Believe it or not, the economy (GDP) grew last year at the fastest pace since 1984 (5.7%), and the first quarter of 2022 has grown (6.7%)


NPR – Special Series – The Coronavirus Crisis

Believe it or not, the economy grew last year at the fastest pace since 1984

Scott Horsley January 27, 2022

People shop in The Galleria mall in Houston during Black Friday on Nov. 26, 2021. The economy grew strongly last year but at an uneven pace because of the pandemic.Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Last year saw the fastest economic growth since Ronald Reagan was president. But for many people, 2021 felt less like “Morning in America” and more like a restless night, dogged by fitful dreams about the ongoing pandemic.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the nation’s gross domestic product grew 5.7% last year — the biggest increase since 1984. But the growth arrived in fits and starts, with hopes for a steady recovery repeatedly dashed by successive waves of infection.

And now, uncertainty continues in the year ahead, as the omicron variant continues to spread. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is gearing up to raise interest rates, perhaps aggressively, in an effort to combat stubbornly high inflation.

“It wasn’t a straight line for the economy last year, for sure,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “The economy remains tethered to the pandemic.”

ECONOMY
Employers added only 199,000 jobs in December even before omicron started to surge

Business last year boomed in the spring and early summer, as millions of Americans got vaccinated and felt free to travel and dine out more. In June and July alone, employers added more than 2 million jobs — nearly a third of the year’s total job gains.

But growth slowed when the delta variant hit.

“It was crazy. It was a roller coaster,” says Dave Krick, who owns three restaurants in Boise, Idaho.

Krick had high hopes for the end of the year, after a busy October, and he was making plans to resume hosting private parties in his restaurants, only to pull the plug when the infection rate started to soar again as the omicron variant started to spread.Article continues after sponsor message

“It was a teaser. We though the holiday season was going to be really good,” Krick said. “Those holiday parties for us are a big part of making the year work. And we basically canceled it all.”

A flight information display system shows cancelled flights at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Dec. 27, 2021, in Arlington, Va. Flight cancellations became a regular occurrence in December as the omicron variant infected staff at airports and airlines.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

An economic bang – and a whimper

The Commerce Department said GDP grew at an annual rate of 6.9% in the last three months of the year, thanks in part to stronger exports and a buildup of inventories.

But the fourth quarter was as uneven as the nine months that came before.

“Q4 started with a bang and ended with a whimper,” said Zandi. “October was a fantastic month for the economy — consumer spending, investment — everything was kind of firing on all cylinders. And then by December, omicron came on the scene quickly and did a lot of damage.”

While unemployment has dropped to just 3.9% — the lowest level since the start of the pandemic — employers added only 199,000 jobs in December.

And forecasters expect that weakness to continue into the beginning of the new year.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits in recent weeks suggest some employers are cutting jobs in response to the omicron wave.

Help wanted signs such as this one outside a retailer in Hattiesburg, Miss., on March 27, 2021, were a common sight last year as busineses struggled to recruit workers.Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Even though last year’s economic growth was the strongest in decades, it fell short of what economists once hoped for. Following passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, some forecasters were predicting growth as high as 7%, fueled by widespread vaccinations and pent-up demand.

“There were just too many people who didn’t get vaccinated,” Zandi said. “It’s admirable how well the economy did perform, despite the fact that vaccines didn’t exactly solve the problem.”

Pandemic-driven supply-chain problems and labor shortages weighed on economic growth, while also driving up prices.

“Even though we had a lot of demand, we weren’t able to do as much with it as we had hoped,” said Krick, the restaurant owner.

His labor costs have risen sharply this year, thanks to higher wages and new health benefits. The restaurant’s food costs are up as well.

“Our supply chains don’t like this roller coaster,” Krick said. “We have a hard time predicting what we’re going to get and not get, so we have to adjust quickly with menus and that takes a lot of our energy and time. And the costs are definitely difficult.”

The price of restaurant meals nationwide was 6% higher in December than a year ago, while overall inflation reached 7% — the highest level since 1982.

Will 2022 be better?

The new year will likely continue to be marked by the path of the pandemic – as well as the fight against inflation.

The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it plans to begin raising interest rates at its next meeting in March, in an effort to keep a lid on prices, and markets expect three additional rate hikes over the course of the year.

The central bank’s challenge is not to hit the brakes too hard and slow the economy too much — a tricky feat considering some economists believe the central bank waited too long to tackle inflation.

“We do expect some softening in the economy from omicron, but we think that that should be temporary,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told reporters. “We think the underlying strength of the economy should show though fairly quickly after that.”

Supermarkets such as this one in Orlando, Fl., are experiencing a shortage of some products as the omicron variant infects workers and worsens supply chain woes.John Raoux/AP

Zandi expressed confidence that the central bank could gradually withdraw its easy-money policies without stalling the recovery.

“I think they’ll be able to do it and land the economic plane on the tarmac,” he said. “It might be a little bumpy here. There’s a lot of cross-winds in the economy.”

Most of the federal relief programs that pumped trillions of dollars into people’s pockets during the pandemic have also now expired, although restaurants are petitioning Congress for additional help.

Zandi thinks the economy will continue to expand in 2022, albeit at a slower pace of around 4%.

“All of us are getting better at kind of navigating the virus and learning how to live with it and manage through it,” Zandi said. “Hopefully, we have another good year in 2022.”

Krick is also hopeful that business will continue to rebound, but he’s not making any firm predictions about the year ahead.

