GOP, Idaho Politics

Idaho’s Déjà vu … 

The Idaho Republican Party is divided, deeply divided. The incumbent governor faces a serious primary challenge from the far right. The challenger is a favorite of what was once considered the party’s “fringe,” and benefits from a grassroots movement to take the party back from its more moderate wing.

The governor can – and almost constantly does – boast of a booming economy that he contends happened only because of his careful management of the state budget.

The challenger counters that the incumbent is not a true conservative and is out of touch with the party, claiming “If I am elected, the office of governor will become a place where the governor listens.”

The governor recently signed controversial legislation that has drawn condemnation from many quarters. The legislation has been challenged in court and will certainly be an issue in the coming election.

The Republican Party’s ideological battle lines are further defined by the role of the party’s last presidential candidate, a charismatic and deeply controversial figure who some worship, cult-like, as a political savior and others condemn as a threat to American democracy.

Overall voters are in a sour mood. The economy is strong, but inflation is problematic. The Democratic president is unpopular. Federal spending is a concern and Washington is consumed by a little understood war in a far-off place. The conflict has international implications that threaten to pull the country ever deeper into the conflict. In many ways it’s a difficult time to be an incumbent.

Idaho in 2022? Yes.

But also, Idaho in 1966, the last time an incumbent Republican governor was seriously challenged within this own party.

Today the names are Brad Little, Janice McGeachin and Donald Trump. Fifty-six years ago, the names were Bob Smylie, Don Samuelson and Barry Goldwater. The parallels between the two elections are, frankly, a bit eerie.

Barry Goldwater campaigns in Boise in 1964

History does not repeat, at least not precisely. But, if history were to repeat, incumbent Governor Brad Little would be losing sleep, as his predecessor Bob Smylie did toward the end of his 1966 Republican primary.

Smylie, a three-term incumbent and a moderate, was coming off two major accomplishments: he had engineered passage of the first ever Idaho sales tax and in the wake of a Supreme Court mandate had championed a sweeping reapportionment of the state legislature. Both remain part of Smylie’s very impressive legacy during his 12 years as governor, and each also contributed something to his downfall.

Samuelson, a Sandpoint state senator and darling of the far right, was a little-known legislative backbencher when he announced, at the urging of some of the party’s most fervent Barry Goldwater supporters, that he was going after the governor of his own party. Hardly anyone gave Samuelson, a big, backslapping politician with a flattop haircut, any chance. Many ridiculed his less than polished speaking style. He had no legislative record to run on short of opposing Smylie’s sales tax measure. Still, he had what often counts for a lot in politics. Samuelson was in the right place at the right time.

Much like Brad Little now, Smylie barely acknowledged in 1966 that he had an opponent. He touted the economy on his watch and pretended to be above the bitter controversy roiling the Republican Party. A good deal of that controversy related to Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, when the very conservative Arizona senator lost the presidency in a landslide, but arguably became the most consequential loser in American political history. As William F. Buckley famously quipped: Goldwater lost the presidency to Lyndon Johnson but won it for Ronald Reagan in 1980 when the most conservative wing of the GOP established itself as the dominant force in Republican politics.

The fight raging in Idaho now will help determine if the party goes even farther right and embraces the most militant elements of the right, the foot soldiers and Trumpy loyalists who power Janice McGeachin’s insurgent campaign. In words that fit today’s circumstances one Democratic Party leader called the 1966 Republican race: “a melodrama complete with confusion and terror.” Maybe history does repeat.

Smylie realized too late that basically ignoring Samuelson’s challenge was a mistake. The two men got into a squabble over whether Goldwater had effectively endorsed the incumbent – Goldwater said he hasn’t – which made Smylie look a bit desperate. By late July – Idaho primaries were held in August at the time – Smylie, the polished political pro, was playing defense with Samuelson attacking him on the oldest issue in the Idaho political playbook: water. Smylie had complete control of the state water resource board, Samuelson charged, and was constantly overriding the board’s “wise and important” decisions. The implication was clear. Smylie wasn’t protecting Idaho’s water. (Paging Mike Simpson.)

The other millstone around Smylie’s neck was that old and fatal political disease: the voters were sick of him and ready for change. Combine the substantial and frequently warranted criticism Little has received for his lack of management of Covid-19 with the reality that he has been, as lieutenant governor and governor, at the top of Idaho’s political ladder for 14 straight years, his sell by date could be a factor next month.

Don Samuelson, the guy very few took seriously as a challenger to an entrenched incumbent, absolutely crushed Bob Smylie in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1966, winning more than 61% of the vote. He went on to win a close contest in November that featured an up-and-coming young Democrat from Orofino by name of Cecil Andrus, as well as controversial third-party candidates – another parallel with 2022, perhaps.

Four years later, Andrus came back and defeated Samuelson who had been a barely competent chief executive. That election ushered in 24 consecutive years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. Here’s where the parallels break down – maybe.

McGeachin is a profoundly flawed candidate who has demonstrated she can’t manage the low six figure budget of her own office let alone the state’s billion-dollar finances. She’s also advanced wacky positions on education and public health, any of which ought to be disqualifying. Yet she has the Trump’s endorsement. And as for wacky positions, if those were disqualifying a lot of Republicans would be looking for work.  

Little, a lackluster campaigner, is sitting on a lead hoping to run out the clock, never a smart political play. A month out from the May primary he must be considered the heavy favorite, if only because a lot of Idahoans see him as a safer choice than a candidate who associates regularly with white supremacists and militia radicals. Little is, in other words, the lesser of evils, a McGeachin lite in blue jeans with many of the same policies packaged more presentably. It’s probably enough to get him across the finish line.

Then again lots of people said the same about Bob Smylie.

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Additional Readings:

A few more things I hope you will find of interest …

The guy who brought us CRT panic offers a new far-right agenda: Destroy public education

Hard to believe, but believe it – some on the far right, well-funded and passionate, are out to destroy public education.

“The man in question is Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Since he helped elevate CRT into a national culture war in 2020, Rufo has frequently been cast (or cast himself) as the new master strategist of the right, playing three-dimensional chess as he lays out his battle plans publicly and counts every media mention of them as a win. In the spring of 2021, he famously crowed on social media that he’d ‘successfully frozen’ the CRT ‘brand’ as the overarching ideology behind almost everything conservatives dislike. This January he tweeted about his new goal to ‘bait the Left into opposing [curriculum] ‘transparency,’ in order to trigger conservative suspicions that public schools have something to hide.”

Be worried. These jokers are serious.


Ginni Thomas Is Not A Liar

Politico has a provocative look at the ideology – and belief system – of the wife of the most prominent Supreme Court justice.

Justice Thomas, his very politically active wife and some guy I can’t place

“[Ginni] Thomas’ fervid text messages to then-Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others, urging vigorous efforts to halt Biden’s ascension to the presidency and keep the incumbent in place, have some evidentiary value to the House’s select Jan. 6 committee as it develops a chronology of events leading to the deadly mayhem on Capitol Hill.

“The Thomas texts, however, are far more revelatory as psychological disclosures — a breathtaking window into the mind of a Trump believer. In that sense, there are three distinct ways in which the Thomas texts illuminate the broader historical moment.”

Worth your time.


In the Judiciary Wars, Republicans Like Lindsey Graham Play Dirtier Than Democrats

Speaking of the judicial branch. From Bill Scher in The Washington Monthly.

“Politics ain’t beanbag, and that’s doubly true for judicial politics. But let’s have a clear-eyed assessment of how both parties have waged battle. 

“Democrats have been more selective in their targets, aiming to block far-right ideologues and set high standards regarding past sexual misconduct. Such an objective does require harsh treatment of individuals. Republicans have sought to deny Democrats the ability to fill seats with anyone.”

Read the entire piece.


The Notorious Legends and Dubious Stories of 10 Literary Deaths

Emily Temple on how some writers left us, like say Evelyn Waugh.

“His body was found in the bathroom, by some accounts with a gash on his forehead and water in his lungs.”

From LitHub.


Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

Politics, Russia, Ukraine

Disinformation is the Story of Our Age …

Vladimir Putin’s criminally deadly war on Ukraine provides huge warnings to the democratic world about what happens when an entire population becomes captive to a thuggish authoritarian who lies with the kind of ease that most of us associate with taking the next breath.

Putin has been in power for 22 years, having successfully looted the country to enrich himself and a handful of his billionaire cronies, he now owns something even more valuable – the minds of most Russians. This ownership of public opinion appears so complete that Putin can transform the reality of his brutal invasion into a narrative that claims Ukrainians are the aggressors. The dead of Mariupol or Kharvik are, in Putin’s world, the “Nazis” threatening Mother Russia rather than the other way round.

Some of the awful scenes of Putin’s war from Bucha, Ukraine

We are witnessing a profound, real-time display of the power of misinformation, lies, hypocrisy and deception that truly is a warning as much as it is a tragedy.

It has been impossible this week to miss the horrific pictures and extensive first-hand reporting from Bucha, the Kiev suburb destroyed by Putin’s genocidal army. Yet, Putin and his henchmen have dismissed the images as propaganda. It’s an old, tired and disgusting tactic.

As the Associated Press has noted: “Denouncing news as fake or spreading false reports to sow confusion and undermine its adversaries are tactics that Moscow has used for years and refined with the advent of social media in places like Syria.”

