wing of the party.”

McConnell said: “Struggling Americans need action now…. Since Democrats have sabotaged backroom talks with absurd demands that would not help working people, I support President Trump exploring his options to get unemployment benefits and other relief to the people who need them the most.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate president pro tempore, meaning he presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, tweeted that Trump "puts the American ppl first compared to nonstop political games by Democrats."
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker tweeted “Congress can’t get it done, so [Trump] does. This is the sort of thing that will get [Trump] reelected in 2020. Voters are tired of the crap in Washington. They want leaders who get things done.”

Trump has been unable to manufacture any good news lately. As of today, more than 5 million Americans have been infected with coronavirus and more than 160,000 have died. While most of the rest of the world has gotten the virus under control and is reopening, the U.S economy is faltering. More than 30 million Americans are out of work, and millions are facing eviction.

But tonight, Trump has framed himself as a hero, saving Americans when Congress would not. And Republicans can frame the inevitable legal pushback on his relief bill as Democratic hostility to ordinary people.

When faced with the idea his executive orders would face challenge, Trump said: “If we get sued, it’s somebody who doesn't want people to get money…. And that's not going to be a popular thing.”
 

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August 9, 2020

In anticipation of a busy week, Mrs. Richardson took the day off.


August 10, 2020 (Monday)


The most striking news of the day was not that Trump has suggested he wants his image on Mt. Rushmore but rather that such an outrageous statement has garnered so little attention. That says something about his presidency.

This weekend, the New York Times ran a story by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman laying out Trump’s apparent interest in adding his face to those carved on Mt. Rushmore. He’d like to be up there next to Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. After Trump told the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, that he hoped to have his likeness there next to his predecessors, an aide reached out to the governor’s office to learn about the process of adding an additional face. When Trump visited the monument last month, Noem greeted him with a four-foot replica of the monument with his faced added.

This entire concept is moot. The rock face cannot support more carving, which answers the question definitively. Even if it could, though, the sculpture is carved on a mountain that is part of land that the United States government took illegally from the Lakota people in 1877. The monument remains embroiled in the legal dispute over this land grab. The chance that anyone would now attempt to add a new carving to it is pretty close to zero.

Not to be deterred, on Sunday night Trump tweeted a picture of himself positioned in such a way that his face was superimposed on the structure, beside Lincoln. Yet the story that the president wanted his likeness added to Mt. Rushmore had no sticking power.

A similar fate met Trump’s statement that last week’s devastating explosion in Beirut, caused when an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up, was a “terrible attack.” “I've met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a -- some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a -- seems to be according to them, they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.” U.S. Defense Department officials said there was no indication that the explosion was an attack. The statement came and went.

This afternoon, at his press conference, Trump told reporters that “the Obama campaign spied on our campaign, and they've been caught, all right?.... It's probably treason. It's a horrible thing they did.... They used the intelligence agencies of our country to spy on my campaign, and they have been caught." This is a statement Trump has been making since June 22, and it is an astonishing lie. And like Trump’s other outlandish statements recently, people didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it.

During his first three years in office, Trump could command headlines with outrageous statements. They often distracted us from larger stories. But that power has waned from overuse, and now outlandish stories—Trump’s face on Mt. Rushmore, a deadly attack in Beirut, Obama committing treason—barely make a ripple.

That we are no longer shocked by his outrageous comments weakens Trump’s ability to control the narrative. It also badly weakens the office of the presidency. Increasingly, he seems to be sidelined from any real decision making, which makes it hard to run for reelection with the argument that he will accomplish anything in a second term.

The White House dropped Trump’s three executive memorandums and one executive order on Friday evening, clearly expecting to set up a situation in which Democrats challenged their legality and Republicans argued that Democrats were keeping ordinary Americans from getting coronavirus relief payments. Trump’s people came out swinging as soon as Trump signed the actions, suggesting that Democrats would oppose them and it would be their fault Americans were suffering from the economic crash.

