American democracy is fighting for its life – and Republicans don’t care
On Sunday, the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin announced in an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that he opposes the For the People Act. He also opposes ending the filibuster.
An op-ed in the most prominent state newspaper is about as non-negotiable a position a senator can assert.
It was a direct thumb-in-your-eye response to President Biden’s thinly veiled criticism of Manchin last Tuesday in Tulsa, where Biden explained why he was having difficulty getting passage of what was supposed to be his highest priority – new voting rights legislation that would supersede a raft of new voter suppression laws in Republican-dominated states, using Trump’s baseless claim of voter fraud as pretext.
“I hear all the folks on TV saying, ‘Why doesn’t Biden get this done?’” Biden asked rhetorically in Tulsa. “Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House, and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends. But we’re not giving up.”
Everyone knew he was referring to Manchin, as well as Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, another Democratic holdout.
Manchin’s very public repudiation of Biden on Sunday could mean the end of the For the People Act. That opens the way for Republican states to continue their shameless campaign of voter suppression – very possibly giving Republicans a victory in the 2022 midterm elections and entrenching Republican rule for a generation.
As it is, registered Republicans make up only about 25% of the American electorate, and that percentage appears to be shrinking in the wake of Trump’s malodorous exit.
But because rural Republican states like Wyoming (with 574,000 inhabitants) get two senators just as do urban ones like California (with nearly 40 million), and because Republican states have gerrymandered districts that elect House members to give them an estimated 19 extra seats over what they would have without gerrymandering, the scales were already tipped.
Then came the post-Trump deluge of state laws making it harder for likely Democrats to vote, and easier for Republican state legislatures to manipulate voting tallies.
Manchin says he supports extending the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to all 50 states. That’s small comfort.
The original 1965 Voting Rights Act was struck down by the supreme court in 2013, on the dubious logic that it was no longer needed because states with a history of suppressing Black votes no longer did so. (Note that within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced it would implement a strict photo ID law, and Mississippi and Alabama soon followed.)
The efficacy of a new national Voting Rights Act would depend on an activist justice department willing to block state changes in voting laws that suppress votes and on an activist supreme court willing to uphold such justice department decisions. Don’t bet on either. We know what happened to the justice department under Trump, and we know what’s happened to the supreme court.
Besides, a new Voting Rights Act wouldn’t be able to roll back the most recent round of voter suppression laws from Republican states.
Without Manchin, then, the For the People Act is probably dead, unless Biden can convince one Republican senator to join Senate Democrats in supporting it – like, say, Utah’s Mitt Romney, who has publicly rebuked Trump for lying about the 2020 election and has something of a reputation for being an institutionalist who cares about American democracy.
Yet given Trump’s continuing hold over the shrinking Republican party, any Republican senator who joined with the Democrats in supporting the For the People Act would probably be ending their political career. Profiles in courage make good copy for political obituaries and memorials.
I’m afraid history will show that, in this shameful era, Republican senators were more united in their opposition to voting rights than Democratic senators were in their support for them.
The future of American democracy needs better odds.
Amid mega-drought, rightwing militia stokes water rebellion in US west
Fears of a confrontation between law enforcement and rightwing militia supporters over the control of water in the drought-stricken American west have been sparked by protests at Klamath Falls in Oregon.
Protesters affiliated with rightwing anti-government activist Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights Network are threatening to break a deadlock over water management in the area by unilaterally opening the headgates of a reservoir.
The protest has reawakened memories not only of recent standoffs with federal agencies – including the one led by Bundy in eastern Oregon in 2016 – but a longer history of anti-government agitation in southern Oregon and northern California, stretching back to 2000 and beyond.
The area is a hotbed of militia and anti-government activity and also hit by the mega-drought that has struck the American west and caused turmoil in the agricultural community as conflicts over water become more intense. Among the current protesters at Klamath Falls are individuals who have themselves been involved in similar actions over two decades, including an illegal release of water at the same reservoir in 2001.
In May, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be no further release of water from the reserves in the Klamath Basin for irrigators downstream, who rely on the Klamath Project water infrastructure along the Oregon-California border.
Later in the month, two Oregon irrigators, Grant Knoll and Dan Neilsen, began occupying a piece of land adjacent to the headgates of the main canal which pipes water to downstream farmers and Native American tribal groups, like the Yurok, who depend on the water “flushing” the river for the benefit of salmon hatchlings.
Knoll and Nielsen, along with members of the People’s Rights Network, which has engaged in militant anti-mask protests in neighboring Idaho, began staffing a tent on the property which they dubbed a “water crisis info center”.
They also told a number of media outlets that they were prepared to restore the flow of water, even at the price of a confrontation with the federal government, with Knoll telling Jefferson Public Radio last Monday: “We’re going to turn on the water and have a standoff.”
Also on the property is a large metal bucket, daubed with anti-government slogans, which is a memento of a 2001 confrontation at the same spot. That July, 100 farmers, including Knoll and Nielsen, used an 8in-wide irrigation line to bypass the headgate, sending water down the canal. That year, the action by the farmers was followed by other protest actions, such as an American flag-bedecked horse charge, similar to the one that took place on the Bundy ranch during that family’s standoff with federal authorities in 2014.
The confrontation was only defused after appeals were made to the farmers in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11.
Then as now, the reduced flows were partly with environmental issues in mind.
This year, amid the severe drought, the measure is being taken in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, to ensure the survival of two species of suckerfish whose last remaining habitats are in the reservoirs.
