Thursday, October 14, 2021

why i've been awol

i'm so sorry to have been awol lately. on sunday i fell and broke my wrist. right now i'm limited to one hand typing - hence the lack of capitalization. i'm scheduled for surgery on monday and have been told that i'll only be in a cast for a couple of weeks after that. so i should be back soon.

Friday, October 8, 2021

How Conservatives are Exploiting Dark Money and Right Wing Media to "Lean Into" the Culture War

By now most of you have probably seen videos like this showing how school board meetings have been disrupted. 

The threats have been pretty unambiguous (note: Lynch is running for Northampton County executive, not governor).

Matt Shuham documented what has been going on with a few examples.

[A]mid right-wing anger at school mask rules and bogeyman issues like “critical race theory,” examples of potentially criminal behavior aimed at educators and public health officials at school board meetings are abundant, including reports of pushing, throwing things, alleged battery, numerous reports of threats, and comments like “we will find you” and “we know who you are.”

That is why, a little over a week ago, the National School Boards Association wrote a letter to the Biden administration asking for help.

While local and state law enforcement agencies are working with public school officials in several communities to prevent further disruptions to educational services and school district operations, law enforcement officials in some jurisdictions need assistance – including help with monitoring the threat levels. As these threats and acts of violence have become more prevalent – during public school board meetings, via documented threats transmitted through the U.S. Postal Service, through social media and other online platforms, and around personal properties – NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats.

One sentence in that letter has been used to manufacture an uproar among right wingers. It reads: "As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes."

On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to the NSBA request with a memo. I'm going to copy the whole thing because it is important to know exactly what he said.

In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.

Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.

The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.

Coordination and partnership with local law enforcement is critical to implementing these measures for the benefit of our nation's nearly 14,000 public school districts. To this end, I am directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days ofthe issuance ofthis memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.

The Department is steadfast in its commitment to protect all people in the United States from violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation arid harassment.

Almost immediate, Christopher Rufo, who manufactured the right wing freak-out about critical race theory, twisted Garland's memo beyond recognition when he tweeted: "BREAKING: Attorney General Merrick Garland has instructed the FBI to mobilize against parents who oppose critical race theory in public schools, citing 'threats.'" Rufo also lied by adding that the NSBA's letter requested that protests be classified as domestic terrorism.

As Breitbart documented, in the next few hours, at least 13 Republican politicians retweeted Rufo's tweet, adding their outrage that the FBI would be going after parents and suggesting that Garland had "weaponized" DOJ to go after Biden's enemies. 

On Tuesday Deputy AG Lisa Monaco testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding reauthorization of the Violence Against Women's Act. Both Senators Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley used their time to attack the Garland memo. Chris Hayes developed a video montage to read Hawley into what is actually going on at the local level, but he probably already knows. 

Of course Fox News is all over this one. By Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson devoted his entire opening segment (16 minutes of incoherent ranting) to the lie.

If you are one of the troglodytes who thinks you should have some say in what your children are taught in the schools that you pay for, you should know that the Biden administration now views you as a domestic terrorist. They are fully willing to use armed agents of the state to compel you to shut up.

Later in the show, when Carlson had Hawley on to feed the lie, the Fox News host actually twisted things even further in order to find a way to blame the whole thing on the Black guy  - former President Barack Obama. Referring to Deputy AG Monaco, he said:

That is the person, by the way, who actually runs the Justice Department. And she’s actually run by Susan Rice at the White House, who takes her direction from Barack Obama. Just so you know how it actually works.

If you haven't heard that the Biden administration is using armed agents of the state to compel parents to shut up, then you probably haven't been paying a lot of attention to the right-wing media ecosphere (perhaps smartly). But you can bet that your MAGA friends/family know all about it because it is a very hot topic on that side of the political divide. 

There's a lot I could say about this particular lie. But I think that one of the most important points was captured by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here's what they reported about what has been happening in Wisconsin.

A loose network of conservative groups with ties to major Republican donors and party-aligned think tanks is quietly lending firepower to local activists engaged in culture war fights in schools across the country.

While they are drawn by the anger of parents opposed to school policies on racial history or COVID-19 protocols like mask mandates, the groups are often run by political operatives and lawyers standing ready to amplify local disputes.

In a wealthy Milwaukee suburb, a law firm heavily financed by a conservative foundation that has fought climate change mitigation and that has ties to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election helped parents seeking to recall Mequon-Thiensville school board members, chiefly over the board’s hiring of a diversity consultant. A new national advocacy group, Parents Defending Education, promoted the Wisconsin parents’ tactics as a model.