“One thing we know right now is we don’t know what 2022 is going to bring us,” he said. “We’re bleeding a lot of cash, hoping that this spring and summer will be better, mainly because we don’t have any choice. It’s a weird time to be running a restaurant.”

True American’s Will Not Whitewash Our History !

The Insider

A Georgia elementary school removes assignment instructing students to write a letter as ‘an American settler’ to Andrew Jackson in favor of removing Indigenous people from their land

Katie Balevic January 26, 2022

President Andrew Jackson.
President Andrew Jackson. 
  • An assignment at a Georgia school about the Trail of Tears has been removed. 
  • Fourth-graders were given a prompt to write in favor of “removing the Cherokee.”
  • The assignment also asked students to write from the point of view of a member of the Cherokee Nation.

 A Georgia school gave fourth graders an assignment that prompted them to write from the point of view of an English colonizer in America and justify the removal of indigenous people from their land. 

“Write a letter to President Andrew Jackson from the perspective of an American settler. Explain why you think removing the Cherokee will help the United States grow and prosper,” the writing prompt titled “The Trail of Tears” said, referencing one of the largest tribes of Indigenous peoples in the US.

Jackson, commander in chief from 1829 to 1837, signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, authorizing – beyond his time in office – the violent forced displacement of approximately 100,000 Indigenous peoples amid the country’s westward expansion. Over 15,000 people from different tribal nations died on what came to be called the Trail of Tears, which has been largely categorized the ethnic cleansing and genocide of tens of thousands of Indigenous peoples. 

While exact numbers are unknown, the National Park Service estimated that 4,000 Cherokees – or a fifth of their population – died on the Trail of Tears. One Choctaw leader referred to the journey as a “trail of tears and death.” 

Jennifer Martin, a parent in Virginia, told Insider that she shared the assignment from a public charter school called the Georgia Cyber Academy after seeing someone post it in a private group among parents. She saw the prompt as an example of how the movement against critical race theory is “prioritizing the feelings of settlers and colonizers as more important than actual, real history.”

“If this sort of content could happen at a state-funded Georgia charter school, it could easily happen in any public school, and I think people should be aware of how quickly we’re devolving into this kind of atmosphere in American schools,” Martin said. “The truth of American history, and what happened to indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans and other people of color, shouldn’t be whitewashed.”

School assignment on Trail of Tears.
A portion of the writing prompt on the Trail of Tears by the Georgia Cyber Academy. 

According to the Georgia Department of Education, in lesson plans that explain westward expansion in America, educators are to “describe the impact of westward expansion on American Indians; include the Trail of Tears, Battle of Little Bighorn and the forced relocation of American Indians to reservations.” Georgia Cyber Academy, a charter school, may not have to adhere to this guidance for social studies curriculum.

A spokesperson for Georgia Cyber Academy told Insider that the assignment has since been removed after school leadership “concluded this is not an appropriate question to be used in our classrooms.”

“While there is often a benefit in asking students to consider all perspectives in a social studies class – and it should be noted that the next question in the series asked students to also argue from the opposite perspective (screenshot attached) – we believe there are more appropriate ways to teach this subject,” the spokesperson said in an email. 

The second portion of the assignment, shared by the school, asked students to write from the “perspective of a Cherokee Indian.” 

“Explain why the Indian Removal Act is harmful to you and your family. Describe conditions on the Trail of Tears and their effects on your tribe,” the prompt said. 

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

The Jan. 6 Committee Members Are Patriots Making Sure Treason is Fully Documented

DailyBeast

The Jan. 6 Committee Members Are Patriots Making Sure Treason is Fully Documented

Eleanor Clift January 26, 2022

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The Jan. 6 Committee took a lot of heat over how long it took to organize, and for its lack of support from Republicans. But compared to the stalemate between the two parties and the bickering among Democrats, the Jan. 6 Committee is a model of congressional collegiality among members with differing ideologies.

The committee members are not prolific leakers, and they don’t fight publicly over whether they should or shouldn’t issue subpoenas. They’re carefully building their messaging for next month’s public hearings by meticulously charting the events leading up to Jan. 6, as well as the extent to which Trump and his allies went to overturn the election (which included serious consideration of calling in the military to seize voting machines). The committee’s mandate is essentially: make treason uncool again.

The Supreme Court ruling on Trump having to turn over his internal deliberations and communications, coming from “his” judges, is a significant boost to a committee that knows how to run with what they’ve got.

“This is what grown-ups look like,” says Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College. “You have Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who have very conservative voting records, but they understand this is different, that it’s separate from their policy differences with the Democrats. And their loyalty to country and the institution trumps loyalty to party.”

Newt Gingrich and the GOP’s Creeping Authoritarian Streak

Pitney is old enough to remember the House Judiciary hearings in 1974, when several high-profile Republicans supported the impeachment inquiry into President Richard Nixon. Among them was Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s father, Rep. Lawrence Hogan.

“Even people who supported Nixon behaved as grown-ups,” says Pitney. “[GOP Rep.] Charles Wiggins saw himself as a de facto defense attorney [for Nixon], but when he saw the smoking gun tape, he said, that’s it.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Republicans recoiled from what President Trump had instigated. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was getting off the Trump train, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put the blame squarely on Trump, saying, “The mob was fed lies.”

But that didn’t last. Trump still has the GOP base firmly in his grip.

“They had a moment of adulthood, but they quickly reverted to adolescence,” says Pitney. A former GOP staffer before he went into academia, he told me he doesn’t expect the committee’s final report to change the minds of hardcore Trump supporters in the electorate or on Capitol Hill, but it could produce evidence that changes the minds of less stalwart Trump defenders.