In order to keep enough water in the system to ensure their survival, water must be denied to those who rely on it downstream, including both farmers and tribes who depend on fishing.
Endangered Coho Salmon will likely suffer from the lack of water, along with migrating birds later in the season whose refuges have dried up. But previous court decisions have determined that the interests of those upstream should take precedence, including the Klamath Tribes, for whom the suckerfish have a spiritual significance.
While the protesters claim to represent the interests of farmers, they have been disavowed by agricultural leaders, including Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, who told the Sacramento Bee that the protesters were “idiots who have no business being here”, who were using the crisis as “a soapbox to push their agenda”.
Whether or not DuVal speaks for the majority of farmers, there is no sign that the so far small protest is catching on like 2001’s anti-government surge, which saw protest crowds in the thousands in the lead up to the breaching of the headgates.
And while the protesters’ placards promise “Ammon Bundy coming soon”, their leader has so far not made the trip to the Klamath camp from neighboring Idaho, where he recently filed to run for governor.
The Superrich Bought Up This Idaho Town and Regular Folks Now May Have to Live in Tents
Affordable housing in Ketchum—the Idaho resort community adjacent to billionaire and celebrity playground Sun Valley—has been a problem for decades.
But the situation is becoming so dire in the wake of COVID-19 that city officials are considering an unusual range of quick fixes—including building tent cities and RV parks for the common folk in the ultra-rich mountain town, where the average median home listing price is hovering above $900,000.
Residents and housing activists say their friends and neighbors, some whose families have lived in Ketchum for generations, are being priced out as landlords sell buildings to well-heeled buyers and out-of-town investors. The problem is exacerbated, they say, by property owners renting homes for a bigger profit on sites like Airbnb to short-term remote employees escaping Silicon Valley and big cities.
“There’s a joke going around: you either have three houses in Ketchum or three jobs,” said Kris Gilarowski, a hospitality worker and father of two who recently launched a Facebook group titled Occupy Ketchum Town Square to address the housing crisis.
And those losing homes and apartments aren’t just service industry workers, but teachers, nurses, and other professionals who are fast becoming the hidden homeless in the picturesque city of roughly 2,800 people.
“I think the people who have three jobs don’t have time to write a letter to the editor or go to a city council meeting,” Gilarowski told The Daily Beast. “It got me thinking that you need to get these people involved, because if they don’t come out, a solution won’t happen.”
As local TV station KTVB reported, some temporary housing solutions weighed by city officials include “a plan to allow Ketchum’s nurses, teachers, and service workers to sleep in tents in the city park as rent and housing costs continue to soar out of their grasp.”
The discussions come at a time when one developer is seeking approval for an affordable housing complex downtown called Bluebird Village but facing backlash from residents who claim the building will be an eyesore and absorb valuable parking spaces.
They also follow another developer’s $9 million sale of an affordable apartment building called KETCH, leaving residents unable to pay new rates imposed by the new landlord. (At a recent city council meeting, one KETCH resident said the new owner increased rents by 50 to 60 percent. “He wants me to be paying $1,700 for 425 square feet. It’s insane, it shouldn’t have happened,” the woman said.)
“One of the biggest oppositions to Bluebird and any affordable housing, really, was aesthetics,” Reid Stillman, a mayoral candidate who works in advertising and is scrambling to find rental housing himself, told The Daily Beast. “That is so embarrassing when we’re dealing with human lives.”
“We have this older generation worried about the look and color of the brick of the building,” Stillman added. “What they don’t understand is these are the people that serve them food, sell them clothes, bag their groceries… and you’re not allowing them to have affordable places to live because you’re worried about the color of brick in town.”
Meanwhile, Gilarowski said he’s heard from long-term residents who received notices of rent hikes anywhere from $600 to $1,500—and one well-paid hospital worker lived in his car for three weeks because he couldn’t find a place to live.
Gilarowski shared another horror story at a special city council meeting last month to address the crisis: A couple was living in a tent in Sawtooth National Forest for 94 days through January before they found affordable housing.
“I do support the city of Ketchum opening up some public spaces, so people could temporarily park an RV, pitch a tent, because then we can’t hide from these people,” Gilarowski said at the meeting. “These are the people that work at your school. These are the people that work at your local business. These are the people that serve you. I know some of you put up your $8 million houses … but you don’t have compassion for working class people. You say you’re for community housing but ‘not this project, not that project…’”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Gilarowski alluded to the wealth infused in Ketchum and neighboring Sun Valley, including Allen & Co.’s annual media conference, sometimes referred to as a “summer camp for billionaires.” (This year, the guest list includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.)
“There’s so much wealth here and it’s kind of embarrassing to hear that people, families, decide to live for 94 days in a national forest, hidden,” Gilarowski said.
Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw raised a variety of possible solutions to the housing crisis at the council meeting: using city funds to rent hotel rooms this summer and encouraging local residents to rent out spare rooms. He also floated using public lands, including parks or parking lots, for temporary tent sites or RV parking.
Bradshaw said Ketchum’s Rotary Park could house a number of tents, has public restrooms and was across from a YMCA, which has showers. “It would require a certain level of qualification to stay there, so the people would have to show they are working for a local business and contributing to our economy in a certain way. It wouldn’t just be for roadtrippers passing through Ketchum,” Bradshaw told the crowd.
But Stillman blamed Bradshaw and city officials for not acting sooner and called the tent city for nurses and teachers “a joke.”