While even some Republicans opposed Trump’s redirection of congressionally-appropriated money—Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska called the actions “unconstitutional slop”-- Democratic leaders took a different approach. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed that the executive announcements were “absurdly unconstitutional,” but she and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer challenged them not on legal grounds, but on their effectiveness.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Pelosi said they were “illusions,” and listed, point by point, their weaknesses. The relief memo relies on state money that states don’t have; the payroll tax cut only defers the tax until next year, meaning employers will be reluctant to implement it since they will have to claw it all back after the election. Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s executive actions were “a big show, but they don’t do anything.” They both called for Republicans to return to the table for negotiations.

This threw Trump back on his heels and he is trying to spin the exchange as a victory. “The Democrats have called,” Trump said on Sunday night. “They’d like to get together. And we say if it’s not a waste of time, we’ll do it…. They’re much more inclined to make a deal now than they would’ve been two days ago.” This morning, he tweeted: “So now Schumer and Pelosi want to meet to make a deal. Amazing how it all works, isn’t it. Where have they been for the last 4 weeks when they were “hardliners”, and only wanted BAILOUT MONEY for Democrat run states and cities that are failing badly? They know my phone number!”
Pelosi and Trump haven’t spoken since October 16, when she walked out of a meeting where he railed at her and called her a “third-rate politician.” She told reporters he had a “meltdown.”

Meanwhile, the country’s governors today issued a statement outlining their concerns about Trump’s executive actions. Five days ago, the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan organization of the 55 states, territories, and commonwealths, unanimously elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, as their chair. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is the NGA vice chair. Their statement calls out “the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.”

“The best way forward is for the Congress and the Administration to get back to the negotiating table and come up with a workable solution, which should provide meaningful additional relief for American families. NGA has requested $500 billion in unrestricted state aid and NGA continues to urge Congress and the White House to reach a quick resolution to provide immediate assistance to unemployed Americans. This resolution should avoid new administrative and fiscal burdens on states. It is essential that our federal partners work together to find common ground to help restore our nation’s health and protect our economy.”

Today Trump has floated yet another outrageous idea: the notion that he will make his speech accepting the Republican nomination for his reelection either at the White House or at “The Great Battlefield of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,” which is a national park. Both locations run into both ethical problems and optical problems, since both are federal property and iconic sites.

Federal law prohibits federal employees from promoting political positions at work. The law does not cover the president, but it does cover all the other federal employees who would need to be present to make such an event possible.

Either choice also has optical problems for Trump. The White House is the people’s house, and giving a partisan speech there will not play well. And Gettysburg? It will invite comparisons the president might not like.

It was during the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where the dead of the 1863 battle were laid to rest, that Lincoln rededicated America to “the proposition that all men are created equal.” He reminded his listeners that the men who had died there to save the Union had given “the last full measure of devotion” to their country. And he charged Americans to “here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
 

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August 11, 2020 (Tuesday)


The big news of the day is that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden named his running mate: California Senator Kamala Harris.

Harris was born in Oakland, California. Her mother was an endocrinologist who immigrated to the U.S. from India; her father is an economist from British Jamaica who is now retired from the Stanford University economics department. Harris has a degree in political science and economics from Howard University and a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She spent seven years as the District Attorney of San Francisco, then six as the Attorney General of California. Both are elected offices, and in both she developed a reputation as a tough prosecutor. In 2016, California voters elected Harris Senator with more than 60% of the vote. Shortly after arriving in Washington, she was placed on the important Senate Judiciary Committee, so she has had a front-row seat at the hearings and proceedings of the past three years.

Harris is perceived as solidly in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. Her inclusion on the ticket disappointed members of the progressive wing, who had hoped for someone closer to their own principles to balance out the moderate Biden. It seems likely that Biden himself would have preferred former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, with whom he has a close relationship, but her association with the attack on Benghazi, Libya, would be prime fodder for Republican attacks.