Russian television, a veritable Fox News of lies and distortion and totally controlled by Putin, dishes a daily misinformation diet to people who have been lied to for so long that many have given up trying to ascertain the truth. While it would be foolish to put much faith in public opinion polling emanating from a country so thoroughly brainwashed, it appears most Russians, without ready access to independent reporting about the war, believe the lies pushed by the former KGB agent who is responsible for this madness.

Here’s how this disinformation reality connects to domestic politics, and the clear and present danger it presents to American democracy. For a decade or more the politics of the United States have been swamped by a deluge of lies with much of the lying amplified by people in high places and by cynical and manipulative media figures. Where to start?

The lies about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The lies about school shootings being “false flag” operations. The lies about a pedophile ring operating from a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. The lies about a presidential election being stolen.

The purpose of all this lying is, of course, to fuel grievance – make people mad – but also to confuse. Is there really a world-wide child sex abuse network, as QAnon has claimed? Did presidential election ballots disappear in Michigan? Was Covid-19 a Chinese communist plot?

The confusion has worked. The lies have penetrated deeply into the political world. A December opinion poll “found that 17 percent of Americans believed that the core falsehood of QAnon – that ‘a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media’ – was true.”

This helps explain, indeed may explain in its entirety, why a handful of the most craven Republican members of Congress verbally assaulted Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing over the lie, advanced by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, that Jackson’s jurisprudence might “endanger children.”

Hawley’s nonsense was immediately rejected by a review of the facts of Judge Jackson’s record, but as Georgetown professor Donald Moynihan pointed out in the Washington Post the allegation was never about facts. “The goal,” Moynihan wrote, “was to portray Jackson, and by extension Democrats, as players in the QAnon narrative that public institutions are overrun with child predators.” This line was immediately advanced by Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn, each clearly vying for the title of worst United States senator in the modern era.

The child predator narrative has become so prevalent among the fact-free alt right that when Utah Republican Mitt Romney said he would vote to confirm Jackson to the high court he was attacked online, an assault barely short of accusing the former Republican presidential candidate – a Mormon in good standing – of being soft on child abusers.

The disinformation – the lies – have become so prevalent that it is nearly impossible to keep track, and that is another aspect of what one-time Donald Trump “strategist” Steve Bannon infamously called “flooding the zone with shit.” This is the fatigue of confusion. Putin has mastered this, and Trump has long mimicked the man he called a “genius” for invading Ukraine. And it has worked, especially in this deadly moment for Putin who increasingly can count on a pro-Putin wing of the GOP to spread his lies.

From Tucker Carlson, the Russian propaganda peddling Fox News star, to 63 House Republicans – including Idaho’s Russ Fulcher and Montana’s Matt Rosendale – who voted this week against a resolution of support for continuing U.S. engagement with NATO, Putin’s disinformation has broadly entered the country’s conservative political bloodstream.

Altogether, as Will Saletan noted in The Bulwark, 21 Republicans have opposed, or sought to constrain, aid to Ukraine or sanctions on Russia. “That’s a group three times the size of ‘the Squad,’ which Republicans claim is in control of every aspect of Democratic policy. Imagine how much power those 21 Republicans would wield in a GOP-controlled House.” And lest we forget a former and potentially future American president has been his willing accomplice, while once responsible members of the Republican Party have aided and abetted his repeated lying.

“Disinformation is the story of our age,” says The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. I would take the observation a bit farther. It seems entirely possible that we are living in the advanced stages of a Putin-like capture of millions of American minds; minds filled with mush and grotesque nonsense, the kind of rank garbage that poisons democracy.

But who is really to blame for this softening of American minds? And is what we are experiencing really any different than the John Birch Society’s communist under every bed conspiracy of the 1950’s or who killed JFK narratives that have never ended?

The answer is a definitive – yes. This is different. An entire political party has willingly permitted this to ripen and grow rancid. That party, preparing to regain control of Congress this year, has proven beyond any doubt it will use disinformation to not only discredit its opponents, but delegitimize democratic institutions, including courts and elections.

As for who is to blame – we are, all of us. While we’ve been busy with the myriad distractions and trivialities of modern life, we allowed our democratic system to crumble into terrible disrepair, electing unserious, craven people and acting as though truth and character no longer matter.

While hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fight for their lives and their democracy, we can’t bring ourselves to discard the liars who threaten ours.

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More Reading:

My “carefully” curated selections that just might be of interest …

Baseball’s Labor Wars

Well, there was some good news this week. Baseball is back, but perhaps with an asterisk.

Fenway last year

“Today, twenty-four of baseball’s thirty owners are billionaires. Many inherited their wealth or made it in other sectors, such as real estate, banking and finance, and communications. Almost all of them have seen their wealth increase during the pandemic. The wealthiest among them, Mets owner Steve Cohen, built his fortune in the hedge fund industry. Since 2020, his net worth has increased from $13.9 billion to $15.9 billion.

“Total MLB revenues grew from $9.5 billion in 2015 to $10.7 billion in 2019. Even though the pandemic emptied the ballparks in 2020, revenues recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.”

A good historical assessment of players and owners. Enjoy the games – I will – but there is always a backstory.


How did cockroaches survive the asteroid that led to the extinction of dinosaurs?

Turns out the pesky cockroach survived the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Who knew?

“How could roaches a couple of inches long survive when so many powerful animals went extinct? It turns out that they were nicely equipped to live through a meteoric catastrophe.”

This actually explains a lot.

Sugar Daddy of the Right

Turns out the founder of the John Birch Society – the wacky rightwing outfit is enjoying a new moment of relevance – also invented the Sugar Daddy candy.

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society, and opened the floodgates of conspiracy

I’ve been reading the new bio of Robert Welch by Edward H. Miller. It’s good.

“The mid-20th-century United States was a place where Robert W. Welch Jr., a bankrupted candy manufacturer and inventor of the Sugar Daddy lollipop, could found a national organization that would leave a conspiratorial imprint on modern conservatism — planting the seeds for today’s fever dreams.”

As I said, there is always a backstory. A review of Miller’s book.


Thanks for reading. Defend democracy. It really is under attack.

Books, Education

The Greatest Threat to America is Not a Book …

We have reached the book banning stage of democratic collapse. The end can’t possibly be far away.

In states from Tennessee to Idaho ultra-rightwing lawmakers are enjoying spring by roughing up librarians, cutting their budgets, banning books and intimidating teachers. It’s a coordinated effort that echoes through the alt right determination to wage endless culture war. After all, how better to demonstrate your commitment to “freedom” than by banning a book?

A photo from the New York Times

“It’s definitely getting worse,” Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of the free-speech organization PEN America, told The Guardian recently. “We used to hear about a book challenge or ban a few times a year. Now it’s every week or every day. We also see proposed legislative bans, as opposed to just school districts taking action. It is part of a concerted effort to try to hold back the consequences of demographic and social change by controlling the narratives available to young people.”

As National Public Radio reported earlier this month: “More than 330 unique books were challenged from September through November last year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. That’s twice as many as the entire year before.”

Not surprisingly, most if not all the book banning has featured works that consider already marginalized individuals or groups, while dealing with what are apparently frightening concepts like sexuality, gender identity or race. It’s apparently not enough for some Americans to be openly antagonistic to the LGBTQ community or to people of color, they demand that no one read about their stories.

If book bans were merely a manifestation of old fashioned, small-bore bigotry that would be in keeping with American history. In the 1830’s, after all, the U.S. House of Representatives forbid members from even discussing slavery, let alone legislating about the peculiar American institution. Harriett Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852 in the run up to the Civil War, was banned in the South for fear it’s anti-slavery message would stir dangerous ideas. Lots of books over a long period have been banned for being too sexy or too graphic, however you define those terms.

But the current battlefield in the alt right’s culture war is more calculating and more strategic than simply old-style American bigotry, and therefore more dangerous to the ideas of free expression and anti-censorship. Moreover, the book ban mania has not grown organically, but rather has emerged in harness with intense new attacks on public schools and educators, animated by misinformation and fear about how American history is taught.

This fight is all about ideology and surely represents a concerted effort to limit what Americans, particularly young Americans can read, absorb, debate and decide about.

“You’re seeing really powerful movements under way to constrain expression,” says Jeffrey Sachs, an academic who specialized in free speech issues. “It’s not about discussing ideas objectively. It’s about not discussing them at all,” Sachs told the news website Vox.

The agenda here is being advanced on two fronts. One involves the systematic demonization of public education. The farthest fringe elements of the conservative moment – the Idaho Freedom Foundation, for example, or former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – are hardly subtle in advocating an end to public schools. This movement is lavishly funded, and there is a vast amount of money to be made by those hyping charter schools and other forms of privatization.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a very Trumpy Republican, recently used his State of State speech to tout a charter school plan for his state that would channel public dollars to a small, private, Christian school in Michigan – Hillsdale College – that has been an incubator for school privatization efforts. Lee reportedly wants as many as 50 Hillsdale-supported charter schools in Tennessee. They will teach a sanitized, false version of civics and history.  

Betsy DeVos, the Trump Education Secretary and public school privatizer

Hillsdale’s president chaired the laughably incompetent, yet ideologically frightening history commission Trump established near the end of his term. And it’s no coincidence that DeVos used a speech at Hillsdale last fall to help stoke the alt right’s anti-public school crusade. DeVos and others in this movement talk a lot about “freedom,” but they really advocate control. They want to dismantle the long-established system that many states require – a uniform system of public schools. A good entry point is through the library.  

