‘We the People’ at heart of White House holiday decorations
Darlene Superville – November 28, 2022
WASHINGTON (AP) — “We the People” is Jill Biden’s holiday theme with White House decorations designed for “the people” to see themselves in the tree ornaments, mantel displays, mirrors and do-it-yourself creations that have turned the mansion’s public spaces into a winter wonderland.
“The soul of our nation is, and has always been, ‘We the People,’” the first lady said at a White House event honoring the volunteers who decorated over Thanksgiving weekend. “And that is what inspired this year’s White House holiday decoration.”
“The values that unite us can be found all around you, a belief in possibility and optimism and unity,” Jill Biden said. “Room by room, we represent what brings us together during the holidays and throughout the year.”
Public rooms are dedicated to unifying forces: honoring and remembering deceased loved ones, words and stories, kindness and gratitude, food and traditions, nature and recreation, songs and sounds, unity and hope, faith and light, and children.
A burst of pine aroma hits visitors as they step inside the East Wing and come upon trees adorned with mirrored Gold Star ornaments bearing the names of fallen service members.
Winter trees, woodland animals and glowing lanterns placed along the hallway help give the feeling of walking through snow.
Likenesses of Biden family pets — Commander and Willow, the dog and cat — first appear at the end of the hallway before they are seen later in the Vermeil Room, which celebrates kindness and gratitude, and the State Dining Room, which highlights children.
Recipes contributed by the small army of volunteer decorators spruce up the China Room’s mantel. Handwritten ones — for apple crisp and pizzelle, an Italian cookie — are family recipes shared by the first lady.
Aides say she was inspired by people she met while traveling around the country and by the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
A copy of the Declaration of Independence is on display in the library, while the always-show-stopping 300-pound (136 kilogram) gingerbread White House this year includes a sugar cookie replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where the documents were signed.
The executive pastry chef used 20 sheets of sugar cookie dough, 30 sheets of gingerbread dough, 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of pastillage, 30 pounds (14 kilograms) of chocolate and 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of royal icing to create the gingerbread and sugar cookie masterpiece.
A new addition to the White House collection this year is a menorah, which is lit nightly during the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah. White House carpenters built the menorah out of wood that was saved from a Truman-era renovation and sterling silver candle cups.
Some 50,000 visitors are expected to pass through the White House for the holidays, including tourists and guests invited to nearly a month’s worth of receptions. Among them will be French President Emmanuel Macron, who will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday and be honored at a state dinner, the first of the Biden administration.
More than 150 volunteers, including two of the first lady’s sisters, helped decorate the White House during the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
The decorations include more than 83,000 twinkling lights on trees, garlands, wreaths and other displays, 77 Christmas trees and 25 wreaths on the White House exterior. Volunteers also used more than 12,000 ornaments, just under 15,000 feet (4,500 meters) of ribbon and more than 1,600 bells.
Some of the decorations are do-it-yourself projects that the first lady hopes people will be encouraged to recreate for themselves, aides said. They include plastic drinking cups turned into bells and table-top Christmas trees made from foam shapes and dollar store ramekins.
Groupings of snowy trees fill corners of the East Room, which reflects nature and recreation, and scenes from four national parks are depicted on each fireplace mantel: Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah.
In the Blue Room, the official White House Christmas tree — an 18 1/2-foot (5.6-meter) Concolor fir from Auburn, Pennsylvania — is decorated to represent unity and hope with handmade renderings of the official birds from all 57 territories, states and the District of Columbia.
The State Dining Room is dedicated to the next generation — children — and its trees are decorated with self-portrait ornaments made by students of the 2021 Teachers of the Year, “ensuring that children see themselves” in the décor, the White House said.
Hanging from the fireplace in the State Dining Room are the Biden family Christmas stockings.
“We the People” are celebrated again in the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall on the State Floor, where metal ribbons are inscribed with the names of all the states, territories and the District of Columbia.
As part of Joining Forces, her White House initiative to support military families, Jill Biden was joined by National Guard leaders from across the country, as well as National Guard families. Her late son, Beau Biden, was a major in the Delaware Army National Guard.
She met before the event with children from National Guard families, telling them she wanted to hear their stories because “you have served right alongside of your parents and you deserve to have your courage, and your sacrifice, recognized, too.”
The White House noted that the holiday guide book given to visitors was designed by Daria Peoples, an African American children’s book author who lives in Las Vegas. Peoples is a former elementary school teacher who has written and illustrated a series of picture books to support children of color, including those who have experienced race-based trauma.
Former surgeon general faces his wife’s cancer – and the ‘Trump Effect’
Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post – November 25, 2022
Former surgeon general Jerome Adams and his wife, Lacey, often find themselves talking about what they have named the “Trump Effect.”
It followed them from Washington to their home in the Indianapolis suburbs. They felt it when he was exploring jobs in academia, where he would receive polite rejections from university officials who worried that someone who served in the administration of the former president would be badly received by their left-leaning student bodies. They felt it when corporations decided he was too tainted to employ.
Now, two years after Adams left office as only the 20th surgeon general in U.S. history, the couple feel it as acutely as ever. As Donald Trump announced this month that he will run for president again, they had hoped it all would have faded away by now.
They would rather talk about public health, in a very personal way. This summer, Lacey Adams was diagnosed with a third recurrence of melanoma. Both Adamses have been sharing her experiences on social media and in public appearances, hoping to spread a message about skin-cancer prevention. But the stigma of his association with Trump, even though neither of them is a supporter of his political campaign, remains.
Trump is “a force that really does take the air out of the room,” Adams, 48, said. “The Trump hangover is still impacting me in significant ways.” He said the 2024 Trump campaign “will make things more difficult for me.”
The former surgeon general’s predicament underscores one of the givens of today’s political environment: Association with Trump becomes a permanent tarnish, a kind of reverse Midas touch. Whether indicted or shunned or marginalized, a cavalcade of former Trump World figures have foundered in the aftermath of one of the more chaotic presidencies in modern American history.
Lacey saw it coming. She said she “hated Trump” and did not want her husband to leave his comfortable life in Indiana, where he practiced anesthesiology and served as state health commissioner under then-Indiana governor Mike Pence, who was Trump’s vice president when Jerome became surgeon general. Lacey, 46, worried about a lasting “stigma” but her husband talked her into supporting their move by saying he thought he could make a bigger difference inside the administration than outside it, especially when it came to his efforts to combat opioid addiction.
Now Jerome bristles at his forever label as “Trump’s surgeon general,” an image sealed by his highly public role during the much-criticized early White House response to the coronavirus pandemic. Other surgeons general, he feels, have been less intensely identified with the president who appointed them, permitting them to glide into a life of prestigious and sometimes lucrative opportunities, unencumbered by partisan politics.
Not him. “It was a lot harder than he thought to find a landing spot because of the Trump Effect,” Lacey said. For eight months after leaving office, Jerome could not find a job. The couple started to worry about how they would support their three children, especially since Lacey does not work outside the home.
“People still are afraid to touch anything that is associated with Trump,” Jerome said. Though he was quick to add in the interview that he is “not complaining.” He added, “It is context.”
Finally, in September 2021, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, a former Indiana governor and Republican stalwart, hired Adams as the first executive director of health equity initiatives at the school.
Even as Adams was seeking to define the next chapter of his life, he was engaged in an almost constant battle on social media. His frequent tweets about everything from his personal life to public health issues have invariably drawn attacks from both the right and the left. Rather than ignore his critics, he has often punched back, engaging in Twitter spats that stretch for days.
He has battled on social media over his recommendation that people continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, his criticism of President Biden’s declaration of an end to the pandemic and about his advocacy for coronavirus vaccinations for children and for adults to get booster shots. He takes heat from the left for a pro-life stance on abortion and from the right for his opposition to laws that dictate what a doctor can say to a patient about abortion.
“I get mad at him for being addicted to Twitter,” Lacey said. “People hated him because he was part of Trump’s administration. Now the Trump people hate him.”
Carrie Benton, an Ohio medical lab scientist who has tangled with Jerome Adams on social media, is critical of what she considers “blanket statements” he is now making about topics such as masking. But she also feels he should still be held accountable for errors committed by the Trump administration early in the pandemic.
The pushback has done little to dissuade Adams. He invites debate. He wants to argue, genially. He tries to search for ways to use his platform as a former surgeon general that do not turn into politically charged spats.
“It is hard to find an issue,” he said.
In August, an issue found him, and it was precisely the topic that he had hoped would not feel so personal anymore. During a routine follow-up check, doctors discovered tumors on the outside of Lacey’s right thigh.
“Here we go again,” Lacey said to herself.