“We have homeless people,” Stillman countered at the meeting. “They may not be on the street and you may not see them, which is good for you and good for business. But they’re living on couches, they’re in our friends’ houses, they’re in tents up north, they’re camping down south, they’re doing anything they can to get to work here in town.
“We’re not just talking waitresses and waiters,” Stillman added. “We’re talking nurses, and medical supply people, teachers. My best friend works at Montessori school—he’s a teacher, he has nowhere to live.”
Stillman said his own landlord sold his apartment building and he must be out by September. “I make good money and I still can’t find a place,” Stillman said. “So it’s not just affecting one income level … To live in a tent in Rotary Park is a joke especially for people who need WiFi, have to work and have to make a living. That’s a joke.”
“Not only am I going to be homeless with a good job Sept. 1, but my friends who are in the service industry who don’t make a lot of money, they can’t pay $2,900 a month for a two bedroom in Ketchum. This isn’t San Francisco, Neil,” Stillman fumed.
In an interview on Monday, Stillman told us Ketchum suffers from a disconnect among the city’s classes, a situation that stymies action on workforce housing. He said there’s everyday permanent residents who have three to four jobs just to live in the city, second-homers who travel in for vacations, and extremely wealthy people who own a house in Ketchum which they visit only a week or so out of the year.
“Not everyone has a seat at the table,” Stillman said. “I feel our current leader caters to a certain population and there’s not an open line of communication with longterm residents.”
Bradshaw told The Daily Beast that the tent housing was only one idea suggested during a community workshop and bristled at The Daily Beast, and local media, playing up the specter of tent cities. He said Ketchum city planners are also looking into whether elderly homeowners could rent out rooms in their homes in exchange for tenants helping with yard work or other chores, and into altering city code to allow RVs on private property or using federal funds for rental assistance.
The mayor said newer, wealthier residents who fled cities for mountain ski towns during the coronavirus pandemic put pressure on Ketchum’s already limited housing market, driving up rental prices as much as 50 percent.
“We are a small town,” Bradshaw said. “We have seen over the last year, an influx of more people moving to our town due to COVID. COVID has taken what was probably going to happen in 15 years and accelerated it into 15 months.”
“COVID has been the catalyst to amplifying our housing situation,” added Bradshaw, who like others interviewed for this story, noted that for dozens and dozens of help-wanted ads in local press, there’s only a handful of rental advertisements.
“This is so complicated and so nuanced, and it’s happening around the country, it’s not just us,” the mayor continued. “Just like we were during COVID, because we had the highest density of COVID cases per capita at one point, we’re having our little moment of fame here with this idea of affordable housing. But we’re a microcosm of what’s happening around the country.”
The city’s hands are tied, Bradshaw said, because its taxing authority is limited—other hotspots for the uber-rich like Aspen, Colorado, for example, enjoy a real-estate transfer tax that Idaho lacks—and it’s unable to limit Airbnb, VRBO and other short-term rentals because of a 2017 state law.
“We have a very wealthy population and most of them are very supportive of affordable housing although, you know, always wanting something else that’s maybe not quite in their backyard,” Bradshaw said.
In recent months, a retired doctor named Gary Hoffman parked a trailer throughout Ketchum and covered it with a massive sign that declared, “What The One Percenters Ignore: Affordable housing has always been the lifeblood of a vibrant community. A town dies when its most productive people cannot afford to live in it.” Hoffman’s banner also demanded in all caps: “Worker housing now!”
The 79-year-old physician owns a pair of mobile home parks just outside Ketchum and a rental cabin on a 28-acre ranch about 24 miles south of the city.
After the tenant of the cabin announced she was moving out, Hoffman placed a rental ad in the local newspaper, for $650 a month, and received 85 phone calls in 48 hours. “It went to the second person who called. So I had 83 more calls to field,” he said.
The doc saw it as an opportunity to galvanize more residents into fighting for affordable housing. “Everybody I talked to after that, I said, ‘What the hell are you doing to get things changed around here? What are you doing besides bemoaning the fact that we don’t have housing? Are you going to meetings? Are you writing letters to the editor, are you protesting, are you picketing, are you going down to Boise and haranguing the legislators who said Airbnbs and VRBOs are wonderful in resort communities?’”
On Monday, Hoffman was busy doing his own roofing repairs at the mobile home park since he couldn’t find construction workers who were immediately available. “There’s a lot of construction already, everybody who’s got a contracting construction company is working to the max,” Hoffman said.
The mobile home parks are some of the area’s only workforce housing, where tenants pay an average of $550 a month. Many of Hoffman’s tenants work in construction, landscaping or basic clerical work, speak Spanish as a first language, and “do the work nobody else wants to do,” he said.
“People look at the parks I have and they say, ‘My God, you could double your rents.’ People are working, they live there,” Hoffman told us. “Why would I do that if I don’t need the money? And I don’t, so there you go.”
After judge overturns California assault weapons ban, state officials vow to fight back
By Alex Wigglesworth and Thomas Curwen June 5, 2021
Families of mass shooting victims, gun control advocates and California officials condemned a federal judge’s decision to overturn California’s 30-year-old ban on assault weapons, largely because of the manner in which he justified his ruling.
In declaring the ban unconstitutional late Friday, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez compared the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a Swiss Army knife, calling it “good for both home and battle.”
Benitez, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush and serves in the Southern District of California, issued a permanent injunction against the law’s enforcement but stayed it for 30 days to give the state a chance to appeal.