Banning books or destroying public education are wildly unpopular ideas, so it becomes necessary to clothe the efforts to ban and destroy in the guise of protecting you from something sinister and dangerous. Success in this anti-democratic effort requires standing the truth on its head, because controlling thought, banning books and diminishing valuable institutions like local schools and long-established colleges and universities are not the tactics of freedom loving people. They are, however, tools in the service of authoritarianism.

The absolutely unprecedented attacks on libraries and librarians during the recent Idaho legislative session, actions that included threats to jail librarians, were straight up authoritarian. I doubt most of the political geniuses behind the Idaho library wars actually visit libraries or read books, but if they did, they might know that a mediocre Austrian painter once used this very playbook.

Idaho legislators, as the Spokesman-Review’s Shawn Vestal noted recently, eventually “agreed to form a legislative committee to investigate library materials statewide, a McCarthyite tribunal that promises to be every bit as intelligent and productive as last year’s task force investigating indoctrination in schools.”

This is a red-light flashing moment.

It is time for all Americans to defend with new vigor and new commitment the American institutions that the alt right plans to destroy, and openly speaks of doing so. Institutions, as the Yale historian Timothy Snyder has often pointed out, cannot defend themselves. People defend institutions. And people destroy them, too.

Visit the local library. Praise a teacher. Support good people who believe in genuine American values like intellectual freedom, dissent, inquiry and who aren’t so insecure and filled with grievance that they see threats between the covers of a book.

Institutions, Timothy Snyder has written, “fall one after the other unless each is defined from the beginning.” We are well past the beginning in the assault on educational institutions in America. Time is of the essence to defend them from evil, misguided people who would in the name of freedom destroy freedom.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

Banning The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 California

Steinbeck and his controversial book

As noted above, book banning is an old tactic in the United States, even as I think it’s important to note that the current wave is something particularly unseemly and destructive. Kern County, California banned Jon Steinbeck in 1939.

“Officials there actually got the idea from a newspaper story reporting that the Kansas City Board of Education had removed it from public libraries there.”

Read the story.


Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing

You probably have read all you need to read about the “slap seen round the world,” but perhaps you haven’t read Kareem.

“Worse than the slap was Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech in which he rambled on about all the women in the movie King Richard that he’s protected. Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying. By using these women to virtue signal, he was in fact exploiting them to benefit himself. But, of course, the speech was about justifying his violence.”

The guy could play so hoop, too. Read his essay.


The Dramatist

This a really terrific piece about the historian Barbara Tuchman.

Author of The Guns of August, among many other books

“In addition to acknowledging that she had help, a frequently taboo subject for successful women, Tuchman was forthcoming over the years about how being a woman with children influenced the development of her career. In 1978, she told the New York Times: ‘My obligation was primarily toward my three children. . . . When the children came home from school or had the measles, I had to drop everything. If a man is a writer, everybody tiptoes around past the locked door of the breadwinner. But if you’re an ordinary female housewife, people say, ‘This is just something Barbara wanted to do; it’s not professional.’ For a woman, it’s very difficult to work behind a closed door.'”

Meredith Hindley is a senior writer for Humanities. Read her piece here.


LBJ Announced He Wouldn’t Run Again. Political Chaos Ensued

I remember watching the speech – 54 years ago this week in .

“LBJ’s announcement was so dramatic partly because it was so unexpected. When LBJ sat down to deliver the speech, even he wasn’t certain that he would utter the words his aides had written for him. LBJ had acquired a reputation, rooted in decades of service in Senate leadership and then in the White House, as a brilliant legislative operator, a masterful manipulator of men and laws, a politician who wished both to advance his own self-interest and outdo FDR as the greatest reform president of the 20th century.”

Good piece of political history as told by Matthew Dallek.


Be careful out there. Keep reading. And thanks.

Civil Rights, GOP, Judiciary, Supreme Court

The GOP Goes Back in Time …

On September 5, 1922, a very conservative Republican from Utah, George Sutherland, was nominated by Republican President Warren Harding to the U.S. Supreme Court. In many ways, Sutherland was a natural choice: a former state legislator, congressman, senator and a diplomat.

Sutherland’s family eventually left the LDS Church, but he attended what was then Brigham Young Academy and made a reputation as a lawyer defending members of the faith indicted under federal anti-polygamy statutes.

On the afternoon his appointment was submitted to the Senate, Sutherland was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court. Quickest confirmation in history. No hearing. No FBI background check. No questions. Harding wanted it. It happened.

Mr. Justice Sutherland

Say this much for George Sutherland: he looked the part of a judge. Trimmed white beard. Regal bearing. And a resume seemingly ideal for a Republican president wanting to maintain a conservative court. Sutherland served as a justice for 18 years, came to be known as one of the “four horsemen,” the ultra conservatives who made the Supreme Court in the 1920’s and 1930’s the most conservative Court since, well, since now. As one legal scholar has noted, Justice Sutherland’s “predominant tendency was to cleave to the past when assessing issues before him.”

I thought about George Sutherland, a Supreme Court justice largely assigned to the judicial history dustbin this week, as a host of Republican senators took turns trying to denigrate the nomination of the first African American woman to the nation’s highest court. Those conservatives had a field day, or at least they tried to have a field day, at the expense of an obviously supremely qualified, supremely patient, supremely measured judge.

The larger context here is the rollback of American jurisprudence, “to cleave to the past.” The ghost of Justice Sutherland stalks the modern Republican Party.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, getting a jump on hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, actually previewed his line of attack days ago on social media. Hawley, most famous for his show of support for Capitol insurrectionists on January 6, sought to paint the judge as “soft on child pornography.”

Hawley, a Stanford and Yale trained lawyer, broadly distorted the judge’s sentencing record, so misrepresenting the facts as to be accused of “a smear” campaign. The conservative National Review called Hawley “a demagogue,” a charge that has the benefit of being true.

Predictably others – Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn – helped advance the smear, causing CNN White House correspondent John Harwood to remark that “GOP senators shaped their attacks on a Supreme Court pick [with a] sterling resume to appeal to the kinds of people who fantasize about Democrats running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria because loons like that play such an important role in GOP politics.”

And there was more. Cruz, channeling his inner Joe McCarthy, tried to make Judge Jackson responsible for every book used at the Washington, D.C. private school where she serves on the board. It’s just the kind of school Cruz’s children attend. The judge patiently explained her board doesn’t deal with curriculum, but the attack allowed Cruz to slime the nominee as an advocate of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Right on cue the Republican National Committee distributed a photo of Judge Jackson with her initials replaced with CRT.

As dog whistles go, this level of demagoguery and race baiting makes the tactics of the Senate’s southern segregationist’s of the 50’s and 60’s seem downright mild.

Blackburn asked the witness for a definition of a “woman” before slipping slimily into an attack on transgendered athletes. Lindsey Graham, another attorney, berated Jackson for her role as a defense attorney for detainees at Guantanamo, literally suggesting that some accused of crimes under our system aren’t entitled to representation in court. The subtext of Graham’s sleaze is, of course, the image of a Black woman defending a Muslim terrorist.

Make no mistake, these attacks on Ketanji Brown Jackson are not about her ten-year record as a judge or as a universally praised member of a national commission to review federal sentencing guidelines. No matter her record or what she says to questions based on grievance and the past, Jackson will be lucky to get two Republican votes for confirmation.

The attacks on her are centered squarely on stoking grievance and furthering racial division. This might have been a time for bipartisan celebration of the career of an accomplished woman of color, but that’s not where most in the conservative base live. And while the attacks this week were particularly odious, brutal and fact-free they hardly represent a new page in the conservative playbook. Grievance and culture combat has been and remains the party line.

Graham, who admitted he goes “to church probably three times a year,” pressed Judge Jackson on her faith, even asking her to rank how important her spiritual beliefs are on a scale of 1 to 10. The judge described herself as a non-denominational protestant, and wisely observed that there is no religious test in the Constitution.

Good thing Mr. Justice Sutherland, the lapsed Mormon, never met Lindsey Graham.

Also make no mistake that there is much more at play here than the historic confirmation of one Black woman to the Supreme Court. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun spilled those beans when he told an interviewer this week that in his opinion Roe v. Wade had been improperly decided in the 1970’s. Such issues should be left to the states, Braun said. Pressed on whether that kind of judicial philosophy might extend to interracial marriage or state-level bans on the use of contraceptives, Braun opened the alt right kimono.

“You can list a whole host of issues,” Braun said. “When it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but that we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country, as Roe v. Wade did.”

Braun quickly walked back his comments about interracial marriage saying he misunderstood the question – he clearly did not based on the videotape of his answer – while assuring us, very unconvincingly, that he is all for protecting individual rights.

Indiana Senator Mike Braun before he walked back his comments about interracial marriage

With this line of thinking – remember Judge Jackson was also questioned about Supreme Court decisions on contraceptives and same sex marriage – when Roe is overturned it follows naturally that other landmark court decisions ensuring individual rights will be ripe for re-assessment. Braun didn’t misspeak, he telegraphed the hard right’s judicial playbook for the next decade.

Roe v. Wade will be just the beginning. A Justice Jackson will make history. The most conservative court since George Sutherland’s day will too.

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Additional Reading:

Some additional items you may find of interest …

Was it inevitable? A short history of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Several pieces from various angles on Putin’s continuing war.