She had first been diagnosed with melanoma 12 years ago, in 2010, when she spotted a “weird mole.” She had it removed. She thought she was in the clear.
“No big deal,” she said.
As an adolescent growing up in the Midwest, she had been a frequent visitor to tanning beds. She did not worry much about the sun, even though she is very light-skinned. After having the mole removed, she changed her ways. Sunscreen. Long sleeves. She joked that her mother would chase her around with floppy hats. She started getting regular dermatology checks. It was all good. Until it was not.
In early 2018, just as her anesthesiologist husband was starting as surgeon general under Trump, she noticed lumps on her groin while shaving her bikini line. The doctor in her house, newly minted as America’s doctor, was constantly on the go as he sought to get a grasp on his job, serving as a public health advocate and overseeing thousands of members of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “The doctor in my house is my absent-minded professor, always running in 100 directions,” she said.
So Lacey called the doctor next door: her neighbor in Indiana and dear friend, Amy Hoffman, an emergency room physician. When Hoffman realized why her friend was calling, she put her on the speakerphone, so that her husband, an oncologist, could listen in.
He just had one question: Was it on the same side as the melanoma from years earlier? Yes, she said. She could hear the worry in their voices.
“Stop unpacking,” she said they told her. “Stop going to fancy events with your husband. You need to make this a priority.”
She was soon ushered into a special area of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center reserved for high-ranking officials and their families. She was given a fuzzy robe with an embroidered White House logo.
“All of a sudden it is like you are in the Ritz-Carlton,” she recalled, and asked herself, “Why am I deserving of this special attention?”
A scan showed a tumor somewhere between the size of a pea and a grape. She needed to have surgery. Doctors eventually removed 12 lymph nodes, some of which were cancerous. While she was recovering from surgery, still groggy from the anesthesia, her husband came into the room with a request that was hard for her to comprehend through the fog of the drugs: He wanted her Facebook password.
She had taken a selfie at the medical center and posted it to her Facebook page, and she also took a little dig at the administration. The White House was not happy, he told her. They wanted it taken down.
In the months to come, she would again think she had beaten cancer. She underwent a year of immunotherapy treatments. She rang the bell, a tradition among cancer patients completing treatments, at Walter Reed after scans showed she was cancer free.
“Cancer, schmancer,” she thought.
There were other things to worry about. Her husband had come to Washington hoping to focus on opioid addiction, a plague that had hit members of his family. Instead, he was thrust into a much more public role with the arrival of the coronavirus. As the Trump administration struggled with effective responses, the new surgeon general kept setting off firestorms.
He shared a Valentine’s Day poem on social media that said the regular flu was a greater risk than covid and urged people to get flu shots. He told African Americans, who were contracting the coronavirus in disproportionate numbers, to take precautions to protect their “Big Mama.”
In each instance, he fumbled the messaging, making incomplete or poorly explained statements. He asked people not to buy masks because there was a shortage. He said people were at a greater risk of catching the regular flu than covid because projections by the Trump administration, later shown to be inaccurate, suggested more people would get the regular flu.
He used the words “Big Mama,” which led to accusations that he was using Trump-style racist dog whistles, because it was a term of affection in his own family that he thought would help him connect with African Americans.
Those missteps, which Adams has blamed on a partisan atmosphere, drew heavy criticism, which might be expected. What he had not anticipated was how people would come for his loved ones. On social media, trolls called his family ugly. They criticized Adams, who is Black, for marrying a White woman.
While her husband was trying to fend off critics and nasty commenters by sharpening his messaging, Lacey, like many Americans, was putting off medical appointments while limiting her movements because of the risk of contracting the coronavirus. She had a clear scan in January 2020. It was not until July that year that she returned for another scan. It revealed a tumor on her back.
The cancer had returned for a second round: This time it was Stage 4. She started immunotherapy. And again she beat it. For two years she passed routine scans, with good results. Then, this past summer, came the tests that revealed the cancer had returned. His wife cries herself to sleep some nights. He marvels at her resilience.
She has been speaking and writing about the disease that lurks inside her and threatens to deprive her of so many things she looks forward to, like the days her children, now 18, 16 and 12, graduate or get married.
Some days she is too ill from side effects of her treatments to do much. But other times she is full of energy and ready to go. People might look at her and not know she is sick, and that is one of her points: Melanoma is a stealthy disease, the doctors keep telling her. It can hide inside people without any outward signs. She had once had a mole, but other times nothing showed up on her skin. The disease was hiding from her.
She understands that she has been given a platform few have. No one would be listening to a mom from Indiana if she were not the wife of the former surgeon general.
The other day, her husband asked if he could post a photo of her on Twitter. She said for him to go ahead. It showed her in profile, lying in bed with the covers partly obscuring her face, on a day when she was not feeling great. He asked for prayers, but he also gave some advice: “See a dermatologist right away if a mole changes/looks different from your others!”
What happened next was nothing short of amazing to them. People wished the best for Lacey even though they were not fans of Jerome: “I don’t agree with your politics. God bless your sweet wife.” “I’m sorry your wife has cancer, even though I completely disagree with some of your decisions.”
Some people even wanted advice. “Should we worry about a single mole or look for odd shapes and changes in several?” That person did not mention Trump at all. That might be a person they could help. That might be, they dared to imagine, the end of the Trump Effect, and the beginning of a Lacey Effect.
Sandy Hook families sued Alex Jones. Then he started moving money around.
Jonathan O’Connell, The Washington Post – November 21, 2022
Alex Jones was losing in court.
Parents of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School had sued him and his media company for defamation after he repeatedly claimed the 2012 massacre in Connecticut was a hoax. Fans of the Infowars host had harassed and threatened grieving families. By the summer of 2020, two of the lawsuits weren’t going his way.
As the potential for damages mounted, Jones began moving millions of dollars out of his company, Free Speech Systems, and into companies controlled by himself, friends or relatives, according to a Washington Post review of financial statements, depositions and other court records. The transfers potentially put those funds out of reach of the Sandy Hook plaintiffs.
Between August 2020 and November 2021, Free Speech Systems signed promissory notes – essentially IOUs – for $55 million to cover what it said were past debts to a company called PQPR Holdings that Jones owns with his parents, according to financial records filed in court by Jones’s attorneys. PQPR, which is managed by Jones’s father, a dentist, had bought tens of millions of dollars in supplements for Jones that he then sold on his show, the records say. A lawyer for Free Speech systems has said in court that the debt accrued unnoticed due to sloppy bookkeeping.
This year, Jones started paying his personal trainer $100,000 a week to help ship supplements and other merchandise, a Free Speech Systems attorney said in court. A company managed by Jones’s sister and listed as a “supplier or vendor” was paid $240,000, financial records show.
Courts have awarded the Sandy Hook families nearly $1.5 billion in damages against Jones, including $45.2 million in a Texas case in August and $965 million in a Connecticut case two months later. On Nov. 10, the judge in the Connecticut case ordered Jones to pay an additional $473 million in punitive damages, including $323 million for legal fees. Jones has said on his show that he plans to appeal.
The IOUs and other recent transactions helped tip Free Speech Systems into bankruptcy in July, according to Jones’s court filings. An accountant hired by Jones calculated that Free Speech Systems had $79 million in liabilities at the end of May and only $14 million in assets, court records show. As a result, the Sandy Hook families could be left vying with other creditors – including the companies tied to Jones himself – to collect.
The bankruptcy court will ultimately determine which creditors are paid and how much. It is examining whether the promissory notes to PQPR and other transactions are legitimate. Attorneys for PQPR have argued in court that it should be paid before unsecured creditors, a category that would include the Sandy Hook plaintiffs.
Attorneys for the Sandy Hook families contend in a separate suit filed in April in Texas state court that PQPR is “not actually an independent business” and that Jones has engaged in fraudulent transfers to shield his wealth. They have argued in bankruptcy court that Jones began moving money out of Free Speech Systems only after he began to face legal setbacks in the defamation cases.
“In the middle of this lawsuit, they started documenting debts that had no evidence of existing beforehand,” Sandy Hook attorney Avi Berkowitz said in an interview.
A Justice Department trustee whose role in the bankruptcy case is to ensure the integrity of the process also has criticized the agreement to pay PQPR. “We, the U.S. Trustee, we do have concerns with the underlying transaction,” attorney Ha Nguyen told the court, according to a transcript. An agency spokeswoman declined to comment.
Alex Jones, his personal attorney, and attorneys for Free Speech Systems and PQPR did not respond to requests for comment or to detailed lists of questions from The Post. David Jones, Alex Jones’s father, and an attorney representing him also did not respond to requests for comment.