Still, Harris stakes out some important turf for the Democratic ticket. She is a woman with both Black and South Asian American roots, enabling the Democrats to illustrate their commitment to a multiracial democracy by nominating her. She is crackerjack smart, a quality that many Americans would like to see in an administration. She is seen as a defender of the rule of law at a time when it seems under attack—she caught Attorney General William Barr in a falsehood at his confirmation hearing, noticeably throwing him off and forcing him to avoid her question out of fear of perjury. At 55, she is a generation younger than Biden (or Trump) balancing out the older ticket. And since she was hard on Biden during the primaries, his invitation to her indicates his willingness to accept criticism and continue to work with those who are not yes-men, a significant contrast to Trump.

Finally, I’m pretty sure Harris is the first Democratic nominee for the top of the ticket who has ever hailed from California, and one of the first from the far West. In 1988, Michael Dukakis’s running mate Lloyd Bentsen was from Texas, and LBJ was from Texas, but I can’t think of another. This is significant because since World War II, the far West has been Republican turf. It is where Reaganism rose in the 1970s to win the White House in 1980 and take over the nation. That the Democrats are cracking into that Republican stronghold with a national candidate suggests they are marking a sea change in American politics.

Already Republicans are insisting that Harris, a former prosecutor, is, as Trump tweeted, part of a “radical left.” National Review ran an article titled “Kamala Harris Is Farther Left than Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.” Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson said that Harris had “gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto” during her own run for the presidency, and that Biden’s choice showed that he was “surrendering control of our nation to the radical mob.”

The Republicans are clearly hoping to convince voters that Harris is an extremist. It will not be an easy charge to make stick to a former prosecutor, especially on a day when a Republican candidate who supports QAnon conspiracy theories won a congressional primary in a solidly-Republican district in Georgia, virtually guaranteeing that she will go on to Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene seems the definition of an extremist. She has spouted anti-Semitic, anti-Black, and Islamophobic comments, and called George Soros a “Nazi.” She has defended QAnon, a mysterious source of a belief that Trump is secretly fighting against a well-connected ring of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that has taken over the government, praising the source as “someone that very much loves his country, and he’s on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump.”

When Trump talked to Fox News Channel personality Sean Hannity tonight on his show, though, there was something else on his mind. Asked about Senator Harris and her previous comments about Biden and race, Trump responded by talking about the 2016 Russia investigation. According to the transcript, he riffed on how bad the media is and how the “fake reporting” got the Russia story wrong. Then he complimented Hannity on getting “the Russia hoax correct,” and finally, after complaining about Pulitzer Prizes, moved on to how “we caught Obama Biden. That’s why I didn’t think that [Obama’s National Security Advisor] Susan Rice could get it because he’s part of this whole illegal thing that happened, which is one of the worst perhaps the worst political scandal in the history of our country, and they got caught. Now let’s see what happens but they’re caught red handed…. Russia, Russia, Russia was made up fabricated….”

Russia is clearly on Trump’s mind. This morning, he tweeted “John Bolton, one of the dumbest people I’ve met in government and sadly, I’ve met plenty, states often that I respected, and even trusted, Vladimir Putin of Russia more than those in our Intelligence Agencies. While of course that is not true, if the first people you met from… so called American intelligence were Dirty Cops who have now proven to be sleazebags at the highest level like James Comey, proven liar James Clapper, & perhaps the lowest of them all, Wacko John Brennan who headed the CIA, you could perhaps understand my reluctance to embrace!”

What might be behind this is that Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), chair of the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, is under fire for his ongoing investigation of the debunked theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that attacked the U.S. in the 2016 election, and of the idea that Hunter and Joe Biden were involved in corruption in Ukraine. Intelligence experts and the chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee have warned Johnson that he is amplifying Russian disinformation.

This weekend, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post warning that Johnson was taking information from Ukrainians with ties to Russia. The accusations hit close enough to home that Johnson responded yesterday with an 11-page single spaced letter denying he was spreading Russian lies and instead accusing Democrats of trying to hurt Trump by attacking Johnson's investigation.
But, as Ryan Goodman and Asha Rangappa at JustSecurity pointed out, the letter was disingenuous, at best. They write, "the letter itself contains apparent products of Russian disinformation. And while Johnson denies taking information directly from two specific Ukrainians linked to Russia and its disinformation efforts, he makes no mention of his staff taking information directly from one of those individuals’ principal collaborators, which reportedly occurred over the course of several months."

