• Politics Is Fun, Actually: City Council Edition

    Stein, who also goes by "Prime Time #99 Alex Stein," raps his delightfully weird heart out.City of Dallas

    Let’s face it: Everybody’s brain is broken. Spending two years in a pandemic, with no end in sight, has made everyone—on all sides of the political spectrum—act a little…out of pocket. Nowhere is this more true than the public comment portions of City Council meetings, the closest thing to a wildlife refuge for the American weirdo.

    At Wednesday’s meeting of the Dallas City Council, the people of Dallas were greeted with perhaps the most perplexing public comment yet: a man dressed in blue surgical scrubs, shouting a pro-vaccination song.

    Alex Stein, a YouTube comedian, hit the podium and performed a rap to the tune of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” with lyrics including “vaccinate me in my thong” and “Dr. Fauci, give me that ouchie.” His audience: some two dozen council members in a largely empty and silent conference room.

    This isn’t the first time ordinary people have trolled City Council meetings (nor will it be the last). In December, as it deliberated whether to extend a local Covid emergency order, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors was met with this Santa hat–wearing anti-vaxxer:

    A woman identifying herself as Bridget fielded her own (botched) take on Mariah Carey’s record-breaking “All I Want for Christmas Is You”: I don’t want a lot for Christmas, just body autonomy / I don’t care about the variants, because of natural immunity. She promoted ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, drugs supported by anti-vaxxers, and argued for keeping schools open. (She starts spreading the holiday cheer at 2:03:50).

    Or take June 2020, when dozens of upset citizens called in to a public meeting of the Los Angeles Police Department Commission to dunk on the city’s police chief. One viewer, Jeremy Frisch, entered legend with his takedown of LAPD Chief Michel Moore: “I refuse to call you an officer or a chief because you don’t deserve those titles. You are a disgrace. Suck my dick and choke on it. I yield my time. FUCK YOU,” Frisch said. He later told Jezebel he’d practiced his sermon for six hours.

    Blessed be public comment for making the mundanity of city governance a little more thrilling.

  • The GOP Is Hammering the NBA Over China. Again.

    Steve Dykes/Getty

    There are few things the NBA enjoys less than finding itself in the crosshairs of a culture war squabble, but that is exactly what it got over the weekend when Chamath Palihapitiya, a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, took to his podcast to say, “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs.”  

    Palihapitiya, a billionaire entrepreneur and former Facebook executive, said he cares about climate change, the economic implications of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and other issues that more directly affect Americans. But as for the forced imprisonment and torture of Uyghur Muslims in China, “it is below my line,” he said. 

    It did not take long for his comments to ricochet around the NBA, which has long adopted a cautious tone toward the Chinese government. On Monday, the Warriors released a one-sentence statement saying Palihapitiya’s views “certainly don’t reflect those of our organization” without specifying what he said. In his own statement, Palihapitiya acknowledged that he came across in the podcast “as lacking empathy” and said “human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere.” 

    Palihapitiya is far from an NBA figurehead—most fans are probably hearing his name for the first time now—but he has already become a target for Republican China hawks. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said NBA commissioner Adam Silver must force “woke billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya to sell his share” of the Warriors or “be exposed” as “hypocrites supporting religious genocide.” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said a failure to oust Palihapitiya would show “complicity for Communist China and their crimes against humanity.” 

    What the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghurs is a crime against humanity and worth caring about whether you are a twentysomething NBA fan or the billionaire co-owner of a team. But Republican lawmakers like Cotton obviously relish the opportunity to pick a fight with the NBA, whose players have long called out anti-Black racism and been critical of Republican policies. (When Donald Trump was in office, NBA star LeBron James called him a “bum” on Twitter, adding, “Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”)

    Even if NBA players could be forgiven for not commenting on every human rights crisis in the world, Cotton is right that the NBA is loath to anger China, where the league has spent decades cultivating the country’s vast market of fans. That effort went up in flames when Philadelphia 76ers executive Daryl Morey, then with the Houston Rockets, tweeted a message of solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters in October 2019. His comments sparked a series of reprisals in China, including removing Rockets games from its local streaming service, and led players like James to say Morey “wasn’t educated on the situation at hand.” The NBA quickly apologized and tried to limit the damage, while some league leaders directly criticized Morey. Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese owner of the Brooklyn Nets, even echoed Chinese propaganda in a statement condemning Morey’s tweet, saying Chinese citizens “stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland.” 

