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House just gave Senate Democrats every reason to end filibuster

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The House stayed in session late Wednesday to wrap up a critical week of work: passing H.R. 1, the sweeping voting and democracy reforms, and an expansive overhaul of American policing, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The House was shuttered Thursday, a result of the threat of violence against the Capitol bubbling up from those forces that, in part, make the legislation necessary: those with fascist and white supremacist instincts to impose their will over the majority, and particularly citizens of color, by keeping them out of the polls and under constant threat from law enforcement.

Each bill would restart the crucial work of racial justice, providing real and transformative changes to federal elections by ensuring equal access to the voting booth and federal representation, and in policing by creating national standards for law enforcement and constraints on the use of force, including the kind of force police used in killing George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Each bill faces the ridiculous hurdle of a Democratic majority in the Senate that could fail to pass them because of what former President Barack Obama calls a “Jim Crow relic,” the filibuster.

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There’s a depressingly long history of the use of the filibuster to stop civil rights, voting rights, immigrant rights and—since the ascendancy of Mitch McConnell to Republican leadership—any and all progressive priorities that majorities of Americans support (which doesn’t need to be rehashed here). But the passage of these two laws comes at what could be a breaking point for the nation, and the convergence of the House work happening in the midst of another serious threat to the heart of democracy—we have to carry that history to this moment. The Senate, and specifically the eight Democratic senators who say they are opposed to abolishing the filibuster, have to reckon with it. They have to reckon with that and the fact that right now, 43 state legislatures have more than 250 new and proposed laws to restrict voting, which could mean the end of Democrats winning congressional majorities again for the foreseeable future.

That’s not going to be corrected unless the Senate passes these bills. That’s not going to happen unless those eight senators, but particularly Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have gone out of their way in vocal opposition to getting rid of the filibuster—relent. To that end, good government scholar Norm Ornstein has some ideas. He recommends taking Sinema’s and Manchin’s views at face value, that they want to preserve the rights of the minority and that they want to preserve the filibuster to “fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans,” in Sinema’s words, and enacting reforms that would force that—debate and consideration. Do it by making the minority do the work, for once, of having that debate.

As it stands, 60 senators have to agree in order to get everything done, meaning a minority of 40 can stop everything just by having one senator object to moving forward on a bill and forcing a cloture vote. Turn that on its head and put the burden on the 40, Ornstein argues. Make those 40 be present and keep debating and keep voting to maintain their 40 votes—”including weekends and all-night sessions”—and once they couldn’t sustain those 40 votes, debate would end with an up-or-down vote for final passage. Other options would be to go back to the idea of the “present and voting” standard; the Senate would have to have three-fifths of those senators present, or to narrow the supermajority to 55 rather than 60. Keep them on the floor debating, and force them to have all their members there, all the time, to debate and to share their views. To explain to the American public and their fellow senators why they are so opposed to ending police brutality, or why they believe every American citizen should not have equal access to the ballot.

The critical thing is to end the silent filibuster in which one senator can object to moving forward, force the Senate to halt all its work while “debate” time lapses, and then they can all swan off for a few days or a long weekend, then come back and kill the bill in the cloture vote. Make them stay in D.C. and stand on the floor for all those “debate” hours actually debating. If Manchin, Sinema and all really want to preserve the supposed tradition of the Senate filibuster, them they couldn’t possibly object to making it like the “tradition” they saw in the old movie.

That’s not the only possibility for restoring actual majority rule for the Senate and for the nation’s democracy. Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has been working for filibuster reform his entire tenure in the Senate, is a lead sponsor of the Senate’s version of the For the People Act. He told Ron Brownstein that representative government “slid over the cliff, and [it’s as if] we caught a root, and we are just holding on by our fingertips” after the 2020 election and Trump’s efforts to subvert it. “We must find a way to pass this bill. It is our responsibility in our majority […] to defend citizens’ rights to participate in our democracy. There is no other acceptable outcome.” He wants, at the very least, to reform the filibuster for democracy-reform legislation. His strategy “is to encourage an extended debate on the bill, both within the committee and on the Senate floor, and to allow any senator to offer amendments.”

Once they got to the point of a cloture vote for final passage, if Republicans blocked it, the Democratic majority (with Vice President Harris) could vote then and there to “carve out” election reform or civil rights legislation from the filibuster, allowing it to pass with a simple majority. Or they could change the filibuster rules for this category of legislation, telling Republicans “you’d better be here day and night, because we are going to go for weeks and if you are not here, we are going to a final vote on the bill.”

