The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

News Bits for Juneteenth 2024

Happy Juneteenth. Here is a history-nerd reminder that chattel slavery hadn’t completely ended in the U.S. on the first “Juneteenth” in 1865. Slavery remained legal in Delaware and Kentucky until the 13th Amendment went into effect in December 1865. But we’ve got enough holidays in December already.

On to the news: Matt Gaetz must really be in trouble.

After he was ousted as House Speaker last year, Kevin McCarthy claimed that Representative Matt Gaetz led the effort to depose him as revenge for a House Ethics Committee investigation into the Florida congressman. For his part, Gaetz has insisted that his motivations for giving McCarthy the boot were purely based on policy concerns. But if he was hoping the end of McCarthy would mean an end to the investigation, he was apparently sorely mistaken!

In a statement released on Tuesday, the ethics panel—which is notably controlled by Republicans—said that it has not only continued its investigation into Gaetz, but it has expanded the probe.

That other House Republicans would do this to Gaetz in an election year seems remarkable to me. Maybe he’s such an insufferable jerk they can’t stand him, either. Or maybe they’re trying to get ahead of something really awful that’s bound to come out sooner or later. This is from the Committee’s statement:

… Based on its review to date, the Committee has determined that certain of the allegations merit continued review.  During the course of its investigation, the Committee has also identified additional allegations that merit review.

Accordingly, the Committee is reviewing allegations pursuant to Committee Rules 14(a)(3) and 18(a) that Representative Gaetz may have:  engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use, accepted improper gifts, dispensed special privileges and favors to individuals with whom he had a personal relationship, and sought to obstruct government investigations of his conduct.  The Committee will take no further action at this time on the allegations that he may have shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe or improper gratuity. 

The most recent word on Gaetz is from ABC News: Witness tells House Ethics Committee that Matt Gaetz paid her for sex: Sources.

Yesterday was primary day in Virginia. The House VA-05 Republican primary was between two horrible men. Incumbent Rep. Bob Good is chair of the House Freedom Caucus and in most respects is as MAGA as they come, but for one thing: He endorsed Ron DeSantis back when DeSantis still looked viable as a presidential candidate. So Trump ordered Good to be primaried. The primary challenger is state Sen. John J. McGuire III. Josh Marshall calls McGuire a “Trump fanboy stooge.” Trump endorsed McGuire and looked to a McGuire victory as revenge against Good. And apparently all signs pointed to a McGuire win. But as of noon EST Wednesday, the race is too close to call.

Josh Marshall: “This is nonstop popcorn. Two election denying freaks in a too close to call race in which the true may not be known for some time. Karma.” It also perhaps says something about the value of Trump’s endorsement, even among Republicans.

Speaking of Trump, now he’s saying that business executives should be fired from their jobs if they don’t support him for POTUS.

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that business executives and shareholder representatives should “be 100% behind” him or face termination.

“Business Executives and Shareholder Representatives should be 100% behind Donald Trump! Anybody that’s not should be FIRED for incompetence!,” the former president wrote in a post on his social media website, Truth Social.

His post referred to an article from The Wall Street Journal on Monday comparing corporate tax rates between the Biden and Trump administrations. In another post, Trump quoted the article as saying, “Corporations won tax cuts during Trump’s first term, and they would benefit if he wins again.”

Of course, Trump also said the stock market would crash if Biden were elected in 2020. It, um, didn’t.

The business execs might also consider that Trump’s stupid plan to replace income taxes with tariffs would kill the economy.

There’s a new book called Apprentice in Wonderland about how Trump’s time on The Apprentice not only made him POTUS but also colors his worldview to this day. The author, Ramin Setoodeh, interviewed Trump six times at length about his Apprentice years. The first interviews were in 2021 and continued over several months. Setoodeh is saying now that Trump has “severe memory issues.”

