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November 22, 2021Heather Cox Richardson

Nov 23Today, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, based in Stockholm, Sweden, released its 2021 report on “The Global State of Democracy.” “Democracy is at risk,” the report’s introduction begins. “Its survival is endangered by a perfect storm of threats, both from within and from a rising tide of authoritarianism.” “The world is becoming more authoritarian as nondemocratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law. ”The report identifies the United States as one of the democracies that is “backsliding,” meaning that it has “experienced gradual but significant weakening of Checks on Government and Civil Liberties, such as Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association and Assembly, over time.”​​“The United States, the bastion of global democracy, fell victim to authoritarian tendencies itself, and was knocked down a significant number of steps on the democratic scale,” the report says. That fall continues to be pushed by malign foreign actors. An investigation by Jordan Liles of shows that foreign social media accounts are magnifying right-wing voices. In the wake of the Rittenhouse acquittal, for example, foreign accounts posing as Americans appeared to celebrate the jury’s decision. Frank Figliuzzi, the former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, tweeted that of 32,315 pro-Rittenhouse hashtag tweets from November 19–20, 29,609 had disabled geolocation. Of them, 17,701 were listed as “foreign,” and most of those were in Russia, China, and the EU. Plenty of Americans are along for the authoritarian ride, too. A story by David A. Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Stanley-Becker, and Shayna Jacobs in the Washington Post today reveals that the Republican National Committee (RNC) is using party funds to pay some of former president Donald Trump’s legal bills. Allies of RNC chair Ronna McDaniel note that since Trump is the biggest draw the party has for fundraising, it is important to cultivate his goodwill. This dumps the RNC into the January 6 insurrection mess by aligning the party’s central organization with Trump.That mess is deepening. Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued five new subpoenas to people involved in planning the rallies in Washington, D.C., on January 6 and the subsequent march to the Capitol. The subpoenas went to Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lawrence, who organized the “Women for America First” rally, and Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich, who called for a social media blitz. Another subpoena went to Roger Stone, who pushed the rally and raised money for it, and who hired members of the right-wing Oath Keepers, several of whom were at the riot, as personal bodyguards. Right-wing newscaster Alex Jones got one, too; he helped to organize the rallies, spoke at the one held January 5, and claimed to have provided 80% of the funding for the January 6 rally. Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said: “We need to know who organized, planned, paid for, and received funds related to those events, as well as what communications organizers had with officials in the White House and Congress. ”Two days ago, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who sits on the committee, told CNN that many of the people they’ve interviewed so far—more than 200—have been Trump officials who testified voluntarily and wanted to be subpoenaed for “cover. ”In Washington, D.C., today, at a hearing for one of those charged in the riot at the Capitol that day, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, sought to define what it means to interfere with an official federal government proceeding. About a third of those charged in the attack on the Capitol have been charged with this crime, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Nichols asked a prosecutor today whether calling “Vice President Pence to seek to have him adjudge the certification in a particular way” would be obstruction. That’s a key question. Trump’s influence took some hits today. Sean Parnell, the Trump-backed candidate for Pennsylvania senator, suspended his campaign after losing a custody battle with his ex-wife. She accused him of physical and emotional abuse of her and their children. Today, conservative columnist Max Boot called out Republican lawmakers for “fomenting violent extremism” and noted that “they have also become hostage to the extremists in their ranks” because they fear for their safety should they stand up to the Trump loyalists. Right-wing extremists have threatened the lives of the 13 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Two long-standing Fox News Channel contributors, Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, quit the enterprise today over Tucker Carlson’s three-part series Patriot Purge. That series, they wrote, “is presented in the style of an exposé, a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. In reality, it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. ” They say they could no longer work at the Fox News Channel because “we sincerely believe that all people of good will and good judgment—regardless of their ideological or partisan commitments—can agree that a cavalier and even contemptuous attitude toward facts, truth-seeking, and truth-telling, lies at the heart of so much that plagues our country. ” And Kyle Rittenhouse, whom a jury acquitted Friday of all charges connected with the shooting deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz, is fighting with the “Fightback Foundation” organized by “Stop the Steal” lawyer Lin Wood over the $2 million bail posted for Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse’s lawyers say the money was raised for their client and thus should be his; Wood contends that he raised the money (although apparently not all of it) and thus it should go to his organization.A number of Republican governors are facing primary challengers backed by Trump, and according to the Wall Street Journal, former vice president Mike Pence told the Republican Governors’ Association this week that he would be supporting incumbent Republican governors rather than Trump-backed challengers. Trump spokesperson Budowich—now under subpoena—responded, “Just like in cycles previous, successful Republican candidates must earn the support of President Donald J. Trump.”As the Republican Party falls to autocracy, President Joe Biden is focused on making Americans believe in democracy again by making the economy work for regular people. His policies are working.Today the CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon, explicitly praised the Biden administration for its actions to reduce pandemic-related supply chain shortages, which are easing. “I would like to give the administration credit for helping do things like help get the ports open 24 hours a day, to open up some of the trucking lines…—there’s been a lot of work to do that—and then all the way through the supply chain there’s been a lot of innovation, and…week after week, in the third quarter in particular, sequentially, each month of the quarter got stronger, the number of containers that we were moving through the ports has grown significantly….”—Notes:​​ Figliuzzi @FrankFigliuzzi1Divide & conquer: A sample of 32,315 pro-Rittenhouse hashtag tweets, Nov 19-20, showed 29,609 with disabled geolocation. Of those, 17,701 were listed as “foreign”, but a deep scrub revealed most of those were in Russia, China, and the EU. @Tara_Writer @TAPSTRIMEDIA #RittenhouseNovember 21st 2021

Alexander Hendrie  6/24/2021LikeComments|4

The IRS has a history of corruption and incompetence

President Joe Biden has proposed drastically expanding the IRS.a man standing in front of a brick building© Provided by Washington Examiner

Biden’s plan calls for hiring over 87,000 agents, more than doubling the agency’s workforce. It also allocates $80 billion in new funding over the next decade, a 67% annual increase compared to 2021 funding levels. This plan will give the IRS new “specialized enforcement staff” and force banks and payment apps like Venmo to report the inflows and outflows of businesses and people.

This proposal is a terrible idea, given that the IRS has repeatedly proven that it cannot do its job.

Last week, ProPublica disclosed that it had received the tax returns of thousands of taxpayers covering 15 years, including those belonging to Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Bloomberg. If this information is true, it was either obtained through someone hacking the IRS database or through an IRS employee illegally disclosing the information, a felony punishable by up to five years in jail time.

While this leak is concerning, it should not be surprising. The IRS has a long history of ineptitude, incompetence, and corruption. In 1997 and 1998, congressional hearings documented numerous examples of an out-of-control IRS.

A 1998 article by the New York Times described “military style raids” by IRS agents against taxpayers who were accused of nonviolent behavior. Another 1998 article, this time from the Washington Post, noted testimony from several small-business owners across the country. They described dozens of armed IRS officials raiding their offices, seizing business documents, and harassing clients and employees. In each case, the agency found no evidence of wrongdoing.