Jones and his father have said in court proceedings that PQPR was created in 2013 for liability protection as Jones got into the supplement business and as his father took on a management role. The accountant hired by Jones told the bankruptcy court that PQPR was a legitimate business that shared responsibility with Jones’s main company for “setting up supply chains, obtaining required governmental certifications, negotiating with vendors, procuring and paying for product, and overhead.”
Raymond Battaglia, a lawyer for Free Speech Systems, has said that as the Infowars brand ballooned, and millions of dollars poured in, the family-run business never adopted “appropriate management and accounting controls,” and so it failed to note the debt that had built up to PQPR.
“This is kind of like the garage band that became the boy band overnight, and had his girlfriend running the books, and the head roadie being the business manager,” Battaglia said in August in the bankruptcy case.
On their own, the corporate structures were not unusual, said bankruptcy experts. Many small-business owners create separate but related entities to organize and protect their wealth. Experts say the fact that the entities do not have any employees, offices or owners other than Jones and his parents does not mean they are not legitimate businesses.
The issue, said Jay L. Westbrook, a University of Texas bankruptcy law professor, is whether the court rules the transfers of wealth were made in the ordinary course of business. “At the end the of the day, the question is whether these are valid payments,” Westbrook said.
The Post examined financial records, depositions and other documents from the court cases to trace the flows of money around Free Speech Systems and establish the ownership of the other companies that were involved. The analysis shows that the transfers echoed financial moves Jones made almost a decade earlier, when divorce proceedings jeopardized his fortune, according to sealed court records from the divorce case obtained by The Post.
Infowars has made Jones a wealthy man, to a degree that has become apparent only because of the Sandy Hook litigation. In August testimony, an expert hired by the Sandy Hook families estimated Jones’s net worth at between $135 million and $270 million. Jones has disputed the plaintiffs’ estimations of his wealth.
“I don’t have all this money they’ve made up,” he said recently.
The supplement business tied to PQPR is the engine of Jones’s fortune, according to financial records Jones submitted in bankruptcy, often generating 2,000 to 3,000 orders a day, according to court testimony. Among the offerings are Survival Shield X-3 iodine spray, DNA Force Plus capsules and Super Male Vitality dietary supplement.
Of the $65 million in income Free Speech Systems had in 2021, the vast majority came from supplement sales, according to those records.
Berkowitz said his clients may be willing to settle with Jones for less money if it meant Jones would end his broadcasting career.
“If he wants to agree to some sort of terms that hold him accountable for all he’s done, we’ll be open to listening,” Berkowitz said. “Whether that means walking away from public life, to paying Sandy Hook families in full, the Sandy Hook families are not going to stop until Jones is held accountable.”
Jones, 48, has said he will keep fighting no matter what.
“They want us off air, that’s their goal,” he said during one show last month. “You’ve got my commitment. I’m not backing down.”
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Jones grew up in Texas, first in Dallas and then in Austin. He has said his early thinking was shaped when, as a high school student, he read the book “None Dare Call it a Conspiracy” by a member of the far-right John Birch Society. Jones was 19 in 1993 when federal agents raided the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco, north of Austin, leading to a prolonged standoff that ended with 76 dead. He went to Austin Community College for a time but left after growing bored, he told the Austin-American Statesman.
He told the newspaper that his anger toward big government stemmed from problems his father and his grandparents had with the IRS. “That’s where the venom comes from with me,” he said.
Jones started his broadcasting career with a public access TV show in Austin in the early 1990s. Several years later, a local FM radio station gave him a show after his father agreed to sponsor it, according to an accounting expert Jones hired in bankruptcy filings.
By the late 1990s, dozens of stations nationwide carried his show.
On air, Jones called the Branch Davidians victims of “a government coverup of its violation of the First Amendment,” and he asked listeners to send donations to help the sect build a new church and memorial. He wore a pin to the 1999 groundbreaking that said “You burn it, we build it,” according to the Associated Press. He was 25.
Jones railed against the government, the media and what he called the New World Order. He claimed that major world events were not what they seemed – and often that they were manufactured crises, staged to serve as pretexts to accomplish the goals of a secret cabal of globalists and multinational corporations.
In 1999, Jones registered the site infowars.com. As the internet era took off, he launched a subscription-only streaming video service and began selling videos, books and T-shirts, according to bankruptcy records. In 2007 he incorporated Free Speech Systems and created a series of other companies that held intellectual property and film rights, splitting ownership with his then-wife, Kelly, whom he had met at the public access station.
According to records obtained by The Post, in 2009 Free Speech Systems took in $6.2 million in revenue, including $2.6 million in merchandise sales, $1.6 million in advertising and $1.2 million from his streaming video site.
A few years later, Jones’s business was booming, but his marriage was failing.
In the fall of 2013 – two months before Kelly filed for divorce – Jones and his father created a series of companies, including PQPR, which they said in depositions were aimed at protecting Jones from legal liability as he grew his business. PQPR was owned by two other companies, which in turn were owned by Jones or his parents, a representative of Free Speech Systems said in a deposition filed in the bankruptcy case.
PQPR was worth $4.4 million in 2014, according to an accountant Jones hired in the divorce case, records show. Accountants working for Kelly Jones said it was worth as much as $6.2 million.
Alex Jones recounted during a June deposition in one of the defamation cases that they created the companies after he spoke with attorneys familiar with the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency that regulates dietary supplements. “For liability protection issues, you know, it’s good to have a separate company that then does all of the compliance, buys the products, does all of that,” he said.
Jones’s father said in a deposition filed in the divorce case that Jones recruited him to leave dentistry in order to help professionalize operations and protect the company from liability. “He wanted to be sure that the entities that had been created were up and running properly, that they were legally constituted, that they were doing business as they were supposed to do,” he said, according to a court transcript.
Jones’s ex-wife has alleged that he created the companies as the couple was headed to divorce in order to protect his money, much as the Sandy Hook plaintiffs now accuse him. “Our marriage was absolutely terrible at that time. We were in negotiations for us to break up,” she said in an interview with The Post. “So he did that to hide his assets for when we broke up.”
Records from the divorce case are sealed. It was not clear from the documents obtained by The Post if the court ever directly examined that allegation.
Before the divorce, Kelly was part owner of the main Infowars company and several original affiliates, holding stakes ranging from 49.5 percent to 51 percent, according to records from the divorce case. A 2015 divorce rendition grants her no interest in PQPR or in what were then the newly created companies. Her name does not appear on any of their registration documents.
Those companies all have a stake in Jones’s biggest revenue source: The supplements that he promotes as a way for viewers to improve their health and keep his show running. The supplement sales dramatically boosted his business, according to bankruptcy filings and former employees.
The profit margin on supplements ranges from between three and five times their cost, far more than most of the products he sells, according to the filings. Free Speech Systems often collects $70 million to $80 million annually, according to the accounting expert Jones hired, and it took in more than $500 million in revenue from 2012 to 2022.
Josh Owens, who worked as a video editor at Infowars from 2013 to 2017, said he helped Jones with his first advertisement for an iodine supplement. “Everything changed after that,” he said. “It snowballed after that. It was pretty quickly creating new products, selling new products.”
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In 2018, three years after his divorce was finalized, Sandy Hook families filed a series of lawsuits against Jones. They recounted how he had claimed that the parents were “crisis actors” and that the event was staged to further gun-control efforts.
Jones sought to have the cases thrown out. The day before an appeals court rejected his motion to have one of the cases dismissed, Jones signed a promissory note to PQPR for $29.6 million on Aug. 13, 2020. He also agreed to provide all of his company’s assets and revenue as collateral for the debt to PQPR, according to a contract Jones and his father signed.
On Sept. 27, 2021, a trial court in Texas ruled that Jones had violated the rules of the discovery process by failing to turn records over to the plaintiffs. Four days later, Jones signed an agreement to send PQPR $11,000 per day to cover the alleged debt outlined in the promissory note. On Nov. 10, Jones signed a secondary promissory note saying, in effect, that he had discovered another unpaid debt to PQPR, this time for $25.3 million.
Jones was also taking money out of the company for himself, records from the court cases show. By the end of 2021, he had withdrawn $61.9 million, according to the records. Jones’s attorneys have said in court that the withdrawals occurred over 15 years, and that half that amount was used to pay taxes. The plaintiffs’ attorneys have suggested the withdrawals may have been meant to prevent Sandy Hook families from accessing the money.
In February of this year, Jones transferred ownership of his Austin home – appraised at $2.8 million – into his wife’s name, according to county property records.