I’ve said earlier that I’m not sure Trump always understands questions he is asked or what planet he’s on at least part of the time. He’s still bragging about the cognitive test he took in 2018 and allegedly aced. He seems to think this was some kind of intellgence test, when of course it was just a screening test for dementia. One wonders if he would “ace” it now.

White Evangelicalism Going to Hell

Here’s a startling bit of data. “In one survey of Christian attitudes, for example, 43 percent of evangelicals said they did not believe in the divinity of Christ.” Um, huh?

This is from Trump has changed what it means to be evangelical by Shadi Hamid in the Washington Post. The link in the quote goes to a page that compares current evangelical beliefs with basic Christian beliefs. This site claims that 43 percent of evangelicals recently agreed with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” I agree with that statement, of course, but I’m not a Christian.

I’ve complained a lot in recent years that the Christian nationalist movement seems largely populated by people with little understanding of Christianity. I grew up in a hotbed of ol’ time religion. Just about everyone in the Ozarks was some kind of Evangelical, mostly Southern Baptists, or some kind of Pentacostal. But back in the day if you talked to these folks they had a reasonable grasp of Christian theology as their churhes interpreted it. These days the loudmouth politicized Christians I see on television seem to not know the Beatitudes from Beetlejuice.

Note also that the white and black evangelical churches live on different planets. What’s being said here is about the white churches.

Last year I read Tim Alberta’s book The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. I wrote about it a bit in this post.

Evangelical Christianity in the U.S. has long had its freak show elements — think snake handling — but they used to be tucked away in rural America. But now the freak show is televised, and getting freakier. Alberta went around the country reporting on churches large and small, and part of the story he tells is that evangelical church-goers are leaving “traditional” Christianity and flocking to churches that offer a heavily politicized Christianity that conflates Christianity with America and Jesus with Trump. Or else they want one with big entertainment value.

One very poignant story he tells is about a pracher who had built a hugely successful megachurch near Kansas City. And then at some point he “found Jesus” and realized what he was offering was spiritual junk food. He began to preach sermons that were based on actual Christian theology, and his parishoners deserted him. Now he gets a handful of people to show up for service in his huge, empty church, when he used to get thousands.

Alberta’s main point was that politics was pulling white evangelicalism away from Jesus’ teachings. But this was the first I’d heard that so many had abandoned the doctrine of Trinity. Part of what seems to be happening is that there are people who have never been particularly religious but who now identify as “evangelicals” because they are Trump supporters. They are “claiming the label as a badge of partisan identity,” Shadi Hamid wrote.

In other news:  Politico has a news story about a Democratic party “power broker” in New Jersey who has been indicted by the state AG for racketeering. I have no particular insight into this situation except that it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve lived a large part of my adult life in New Jersey and New York but never clearly understood how politics “works” in either state.  The NY and NJ state governments are not as utterly useless as the state government of Missouri. (They should just fire everybody in Jeffereson City and hire a troop of Girl Scouts to run Missouri; the girls would do a better job, or at least be less annoying.) But there are nagging problems in both states (affordable housing, anyone?) that go on for years and years and never get addressed. It’s been pretty clear that old patterns of cronyism and corruption get in the way of good government. Maybe Trenton will be cleaned up a little, anyway.

Today’s News Bits: House GOP Fun and Games

On Wednesday, June 12, the House GOP voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for refusing to turn over the audio recording of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur. Hur, you’ll recall, was the right-wing toadie tasked with investigating Joe Biden’s retention of classified documents from his time as Vice President.

Hur declined to recommend charging the President with a crime, citing insufficient evidence. Hur also threw a bunch of gratuitous shade about the President’s aging brain. Hur then got hauled in front of Congress by irate Republicans who were angry Hur didn’t recommend charges. They also wanted to hear more of Hur’s opinions of Biden’s mental acuity. That hearing pretty much went nowhere. Then Gym Jordan and James Comer sent a subpoena to the Justice Department for the audio recording of Hur’s interview. Justice sent them a transcript of the interview but not the audio. President Biden had invoked executive privilege and said the audio will not be released. Justice’s hands were tied. That brings us to Wednesday and the contempt of Congress vote.