“This war was not inevitable, but we have been moving toward it for years: the west, and Russia, and Ukraine. The war itself is not new – it began, as Ukrainians have frequently reminded us in the past two weeks, with the Russian incursion in 2014. But the roots go back even further. We are still experiencing the death throes of the Soviet empire. We are reaping, too, in the west, the fruits of our failed policies in the region after the Soviet collapse.”

From Keith Gessen in The Guardian.

* * * * *

Putin Lives in Historic Analogies and Metaphors

A scene of the carnage outside a shopping area in Kiev

And I found this piece particularly good.

“Political scientist Ivan Krastev is an astute observer of Vladimir Putin. In an interview, he speaks of the Russian president’s isolation, his understanding of Russian history and how he has become a prisoner of his own rhetoric.”

From the German publication Spiegel International.

* * * * *

Assassinating Putin Won’t Work. It Never Has for America

The aforementioned Senator Graham of South Carolina blustered recently about “taking out” the Russian president. The great historian of the CIA, Steven Kinzer, says it’s really a pretty bad idea.

“Americans are impatient by nature. We want quick solutions, even to complex problems. That makes killing a foreign leader seem like a good way to end a war. Every time we have tried it, though, we’ve failed — whether or not the target falls. Morality and legality aside, it doesn’t work. Castro thrived on his ability to survive American plots. In the Congo, almost everything that has happened since Lumumba’s murder has been awful.”

Kinzer writes in Politico.


The Growing Blight of “Infill” McMansions

I quote Mike Lofgren, a long-time congressional staffer, in my book about the 1980 election. He’s found life after Capitol Hill as a writer, and this Washington Monthly piece on the new wave of McMansions – huge and often very ugly homes – in old, established neighborhoods is both well written and spot on.

“While the sheer size of the structure guarantees disharmony with the local houses, the eye-lacerating incongruity of its style brings it to a new level. The structures resemble the architecture of the Loire Valley, Elizabethan England, or Renaissance Tuscany—as imagined by Walt Disney, or perhaps Liberace. As with McMansions everywhere, the new owners could have obtained a sounder design for less, but they prefer the turrets, portes-cochères, and ill-proportioned Palladian windows that they bought.”

Read the whole thing.


John Clellon Holmes on the Funeral of His Longtime Friend Jack Kerouac

The cover of the book that features four essays on Kerouac

My old and dear pal, Rick Ardinger – along with his wife and partner, Rose – have re-published a great book length piece on the celebrated “beat” generation writer Jack Kerouac by Kerouac’s friend John Clellon Holmes.

The book was excerpted recently at the LitHub site. Read the excerpt here and please consider ordering the book.


The LaLee, London: ‘A menu designed for well-heeled tourists’ 

And finally, I am a sucker for the snarky restaurant review. This one is pretty good, or bad …

“It’s attempting to be a thrilling destination restaurant, when in truth it should just be the utilitarian dining option in a fancy boutique London hotel. As a result, it’s neither.”

All righty, then. Here’s the link.


Thanks for following along. Stay engaged. Democracy is on the ballot this year. All hands on deck.

GOP, Trump, Ukraine

A Matter of Character …

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s historic speech to a joint session of Congress properly received a great deal of attention this week. The former comedian turned international leader reminds us not only of the stakes in a country under siege, but that courage and character in the face of great adversity is the very essence of political leadership.

Zelensky’s incredible performance, literally under fire, has summoned comparisons to Winston Churchill’s leadership in 1940. As the Financial Times noted, Zelensky “never aspired to be a war leader. Yet it is precisely his empathy and communication skills, teamed with exceptional guts, that have turned him into the voice of his people and their resistance, and a symbol of modern Ukrainian identity.”

Ukrainian president Zelensky with some of his soldiers

A remarkable gesture by the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia received less attention, but the dangerous rail journey to Kiev undertaken by the eastern European leaders not only demonstrated solidarity with Zelensky but was also noteworthy for the courage and character the leaders displayed. Both moments will live in history.

If only we could count on a bit more character and courage in our own politics.

Yet, having said that I detected something genuinely encouraging amid all the usual partisan brawling and useless backbiting. Some courage and character broke out.

Utah senator Mitt Romney spoke again, as he has in the past, in support of American democracy, and specifically in support of courage and character. At a fundraising event for embattled Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, Romney received a standing ovation when he said, “People of character and courage have stood up for right at times when others want to look away. Such a person is Liz Cheney.”

Cheney, of course, is under assault from the fact-free Trumpian alt right and the former president for having the gumption to stand up to our own home-grown anti-Zelensky. Cheney seems determined to get the full story of the January 6 Capitol insurrection no matter where the truth leads.

Here at home, Romney said, “what has kept us from falling in with the same kind of authoritarian leader as Vladimir Putin are the strengths of our institutions, the rule of law, our courts, Congress, and so forth.” That so forth includes character and courage.

Another prominent western Republican had much the same message this week. Writing in the Washington Post, two-term Montana governor and former Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot said: “Rarely stopping to inventory the essential qualities in human character, we all know them when we see them: decency, honesty, humility, honor and faithfulness.”

Racicot said his purpose in speaking out about the unfitness of the “leader” of the Republican Party “was to urge all Americans of good sense and honest purpose to confront, define and vindicate the truth. Sometimes that truth has sharp edges, but nonetheless, it is still the truth. This is one of those times.

“And so it must be said again: Donald Trump does not possess the essential qualities of character to lead this nation, most especially in a time of crisis.”

Racicot, typically a measured, quiet man not given to overstatement, was scathing and specific in denouncing Trump’s truly disgusting comments about Putin’s war on Ukraine. “If the former president’s recent remarks about Ukraine had amounted to just another ration of narcissistic self-indulgence, it would have been briefly noted, but not thoroughly examined. Such patent nonsense has become, after all, predictable and expected.”

The former Republican chairman went on: “The vicious actions of the Russian president have been universally condemned by decent people everywhere. But not by Trump. To the contrary, the former president could express only his admiration of the Russian president’s tactics — describing them as ‘savvy,’ ‘smart’ and ‘genius.’

“There is no record of anybody else, other than Trump, anywhere, at any time during this Russian massacre, who has described Vladimir Putin’s actions as ‘savvy,’ ‘smart’ and ‘genius.’”

Racicot said the former president’s remarks display a shocking “lack of maturity and morality” as Putin’s artillery and missiles rain down death on hospitals and schools in Ukraine.

The conclusion of Racicot’s piece in the Post spoke directly to those politicians who duck and cover rather than confront the character and courage issues that confront their party and our county.

Putin: not savvy, but he does have really long tables

 “Those who, during this painful moment in human history, find any redeeming value or humor in the former president’s remarks; or who continue to ignore his profound lack of knowledge or intellectual curiosity; or who excuse his lack of regard for the truth; or who consciously or unconsciously modify the priorities of their own character or moral imperatives to secure his favor, or the favor of his disciples, might do well to remember the words of author J.M. Smith: ‘If you dance with the devil, then you haven’t got a clue, for you think you’ll change the devil, but the devil changes you.’”

Donald Trump did not create the deep fissures that have contributed an America that is more divided, less civil, more mean and less committed to truth. Those attributes, sadly, have long been features of a sprawling, diverse nation that has too rarely confronted its own contradictions.

But Trump, his willing accomplices and those afraid to speak truth about him have exploited division and distrust for the basest of reasons – power and punishment. Maybe the Trumpian fever is about to break – we can hope – since Trump endorsed candidates in several states are floundering.

Still, hoping the stench goes away naturally does not absolve Republicans in Congress, statehouses and city councils from the moral decisions they have made to tolerate this intolerable man and the damage he has done to American democracy. By lack of courage, they have made lack of character acceptable in the highest office of the land.

We cannot predict the future of the brave people of Ukraine or that of their determined president. The future may well hold much more death and destruction with implications far beyond eastern Europe. There is little reason for optimism, but at this historic moment Volodymyr Zelensky and the country he leads reminds us of what truly matters – courage and character.

Celebrate that. Embrace that. Demand that of our leaders.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement fails to address players’ biggest grievances

I’m eager for baseball, but really frustrated by the owner’s lockout and the agreement that – finally – emerged. A good explainer here from Victor Matheson, a sports economist at Holy Cross.

Spring training finally got going this week

“Baseball junkies will notice several cosmetic changes to the game right away: an expanded postseason, sponsor advertisements on jerseys and a designated hitter in the National League. The agreement also opens the door for rule changes in 2023 that include larger bases, limits on defensive shifts and a pitch clock. Other than some real improvements to the salaries for the league’s lowest-paid players, however, the economics of baseball’s underlying labor model remains as flawed as ever.”

Read the whole thing:


“I can help them” – one man’s journey from Portland to Ukraine’s frontlines

A Portland man heads home to fight for Ukraine.

“Sergey is one of about 66,000 Ukrainians returning home to help fight the Russian invasion following President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for Ukrainians abroad return to the homeland to fight the Russians. Korenev, whose family is Jewish, is one Ukrainian in the US answering the call.”

From The Guardian:


How the North Beat the South, Morally and Economically

A very interesting new book on dueling economies during the Civil War.