In other words, change is on the margins—and the margins matter in a country as divided as ours. An added benefit, says Pitney: “With an all grown-up committee, it will be difficult for Fox News to get a lot of usable clips.”

When the House in May 2021 voted on whether to create the committee, 35 Republicans joined Democrats to support it. Then it went to the Senate where GOP Minority Leader McConnell used the filibuster to kill the proposed committee. Only six Senate Republicans voted for it, which was four short of what was needed to overcome McConnell’s filibuster.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t going to let McConnell have the final word and squelch any inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. She proceeded with a second vote on June 30 to authorize the Select Committee. Only two Republicans supported it, Cheney and Kinzinger.

In the formation of the committee, Pelosi tried to uphold the spirit of the 9/11 commission, offering five slots “in consultation” with the GOP. When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy named the MAGA-friendly Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, two known bomb-throwers hostile to the committee, Pelosi exercised her veto power. McCarthy then withdrew his other picks.

The Republicans will rue that decision because it left them without anyone on the inside to raise questions and cast doubt. Meanwhile the committee’s seven Democrats and two Republicans are performing competently and quietly building credibility for their eventual report.

“The credibility of the product you produce is very much dependent on the quality of the panel itself,” says John Lawrence, a former chief of staff to Speaker Pelosi. “You don’t want lone wolves or showboats,” he told The Daily Beast. “You need more of a judicial temperament rather than a legislative temperament.”

Pelosi chose each member wisely. The committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, didn’t have a national profile before Pelosi tapped him for this assignment. But he has chaired or been the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee for the past 20 years.

“He’s somebody who has dealt with issues of classified material and what’s dangerous or damaging to national security. He wasn’t learning this stuff on the job. She wanted him there for that reason,” says Lawrence, whose forthcoming book, Arc of Power: Politics and Policy in the Pelosi era 2005-2010 will be out in November.

Why Republicans Won’t Confirm This Renowned Holocaust Scholar

“This is a tough group of people,” Lawrence says of the Jan. 6 panel.

There are three lawyers among the Democrats, Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff, and Jamie Raskin; a Navy veteran in Rep. Elaine Luria; the vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus, Rep. Pete Aguilar of California; and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a fiscal moderate, member of the Blue Dogs, who is not running for re-election.

Representing the Republicans are Vice-Chair Lynne Cheney—who was stripped of her leadership role for defying party orthodoxy and rejecting Trump’s Big Lie—and Rep. Adam Kinzinger—an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who also broke with his own party following Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election (Kinzinger is retiring after this term). They’ve got nothing to lose anymore, politically, so they’re prepared to follow the facts wherever they lead.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Sunday morning predicted on Fox News that if Republicans take control of Congress: “The wolves are gonna find out that they’re now sheep, and they’re the ones who—in fact, I think—face a real risk of jail for the kind of laws they’re breaking.” This is a direct threat of political retribution toward members of Congress.

Cheney tweeted in response: “A former Speaker of the House is threatening jail time for members of Congress who are investigating the violent January 6 attack on our Capitol and our Constitution. This is what it looks like when the rule of law unravels.”

This is no Benghazi Committee, the hapless GOP-led group that grilled former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for 11 hours in 2015 to rough up her poll numbers but in the end found nothing they could actually pin on her.

The GOP’s decision to sit out the Jan. 6 Committee “will come back to bite them,” says Lawrence. “If they had someone on the inside, they could have slammed it as a Democratic witch hunt.” But Cheney and Kinzinger are still conservative Republicans. With them on the committee, there is no partisan out for the GOP.

And now the committee can do its patriotic duty and dig up as much truth as possible about what led to one of the worst assaults on our democracy.

Romney, other Trump critics to raise money for Liz Cheney re-election effort

Reuters

Romney, other Trump critics to raise money for Liz Cheney re-election effort

January 26, 2022

FILE PHOTO: House Rules Committee meets over contempt charge against Mark Meadows at U.S. Capitol in Washington

(Reuters) – U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, a leading Republican critic of former President Donald Trump, will help raise money for Representative Liz Cheney, who is fighting for political survival after voting to impeach Trump and contesting his false stolen-election claims.

Romney is the featured guest at a March 14 fundraiser for Cheney at the home of Bobbie Kilberg, a well-connected Virginia Republican who lined up against Trump during his 2016 bid for the White House, according to an invitation seen by Reuters.

In addition to Romney, the list of attendees is comprised of an array of establishment Republican figures and Trump critics, including former congresswoman Barbara Comstock, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, lobbyist Charlie Black, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s father.

The event comes as Cheney gears up for a tough primary battle for Wyoming’s only congressional district in August against a lawyer, Harriet Hageman, endorsed by Trump. The race, which will almost certainly determine the general election winner in the deeply conservative state, is widely seen as a proxy for the former president’s grip over the Republican Party.

Cheney has been the target of Trump’s ire and sidelined by most Republicans after voting in January to impeach Trump on a charge that he incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and helping lead an ongoing congressional committee investigating the attack. Last year Republicans voted to remove Cheney from her leadership position in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Cheney is not in financial trouble, having ended September with more than $3.6 million in the bank. But she faces a challenge for survival in Wyoming, where the activist base of her own party has moved against her. Over the weekend, Cheney won only six votes in a straw poll conducted by the Wyoming Republican State Central Committee, with Hageman securing 59.

Billionaire Peter Thiel and Donald Trump Jr. were scheduled to co-host a pair of fundraisers for Hageman on Wednesday, Politico reported last month. Hageman had roughly $245,000 in the bank as of September.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Sinema and Manchin’s decision to join 50 Repub’s has unleashed the partisan dogs.