California is one of seven states, plus Washington, D.C., that ban assault weapons, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
In his 94-page ruling, Benitez wrote that it was unlawful for California to prohibit its citizens from possessing weapons permitted in most other states and allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Advocates for the right to bear arms hailed the ruling.
“This is by far the most fact-intensive, detailed judicial opinion on this issue ever,” said Dave Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver and adjunct scholar at libertarian think tank the Cato Institute.
State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and said he would appeal.
“There is no sound basis in law, fact, or common sense for equating assault rifles with Swiss Army knives — especially on Gun Violence Awareness Day and after the recent shootings in our own California communities,” Bonta said in a statement.
“I can assure you — if a Swiss Army knife was used at Pulse, we would have had a birthday party for my best friend last week,” Brandon Wolf, who survived the Florida attack, wrote on Twitter. “Not a vigil.”
Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the ruling made her do a double-take.
“I have two daughters, and they read dystopian fiction, like the ‘Hunger Games,’ and it was kind of like that,” she said. “It can’t be real. Nobody, ever, who is a thinking human being with a heartbeat, could possibly liken a Swiss Army knife to an AR-15.”
In response to several mass shootings on his watch, President Biden announced in April that his administration would take steps toward greater gun regulation.
They include a proposal to require background checks for self-assembled firearms — so-called ghost guns — and a law that would allow family members or law enforcement agencies to request a court order to take guns away from a person who is a danger to themselves or others. Nineteen states, including California, have already passed such laws.
“Today’s decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday in a statement. “The fact that this judge compared the AR-15 — a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield — to a Swiss Army knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon.”
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2019 by pro-gun groups, including the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, California Gun Rights Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition.
The plaintiffs also included three San Diego County men who said they own legal rifles or pistols and want to use high-capacity magazines in them but can’t, because doing so would turn them into illegal assault weapons under California statutes.
In cases in which the government seeks to limit people’s constitutional rights, such as those guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment, the government has the burden of proving the limitation is helping to advance an important public interest, like reducing mass shootings, Kopel said.
“You’re essentially weighing how much of a burden you are inflicting on law-abiding people versus how much you are reducing whatever problem you’re trying to deal with,” he said. In this case, he said, the judge found that “we’re not getting any reduction in mass shootings, and it’s imposing quite a severe burden on innocent people, like people who want to have these types of firearms for protection in the home.”
Other legal experts found the judge’s reasoning less compelling.
“The judge in this case, in declaring the ban on assault weapons to be a failed policy experiment and therefore unconstitutional, was engaging in his own policy judgment,” said Susan Estrich, professor at the USC Gould School of Law. “His very reasoning undercuts his own conclusion.”
California became the first state to ban the sale of assault weapons in 1989 in response to a shooting at a Stockton elementary school that left five students dead. The ban, signed into law by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, has been updated multiple times since then to expand the definition of what is considered an assault weapon.
Each time, those who owned the firearms before they were prohibited were required to register them. There are an estimated 185,569 such weapons registered with the state, Benitez said.
In response to the ban soon after it was enacted, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found the 2nd Amendment applied only as a limitation on the federal government, not state governments, Kopel said.
But in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling saying the 2nd Amendment applies to cities and states, which helped pave the way for this decision, he said.
In the current case, the state attorney general’s office argued that assault weapons are more dangerous than other firearms and are disproportionately used in crimes and mass shootings. Similar restrictions have previously been upheld by six other federal district and appeals courts, the state argued.
But the judge said the firearms targeted by the ban are most commonly used for legal purposes.
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of 2nd Amendment protection,” he wrote. “The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machine guns.”
“In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle,” he added.
In the case of the assault weapons ban, the decision will almost certainly be stayed beyond 30 days, pending an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and there’s an excellent chance the court will issue a reversal, given its liberal tendencies, Estrich said.
“Ultimately,” she said, “the question may be whether the United States Supreme Court, with its new conservative appointees, sees this as an opportunity to dig into assault weapons bans.”
That could imperil gun control laws that are on the books across the country, Brown said.
“The Supreme Court overturning these kinds of laws that are designed to promote public safety has huge negative implications, not only for assault weapons bans but for every public safety law that we have ever crafted to regulate guns, including the Brady law.” she said, referring to the 1994 requirement that firearm purchasers undergo federal background checks.
Opinion: Republican senators managed to outdo themselves in cowardice
Opinion by George T. Conway III, Contributing columnist June 2, 2021
Republican senators have managed to outdo themselves in cowardice — which is quite a feat.
Last week’s Senate vote blocking a national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol was even more appalling than either of the Senate’s impeachment trial acquittals of former president Donald Trump.
With few exceptions, Senate Republicans shirked their duties at both trials, despite the oaths they took to defend the Constitution, and, in an impeachment trial, to “do impartial justice.” These derelictions were especially apparent in the first impeachment trial. Faced with overwhelming evidence that Trump had used his official powers to try to coerce a foreign nation into aiding his reelection campaign, all but one Republican (Utah’s Mitt Romney) voted to acquit him, even as the senators refused to call witnesses.
They betrayed their oaths again in February, when 43 of the 50 Republican senators voted to acquit Trump of inciting the insurrection, even though he had largely committed his high crime openly, on television and Twitter, and even though the senators themselves were among the victims.
They acquitted him even though they surely recognized, as their own leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), blisteringly said on the floor on Feb. 13 after voting to acquit, that Trump had engaged in a “disgraceful — disgraceful — dereliction of duty.” Rather than “do his job,” McConnell said, Trump “watched television happily — happily — as the chaos unfolded,” hoping “to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
Trump breached his duties in both cases, and Senate Republicans thus failed to carry out theirs. But at least then the senators had excuses, however feeble.