Merkley has a strong ally in this, particularly on H.R. 1. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, is fired up to get the For the People Act passed. She told Mother Jones’ Ari Berman, “I would get rid of the filibuster. […] I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill.” This is her most proactive stated reform position to date. “We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote and you just can’t let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate,” she told Berman. She is planning to hold hearings on S. 1, the Senate’s version of the bill, in Rules Committee this month and advance the bill to the floor, setting up this filibuster fight. It’s the critical bill to have this fight for, filibuster scholar Adam Jentleson said. It would be “poetic justice,” to do it. “You would be ending the filibuster on an issue of civil rights.”

At the very least, the filibuster has to be reformed to make Republicans do the work and show their obstruction of progress before the whole nation. They have to stand on the Senate floor for hours on end, be forced to be at the Capitol to do it, and tell us why they believe whole swathes of Americans should be refused the vote and terrorized by police.

Dr Seuss had some things to say about America First

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As part of their usual deflection and dumbing-down of the US populace, Fox News and the general Wingnut-American community are in a froth about.. the cancelling of Dr. Seuss. Which isn’t really a thing, but it helps fill the outrage quota for the day.

I didn’t actually watch this drivel, but in the spirit of providing links, here is Biden erases Dr. Seuss from ‘Read Across America’ proclamation as progressives seek to cancel beloved author if you really want to watch.

So, let’s get to the good part. Dr. Seuss did draw some very racist stuff, particularly of Japanese during WW2 for the US war propaganda. Which is why his works need to be.. analyzed. But of relevance to Fox and other wingnuts should be his opinions of the “America First” movement. Which they love, right?

Update.. Thanks for reading. This is another not-terribly-important-but-you-are-going-to hear-it-ad-nauseum stories. As in all my diaries, this one wasn’t very developed when published. The comments add a lot, I encourage everyone to read them and add to them. So, nobody caught the pun in the first drawing’s title?

Update #2 I can’t let this pass.. thanks to WesMorgan1 here is a link to the UC San Diego site with a whole collection of Dr Seuss, including his ads for Flit insecticide. Enjoy!

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Now it’s Vlad

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This is my favorite

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Prescient, no?

Jan. 6 hearings show process was awful, intelligence sucked

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In days of testimony before Senate and House committees, three names have come up repeatedly. One of those is former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. It was Miller who issued explicit, and unprecedented instructions to the D.C. National Guard which not only limited their equipment, but made it more difficult for them to be deployed in an emergency.

The second is former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. Even when the Guard had been supposedly approved for deployment, McCarthy appears to have stepped in to demand details of how they would be used, even as Capitol Police and Metro D.C. Police were waging desperate efforts to protect Congress and push back protestors. Both McCarthy and previous Sec. of Defense Mark Esper appear to have worked closely with the National Guard during earlier protests, but on Jan. 6, McCarthy’s primary role appears to have been delaying the arrival of Guard forces for hours.

And finally there is Gen. Charles Flynn. Flynn is the younger brother of disgraced Gen. Michael Flynn. In initial reporting, Pentagon officials were quick to state that Flynn wasn’t part of a phone call on Jan. 6 in which Capitol Police begged for National Guard assistance. Then it was admitted that Flynn was in the room, while insisting that he didn’t participate. Then it became clear that Flynn was a major part of the discussion and one of those who drove decisions.

One thing that’s blindingly obvious after the first week of House and Senate hearings, is that Miller, McCarthy, and Flynn must be called to testify directly concerning their roles in the assault on the Capitol.

On Jan. 20, The Washington Post reported that the Army spent days simply lying about the presence of Charles Flynn during a meeting where the Capitol Police repeatedly informed Pentagon officials that the Capitol had been breached and they were in urgent need of assistance. Eventually, Flynn admitted to being present at the meeting. However, as the Post reported, “Army officials declined to answer several questions about Flynn’s statement, including how long he was in the room during the call, whether he said anything, and if he was the one who described the crowd at the Capitol as mostly peaceful.”

As testimony from Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commander of the D.C. National Guard made clear, Flynn wasn’t just passing through the room during the meeting. Neither was he just sitting quietly on the flanks. Walker said that it was Flynn who expressed concern about the “optics” of sending in National Guard forces. And, incredibly, even after insurgents had bashed their way into the halls of Congress and erected a gallows on the lawn, Flynn said he was worried that the presence of uniformed troops might “inflame” the Trump mob.