After these revelations, important reforms were passed by Congress to protect taxpayers. However, IRS malfeasance has continued in the years since.

During the Obama administration, the IRS targeted conservative groups applying for nonprofit status ahead of the 2012 election. Under the lead of IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner, the agency ensured just one conservative nonprofit organization received tax-exempt status over a three-year period. No IRS employee was disciplined for this scandal. The Obama Department of Justice closed its investigation with no charges, and Lerner was permitted to retire with a pension and a bonus.

Around this time, an IRS employee illegally leaked the sensitive donor information of a conservative group, the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS claimed the information was released “inadvertently” and paid a modest $50,000 settlement.

In addition to a record of targeting taxpayers, the IRS also routinely fails to perform basic tasks.

The IRS has failed to complete legally mandated annual tax complexity reports since 2002. When asked in 2015 why it wasn’t doing the report, the IRS noted that it would take two full-time employees to do so. A 2021 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report found that 40% of printers in tax processing centers were not working, but the only problem with many of the printers was that no employee had replaced the ink or emptied the waste cartridge container.

A 2016 report found that the IRS failed to document the return of laptops containing sensitive taxpayer data. The report estimated that the IRS did not properly document over 1,000 computers used by contract employees. A 2017 report found that the agency rehired more than 200 employees who were previously employed by the agency but fired for previous conduct or performance issues.

The IRS failed to hire 5,000 new employees between 2017 and 2019. The agency had been allocated funding for this staff, so these hiring woes are due to bureaucratic problems, including the fact that the IRS has not updated its workforce plan in 15 years. Further, the IRS has a union contract that requires it to consider internal applicants before hiring externally, a process that TIGTA says leads to a “waste of time and resources” and often results in the agency “shuffling existing employees around.”

In 2013, IRS employees spent over 520,000 hours on union activities, costing taxpayers $23.5 million in salary and benefits.

Biden’s plan to give the IRS $80 billion is reckless at best. Even Obama-era IRS Chief John Koskinen, a longtime advocate of increasing IRS funding, believes Biden’s IRS expansion is excessive. In an interview with the New York Times, Koskinen said the IRS could not properly use the $80 billion, saying, “I’m not sure you’d be able to efficiently use that much money.”

The IRS needs reform to ensure that it properly does its job and does not unfairly target particular taxpayers. In contrast, Biden’s plan would only throw more money at a broken agency.

Alexander Hendrie is the director of tax policy at Americans for Tax Reform.

Tags: OpinionBeltway ConfidentialBlog ContributorsTax

Original Author: Alexander Hendrie

Original Location: The IRS has a history of corruption and incompetence


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November 16, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson4 hr ago23960

Today, President Joe Biden hit the road to sell the benefits of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed into law yesterday. In Woodstock, New Hampshire, today, standing at a bridge deemed structurally unsafe—one of the 215 unsafe bridges in New Hampshire—Biden said “Clean water, access to the internet, rebuilding bridges—everything in this bill matters to the individual lives of real people. This is not something abstract.”

The popularity of the new law was evident today when Republicans began to tout its benefits for their districts, despite their votes against it. Representative Gary Palmer (R-AL), for example, told his constituents: “Funding the Northern Beltline has consistently been one of my top priorities.” He added, “Birmingham is currently one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country without a complete beltline around it. Completing the Northern Beltline will benefit the entire region and enhance economic development and employment opportunities.” Completion of the road will create more than $2 billion in 10 years, he noted, and could create 14,000 jobs.

And yet, Palmer voted against the bill. When it passed, he tweeted: “The Democrats’ recklessly expensive infrastructure bill finally passed tonight after weeks of disarray among their caucus.”

Since Biden took office, the Democrats have used the government to help ordinary Americans. In the wake of the 2008 crash, the government badly underinvested in the economy, leaving consumers unable to recharge it. After a terribly slow recovery, the economy stabilized and then, once again, crashed during the pandemic. In spring 2020, millions of people lost their jobs, incomes plummeted, and spending fell off a cliff.

Worried we would make the same mistake twice, leaving the country to limp along, lawmakers pushed money into the economy. In spring 2020, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion bipartisan CARES Act, then in December 2020, the $900 billion bipartisan aid package. Then, in March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

These put more than $3 trillion into the economy, raising incomes and enabling individuals to put money into savings. Yesterday, the government sent out its fifth monthly payment to the families of around 61 million eligible children under the child tax credit that Democrats expanded under the American Rescue Plan. Yesterday’s payments were around $15 billion. So far, the program has delivered about $77 billion to families across the country which, in turn, enables them to buy household goods that pump money into the economy.

By protecting individuals’ incomes, the government also protected income tax revenues, enabling state and local governments to continue to function, while the money in people’s pockets has also meant they continued to buy goods, keeping sales taxes producing money. Far from collapsing, as it looked like they might in the early days of the pandemic, state and local governments are currently strong financially.

Other economic news is also good. Today, news broke that the government has badly underestimated job growth. Between June and September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics underestimated job growth by 626,000 jobs. The pandemic meant that businesses were slow to fill out paperwork, and this, in turn, meant numbers were underreported.

Goldman Sachs says that by the end of 2022, the nation’s unemployment rate will be at a 50-year low. Unemployment is currently at 4.6% and is expected to be at 3.5% by the end of the year, a rate that will match that of 2019, which was the lowest in 50 years.

Retail sales are also higher than expected. They are 16% higher now than they were a year ago, during the height of the pandemic. They jumped 1.7% in October, with Americans spending about $638.2 billion in that month. The National Retail Federation expects strong holiday retail sales. J.P. Morgan has upgraded its growth expectations for gross domestic product in the fourth quarter from 4% to 5%.

Products are also refilling shelves. Walmart today reported that it will have full shelves for the holiday season.

On all of this news, the stock market rose again.

All of these indicators are excellent, and they reflect the government’s protection of the demand side of the economy to prevent a situation in which the economy can’t recover from a recession because not enough people have enough money to get things moving again.

But now we are looking at a very different problem. The pandemic crashed supply chains across the world, creating a supply shortage (someone described this as the parking lot after a concert, when everyone is trying to leave at once, and as someone who once spent 4.5 hours trying to get out of a parking lot after a U2 concert, I love this comparison). Prices are rising as people who have money, thanks to lawmakers’ efforts to guarantee that we didn’t prolong a recession because of a demand problem, are trying to get scarce goods.

This has created 6.2% inflation in consumer prices, 4 points above the 2% inflation for which government officials aim, and a 30-year high. (Interestingly, gasoline prices, to which people look as a sign of inflation and which have risen about $1.50 a gallon from their low during the pandemic when no one was buying gas, are a reflection of global oil prices and have little to do with U.S. policies.)

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says that the smoothing out of supply chains and the end of the pandemic—if we can finally manage the pandemic—will bring prices back to expected levels, and Biden’s work with ports and shippers to expand their operations in order to clear bottlenecks appears to be having an effect. Bloomberg reports that the number of containers sitting on docks at the port of Los Angeles had declined 29% from its high. Still, the Federal Reserve has begun to scale back its support for the economy to try to cool the market.