Yesterday a Justice Department official responded to the House Republicans, explaining that it was Justice’s “longstanding position and uniform practice” to not prosecute officials who don’t comply with subpoenas because of a president’s claim of executive privilege. This seems straightforward enough that even Gym Jordan ought to be able to understand it, but perhaps I’m overestimating Gym Jordan.

Here’s the latest:

 Speaker Mike Johnson said Friday that the House will go to court to enforce the subpoena against Attorney General Merrick Garland for access to President Joe Biden’s special counsel audio interview, hours after the Justice Department refused to prosecute Republicans’ contempt of Congress charge.

“It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration’s Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing,” Johnson said in a statement. “This is yet another example of the two-tiered system of justice brought to us by the Biden Administration.”

Johnson is, of course, leaving out the executive privilege thing. Joe Biden is the sitting president. He can do that. Neither Bannon nor Navarro had valid excuses for not complying with a subpoena. Johnson should have heard of executive privilege, considering that his God-Emperor Trump made some attempts to use executive privilege after he left office, which is not how it works. And Gym Jordan famously blew off a subpoena from the January 6 committee; he had no excuses either.

This is all just political theater, of course. The only reason Republicans want the audio is so they can creatively edit out some clips and use them in campaign ads. And they will continue to complain that “Joe Biden’s Justice Department” is corrupt and doesn’t play by the rules, even though it clearly does.

Also last week, Politico reported that Trump called Mike Johnson at some point and demanded the House overturn the 34 convictions against him. Trump is too addled to understand that the U.S. House has no authority over what goes on in a city court. Johnson surely knows better, but is said to have promised to do something anyway.

I am so tired of these people.

In other news:  Some top CEOs met with Trump last week.

Former President Donald Trump failed to impress everyone in a room full of top CEOs Thursday at the Business Roundtable’s quarterly meeting, multiple attendees told CNBC.

“Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said one CEO who was in the room, according to a person who heard the executive speaking. The CEO also said Trump did not explain how he planned to accomplish any of his policy proposals, that person said.

Several CEOs “said that [Trump] was remarkably meandering, could not keep a straight thought [and] was all over the map,” CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin reported Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Bump Stocks and the Imperial Supreme Court

Today the Supreme Court decided that a ban on bump stocks is unconstitutional.

In a 6-3 ruling on ideological lines with the court’s conservatives in the majority, the court held that an almost 100-year-old law aimed at banning machine guns cannot legitimately be interpreted to include bump stocks.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said that a firearm equipped with the accessory does not meet the definition of “machinegun” under federal law.

Here is the ruling; Thomas’s opinion begins on page 5. As you know, “bump stocks” are an accessory used with semiautomatic weapons. They work with the firearm’s recoil to make the weapon fire repeatedly without the shooter pulling the trigger again and again. At least, that’s what I read in news articles; I’ve never fired one.

The question that Thomas addressed was whether a such a modified weapon could be classified as “machine gun.” Thomas writes that “Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, a ‘machinegun’ is “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.’” Any full-auto weapon, in other words. Ownership of machine guns and anything used to convert semiautomatic weapons into machine guns is tightly restricted by that same act. Thomas then gives us several pages of verbiage that argues a bump stock doesn’t really convert a semiautomatic weapon into a fully automatic one, so a bump stock is not covered by the NFA of 1934. You can read it all yourself if you care what it says.

Note that a bump stock was used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 60 people, and also in the Buffalo mass shooting in 2022. And probably some others I’m not remembering. In 2017 after the Las Vegas shooting a poll found that 82 percent of Americans wanted bump stocks banned. But we must only pass laws approved by the Imperial Court, will of the people be damned.