HuffPost

The Death Of Dems’ Voting Rights Bill Is A Green Light For GOP State Legislatures

Travis Waldron January 26, 2022

A year ago, Arizona provided one of the earliest signals that Republicans planned to launch a nationwide attack on voting rights and the American election system: It was there, in the state that handed former President Donald Trump his narrowest defeat in the 2020 election, that voting rights activists first sounded the alarms about a “five-alarm fire” that would soon engulf nearly every other state with a Republican-controlled legislature.

They were right then, and now the alarms are ringing again. Republican lawmakers there have already introduced at least 20 bills that seek to roll back voting rights by targeting mail-in ballot programs, or that otherwise seek to turn GOP conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and widespread voter fraud into state law.

In a bizarre, if not totally unexpected, twist, their crusade received a boost last week from the state’s most prominent Democrat: Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to join 50 Republicans (and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia) to effectively kill a sweeping package of federal voting rights and democracy reforms in the U.S. Senate has paved the way for yet another Republican onslaught against the most basic tenets of democracy.

The failure of the bill, and Sinema’s direct role in derailing a legislative push that might have thwarted many of the GOP’s new laws, has left Arizona Democrats both smarting at one of their own, and fearful that Republicans will only take even more aggressive action to curtail voting rights and exert more partisan control over elections in its wake.

“Disappointment is not strong enough of a word — I was disgusted by it,” Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada, a Phoenix-area Democrat, said of Sinema’s vote. “Opportunities to actually make substantial change and to really change the status quo for the better … are so few and far between. And if you don’t embrace those opportunities and take advantage of that while you can, you could blow it for a generation of people that you serve.”

“The floodgates were already open, but now [Republicans] are empowered,” he said. “They know that there isn’t a political will to stop them. I would expect that their efforts are going to get more aggressive and more outrageous.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) effectively killed Democrats' priority voting legislation in January, when she made it clear that she wouldn't support changes to the filibuster. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) effectively killed Democrats’ priority voting legislation in January, when she made it clear that she wouldn’t support changes to the filibuster. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images)

Any new assaults will just build upon last year’s dedicated efforts to restrict voting rights. Republican lawmakers, fueled by lies that the 2020 election was stolen thanks to widespread voter fraud and other nefarious practices that didn’t actually occur, approved 34 laws curbing voting rights in 19 separate states last year.

Arizona Republicans were among the most aggressive, passing three bills that placed new restrictions on absentee voting or made it easier to purge voters from the state’s permanent early voting and broader registration lists. The Arizona state Senate GOP also authorized a conspiratorial “audit” of election results in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, that found no evidence of fraud but nevertheless instilled in Republicans — and the party’s conservative base — that it had occurred in Arizona and elsewhere.

This year, Arizona lawmakers have proposed bills that would largely eliminate the use of ballot drop boxes, place new restrictions on the use of absentee ballots, and end the practice of conducting local elections entirely via mail-in ballot, which some Arizona localities to do save money and make voting easier during low-turnout contests. They have filed legislation that would create new criminal penalties related to ballot collection and handling, establish a statewide office to investigate voter fraud, and force election officials to hand-count ballots.

In the eyes of many Democrats, Sinema bears at least some responsibility for the coming deluge. The Arizona senator last week voted in favor of the Freedom To Vote-John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Democrats’ federal voting rights and democracy reform legislation that would have preempted many of the GOP’s new restrictive laws. But she refused to join 48 other Democrats to reform the Senate filibuster rule, which has blocked the legislation from becoming law.

The package, a Democratic priority nearly a decade in the making, would have established national voting rights standards and reestablished key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that have been gutted by conservative Supreme Court majorities. There has been widespread fallout from the disappearance of those provisions, including a case decided last year that allowed Arizona to keep in place voting restrictions that will make it far more difficult for the state’s large Native American population to cast ballots.

The legislation would have thwarted GOP efforts to curtail voting rights, limited other Republican-backed efforts to potentially subvert future elections, and proved that national Democrats would not remain on the sidelines while Republicans waged an all-out assault on the country’s electoral system.

Sinema’s rigid refusal to reform the filibuster, a move that would’ve allowed Senate Democrats to pass the legislation with a simple majority, has cratered her popularity in Arizona, where a poll last week found that just 8% of Democratic voters approve of her job performance. Arizona Democrats formally censured Sinema on Saturday, and she seems increasingly likely to face a primary challenge in 2024. The state’s other Democratic senator, Mark Kelly, is already fundraising off of his vote for the filibuster change ahead of a reelection campaign this fall.

“She cares more about her political future than the power of the people to actually vote for who they want,” U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D), who is openly considering a primary battle against Sinema, told HuffPost after the vote. “And if that means that she’s going to allow some Arizona voters to be disenfranchised, as long as it gets her crossover with Republicans, she’s willing to do that.”

More importantly, Gallego said, Sinema’s refusal to back the filibuster changes has left Arizona’s large Native American and Latino populations, which will face the brunt of the GOP’s prior efforts to limit voting rights, susceptible to further attacks.

“That’s the thing that I think makes a lot of us mad,” Gallego said. “It’s not just me. It makes a lot of us mad because we know the danger, we know what the Republicans are trying to do, and we know who they’re trying to target: It’s working-class Latinos, working-class people in general, and Native Americans ― some of the most vulnerable people in the state.”