His personal trainer, Patrick Riley, in March created a logistics company, Blue Asension Logistics, to pack and ship supplements and other merchandise ordered by Infowars fans. The company hired nearly all of its employees from Infowars and uses the same Infowars warehouse, rent-free, to fulfill the orders, according to Riley’s testimony in the bankruptcy case. Jones agreed to pay him $400,000 upfront and then $105,000 per week, according to bankruptcy records.
Riley did not respond to voice mails seeking comment. He testified that he is the sole owner of the company.
An attorney for the Sandy Hook families, Marty Brimmage, said “this is not an arms-length transaction,” during an Aug. 12 hearing. “It isn’t even close.”
Battaglia argued that, while Riley may be friends with Jones, his business was independent. “Does Mr. Riley have a relationship with Mr. Jones? Absolutely. Is he an insider? No,” Battaglia said in the hearing.
In May and June, Free Speech Systems made six payments totaling $240,000 to a company managed by Jones’s sister, Marleigh Jones Rivera, according to bankruptcy records. The records do not specify who owns the company or the nature of its business.
Marleigh Jones Rivera did not respond to requests for comment.
On Nov. 10, the Connecticut judge temporarily blocked Jones from accessing the company’s money beyond what he needs for “ordinary expenses.”
The bankruptcy judge in Texas, Christopher M. Lopez, is expected to determine whether Jones engaged in fraudulent tactics designed to wall off assets from creditors. If the court finds that he did, the money that has been paid out or committed as debt could be divvied among creditors, said Georgetown University law professor Adam J. Levitin, an expert in corporate bankruptcy.
Levitin said the most likely scenario may be that Free Speech Systems chooses to liquidate, which would likely mean Jones forgoing the rights to all his films, brands and intellectual property, the Infowars name included. “There is nothing beyond a real Hail Mary route for him to avoid liability at this point,” he said.
In one of the defamation courts, Jones apologized to the Sandy Hook families and said he now believes the killings did occur. On his show, he remains defiant.
“I don’t lose sleep at night about giving them a billion dollars,” he said at a news conference he held in Connecticut in October. “They just misrepresent how much money I have. It’s a total fraud.”
This Week, Billionaires Made a Strong Case for Abolishing Themselves
Guest Essay By Anand Giridharadas – November 20, 2022
Mr. Giridharadas is the author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” and other books.
In recent years, a swelling chorus of Americans has grown critical of the nation’s bajillionaires. But in the extraordinary week gone by, that chorus was drowned out by a far louder and more urgent case against them. It was made by the bajillionaires themselves.
One after another, four of our best-known billionaires laid waste to the image of benevolent saviors carefully cultivated by their class.
It is a commendable sacrifice on their part, because billionaires, remember, exist at our collective pleasure. If enough of us decided to, we could enact labor, tax, antitrust and regulatory policies to make it hard for anyone to amass that much wealth while so many beg for scraps. It is not only the vast political power of billionaires that keeps us keeping them around, it’s also the popular embrace of certain myths — about the generosity, the genius, the renegade spirit, the above-it-ness of billionaires, to name a few.
As of this writing, Elon Musk is running Twitter into the ground, with much of the company’s staff fired or quitting, outages spiking and everyone on my timeline hurrying to tell the app the things they have been meaning to say before it departs for app heaven (or hell?).
In tweeting through one of the most extraordinary corporate meltdowns in history, Mr. Musk has been performing a vital public service: shredding the myth of the billionaire genius.
His particular pretension of benevolence is that his uncontainable genius can solve any challenge. Now he is lavishing his mind and time on electronic money, now on colonizing Mars, now on electric cars and solar panels, now on saving Thai soccer players trapped in a cave, now on liberating speech from its liberal oppressors.
Mr. Musk’s genius pose has long been undermined by his actual record, which is defined by claiming credit for what others have built and is shot through with complaints of discrimination, mismanagement and fraud.
But it wasn’t until Mr. Musk took over Twitter that his claim of infinitely transferable genius truly fell apart. That what Mr. Musk has called the global town square can be eviscerated in a time period somewhere between a Scaramucci and a Truss makes one wonder if we should be more skeptical of all the other billionaire geniuses with ideas for our schools, public health systems and politics.
For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who this week was doing his part to undermine another pretension of billionaire benevolence: the generosity pose.
On Monday, he made a big splash when CNN released an interview in which he announced that he was giving the great bulk of his more than $120 billion fortune away, with a focus on fighting climate change and promoting unity.
That sure sounds impressive, but his gesture wasn’t about generosity any more than Herschel Walker’s Senate candidacy in Georgia is for the children. After all, the money Mr. Bezos is now so magnanimously distributing was made through his dehumanizing labor practices, his tax avoidance, his influence peddling, his monopolistic power and other tactics that make him a cause of the problems of modern American life rather than a swashbuckling solution.
It’s too soon to tell if Mr. Bezos’s philanthropy will help others, but what’s certain is that it will help Mr. Bezos a lot. Mega-philanthropists of his ilk tend to give through foundations, which they establish in ways that save them an immense amount in taxes, sometimes merely by moving the money from one of their own accounts to another. Giving will also burnish Mr. Bezos’s reputation, in that way preserving and protecting his opportunity to earn yet more money — and to do more social damage.
And it will increase his already gigantic power over public life. For plutocrats like Mr. Bezos, that may be the biggest payoff of all. Their wealth is so vast that by distributing even a small fraction of it, they skew the public agenda toward the kind of social change they can stomach — the kind that doesn’t threaten them or their class. Shortly before his big announcement, Mr. Bezos gave Dolly Parton a $100 million “Courage and Civility Award” to spend on her chosen causes. Ms. Parton is indeed courageous and civil, but so are the workers fighting to unionize Amazon facilities, and I don’t see anyone offering them nine-digit thank-you bonuses.
But once again, instead of the usual critics having to make this case, this week Mr. Bezos took the wheel. Just minutes after his philanthropy announcement on CNN, news broke that Amazon would be laying off thousands of workers, reminding everyone of what was really going on.
At first glance, the two stories might seem like matter and antimatter, or at least two opposite realities. But they are the same story: The system that treats human beings as disposable commodities upholds and reproduces itself by sprinkling some fairy dust and hoping that we will forget the injustice that paid for it.
Then, of course, there was Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced crypto kingpin whose spectacular downfall, along with that of FTX, the company he founded, caused $32 billion to disappear, much of it belonging to hundreds of thousands of regular people.
Mr. Bankman-Fried embodies another pretension of plutocratic benevolence: that of the renegade, the people’s billionaire. Like many others, he hawked cryptocurrency as a fight against the establishment, against the big banks, against the powers that be, man. He has said his work was motivated by the ideals of effective altruism, a trendy school of thought that encourages people to go out and make as big a heap of money as they can so that they can use it to heal the world. But, as he admitted in an interview this week with Kelsey Piper of Vox, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s claims about the ethical nature of his pursuit were an example of “this dumb game we woke Westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us.”
Finally, of course, this week there was Donald Trump (because let’s face it, there’s always Donald Trump), who has incarnated the most dangerous billionaire pretension of all: that of the hero who in all the world is the only one who can save us. He gamed the system so effectively that only he knows how to un-game it; he manipulated politicians so much that only he knows how to drain the swamp; he amassed so much money that only he is above corruption.
On Tuesday night he addressed a crowded room at Mar-a-Lago and, as expected, announced that he was going to run for president again. He said the usual things that politicians are supposed to say, about how he was doing it for America’s benefit. But this time it was no longer possible to imagine that even he believed it. After all, only a week had passed since America had voted in the midterm elections and rejected most of the high-profile candidates he endorsed — in the process, even Republican commentators agree, rejecting him. He dragged the party down so far that it did not regain the Senate and only barely regained the House.
Fearing even more disastrous outcomes, trusted advisers and allies encouraged him not to run again, or at least to delay his announcement. But they were wasting their time. Standing up there onstage, so low-energy that even Jeb Bush’s son felt compelled to comment, Mr. Trump took in the applause but offered no new ideas or directions. It was a variant of the performance that the others had been putting on, but with one crucial difference: Unlike Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos and Mr. Bankman-Fried, who strain to show us how public-spirited they are, Mr. Trump could hardly be bothered to care.
It was a particularly unsubtle reminder that billionaires are not our saviors. They are our mistake.
Bio of Polish statesman holds lessons on today’s Ukraine
John Daniszewski – November 18, 2022
NEW YORK (AP) — One hundred years ago, a revolutionary Polish patriot argued that Russia’s hunger for territory would continue to destabilize Europe unless Ukraine could gain independence from Moscow.
Poland’s Marshal Józef Piłsudski never managed to fulfil his hope for an independent Ukraine connected to Europe. But the farsighted and analytical statesman did manage to wrest his own homeland from the grip of czarism and from two other powers, Austria and Prussia.