This controversy might be bothering the president. One of the things not on Trump's mind, though, is the bill to help Americans weather the coronavirus pandemic by extending federal unemployment benefits, shoring up ailing states and cities, and preventing evictions, all things that his executive actions did not, in fact, do.

Senior administration officials say there is little chance of talks about a new coronavirus relief bill any time soon. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is away for the week. More than that, though, the White House thinks it has Democrats in a “real pickle” because if they try to stop the Trump’s executive actions of last Friday, they will look like they are refusing to help ordinary Americans. While this was clearly the plan for those three memorandums and one executive order, it doesn’t look to me like it has worked. Democrats are not pushing back on legal grounds, but on the grounds that the measures don’t actually do anything, and that seems to be the story that is dominating the media.
 

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August 12, 2020 (Wednesday)


Today, as the Democratic Joe Biden-Kamala Harris team began to campaign together to win the 2020 election, the contours of the upcoming political contest became clearer.

The Trump campaign seemed curiously befuddled by Biden’s choice of Harris as a running mate, although surely its leaders must have known she was among the top choices. Their messaging about her was confused. On the one hand, they claimed that she was soft on crime and a radical who wanted to defund the police; on the other hand, they said she was too tough as a prosecutor. The Trump campaign settled on the idea that Harris is a dangerous radical, a label that will be hard to pin on former prosecutor Harris, especially as Democratic progressives complain that she is too moderate.

For his part, Trump echoed the idea that Harris is radical, but almost immediately fell back into racist and sexist attacks. He immediately called her “nasty,” a word denigrating Black women that has its roots all the way back in colonial Virginia, as well as “meanest” and “most horrible.”

Addressing his recent overturning of the Obama-era rule intending to end racial segregation in housing, he tweeted: “The ‘suburban housewife’ will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey [sic] Booker in charge!” New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is Black; his inclusion in this tweet seems designed to suggest that white suburban women should fear that Black Americans are going to “invade their neighborhood.”

In fact, Trump’s stoking of racial tensions has cost him support from white women that he badly needs. White women without a college education backed him by 27 points in 2016; right now that support has dropped to 6 points. Suburban women deserted him in 2018, and it seems unlikely his racist and sexist attacks on Harris will help bring those voters back. He appears to be intending to run for reelection by firing up his base to make sure they vote, while suppressing the votes of those who want to replace him.

To shore up loyal voters, today Trump announced a series of Department of Transportation grants to various Republican states where support for him is wavering, claiming credit for the monies: “I’m sending… funding…!” he tweeted. The grants repeat those of May, which Trump advertised similarly, although, in fact, Democratic states also got some of today's $463,848,929 in grants to upgrade bus service.

There are signs that Trump’s Republican Party has become too extreme even for some of its supporters. Today Ron Johnson (R-WI) who is investigating Ukraine’s role in the 2016 attack on the U.S. elections from his position as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said that fellow Republicans were blocking his subpoenas.

Johnson wants to hear from former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and other of the major figures who were part of the investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and its contacts with Russia. Although the committee gave Johnson unilateral power to issue subpoenas in the spring, Johnson told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was not moving forward with those subpoenas because “We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically.”

Trump today took to Twitter to offer congratulations to Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-supporting Georgia Republican who just won a primary in Georgia and whose deep red district will likely send her to Congress. Trump called her a “future Republican Star.” “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up - a real WINNER!” Yet, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center last month published a report calling the QAnon conspiracy theory “a public security threat with the potential… to become a… domestic terror threat.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, tweeted “Qanon is a fabrication. This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities. Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller.

Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.” Rather than supporting the idea that the Republican Party does not endorse either Greene’s vocal racism or her adherence to the idea that Trump is secretly undermining a pedophilia ring that has taken over the nation’s government, Trump’s deputy communications director Matt Wolking attacked Kinzinger on Twitter.