Mike Pyle, chief economic adviser to the vice president, told Catherine Lucey and Alex Leary of the Wall Street Journal, “We continue to bet that as the economy recovers, as the pandemic abates, as a lot of the work that we’re doing to unclog supply chains and make them higher velocity and more fluid, as those things happen these pressures are going to abate.”

But concerns about inflation are affecting the Democrats’ plans for the larger Build Back Better infrastructure plan. Republicans insist that more investment will raise prices further, and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin (D-WV) has expressed his own concerns. Administration officials counter that the Build Back Better plan will lower key costs for families, especially childcare and medical expenses, and that since it is a long-term investment to be disbursed over ten years it will not have any immediate inflationary tendencies, while it will build long-term wealth for ordinary people.

With the economy so strong, so far only about 5% of Americans say that inflation is the most important issue facing the country. But painful memories of the crippling stagflation of the 1970s, when rising prices, rising energy costs, and the end of price controls instituted under President Richard Nixon sent inflation briefly over 12%, linger.

Republicans are hammering on this fear. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm of the Senate Republicans, said recently: “You can see what’s going to happen next. We’re going to continue to have inflation, and then interest rates will go up…. This is a gold mine for us.”

Notes: Quintanilla @carlquintanilla(Bloomberg) – The number of containers sitting on docks at the port of Los Angeles has declined 29%, CEO Gene Seroka says. (via @business @conorsen) November 16th 2021969 Retweets2,869 Likes



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November 14, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson

 November 14, 2021

Comment: The GOP (in all of its iterations) which has done nothing for the people since the 1800’s. It has continuingly lied about everything to keep power and enable its big money donors. The GOP did not want social security to become law (where would a lot of us be without it?) Right now, they are backing the insurrectionists and Trumpian lies to gain and maintain power. With the upcoming midterm elections, they are obstructing any initiatives that will gain votes and make the current administration look bad. We should all remember that what they do affects all of for better (if you make 500 thousand annually or more) or worse if you earn $150 thousand and less annually. MA

Last night, Trump’s disgraced former national security advisor Michael Flynn spoke at the “Reawaken America” conference in San Antonio, Texas, designed to whip up supporters to believe the 2020 election was stolen and that coronavirus vaccines are an infringement on their liberty. Flynn told the audience: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”This statement flies in the face of our Constitution, whose First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” James Madison of Virginia, the key thinker behind the Constitution, had quite a lot to say about why it was fundamentally important to make sure the government kept away from religion.

In 1772, when he was 21, Madison watched as Virginia arrested itinerant preachers for attacking the established church in the state. He was no foe of religion, but by the next year, he had begun to question whether established religion, which was common in the colonies, was good for society. By 1776, many of his broad-thinking neighbors had come to believe that society should “tolerate” different religious practices; he had moved past tolerance to the belief that men had a right of conscience.

In that year, he was instrumental in putting Section 16 into the Virginia Declaration of Rights on which our own Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—would be based. It reads, “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”

In 1785, in a “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” he explained that what was at stake was not just religion, but also representative government itself. The establishment of one religion over others attacked a fundamental human right—an unalienable right—of conscience. If lawmakers could destroy the right of freedom of conscience, they could destroy all other unalienable rights. Those in charge of government could throw representative government out the window and make themselves tyrants.

Madison believed that a variety of religious sects would balance each other out, keeping the new nation free of the religious violence of Europe. He drew on that vision explicitly when he envisioned a new political system, expecting that a variety of political expressions would protect the new government. In Federalist #51, he said: “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.”

Right on cue, Flynn’s call for one religion runs parallel to modern Republican lawmakers’ determination to make their party supreme.

The 13 Republicans in the House who were willing to vote yes and give Democratic president Joe Biden a win with the popular bipartisan infrastructure bill are now facing increasing harassment, including death threats from Trump supporters. Although he talked about passing his own infrastructure bill, former president Trump opposed the measure on Biden’s watch, and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene called those voting for it “traitor Republicans.”

Meanwhile, Republicans remain silent about the video released by Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), showing a cartoon version of himself killing a Democratic congresswoman. Sixty Democratic representatives are sponsoring a bill to censure Gosar; not even the Republican Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), has condemned the video.

It turns out the plot to overturn the election of a Democratic president was wider than we knew. New information from a forthcoming book by ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl reveals that Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows was deeply involved. On New Year’s Eve, Meadows emailed to then–vice president Mike Pence’s top aide a memo outlining how Pence could steal the election for Trump.

On Friday, Meadows refused to testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, ignoring a subpoena. His lawyer, George Terwilliger III, said that Trump had told him not to testify on the grounds of executive privilege, but as far as I can tell, Trump has not actually made that claim over Meadows’s testimony.

That did not stop Meadows’s lawyer from taking to the pages of the Washington Post to try to defend his client. His op-ed was quite misleading both about precedent and about the limits of executive privilege: as the committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and vice-chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) said, “there’s nothing extraordinary about the Select Committee seeking the cooperation of a former senior administration official. Throughout U.S. history, the White House has provided Congress with testimony and information when it has been in the public interest. There couldn’t be a more compelling public interest than getting answers about an attack on our democracy.”

But Terwilliger insisted the committee was out of bounds in demanding that Meadows testify. He indicated that the only reasonable compromise between the committee and Meadows was for the former chief of staff to answer written questions.

Terwilliger seems concerned that Meadows will get caught in lies if he testifies. The select committee says that “Meadows has failed to answer even the most basic questions, including whether he was using a private cell phone to communicate on January 6th, and where his text messages from that day are.” That sure makes it sound like they have information on his actions that day, leaving him open to getting caught if he tries to lie. Written answers are much safer.

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee and member of the select committee, said today the committee would move forward quickly to refer Meadows to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress.

As Madison foresaw, the Republicans’ attempt to cement their power endangers the country. On Friday, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released transcripts of interviews with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledging that Trump administration officials stopped them from talking to the public and altered their scientific guidance about the coronavirus, accusing them of trying “to harm our commander in chief, the President.” More than 750,000 Americans have now died from COVID.

Their power play hurts us abroad, as well. Tensions surrounding Russia remain high. Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked to Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau to reaffirm U.S. support for Poland—a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—as Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko tries to destabilize Europe by forcing migrants over the Polish border. The State Department noted that the turmoil on the Polish border “seeks to threaten security, sow division, and distract from Russia’s activities on the border with Ukraine,” where Russian president Vladimir Putin has recently pushed a large military buildup.

But, as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) pointed out this morning, “Senate Republicans are blocking the confirmation of our NATO and EU Ambassadors so as to deliberately hamper global security…because they believe global instability will hurt Biden, and hurting Biden is all that matters.”


[I corrected the spelling of “practice” in Madison’s quotation.]

Twitter avatar for @ianbassin

Ian Bassin


New documents show Trump Admin silenced CDC at start of pandemic, tried to alter expert scientific reports, and then tried to delete evidence they were doing so. We were the most prepared nation in the world but now more than 750,000 Americans have died.