Meanwhile, Walker had nothing but praise for the close operations between former secretary of the Army and the D.C. National Guard during earlier events. Even as Walker took ultimate responsibility for the mistakes made during those deployments—such as the dangerous use of a helicopter in an attempt to intimidate protestors at a protest following the police murder of George Floyd—he was apparently baffled by McCarthy’s actions during the Jan. 6 insurgency. 

Despite having insurgents already inside the Capitol, a crowd of thousands that pushed through four lines of police security, and Metro police fighting a battle against overwhelming odds to repel invaders from the tunnels that led straight to where members of Congress had been secured, McCarthy refused to give the go-ahead until he understood “exactly how the National Guard was going to be used.” That apparently included demanding a face-to-face meeting with Capitol Police commanders that didn’t occur until more than two hours after the doors of the Capitol were battered open.

And behind McCarthy’s actions was the infamous memo from Christopher Miller. On Jan. 4, McCarthy forwarded a request from Walker that the D.C. National Guard be allowed to stand by to support Capitol Police. In response, Miller placed constraints on the National Guard that Walker described as “unprecedented.” Those included: not allowing the Guard to wear any protective gear, such as vests or helmets; not allowing the Guard to share either equipment or intelligence with the police; not interacting with protestors; not allowing any riot control agents; and not using any “Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assets” to conduct “Incident, Awareness and Assessment activities.”

It was only right that the investigation into events on Jan. 6 start by speaking with the former chief of the Capitol Police and with officers on the ground on that date. From that point, discussions have also engaged the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms who were involved in planning and decision making. The Senate and House have also heard from the FBI director and from some of those in intelligence who were responsible for putting together the picture of what was going to happen on Jan. 6.

The hearings so far have made it clear that:

  • The process of managing security in the city of Washington D.C. and in the area around the Capitol is needlessly and dangerously complex. In particular, the need to carry approvals through the Capitol Police Board makes it nearly impossible to deal with real emergencies.
     
  • The intelligence on the ground was not just poorly distributed, but astonishingly low in quality. Despite months of incitement by Donald Trump, and weeks of warnings that Jan. 6 was going to be the target of violent action by white supremacist militias, the product delivered to both Metro D.C. police and Capitol Police was late, weak, and confusingly inconsistent. The intelligence failings on Jan. 6 were, by several measures, worse than those leading up to 9/11.

But what’s also obvious at this point is that it’s time to stop hearing from proxies like Robert Salesses, who has both the ungainly title of “Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security” and the unenviable task of trying to explain the thinking behind the actions of Miller, McCarthy, and Flynn. It’s time to bring those three men before the Senate or the House, using any paperwork—or police work—necessary to ensure their presence. 

That’s not just because these men are at the top of the pyramid in what we know so far, but because they might not be the top. After all, Charles Flynn was advising holding back the National Guard at the same time that his older brother was encouraging Trump to institute “limited martial law” and force the nation to conduct a re-vote under his terms. Miller was limiting the utilization of the National Guard at the same time Trump was encouraging his supporters to go “wild.” And McCarthy was delaying deployment even as Trump was continuing to tweet encouragement to the insurgents.

It is not too much to insist on a reckoning from these men. And to demand to know if they also received orders.

I’m Terribly Worried About the Family that Stole My Credit Card

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   Less than a week ago, someone stole my credit card number and details, I still don’t know how. Large charges immediately drained that account. It just so happened that we discovered it right away before we were overdrawn and that account began pulling money out of savings. We congratulated ourselves on our vigilance and quick action. Our credit union assured us that the card was canceled and we would be made whole.

   That should have been the end of the story, but I became curious. Who did this? I could see everything they bought, but at first glance the abbreviations didn’t make any sense. I figured it was a pro fraudster and these abbreviations, such as “carters 85” were some kind of vehicle for laundering the money. After only an hour of sleuthing, however, I realized that this was not the work of the mythical Russian hacker. This was a family.

   Indeed, I know quite a lot about this family: they are a young couple with young children—one of them a baby—living in Jacksonville, Florida. They have terrible credit and they are behind in their car payments. She probably worked in a salon pre-Covid, and is now trying to make ends meet by working out of her home—she bought $500 worth of product. He must really need the car for work because paying that car payment was the first thing they did. I could read my bank statement like a journal: They made the car payment and then nothing for four long days. I could almost hear them holding their breath as they waited for it to go through. As soon as it did, they racked up the other charges all within a day: new clothes for the kids, the product she needed for work, and then two cases of something from Target. I don’t know what it was, but the price point suggests baby formula.