Arizona’s Native American tribes, which helped drive Democrats’ success in the state in 2018 and 2020 elections, are particularly vulnerable to the Arizona GOP’s attempts to curb voting rights. The Supreme Court’s decision last year to uphold previously enacted restrictions on third-party ballot collection, along with the GOP’s other efforts to limit absentee voting, were already likely to hit tribal communities the hardest, thanks to their reliance on alternative voting methods because of their remote nature.

Any new restrictions on absentee voting, early voting and other methods will likely have a similar effect, tribal members say.

“Within the reservation, we have a lot of very remote communities,” said Allie Young, a voting rights activist and member of the Navajo Nation. “It’s already very difficult to get to the polls for our Native peoples, so these restrictions are certainly going to take away our right to vote.”

Other GOP proposals don’t necessarily go directly after voting rights. But they are rooted in the same conspiracies that drove the Cyber Ninjas “audit” that drew widespread condemnation from election observers last year, and could threaten both the integrity of Arizona’s elections and further erode voters’ confidence in them.

The proposal to require hand counts of ballots, for instance, is based on false GOP claims that voting machines switched valid votes from Trump to President Joe Biden in 2020. But as the Arizona Republic noted, studies have found that hand counts are more likely to introduce errors into vote counts than electronic machines.

Voting rights advocates have also warned that placing or strengthening criminal penalties on ballot collection and other practices is likely to have a chilling effect on organizations that seek to help voters cast ballots. And the effort to establish a state voter fraud investigative body will likely erode confidence in elections, rather than bolster it, by further parroting the idea that fraud is a major problem.

Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election on May 3, 2021, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Contractors working for Cyber Ninjas examine and recount ballots from the 2020 general election on May 3, 2021, in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo: The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Routine audits found no evidence of widespread fraud, and even dedicated efforts to proving it exists have found little to substantiate claims: There was only one instance of criminal voter fraud in Arizona’s 2020 election, according to a database maintained by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank that often pushes the idea that voter fraud is a significant risk to American elections.

The Cyber Ninjas “audit” similarly found no evidence of fraud, despite being explicitly designed to do so. It determined that Biden was the legitimate winner of the state’s election even considering the supposed irregularities the auditors claimed to find, all of which were dismissed by nonpartisan election experts as either blatant conspiracies or total misunderstanding of the state’s election laws and practices.

But the start of the 2022 legislative session in Arizona has confirmed that Republicans planned to use the audit as pretense to wage broader assaults on voting rights and elections.

“That was the intent of the audit all along,” Quezada said. “They knew that the audit wasn’t going to produce any evidence, but the intent behind it was to produce fake evidence and produce fake rationale for pushing this legislation.”

Republicans in other states are already following the path Arizona plotted a year ago: GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have spent months seeking to perform similar “audits,” while calls for “forensic audits” of the sort Cyber Ninjas carried out are now standard campaign fare among conservatives seeking elected positions throughout the country.

Nationwide, Republican legislators have also already pre-filed at least 13 bills to further erode voting rights, while another 158 bills will carry over from 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. And experts widely expect the number of bills targeting voting rights and elections to skyrocket as legislatures open their 2022 legislative sessions in the coming months.

Without federal legislation, Democrats and voting rights advocates will have no choice but to fight these battles on a state-by-state basis, in legislatures that are often hostile terrain. Democrats successfully expanded voting rights in nearly every legislature they controlled last year, but elsewhere, they will have to wait until November to try to win back majorities, which they could do in Arizona by flipping a single seat in each of the state House or Senate.

“We must defend democracy where it’s being attacked ― in the states,” said Simone Leiro, a spokeswoman for the States Project, a progressive group that focuses on state legislative races. “This is possible: In Arizona, just one seat in either the House or the Senate would end the radical right’s unchecked power. Now more than ever, if we want real action, we must focus on winning state chambers.”

But that won’t be easy. Arizona Republicans successfully used the state’s independent redistricting commission to draw legislative maps that favor the GOP and could protect the Republican majorities not just this year but throughout the next decade. More traditional forms of gerrymandering will likely safeguard GOP majorities in other key states.

And in Arizona and elsewhere, victories later this year for more radical Republican election skeptics who are seeking secretary of state roles and other key positions would only further intensify the party’s efforts to undermine democracy in the future.

“It is a dangerous situation,” Gallego said. “And it’s not a dangerous situation for Democrats. It’s a dangerous situation for democracy.”

Republican election bill would move Arizona one step closer to a dictatorship

AZCentral – The Arizona Republic

Republican election bill would move Arizona one step closer to a dictatorship

Elvia Díaz, Arizona Republic January 26, 2022

Early voting would become a thing of the past if Rep. John Fillmore's bill passes.
Early voting would become a thing of the past if Rep. John Fillmore’s bill passes.

Some Arizona Republicans want the kind of democracy where they alone can change election results.

Laughable, right? It is not.

Republican Rep. John Fillmore is proposing legislation to kill early voting altogether, mandate a hand count of votes within 24 hours and give the Legislature the final say over results.

Under House Bill 2596, the only voters allowed to vote absentee would be those who are serving in the military overseas, visually impaired, hospitalized or out of state on Election Day.

More than a dozen state lawmakers have signed onto the legislation, the latest of a flood of proposals designed change voting.

This week, a Senate committee approved seven election-related bills by those who falsely claim the 2020 presidential election was rigged against Donald Trump.

But Fillmore’s proposal is the ultimate attempt to turn democracy into a de-facto dictatorship.

That’s what dictators do. They hold elections, but they make sure the results always go their way. In this case, the Republican-controlled Legislature would become Arizona’s dictator, deciding which vote results are acceptable and which are not.