House committee releases new evidence from investigation into Trump administration interference with CDC during Covid-19 pandemic

Dr. Jonathan Reiner reacts to President Donald Trump telling the Wall Street Journal that he “probably won’t” get a Covid-19 vaccine booster.

November 13th 2021

18,529 Retweets37,358 Likes

Twitter avatar for @hugolowell

Hugo Lowell


New: Lawyer for Trump WH chief of staff Mark Meadows says in WaPo Op-Ed that one solution to standoff with Jan. 6 committee is written questions — appearing to suggest Meadows is afraid of perjuring himself

November 14th 2021

2,879 Retweets11,964 Likes




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November 8, 2021Heather Cox Richardson Nov 9

The big news of the day is the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to combat international terrorism and lawlessness through cybersecurity and international cooperation. Today the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Treasury Department together announced indictments against two foreign actors for cyberattacks on U.S. companies last August. They announced sanctions against the men, one of whom has been arrested in Poland; they seized $6.1 million in assets from the other. The State Department has offered a $10 million reward for information about other cybercriminals associated with the attack. Treasury noted that ransomware attacks cost the U.S. almost $600 million in the first six months of 2021, and disrupt business and public safety.  The U.S. has also sent Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman to Ethiopia and neighboring Kenya to urge an end to the deadly civil war in Ethiopia, where rebel forces are close to toppling the government. A horrific humanitarian crisis is in the making there. The U.S. is interested in stopping the fighting not only because of that, but also because the Ethiopian government has lately tended to stabilize the fragile Somali government. Without that stabilization, Somalia could become a haven for terrorists, and terrorists could extort the global shipping industry.  Meanwhile, it appears that Biden’s big win on Friday, marshaling a bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, has made Republicans almost frantic to win back the national narrative. The National Republican Congressional Committee has released an early ad for the 2022 midterm elections titled “Chaos,” which features images of the protests from Trump’s term and falsely suggests they are scenes from Biden’s America. As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican leaders today attacked the popular Sesame Street character Big Bird today for backing vaccinations—Big Bird has publicly supported vaccines since 1972—they revealed how fully they have become the party of Trump.Excerpts from a new book by ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl say that Trump was so mad that the party did not fight harder to keep him in office that on January 20, just after he boarded Air Force One to leave Washington, he took a phone call from Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, and told her that he was quitting the Republicans to start his own political party.McDaniel told him that if he did that, the Republicans “would lose forever.” Trump responded: “Exactly.” A witness said he wanted to punish the officials for their refusal to fight harder to overturn the election.Four days later, Trump relented after the RNC made it clear it would stop paying his legal bills and would stop letting him rent out the email list of his 40 million supporters, a list officials believed was worth about $100 million.Instead of leaving the party, he is rebuilding it in his own image. In Florida, Trump loyalist Roger Stone is threatening to run against Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022 to siphon votes from his reelection bid unless DeSantis promises he won’t challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 202Washington Post by Michael Kranish today explored how, over the course of his career, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has singlemindedly pursued power, switching his stated principles to their opposites whenever it helped his climb to the top of the Senate. Eventually, in the hope of keeping power, he embraced Trump, even acquitting him for his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection. The former president is endorsing primary candidates to oust Republicans he thinks were insufficiently loyal. In Georgia, he has backed Herschel Walker, whose ex-wife got a protective order against him after he allegedly threatened to shoot her. In Pennsylvania, Trump has endorsed Sean Parnell, whose wife testified that he choked her and abused their children physically and emotionally. Although such picks could hurt the Republicans in a general election with the women they desperately need to attract (hence the focus on schools), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rick Scott (R-FL), did not feel comfortable today bucking Trump to comment on whether Parnell was the right candidate to back. Scott said he would focus on whoever won the primary. The cost of the party’s link to Trumpism is not just potential 2022 voters. In the New York Times today, David Leonhardt outlined how deaths from the novel coronavirus did not reflect politics until after the Republicans made the vaccines political. A death gap between Democrats and Republicans emerged quickly as Republicans shunned the vaccine.Now, only about 10% of Democrats eligible for the vaccine have refused it, while almost 40% of Republicans have. In October, while about 7.8 people per 100,000 died in counties that voted strongly for Biden, 25 out of every 100,000 died in counties that went the other way. Leonhardt held out hope that both numbers would drop as more people develop immunities and as new antiviral drugs lower death rates everywhere. And yet, Republicans continue to insist they are attacking the dangerous Democrats. Quite literally. Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has ties to white supremacists and who has been implicated in the January 6 attack, yesterday posted an anime video in which his face was photoshopped onto a character that killed another character bearing the face of New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Gosar character also swung swords at a Biden character and fought alongside Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). In response to the outcry about the video, Gosar’s digital director, Jessica Lycos, said: “Everyone needs to relax.” The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is not relaxing. Today it issued six new subpoenas. The subpoenas went to people associated with the “war room” in the Willard Hotel in the days leading up to the events of January 6. The subpoenas went to William Stepien, the manager of Trump’s 2020 campaign which, as an entity, asked states not to certify the results of the election; Trump advisor Jason Miller, who talked of a stolen election even before the election itself; Angela McCallum, an executive assistant to Trump’s 2020 campaign, who apparently left a voicemail for a Michigan state representative pressuring the representative to appoint an alternative slate of electors because of “election fraud”; and Bernard Kerik, former New York City police commissioner, who paid for the hotel rooms in which the plotting occurred.Another subpoena went to Michael Flynn, who called for Trump to declare martial law and “rerun” the election, and who attended a December 18, 2020, meeting in the Oval Office “during which participants discussed seizing voting machines, declaring a national emergency, invoking certain national security emergency powers, and continuing to spread the false message that the November 2020 election had been tainted by widespread fraud.” The sixth subpoena went to John Eastman, author of the Eastman memo saying that then–vice president Mike Pence could reject the certified electors from certain states, thus throwing the election to Trump. Eastman was apparently at the Willard Hotel for a key meeting on January 5, and he spoke at the rally on the Ellipse on January 6. None of these people are covered by executive privilege, even if Trump tries to exercise it. The 2022 midterm elections, scheduled for November 8, 2022, are exactly a year away.—


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November 6, 2021Heather Cox Richardson