   These people are not out partying. These people are trying to survive. Although the car payment was approved by the internet based middleman, it had not yet cleared at my bank. This is good, right? Not for them. The car payment will not clear. They will lose the car and the job that depended on it. I laid awake that night thinking about the baby formula. On one hand I was worried that they ordered it via mail delivery and wouldn’t actually receive it. Even worse is the thought that, in order to avoid giving their home address, they paid for it online intending to pick it up at the store. Would they arrive at Target, the older kids clinging to the stroller, only to be arrested and the kids thrown into foster care? I know what you’re thinking and I thought it too: what if they’re Black? It will be that much worse for them in a state that hands out long prison terms like sticks of gum. I’m also guessing that in a low tax red state, the foster care system is neither gentle nor generously funded.

   I’ll pay for the baby formula! We should pay for the baby formula, America. Even if you are only interested in the economics of the situation, it is much cheaper to pay for the baby formula than foster care for the baby—not to mention that the trauma to the children is real, lasting, and economically measurable. We should pay the car payment too—it’s cheaper than jail and more productive. What kind of nation are we that we allow a small handful of people to hoard hundreds of millions, billions, while hardworking people—people who actually work!—are driven to steal to survive?

   What about the stimulus checks, you ask? First of all, I would like to point out how offensive it is to call them “stimulus.” The politicians are calling them “stimulus” to signal to the rich that the only worth these checks have is to stimulate the economy for the rich, to make them palatable to the rich. These checks should be called survival checks, help checks, we love and support you checks! This nation is a community of families, we should care for each other and help each other. This punitive, savagely Darwinian stance started with Reagan who became the Father of Homelessness when he abolished all help for the mentally ill and threw them out on the street, and then became the Father of Mass Incarceration with his racialized War on Drugs. This punitive attitude is a mental illness itself, and we need to cure ourselves of it.

The rich are pushing back against giving anyone a check at all, and certainly not as much as $1200. This family needed more than that to get themselves right—for now. The “stimulus” check this family will receive—if Congress actually passes it—won’t be enough, and it won’t be in time to save their car. The rich are howling about Elizabeth Warren’s obsequiously modest wealth tax of 6%. Back in the halcyon days of a robust, blue collar middle class of the late 1940s—the days Republicans pine for with their black and white rom coms and 96% employment—the Federal tax rate for the top bracket was 91%. You heard me, look it up yourself. These hoarding rich are not normal. Clearly, they are mentally ill. No one needs money like that. They need tough love and we should give it to them.

Yes, the problem is traceable to Citizens United, and yes, it’s about corruption. And yes, members of both parties are yoked to these chariots of wealth. We could talk all day about why, and how, and what to do about it.

Meanwhile, I’m really worried about this family.

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COVID-19 relief bill includes desperately needed help for child care centers

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The child care industry and the workers in it—overwhelmingly women, many of them women of color—have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Really hard. But now there are two big reasons for hope, thanks to child care funding in the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House and to a rush of states opening up vaccinations to child care workers.

After losing 400,000 jobs early in the pandemic, the industry hasn’t fully rebounded. In December 2020, there were still nearly 175,000 fewer child care jobs than there were in December 2019. In an industry that operates on extremely tight profit margins, enrollments remain down due to both reduced class sizes for social distancing purposes and parents keeping their kids home rather than risking group settings, while expenses for personal protective equipment and cleaning are up.

According to a December study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 56% of child care centers say they are “losing money every day that they remain open.” The first glimmer of hope on that front came at the end of December, when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $10 billion to child care, and that money is going out. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans this week for $303 million in federal money, including $140.7 million to support providers who have lost enrollment and $87 million in increased payments for providers who participate in subsidized care.

But the COVID-19 relief package the House passed includes much more help: $39 billion. And, HuffPost’s Emily Peck reports, “the money is retroactive, so centers that are already in debt or behind on their rent or mortgage payments can catch up.” 

While Senate Republicans have objected to many of the provisions in the relief bill, and intend to do everything they can to delay its passage, they haven’t targeted the child care money, so there is hope that help is on the way.

There’s a more individual form of hope, too, for child care workers. Following President Biden’s call for teachers and child care workers to be vaccinated (or have gotten at least one shot) by the end of March, pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination program opened up eligibility to those groups across the country, regardless of whether they were yet eligible under state guidelines. But that wasn’t all.

A series of states quickly moved to open up their own vaccination programs to teachers and child care workers, including Massachusetts (where Republican Gov. Charlie Baker made clear he wasn’t happy about it), Washington state, and Texas. Prior to Biden’s push, teachers and child care workers had already heard that they would soon become eligible in Ohio, Vermont, and New Jersey as the states continue to expand their vaccinations.