At a time when many Poles had given up on the dream for full independence, Piłsudski put a sovereign Polish state back on the map of Europe at the end of World War I, after more than a century’s erasure.
Piłsudski’s story, complete with flaws, accomplishments and echoes of today’s war in Ukraine, is brought to life in a recent biography, “Józef Piłsudski Founding Father of Modern Poland,” by Joshua D. Zimmerman, a professor of Holocaust Studies and eastern European history at New York’s Yeshiva University. The book, published by Harvard University Press, also reexamines Piłsudski’s relationship to Ukraine.
Thickly mustached, with heavy brows and a hawk-like visage, Piłsudski lived modestly and inspired his troops by leading them in battle. He was celebrated at home and abroad in his day, but his memory outside of Poland has faded.
After proclaiming a new Polish republic, Piłsudski and his legionnaires fought a series of wars to define, secure and defend its borders, culminating with his greatest victory: turning back a Bolshevik army in 1920 that was threatening to drive all the way to Berlin and carry a Communist revolution to the heart of industrial Europe.
Before that battle, known as the “Miracle on the Vistula,” Piłsudski’s forces had marched deep into Ukraine and occupied Kyiv in an alliance with nationalist leader Symon Petliura, who also was fighting the Bolsheviks, amid Ukraine’s short-lived independence in 1918-21.
As Zimmerman recounts, Piłsudski had a vision of a multilingual and multiethnic Poland that respected the rights of minorities, especially Jews. That earned him the enmity of nationalists who wanted a Poland run for ethnic Poles.
After World War I, Piłsudski hoped Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine could form an alliance to counter Russia in the style of the Polish-Lithuanian union that existed for centuries prior to 1795. But Ukrainians and Lithuanians were wary of Polish claims on their territories, and Pilsudski’s vision of an anti-Russian alliance never became reality.
In language that might be applied to today’s discourse, Piłsudski conceived of a sovereign Ukraine not merely to prevent Russian aggression but as an outpost of Western liberal democracy.
“There can be no independent Poland,” he is quoted as saying in 1919, “without an independent Ukraine.”
Piłsudski launched a military campaign in 1920 to support Ukrainian nationalists against Bolshevik rule, an action condemned by some as an overreach. Zimmerman believed he had a rationale that echoes today, when Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic countries, as well as Finland and Sweden, feel that Russia under President Vladimir Putin must be contained.
On May 7, 1920, Piłsudski’s cavalry entered Kyiv, followed by Polish and Ukrainian infantry. At the peak of his Ukrainian campaign, he ordered his commanders to withdraw “as soon as possible” in order to establish friendly relations with the new Ukrainian state. according to Zimmerman.
“My view is that he clearly championed an independent Ukraine, one that would be a democratic outpost on Russia’s border, a buffer between Russia and the West, but also a staunch Polish ally that shared Piłsudski’s democratic values and the values of at least his followers,” the author said.
Poland and Lithuania — two countries that emerged from Soviet rule — are among Ukraine’s strongest diplomatic champions against Putin’s Russia.
Zimmerman’s book makes a balanced and “significant contribution” to the understanding of Piłsudski, said Michael Fleming, a historian and director of the Institute of European Culture at the Polish University Abroad in London.
“Pilsudski was well aware of the challenges posed by Poland’s geography and concluded that an independent Ukraine would share Poland’s interest in limiting Russia’s expansionist tendencies,” Fleming said by email. “At the same time, however, it is important to remember that western Galicia (including Lviv) was much contested” between Poles and Ukrainians.
Indeed Polish and Ukrainian nationalists clashed in the early 1900s and again during and after World War II, and some ethnic animosities have lingered.
During Russia’s civil war between the Red Army and the anti-Bolshevik White Army, Pilsudski resisted pleas for Poland to help the Whites. No matter who won, he believed, Russia would remain “fiercely imperialistic.”
There was little to gain from negotiations because “we cannot believe anything Russia promises,” Piłsudski is quoted as saying.
Piłsudski, born in 1867 and raised in present-day Lithuania, was steeped in the romanticism of Polish independence. He acquired a burning hatred of czarist authority that held Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine in its grip, and he and his brother were implicated in a plot to assassinate the czar and imprisoned.
Zimmerman traces how, upon his release, Piłsudski became the leading activist of the banned Polish Socialist Party, published its newspaper for years, made a daring escape from a second Russian imprisonment after he was caught — by pretending to be insane — and then turned to creating a military force in Austrian-ruled Poland that eventually fought against Russia during World War I.
Although they fought under Austria and Germany, Piłsudski’s insistence on Polish independence ultimately led to his imprisonment by the Germans, a sacrifice that enhanced his legend among his fellow Poles. Upon his release, he was acclaimed the country’s leader and the de facto founder of modern Poland on Nov. 11, 1918, now celebrated as Polish independence day.
After Poland’s borders were secured and a civil government established, Piłsudski mostly stepped back from public life. But after several years, he followed with his own turn to strongman rule.
Concerned that a democratic Poland was slipping away and disgusted by 13 failed Polish governments, he led a 1926 military putsch to restore order. After imposing a system of “managed” democracy and soft dictatorship, Piłsudski’s final years were burdened by declining health and growing worries about how to position Poland between a rising Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany.
Zimmerman captures the difficulties of knitting together Poland and details its conflicts, including pogroms against Jews by some of Piłsudski’s troops. Yet he views Pilsudski as a defender of Jews and pluralism.
The author makes the case that Piłsudski, although flawed, possessed the judgment and skills to defend Poland’s interests. His death in 1935 left Poland with a vacuum in leadership, unable to stave off the German and Soviet invasions of 1939.
Yet Piłsudski’s creation of an independent Poland after World War I helped ensure that when World War II ended and Soviet rule receded, there would be no question that an independent Poland would reemerge.
John Daniszewski, editor-at-large for standards and former senior managing editor for international news at The Associated Press, is a former Warsaw correspondent.
With new standards draft, critics say Virginia’s Youngkin wants to rewrite history
Marquise Francis, National Reporter – November 18, 2022
A number of cultural groups, historians and Virginia residents are sounding the alarm about historical inaccuracies and oversights in the latest draft of history standards for K-12 education in the state proposed last week by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Chief among their frustrations is the draft’s omission of teaching about the ongoing legacy of slavery and the Civil War in Virginia today, as well as LGBTQ history. Critics believe this shows that the governor is using his political power to rewrite history and downplay unsavory episodes in American history.
“The Youngkin administration is proposing revised standards that are racist and factually incorrect,” James J. Fedderman, president of the Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, told Yahoo News. “This attack on these standards continues to be a divisive approach to put parents against teachers and to put teachers against parents.”
Last week’s draft, which has since been slightly revised, removed mention of Martin Luther King Jr. Day from the K-5 standards and made no mention of Juneteenth. Both have since been restored to the draft.
Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said the omissions were unintentional.
“The August draft included the broad standards and much more granular curriculum frameworks for each grade level and course,” Pyle told Yahoo News in an email. “Much of the recent public comment has centered on content that is still in the draft curriculum frameworks.”
The latest draft put forth by the Virginia DOE contains a bevy of changes from a draft it released in July, written largely by the Democratic administration of then-Gov. Ralph Northam. The Northam administration’s draft standard attempted to include a full breadth of history that included eras in which racism and slavery were widely accepted and antisemitism and homophobia were rampant in American society. Youngkin’s proposed rewrite seeks to downplay the role of bigotry in U.S. history.
Words like “Nazis” and “Final Solution,” which are essential to understanding the Holocaust, are omitted in the latest version. Inaccuracies include a statement saying that Virginia’s capital was relocated from Jamestown to Williamsburg during the Revolutionary War, when it was in fact relocated to Richmond.
The draft also states that the last U.S. president from Virginia was Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, not Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912. Wilson was born and raised in Virginia, though he served as governor of New Jersey before becoming U.S. president.
In August, the Virginia Board of Education was originally scheduled to vote on the recommended guidelines, which would have been the standards put together by the Northam administration. The decision was delayed after state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow urged the board to give Youngkin’s five newly appointed board members additional time to review the documents.
Under Virginia law, history standards are required to be updated every seven years; the last time they were updated was 2015. They set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social sciences statewide, which are eventually assessed through various tests.
The sweeping changes in this latest draft come less than 60 days after the department announced that it did not anticipate “any major changes or deletions of content” to a previous draft under Northam.
The original document under Northam was developed over nearly two years of consultation with a team of historians, professors, parents, students and museums, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Fedderman said the original version went through more than 400 experts, who devoted thousands of hours of their time on the standards, and he lamented that their work is now being “discredited” and “thrown out.”