As soon as the Democrats in the House of Representatives, marshaled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) by a bipartisan vote of 228–206 last night, Republicans began to say that the Democrats were ushering in “socialism.”When Republicans warn of socialism, they are not talking about actual socialism, which is an economic system in which the means of production, that is, the factories and industries, are owned by the people. In practical terms, that means they are owned by the government.True socialism has never been popular in America, and virtually no one is talking about it here today. The best it has ever done in a national election was in 1912, when labor organizer Eugene V. Debs, running for president as a Socialist, won a whopping 6% of the vote, coming in behind Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft. True socialism isn’t a real threat in America.What politicians mean when they cry “socialism” in America today is something entirely different. It is a product of the years immediately after the Civil War, when Black men first got the right to vote.Eager to join the free labor system from which they had previously been excluded, these men joined poor white men to vote for leaders who promised to rebuild the South, provide schools and hospitals (as well as desperately needed prosthetics for veterans), and develop the economy with railroads to provide an equal opportunity for all men to work hard and rise.Former Confederates loathed the idea of Black men voting. But their opposition to Black voting on racial grounds ran headlong into the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which, after it was ratified in 1870, gave the U.S. government the power to make sure that no state denied any man the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” When white former Confederates nonetheless tried to force their Black neighbors from the polls, Congress in 1870 created the Department of Justice, which began to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan members who had been terrorizing the South.With racial discrimination now prohibited by the federal government, elite white southerners changed their approach. They insisted that they objected to Black voting not on racial grounds, but because Black men were voting for programs that redistributed wealth from hardworking white people to Black people, since hospitals and roads would cost tax dollars and white people were the only ones with taxable property in the Reconstruction South. Poor Black voters were instituting, one popular magazine wrote, “Socialism in South Carolina.”This idea that it was dangerous for poor working men to have a say in the government caught on in the North as immigrants moved into growing cities to work in the new factories. Like their counterparts in the South, they voted for roads and schools, and northern men of wealth too insisted these programs meant a redistribution of wealth through tax dollars.They got more concerned still when a majority of Americans began to call for regulation to keep businessmen from gouging consumers, polluting the environment, and poisoning the food supply (milk was preserved with formaldehyde, and candy was often painted with lead paint). Wealthy men argued that any attempt to regulate business would impinge on a man’s liberty, while an army of bureaucrats to enforce regulations would cost tax dollars and thus would mean a redistribution of wealth from men of means to the poor who would benefit from the regulations.Long before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia brought the fears of a workers’ government to life, Americans who opposed regulation insisted that their economy was under siege by socialists. That conviction did indeed lead to a redistribution of wealth, but as regular Americans were kept from voting, it went dramatically upward, not down.Regulation of business and promotion of infrastructure is not, in fact, the international socialism today’s Republicans claim. According to Abraham Lincoln, who first articulated the principles of the Republican Party, and under whom the party invented the American income tax, the “legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves—in their separate, and individual capacities.” Those things included, he wrote, “public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.”

Notes:Abraham Lincoln, Fragment on Government, [July 1, 1854?], in Roy P. Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), volume 2, p. 220.

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Heather Cox RichardsonNov 6

In February 2021, the month after President Joe Biden took office, unemployment was 6.3%, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that it would take until the end of 2023 for the nation to reach 4.6% unemployment.

In March 2021, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to stimulate the economy, which had withered during the coronavirus pandemic. The plan extended unemployment benefits and provided stimulus payments to individuals. It increased food stamp benefits and significantly expanded the Child Tax Credit, putting money in parents’ pockets. It provided grants to small business and local, state, and tribal governments. It provided money for schools, housing, and healthcare.

Not a single Republican voted for the measure.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its October monthly jobs report, and the news was good. The country added 531,000 new jobs, and numbers for previous months were revised to take more complete data into account. They show that there were 235,000 more jobs created in August and September than had previously been counted. Today’s news says that the U.S. economy has reached 4.6% unemployment two years ahead of schedule.

Since Biden took office, the U.S. has added more than 5.6 million jobs. This reflects the rebound from the lows of the pandemic, and it means that Biden added more jobs in the first 9 months of his presidency than the last three Republican administrations, covering 16 years, combined. The news created a rally on the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite, all ways of measuring the stock market, all closed at record highs, a powerful sign in light of the fact that right-wing politicians have insisted that Biden’s policies would hurt the economy.

“Bold fiscal policy works,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote on Twitter. “A rebound like this was never a foregone conclusion. When our administration took office back in January, there was a real risk that our economy was going to slip into a prolonged recession. Now our recovery is outpacing other wealthy nations’.” She credited the American Rescue Plan and Biden’s immunization campaign, which has vaccinated 193 million Americans against the novel coronavirus, for the recovery.

Turning the obscene right-wing rallying cry “Let’s go, Brandon” on its head, Biden supporters today got #ThankYouBrandon trending on Twitter throughout the day.

The new numbers also show that women are still not reentering the workforce in numbers that reflect the pre-pandemic era. Experts think that the lack of safe childcare and concerns about schools are keeping women out of the workforce. The administration’s Build Back Better infrastructure bill would address these concerns, and after months of complicated negotiations, Biden has put a huge push today to get the House to advance the measure.

The Build Back Better bill is paired with the smaller bipartisan infrastructure measure, and this morning Republicans tried to adjourn Congress rather than allow the Democrats to bring them up. Their efforts failed, and House Democrats negotiated all day as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to hammer down the last details while President Biden put pressure on lawmakers to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better measure.

As they worked, there was a little more fallout from Tuesday’s election. In New Jersey, where Democratic governor Phil Murphy won, Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli has refused to concede. While Ciattarelli has said he only wants to make sure all legal votes are counted, Donald Trump Jr., the eldest son of the former president, shared Ciattarelli’s video asking people to wait before accepting Murphy’s victory and added: “Nothing to see here folks, just a blatant crime being committed!”

In Virginia, governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s 17-year-old son tried twice to vote despite being too young. This was unfortunate because his father had emphasized “election integrity” in his campaign, announcing that he would create an “Election Integrity Task Force” that would work “to ensure free and fair elections in Virginia.”

Also on the Hill today, Jeffrey Clark, the Department of Justice attorney who championed then-president Trump’s efforts to get the 2020 election overturned, cut short his deposition before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

After about 90 minutes, Clark handed the committee a 12-page letter saying he would not answer questions because while he held office, former president Trump was entitled “to the confidential advice of lawyers like” him. That meant that Clark “is subject to a sacred trust—one that is particularly vital to the constitutional separation of powers.” This vague and odd declaration is seemingly intended simply to buy time. Clark clearly doesn’t want to talk, but he also doesn’t appear to want to plead the Fifth Amendment, which would cement the idea that he has committed crimes. Trump has not asserted executive privilege over his conversations with Clark and indeed couldn’t, for a number of reasons.

Committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said that Clark “has a very short time to reconsider and cooperate fully.”

After being at it all day, tonight, President Biden, House Speaker Pelosi, the progressive Democrats, and centrist and conservative Democrats hammered out an agreement on the infrastructure measures. Centrists promised in writing to support the Build Back Better Act the progressives want as soon as they get confirmation from the Congressional Budget Office that it will cost what the White House says it will (ironically, the CBO says the bipartisan measure they like will cost $256 billion) and to work to come to a new compromise if it doesn’t. With that assurance, Pelosi had enough progressive votes to pass the first of the two infrastructure bills.

At about 11:30 p.m., the House of Representatives passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) by a vote of 228–206. Biden promised to pass a bipartisan measure and after nine months of hard work, he did it: thirteen Republicans voted in favor of the bill; six progressive Democrats voted against it. The measure had already passed the Senate, so now it goes to his desk for a signature.