None of this is the end of problems for the industry or for its low-paid workers. Even before the pandemic, turnover was extremely high in daycare centers, and that’s only gotten worse during the pandemic. Median pay for child care workers is $11.65 an hour, according to one recent study. And despite the low pay, reliable, high-quality child care is not affordable for many families, keeping some women out of the workforce (at cost to their lifetime earnings) or leaving families with a series of bad choices. 

The pandemic has shown that child care is absolutely an economic issue, with increased work absences due to child care problems over the past year and many parents of young children—again, especially mothers—dropping out of the paid workforce entirely over it. There’s an immediate crisis here, but there’s also a long-term problem. It would be great if we could use the crisis to draw attention to the problem and look at longer-term fixes. But in the short term, keeping child care centers open and protecting their workers from COVID-19 are big steps.

Sen. Johnson wants to force 10-hour reading of entire COVID bill

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Well, actually, he’s a Badger, not a duck. I was born in Wisconsin and currently live in Oregon. Believe me, I know the difference. And I can assure you, this guy is one enormous Johnson.

I’m really not sure what Republicans’ strategy is vis-à-vis the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that’s going to pass regardless of how many silly roadblocks they throw up. When people get their $1,400 relief checks, are they really going to wring their hands over the fiscal implications of funding museums? Nah, they’re going to spend that money, and they’ll be eager to do so.

In fact, I’ve already sent a down payment to a local artist so I can get this painted on the side of my van:

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So the COVID relief bill will help everyone, including museum workers. And that’s just how it should be.

But that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t going to put on an impotent clown show anyway.

The Hill:

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a staunch Trump ally and fiery fiscal conservative, has told colleagues that he plans to force the Senate clerks to read aloud the entire $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill on the Senate floor, which could slow it down by as much as 10 hours.

Any senator can force a reading of a bill on the floor but the formality is almost always skipped by unanimous consent to avoid wasting time.

Wait, weren’t these guys just jawboning about how the impeachment of an insurrectionist former president was a waste of time? Weren’t they talking about how we really needed to address the COVID pandemic? I’m starting to think they weren’t all that serious. Hmm.

Ron Johnson is the kid who raises his hand at the end of class to inform the teacher she forgot to give out homework. Sadly, there are no lockers in the corridors of the Capitol building to shove him into, and I can only assume he’s worn wedgie-resistant underpants since at least middle school.

Maybe he’s just trying to out-asshole Ted Cruz. Or maybe he’s trying to make a stupid point that literally no one but Ron Johnson will remember.

Either way, they’re running out of excuses that make sense. Republicans have harshly criticized two measures in the House bill. One of these would have sent $141 million to San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system, and another would have earmarked $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge, which connects New York state to Canada. Naturally, they focused on those two projects so they could shoehorn Nancy Pelosi’s and Chuck Schumer’s names into all their talking points.

But those projects have since been removed in the Senate version of the bill.

“Now that the two projects that Republicans misled the public about in the House bill have been removed, it is unclear how Republicans will justify their opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which has strong bipartisan support among the public,” said senior Pelosi aide Drew Hammill.

“It just delays things a day,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “I feel sorry for the reading clerk.”

I feel sorry for the reading clerk, too, but if Johnson reads the bill himself it will take another month, and we need to pass this thing tout de suite. 

You see, we were forced to navigate this awful pandemic without a sober or serious navigator for nearly a year, and so we need to rebuild. Naturally, that means helping people and juicing our economy while a Democrat occupies the White House—two things Republicans are diametrically opposed to.

This opposition is 100 percent about cutting President Biden off at the knees (like they did with President Obama in 2009), and nothing at all to do with principle. But, hey, when you have no real principles, you have to find imaginative ways to pretend that you do.

Unfortunately, Ron Johnson is a world-class dullard with very little imagination. But he tries. Oh, lordy, does he ever. I wish I could say it was adorable how hard he tries, but it’s just not. 

Oh, hi there! You like free stuff, right? The long-anticipated EPILOGUE to Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump is now available for FREE. Download your copy at this link! And don’t forget to check out the rest of AJP’s oeuvre here. Sit back and enjoy the Trumplessness!

Insurrectionist who put his feet on Pelosi’s desk screams ‘It’s not fair!’; during hearing

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I know she has better things to do, but I wish Nancy Pelosi would show up at (alleged) insurrectionist Richard Barnett’s trial, prop her feet up on the chair in front of her, and giggle madly every time that silly sod complains about how unfair the world is.