With the first impeachment, they faced the momentous decision of whether to remove a president from office — something that has never been done. You can’t blame anyone for feeling trepidation at such a prospect.
The second time around, most claimed they couldn’t convict a former president, even though he had been impeached while in office for acts committed while in office. Constitutional text and history refute that proposition, but you could at least understand one underlying motivation: The usual sanction for an impeachment conviction is removal. Trump was already gone, posed no further threat of committing official abuse, had just lost an election by 7 million votes and stood as unpopular as ever. So, at least the theory went, why bother convicting him just to formally disqualify him from ever holding federal offices to which he’d never be elected?
Those may not have been great excuses, but at least the Republicans had them.
There was no excuse — none — for what they did last week.
They weren’t being asked to remove anyone from office; they weren’t being asked to pass judgment of any sort. They were merely being asked to allow a bipartisan commission to look into what happened on, and led to, Jan. 6.
Even worse: They actually weren’t voting on whether to create a commission; they were voting on cloture — on whether even to allow a vote on the issue. Using the filibuster, a Republican minority refused to allow a majority (which would have included seven Republicans) to hold that vote.
And they did so out of raw political fear, this time without fig leaves. McConnell’s own leadership colleague, minority whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), actually admitted that Republicans feared that the commission’s findings “could be weaponized politically and drug into next year,” a midterm election year.
As for McConnell, he pulled out all the stops. Virtually echoing British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s notorious call to partisanship in the decisive 1940 parliamentary debate over his handling of Nazi aggression — “I have friends in the House” — McConnell shamelessly asked his colleagues to kill the commission bill as “a personal favor” to him.
With that, the Republicans’ policy of appeasing Trump prevailed once again. But if Republicans are worried about what would happen if the public learned more of the truth about Jan. 6, they have only themselves to blame.
After all, they were the ones who acquitted Trump in the first impeachment trial and let him remain in office. They were the ones who stood mute before Jan. 6 as Trump propagated the “big lie” after the election. They were the ones who left open the horrifying prospect of letting Trump hold office again. They are the ones who continue to wish his wrongs away.
They quiver in fear of the man who cost them the presidency and both houses of Congress. As they continue to quake, the “big lie’s” cancer upon democracy grows, with spurious election audits in pursuit of fantasies of fraud, and with some insanely claiming — reportedly including Trump himself — that he’ll be “reinstated” in due course.
Four years of Trump have led to the Republican Party becoming a threat to democracy, a declining sect dominated by crackpots, charlatans and cowards. Of these, it’s the cowards, including the senators who killed last week’s legislation, who bear the most blame.
If the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis is true, expect a political earthquake
Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
There was a time when the Covid pandemic seemed to confirm so many of our assumptions. It cast down the people we regarded as villains. It raised up those we thought were heroes. It prospered people who could shift easily to working from home even as it problematized the lives of those Trump voters living in the old economy.
Like all plagues, Covid often felt like the hand of God on earth, scourging the people for their sins against higher learning and visibly sorting the righteous from the unmasked wicked. “Respect science,” admonished our yard signs. And lo!, Covid came and forced us to do so, elevating our scientists to the highest seats of social authority, from where they banned assembly, commerce, and all the rest.
We cast blame so innocently in those days. We scolded at will. We knew who was right and we shook our heads to behold those in the wrong playing in their swimming pools and on the beach. It made perfect sense to us that Donald Trump, a politician we despised, could not grasp the situation, that he suggested people inject bleach, and that he was personally responsible for more than one super-spreading event. Reality itself punished leaders like him who refused to bow to expertise. The prestige news media even figured out a way to blame the worst death tolls on a system of organized ignorance they called “populism.”
In reaction to the fool Trump, liberalism made a cult out of the hierarchy of credentialed achievement in general
But these days the consensus doesn’t consense quite as well as it used to. Now the media is filled with disturbing stories suggesting that Covid might have come — not from “populism” at all, but from a laboratory screw-up in Wuhan, China. You can feel the moral convulsions beginning as the question sets in: What if science itself is in some way culpable for all this?
I am no expert on epidemics. Like everyone else I know, I spent the pandemic doing as I was told. A few months ago I even tried to talk a Fox News viewer out of believing in the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origins. The reason I did that is because the newspapers I read and the TV shows I watched had assured me on many occasions that the lab-leak theory wasn’t true, that it was a racist conspiracy theory, that only deluded Trumpists believed it, that it got infinite pants-on-fire ratings from the fact-checkers, and because (despite all my cynicism) I am the sort who has always trusted the mainstream news media.
My own complacency on the matter was dynamited by the lab-leak essay that ran in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists earlier this month; a few weeks later everyone from Doctor Fauci to President Biden is acknowledging that the lab-accident hypothesis might have some merit. We don’t know the real answer yet, and we probably will never know, but this is the moment to anticipate what such a finding might ultimately mean. What if this crazy story turns out to be true?
The answer is that this is the kind of thing that could obliterate the faith of millions. The last global disaster, the financial crisis of 2008, smashed people’s trust in the institutions of capitalism, in the myths of free trade and the New Economy, and eventually in the elites who ran both American political parties.