    This year, China is back in the spotlight because of Boston Celtics player Enes Freedom, who has spoken about Chinese human rights abuses in a public, frequently combative way. (In November, he called Tsai a “coward” and “puppet” of the Chinese government.) Freedom, who changed his surname from Kanter when he became a US citizen last year, appeared frequently on Fox News and started an account on Gettr, the social media platform started by former Trump official Jason Miller. It did not take him long to respond there to Palihapitiya’s comments: “When NBA says we stand for justice, don’t forget there are those who sell their soul for money & business like Chamath Palihapitiya.” 

  • Trump’s First 2022 Rally Pushes Allies Who Could Help Him Steal the White House

    Nathan Howard/AP

    Donald Trump, the twice-impeached ex-president who has never won a majority of Americans’ votes, held his first rally of 2022 last night in Florence, Arizona.

    Trump used the occasion to spout nonsense about the 2020 election, falsely claiming it had been “rigged and stolen.” He heavily leaned on a tendentious investigation by a now-defunct organization handpicked by his allies in the state, falsely suggesting it had identified enough fraudulent ballots to have given him a win. 

    The golf-course owner and former reality TV host, who remains the Republican party’s most popular figure, was joined on stage by a variety of politicians who have endorsed the Big Lie that Trump won the last presidential election, including candidates for Arizona governor and secretary of state. According to reporting from the scene, the 15,000 person audience included supporters who believe he could retake the White House before January 2025, the next scheduled presidential inauguration.

    The morning of the event, Steve Bannon, the president’s former campaign manager and senior advisor, explained that the rally was intended to put pressure on Arizona’s elected officials to “decertify” the state’s 2020 electoral votes—part of a nationwide campaign targeting other swing states where President Joe Biden narrowly won. 

    This week, it emerged that the National Archives received formal submissions from GOP officials in seven states—among them, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—falsely claiming Trump won their electoral votes. News of the documents prompted calls, including from Michigan’s attorney general, for federal investigators to undertake forgery or fraud inquiries.

    While the Justice Department has launched hundreds of prosecutions targeting Trump supporters who engaged in acts of violence or illegally entered the Capitol during the January 6, 2021 riot, it has given no clear public indication that it is examining the actions of political figures who worked to create a false legal pretense to aid Trump’s efforts to hold on to power. Trump’s rally, the first of many he’s expected to hold in support of Republican candidates in the 2022 elections, is part of a plan to install allies in key positions ahead of a potential 2024 run—allies that could help him emerge on top, even if voters reject him once again.

  • An Undersea Volcano Erupted Near Tonga, and the World Is Still Feeling the Aftereffects

    A satellite image taken by a Japanese weather satellite shows the eruption Saturday.(Japan Meteorology Agency via AP)

    A massive underwater volcano erupted near Tonga on Saturday, sending shockwaves and tsunamis around the globe. The eruption, viewed from space by satellites flying over the region, was violent and enormous, with a smoke and ash plume rapidly expanding across the region. The airwaves created by the eruption are so powerful they can be clearly seen spreading out through the atmosphere on satellite imagery.

    The volcano, known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, is located about 40 miles away from Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu, about 3,100 miles southwest of Hawaii and 1,500 miles north of New Zealand. The sound of the eruption could be heard several hundred miles away in Fiji, and the eruption immediately triggered tsunami warnings on both sides of the Pacific. 

    The internet and power has been cut in Tonga so little information is available on damage, but initial video showed a tsunami as big as four feet flooding onto the island.

    Tsunami waves did come ashore on the United States’ West Coast on Sunday morning, although they were relatively minor. 

    Scientists in New Zealand who have studied the volcano say that the type of ash and magma coming from the eruption is less toxic than other kinds, but predicted that the main Tongan island will likely be completely covered in a coating of ash. Some news reports described residents of the island having breathing problems. 

  • Student Loan Company Navient Settles a Lawsuit for $1.85 Billion

    Picture of Navient logo.

    Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA via AP

    Navient, a student loan company that had been accused in a nationwide lawsuit of misleading borrowers about the availability of cheaper repayment plans, has reached a $1.85 billion settlement with 39 state attorneys general. Per the terms of the settlement, Navient will pay 350,000 federal loan borrowers approximately $260 each. Navient will also cancel $1.7 billion worth of private student loans made to students at for-profit colleges.

    The lawsuit accused Navient of misleading federal student loan borrowers about alternatives to what is know as forbearance. When student borrowers are unable to make payments on their loans, they are supposed to have multiple options, including switching to income-driven repayment plans, which set payments based on a borrower’s income and can be more affordable. Forbearance, by contrast, can be more expensive, because while borrowers are temporarily able to stop making payments, interest continues to accrue. Navient announced in September that it would exit the federal student loan servicing business.