Yes, it’s that crazy, and yes, Arizona is heading into a dictatorship if election bills like Fillmore’s become law.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down

USA Today

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to step down, giving Biden a chance to make his mark

John Fritze, USA TODAY January 26, 2022

WASHINGTON –Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is planning to step down by the end of this term after nearly three decades on the high court, a source with knowledge of his plans told USA TODAY on Wednesday, handing President Joe Biden his first opportunity to nominate a jurist whose influence could be felt for decades.

Breyer’s announcement, which several outlets citing unnamed sources said would occur at the end of the court’s term in the summer, will kick off a frenzied process of naming and confirming a successor, typically a months-long ordeal that in this case is expected to end with a groundbreaking nominee: Biden had promised during his presidential campaign to name a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history.

“For virtually his entire adult life, including a quarter century on the U.S. Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer has served his country with the highest possible distinction,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “He is, and always has been, a model jurist.”

Schumer said Breyer’s replacement would be confirmed “with all deliberate speed.”

Breyer did not respond to a request for comment through a court spokeswoman. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a tweet that the administration had “no additional details or information to share.” The news was first reported by NBC.

At 83, Breyer is the second-most senior associate justice and his retirement was encouraged by liberals who wanted to ensure Biden’s nominee would benefit from a Senate controlled by Democrats. Breyer generally sided with the liberal justices, so whoever replaces him won’t likely change the court’s current conservative leanings.

But Breyer’s departure will deprive the Supreme Court of its foremost proponent of a living Constitution, the notion that interpretation of the founding document can change with the times. Breyer has also been an outspoken defender of the notion that justices decide cases based on their judicial philosophy and not their politics.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer participates in a panel at the Gewirz Student Center on the campus of Georgetown University Law Center in 2014.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer participates in a panel at the Gewirz Student Center on the campus of Georgetown University Law Center in 2014.

Nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Breyer is often described as a pragmatist, an optimist and an institutionalist who believed in giving deference to the legislative branch but who was skeptical of executive overreach. A prolific writer, Breyer authored significant majority opinions striking down anti-abortion laws in Nebraska and Louisiana and is also known for scathing dissents, including in several death penalty cases.

Warning: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer pushes back on ‘court-packing’

Breyer penned some of the court’s most notable opinions in the term that ended last summer. He wrote the majority opinion thwarting the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, concluding that the conservative states that sued over its mandate that most Americans obtain insurance did not have standing to sue. He also wrote the court’s opinion in a major First Amendment case, siding with a former student who was punished for a vulgar social media post aimed at her school.

Breyer wrote that it “might be tempting” to dismiss the student’s profanity-laced post as unworthy of the First Amendment’s protection.

“But sometimes,” he added, “it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.”

Breyer, a California native and Harvard Law graduate, is the court’s most vocal opponent of the concept of “originalism” espoused by the late Justice Antonin Scalia –the idea that jurists interpret the Constitution based on its meaning at the time it was written. Breyer instead embraced the idea of a “living” document that allows courts to give a more dynamic reading when it’s not clear what the framers had in mind.

But Breyer is also viewed as a less doctrinaire liberal than Associate Justices Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor – more willing to side with the court’s conservatives in certain law enforcement cases, for instance. In that sense, he was sometimes viewed as a conduit between the court’s liberal and conservative factions.

Biden is now expected to now begin the process of selecting a new Supreme Court justice as Democrats are still reeling from the impact former President Donald Trump had on the Federal judiciary – nominating three justices to the high court and more than 200 judges to lower courts. The Supreme Court’s current 6-3 tilt makes the court the most conservative it’s been since the 1930s, when it battled with President Franklin D. Roosevelt over his New Deal policies.

Because Biden’s nominee won’t affect that balance, the president may face an easier confirmation process. Senate Republicans did away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017, meaning Biden will now be able to get his nominee confirmed with a simple majority.

Some progressive groups pushed for Breyer to retire. Those groups were mindful of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to step down before Republicans won control of the Senate in 2014. But others noted Breyer, who once worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, was well aware of the political dynamics.

Unlike Trump, who made his short list public before choosing a nominee, Biden has kept his leading candidates for the lifetime appointment to himself. Still, the president raised the idea of nominating a Black woman to the court ahead of the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina last year. He won the state and turned his struggling campaign around.

Assuming Biden selects a nominee from the traditional pool – that is, current judges – and picks someone who can serve for decades before retiring, the choices are somewhat limited by a lack of racial diversity in courtrooms across the country. D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who President Barack Obama considered for the court in 2016, is widely considered a leading candidate this time around.

Jackson, who secured three Republican votes for her confirmation on June 14, clerked for Breyer in 1999.

Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court who worked in the Justice Department for Obama and President George W. Bush, is also often mentioned as a possible candidate. Kruger, who worked in the Solicitor General’s office, argued a dozen cases at the Supreme Court.

Not only would Biden’s pledge bring the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, it would also put four women together there for the first time – along with Associate Justices Elena KaganAmy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee who is the court’s first Latina. It would also be the first time two African Americans serve simultaneously, with Biden’s nominee joining Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

In part because Trump and Senate Republicans were in a rush to replace Ginsburg before the November election, Barrett’s confirmation took 27 days. The median number of days between a Supreme Court nomination and final action by the Senate is 68 days, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Brianne Gorod, chief counsel at Constitutional Accountability Center who clerked for Breyer in the 2008 term, described him as having a “profound and abiding belief that our Constitution sets up a system of government that should work for people.”