As I noted previously, the conservative foundation they referred to is the Bradley Foundation. Later in the article, they made this important point:

It’s a fight likely to help Republicans in congressional elections next year, said Ian Prior, a former Justice Department official who is now the executive director of a conservative organization called Fight for Schools, which is working to recall board members in Loudoun County.

“You’re going to need a team. You’re going to need a command staff. You’re going to need what I call the army of moms,” he said at a conservative conference in Texas in July.

In addition to Fight for Schools, the Journal Sentinel identifies two other groups: Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn. But according to an analysis by NBC News, there are at least 165 local and national groups that aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender. Where is funding for all of that coming from? At Open Secrets, Alyce McFadden writes that a secretive 'dark money' network has launched an anti-critical race theory campaign. For example:

A deep-pocketed “dark money” group is spending “well over $1 million” on an ad campaign against the inclusion of racial justice topics in K-12 curricula.

The Concord Fund is a conservative dark money group better known as the Judicial Crisis Network. It registered Free to Learn Action as a “fictitious name” — or legal alias — on June 21, the Daily Poster reported Thursday. Free to Learn’s website does not disclose its relationship with the Concord Fund and describes itself as a “nonpartisan” group dedicated to promoting education without “pressure or requirements to subscribe to a singular worldview and activist curriculum with a political agenda.”...

Another group, Parents Defending Education, is led and incorporated by Nicole Neily, a long-time conservative writer and researcher. Neily also heads Speech First Inc., a charitable nonprofit with ties to the Koch Network that promotes conservative speech on college campuses.

The Judicial Crisis Network (which is now Free to Learn Action) is one of Leonard Leo's creations, as outlined in an in-depth report from the Washington Post on how the former director of the Federalist Society funneled dark money into Republican efforts to stack the courts with conservatives. 

JCN, the group that has office space on the same hall as the Federalist Society, launched a $7 million media campaign to bolster the Republican-controlled Senate in preventing Obama from filling the seat, according to a JCN news release at the time.

This graph from that report indicates how that scheme worked, and is probably instructive of what is happening now.

Leo's dark money eventually made its way to the Independent Women's Voice, whose leadership made regular appearances on Fox News to promote Trump's Supreme Court nominees.

These days, regular guests on Fox News include Asra Nomani, who "helps run" Parents Defending Education, and Elana Fishbein, founder of No Left Turn. Here's a clip of Nomani on Fox and Friends this week:

So the scheme is that dark money is funding these so-called "grassroots groups" and right wing media amplifies their lies. Make no mistake about it: Republicans plan to exploit the hell out of all of this in 2022, as McFadden documented.

On June 24, the Republican Study Committee circulated a memo authored by Committee Chair Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) to its members urging them to “lean into the culture war.”

“Because the backlash against Critical Race Theory is real,” Banks wrote. “We are beginning to see an organic movement from parents across the country … who are fed up with the lessons their kids are being taught. As House conservatives, we should be sending a signal to these concerned parents: We have your back.”

While parents across the country have objected to the teaching of critical race theory in schools, a network of established dark money groups funded by secret donors are stoking the purportedly “organic” anti-CRT sentiment Banks describes.

Putting a lie to Kevin Drum's claim that it is liberals who created the so-called "culture war," it is actually Republicans who plan to capitalize on the way that right wing funders and media have fabricated the whole controversy over critical race theory. 

If you're wondering what to do about all of that, I believe that Rachel Vindman has the answer. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Kevin Drum Misses the Forest for the Trees

Most of the time I really appreciate Kevin Drum's commitment to charts and data. But a few months ago, he published a couple of pieces aimed at making the point that "[s]ince 1994, Democrats have moved left far more than Republicans have moved right." As the title of his second piece suggests, he uses that data to blame the so-called "culture wars" on liberals. I'm a little late in addressing all of that, but it's because I've been stewing about it for a while now.

There were a lot of problems with the data Drum shared. For the most part, his charts show that over the years, more Democrats have aligned themselves with party positions. That is very different than the notion that the party has moved left. To demonstrate the latter, he would need to examine how Democratic policies have changed on issues like immigration, abortion, marriage equality, or guns. That is not what his data shows.

If we go back to 1994, we can see that there has been a lot of movement on the issue of marriage equality. But the chart Drum uses for that one actually tells the real story. 