    Navient was also accused of improperly originating private loans to for-profit colleges with low graduation rates, resulting in borrowers being unable to pay off their debts. Navient allegedly did this so that it could gain access to the more profitable business of originating federal loans for these for-profit colleges, according to the lawsuit. Navient has denied the allegations, and it did not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

    “Navient repeatedly and deliberately put profits ahead of its borrowers—it engaged in deceptive and abusive practices,” said Pennsylvania state Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a statement Thursday. “Today’s settlement corrects Navient’s past behavior, provides much needed relief to Pennsylvania borrowers, and puts in place safeguards to ensure this company never preys on student loan borrowers again.”

  • These Youth Activists Are Hunger Striking for Voting Rights, Again

    Un-PAC members during their December hunger strikeAiden Duffy/Un-PAC

    A group of youth activists did not eat for 15 days last month to get Congress to push voting rights reform to the top of its agenda. Now, they’re forgoing food once again in a last-ditch effort pressure the Senate to enact rules reform and pass the Freedom to Vote Act with a simple majority by January 17, Martin L. King, Jr. Day.

    As I wrote last month:

    The bill, an updated version of the For the People Act, would institute automatic and Election Day voter registration, make Election Day a federal holiday, and ban partisan gerrymandering, among other measures. It is a centerpiece of the Democratic agenda, but it has been stalled by Senate rules that effectively require a 60-vote supermajority to pass legislation.

    I know what you’re thinking. If the bill has no realistic chance of passing—thanks to opposition to Senate rules reform from Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va,), and others—what’s the point in striking?

    “It’s a desperate moment that we’re in, for sure,” said Shana Gallagher, co-founder and executive director of Un-PAC, the group leading the strike. “If that doesn’t work, then we hope that our hunger strike will grow so big that it can’t be ignored.”

    The organization has already joined forces with a group of faith leaders and doubled its ranks of DC hunger strikers from 20 to 40. Gallagher said that more than 150 people from across the country joined a virtual organizing call last night—many of them inspired by TikTok—and that more than 100 have signed up to take part in the strike in D.C. if the vote fails. 

    “We’re not going to let this campaign fade into the night,” Gallagher said. “We really feel that this is an existential moment, so we are committed to continuing to strike until the bill passes.”

  • Dr. Fauci Says Rand Paul’s Personal Attacks “Kindle the Crazies”

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Pool

    Another Senate hearing on Covid, another spat between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases. But, this time, the nation’s top infectious disease expert wanted the senator to see the human toll of his personal attacks.

    Paul used his time at the hearing to hit on his usual talking points, accusing Fauci of conspiring with other scientists to shut down the lab leak theory—which posits that the virus originated not in an animal but in a research lab—and tarnish the careers of those who disagreed with him. “It’s the epitome of cheap politics,” Paul said, “and it’s reprehensible.”

    Fauci retorted that Paul’s false accusations not only distracted from the pandemic response, but led to attacks on his life. “What happens when he gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there,” he said, “and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me.” (Police recently arrested a man at a traffic stop who had a hit list of government officials and politicians, including Dr. Fauci. The man also had an AR-15 style rifle and ammunition in his car.)

    Fauci came prepared with a printout of Rand Paul’s website, which showed donation buttons next to an invocation to “Fire Dr. Fauci.” Fauci told Paul that he was using “a catastrophic epidemic for your own political gain.”

    To me, though, the most striking part of the exchange isn’t Fauci’s slick rebuke of the Kentucky senator, but the baselessness of Paul’s argument in the first place. Paul brought up a series of recently released emails between Fauci and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins over the Great Barrington Declaration, an October 2020 statement from epidemiologists at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford arguing that people at low risk for the coronavirus ought to go on with their lives as normal until society reaches herd immunity. (Read the Wall Street Journal opinion piece on the debacle if you dare.)

    Paul, brimming with sarcasm, said at Tuesday’s hearing, “Apparently, there’s a lot of fringe epidemiologists at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford.”

    Uh, yeah?

    Elite institutions can and do foster fringe ideas—and the fact that the professors who wrote the Great Barrington Declaration continue to be employed at their prestigious universities is evidence against the cancel culture Paul so frequently decries. The Great Barrington Declaration was sponsored by a libertarian think tank and has been criticized as scientifically unsound by the World Health Organization and by a group of scientists including scholars from, yes, Harvard and Oxford. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t opine on the merits of one Covid response over the other. But I can say for certain that wasting the Senate’s time to bicker over the response to a widely discredited statement made by a small minority of epidemiologists isn’t getting us any closer to ending this pandemic for good.

  • Trump Adviser: Getting Kicked Off Twitter Has Actually Helped Trump

    Chip Somodevilla/Getty

    Roughly a year ago, Donald Trump was banned from Twitter and most other social media apps, including YouTube and Facebook. In the wake, there’s been cries of tech censorship. Some of it is worth considering; other times—like when Richard Grenell said that the real attack on our democracy wasn’t people storming the Capitol but Trump’s ban—it’s pablum.