The National Firearm Act of 1934, which has been amended a couple of times, is not a total ban on automatic weapons. It does, however, put so many restrictions on acquiring one that it’s just about impossible for civilians to do so legally. Or even illegally; I understand they are very scarce in the U.S. This act was challenged in court, and in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), the Court said, among other things, that the Second Amendment protects only the ownership of military-type weapons appropriate for use by a “well-regulated militia.” (There’s a long article here about the Miller decision that looks like an interesting read, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.) And the NFA remains the law of the land.

I don’t believe Miller has been overturned. The issue, of course, is that the old “well-regulated militia” enshrined in the Constitution, in the Second Amendment and in Article I, Section 8, paragraphs 15 and 16, carried muzzle-loading muskets that the men were required to obtain themselves. Hence, a right to own firearms had to be protected for the sake of the militia. But the state militia system — which, truth be told, was never all that effective at defense — was reorganized as the National Guard in 1903. Guardsmen don’t supply their own weapons, I don’t believe, so the purpose of protecting firearm ownership for the sake of the militia is kind of outmoded. The 2008 Heller decision then expanded the right to carry arms beyond just militia service, but didn’t eliminate the connection to the long-ago self-armed militia entirely.

But it seems to me that firearm technology has changed so drastically that any opinion about what is or is not a “military-type weapon” protected by the Second Amendment can get pretty arbitrary, especially since it was decided a long time ago that full-auto weapons are not protected. And I strongly suspect that if we could wake up and reconstitute the authors of the Second Amendment and show them what people are shooting now, they’d be shocked and horrified and want to repeal the amendment themselves.

Speaking of Clarence Thomas — see Harlan Crow Provided Clarence Thomas at Least 3 Previously Undisclosed Private Jet Trips, Senate Probe Finds at ProPublica.

Update: More analysis by Mark Joseph Stern at Slate:

The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority carved a huge loophole into the federal prohibition against machine guns on Friday, striking down a bump stock ban first enacted in 2018 by the Trump administration. Its 6–3 decision allows civilians to convert AR-15–style rifles into automatic weapons that can fire at a rate of 400–800 rounds per minute. One might hope a ruling that stands to inflict so much carnage would, at least, be indisputably compelled by law. It is not. Far from it: To reach this result, Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion for the court tortures statutory text beyond all recognition, defying Congress’ clear and (until now) well-established commands. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained in dissent, the supermajority flouts the “ordinary meaning” of the law, adopting an “artificially narrow” interpretation that will have “deadly consequences.” This Supreme Court will be squarely at fault for the next mass shooting enabled by a legal bump stock. …

… For years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had been monitoring these devices; the agency found some unlawful, depending on their precise mechanisms, but did not take a formal position overall. The Las Vegas shooting prompted ATF to conclude that bump stocks transform semiautomatic rifles into machine guns, rendering them illegal under a long-standing federal statute. That’s because this law bans “any part designed and intended solely and exclusively” for “converting a weapon into a machinegun.” And a “machinegun” is defined as any firearm that fires “automatically” by “a single function of the trigger.” After extensive deliberation, ATF found that bump stock–equipped rifles do exactly that.

Now the Supreme Court has decided that it understands firearms better than the ATF. Thomas’ majority opinion reads like the fevered work of a gun fetishist, complete with diagrams and even a GIF. The justice, who worships at the altar of the firearm, plainly relished the opportunity to depict the inner workings of these cherished tools of slaughter. (It’s no surprise that he borrowed the images from the avidly pro-gun Firearms Policy Foundation.) To reach his preferred result, Thomas falsely accused ATF of taking the “position” that bump stocks were legal, then “abruptly” reversing course after the Las Vegas shooting. This account is dead wrong: ATF took a careful, case-by-case view of different bump stock–like devices as gunmakers developed them, deeming some permissible and others unlawful. The gun industry pushed these devices into the mainstream by deceiving ATF about their purpose; in one case, for instance, a manufacturer won approval from the agency by claiming a bump stock was designed to accommodate people with limited hand strength—then turned around and marketed it as the next best thing to a machine gun.