“Gov. Youngkin continues to say, ‘We want to hear from parents.’ Well, there are educators who are parents,” Fedderman said, adding that he did not know why there had been no collaboration with his union.
“There’s never been a decision that has been made that impacted children and public education, the teaching profession, without the Virginia Education Association being consulted,” he said. “Whether they took our advice or not, we were always consulted, there was always a discussion.”
The process that was followed for the latest document proposed by the Youngkin administration is unclear. The DOE did not provide answers to a direct question on the process posed by Yahoo News.
But Balow, the state superintendent, has publicly acknowledged seeking consultation with the Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy think tank, and Michigan’s Hillsdale College, which played an instrumental role in the drafting of the “1776 Report” on U.S. history commissioned by then-President Donald Trump. That report sought to promote a “patriotic education” about race and the birth of the nation, a direct counter to the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning report on the major role of slavery in the founding of the United States. The “1776 Report” was widely condemned by groups like the American Historical Association for being “written hastily in one month after two desultory and tendentious ‘hearings’” and “without any consultation with professional historians of the United States.”
The new document also does not once mention the word “racism,” which James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, described as “a problem.”
“You can argue that the central concepts in American history are freedom or liberty or democracy, but you cannot teach American history without helping students to understand that racism has been a central theme,” Grossman told the Times-Dispatch. “You just can’t.”
Gail Flax, a retired Virginia educator, told the Virginia Mercury that learning accurate history is the best way to understand the world around us.
“You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history,” she said.
In all, the revision was more than 300 pages shorter than its predecessor, mainly because it excluded a curriculum framework, a more detailed document that the Board of Education approves a year before its implementation.
Cassandra Newby-Alexander, an endowed professor of Virginia Black history and culture at Norfolk State University, told VPM, a Richmond-based NPR affiliate, that she is “disturbed and troubled” by the new draft.
“This is not an update. … This is an entirely different document,” she said. “I have never seen such a messy, incoherent and inaccurate document that is age-inappropriate for the content that is being taught.”
Fedderman objected that any revisions to date have not shown any “significant improvement.”
“I believe that this is another attempt to show that Virginia Public Schools are failing our students, because if they push these standards through in the middle of the year, and students are assessed on all of these new standards without preparation, it’s going to show that they don’t have the skill set to be successful,” he said. “And that’s not the case. It’s just that this administration continues to move the goalposts every day.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Teen’s eulogy to ‘racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Trump-loving’ father at his funeral goes viral
Michelle De Pacina – November 17, 2022
A 19-year-old TikTok user has gone viral after sharing a video of their eulogy to their deceased father at his funeral, in which they call him a “racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Trump-loving” man.
The user, identified as Saga, goes by the handle @saginthesunforever and has self-described themselves as a “Black supremacist” on their TikTok bio. Saga, who uses the pronouns they/them, has received widespread backlash after their viral video was re-posted to Twitter by controversial conservative account Libs of TIkTok on Tuesday.
In the video, Saga can be seen on stage delivering their eulogy speech to their father at his funeral.
“Dad, please know that while I am grateful and highly aware of all that you’ve given this family, I still don’t miss you,” Saga says. “When you died, I felt like there was a hole. I missed something, but it wasn’t you. It was the idea of what you could [have] become. I missed being able to hope and wish that one day you’d turn a corner and see the world from my perspective. I missed the idea that one day you might help me fight for the things that matter. I miss my fantasy of you.”
“Because when you died, it solidified the fact that you’ll never be what you could have been, but only what you are,” they add. “And what you are is a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Trump-loving, cis, straight white man. That is all you will ever be to me.”
To conclude their eulogy, Saga says, “You are everything I aspire not to be…I swear to god, I will make this world a better place. Not at all because of you, but in exact opposition to you.”
Although many viewers have praised Saga for their bravery, others condemned their “disrespectful” action at the funeral of their own father.
“What a dark, wicked heart this young lady has. I’m sure there were many there that loved this man and are grieving. Even if she hated her father, she had zero concern for the pain she caused those that were mourning his loss,” one user tweeted.
“He doesn’t have to deal with her relentless hatred anymore. He’s gone and she’ll still be perpetually outraged. She really made someone else’s funeral about her. Could have skipped it, but how would she get 15 minutes of internet attention then? She’s toxic,” another user wrote.
However, the 19-year-old reportedly defended their speech to The National Desk (TND), noting that they wanted to “stand firm in their truth and speak it no matter what dissenting opinions would say.”
“Funerals and speeches are to provide solace to the people giving them,” Saga told TND. “My solace was in my truth. It was in expressing and condemning all of the trauma my father has caused me and expressing my grief the way I needed to express it.”
“Some people think the funeral wasn’t the right place but what was the right place? When EVER would I get another opportunity to speak my truth and not just on TikTok to a screen but REALLY speak it,” Saga added. “A part of me wanted to prove to myself that I had the bravery and the balls to be able to stand in my truth and belt it out to whoever could hear which is why I did it.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump has infamously been known to spread anti-China rhetoric through his repeated use of terms like “Chinese virus,” “Wuhan virus” and “Kung Flu” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. His use of racist terms have been blamed for fueling anti-Asian hate in America amid the global pandemic.
Last year, Trump was sued by the Chinese American Civil Rights Coalition (CACRC) for defamation and infliction of emotional distress. The organization claimed that Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the rise of violence against Chinese and other Asian Americans.
Last week, Trump took a swing at Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, saying that his last name was Chinese-sounding, once again deploying the “Chinese” descriptive in a negative way. The incident was described by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan as “racist” and “Asian hate against a white governor.”
“It was definitely distasteful and inappropriate, not only because I don’t think my friend Glenn Youngkin deserved to be attacked like that, but it was also — I mean, it’s Asian hate against a white governor, and making fun of Asians,” Hogan said.
“He didn’t even have his nationalities, right, because Young Kin would be Korean, as opposed to Chinese,” Hogan added. “But it’s just more of the same from Donald Trump, insults and attacks. And that’s one of the reasons why the party is in such bad shape.”
Why a Trump-appointed Texas judge blocked Biden’s student-debt cancellation plan
Ayelet Sheffey – November 14, 2022
Trump-appointed Judge Mark Pittman struck down Biden’s debt relief in Texas last week.
He argued the two student-loan borrowers who sued have sufficient standing to block the plan.
But some legal experts and Democrats said Pittman should never have taken up the case in the first place.
A federal judge doesn’t think President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel student debt for millions of borrowers is legal.
On Thursday evening, Mark Pittman — a Texas judge appointed by former President Donald Trump — struck down Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student-loans for federal borrowers making under $125,000 a year. He ruled in favor of two student-loan borrowers who filed the lawsuit because each of them didn’t qualify for the full amount of relief, and at this point, Pittman’s ruing bars the Education Department from discharging student loans until a final verdict is made.
The Texas case, along with a number of other lawsuits backed by conservative groups, challenges Biden’s authority to use the HEROES Act of 2003, which gives the Education Secretary the ability to waive or modify student-loan balances in connection with a national emergency, like COVID-19. They claimed that enacting broad student-loan forgiveness is an overreach of the authority and should require Congressional approval, while Biden has maintained one-time student-loan forgiveness is well within the administration’s legal authority.
Pittman appeared sympathetic to the conservatives’ arguments in his ruling. “This case involves the question of whether Congress—through the HEROES Act—gave the Secretary authority to implement a Program that provides debt forgiveness to millions of student-loan borrowers, totaling over $400 billion,” Pittman wrote in his ruling. “Whether the Program constitutes good public policy is not the role of this Court to determine. Still, no one can plausibly deny that it is either one of the largest delegations of legislative power to the executive branch, or one of the largest exercises of legislative power without congressional authority in the history of the United States.”
The other lawsuits are also moving through the courts. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, ruled on Monday that its temporary pause on student-debt relief will remain in place until further orders from the court on a separate lawsuit in which six Republican-led states sued the loan forgiveness, arguing it would hurt their states’ tax revenues.
One of the key parts of Pittman’s ruling is that the plaintiffs actually met the legal requirements for a valid lawsuit. He ruled that they have standing to sue the administration, but several prominent Democrats and legal experts have questioned that decision — and other courts have thrown out similar conservative lawsuits due to a lack of standing.
The plaintiffs’ standing to sue
Both of the plaintiffs who brought the Texas lawsuit hold student loans. The first plaintiff, Myra Brown, sued because her loans are commercially-held and therefore ineligible for Biden’s debt relief, which requires the borrower to owe their debt directly to the federal government. And the other plaintiff, Alexander Taylor, sued because he was eligible only for $10,000 in debt forgiveness and not the full $20,000 since he did not receive a Pell Grant in college.