This afternoon, an ICE raid in Bend, Oregon also met significant protest. ICE officers intercepted two men who have been long term residents of the community, and held them on a bus. Protesters surrounded the bus and demanded their release. Bend Mayor Sally Russell tweeted that she had been told that the men had warrants out for their arrest, and that it was not a sweep for undocumented immigrants, but without evidence of those warrants, the protesters refused to let the bus leave. They demanded the men be given water and food after their many hours on the bus. Local officials called on federal officials, including acting Department of Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf to “work it out” with them. The ICE officials in Bend appeared to be trying not to antagonize the protesters, affirming their right “to voice their opinion peacefully without interference.”

Meanwhile, the news about coronavirus continues to be bad. Today, nearly 1,500 people died of Covid-19, the highest reported number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day since May. For 17 days, we have lost an average of more than 1000 people a day. A report in the New York Times by Denise Lu noted that there were more than 200,000 more deaths in the U.S. since March than in a normal year, suggesting that the death count from the pandemic is currently about 60,000 lower than is accurate.

Still, Trump continues his push to reopen the economy, athletic events, and public schools, although many of the schools that have opened immediately saw coronavirus infections and have had to shut again.

Despite the devastating effects of the coronavirus on Native American populations, the federal government intends to reopen the 53 Bureau of Indian Education schools over which it has direct control on September 16. While students can choose to attend online, teachers must teach in person. With Native Americans suffering the highest hospitalization rate of any ethnic group in the U.S., one educator said that the Bureau of Indian Education is “playing God.”

In their first campaign appearance together, Biden and Harris seemed quite deliberately to offer a contrast to the Trump administration, not simply in their careful language about an inclusive America, but also in their demeanor.

They walked onto a stage in a high school gym in Delaware wearing masks. Then, standing in front of American flags and state flags, Biden spoke about his admiration for the women he had interviewed for the vice president slot and his defense of a multicultural America. Noting that today is the third anniversary of the events at Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists rioted, attacking Black Americans and killing Heather Heyer, he said it was Charlottesville that convinced him he must help reclaim equality of opportunity as the American dream.

Then he turned the microphone over to Harris. Even the simple act of letting someone else take center stage was a striking contrast to Trump’s recent press conferences. Harris blamed Trump’s poor handling of the pandemic for the economic crash, and said that the country is also “experiencing a moral reckoning with racism and systemic injustice.” “America is crying out for leadership,” she said. “Yet we have a president who cares more about himself than the people who elected him.”

Enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket brought 150,000 new donors to the Democratic campaign. In the 24 hours after Biden announced that he was tapping Harris as his vice president candidate, the campaign raised an eye-popping 26 million dollars.
 
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August 13, 2020 (Thursday)

No political post


August 14, 2020 (Friday)

Today’s big story was the administration’s assault on the United States Postal Service. Yesterday, the president said outright that he opposed relief funding for the cash-strapped institution because he wanted to stop mail-in voting, even though he and his wife Melania have both applied for mail-in ballots. Slowing down or stopping the mail will create chaos around the election, and will likely mean ballots will not be counted. It will also funnel voters back to polling places, although the pandemic means there are far fewer of them than usual.

Once at polling places, many voters will cast their ballots on voting machines that are vulnerable to hacking. New machines, rolled out after 2016 and designed to keep cyberhackers at bay, proved “extremely unsafe, especially in close elections,” according to Alex Halderman, a computer scientist from the University of Michigan who, along with six colleagues, studied them. At least 18% of the country’s districts will vote on the new machines, including districts in Pennsylvania, which Trump needs to win but where Biden is up by double digits.

“There are strong security reasons to prefer hand-marked paper ballots,” Halderman told Joseph Marks of the Washington Post.

A bipartisan organization of state secretaries of state—the people in charge of elections—wrote to Trump’s new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on August 7 to ask for a meeting to discuss his recent changes to the USPS and to explore how those changes would affect the election. In a delay that observers say is “unusual,” he has declined to answer. The USPS recently sent letters to 46 states and Washington, D.C. to say that it cannot guarantee that it will be able to deliver mail-in ballots on time. The letters were prepared before DeJoy took office, suggesting that he knew the USPS should be ramping up its capacity, not decreasing it.