“The South was bountiful but impervious to change. In the decade before the war, cotton production jumped from 2.8 million bales to more than 4 million, and the value of its four million slaves doubled. This industry was centered in four hundred mostly contiguous counties of loamy soil that was essentially a monoculture. In the North, farmers sought to improve varieties of wheat and corn. They invested in farm and machinery. Southern planters felt no need to innovate. There was scarcely any patent activity in cotton and little investment in machines. They scarcely invested in capital goods. It was cheaper to breed Negroes.”

The book is Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War by Roger Lowenstein.

Here is the link to an excerpt:


Cooking with Dorothy Sayers

Miss Dorothy L. Sayers, the famous author, whose radio play introducing Christ as a character has caused widespread controversy, is seen here Feb 6, 1942 in London signing a visitors’ book where she addressed the lunch- time service congregation at St. Martin’s-In-The-Fields. (AP Photo)

Loved this piece from The Paris Review.

“Dorothy Sayers was said to enjoy both food and drink in great quantities. And her characters do as well.”

The link:


That’s it for this week. Thanks for following alone. Stay well and be in touch.

GOP, Trump, Ukraine

The Ukraine Memory Hole …

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct.”

California Congressman Adam Schiff during the Trump impeachment trial concerning Ukraine


Military analysts, and most famously the Prussian Carl von Clausewitz, have long referenced the “fog,” or uncertainty that always surrounds war. Given the best planning and skilled execution, battles never unfold the way they are envisioned on a map in a secure location.

Wars become a blur. Information is unreliable. People make mistakes. Supplies get destroyed or sidetracked. Leaders and followers stumble around in the dark amid death, destruction and dread.

A fog of war descends.  

One suspects Vladimir Putin has lived in this state for two weeks now. The war crimes this “small, feral-eyed” man – that’s Senator Mitt Romney correctly describing Putin – has perpetrated in Ukraine will live in infamy. The heinous crimes are visible to all. The former KGB man is doomed. The only questions are how long it will take to be rid of him and how many innocents will die while the world waits.

Putin’s War on Ukraine involves bombing hospitals (NBC photo)

Yet, while we wait and contemplate what Putin has done to a mostly peaceful post-war Europe, at least a Europe where NATO never seriously faced off against a nuclear armed Russian, and before Americans become consumed with gas prices rather than crimes against humanity, we should confront some hard truths about our own Ukraine back story.

Tribal politics have done much to damage the United States. Good faith in our civic life has become as rare as $2 regular at the pump. Lies and misinformation dominate seemingly every debate. The work is underway, therefore, to rewrite the Ukraine narrative in the interest of sparing many conservative politicians of any accounting for how cavalierly they treated issues in eastern Europe when their guy was running the show.

As good a place to start to plug the memory hole is Paul Manafort, the Republican political operative and lobbyist who lived a high life and made millions, as NBC reported in 2017, “working for a corrupt pro-Russian political party that repeatedly disparaged America’s most important military alliance” – that would be NATO.

Just to jog your memory, Manafort “volunteered” for no salary to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign even though he was reportedly in dire need of cash.

[Personal observation: political consultants are some of the most money conscious people in our system. They are always afraid the political client will run out of money and they won’t get paid. To work for the pleasure of being associated closely with a world-class narcissist is, to say the least, unusual.]

Manafort did several things during his time with Trump. He engineered a remarkable change in the Republican platform. As the Washington Post reported in July 2016: “The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.”

One Republican who opposed the platform sight of hand was Diana Denman, a Texas delegate to the 2016 convention. Her comments in 2016 read in the context of Putin’s war today are little short of stunning. “The Ukrainian people are trying to come out of the past and stay free,” Denman said. “We owe to those who are fighting for freedom still to give them a helping hand.”

“I’m very passionate and supportive of the Reagan foreign policy of peace through strength,” Denman said.

Since there are no coincidences in politics it’s not a stretch to believe the GOP platform switch was orchestrated to please Manafort’s once and potentially future Russian clients. The change in longstanding Republican policy was simply a very cheap gift to Vladimir Putin, who Trump made no secret – then or now – of admiring, indeed emulating.

Paul Manafort, arrested, charged, convicted … pardoned by Trump

We also know, despite ongoing efforts to whitewash the truth, that Manafort gave sensitive Trump campaign polling information to one of his Russian contacts at the very time Putin was engaged in a massive social media disinformation campaign designed to influence the presidential election, and sow division in the American electorate.

[Another reminder: a bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee detailed the Russian interference. It was no hoax.]

Trump and his cult now claim he was tough with Putin. It’s a lie. Trump essentially endorsed Putin’s annexation – steal – of Crimea. Trump sided with Putin rather than U.S. intelligence agencies on the matter of Russian election interference, infamously saying in Helsinki in July 2018, “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump embraced the fiction that Ukraine had meddled in the election, a move he made after Ukrainian records implicated Manafort in a financial scandal that led to his conviction. Manafort was, of course, pardoned by Trump.

Then came the “perfect call” between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a conversation that was so imperfect as to warrant Trump’s first impeachment. To again plug the memory hole: Trump tried to shake down Zelensky by withholding military assistance from the newly elected president in exchange for a storyline that Ukraine was investigating Joe Biden.

At a time when Ukraine needed building up, Trump did Putin’s bidding.

[Another reminder: remember the Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland? He was U.S. ambassador to the European Union and was in the middle of the Trump shakedown. He testified to the truth of a central fact in Trump’s impeachment. Watch it again and wonder how history might have changed had Republicans senators done their duty.]

Republicans, like Idaho’s Jim Risch and Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who minimized and excused Trump’s “drug deal” approach to Ukraine in 2019 are now shamelessly acting like all this history never happened. They had a chance to rid themselves of this cancer on conservatism by convicting Trump of abuse of power. They punted.

“Trump didn’t care about the people of Ukraine—their lives or their democracy,” Amanda Carpenter wrote recently in The Bulwark. “He simply understood that he had power over them and could abuse this power to help his re-election. And his fellow Republicans, almost to a person, either helped him with this blackmail or defended it once it came to light.”

Biden’s handling of Putin’s war has hardly been perfect. He, too, suffers in the fog or war, but Biden has succeeded, at least so far, in uniting and re-invigorating NATO and the European Union, the one really big thing Putin sought, with Trump’s help, to destroy.

The endgame of this crisis, as serious as any in Europe since the 1930’s, is far from clear. What is clear is that one political party, a party once with a tradition of hardheaded national security policy, willingly enabled the dangerous impulses of a failed real estate developer who has never made a secret of his admiration for a dangerous dictator.

While we pray for the people of Ukraine we should remember how far into deceit and depravity that party was willing to take the country – and the world.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items you may find of interest …

Our local-news situation is even worse than we think

A sobering serious from the Columbia Journalism Review.

“As reporting staffs have shrunk, the American population has grown. Since 2004, the number of newspaper newsroom staff per 100,000 people—a measure we might call “coverage density”—has dropped by a staggering 62 percent. This shows statistically what we knew anecdotally: reporters are spread far thinner than they used to be. It also helps explain the rise in ‘ghost newspapers,’ more than 1,000 publications that have lost more than half of their staff in recent years.”

Link to the series


Charter school program favored by Tennessee governor rewrites civil rights history

Good example here of why local news coverage is so darn important.

“If Governor Bill Lee gets his way, Tennessee will become a major player in a network of taxpayer-funded charter schools set up by a Michigan college with close ties to former President Donald Trump.

“Lee calls Hillsdale College’s approach to teaching civics ‘informed patriotism.'”

Some conservatives are worried about kids being “indoctrinated,” and that is exactly what they really want to do. It’s not history, but “informed patriotism.”

Good reporting from Nashville’s NewChannel 5:


Billionaire-backed group promotes hunt for voter fraud, uses discredited techniques

The big lie continues, perhaps even picks up steam in Wisconsin.

“Ever since Trump failed to convince the world that he lost the 2020 election because of fraud, like-minded people across the country have been taking up the same rallying cry, revisiting that vote with an eye toward what will happen in 2022.

“Now, a new group is stepping into a more conspicuous role in that world by providing easily accessible tools for people in Wisconsin, other Midwest battleground states and, eventually, the entire country to forge ahead with a quest to prove election irregularities.”

The money is coming from the hard right Wisconsin industrial family, the Uihleins, part of a network of deep pocketed activists who are keeping the big lie alive. Great reporting from Pro Publica and the Wisconsin Examiner.


Pulitzer winner Walter Mears dies, AP’s ‘Boy on the Bus’

A great tribute to a remarkable political reporter.

Jimmy Carter and the AP’s Walter Mears

“Walter’s impact at the AP, and in the journalism industry as a whole, is hard to overstate,” said Julie Pace, AP executive editor and senior vice president. “He was a champion for a free and fair press, a dogged reporter, an elegant chronicler of history and an inspiration to countless journalists, including myself.”

Read the obit for a glimpse into Walter Mears’ ability to “nail the lead.”


That’s all I got. Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

Russia, Supreme Court, Weekend Potpourri

What to read this weekend …

Friends:

I’m on a two week hiatus from my Friday column. I’ll be back in your inbox the week of March 7.

Meanwhile, there is plenty going on in the world. I’m hoping some of these pieces will be of interest. I found them all valuable.

All the best.

Understanding the Ukraine Crisis: A Comprehensive Reading List

An extensive list of titles to help you make sense of the senselessness Russian invasion of Ukraine.

From Lit Hub. Here is the link.

One book on the list – Red Famine – by the superb historian and analyst of Eastern Europe Anne Applebaum. The Economist rated the book one of the best of the year when it was published in 2018.