In the years since (and for complicated reasons), liberal leaders have labored to remake themselves into defenders of professional rectitude and established legitimacy in nearly every field. In reaction to the fool Trump, liberalism made a sort of cult out of science, expertise, the university system, executive-branch “norms,” the “intelligence community,” the State Department, NGOs, the legacy news media, and the hierarchy of credentialed achievement in general.
Now here we are in the waning days of Disastrous Global Crisis #2. Covid is of course worse by many orders of magnitude than the mortgage meltdown — it has killed millions and ruined lives and disrupted the world economy far more extensively. Should it turn out that scientists and experts and NGOs, etc. are villains rather than heroes of this story, we may very well see the expert-worshiping values of modern liberalism go up in a fireball of public anger.
Consider the details of the story as we have learned them in the last few weeks:
• Lab leaks happen. They aren’t the result of conspiracies: “a lab accident is an accident,” as Nathan Robinson points out; they happen all the time, in this country and in others, and people die from them.
• There is evidence that the lab in question, which studies bat coronaviruses, may have been conducting what is called “gain of function” research, a dangerous innovation in which diseases are deliberately made more virulent. By the way, right-wingers didn’t dream up “gain of function”: all the cool virologists have been doing it (in this country and in others) even as the squares have been warning against it for years.
• There are strong hints that some of the bat-virus research at the Wuhan lab was funded in part by the American national-medical establishment — which is to say, the lab-leak hypothesis doesn’t implicate China alone.
• There seem to have been astonishing conflicts of interest among the people assigned to get to the bottom of it all, and (as we know from Enron and the housing bubble) conflicts of interest are always what trip up the well-credentialed professionals whom liberals insist we must all heed, honor, and obey.
• The news media, in its zealous policing of the boundaries of the permissible, insisted that Russiagate was ever so true but that the lab-leak hypothesis was false false false, and woe unto anyone who dared disagree. Reporters gulped down whatever line was most flattering to the experts they were quoting and then insisted that it was 100% right and absolutely incontrovertible — that anything else was only unhinged Trumpist folly, that democracy dies when unbelievers get to speak, and so on.
• The social media monopolies actually censoredposts about the lab-leak hypothesis. Of course they did! Because we’re at war with misinformation, you know, and people need to be brought back to the true and correct faith — as agreed upon by experts.
“Let us pray, now, for science,” intoned a New York Times columnist back at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. The title of his article laid down the foundational faith of Trump-era liberalism: “Coronavirus is What You Get When You Ignore Science.”
Ten months later, at the end of a scary article about the history of “gain of function” research and its possible role in the still ongoing Covid pandemic, Nicholson Baker wrote as follows: “This may be the great scientific meta-experiment of the 21st century. Could a world full of scientists do all kinds of reckless recombinant things with viral diseases for many years and successfully avoid a serious outbreak? The hypothesis was that, yes, it was doable. The risk was worth taking. There would be no pandemic.”
Except there was. If it does indeed turn out that the lab-leak hypothesis is the right explanation for how it began — that the common people of the world have been forced into a real-life lab experiment, at tremendous cost — there is a moral earthquake on the way.
Because if the hypothesis is right, it will soon start to dawn on people that our mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, or not enough censorship on Facebook. It was a failure to think critically about all of the above, to understand that there is no such thing as absolute expertise. Think of all the disasters of recent years: economic neoliberalism, destructive trade policies, the Iraq War, the housing bubble, banks that are “too big to fail,” mortgage-backed securities, the Hillary Clinton campaign of 2016 — all of these disasters brought to you by the total, self-assured unanimity of the highly educated people who are supposed to know what they’re doing, plus the total complacency of the highly educated people who are supposed to be supervising them.
Then again, maybe I am wrong to roll out all this speculation. Maybe the lab-leak hypothesis will be convincingly disproven. I certainly hope it is.
But even if it inches closer to being confirmed, we can guess what the next turn of the narrative will be. It was a “perfect storm,” the experts will say. Who coulda known? And besides (they will say), the origins of the pandemic don’t matter any more. Go back to sleep.
Thomas Frank is a Guardian US columnist. He is the author, most recently, of The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism
Chemicals, pipelines destroying Black communities today. And poor of color are dying.
The Rev. William J. Barber II May 30, 2021
Along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, land where Black people were once enslaved on plantations is now being poisoned by petrochemical plants that have given the place a new name: Cancer Alley. In the fall of 2019, Robert Taylor told a Poor People’s Campaign gathering there about the toll of watching his family and neighbors die. Taylor’s daughter has a rare disease that her doctor told her she had a 1 in 5 million chance of contracting. She has since learned that three other neighbors are dying of the same disease.
Four hundred miles north in Memphis, Tennessee, Black residents invited the Poor People’s Campaign to support their organizing to stop the Byhalia Pipeline. The proposed crude oil pipeline would repeat the systemic racism of the 1970s urban renewal by running the line through Memphis’ African American communities. In this place where Ida B. Wells once challenged the lies used to justify lynching, Black Memphians are again resisting lies that would harm their community.
More than 150 years after slavery was abolished in the United States, descendants of enslaved Americans continue to challenge systemic racism because they experience the ongoing impact of America’s original sin on the very land where it first occurred.
But slavery’s legacy doesn’t stop in those communities.
Neighborhoods of color across the country are hit by industrial waste and air pollution and deprived of green spaces at significantly higher rates than white communities. Poverty, redlining (a practice that segregated housing) and the overwhelming lack of diversity in the environmental space keep the cycle of pollution and community destruction concentrated in Black America.