They both argued they were not given the opportunity to challenge the relief before its announcement since it didn’t go through the Administrative Procedure Act’s notice-and-comment period, and they said that failure to go through typical rulemaking processes, along with overstepping authority granted through the HEROES Act, were reasons why the debt relief should be blocked.
Pittman ruled that the plaintiffs have valid reasons for suing the administration. In his opinion, Pittman wrote that standing contains three legal requirements: there must be concrete injury, there must be causation, and there must be redressability, which is the likelihood the requested relief — in this case, blocking debt cancellation — would repair the injury caused. Pittman said that Biden’s Justice Department argument that the plaintiffs’ standing does not exist is “untrue.”
“Plaintiffs do not argue that they are injured because other people are receiving loan forgiveness,” Pittman wrote. “Their injury—no matter how many people are receiving loan forgiveness—is that they personally did not receive forgiveness and were denied a procedural right to comment on the Program’s eligibility requirements.”
And while Pittman concluded that debt relief did not violate procedural requirements, he said it violates authority under the HEROES Act because the “pandemic was declared a national emergency almost three years ago and declared weeks before the Program by the President as ‘over.’ Thus, it is unclear if COVID-19 is still a ‘national emergency’ under the Act.”
Some Democrats and legal experts take issue with the ruling
While Republican lawmakers were quick to laud Pittman’s decision, some legal experts weren’t sold on the merits of the ruling. Steve Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in an opinion piece that “the biggest problem with Pittman’s ruling isn’t its substance; it’s why he allowed the case to be brought in the first place.”
Vladeck referenced prior conservative lawsuits seeking to challenge the debt relief that had been dismissed for lack of standing, and that if “the complaint is just that the government is acting unlawfully in a way that doesn’t affect plaintiffs personally, that’s a matter to be resolved through the political process – not a judicial one.”
And Leah Litman, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law, wrote on Twitter that the ruling “is just the latest example of Trump-appointed district judges doing completely outlandish, lawless things to rule against policies by Democratic administrations,” referring to what she said was a lack of standing on the plaintiffs’ side.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also slammed the ruling, telling NBC News on Sunday that “we have a court down in Texas, and if they’re going to play politics instead of actually following the law, they do put the program at risk.”
Gov. Stitt claims Oklahoma for Jesus, but Tuesday showed America is still a secular nation – for now.
Aldous J. Pennyfarthing – November 10, 2022
If there’s one big takeaway from Republicans’ tepid showing on Tuesday, it’s that women don’t want Jesus as their OB-GYN. I mean, he was a carpenter, after all. It really doesn’t translate. And it’s a totally different set of tools. Well, in most of the country, anyway. Not so sure about Oklahoma.
In the days leading up to the midterms, Republicans were pretty confident that they’d ride the inflation steamroller to a decisive congressional sweep. Instead, two days later, control of both houses remains in doubt, and the GOP is gobsmacked. Of course, religious extremism—mostly in the form of cruel and draconian abortion restrictions—played a big role in that belly flop. Have they learned their lesson? Pretty doubtful, since many of them have a really long way to go when it comes to fully endorsing religious diversity and the equal rights of nonbelievers.
STITT: “Father, we just claim Oklahoma for you. Every square inch, we claim it for you in the name of Jesus. Father, we can do nothing apart from you. We [wind noise] battle against flesh and blood, against principalities of darkness. Father, we just come against that, we just loose your will over our state right now in the name of Jesus. … We just thank you, we claim Oklahoma for you, as the authority that I have as governor, and the spiritual authority and the physical authority that you give me. I claim Oklahoma for you, that we will be a light to our country and to the world right here on stage. We thank you that your will is done on Tuesday and, Father, that you will have your way with our state, with our education system, with everything within the walls behind me and the rooms behind me, Lord, that you will root out corruption, you will bring the right people into this building, Father, from now on.”
“Are you there, God? It’s me, MAGA-rat. Can you maybe dial down the wind for a second until Gov. Stitt finishes shredding the First Amendment? That’s too much cacophony all at once, brother. Thanks!”
Now, it’s pretty bold—not to mention exclusionary and wildly inappropriate—for a sitting governor to claim an entire state for a single deity. Can we maybe set aside one synagogue and maybe an ashram or two for someone other than Jesus? Jesus doesn’t step foot in synagogues anyway, except maybe to ask for directions to Kirk Cameron’s house. But these folks have long had trouble imagining what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes—and they’re really not keen on secular government, which is supposed to represent everyone, whether they believe in Kevin Stitt’s god or not.
Of course, if Stitt wants to lay his grubby hands on Oklahoma on behalf of Jesus, he better get moving, because he’s running out of time. Tuesday made clear that Americans as a whole don’t want too much religion sprinkled in with their politics, and new polling backs that up.
Overall, six-in-ten U.S. adults – including nearly seven-in-ten Christians – say they believe the founders “originally intended” for the U.S. to be a Christian nation. And 45% of U.S. adults – including about six-in-ten Christians – say they think the country “should be” a Christian nation. A third say the U.S. “is now” a Christian nation.
At the same time, a large majority of the public expresses some reservations about intermingling religion and government. For example, about three-quarters of U.S. adults (77%) say that churches and other houses of worship should not endorse candidates for political offices. Two-thirds (67%) say that religious institutions should keep out of political matters rather than expressing their views on day-to-day social or political questions. And the new survey – along with other recent Center research – makes clear that there is far more support for the idea of separation of church and state than opposition to it among Americans overall.
While it’s alarming that so many Americans think the Founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation (narrator: they didn’t), it’s a relief that most would still rather leave secular matters up to secular authorities. And it’s reasonably safe to assume that this is the high-water mark for religious fervor in this country. Gallup has been tracking religious sentiment in the U.S. for decades, and the number of people who claim to have no religious affiliation—currently at 21%—has steadily increased over the years. As recently as 1985, that number was just 1%. Meanwhile, the nation’s share of Christians continues to fall.
Could Tuesday be one of the first indications that the noxious religious-political stew that charlatans like the Rev. Jerry Falwell started cooking up in the ‘80s is finally about to spoil? They’ve brought us to the brink, but it appears they’ve gone as far as they possibly can if they want to keep dipping their fungal right-wing evangelical toes in our secular humanist soup.
Of course, that’s assuming they don’t take control by force and turn us into Gilead overnight. But that seems less likely now, even with this dude still looming out there:
Yeah, I didn’t want you to get too comfortable just yet. Sorry. Now do your best to enjoy the sad remainder of your now-squalid lives. I’ll see myself out.
To American’s who still believe in Democracy and in the Democratic institutions that have sustained our Republic as a beacon for the world to admire and emulate, this is not the election to take a pass on.
To all the true Republicans who have been drummed out of your party or have fled the MAGA insanity, please take a stand for representative government.
To all eligible voters who are turned off by the toxic state of our political system, refusing to vote will only make that worse. Sometimes, even a small number of votes in close elections can make a critical difference.
To those who believe they’re not political or aren’t the least bit interested in our political systems, believe that every moment of your family’s existence is impacted by politics, both good and bad. And your vote could make our two party Democratic system much better, and more responsive and accountable.
Erstwhile Republican’s Rep. Liz Cheney, Rep Adam Kinzinger and others have been sounding the autocratic alarm bells even before trump and his MAGAnian conspirators commandeered the Grand Old Party and turned it into the wholly owned trump cult militia, that swarmed, assaulted, terrorized, pummeled and even killed Capitol police officers on January 6,2021, in a futile but consequential attempt to overthrow our Democratic government.
And where would we be if they had succeeded?
The hundreds of state laws republicon legislatures already authored and implemented to restrict voting rights and Democratic representative government would have already become the law of the land.
A women’s right to chose what happens to her body and reproductive rights would have been turned back to the 19th century, in all of America; with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Children as young as ten years old would have been forced to carry another child to birth.
The progress made by workers to improve labor’s rights and increase their diminishing wage value would have been overturned.
Progress made on fighting global warming and the remarkable improvements in alternative energy, would be pushed to the back burners of history.
trump and his republicon party sycophant’s march towards personal wealth enrichment would again be front and center of any legislation or executive orders. His gold tipped sharpie would again be busy rewarding the trump family criminal enterprises and the republicon’s most generous donors.
The separation of church and state would be but a distant memory; and they would proclaim White Christian dogma and the bible as governing principles. Many other parts of our constitution would be in jeopardy, all but the Second Amendment.
I could go on all day, pointing out the chaos created the last time trump held power, but I’ll conclude with reminding voters about the scores of criminal types in trump’s administration, who were forced to resign, were fired, went to prison, were indicted, pardoned or ended up in the right wing media.