Read anything by Anne Applebaum

“From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain, a revelatory history of one of Stalin’s greatest crimes–the consequences of which still resonate todayIn 1929 Stalin launched his policy of agricultural collectivization–in effect a second Russian revolution–which forced millions of peasants off their land and onto collective farms. The result was a catastrophic famine, the most lethal in European history. At least five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. But instead of sending relief the Soviet state made use of the catastrophe to rid itself of a political problem. In Red Famine, Anne Applebaum argues that more than three million of those dead were Ukrainians who perished not because they were accidental victims of a bad policy but because the state deliberately set out to kill them.”


Ghosts of Ukraine

I’ve known the author of this piece, Dean Bakopoulos, for a long time. Dean is a novelist, screenwriter and teacher and once directed the Wisconsin Humanities Council. His recent essay about his Ukrainian grandparents is both profoundly sad and important in a totally relevant and uplifting way.

“I thought of them both this week, of course, my Dido and Baba, as Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine. I’d known this day was coming—Ukrainians knew it in their bones—but I did not expect that I would burst into tears, or that I would cry off and on all night and most of the next day, unable to sleep, or work, or eat. Instead, I scrolled through Twitter and watched the situation get worse and worse until it began to resemble how Stalin’s genocidal campaign began in the 1930s and ’40s. It appeared to be the same kind of darkness, the same reckless evil, and the same violent hatred that my grandparents had fled. The only thing that had changed was the name of the despot.”

Please read and share.


The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas

A remarkable piece of reporting here from the New York Times.

“The Thomases have long posed a unique quandary in Washington. Because Supreme Court justices do not want to be perceived as partisan, they tend to avoid political events and entanglements, and their spouses often keep low profiles. But the Thomases have defied such norms. Since the founding of the nation, no spouse of a sitting Supreme Court justice has been as overt a political activist as Ginni Thomas. In addition to her perch at the Council for National Policy, she founded a group called Groundswell with the support of Stephen K. Bannon, the hard-line nationalist and former Trump adviser. It holds a weekly meeting of influential conservatives, many of whom work directly on issues that have come before the court.”

I know it’s an old fashioned notion, but Supreme Court justices – at least in the last 60 years or so – have not been so blatantly political as Justice Thomas and his wife. If nothing else, the story puts the lie to notion that only “liberal” Supreme Court justices are political activists.

And, yes, it is high time for enforceable ethics rules for members of the Supreme Court.

Here is the link.


Jack Palance Vs. Vladimir Putin

I confess to being astounded that there are significant numbers of Americans on the political right – like Donald Trump – who have actually offered praise for Putin or found ways to justify his unjustifiable actions in Ukraine.

Such behavior should be disqualifying for any politician, but here we are.

That makes this remarkable story by critic Sonny Bunch about the actor Jack Palance even more telling.

Jack Palance in Batman with Jack Nicholson

“Jack Palance was not born Jack Palance; like so many movie stars, he changed his name to something a bit more palatable to the ticket-buying public (though the ticket-buying public was buying tickets to see him box at that time). And that’s how Volodymyr Palahniuk became Jack Palance.

“My point: his parents were Ukrainian immigrants and Palance remained proud of his heritage to the end of his life. In 2004, he was asked to accept an award at an event sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Culture. When he was introduced to accept the award, he took the stage and said: “I feel like I walked into the wrong room by mistake. I think that Russian film is interesting, but I have nothing to do with Russia or Russian film. My parents were born in Ukraine: I’m Ukrainian. I’m not Russian. So, excuse me, but I don’t belong here. It’s best if we leave.”

“And then he walked out.”

Whoo…great piece.


Making the simple impossible: We don’t want to admit the real worker shortage problem

Absolutely great journalism is being done in many states by non-profit outlets like The Daily Montanan. I can’t recommend enough the work of these folks.

Here is Daily Montanan editor Darrell Ehrlick on a story hiding in plain sight.

“The workforce shortage issue is being framed as an economic problem – employers can’t find enough workers and wages don’t seem to entice them.

“Yet, maybe there are drivers of this wave of joblessness that we all know, but don’t really want to tackle. Maybe we just don’t like what the workforce shortage is telling us, and so we search for other more complex, nuanced interpretations.

“As an observer and reporter, I think maybe the answer to the workforce shortage is a combination of time and fatigue.”

Here’s a link to Darrell’s piece:


Thanks for following along. Stay strong. Pray for the good people of Ukraine.

GOP, Militias

The GOP’s Militia Problem …

Across the vast expanse of the American West the Republican Party has a militia problem. Most Republican elected officials are either in denial that a real problem exists or they are quietly hoping it somehow goes away.

It isn’t going away, and its existence should worry everyone who cares about the future of our democracy.

Journalist Heath Druzin has been reporting on anti-government militia groups in the West for years. He knows and frequently speaks with the leaders and members of groups like The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. Druzin keeps tabs on Ammon Bundy, the rancher turned politician who led the armed takeover of an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 and who was until this week a Republican candidate for governor of Idaho. Bundy now says he’ll run as an independent.

Heath Druzin’s podcast – “Extremely American” – is a first-class primer on the militia movement

Druzin’s current NPR podcast – “Extremely American” – focuses on what he calls “the ascendent patriot movement,” a collection of “militia members and far-right activists who are simultaneously preparing to fight the government and become part of it.”

Druzin’s reporting, and ample evidence on the ground in Idaho, Montana, Washington and elsewhere, demonstrate the increasing connections between the so called “militia movement” and the Republican Party.

“More and more I started seeing these guys in the Statehouse not out in the mountains shooting guns,” Druzin told me recently. “They were walking into a representative or senator’s office – that is different. They are extremely distrustful of the government, but now they are trying to be part of it.”

The evidence is impossible to ignore.

While Bundy runs for governor in Idaho, Eric Parker, founder of a group he calls “Real 3%ers Idaho,” is a Republican candidate for a state senate seat. Parker’s polished campaign website features a photo of the candidate with Idaho lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin, who has close ties to various militia groups and leaders and is running against incumbent governor Brad Little. Parker has endorsed McGeachin.

Parker’s website has the obligatory bio and statements about his positions. He will base his legislative votes, Parker says, on the Constitution, and he pledges to “work to address all constitutional breakdowns and to re-establish checks-and-balances to our State government.” Parker claims his group helped expand gun rights in Idaho and he wants more state control over public lands and more school choice.

Parker has repeatedly insisted his group – he says it has 2,500 members – is not a militia, and his political rhetoric, laced with references to the Constitution and demanding absolutist rights for gun owners, represents a typical issue mix for a very conservative western Republican. But missing, not surprisingly, from Parker’s bio is any mention of his guilty plea for obstructing a court order related to his involvement with another Bundy family standoff in Nevada in 2014. A widely circulated photo of Parker during the encounter shows him aiming his rifle at federal agents from behind a barricade.

Parker ran for the legislature in 2020. He lost but still gathered nearly 44% of the votes in his south-central Idaho district that ironically includes the liberal enclave of Sun Valley, the tony ski and summer resort. The legislative district’s boundaries were recently redrawn and a credible, establishment Republican is also running for what will be an open seat, so it remains to be seen if Parker has a real path to the state senate.

Representative Chad Christensen, a Republican representing a district in extreme southeastern Idaho, found his political path in 2018. Christensen proudly lists his membership in the John Birch Society and the Oath Keepers on his legislative website and says he’s serving in the legislature “to protect the God-given rights and freedom of people. It doesn’t matter who the foe might be, foreign enemies, groups against liberty, or our very own government.”

Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keeper’s leader, is charged with seditious conspiracy

The Oath Keepers have been a major focus of the Justice Department’s investigation of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes a former paratrooper with a Yale law degree, was arrested in January and charged with seditious conspiracy for what has been described as a wide-ranging plot to storm the Capitol to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election.

“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote on the encrypted chat app Signal that was included as evidence for his indictment. “Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.” Small wonder the FBI describes the Oath Keepers as a “paramilitary organization,” a definition the Southern Poverty Law Center expands to include “promoting their own form of vigilante justice.”

Javed Ali, a former senior director of the National Security Council and a counterterrorism official at the FBI, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in June 2021, that among the loosely connected militia groups the Oath Keepers is the most troubling.

“I think what makes the Oath Keepers unique and challenging,” Ali said, “beyond the fact that they are a formal group with chapters all over the country, is that a large percentage have tactical training and operational experience in either the military or law enforcement. That at least gives them a capability that a lot of other people in this far right space don’t have.”

The group also has friends in high Republican places ranging from Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is frequently accompanied by armed Oath Keeper members, to Montana far right Congressman Matt Rosendale. Rosendale spoke at an Oath Keepers’ event in 2014 before he was elected to Congress, but now dismisses any connection with the group. “Didn’t see it, doesn’t impact me,” Rosendale said when asked about the charges against Rhodes.

Matt Rosendale, now a Montana congressman, at an Oath Keepers rally in Kalispell in 2014

The Republican Party Chairman in Wyoming, William “Frank” Eathorne, is both an outspoken opponent of his state’s GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney and, according to leaked Oath Keepers documents, a member of the group. Eathorne hasn’t addressed publicly his affiliation, but he been busy undercutting the congressional investigation, including leading the charge to formally condemn Cheney and Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger due to their role investigating the January 6 attack.