In fact, whites in America experience 17% less air pollution than they cause. Black people experience 56% more than their consumption causes, according to a 2019 study.
Follow the family lines of the Great Migration to Chicago, Illinois, and Flint, Michigan, and you find African American communities where families can buy unleaded gas but not unleaded water. There, too, welfare-rights unions have joined the Poor People’s Campaign because their members work two and three jobs but still cannot afford a decent home for their families. In recent weeks, our partners on the Southeast side of Chicago won a struggle to keep a processing plant from moving from predominantly white Lincoln Park into their neighborhood.
The Poor People’s Campaign has joined with grassroots movements across the USA to highlight the 140 million Americans who are poor or low-income in the richest nation in the history of the world.
While poverty touches every race, creed and culture, 60% of African Americans are poor or low-income (compared with 33% of white Americans) because the promise of 40 acres and a mule was never fulfilled for the formerly enslaved. Whether you live in St. James Parish, Louisiana, or Flint, Michigan, the nation’s failure to pay reparations continues to echo through the African American community.
Black people have been denied the fruit of our labor through Jim Crow laws, convict leasing and the redlining and urban renewal that have destroyed Black neighborhoods.
Today’s racial wealth gap is clear evidence that reparations are needed.
For generations, an economic system built by white male property owners has consolidated more and more wealth in the hands of a few, leading to income inequality that hurts people of every race.
A tax on that accumulated wealth to repay the descendants of the people who have been systematically abused by this economy would do more than render justice too long denied. It would give Black Americans the opportunity to demonstrate how wealth can be invested in ways that benefit the whole and help us imagine a world where no one needs to live in poverty.
Manchin’s political worldview was put to the test (and it lost)
The vote on the Jan. 6 commission wasn’t just a disappointment for Joe Manchin, it was a vote that shattered his vision for governance.
By Steve Benen May 28, 2021
As Senate Republicans prepared to kill the bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 commission, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was seen on the chamber floor having a tense conversation with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It was obvious to those who saw the discussion that the conservative Democrat was not pleased.
That was understandable. This fight, more than any other in recent memory, put Manchin’s entire political worldview to the test — and it lost.
“Mitch McConnell makes it extremely difficult,” Manchin said. “The commission is something this country needs. There’s no excuse. It’s just pure raw politics. And that’s just so, so disheartening. It really, really is disheartening. I never thought I’d see it up close and personal that politics could trump our country. And I’m going to fight to save this country.”
The senator never explicitly acknowledged the dynamic, but for Manchin, the debate over the commission was not simply a legislative fight; it was a case study for a style of governing.
Indeed, the pieces were in place for Manchin to prove that his approach worked. Most Democrats and Republicans agreed that there was an insurrectionist attack on our seat of government. The parties also agreed on the need for an examination. There were bipartisan negotiations, concessions from both sides, and an eventual compromise agreement.
If Manchin were literally writing a script as to how political disputes should be resolved, it would look exactly like this.
As recently as late last week, the senator assured reporters there was a “very, very good chance” the Senate would pass the bipartisan proposal, adding that he hoped there were at least “10 good, solid patriots” among Senate Republicans.
Manchin didn’t just want to believe this, he needed to believe this. If Republicans rejected a bipartisan compromise, prioritizing politics and electoral strategies over country, then his entire vision of how Congress can operate would be shattered.
We don’t need to change the Senate’s filibuster rules, Manchin tells us, we simply need well-intentioned officials to sit down, talk, listen, compromise, and reach responsible agreements.
It’s an idea with hypothetical appeal. But in practice, a clear majority of Senate Republicans just told the conservative Democrat that his model doesn’t work. The parties reached a consensus, and GOP leaders decided they didn’t much care.
The only responsible way forward is for Manchin to consider the implication of today’s lesson. If 10 Senate Republicans won’t accept a bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 commission — after they endorsed the idea and accepted Democratic concessions — why in the world would anyone think GOP officials would work in good faith toward a sensible agreement on infrastructure? And voting rights? And immigration? And literally every other meaningful policy dispute under the sun?
Or put another way, now that McConnell and his Republican have discredited Manchin’s preferred model, what is he prepared to replace it with?
‘Sea snot’ is clogging up Turkey’s coasts, suffocating marine life, and devastating fisheries
Morgan McFall-Johnsen May 28, 2021
A goopy substance called sea snot has been clogging Turkish coasts in the Sea of Marmara for months.
The mucus has been filling fishing nets, suffocating coral, and killing marine life.
Climate change and fertilizer runoff may be fueling the algae boom that’s behind the sea snot.
Blankets of a goopy, camel-colored substance have been accumulating in the water off Turkey’s coast for months.
The goop, called marine mucilage or “sea snot,” is covering so much of the coastline along the Sea of Marmara that people can no longer fish there. The sea snot formations can get up to 100 feet (30 meters) deep, according to the Turkish news site Cumhuriyet.
The sea snot fills fishing nets and weighs them down – one fisherman told Cumhuriyet that nets have been bursting from the weight of the mucus. A fishery co-op leader said people were barely pulling in a fifth of the fish they hauled at this time last year.
Marine mucilage is a goopy discharge of protein, carbohydrates, and fat from microscopic algae called phytoplankton. The substance was documented in the Sea of Marmara for the first time in 2007, as researchers at Istanbul University reported in 2008.
Normally, sea snot is not a problem, but when phytoplankton grow out of control, the goop can overpower marine ecosystems. This can wreak ecological havoc, since the substance can harbor bacteria like E Coli and ensnare or suffocate marine life. Eventually, the snot sinks to the sea floor, where it can blanket coral and suffocate them, too.