To recap: This guy breaks into the Capitol with a stun gun, invades Nancy Pelosi’s office, sits in her chair, puts his feet up on her desk, steals her mail, and leaves a threatening note, but now he’s feeling mistreated.

In the past I’ve thought about inventing a machine that could shrink violins down to the quantum level. In this case, I may have to do better.

The Daily Beast:

“They’re dragging this out. They’re letting everyone else out,” Richard “Bigo” Barnett yelled during his Thursday court hearing, insisting that “it’s not fair” that he is still in jail while a slew of his fellow rioters have been released pending trial.

Uh, then maybe don’t brag about your highly illegal actions or pose for pictures while engaged in seditious mayhem?

Dozens of rioters have been released pending trial, a result of lower-level offenses that federal judges have said are non-violent, and therefore not worthy of detention. That fact seems to irk Barnett, who unloaded on Thursday about how “everyone else who did things much worse are already home” before accusing prosecutors of delaying his hearings.

“They can’t keep pushing me out month by month!” he yelled, pleading that he does not want to remain in a D.C. prison for “another month” while others are “already home.”

Okay, sure. But white privilege isn’t real or anything. 

Being dumb enough to support Donald Trump isn’t illegal, but breaking into federal buildings and stealing things off the speaker’s desk definitely is, even if you think you’re doing it on behalf of your beloved pr*sident’s dumb, orange ass.

Donald Trump has found the perfect Mini-Me in Barnett. When the law nips at your heels because of some grotesque anti-social thing you did 100% of your own volition, scream “unfair!” and “witch hunt!” until you find someone who’ll believe you.

Sadly for Barnett, he doesn’t have a politicized Justice Department to help him out of scrapes. Then again, neither does Donald Trump anymore.

Oh, hi there! You like free stuff, right? The long-anticipated EPILOGUE to Aldous J. Pennyfarthing’s Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump is now available for FREE. Download your copy at this link! And don’t forget to check out the rest of AJP’s oeuvre here. Sit back and enjoy the Trumplessness!

Klobuchar says she would nuke the filibuster, bringing Dems closer to breakthrough

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It’s been a very strange day for Democrats in the Senate. There’s positive news, but first, some context.

First, the party’s leadership acceded to Joe Manchin’s demand that they better “target” stimulus checks. As a result, they lowered the phase-out on the American Recovery Act payments to the point that 17 million people who received a second stimulus check from Donald Trump will not receive any checks from Joe Biden. The decision has drawn outrage for the damage it will cause and for how much the Democratic Party’s agenda is being held hostage by Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and likely a few other conservative Dems’ whims.

That last part — the presumption that other Democratic senators also quietly support keeping the filibuster in place — has been a big part of the political calculus surrounding the issue. Simply put, the fewer senators that support the filibuster, the more pressure that will be placed on Manchin and Sinema to cave on the matter.

And this afternoon, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a moderate who has often tangled with the progressive wing of the party, came out unequivocally for killing the filibuster

“I would get rid of the filibuster,” Klobuchar says. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill.”

In the past, Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, has indicated she was open to eliminating the filibuster, but these comments to Mother Jones are her most definitive statement to date. Though her Democratic colleagues Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have said they would not support abolishing the filibuster, Klobuchar notes that the spread of new GOP anti-voting bills boosts the need for Democrats to enact HR 1—and that increases the pressure to end or alter the Senate filibuster.

“We have a raw exercise of political power going on where people are making it harder to vote and you just can’t let that happen in a democracy because of some old rules in the Senate,” she says.

Again, this is huge. Klobuchar doesn’t make big pronouncements like this without checking in with her fellow moderates. She is a consensus-builder more than anything else. And her decision to speak out on the filibuster, not in support of progressive economic policy but HR 1 and desperately needed reforms to save democracy, speaks to the fact that the moderates in the party are increasingly aware that their very survival is at stake.

Unfortunately, Sinema and Manchin are still not there on the filibuster. I covered what Manchin said a few days ago, but today, we have more evidence of Sinema’s continued recalcitrance on the subject. As expected, it is based on very cynical claims:

“I have long said that I oppose eliminating the filibuster for vote son legislation. Retaining the legislative filibuster is not meant to impede the things we want to get done. Rather, it’s meant to protect what the Senate was designed to be. I believe the Senate has a responsibility to put politics aside and fully consider, debate, and reach compromise on legislative issues that will affect all Americans. Therefore, I support the 60-vote threshold for all Senate actions. Debates on bills should be a bipartisan process that takes into account the views of all Americans, not just those of one political party. Regardless of the party in control of the Senate, respecting the opinions of senators from the minority party will result in better, commonsense legislation.