    But an interesting note, tucked into a piece on the anniversary within the Wall Street Journal, is those within Trump’s orbit have appreciated the ban. “I don’t know a single person in Trump world who regrets that this has happened—not a single one,” a Trump adviser told the Wall Street Journal.

    It’s pretty simple why: The more time Trump is on Twitter, the more journalists (also, let’s be honest, way too much on Twitter) report on the crazy things he says on Twitter. It makes him look bad. The numbers show this. At the time Trump was kicked off social media, which followed his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection, Trump’s approval rating hovered around 38.6 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. Now 43.3 percent of Americans view him favorably, a bounce-back his advisers attribute to the social media ban. Take that causality with a grain of salt, but it’s not nothing.

    The thing is it is not as if Trump has truly ceded power. The lack of a social media footprint has not dented Trump’s fundraising or his influence over the Republican Party, which still de facto controls as the presumptive frontrunner for the presidential nomination in 2024. 

    Trump’s main asset is a massive email list, which the Journal pegs at “about 50 million emails.” Trump has tapped that list repeatedly for donations. (In just the past two days, I’ve received no less than eight emails from Trump and his political action committee.)

    The Trump team’s effort to flood the zone has paid off to the tune of “more than $56 million in online donations during the first half of 2021, and about as much in the second half,” according to sources who spoke to the Journal

    For Trump, the disgrace of being exiled from social media may have been what it is for any of us brave enough to leave Twitter: a blessing in disguise. He not only is more popular and reaching his followers on a massive scale, but the specter of Big Tech censorship can remain a useful political cudgel as he continues to raise money. (Already, in July, Trump sued major tech companies alleging censorship.)

    And even though his short-lived attempt at starting a blog went up in flames, he still is planning to roll out his own social media network, Truth Social. The latest listing has its launch date as February 21, which in case you have forgotten, is Presidents Day. 2024 gets closer and closer. 

  • Amid the Omicron Surge, We Know Startlingly Little About Who’s Getting Boosted

    Eduardo Parra/Contacto/Zuma

    We know that there’s no better way to prevent severe illness and death from the rapidly spreading Omicron variant than getting boosted. Receiving a booster after being fully vaccinated for five months, according to one study, reduced mortality by 90 percent.

    Yet booster shot outreach efforts are facing a big problem: We don’t know exactly who is getting boosted. The data is, frankly, a mess. And that stops public health workers on the state and local level from taking the actions they need to combat the coronavirus.

    One of the most glaring issues is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t publicly report racial and ethnic information on booster shot recipients under age 65, even though it does so for people fully vaccinated people and those who have received at least one dose. No word yet from the CDC on why that is. But for a disease that has killed and infected Black, Indigenous, and Latino people at higher rates than Asian and white people, this lack of granular data is particularly glaring.

    Good data allows states to use targeted outreach to address disparities in vaccine access. Take, for example, Michigan, which collects detailed demographic data on vaccine uptake. It then uses that information to close the gap between Black and white vaccine access by placing testing and vaccination sites in vulnerable communities and engaging trusted messengers, like faith leaders, to spread the word about the benefits of vaccines. “We’ve really been able to look at who are trusted community leaders and how can they message to populations where we’re seeing lower vaccine uptake,” Alexis D. Travis, from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, explained.

    Eleven other states are recording racial and ethnic data for booster recipients under age 65, but their racial categories aren’t standardized—Mississippi, for example, has a distinct category for Pacific Islanders, while Michigan groups Pacific Islanders in with Asians and Native Hawaiians. “That makes it challenging to compare the data across states,” Samantha Artiga, director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said, “in addition to only having a limited universe of states reporting the data.”

    The lack of data isn’t a new problem: Even for initial doses of the vaccine, the CDC has not linked ethnic data to age, as my colleague Edwin Rios has reported, making it difficult to single out specific groups like Black kids or Latino adults. But the addition of a third (or, for Johnson & Johnson recipients, second) shot to the vaccine regime has further muddied already murky water. Someone who became fully vaccinated last week wouldn’t be eligible for a booster, so while states can estimate the amount of fully vaccinated people who have been boosted, it’s harder for them to asses booster uptake among fully vaccinated people who are eligible for additional doses.

    Without this sort of data, the job of outreach becomes increasingly difficult, and measuring success becomes a guessing game. Worse, sometimes the data we do collect gets it wrong.