It's not just Democrats who have embraced marriage equality - even 55% of Republicans and 73% of independents are on board. There has been a sea change in this country on that issue. Republicans are fighting that movement, while Democrats have embraced it.

One of the follies of Drum's analysis has to do with the dates he chose for his data. He posits that Democrats started moving left in 1994, but the charts he uses to defend that position have starting dates ranging from 1997 to 2003. The excludes the reality that this was the discussion about immigration in 1980 between two men who went on to be Republican presidents.

Let's also remember that the immigration reform bill drafted by a bipartisan "gang of eight" passed the Senate in 2013 by a vote of 68-32, with 14 Republicans signing on. It was House Republicans who eventually scuttled the deal and, with Trump, mounted an anti-immigrant campaign. 

The party defending the status quo on abortion is Democrats. That has consistently been their position. But after stacking the Supreme Court, Republicans are the ones who have mounted an escalating attack on Roe vs. Wade.

As with marriage equality, the majority of the country came to embrace common sense gun control, especially after the horrifying shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in late 2012. As Drum's chart shows, that wasn't just true for Democrats, Republicans also got on board - at least until Trump came on the scene.

But there's an even bigger problem with Drum's analysis. He posted those pieces about 6 months after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. To suggest that Democrats have moved farther outside the mainstream following those events is to completely miss the forest for the trees. As Robert Kagan recently documented in his article titled "Our Constitution Crisis Is Already Here," things have only gotten worse since then.
[T]he amateurish “stop the steal” efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020. Those recalcitrant Republican state officials who effectively saved the country from calamity by refusing to falsely declare fraud or to “find” more votes for Trump are being systematically removed or hounded from office. Republican legislatures are giving themselves greater control over the election certification process. As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may “revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election” by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed “technical infractions,” including obstructing the view of poll watchers.

All of that is in addition to the eighteen states that have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote." Most of that was made possible by the attack on the Voting Rights Act that was brought to the Supreme Court by Republicans. 

So excuse me if I reject the notion that it is Democrats who have moved farther to the left. Kagan wrote his piece as a warning for what is in the process of coming - an all-out assault on the foundation of our democracy by Republicans. My one beef with his piece is that he focuses all of his attention on Donald Trump. The former guy is, in fact, leading a cult. The so-called "culture wars" are his battle cry.

Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — “losers,” to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the “Mitch McConnell Republicans.” His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. While Trump’s critics see him as too narcissistic to be any kind of leader, his supporters admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness.

But Trump alone couldn't have created or sustained that cult. His position as cult leader is rooted in the lies that are funded by right wing money and spouted daily by right wing media, which is why I write about them so often. 

While Kagan is warning of a movement in the Republican Party that presents a constitutional crisis, Drum is suggesting that it is Democrats who have moved too far out of the mainstream. The latter is total hogwash. Right now it is the Democratic Party and a few NeverTrumpers that are holding the line to protect our democracy. There is nothing more mainstream than that.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Only One Political Party Is Demonstrating How Democracy Is Supposed to Work

As negotiations continue among Democrats about how to proceed with President Biden's agenda, the media has once again become obsessed with their "Democrats in disarray" narrative. Leading the pack is, of course, Politico. I would imagine that those kinds of storylines create more clicks than the piece I wrote recently about learning to live with uncertainty. 

But even beyond that observation, I am in total agreement with Melanie Sill.

We're watching Democrats hash out their differences. Of course, we all agree with one side more than the other. There have been elected officials who work to breach the divide and those who seem to be intent on making it worse. But that's always the case. 

One of the reasons these kinds of negotiations seem different is that one of the political parties is MIA. The history of our two-party system has usually been one of negotiation and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But over the last decade, Republicans have made it clear that they don't care about governing.

Initially, President Biden reached out to Republicans. That is precisely how the infrastructure and Build Back Better bills were split into two. The former passed the Senate with bipartisan support. But now House Republicans are backing off. That is precisely why almost every Democratic vote in that chamber will be necessary for passage. 

So Republicans are content to sit back and do nothing while Democrats hash out their differences to get the legislation passed. One party is demonstrating how democracy is supposed to work while the other does nothing but lie and attack, as Sen. Marsha Blackburn did Sunday morning. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a media outlet telling that part of the story - which is precisely why the GOP gets away with their abandonment of the democratic process. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Just Prior to His Resignation, Barr Signaled Where the Durham Investigation Is Headed

Since special prosecutor John Durham's indictment of Michael Sussmann, there has been a bit of chatter about why he would bring such a weak case. As I noted previously, Sussmann is being charged with lying to the FBI about who his client was when he shared information about a possible connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. But the only witness is the person he met with, FBI General Counsel Peter Baker, who told congress that he didn't remember who Sussmann identified as his client. So this is a case that will never hold up in court.