This is downright silly — maybe if there’s an active and engaged minority party, the 60-vote rule can be used to create more balanced legislation, but right now, Republicans are back in their blow-it-all-up stance. They are doing exactly what they did under Obama: Nothing. They refuse to compromise or participate. They only want to stop any and all legislation in its tracks. That means no minimum wage increase at all, no climate change plan, and certainly no voting rights reform.

Joe Biden is said to believe that a bit of Republican support for some of his nominees suggests that bipartisanship is possible, but the reality is that because they only need 50 votes to pass, Republicans won’t have an impact on them either way so long as Democrats stick together. Their willingness to vote for those nominees stems from the lack of filibuster. If they know legislation is going to pass, they might actually try to get involved. Plus, it’s not as if they’re being all that helpful — they’re delaying Merrick Garland’s confirmation until next week.

Simply put, if Democrats don’t kill the filibuster, it’ll kill their chances to be a national political party. Gerrymandering and voter suppression will kill them in swing states and come 2030, Republicans will control those states with such an iron fist, they’ll go ahead and eliminate any nascent Democratic movement with more redistricting and voter suppression.

Just look at what’s happening in Georgia and, crucially, the Supreme Court. Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case of overly restrictive voting laws in Arizona that had been struck down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. At stake is what remains of the Voting Rights Act, in particular Section 2, which prohibits “voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups identified in Section 4(f)(2) of the Act.”

In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states with Jim Crow voting histories to pre-clear election law changes with the Department of Justice. His justification? First, that times had changed and racism was solved. Second, he reasoned that Section 2 would continue to protect minority voters, even if it took years of arduous court cases to receive any relief. Now, the 6-3 conservative majority is aiming to pulverize that clause, as well.

Initial reports based on yesterday’s arguments indicate that the Court is likely leaning toward ruling in Arizona’s favor in at least a narrow decision, with lines like this one, from newly installed Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a pretty solid tell: “There’s a difficulty that the statutory language and its lack of clarity presents in trying to figure out when something crosses from an inconvenience to a burden.”

So, basically, instead of trying to navigate a slippery slope, they’re suggesting bulldozing the entire thing, even after the Republican lawyer made startling admissions like this one about why the GOP needs to engage in voter suppression:

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero sum game. And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election.”

This is where we’re at. Republicans are outright admitting that they will cheat (or push the Supreme Court to allow them to cheat) in order to take power. Democrats have a chance to stop them. They just need to use power themselves.

P.S. I have a political newsletter called Progressives Everywhere, which focuses in depth on voting rights, the filibuster, state legislatures, and progressive policy. Every week, you’ll get deep dives on items like progressive ballot initiatives, saving the Supreme Court, the gig economy, and the economics of student debt. I also offer ways for people to get involved in creating progressive change by spotlighting important grassroots groups and voter registration organizations.

It’s free! You can subscribe to the newsletter here!

Sanders says Outrageous After Lobby to stop Sharing Vaccine Recipe With World

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“I urge the Biden administration to support the proposal to waive vaccine-related IP rights at the WTO to rapidly expand supplies of vaccines.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday denounced as “outrageous” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to a South Africa and India-led effort to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rights to allow for the production of generic versions of coronavirus vaccines that—while developed with huge injections of public funds—are controlled by pharmaceutical giants.

“Amid a global pandemic, major pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to protect billions in profits,” Sanders (I-Vt.) said after the deep-pocketed Chamber of Commerce, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in the U.S., dismissed the proposal to waive intellectual property rights—and thus enable countless people in poor nations to access life-saving shots—as “misguided” and “a distraction.”

“It is outrageous that, amid a global pandemic, major pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to protect billions in profits.”
—Sen. Bernie Sanders

Echoing a demand of hundreds of civil society organizations in the U.S. and around the world, the Vermont senator called on the Biden administration to ignore big business lobbying and support the India-South Africa proposal to “waive vaccine-related IP rights at the [World Trade Organization] to rapidly expand supplies of vaccines.”

Despite garnering support from more than 100 countries, the waiver push has run up against opposition from powerful nations such as the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, which have thwarted the will of a supermajority of WTO member nations in order to ensure that pharmaceutical corporations retain monopoly control over coronavirus vaccine technology.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new director-general of the WTO, said in an interview with Reuters last month that it is “unconscionable” that people are dying due to continued lack of access to the coronavirus vaccine “when we have the technology” to ensure that everyone is inoculated.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” she added. “Vaccine nationalism at this time just will not pay, because the variants are coming. If other countries are not immunized, it will just be a blowback.”