    The CDC has been grappling with its own booster-related data issues. In some cases, the agency has accidentally recorded people’s booster shots as initial doses and consequently skewed estimates of initial doses higher. “We currently are still seeing a lot of gaps and limitations in the data that prevents us from being able to assess whether there is equity in receipt of the booster doses and also in vaccination uptake among children,” Artiga said. In other words, we can barely get accurate numbers on booster doses for different age groups, which we’re trying to collect nationally, let alone ethnicities, which we are not.

    So, what do we know?

    Booster uptake among white people age 65 and older at the national level is generally similar to prior vaccine uptake, according to a December analysis by KFF. The shares of Black and Hispanic booster dose recipients age 65 and older are smaller than their shares of fully vaccinated people, but there has been an uptick in recent weeks.

    Unsurprisingly, older Americans are more likely to have gotten boosters than younger ones, with 59.1 percent of adults 65 and older boosted, compared to 49.5 percent of the population 50 and over, and 37.7 percent of the population 18 and over, according to the CDC.

    Michigan, for its part, is still seeing disparities in booster uptake, but they’re “not unexpected,” Travis said. Statewide, 46.2 percent of fully vaccinated people have gotten a booster, Joe Coyle, director of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Prevention, said. Among non-Hispanic Blacks, it’s 35.5 percent, and for Hispanics, it’s 33.2 percent.

    But all ethnicities see increasing booster uptake with age. “They had a little bit longer to get vaccinated,” Travis said, “but they also understand they’re one of the highest risk groups for complications and deaths related to Covid-19. And what we’ve seen is that risk perception doesn’t necessarily translate to the younger age groups.”

    That’s handy information at the state level. But for the nation as a whole, “given the limitations in the data, it’s really difficult to draw any strong conclusions about whether there are any disparities in take up a booster doses so far,” Artiga said.

  • Here’s the Video of the Hamilton Song at the Insurrection Anniversary Event

    Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

    President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris began the first anniversary of January 6th on an appropriately solemn note, condemning Donald Trump for his election lies, honoring the Capitol police harmed, and urging the legislative branch to re-establish endangered voting rights protections. 

    But then something that could be described most kindly as “weird”—and more accurately as a solid r/nottheonion entry—happened.

    Before a commemorative conversation between historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jon Meacham, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton to sing a piece from the musical to emphasize the importance of democracy

    “May his beautiful words be an inspiration to us,” Pelosi said.

    There are caveats here. This was not an official Democratic event but, instead, a discussion hosted by the Librarian of Congress; Pelosi simply introduced this stuff, who knows who actually wanted Hamilton sung quarantine-karaoke style as part of a January 6th remembrance; and some people, like librarians, actually like the musical. But, still…not good!

    Are we trying to commemorate an attack that struck at the core of our democracy? Or are we running a Democratic pledge drive? Because it feels like Hamilton belongs at one and not the other.

    In the future, when it comes to insurrection remembrance: Please don’t cringe. It’s important.

  • Chuck Schumer: To Save Democracy, Reform Voting Rights

    Rod Lamkey/CNP/Zuma

    On the anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the Senate to pass voting rights reform legislation to ensure “that our country’s destiny is determined by the voice of the people, and not by the violent whims of lies.”

    Schumer warned that Donald Trump, and others who have attempted to downplay the severity of last year’s events, pose a threat to the Republic. “Democracy could—God forbid, God forbid, horror of horrors—vanish,” he said from the Senate floor. 

    The speech was tinged with the personal, too. Schumer recalled a police officer grabbing him by the collar and ushering him into a safe room, but not before he passed within 30 feet of the rioters. “I was told later that one of them reportedly said, ‘There’s the big Jew, let’s get him,'” he said.

    “January 6 was an attempt to reverse, through violent means, the outcome of a free and fair election,” he said. “An insurrection, call it what it is.”

    And it’s not something that we can just move past, he said, because its effects are ongoing. He pointed out that a minority of Americans—but a majority of Republican voters—believe Trump won and that the 2020 election was rigged. “What if a majority of this country, because of these pernicious actions, start believing it?” he said. “I can’t predict the details, but I can predict that it will diminish the greatness of this country in small and even large ways.”

    The only way to move forward, he said, is to remember what happened that day and pass legislation to ensure that it never happens again. Schumer called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion of reforming the Electoral Count Act “the bare minimum” and insisted instead that Congress pass the sweeping John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. He didn’t mention, however, that passing those laws would require Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to throw their weight behind filibuster reform, which seems increasingly unlikely. (Schumer is plenty aware that the filibuster can have political benefits; along with Senate Democrats in the early 2000s, he used it against President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees in a way that, some argue, laid the groundwork for its unhinged use by Republicans now.)

    “Let the anniversary of January 6 forever serve as a reminder that the march to perfect our democracy is never over,” he said, “that our democracy is a precious, sometimes fragile gift, purchased by those who struggled before us, and that all of us now must do our part to keep the American vision going in the present and into the future.”