This bill is a huge investment in infrastructure. Axios lists just how huge: over the next 8 years, it will provide $110 billion for fixing roads and bridges, $73 billion for the electrical grid, $66 billion for railroads, $65 billion for broadband, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $47 billion for coastal adjustments to climate change, $39 billion for public transportation, and so on.

The Guardian’s congressional reporter, Hugo Lowell, noted: “Regardless of the politics, the passage of a $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill is a towering legislative achievement for Biden—and one that Trump never came close to matching.”

Notes:Bharat Ramamurti @BharatRamamurtiFeb. 2021: Nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects we will get to 4.6% unemployment by the end of 2023 Mar. 2021: Democrats pass the American Rescue Plan Oct. 2021: Economy reaches 4.6% unemployment two years ahead of scheduleNovember 5th 20212,700 Retweets8,701 Likes Schiff @RepAdamSchiffWe’re on the verge of passing bills that will benefit every single person in this country. So naturally, Republicans are trying to adjourn Congress before that happens. If they want to sit this out, so be it. But Democrats showed up to work today. And we’re getting this done.November 5th 20212,992 Retweets14,489 Likes

​​ Janet Yellen @SecYellenThis morning we received a very welcome jobs report – 531k jobs added – and in my view, there are two key takeaways:November 5th 2021216 Retweets984 Likes Rothkopf @djrothkopfMore jobs added under Biden in 9 months than in the 16 years of the last three GOP administrations combined. (h/t @SimonWDC). Shout it from the rooftops. The American Independent @AmerIndependentEconomy adds more than 5.5 million jobs in 9 months under Biden by @jeisrael 5th 2021423 Retweets965 LikesWajahat Ali @WajahatAliDemocrats pass the biggest investment in infrastructure since the Depression. Impressive, and I hope they message the hell out of it.November 6th 2021469 Retweets2,768 LikesRep Josh Gottheimer @RepJoshGToday, Representatives Ed Case (HI-1), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), Stephanie Murphy (FL-7), Kathleen Rice (NY-4), Kurt Schrader (OR-5) released the following statement: November 6th 202144 Retweets147 Likes


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These Billionaires Received Taxpayer-Funded Stimulus Checks During the Pandemic

Ira Rennert, worth $3.7 billion according to Forbes, did not appear to need the cash infusion.

Paul Kiel, Jesse Eisinger and Jeff Ernsthausen

11/04/2021 06:12pm EDT

In March 2020, as the first wave of coronavirus infections all but shut down the U.S. economy, Congress responded with rare speed, passing a $2.2 trillion relief package called the CARES Act. The centerpiece of the law was an emergency payment to over 150 million American households that needed help.

Congress used a simple filter to determine who was eligible for assistance: The full $1,200 was limited to single taxpayers who’d reported $75,000 a year or less in income on their previous tax return. Married couples got $2,400 if they had reported less than $150,000 in income. Money was sent automatically to those who qualified.

Ira Rennert, worth $3.7 billion according to Forbes, did not appear to need the cash infusion offered by the CARES Act. After all, his 62,000-square-foot Hamptons home is one of the largest in the country, so he was unlikely to get cabin fever during lockdown, let alone have trouble buying food. Nevertheless, Rennert, who made his fortune as a corporate raider in the ’80s and ’90s, got a $2,400 check from the government.

George Soros, the prominent hedge fund manager and philanthropist who’s worth $8.6 billion, didn’t need the CARES cash, either. Neither did his son, Robert, himself worth hundreds of millions. But they, too, both got checks. (Both returned the checks, according to their representatives.)

ProPublica, using its trove of IRS records, identified at least 18 billionaires who received stimulus payments, which were funded by U.S. taxpayers, in the spring of 2020. Hundreds of other ultrawealthy taxpayers also got checks.

The wealthy taxpayers who received the stimulus checks got them because they came in under the government’s income threshold. In fact, they reported way less taxable income than that — even hundreds of millions less — after they used business write-offs to wipe out their gains.

ProPublica found 270 taxpayers who collectively disclosed $5.7 billion in income, according to their previous tax return, but who were able to deploy deductions at such a massive scale that they qualified for stimulus checks. All listed negative net incomes on tax returns.

Consider two stimulus recipients with similarly huge incomes in 2018. Timothy Headington is an oil mogul, real estate developer and executive producer of such films as “Argo” and “World War Z,” and he’s worth $1.4 billion. He had $62 million in income in 2018, but after $342 million in write-offs, his final result was negative $280 million. The same was true of Rennert, whose $64 million in income that year was erased by $355 million in deductions, for a final total of negative $291 million.

Figures like these reveal a basic truth about the U.S. income tax system. Most people earn the overwhelming majority of their income via wages and take deductions where they can. But the income of the ultrawealthy as revealed on their taxes tells, at best, a partial story. As ProPublica reported earlier this year, the wealthiest taxpayers often have great flexibility in when and how they take taxable income, allowing them to pay a minuscule portion of their wealth growth in taxes. For the ultrawealthy, wages are to be avoided, carrying as they do the burden of not only income tax but also of payroll taxes.

Wages rarely made up a significant portion of income for the 270 wealthy stimulus check recipients identified by ProPublica. In total, only $82 million, or 1.4%, of the $5.7 billion in income taken in by the group came in the form of wages.

The ultrawealthy have other tax advantages. Many can tap a particularly generous vein of deductions: businesses they own. These can wipe out all of their income, even for years to come, unlike other deductions, like those for charitable giving. Certain industries, like real estate or oil and gas, are a well-known source of tax benefits that can generate paper losses even for a successful business.

The amount of stimulus aid that went to ultrawealthy taxpayers was a negligible piece of the trillions spent via the CARES Act. But the fact that billionaires were able to qualify shows that when legislators rely on income tax returns to determine eligibility for aid, there can be surprising results. Asked what he thought about billionaires receiving stimulus checks, Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., responded, “The tax code is simply not equipped to tax billionaires fairly, or even ensure they pay anything at all.”

ProPublica reached out to every stimulus-check recipient mentioned in this article. Rennert and Headington did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for George Soros, who has advocated for higher taxes for the wealthy, said, “George returned his stimulus check. He certainly didn’t request one!” Robert Soros did the same, a spokesperson said. (The Soros-funded Open Society Foundations have donated to ProPublica.)

Billionaires often reap sizable tax deductions from owning sports teams, as a ProPublica story this year detailed. A number of sports team owners were among the recipients of stimulus payments. Terrence Pegula, who is worth $5.7 billion and owns both the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, was one. Also getting a check was Glen Taylor, worth $2.8 billion, who earlier this year struck a deal to sell Minnesota’s NBA and WNBA teams for $1.5 billion. Pegula and Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.

Some taxpayers had enough in deductions to wipe out even hundreds of millions in income. Robert Dart is a scion of the Dart family, which owns Dart Container Corp., the maker of the iconic red Solo cup. In 2018, he reported income exceeding $300 million, but deductions left him with a final result of negative $39 million.

Dart and his brother renounced their U.S. citizenship decades ago to take advantage of a then-existing tax break available for expatriates. Dart filed his U.S. tax return from an address in the Cayman Islands, but got a stimulus payment just the same. (The IRS declined to comment.)