Nevertheless, Durham's indictment is 27 pages long, mostly documenting communication between the researchers who uncovered the cyber connection. All of the quotes he used suggest that the people involved had doubts about its credibility. None of that is in any way related to the alleged crime of Sussmann's lie. Nevertheless, Durham has now issued additional subpoenas to the law firm Sussmann worked for, Perkins Coie. 

Since the indictment became public, both CNN and the New York Times have received documents from the researchers that provide context for the communication Durham cited. With that, it has become clear that Durham cherry-picked the portions he included. As an example, here's what the NYT reported about David Dagon - a Georgia Institute of Technology data scientist and one of the researchers referred to in the indictment.

The indictment also suggests Mr. Dagon’s support for the paper’s hypothesis was qualified, describing his email response as “acknowledging that questions remained, but stating, in substance and in part, that the paper should be shared with government officials.”

The text of that email shows Mr. Dagon was forcefully supportive. He proposed editing the paper to declare as “fact” that it was clear “that there are hidden communications between Trump and Alfa Bank,” and said he believed the findings met the probable cause standard to open a criminal investigation.

“Hopefully the intended audience are officials with subpoena powers, who can investigate the purpose” of the apparent Alfa Bank connection, Mr. Dagon wrote.

Regardless of what these emails demonstrate, Durham is supposed to be conducting a criminal investigation, but none of this indicates an actual crime. So what is the purpose of all of this? To answer that question, it might be helpful to remember how this whole investigation has developed over time. 

Former Attorney General Bill Barr made no secret of the fact that he never trusted the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation - even going so far as to suggest that the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign. So in May 2019, Barr tasked John Durham with investigating the origins of the probe. By October, it had transitioned into a criminal probe. In December 2021, Barr announced that he had bestowed special counsel status on Durham, ensuring that the investigation would continue once Biden became president. Here is how Charlie Savage described Barr's memo that made Durham a special prosecutor.

Mr. Barr’s memo was broadly written and vague. It did not identify any suspected crime that could serve as a predicate for a continuing criminal investigation, or any particular person whom Mr. Durham was to focus on. Nor did it claim a foreign threat that would constitute any separate counterintelligence basis for an inquiry, as with the Trump-Russia investigation.

Mr. Barr also directed Mr. Durham to write a report detailing his findings that would be intended for public consumption...The special counsel regulations do not envision such a report.

No crime or person was identified, but Durham is required to produce "a report detailing his findings." Keep that in mind as we look at how things developed. 

At the outset of the investigation, Barr and Durham travelled to several countries that are our closest allies in order to investigate claims that the CIA fabricated the “Russian hoax.” It was clear that Obama's CIA Director John Brennan was at the center of Durham’s investigation. That was a conspiracy theory that was being peddled by a lot of right wingers. 

But as he was leaving the Trump administration, Barr dropped a bit of a bombshell on those conspiracy theories during an interview with WSJ opinion columnist Kimberley Strassell. Barr told her that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016. The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Barr also told Strassell something that probably goes a long way towards explaining what Durham is up to these days.

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”…One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar.

What Barr signaled was that not only had Durham cleared Brennan and the CIA, he hadn't uncovered any criminal activity on the part of the FBI other than the one incident found by Inspector General Horowitz. But Durham will write a report that, much like the 27-page Sussmann indictment, will cherry-pick information to build a case of "misconduct" on the part of the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Barbara McQuade thinks that the point of the Durham investigation is "to disseminate what he has found to the public so that Trump and his allies can paint a false equivalence between the conduct of the Trump and Clinton campaigns." 

But I think it will go beyond that. Right wing media will run with Durham's report and claim that the entire Trump-Russia investigation was a hoax dreamed up by Trump's opponent. Information will eventually surface to discredit Durham's conclusions, but that won't matter to those who live in an epistemic bubble of lies and disinformation. As we saw with how he handled the Mueller report, William Barr is a master of propaganda. Durham has now demonstrated that he's a willing partner in the former attorney general's schemes.

Israel owes Obama a huge debt of gratitude

While we don't know the outcome of Iran's attack on Israel yet, it appears as though the worst has been avoided. According to report...