  • Merrick Garland Issues Dire Warning About Voting Rights on Eve of January 6

    Carolyn Kaster/AP

    On the eve of the first anniversary of the January 6 Capitol riot, Attorney General Merrick Garland urged Congress to safeguard elections by giving the Justice Department new powers to protect voting rights. 

    “The Department of Justice will continue to do all it can to protect voting rights with the enforcement powers we have,” he said in an address delivered Wednesday afternoon. “It is essential that Congress act to give the department the powers we need to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a vote that counts.”

    In his speech, Garland referenced the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act and eliminated the provision barring historically discriminatory jurisdictions from altering voting laws without preclearing those changes with the DOJ. Without new legislation to restore those powers, Garland implied, the department lacks the proper tools to protect the right of every American to vote. 

    Garland’s remarks were delivered as Democratic politicians prepare to mount a new push to pass voting rights legislation in response to widespread Republican efforts to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning minorities, gerrymander congressional maps, and lay the groundwork to contest close election results. Parts of his speech echoed the claims of top Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who have attempted to draw comparisons between the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol and the Republican officials who have seized on Trump’s election lies to enact anti-democratic legislation. 

    “Many of those enactments have been justified by unfounded claims of material vote fraud in the 2020 election,” Garland noted. “Those claims, which have corroded people’s faith in the legitimacy of our elections, have been repeatedly refuted.” 

    Garland also addressed, albeit with his trademark sobriety, the growing chorus of criticism from the left that his department is not acting quickly or aggressively enough to prosecute the insurrectionists and those who instigated them, including ex-Trump officials and even the former president. Garland did not go into detail about what future cases the DOJ plans to bring, but he promised that the feds would seek to hold all January 6 perpetrators “at any level” accountable—“whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

    “We understand that there is broad public interest in our investigation,” he said. “We understand there are questions about how long the investigation will take and about what exactly we are doing. Our answer is and will continue to be the same answer we would give with respect to any ongoing investigation: As long as it takes, and whatever it takes for justice to be done, consistent with facts and the law.”

     
  • New York Subpoenas Trump Kids in Probe of Family Business. They Say They Won’t Comply.

    SMG/Zuma

    New York Attorney General Letitia James is ramping up her civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s business practices. On Monday, court filings showed New York is subpoenaing two of Donald Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Jr.—who have already said they won’t comply. The filing also confirmed James had subpoenaed Trump himself, which was reported a month ago.

    As my colleague Russ Choma wrote in May, James’ investigation has been ongoing since 2019. The probe, he wrote, “included questions of whether Trump had fraudulently inflated or deflated the values of his properties when seeking loans or tax breaks.” Another Trump son, Eric, already sat for a deposition relating to the case in October 2020.

    But Ivanka and Donald Jr., who have both been heavily involved in the Trump Organization, aren’t handing over any documents without a fight. The two have filed already filed motions to end the subpoenas, ABC News reports.

    Because this is a civil investigation, James could file a lawsuit if she finds sufficient evidence, but she could not press criminal charges. However, James’ office is also involved in a criminal probe, spearheaded by former Manhattan DA Cy Vance, of potential tax fraud by Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Vance, who left office last week, is leaving the investigation to his successor, Alvin Bragg.

  • 56 Counties, Cities, and States Just Raised Their Minimum Wage

    Lynne Sladky/AP

    Back in 2012, a group of 200 fast-food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union. Their protest seeded what has become known as the “Fight for 15” movement, which has spent the last decade working to raise the minimum wage across the country.

    Now in its 10th anniversary year, this movement will see record success in 2022 as 25 states and 56 local jurisdictions increase wage floors for workers, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project released at the end of last month.

    Twenty-one of those states raised wages on New Years Day, along with 35 cities and counties. The remaining increases will take effect later in the year, and the majority of these wage hikes will reach or exceed $15 per hour for some or all employers.

    “Since the first Fight for $15 protest in 2012, the movement has grown tremendously, accelerated by the pandemic’s exposure of stark inequities and hazardous work conditions,” Rebecca Dixon, the executive director of NELP, said in a December statement. “Underpaid workers, especially Black and brown workers, have been mobilizing to demand higher wages, safer workplace conditions, and dignified jobs—and they’re succeeding.”

    For many years, some politicians and the business lobby framed the push for a $15 minimum wage as a long-shot and an economy-hurting proposition. By requiring higher wages, the argument went, policy makers would force businesses with slim profit margins to lay off workers, essentially eliminating wages for some in order to raise them for others.

    But as the pandemic made a number of frontline low-wage jobs particularly unappealing—from retail to grocery stores to restaurants—many employers in those industries have begun to offer higher wages, suggesting that “despite previous claims about the unaffordability of higher wages, many employers have always been able to pay more but chose not to do so,” note the NELP report’s authors.