The Chamber of Commerce’s public opposition to the IP waiver proposal came as powerful pharmaceutical industry groups in the U.S. are reportedly urging the Biden administration to punish countries for attempting to ramp up coronavirus vaccine production without the blessing of drug companies, which see coronavirus vaccine-making as a lucrative and potentially long-term business opportunity given the emergence of new strains of the deadly pathogen.

Investigative journalist Lee Fang of The Intercept reported Wednesday that the pharmaceutical industry “has filed hundreds of pages of documents to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative outlining the alleged threat posed by any effort to challenge ‘basic intellectual property protections’ in the response to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Countries named in the industry complaints include Hungary, Chile, and Colombia.

Fang continued:

The drug industry has sharply criticized any attempt to share vaccine patents or the technological knowledge needed to manufacture them, despite global need. According to one estimate, wealthy countries representing just 16 percent of the world’s population have already secured more than half of all Covid-19 vaccine contracts. And current projections show that much of the middle-income and developing world will not achieve widespread vaccinations for years. Some projections predict that low-income countries such as Mali, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe may not achieve significant levels of vaccination until early 2024…

The push by foreign governments to unilaterally set the price and pace of production of coronavirus vaccines, drug lobbyists with the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, or BIO, argued, will place ‘American jobs and the workers who rely on them at risk, and impede scientific advances from reaching society.’

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, another drug lobby group, requested that the Biden administration “pursue a variety of enforcement initiatives” and “use all available tools and leverage to ensure America’s trading partners” do not suspend traditional intellectual property rights in the fight against the coronavirus.

In direct response to Fang’s reporting, the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), a U.S. based consumer and environmental advocacy group, tweeted that “pharma greed is standing in the way of an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“The Biden administration should support the [Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights] waiver at the WTO,” the group added, “so that vaccines and treatments can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible.”

Docs Reveal Meatpacking Industry Fought Trump’s Feeble Covid-19 Safeguards

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“These documents show that the industry actively pushed back against the few steps the Trump administration took to try to ensure the safety of meatpacking workers and federal inspectors.”

Documents obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and published Wednesday reveal how leading players in the meatpacking industry—one of the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic—fought the minimal efforts imposed by the Trump administration to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in meat processing plants last spring. 

As Public Citizen put it, “these docs are utterly damning.” 

Responding to Public Citizen’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the USDA handed over documents (pdf) showing that:

  • In April 2020, officials in the North American Meat Institute protested USDA’s decision not to send Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors who were exposed to Covid-19 into other plants. On April 15, 2020, one NAMI official stated that “we can’t start sidelining individuals at FSIS or in the industry because they may have been exposed. We all may have been exposed at this point”; 
  • Later in April 2020, officials at the National Chicken Council complained to USDA that FSIS was asking too many questions about Covid-19 testing at poultry processing facilities, stating the “questions seem to be unnecessary.”
  • In May 2020, officials at animal processing giant Tyson Foods complained to USDA that the company had to “spend significant resources… each day when reporting positive team members.”
  • In March 2020, the Food and Beverage Issue Alliance developed guidance for industry members stating that, unless state or local governments required it, “physical (social) distancing should be a tool but not a requirement.”
  • Industry officials reported FSIS employees who warned their friends and families about plants with cases of Covid-19, specifically forwarding a personal Facebook post and asking USDA to take disciplinary action against the inspectors.

Adam Pulver, an attorney at the Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a statement that “it is heartbreaking to see the callousness of the meatpacking industry, pushing back against basic safety measures that could have saved hundreds of lives and helped contain the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“While we knew that meatpacking companies did not take adequate measures to protect their workers and the communities they lived in from the threat of Covid-19, these documents show that the industry actively pushed back against the few steps the Trump administration took to try to ensure the safety of meatpacking workers and federal inspectors,” Pulver added.

As Public Citizen notes, at least 45,000 coronavirus cases and 240 Covid-19 deaths have been linked to U.S. meatpacking facilities.

In September 2020, Public Citizen and American Oversight published documents also obtained via FOIA requests that showed how the USDA and the meatpacking industry worked together to downplay and disregard risks to worker health during the pandemic. The documents revealed that a leading meat industry lobby group drafted a proposed executive order that was strikingly similar to a directive issued a week later by then-President Donald Trump to keep meatpacking plants open against the orders of local health officials. 

Last September’s revelations were followed by a November scandal involving supervisors at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa who placed cash bets on how many workers at the facility would contract the coronavirus. More than 1,000 employees—over a third of the plant’s workforce—were infected.