Since phytoplankton thrive in warm water, scientists suspect that climate change is fueling the new sea-snot crisis. Runoff from nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich fertilizer and sewage could also be causing an explosion in the phytoplankton population.
“We are experiencing the visible effects of climate change, and adaptation requires an overhaul of our habitual practices. We must initiate a full-scale effort to adapt,” Mustafa Sarı, dean of Bandırma Onyedi Eylül University’s maritime faculty, told The Guardian.
This is the largest accumulation of sea snot yet, according to The Guardian. It began in deep waters during the winter then spread to the coastlines this year. Barış Özalp, a marine biologist at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, first noticed it in December but became alarmed once the snot carpets continued to grow through the spring.
“The gravity of the situation set in when I dived for measurements in March and discovered severe mortality in corals,” he told The Guardian.
Thousands of fish have been washing up dead in coastal towns as well, Sarı told The Guardian. The fish could be suffocating because sea snot clogs their gills, or because it depletes the water’s oxygen levels.
“Once the mucilage covers the coasts, it limits the interaction between water and the atmosphere,” Sarı said.
Plague of ravenous, destructive mice tormenting Australians
Rod McGuirk May 27, 2021
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Australia Mice Plague
Mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia on May 19, 2021. Vast tracts of land in Australia’s New South Wales state are being threatened by a mouse plague that the state government describes as “absolutely unprecedented.” Just how many millions of rodents have infested the agricultural plains across the state is guesswork. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
BOGAN GATE, Australia (AP) — At night, the floors of sheds vanish beneath carpets of scampering mice. Ceilings come alive with the sounds of scratching. One family blamed mice chewing electrical wires for their house burning down.
Vast tracts of land in Australia’s New South Wales state are being threatened by a mouse plague that the state government describes as “absolutely unprecedented.” Just how many millions of rodents have infested the agricultural plains across the state is guesswork.
“We’re at a critical point now where if we don’t significantly reduce the number of mice that are in plague proportions by spring, we are facing an absolute economic and social crisis in rural and regional New South Wales,” Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said this month.
Bruce Barnes said he is taking a gamble by planting crops on his family farm near the central New South Wales town of Bogan Gate.
“We just sow and hope,” he said.
The risk is that the mice will maintain their numbers through the Southern Hemisphere winter and devour the wheat, barley and canola before it can be harvested.
NSW Farmers, the state’s top agricultural association, predicts the plague will wipe more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($775 million) from the value of the winter crop.
The state government has ordered 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of the banned poison Bromadiolone from India. The federal government regulator has yet to approve emergency applications to use the poison on the perimeters of crops. Critics fear the poison will kill not only mice but also animals that feed on them. including wedge-tail eagles and family pets.
“We’re having to go down this path because we need something that is super strength, the equivalent of napalm to just blast these mice into oblivion,” Marshall said.
The plague is a cruel blow to farmers in Australia’s most populous state who have been battered by fires, floods and pandemic disruptions in recent years, only to face the new scourge of the introduced house mouse, or Mus musculus.
The same government-commissioned advisers who have helped farmers cope with the drought, fire and floods are returning to help people deal with the stresses of mice.
The worst comes after dark, when millions of mice that had been hiding and dormant during the day become active.
By day, the crisis is less apparent. Patches of road are dotted with squashed mice from the previous night, but birds soon take the carcasses away. Haystacks are disintegrating due to ravenous rodents that have burrowed deep inside. Upending a sheet of scrap metal lying in a paddock will send a dozen mice scurrying. The sidewalks are strewn with dead mice that have eaten poisonous bait.
But a constant, both day and night, is the stench of mice urine and decaying flesh. The smell is people’s greatest gripe.
“You deal with it all day. You’re out baiting, trying your best to manage the situation, then come home and just the stench of dead mice,” said Jason Conn, a fifth generation farmer near Wellington in central New South Wales.
“They’re in the roof cavity of your house. If your house is not well sealed, they’re in bed with you. People are getting bitten in bed,” Conn said. “It doesn’t relent, that’s for sure.”
Colin Tink estimated he drowned 7,500 mice in a single night last week in a trap he set with a cattle feeding bowl full of water at his farm outside Dubbo.
“I thought I might get a couple of hundred. I didn’t think I’d get 7,500,” Tink said.
Barnes said mouse carcasses and excrement in roofs were polluting farmers’ water tanks.
“People are getting sick from the water,” he said.
The mice are already in Barnes’ hay bales. He’s battling them with zinc phosphide baits, the only legal chemical control for mice used in broad-scale agriculture in Australia. He’s hoping that winter frosts will help contain the numbers.
Farmers like Barnes endured four lean years of drought before 2020 brought a good season as well as the worst flooding that some parts of New South Wales have seen in at least 50 years. But the pandemic brought a labor drought. Fruit was left to rot on trees because foreign backpackers who provide the seasonal workforce were absent.
Plagues seemingly appear from nowhere and often vanish just as fast.
Disease and a shortage of food are thought to trigger a dramatic population crash as mice feed on themselves, devouring the sick, weak and their own offspring.
Government researcher Steve Henry, whose agency is developing strategies to reduce the impact of mice on agriculture, said it is too early to predict what damage will occur by spring.
He travels across the state holding community meetings, sometimes twice a day, to discuss the mice problem.
“People are fatigued from dealing with the mice,” Henry said.