“He therefore cares deeply about the realities against which the court is deciding cases,” she said. Those concerns, she added, “are evident in many of the opinions he has written over the years.”

The GOP is Dead. Eisenhower is turning over in his grave.

Yahoo! News

Poll: As Ukraine tensions escalate, 62% of Republicans say Putin is a ‘stronger leader’ than Biden

Andrew Romano, West Coast Correspondent January 25, 2022

With at least 100,000 Russian troops massing on the border of Ukraine, more than 6 in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (62 percent) now say Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a stronger leader” than Joe Biden, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Fewer than half as many Republicans (25 percent) decline to take sides, saying neither leader is stronger than the other.

And just 4 percent of Republicans say Biden is stronger than Putin.

“Shame on them,” John Sipher, who worked in Moscow and ran Russia operations during his three decades in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, told the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast Tuesday when asked about the results. “Vladimir Putin hates the United States. He wants to do everything he can to weaken the United States around the world. He’s attacked our troops in Afghanistan. He’s undercut every foreign policy issue, [including] foreign policy issues that Republicans have supported for years around the world. He’s assassinating people around the world.”

“That’s incredibly, incredibly myopic, political, silly kind of thinking,” Sipher added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Alexey Nikolsky/ Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images, Andrew Harnik/AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Alexey Nikolsky/ Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images, Andrew Harnik/AP)

The survey of 1,568 U.S. adultswhich was conducted from Jan. 20 to 24 and includes 500 self-identified Republicans and Republican leaners, also found that the number of GOP respondents who believe Putin is stronger than Biden rises to 71 percent among those who name Fox News as their primary source of cable news — and falls to 54 percent among those who prefer other cable-news channels.

In recent weeks and months, Fox’s top primetime anchor, Tucker Carlson, has repeatedly favored Russia over Ukraine, asking on Nov. 10 why the U.S. would “take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side” and arguing in December that Putin was justified in building up troops along the border.

Ukraine is “strategically irrelevant to the United States,” Carlson added Monday night. “No rational person could defend a war with Russia over Ukraine.”

The U.S. is not positioning itself for direct war if Russia invades, but it has warned of severe consequences for Moscow, including a punishing round of sanctions by both the U.S. and its allies. Many European states are alarmed by Russia’s strong-arming of its democratic neighbor, and they worry that such an invasion would be a prelude to more moves by Putin to expand his influence over former Soviet-bloc states.

A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea
A convoy of Russian armored vehicles on a highway in Crimea on Jan. 18. (AP)

As a report in the New York Times noted, “Putin is seeking to redraw the post-Cold War boundaries of Europe, establishing a broad, Russian-dominated security zone and drawing Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit by force, if necessary.”

In March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine; since that year, Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region have been mired in a war with Kremlin-backed rebels that has killed more than 13,000 people. As a result, Ukraine has moved closer to NATO, a development that Putin is now using as a pretext for escalating tensions.

Republican views on Russia were likely altered by several years of sympathetic statements from President Donald Trump, who said in 2016 that Putin “has been a leader far more than our president,” Barack Obama. Trump continued to defend and praise his Russian counterpart throughout his presidency, particularly as evidence emerged that Putin had meddled in the 2016 election to benefit Trump.

Previous polls suggest that rank-and-file Republicans, who were once hawkish toward Russia, have increasingly adopted Trump and Carlson’s softer stance. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney faced criticism from Democrats after he described Russia as America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.

Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson speaking at a conference in Esztergom, Hungary. (Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

As William Saletan recently pointed out in Slate, “In Gallup polls before 2016, Republicans generally viewed Russia less favorably than Democrats did. Now it’s the other way around.” Likewise, “Republicans used to be more likely than Democrats to view Russia as a critical threat and to emphasize containment of Russian power rather than ‘friendly cooperation.’” But “by 2017, those numbers had turned upside down: Only one in three Republicans described Russia’s military power as a critical threat, and most said the U.S. should focus on cooperation instead of limiting Russia’s power.”

Polls taken last June also showed that Putin enjoys a better net favorable rating among Republicans than Biden does, by anywhere from 16 to 22 percentage points.

According to U.S. intelligence, Putin’s intentions remain unclear — though he appears to have developed a war plan that includes an invasion force of 175,000 troops.

In turn, Biden has said that Russian invasion would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II,” and the New York Times reported over the weekend that the administration is now “considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.”

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,568 U.S. adults interviewed online from Jan. 20 to 24, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8 percent.

Justice Breyer Announced Retirement

Political

How Senate Dems reaped the benefits from 2 little-known GOP maneuvers

Marianne LeVine January 26, 2022

Tom Williams/AP

Senate Democrats lost their fight to weaken the filibuster, but they’re capitalizing big on another rules change — that the GOP pushed

After an Obama administration marked by Democratic frustration over the pace of judicial confirmations, the party is making notable progress on approving President Joe Biden’s picks for the federal bench thanks to a 2019 Republican move to speed up the confirmation of most presidential nominees.

Although the change benefited Republicans at the time, it has allowed Democrats to confirm judges during Biden’s first year at a pace that was last rivaled by former President Ronald Reagan’s initial 365 days in office.

Democrats’ confirmation productivity during this Congress hasn’t garnered much attention, thanks in part to their own consuming drive to chip at the filibuster and pass election reform legislation. Still, it stands in stark contrast to the party’s failure to push its voting bill past the Senate’s supermajority requirement.

And it’s not the only arcane change that Democrats have benefited from, taken right out of the GOP playbook, when it comes to judicial fights.