    Now this change has become permanent in broad swathes of the country. In his 2020 campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden also promised to raise the federal minimum wage to $15—a move that would push pay up in the 20 states that refuse to raise wages above this federal floor, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour. Democrats included the $15 change in early versions of Biden’s stimulus bill last year, but it was removed from that legislation in order to garner enough Senate votes for passage, and the effort is now stalled at the federal level. The administration did, however, increase minimum hourly pay for federal contractors nationwide to $15 with an executive order this past April, and the change went into effect in November.

  • Liz Cheney Calls Trump “Unfit for Future Office”

    Graeme Sloan/AP

    Rep. Liz Cheney, the top Republican on the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot, said on Sunday that the findings of her committee have led her to believe that Donald Trump is “unfit for future office” and that if he were to win a future presidential election, it could destroy American democracy.

    “We entrust the survival of our republic into the hands of the chief executive,” Cheney told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on This Week. “And when a president refuses to tell the mob to stop, when he refuses to defend any of the coordinate branches of government, he cannot be trusted.”

    On CBS’s Face the Nation, Cheney delivered a similar message about Trump. “This is a man who is simply too dangerous ever to play a role again in our democracy,” she said.

    Cheney’s conclusions, she said, stemmed in part from the findings of her committee about Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021. She explained that her committee had testimony showing that while armed rioters invaded the US Capitol building, threatening violence in service of the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen, Trump sat in the dining room next to the Oval Office watching the riot on television. According to Cheney’s summary of testimony given to the January 6 committee, he initially ignored pleas from his staff, his daughter Ivanka, and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy that he issue a message to the insurrectionists asking them to stop.

    “The president could have, at any moment, walked those very few steps into the briefing room, gone on live television, and told his supporters who were assaulting the Capitol to stop,” Cheney said on This Week. “He could have told them to stand down. He could have told them to go home—and he failed to do so. It’s hard to imagine a more significant and more serious dereliction of duty than that.”

    It wasn’t until 4:17 pm that day—two hours after the rioters first entered the Capitol building—that Trump tweeted a video calling on the mob to “go home,” while also falsely claiming that the election was “fraudulent.”

  • Farewell to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Toxic Twitter Feed Full of Covid Lies

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    Marjorie Taylor Greene, the first-term member of Congress from Georgia, styles herself as a warrior for free speech. In recent years, she has issued hate-filled tweets, encouraged violence on social media, and promoted QAnon conspiracies. In response, lawmakers quickly stripped Greene of her House committee assignments, and Twitter temporarily suspended her account several times.

    But on Sunday, Twitter finally suspended her personal account, @mtgreenee, for good, following what the company said were “repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy.” In a statement to the New York Times, Twitter added: “We’ve been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations.”

    Twitter’s action came after Greene published a 19-tweet thread on New Years day lamenting the status of unvaccinated people as a “subclass” and falsely claiming that “extremely high” numbers of Covid vaccine deaths are being ignored. She concluded the since-deleted thread with a call to arms: “Before Covid, We were free. After Covid, We are no longer free. The question is will the people break free from covid psychosis before it’s too late.”

    Earlier this year, Greene claimed on Twitter that her Crossfit exercise routine would protect her from Covid. She also argued that schools and businesses should not shut down to prevent Covid spread, since cancer kills a comparable number of people. (This is a logically flawed argument for a host of reasons, not the least of which being that unlike Covid, cancer is not spread through human contact.)

    Twitter’s decision does not extend to Greene’s congressional Twitter account, @RepMTG, which is still active. 

    Greene responded to Twitter’s suspension on GETTR, a conservative social media platform run by a former adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaigns.

    “Twitter is an enemy to America and can’t handle the truth,” she wrote. “That’s fine, I’ll show America we don’t need them and it’s time to defeat our enemies.”

  • Conservators Just Cracked Open a 134-Year-Old Confederate Time Capsule

    Sarah Rankin/AP

    Yesterday, crews who were working to remove the base of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, made an exciting discovery beneath the monument: a copper box from 1887 believed to contain dozens of pieces of historic memorabilia.

    As I write this, conservation experts in the state’s capital are opening and examining the time capsule’s contents, which turn out to be slightly waterlogged but in surprisingly good condition. The artifacts uncovered thus far include a small Bible, Confederate money, a book entitled Minutae of Soldier Life, a Civil War bullet called a Minié ball, and a printed image from an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly depicting someone grieving over Abraham Lincoln’s grave.