The leaked Oath Keepers documents identified at least 28 Republican elected officials as members. Two of them – state representatives Mark Finchem of Arizona and David Eastman of Alaska – were part of the January 6 protest, although neither has been charged as a result.

Once upon a time identifying as a Bircher or being a member of gun-toting groups advocating violent political action would have gotten you ostracized by the Republican Party. Now leaders of the party – governors, senators, state legislators – have chosen silence over repudiation even as evidence of political violence grows daily.

In Idaho, Governor Little has even endorsed legislation that would repeal the state’s 95-year-old ban on private militias.

Republicans who should know better have made a dangerous calculation. By adopting a strategy of appeasing the radicals they have made it even more likely the militant fringe will ultimately prevail in taking over the party.

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest…

How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal

Before Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News impresario – some would say a principle in the downfall of modern media – became a huge force in American politics, he was pioneering his ruthless style in the U.K. This story was originally published in 2015, but it’s worth a fresh read.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch in 1981

“Successive governments of both parties, scared when they could have been stalwart, have done no better in dealing with Murdoch. Parliament expresses its determination to protect free speech and plurality but it appears that ministers try hard to live up to Murdoch’s classification of politicians as invertebrates.”

The author is Harold Evans, a legendary name in British journalism. Here is the link.


How Democrats Can Win in White Working-Class Districts

Some Democrats, it seems, aren’t interested in the question of how to appeal again to white, working class voters. If the party doesn’t figure it out – and pretty quickly – it’s in for a world of hurt. From Washington Monthly:

“As Sasha Issenberg pointed out in his book The Victory Lab, George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 conducted ‘search and rescue’ operations to find Republican voters in strong Democratic communities like Duluth, Minnesota. Democrats should do the same, and start by investing in training local volunteers in canvassing and phone techniques. Research has shown that local volunteers are more effective than people brought in from the outside, but they need to be properly trained. And as this magazine has documented, even in the reddest districts there are cadres of loyal Democrats eager to help, if only someone would ask.”

Good piece on the practical nuts and bolt of politics.


American Literature is a History of the Nation’s Libraries

I believe more than ever that our libraries are a bedrock institution of democracy.

Here is what the great Kurt Vonnegut wrote:

“I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

A superb little essay on the public library.


Thanks for following along here. Be well. Thanks for reading.

Education, Idaho Politics

Entrepreneurial Hypocrisy …

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation, officially a public charity under federal tax law, has become a force in Idaho politics. The group is similar to several dozen like-minded libertarian-leaning political actors that for a decade or more have been trying to influence education and other policies in every state. These groups get their money from secret sources, but you can make an educated guess as to who funds their pernicious, frequently fact-free advocacy. The Idaho edition of this template is particularly odious.

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In 2020, the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), a libertarian “think tank” funded by dark money, deep pocket donors, did something wholly inconsistent with its self-proclaimed mission of “exposing, defeating, and replacing the state’s socialist public policies.”

The IFF took help from the government, namely a $130,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan – since forgiven – that was part of the Trump Administration’s plan to stave off economic collapse due to the Covid pandemic.

These free-market gurus, who lobby like crazy while enjoying IRS status as a non-profit, public welfare “charity” organization, have become a force in Idaho conservative politics by helping drive the state’s Republican Party into a ditch of crazy conspiracy, medical misinformation and hatred of public education. Former Republican attorney general and Supreme Court chief justice Jim Jones has correctly called IFF an “extremist political outfit.”

But apparently extremism in the defense of hypocrisy is no vice. When IFF received its taxpayer money back in 2020, Wayne Hoffman, the lobbying group’s president was indignant that anyone would point out the irony – or was it the hypocrisy – of his anti-government, low tax group putting its Milton Friedman-like snout in the federal government trough.

IFF was, by the way, getting taxpayer cash at the same time it was working overtime to deprive health care for thousands of Idahoans, limit rent relief during the pandemic and make it harder for citizens to put an issue on the ballot. Freedom is clearly a one-way street.

When called on the PPP hypocrisy, Hoffman railed “fake news,” and insisted the government made him do it.

“The government shut down Idaho’s economy,” Hoffman said, “Idaho business, and therefore the donors who we depend on to generously support our work.”

Let us linger over those words: “the donors who we depend on …”

That statement baldly suggests the free marketers were in the same boat as millions of other Americans. A world-wide pandemic that has now claimed more than 900,000 American lives – IFF has militantly opposed public health efforts to contain the disease – was going to hurt the “think tank’s” bottom line. The PPP loan was a lifeline. A poor little free market charity was just being prudent in taking the government “handout” in violation of all of its stated beliefs since, well, they needed to make payroll. And lest we forget, five board members of IFF also received PPP loans.

But wait, there’s more.

Posted on the IFF’s website is a copy of the organization’s most recent Form 990, the annual filing with the Internal Revenue Service. And right there on page one, just below Hoffman’s name, is an accounting of the group’s prior year and current year “contributions and grants.”

In 2019, IFF pocketed over $708,000, but in 2020 – the year of the PPP loan when “donors who we depend on” were “shut down” – IFF reported more than $967,000 in contributions and grants, including the PPP loan.

In other words, the Freedom Foundation free marketers not only didn’t need your taxpayer dollars to match their previous year level of contributions, they actually exceeded their prior year take even without the forgiven taxpayer loan.

Like with so much else that attaches to the IFF – University of Idaho president Scott Green recently termed the group “conflict entrepreneurs” – Hoffman’s explanation for his PPP loan is a lie. Turns out Wayne’s conflict spreaders aren’t merely a public charity, but a charity case.

But before dismissing the lies and this hypocrisy – after all, what would conservative politics be these days without both – recall the real mission of Hoffman and his grifting team. They aim to destroy public education in Idaho, a state that already funds schools worse than any other state and that last year let IFF craft, as the U of I’s Green told legislative budget writers last month, “a false narrative” about higher education that cost the state’s institutions of higher learning $2.5 million last year – $1.5 million hit to Boise State University and a half million each to Idaho State and at Idaho’s land grant school, the University of Idaho.

University of Idaho president Scott Green recently called IFF “conflict entrepreneurs”

Hoffman and a loyal group of his trained seals in the legislature have been pushing a fake narrative about “social justice” education, alleging that the impressionable minds of Idaho students are being “indoctrinated” with dangerous notions about equality and history. Green dismissed it as a lie, which it is.

“In short, the entire social justice narrative on which the University of Idaho was penalized $500,000 was a false narrative created by conflict entrepreneurs who make their living sowing fear and doubt with legislators and voters,” Green said, in what must count as one of the most straightforward and honest putdowns of Hoffman’s brand of grievance-based conspiracy politics ever uttered by a senior Idaho official.

Standing up to bullies and shysters who specialize in conflict requires guts, a commodity that is in dangerously short supply among Idaho elected officials. Many of them know that Hoffman’s grift – he pays himself $139,000 a year – is as phony as his PPP loan explanation. Yet, most conservatives – there are some growing exceptions – treat this dark money cesspool as though it were something legitimate. It’s not.

IFF is part of a network of more than 60 similar hard right and libertarian “think tanks” in every state, part of a web of influence peddlers called “The State Policy Network.” In Montana they fly under the “Frontier Institute” banner. In Oregon it’s the “Cascade Policy Institute.” In Wyoming they call themselves the “Wyoming Liberty Group.” The groups are all about demanding transparency for everyone other than themselves. Where their high six figure or larger budgets come from is a well-guarded secret.

The Guardian newspaper got its hands on grant applications in 2013 from more than 30 of these state-level “think tanks,” not Idaho’s, however. The paper reported that “the documents … cast light on the nexus of funding arrangements behind radical rightwing campaigns. The State Policy Network (SPN) has members in each of the 50 states and an annual war chest of $83 million drawn from major corporate donors that include the energy tycoons the Koch brothers, the tobacco company Philip Morris, food giant Kraft and the multinational drugs company GlaxoSmithKline.”

Add to that list “the American taxpayer” who helped pay Wayne Hoffman’s salary in 2020 so he could work full time spreading lies about education and educators. It’s a pretty clever con, but it’s still a con.

After reviewing those grant applications, The Guardian concluded the state-level “think tanks” were involved in a “coordinated assault against public sector rights and services in the key areas of education, healthcare, income tax, workers’ compensation and the environment.”

Idaho policymakers are too often a little slow on the uptake, but these “conflict entrepreneurs” have once again exposed themselves for what they are: dishonest dividers with a nasty and ultimately destructive agenda for Idaho and every other state where they peddle their lies.

It’s way past time to give Hoffman and his cronies all the respect they deserve, which is zero.

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Additional Reading:

A few things I stumbled across this week…

‘A deranged pyroscape’: how fires across the world have grown weirder

Coming to a neighborhood near you.

“Australians call the event Black Saturday – a scorched hole in the national diary. There, it contends with Red Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Black Thursday, Black Friday and Black Sunday on Australia’s calendar of conflagration. But recently it has been surpassed – they all have – by the Black Summer, the cataclysmic 2019-20 fire season that killed hundreds with its smoke and burned an area the size of Ireland. A study estimated that the bushfires destroyed or displaced 3 billion animals; its stunned lead author couldn’t think of any fire worldwide that had killed nearly so many.”

A frightening straight up take on climate change and fire from The Guardian:


What is ‘legitimate political discourse,’ and does it include the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol?

Quite the moment in American political history when the national Republican Party proclaimed the January 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol “legitimate political discourse.”