Republican’s stated plans if they take control of congress, is to hold the government budget hostage until they get concessions on cutting, or eliminating altogether, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But the safety net assault probably won’t stop there, continued support for programs like food stamps and even military and humanitarian support for Ukraine’s war with Russia are also on the MAGA chopping block.
And the extreme members of a republicon controlled House of Representatives will have as its main goal, a two year long investigation of a long list of their political opponents. Any progress the Democrats and the Biden administration have made addressing America’s critical problems over the last two years, will have to take a back seat to political witch hunts and futile attempts to overturn that progress.
And all this just so they can make permanent, the enormous tax cuts that trump and the republicon’s in congress awarded to their rich benefactors, the last time they held control. America’s colossal wealth disparity between the 1% and all the rest will again be on steroids.
For those who emphatically believe MAGA World is synonymous with freedom, believe me: “Freedom is just another word for, nothing left to lose”
If you paid close attention to the videos of Russian citizens protesting Putin’s “Special Operation” in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, you couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t one single assault weapon or high capacity magazine in sight, and no hunting rifle, handgun or even a pea shooter. Why? Because it’s against putin’s laws to have those weapons in public, if at all. And what we call our First Amendment Rights to say anything that comes to mind, forget it in Putin’s Russia or trump’s America. I remember one courageous Russian women holding up a blank sign, apparently afraid to call Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a war, for fear of the consequential 15 year prison term, yet still wanting to register her displeasure. Unfortunately it didn’t succeed, within 2 or 3 minutes, 4 or 5 security troops dressed in black whisked her, and her blank protest sign, off and into a police van headed for the gulag.
It’s no secret that trump and many congressional republicons admire and support war criminal Vladimir Putin and his invasion and genocide against the Democratic people of Ukraine. They admire strongmen fascists and autocrats like putin and trump and denigrate Joe Biden as weak. Apparently raining down missiles and rockets on innocent civilians, on schools and medical facilities, on apartments, libraries, and shopping centers, killing and maiming children, women, and disabled old folks is manly, but also isn’t a bridge too far for this new MAGAnian cult, as long as the reward is omnipotent power and wealth. Mass graves are just necessary collateral damage.
For those who believe the republicon’s are better on the economy or will do a better job fixing inflation, I’ll repost this November 4th, David Rothkopf and Bernard Schwartz article from the Daily Beast.
A recent Pew poll concluded nearly eight in 10 voters said the economy will be “very important” to their voting decisions. Another such poll, by ABC News and Ipsos, showed that almost half of respondents cited either the economy or inflation as the issue about which they were most concerned. The poll indicated that concerns about the economy and inflation are “much more likely to drive voters towards Republicans.”
But that impulse is not only ill-considered, every bit of available evidence makes clear that the GOP is the wrong party to which to turn if you seek better U.S. economic performance in the future.
In fact, it is not close. When it comes to the economy, the GOP is the problem and not the solution. If anything, it is a greater obstacle to our economic well-being today than it has ever been.
At the same time, the economic record of President Joe Biden and the Democrats is not just consistent—in creating jobs, reducing the deficit, and enhancing our competitiveness—during the past two years their record has been one of extraordinary, often record-breaking success.
History tells a very stark tale. Ten of the last 11 recessions began under Republicans. The one that started under former President Donald Trump and the current GOP leadership was the worst since the Great Depression–and while perhaps any president presiding over a pandemic might have seen the economy suffer, Trump’s gross mismanagement of COVID-19 clearly and greatly deepened the problems the U.S. economy faced. Meanwhile, historically, Democratic administrations have overseen recoveries from those Republican lows. During the seven decades before Trump, real GDP growth averaged just over 2.5 percent under Republicans and a little more than 4.3 percent under Democrats.
Republicans have also historically presided over huge expansions in the U.S. deficit, while Democrats (since Bill Clinton’s administration) have overseen dramatic deficit reduction. Ronald Reagan more than doubled the deficit from $70 billion to more than $175 billion. George H.W. Bush nearly doubled that to $290 billion. Clinton ended his administration with a $128.2 billion surplus.
George W. Bush inherited that… and left office with a record deficit of more than $1.4 trillion. Obama reduced that by very nearly $1 trillion. Each of Donald Trump’s last two years in office saw federal budgets with deficits of over $3 trillion. In fact, in total, the national debt rose almost $8 trillion during Trump’s time in office. According to ProPublica, it was the third biggest such increase in U.S. history—after George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War years.
What about job creation?
The U.S. lost jobs under Trump and created relatively few under George W. Bush. Of the 14 presidents since World War II, seven were Democrats and seven were Republican. Of the seven with the highest job creation rates, six were Democrats. Of the seven with the lowest job creation rates, six were Republicans.
What about now? Biden and the current Democratic Congress have created more jobs than the past three Republican administrations combined.
The job creation rate in 2021 was the most ever in a single year. GDP growth in 2021 was the highest since 1984. This year, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5 percent, its lowest level in 50 years. As part of that, we are seeing record low unemployment for Blacks and Latinos.
Ok, you might say, but what about inflation?
Rising prices are a real problem for many Americans. But the origins of inflation have very little to do with the Biden administration or the Congress. Inflation is a global problem that is related, according to economists, primarily to supply chain problems associated with COVID, Vladimir Putin’s escalation of the war in Ukraine, and corporate profiteering.
What makes the Republican focus on this issue so shockingly hypocritical is that Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID crisis, his support for Putin, and Republicans’ protection of Big Oil (and big businesses) actually helped create the conditions that have driven prices up. Further, Republicans unanimously opposed every single measure by the Biden administration to reduce prices and help those hit by inflation—including the landmark Inflation Reduction Act’s efforts to lower drug costs and to help those hardest hit.
Meanwhile, the U.S. just reported stronger than expected growth in the last quarter and the price of gasoline, an oft-cited sign of inflation, has been falling for months.
At the same time, a substantial majority within the GOP have sought to block virtually every single new economic measure proposed or passed by Biden and the Democratic Congress. That includes the America Recovery Act that lifted millions out of poverty and drove job creation, the Chips and Science Act to enhance competitiveness, and even the so-called “Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill” which garnered the support of fewer than half of the GOP caucus in the Senate.
You might assume that if the GOP opposed these initiatives but were critical of what Biden was doing, that they had alternative plans that they have presented to the American people. But, you would be wrong. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has bragged that he would not even discuss his agenda until after the election. They have no inflation plan. And the plans they’ve said they admire—like that of the United Kingdom’s prime minister-for-a-second Liz Truss—have been a catastrophe.
The last time the Republicans were in charge, during the Trump years, they passed precisely one significant piece of economic legislation, a tax cut that benefited the very rich at the expense of everyone else and, as we have established, helped explode the federal budget deficit.
Republicans are just plain bad at managing the economy. They have been for as long as anyone who is alive can remember. And they continue to be—although they are achieving previously unattained new levels of cynicism and obstructionism that make the current crowd of Republicans look even worse than their very unsuccessful predecessors.
History and data make it clear that Democrats are good for the economy—while Republicans, especially the current Republicans in Congress, are not.
Republicans have done a great job fooling voters into thinking that their simplistic economic philosophies of tax cuts and minimal regulation are “good for business.” But facts, history, and logic show otherwise.
David Rothkopf and Bernard Schwartz conclude their case with: If you care about the economy, want to fight inflation, want to create jobs, want a better life for your family, want to preserve democracy, and want to defend your fundamental rights, then you should vote for the Democrats.
John Hanno: And if you’re still inclined to reverse the remarkable progress made by the Biden administration and the Democrat’s thin margin in congress over the last 2 years, and also willing to turn over your children’s and grandchildren’s future to these wannabe Putin like autocrats, think about this latest bit of news:
The world’s richest person and Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, implored his more than 110 million followers on Monday to support Republicans in Tuesday’s U.S. midterm elections, saying that Republican control of Congress would act as a balance against Democrats and the Biden administration. Could it be because of the Biden administration and Democrats proposals to tax billionaires and give more tax incentives to union-made electric vehicles. Musk’s Tesla does not have any unions at its U.S. factories. Apparently the world’s richest person doesn’t have enough billions of dollars to pay income taxes, pay prevailing union wages or to live comfortably. That should tell you exactly where this MAGA cult is headed.
Democracy and the big lie are on the ballot today. trump has endorsed those more than 250 election deniers running to thwart one person one vote, free and fair elections. Overwhelm these Democracy deniers with a monumental blue wave.
Like I said, vote November 8th like your and your families lives depends on it, because it surely does.