News broke today that DeJoy was named to the finance team of the Republican National Committee in 2017 (along with Elliott Broidy, Michael Cohen, and Gordon Sondland, if anyone can remember back to the days of impeachment), suggesting his partisanship makes him a poor fit for what is supposed to be a nonpartisan office.

In June, USPS officials told union officials that management was getting rid of 671 sorting machines, about 10% of the machines in the country. The sorters were the kind that handled letters and postcards, not magazines and large envelopes. The argument for getting rid of them is that people write fewer letters these days, but of course we are all expecting a huge influx of mail-in ballots that those machines would handle. Many of the removed sorters were in states that are political battlegrounds: Ohio lost 24 sorters, Detroit lost 11, Florida lost 11, Wisconsin lost 9, Philadelphia lost 8 and Arizona lost 5.

Similarly, the USPS removed letter boxes today in what it said were routine reassignments. The outcry was great enough that it has announced it will not remove any more until after the election. The removal of the boxes may indeed be routine, but David Becker, executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research told Washington Post reporter Jacob Bogage, “Given the other things that are going on, it’s okay to ask questions…. The high-speed sorters that are getting deactivated, the loss of overtime, the delays in mail we’re seeing right now, all of this should cause some concern and warrants questions.”

Today, Inspector General for the USPS Tammy L. Whitcomb announced that, at the request of Democrats, she is opening an investigation into “all recent staffing and policy changes put in place” by DeJoy. She will also be looking into DeJoy’s compliance with ethics rules, related to his huge financial stake in private competitors to the USPS.

The other big story is that the Government Accountability Office, the main audit institution in the federal government, concluded today that the two top officials at the Department of Homeland Security are not legally in their positions.

The acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, and his top deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were never confirmed for their positions, although those positions require Senate confirmation. Instead, they were moved into their jobs through the lines of succession in the department, but those lines were altered by the previous DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenen, who himself was placed into position improperly. According to the GAO, McAleenen did not have authority to move Wolf, who had Senate confirmation for a different position, into the directorship. Cuccinelli, who currently holds the title “Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary,” has never been confirmed for anything.

Democrats called for Wolf and Cuccinelli to step down, but DHS spokesman Nathaniel Madden said “We wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO’s baseless report and plan to issue a formal response to this shortly.”

Trump’s handling of DHS is problematic. DHS is a new agency, established after 9-11, and it is staffed with political appointees who report to the president. Trump has increasingly refused to go through normal nominations processes, aware that at least some of his appointees could not make it through even this Republican Senate. Moreover, leaving his appointees in limbo gives Trump more control over them. “I like ‘acting,’” he told reporters last year. “It gives you great, great flexibility.”

Trump has made little effort to fill positions at DHS with qualified people. Within DHS are the agencies that oversee immigration: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). None of them has a leader that has been confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s sway over DHS means the agency is currently operating, as DHS’s first secretary Tom Ridge said, like “the president’s personal militia.” It was Wolf, of course, who oversaw the recent deployment of federal officers to Portland, Oregon.

In legal news, in a case stemming from U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation of the FBI investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016, a former FBI lawyer intends to plead guilty to falsifying a document. Kevin Clinesmith was the root of the most serious mishandling of the wiretapping of former Trump advisor Carter Page. When it was time for the FBI to apply for a renewal of the request to surveil Page, Clinesmith was asked to find out if Page had ever been an informant for the CIA. When asked, a CIA colleague appears to have identified Page’s role with the agency as something other than a “source,” but wrote an email about it that simply sent Clinesmith to documents to check. Clinesmith altered his CIA colleague's email with the words “not a ‘source.’” The FBI relied on his representation to write the application renewal to wiretap Page.

Clinesmith resigned over the issue last year. He maintains that he changed the wording to reflect what he understood to be true, and other evidence suggested he never tried to hide the original email from his colleagues. Still, he altered a document, and Page’s relationship with the CIA was not accurately represented to the judges who approved the wiretapping. The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, called out this issue in his report on the FBI handling of the Russia investigation, although he concluded that the FBI opened the investigation properly and without political bias.