In response to questions, the general counsel for Dart Container wrote, “Mr. Dart believes that people in his position should not have received COVID stimulus funds. Mr. Dart did not request any COVID stimulus funds. Instead, those funds were directly deposited into his account by the U.S. Treasury without his consent as Congress determined that taxpayers with resident alien status were eligible for such payments. Mr. Dart has returned the COVID stimulus funds he received to the U.S. Treasury pursuant to instructions provided by the IRS.”

Some of the ultrawealthy have received government benefits on more than one occasion. Take Joseph DiMenna, a partner in Zweig-DiMenna, a pioneering hedge fund. An art collector and polo aficionado, he owns a club that holds charity polo matches for anti-poverty causes. In 2017, he received a special payout from his fund of $1.1 billion. But in 2018, without such a massive payout, business deductions swung his income back to where it had been in the years before his big payday: less than $0. That entitled him to a stimulus check. In both 2015 and 2016, DiMenna’s negative income also entitled him to $2,000 in refundable child tax credits, meant to support middle-class families with child care expenses. DiMenna did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Others among the superrich also received stimulus payments the last time Congress offered them when millions of Americans were struggling. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offered a $400 tax credit for individuals and $800 for married couples. It was called “Making Work Pay.”

Forrest Preston, the founder of Life Care Centers of America, one of the largest long-term care companies in the U.S., is worth $1.2 billion. In 2009, he got his $400 boost. The next year, he posted an income of $112 million. By 2018, however, his income had gone negative again, entitling him to a $1,200 payment in 2020.

The same year he received his stimulus check, Preston’s company successfully lobbied to win a tax break for the nursing home industry. Preston did not respond to a request for comment.

Taylor, the Minnesota Timberwolves owner, is another two-time stimulus recipient, in 2009 and again in 2020. So was Woodley Hunt, the senior chairman of Hunt Companies, a family-owned firm that is one of the country’s largest owners of multifamily properties. Hunt did not respond to a request seeking comment.

For former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld, a big salary was a key part of the $400 million he earned in the five years before the firm’s historic collapse in 2008. But in recent years, he’s been running a company called Matrix Investment Partners that he set up to invest his own money. The tax losses generated by that company were one reason he got a stimulus check. Reached by phone and asked whether he wanted to comment, Fuld said, “I’m not interested. Thank you.”

Another CARES Act beneficiary was Erik Prince, who, before deductions, had $5.3 million in income in 2018. Prince founded Blackwater, a private military company that received hundreds of millions in government contracts. He has denounced excess government spending, saying we are being “bled dry by debt.” Prince didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A proposal in the Democrats’ (once $3.5 trillion, now under $2 trillion) Build Back Better legislation, currently the subject of fevered negotiations, would curb the ability of wealthy taxpayers to report negative income. It would do so by restricting the ability to use business losses to wipe out other types of income, like capital gains or dividends. Instead, business deductions would only offset business income.

The idea, which builds on a provision of the 2017 Trump tax bill, is one of the few tax provisions to have survived the recent negotiations — at least, for now. First proposed by House Democrats in September, it was then projected to produce $167 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. The provision was also included in a version of the legislation released on Oct. 28.

Not included in last week’s draft was a provision that would have directly affected the ability of billionaires to manipulate their incomes. A number of the billionaires who received stimulus checks were able to report negative incomes to the IRS despite getting richer. A “billionaire income tax” proposed by Wyden, would tax increases in wealth. Under the current system, gains are taxed only when they are “realized,” such as when someone sells stock.


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October 29, 2021Heather Cox Richardson

Oct 30
The Republican Party has long ceased to offer policy ideas and is focusing on culture wars and obstruction. Their big statement this week has been to throw “Let’s go, Brandon” into speeches and, in the case of Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), into a rap video in which she stars. The phrase means “F**k Joe Biden,” for those in the know; they use it because social media moderators do not flag it.The press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tweeted it out on Thursday morning, just after the president announced a framework for the Build Back Better bill, the larger infrastructure package the Democrats intend to propose alongside the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill. Congress has been negotiating this larger package intensely for months, and it appears to be reaching a final form.But while the media has followed every twist and turn of Democratic disagreements over the measure, suggesting those normal disagreements are somehow a sign of dysfunction, the big story of the negotiations has gone largely unnoticed. That big story is that Republican lawmakers simply refused to participate in discussions over a series of proposals that as a whole are backed by 57% of the American people and that have even higher approval rates individually: one poll found 83% of Americans eager to give the government the power to negotiate lower drug prices. (In contrast, only 33% of the American people liked the Trump tax cuts passed without Democratic votes in 2017.)A refusal to join debate on such a popular issue is dysfunction, indeed.Instead of participating in the democratic system, Republicans turned over to conservative Democrats, especially Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the job of making conservative changes to the measure, while they simply fired insults at the president.Republicans are frustrated in part because Biden and the Democrats are remaking the nation. After forty years in which lawmakers rolled back government action, the Democrats under Biden are investing again in the American people.In his remarks about the Build Back Better plan on Thursday, Biden noted that for most of the twentieth century, we invested in ourselves, and that investment in our families and children, including through education, was key to our prosperity and international standing.In the 1980s, though, we abandoned that investment, handing the task of developing the country to private interests. It didn’t work. From being first in the world for infrastructure, the World Economic Forum now lists us 13th. From leading the world in educational achievement, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now ranks us 35th out of 37 major countries for investment in childhood education and care.“We need to build America from the bottom up and the middle out, not from top down with the trickle-down economics that’s always failed us,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a single time when the middle class has done well but the wealthy haven’t done very well. I can think of many times, including now, when the wealthy and the super-wealthy do very well and the middle class don’t do well.”While outlining the details of the Build Back Better plan can wait until there is a final bill, we do know that the final blueprint provides a massive investment in childcare and eldercare, families, and education, and it uses the need to address climate change to produce good jobs. The government will serve the American public, not a small group of business leaders.“Any single element of this framework would fundamentally be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said accurately on Thursday. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.”The Biden administration announced another major investment in the American people this week.On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a plan to modernize American diplomacy. The plan centers around State Department employees, “because,” Blinken said, “they’re our greatest asset.” He promised to “elevate new voices and encourage more initiative and more innovation,” and also to encourage diplomats to engage more fully with Americans at home, so that our foreign interactions both reflect the needs of our democracy and make sense to American citizens.Blinken intends to ask for congressional approval to establish a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy. He will also name a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology. This new push will challenge China’s growing power in these fields and reestablish U.S. leadership; Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius called it “part of a much broader effort by the Biden administration to get serious about the global technology race.”Blinken also plans to increase staffing to address future pandemics, and to seek funding for training diplomats to address climate issues.His focus on the people of the State Department illustrates the nation’s shift away from unilateral actions and military solutions and toward multilateral diplomacy, meaning that the U.S. wants to “cooperate with other countries to contend with the greatest challenges of our time, none of which we can tackle effectively alone.” “[W]herever and whenever new rules are being debated, for example, on how the global economy should work, how the internet should be governed, how our environment should be protected, how human rights should be defined and defended,” Blinken said, “American diplomats need to be at the table.”Under Biden, the Democrats are replacing the Republican ideology of the past forty years, which focused on individual liberty and cowboy diplomacy, with a plan to invest in our people and to cooperate with other countries.This return to principles that ushered in our most prosperous years hardly seems like a good reason to curse the president.