    This isn’t the first time this month that the same team of conservators has opened a container beneath the Lee monument, which departing Gov. Ralph Northam had ordered taken down in September. Last week, they pried open a lead box found in the pedestal, but the box did not match historical descriptions of the formal time capsule. It contained few artifacts and was likely placed by the people who erected the monument.

    As lead conservator Kate Ridgway prepared to slice open the side of the copper box to free its waterlogged contents today, she had some advice for anyone considering creating one. “Next time capsule,” she said, “maybe not so much stuff in it.” 

    Check out the livestream here.

  • Joe Manchin Officially Torpedoes Build Back Better

    Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

    It’s official. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said this morning on Fox News that he won’t support the Build Back Better bill, effectively killing the Democratic Party’s $2 trillion sweeping domestic policy proposal. “I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t do it,” he said. “This is a no on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do.”

     

    Manchin has been hinting for months that he wouldn’t support the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s agenda, raising opposition to its overall price tag as well as measures that would have extended a poverty-busting child tax credit and paid family leave, imposed a methane fee on emissions from fossil fuel producers, and expanded Medicare to cover hearing aids for the elderly. 

    Democrats responded on Sunday with outrage and despair. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Manchin “will have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell him why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies, to lower the cost of prescription drugs, why he is not prepared to expand home healthcare.” Sanders suggested that Democrats bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote to force Manchin to put his “no” vote on the record. “Let Mr. Manchin explain to the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t have the guts to stand up to powerful special interests,” he told Tapper. “If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

    The bill is loaded with extremely popular provisions designed to shore up the “care economy” to support families from birth to death, with expanded child care assistance, universal preschool and help for people caring for aging family members. The bill set aside money for pandemic prevention and would also devote $550 billion to combatting climate change. Most of it would be paid for with higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy. Read here to see just five of the good things you probably didn’t know were in the bill and which are now probably never going to happen, not because of Joe Manchin but because this is America, a failed democracy, where not a single Republican senator will support any legislation that would actually make people’s lives a little better. 

  • The FDA Just Made Medication Abortions a Whole Lot Easier to Get

    Activists took the abortion pill in front of the Supreme Court while justices heard arguments for the Mississippi abortion case. Chip Somodevilla/ Getty

    The Food and Drug Administration announced on Thursday that it will loosen restrictions on the abortion pill mifepristone, allowing people to receive the pill via mail or pharmacy instead of having to appear in person at a clinic or hospital. 

    The decision comes while the Supreme Court deliberates over a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The court is widely expected to use the case to roll back nearly a half century of abortion rights. The court ruled last week that an abortion restriction in Texas could remain in effect.

    For almost 30 years, the FDA restricted the use of mifepristone through its drug safety program, even though the drug has long been known to be safe and effective. The new change “will allow many patients to access care earlier with fewer burdens and costs,” ACLU attorney Julia Kaye told the Washington Post. 

    Misoprostol, the second pill needed in medication abortion, has long been accessible at a pharmacy with a prescription. Earlier this year, the Biden Administration temporarily lifted the restriction on mifepristone to ensure abortion access continued despite the challenges of the pandemic. 

    According to the FDA, the restriction was modified in order to “reduce burden on patient access and the health care delivery system and to ensure the benefits of the product outweigh the risks.”

    Yet the change won’t mean a whole lot in much of the country. Nineteen states, including Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama (which recently introduced a “heartbeat bill” similar to Texas’) restrict the use of telemedicine for abortion. People across the South and the Midwest will have to travel to sanctuary states like California or New York for telemedicine appointments and to receive the medication.

  • North Carolina’s Largest Paper, and I, Think Mark Meadows Is a “Disgrace”

    Bloomberg/Getty

    In North Carolina’s largest newspapers today, the News & Observer, an editorial ran calling Mark Meadows—who rode a wave of “extreme gerrymandering” to Congress; said he wanted to “send Obama home to Kenya“; co-founded the Freedom Caucus; helped shut down the government in 2013; groveled to become Trump’s chief of staff; convinced Trump to not institute a mask mandate; cast aside COVID-19 protocols himself; helped abet Trump’s attempt to retain power; pushed the Department of Justice to challenge the election’s integrity; drove us toward the insurrection; texted with Fox News hosts on Jan. 6, who were freaking out when they realized it had gone too far; lied about his role in all of that in his book; and was held in contempt last night by the House—an “embarrassment” and a “disgrace.”

    Well, hard to argue with that. I agree.

    So, congratulations, Mark Meadows. You’ve long embarrassed me personally as a fellow North Carolinian. But I’m glad to see so many others finally see how you’re up there with former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms—the harbinger of all the “racist, divisive, pro-government (when it favors the wealthy), and anti-democratic” lawmakers to come—as the worst of the worst.

    You can read the full editorial here