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is continuing his GOP predecessors’ move to nix the veto power that home-state senators once wielded over circuit court nominees. That tradition is known as the”blue slip,” named for the paper that senators use to express their favorable or unfavorable opinion about a specific judicial pick. Durbin took his first formal step against the practice this month, moving forward on a circuit court nominee who would represent Tennessee and lacked support from both GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty.

“Senate Democrats and the Biden administration are not allowing Republicans to play by one set of rules and Democrats by the other,” said Christopher Kang, chief counsel at the liberal group Demand Justice. “Of course they should take advantage of the fact that blue slips don’t exist anymore for circuit court judges, and obviously the fact that the time has decreased now to two hours for district court nominees.”

Senate Democrats’ approach to judicial nominees under Biden carries a huge potential lesson for the filibuster battle: It underscores the likelihood that any rules change in the chamber will eventually be used by the party in power, regardless of that party’s stance when out of power. For example, Republicans highlighted former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2013 elimination of filibusters for executive-branch and most judicial nominees when they axed the 60-vote margin for Supreme Court justices in 2017.

That 2017 change will theoretically make it easier for Democrats to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, should one arise this year. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has adamantly defended the legislative filibuster, and Republicans argue confirmation rules changes are a separate category from legislative rules changes. But some in the GOP acknowledged that the latest Democratic fight to change the filibuster could set a precedent if they take back the majority.

Unlike former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Biden did not fill a Supreme Court seat during his first year in office. But, so far, Democrats have confirmed a total of 42 judges; that includes 29 district court nominees and 13 circuit court nominees, the latter considered a record for the modern era. And Democrats could get to fill even more vacancies if more judges take “senior status” and step aside from the bench with the 2022 midterms election approaching and control of the Senate a toss-up.

Republicans are quick to highlight that the new rules didn’t exist during Trump’s first year in office, hurting his nominations clip relative to Biden’s.

“The Democrats have had the benefit of no 30-hour rule for post-cloture debate for district court nominations, unlike the first half of the Trump administration, so the Biden confirmation pace is not an apples-to-apples comparison,” said Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.

Prior to leaving for this week’s recess, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took procedural steps to move forward on three district court judges and one circuit court judge for when the Senate returns. And just as Senate Republicans did under Trump, Democrats are putting forth multiple circuit court nominees on a single panel in order to speed up the confirmation process.

There are currently 39 Biden judicial nominees pending before the Senate. Every judge the Senate has confirmed so far has received blue slips indicating support from home-state senators. But Andre Mathis, whom Biden nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which includes Tennessee — is the first judicial nominee to advance without a blue slip, although Democrats argue that the White House sufficiently consulted with Blackburn and Hagerty before moving forward.

For Republicans, consultation is “the name of the game” on blue slips, as one GOP judiciary panel aide put it, speaking on condition of anonymity. During the Trump administration, Republicans said that home-state senators would be consulted about circuit court judge nominees but wouldn’t be given a veto. They argue Democrats need to reciprocate.

As circuit court vacancies open up in purple and red states, it’s not yet clear to what extent the White House and Senate Republicans will be on the same page or which vacancies will be prioritized first. Biden recently nominated Arianna Freeman to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and while Freeman has support from home-state Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Pat Toomey hasn’t indicated whether he will return a blue slip for her.

Biden has yet to nominate someone to another 6th Circuit vacancy in Ohio, a purple state, or tackle circuit court vacancies in red states like South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas. There are also several circuit court vacancies in blue states like Rhode Island, which could offer the White House a faster confirmation process, with buy-in from home state senators.

“In a number of those states in those circuits, where, especially for us, we know so much pivotal litigation is happening … there’s certainly a lot of opportunity where we need to move quickly,” said Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the Fair Courts Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Similar to Republicans, Democrats have preserved blue-slip veto power for district court nominees. While Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) returned blue slips for three district court nominees for his state, it’s not clear yet whether Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) will return a blue slip for William Pocan, a Wisconsin district court nominee and the brother of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

Senate Democrats note that Biden’s current vacancies to fill in red or purple states tend to be replacements for judges appointed by Democratic presidents. Nonetheless, they might be well-served to move quickly on those vacancies, with both Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee eyeing a November election that could hand the GOP control of the Senate. Republicans warn they could stall Biden’s judicial nominees if they win the majority in 2023, should they deem home-state senator consultation insufficient this Congress.

“I obviously hope we keep the Senate,” one Democratic Judiciary panel aide said, speaking candidly on condition of anonymity. “But if not, time is of the essence, and I think everyone is keenly aware on that front.”

America Won’t Let the repub’s Whitewash Our History

HuffPost

Glenn Youngkin Sets Up Tip Line To Report Teachers And You Know What Pranksters Did Next

Lee Moran January 26, 2022

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s  (R) tip line seeking reports of what he describes as “divisive practices” in schools — such as the teaching of critical race theory ― has been hit with fake complaints.

Qasim Rashid, a Virginia-based lawyer and former Democratic congressional candidate, tweeted some of the taunting messages that people claim to have sent to a dedicated email address after he sarcastically told followers not to “make a mockery of this.

“Albus Dumbeldor was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods!” read a “Harry Potter”-themed email reportedly sent to the tip line.

“Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me!” said another message, referencing “The Simpsons.

It’s not the first time pranksters have overwhelmed a GOP reporting site, with similar action being taken against a Texas system to snitch on people who help others get abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Singer-songwriter John Legend, meanwhile, urged Black parents to flood the Virginia line “with complaints about our history being silenced.”