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October 20, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson

This afternoon, Senate Republicans blocked a discussion of the Freedom to Vote Act. The measure is the compromise bill put together by seven Democrats and one Independent after Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he could not support the more sweeping For the People Act passed by the House of Representatives. Manchin maintained that a carefully crafted bill could attract the ten Republican senators it needed to break a filibuster. The Freedom to Vote Act would provide for automatic and same-day voter registration, and it would limit the culling of voters off voter rolls. It would provide for two weeks of early voting and allow anyone to vote by mail. It would make Election Day a holiday and make sure that there is a paper trail for ballots.At the state level, it would start the process of rolling back the legislation passed by 19 Republican-dominated state legislatures to skew elections hard in their favor. It would prohibit partisan gerrymandering, require transparency in advertising, and protect election officials from the attacks they’ve endured since the 2020 presidential election. It would rebuild the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees our election process but which was gutted under former president Trump. These reforms are nonpartisan and are an attempt to push back against highly partisan state laws that voting rights experts say will essentially allow Republicans to declare their own outcomes for elections.Today all Republicans voted no even to a discussion of the bill. All Democrats voted yes, but Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) switched his vote to a no so that, as a member of the majority, he could bring the measure back up later. What is stopping the measure from coming to the floor for debate is the Senate filibuster rule. That rule is a holdover from the early days of Congress, when there was no way to stop a member from talking, so that anyone eager to make sure something could not pass could just talk until the other members of Congress gave up and moved to another piece of business. The House early on created a mechanism to move from debate to a vote, but the Senate did not. The filibuster is essentially a refusal to stop talking, although a series of reforms have changed it a bit from its early days. During Woodrow Wilson’s term in the early twentieth century, the Senate adopted the cloture rule, which permitted two thirds of the Senate to vote to stop the debate—but not immediately—and to move on to a vote. That’s where we get the concept that it takes 60 senators to break a filibuster. In the late twentieth century, the Senate also changed that idea of nonstop talking to a threat to talk, lowering the bar significantly for a minority to stop legislation it doesn’t like. Nowadays, they can just phone it in. It also exempted certain financial bills from the filibuster: those are the things that fall under “budget reconciliation” measures. In the early twenty-first century, the Senate exempted judicial nominations from the filibuster and then, under then–Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Supreme Court nominations. (That’s how Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett got confirmed to the Supreme Court.) There is discussion now about removing voting rules from the filibuster as well, since we are in a bizarre situation where states that have heavily gerrymandered their districts to benefit Republicans are passing voting restrictions by simple majority votes while the federal government, charged with protecting voting rights, needs a supermajority of the Senate. Since the Republican Senate seats skew heavily toward rural areas, in this case, it is possible for 41 Republican senators, who represent just 21% of the population, to stop voting rights legislation backed by 70% of Americans.If this is permitted to stand, more and more voters will be silenced, and the nation will fall under a system of minority rule much like that in the American South between about 1876 and 1964. The South always held elections…and the outcome was always preordained. Meanwhile, the Republicans who are demanding control of our elections are also doubling down on their support for the former president, knowing that their most reliable voters are his loyalists. Today the House Rules Committee passed a resolution to send the criminal referral for Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who defied a congressional subpoena, to the House floor for a vote. That itself wasn’t much of a surprise—it was procedural—but more surprising was the loud fight Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) put up against the resolution. Both men are fervent Trump supporters, and Jordan, at least, is himself likely to be a witness before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. While they conceded that Joe Biden is indeed president, they refused to agree that he won the 2020 election, and they maintained that the investigation into the attack on the counting of the certified ballots on January 6—an attack that came close to pulling down our government—is simply an effort to distract voters from what they consider to be the failures of the Biden administration. When the Rules Committee took a vote on whether to advance the report to the House floor, all the Democrats voted yes, and the Republicans voted no. The vote was 9–4.  But there was a new feeling in the room. When Gaetz and Jordan started in with their usual attacks to create sound bites, the Democrats pushed back. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a professor of constitutional law, actually said to Gaetz: “You know what, that might work on Steve Bannon’s podcast, but that’s not gonna work in the Rules Committee of the United States House of Representatives.” Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), the committee’s chair, pressed Jordan about his own conversations with Trump that day. Jordan has repeatedly changed his story about what he remembers about talking with the former president that day but has admitted that they spoke more than once. “Of course I talked to the president,” Jordan told McGovern. “I talked to him that day. I’ve been clear about that. I don’t recall the number of times, but it’s not about me. I know you want to make it about that.”Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the majority leader of the House of Representatives, says the House will vote on the committee’s criminal contempt report for Steve Bannon tomorrow. Republican leaders are urging House Republicans to vote no.A reminder: Bannon flat out refused to answer a congressional subpoena. Perhaps the Democrats are pushing back on the bullying of the Trump loyalists in part because some who have previously escaped legal jeopardy are now in trouble. In Florida, Gaetz’s former friend Joel Greenberg, who has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking, got an extension on sentencing Monday because he is still providing information to investigators. Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg told the court that Greenberg has made allegations that “take us to some places we did not anticipate.” There is a shorter timeline for Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who was indicted yesterday for lying to the FBI about foreign campaign contributions (which are illegal under U.S. law). Fortenberry uploaded a video to YouTube, titled “I wanted you to hear from me first,” giving his version of events before the indictment dropped. In the video, filmed in a car with his wife and dog, he talked of the money in question but insisted he didn’t know it was from a foreign donor. Unfortunately, it appears there was a phone call between the congressman and the co-host of the fundraiser that brought in the illegal money. That individual was cooperating with the FBI, and in the call, he and Fortenberry discussed the illegal money in clear terms. At his arraignment hearing today, Fortenberry’s attorney said he would try to get the court to suppress statements made by the congressman “because he was misled.”

—Notes: Kapur @sahilkapurWhat’s in Freedom To Vote Act Election Day a holiday Automatic and same day voter reg. Two weeks early voting Anyone can vote by mail Limits on thinning voter rolls Insulate election officials New redistricting rules Disclose + Honest Ads acts Empower FEC Ballot paper trail ruleOctober 20th 20212,716 Retweets7,281 Likes Berman @AriBermanBreaking: Senate Republicans block debate on Freedom to Vote Act It’s completely undemocratic that 41 GOP senators representing just 21% of country can filibuster legislation supported by 70% of Americans that would expand voting access for tens of millionsOctober 20th 202111,306 Retweets34,453 LikesKaivan Shroff @KaivanShroffWATCH: @RepRaskin schools Matt Gaetz, “You know what, that might work on Steve Bannon’s podcast but that’s not gonna work in the Rules Committee of the United States House of Representatives.” October 20th 20215,370 Retweets26,880 Likes

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