In another case stemming from 2016 that got a lot of traction when it was announced, a federal appeals court today ruled that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does not have to give another deposition about her emails. Judicial Watch, a rightwing organization founded in 1994 that has frequently targeted the Clintons with lawsuits which are usually thrown out of court, wanted to depose Clinton on the subject. She argued they were harassing her. The court noted that the email issue had already been thoroughly investigated by Congress, the FBI, the State Department Inspector General, and another lawsuit and concluded she did not have to testify again. Last year, the State Department concluded that “there was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

Finally, in all the political craziness, the devastating storm that hit the middle of the country on Monday has gotten less attention than it should have. The storm was a “derecho,” and brought wind over 100 miles an hour. Iowa appears to have lost 43% of its corn and soybean crops; 15 tornadoes in Illinois left 800,000 people without power. In Iowa, four days later, 250,000 are still without power, and roads remained blocked.
 

Go Bama

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Fourteenessee
August 15, 2020 (Saturday)

America needs at least two healthy political parties, and right now, with Republicans attacking the legitimacy of the Democrats, we are in danger of having none.

For the past generation, Republicans have tried to delegitimize the Democrats. Calling their opponents “socialists,” Republicans have suppressed Democratic voters and gerrymandered congressional districts to shut Democrats out of the government. When voters elected Democrat Barack Obama president, Republican lawmakers vowed not to work with him, and scrapped the norms of our system to slash his power. Now, with Trump trying to steal a presidential election and Republican lawmakers looking the other way, we are on the verge of becoming a one-party state.

The Republican assault on the legitimacy of the Democrats is a profound assault on American democracy, which since 1800 has depended on a party system for stability. Political parties provide an organized way to oppose the existing government’s policies or leaders and to keep them more or less honest, as every move of ruling lawmakers comes under scrutiny.

The Founders hated the idea of parties, and hoped that all Americans would unite under a single virtuous leader, who ruled for the good of all and whose citizens recognized his policies as beneficial and disinterested.

They put George Washington in charge, as virtuous a leader as they could imagine. And yet, almost immediately, Americans began to divide into two political camps. The Democratic-Republicans organized under Thomas Jefferson to oppose the policies of Washington’s Federalists. As the Federalists flexed the muscles of the new government, Jefferson and his friends attacked them as monarchists.

It turned out that, even with a leader as dedicated to the good of the nation as Washington was, government policies inevitably sparked disagreement.

What the Founders discovered is that competing political parties are vital to a democracy. Opposition leaders act as watchdogs to keep leaders accountable to the people. An opposition party also stabilizes the government. It enables people who don’t agree with the leaders currently in charge to envision putting their own ideas into practice. They can continue to support the government even if they disagree with its current lawmakers, knowing that, if they can garner enough support, they can win control of the government and enact policies they prefer. This is precisely what Jefferson did in 1800.

That election was crucial to the success of our democratic government because it proved that our government could change hands peacefully.
Now, that hallmark of American democracy, the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, is under assault. Republicans under Donald Trump are indicating they will not consider a Democratic win legitimate, and will fight to keep Trump in office no matter what the voters say.

If we manage to fend off this specific attack on our democracy, the larger Republican assault on the legitimacy of the Democrats must also be defeated.

The attempt to turn us into a one-party state undermines the system that has stabilized our democracy for more than two centuries. If opponents of a regime have no hope of regaining control of the government through an election and the peaceful transfer of power, they will work to undermine the system piecemeal, through individual acts of resistance. Those in power retaliate with arrests and violence. Trying to shore up their power, they declare that anyone voicing any opposition to the government is a traitor, and act accordingly.

These days, it appears that some of the president’s supporters are comfortable with such an outcome. But the thrill of “owning the libs” will be brief.

Without a watchdog over ruling lawmakers, they invariably become more and more corrupt, and without an opposition that has a chance of regaining power, there will be no way to stop them. Right now, Republican leaders still need votes. But eliminate the Democrats, and they will no longer need loyal voters.

They will be able to act however they wish.
 

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