“Legitimate political discourse…”

Here is a good backgrounder.

“Persuasion, even in its most vigorous and aggressive form, is an invitation. When a person seeks to persuade someone else to agree with their viewpoint or values, or to recall or ignore history in a particular way, the recipient may choose to go along, or not.

“Coercion, on the other hand, is a kind of force – a command, not an invitation. Coercion denies others the freedom to choose for themselves whether to agree or disagree. Coercion and violence are anti-democratic because they deny others their ability to consent. Violence and coercion are the very opposite of legitimate political discourse.”

From The Conversation:


What Will It Take to Resuscitate American Democracy?

Regular readers know that I worry a lot – a lot – about this.

“The alarm has been rung, and often enough. Any American who can read knows that democracy is in crisis. The US government increasingly struggles to fulfill its most basic tasks, like guaranteeing the debt, passing budgets or confirming the diplomatic corps. Meanwhile armed groups of insurrectionists, like the one that stormed the US Capitol just over a year ago, spread incoherence. Think tanks on the right and universities on the left still debate policies like the tax rate or parental leave but they’re playacting by this point, whether they know it or not. They distract themselves with antiquities while the temple collapses around their shoulders. The questions have become much more basic than abstruse policy. Will democracy survive? How to keep America’s institutions alive?”

Worth your time from Stephen Marche:


That’s it for this week. I’ll sit back and with for the attacks from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. In politics – or writing about politics – you are known by your enemies, as they say. Stay well. All the best.

Democracy, Trump

The Coming Reckoning . . .

Brace yourself.

In the next few months, perhaps even weeks, a former president of the United States is going to be indicted, charged with serious crimes that almost certainly will shake the fragile foundations of American democracy.

To date speculation about charges against Donald J. Trump, the 45th American president, have been largely taking place among legal and Constitutional scholars who watch every development as it unfolds amid the long threads of Trump’s legal exposure. But now the reality of what is likely to happen is increasingly in plain view. The man’s own words – Trump never hides what he’s really thinking or worried about – betray the peril he faces.

Former US President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a “Save America” rally in Conroe, Texas on January 29, 2022. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

Trump is committing a type of obstruction in public. During a typically rambling, grievance laced performance in Texas recently, the former president was clear about two things. He read these lines straight off the teleprompter.

“If these radical, vicious racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had … in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta, and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”

And this: “If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly,” Trump said, and then underscoring his intentions “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”

Will Bunch, a practiced Trump watcher who writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer, called it one of the “most incendiary and most dangerous speeches in America’s 246-year history.” He is not wrong.

In a few words, Trump was signaling again that those not cooperating with investigations into his incitement of an insurrectionist mob on January 6, people like former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, should hang tough. He’ll pardon them when he’s back in power. And that promise has particular influence. Trump’s done it before.

Even more astounding – and more dangerous – Trump is broadcasting to his most committed followers that any effort to hold him to account will be met by protests, and likely violence. There is simply no parallel in American history for a former president to behave in such a reckless, lawless fashion. This is not normal.

As Harry Litman, a former top Justice Department official and now a law professor, wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Under Justice Department prosecution standards, just the publicly available evidence is sufficient to bring an indictment against Trump for the federal crime of obstruction or impeding an official proceeding – in this case, Congress’ certification of a presidential election.”

Prosecutors in Georgia examining Trump’s efforts to intimidate that state’s election officials into “finding” the votes he needed to defeat Joe Biden immediately asked the FBI to assess the risks prosecutors face after Trump’s threat.  

Litman goes on: “The guideline for federal prosecutors specify that prosecutors ‘should’ generally commence prosecution if two circumstances exist: first, the person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense – i.e. the prosecutor has determined that the defendant really is guilty and the prosecution is righteous – and second, the admissible evidence will ‘probably be sufficient’ to convict.”

We also know from extensive reporting, including on the record interviews, that Trump was actively involved in not only the events of January 6, but efforts before the Capitol attack to change the outcome of the election. And that word “change” is important because Trump and his defenders have peddled the fiction that he was just buying time to “investigate” alleged election irregularities. The trouble for Trump is there are no irregularities. Sixty unsuccessful lawsuits drive that point home conclusively.

Still, he sought to “change” the outcome. Trump tried to find a rationale to seize voting machines in several states, even going so far as to flirt with the idea of using the U.S. military to do the deed. He failed only because subordinates refused to follow through.

Former attorney general William Barr, long-time a Trump enabler, acknowledged to ABC’s Jonathan Karl that he eventually reached even his breaking point and quit. “My attitude was:” Barr told Karl for his book Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show. “It was put-up or shut-up time. If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”

Former attorney general William Barr calls Trump allegations of election fraud “bullshit”

Meanwhile, New York state officials are continuing a separate and long-running investigation into the Trump family’s business activities. Who knows what else is yet to come?

Brace yourself.

When the indictments come, when the charges are filed, the former president has already indicated what he will do. He’ll rally his troops, including the various militia groups that provided the organizational and physical muscle for January 6. He will insist that he is above any accountability, that the American judicial process is “rigged” against him and that his most armed, angry and grievance driven supporters – his brown shirts – must save the country.

The most committed Trumpists are clearly aware of what is unfolding. It is hardly a secret. The vast majority of Americans however, content to feast on insignificance like Tom Brady’s retirement or the host of Jeopardy, seem unaware of the danger ahead. The big lies about the election, Trump’s bluster and an endless pandemic have numbed us and exhausted us. Jeffrey Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, says it well.

“I actually think the American public is dramatically underplaying how significant and dangerous this is,” Engel told the New York Times recently, “because we cannot process the basic truth of what we are learning about President Trump’s efforts – which is we’ve never had a president before who fundamentally placed his own personal interests above the nation’s.”

Trump has secured absolutely the leadership of the Republican Party. His most violent prone true believers are locked and loaded. The Vichy-like enablers who have refused at every step to denounce and isolate the cancer at the heart of their party won’t save us. They have had many, many chances. They lack the courage to defend democracy, let alone the rule of law.

Brace yourself.

The real Constitutional crisis is coming. To look on the bright side we will never before have seen what is going to happen. It is wholly unique. The dark side of this uniqueness is more difficult to comprehend.

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Additional Reading:

You may find these items of interest…

Liz Cheney, the GOP’s Unshakeable Gadfly

Fellow Wyoming Republicans have declared she is out of their party and the national party has moved to censure her, but the not-so-gentlewoman from the Cowboy State continues to display real grit and enormous political courage. Books will be written about Ms. Cheney. Whatever you think of her policy positions, she is a profile in courage.

From Washington Monthly: “Like many gadflies who have come before her, Cheney has a knack for calling out the failings of her peers. At times, she seems to relish her newfound role. In a recent interview, she said of [Republican leader Kevin] McCarthy, ‘I wish that he were a brave and honorable man.'”

Read the full piece:


The Marine Who Turned Against U.S. Empire

A good deal of buzz about Jonathan Katz’s new book – Gangsters of Capitalism – a biography, and more, of a mostly forgotten Marine Corps general with the near perfect name – Smedley Butler.

The new book by Jonathan M. Katz

Gangsters of Capitalism is not only a biography of Butler. The long-dead Marine also serves as Katz’s Virgil, leading him on a journey around the world and through the inferno of empire’s afterlife. Katz himself learned about Butler as a reporter for the Associated Press in Haiti. Based in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince during the earthquake in 2010, Katz reported on the disaster, which killed at least 100,000 people; he escaped from the house that served as the AP bureau not long before it collapsed. Haiti’s poverty—the starkest in the hemisphere—unquestionably compounded the natural disaster of the earthquake into a human tragedy. (Chile had a higher magnitude quake the same year, and the deaths numbered in the hundreds.)”

Good read here:


The Texas Electric Grid Failure Was a Warm-up

By the time you read this Texas may be in the middle of another failure of its electric grid. A severe winter storm is forecast for the state. When that happened last year, Senator Ted Cruz went to Cancun (briefly), while lots

of Texans shivered in the dark. It almost certainly will happen again.

“Nobody yet knew just how widespread the blackouts would become—that they would spread across almost the entire state, leave an unprecedented 11 million Texans freezing in the dark for as long as three days, and result in as many as seven hundred deaths. But neither could the governor, legislators, and regulators who are supposed to oversee the state’s electric grid claim to be surprised. They had been warned repeatedly, by experts and by previous calamities—including a major blackout in 2011—that the grid was uniquely vulnerable to cold weather.”

From Texas Monthly.


Dear Mr Joyce: an essay by Edna O’Brien

I celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses by the great Irish writer James Joyce by taking down my copy and looking at it. I’ve never gotten far reading it. I’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, enjoy this essay about Joyce, and maybe sip a cocktail in the old boy’s honor. I’m told his favorite (Michael Collins, too) was brandy and orange liqueur.

“In his youth [Joyce] was suspicious, contemptuous, unaccommodating. He saw his countrymen as being made up of yahoos, adulterous priests and sly deceitful women. He classed it as ‘the venereal condition of the Irish.’ Like the wild geese he had a mind to go elsewhere. He wanted to be continentalised. He liked the vineyards. He had a dream of Paris, and a craze for languages. In literature his heroes were Cardinal Newman and Henrik Ibsen.”

Enjoy. From The Guardian:


Be well. Be generous. All the best and thanks for reading.