After wrongly accusing the agency of a politically motivated about-face—and using this charge to discount its expertise and authority—Thomas adopted a highly technical interpretation of the statute that does not align with its text. A “single function of the trigger,” he wrote, does not mean a single pull of the trigger, but rather a complete “cycle” of the spring-loaded hammer inside the gun. Because the hammer (rapidly) resets to its original position between shots, Thomas concluded, “bump firing” involves more than “a single function of the trigger.” And because the shooter must “actively maintain” a particular stance to put pressure on certain parts of the weapon, the justice wrote, the resulting fire is not truly “automatic.”

The Christian Nationalists Think They’re Winning

Yesterday the Southern Baptist convention voted to oppose in-vitro fertilization. They didn’t call for a ban — yet — nor did they forbid Southern Baptists from using IVF. Instead, they passed a resolution that calls on Southern Baptists “to reaffirm the unconditional value and right to life of every human being, including those in an embryonic stage, and to only utilize reproductive technologies consistent with that affirmation, especially in the number of embryos generated in the I.V.F. process.”

I interpret that to mean that it’s okay to use IVF to achieve pregnancy as long as no surplus fertilized zygotes are created as a result. Which means the odds of success will be very low.  (And for the record, the SBC narrowly failed to pass a ban on women pastors. This tells me they recognize a public relations disaster when they see one. But just before this vote the SBC voted to expel the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia, because the church allows women to serve even in senior pastoral roles. This suggests some ambivalence about women pastors.)

IVF was an issue in the Senate yesterday. Chuck Schumer and the other Democrats have been challenging their Republican colleagues to go on the record on women’s health-related issues, such as protecting a right to birth control. This week Chuck and the gang proposed a bill to protect access to IVF. So then this happened:

In response, Republicans have clung to two legislative gambits of their own that they say are just as good. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) offered a simple resolution demonstrating the Senate’s “support for Americans who are starting and growing families through in vitro fertilization.” Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Katie Britt (R-AL) put forward a bill that would make states ineligible to receive Medicaid funding if they ban IVF.  …

… Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) blocked the Republican bill, calling it a “PR tool.”

“[This is] just another way for Republicans to pretend they are not the extremists that they keep proving they are,” Murray said on the Senate floor as she objected to unanimous consent. 

“The bill allows for states to push for regulations that could severely reduce the standard of care for IVF treatment, such as restrictions on how many embryos are created and what individuals can do with these embryos — decisions that should only be made between patients and their doctors, based on science and clinical guidelines,” she added of the Cruz-Britt bill.

Limiting the number of fertilized eggs produced in IVF and limiting what can be done with those eggs seems to be where the Right is coming down on IVF. Medical experts say limiting the number of fertilized eggs produced will make it much more difficult to achieve a successful pregnancy with IVF.

Yet there’s more. The Christian right is coming for divorce next writes Anna North at Vox.

Before the 1960s, it was really hard to get divorced in America.

Typically, the only way to do it was to convince a judge that your spouse had committed some form of wrongdoing, like adultery, abandonment, or “cruelty” (that is, abuse). This could be difficult: “Even if you could prove you had been hit, that didn’t necessarily mean it rose to the level of cruelty that justified a divorce,” said Marcia Zug, a family law professor at the University of South Carolina.

Then came a revolution: In 1969, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan of California (who was himself divorced) signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law, allowing people to end their marriages without proving they’d been wronged. The move was a recognition that “people were going to get out of marriages,” Zug said, and gave them a way to do that without resorting to subterfuge. Similar laws soon swept the country, and rates of domestic violence and spousal murder began to drop as people — especially women — gained more freedom to leave dangerous situations. 

Well, forget that. Republican lawmakers in several states are working to abolish no-fault divorce and go back to the bad old days.  “Conservative commentators and lawmakers are calling for an end to no-fault divorce, arguing that it has harmed men and even destroyed the fabric of society,” Anna North writes.

Michelle Boorstein and Hannah Knowles write at WaPo about what the Christian right wants from a second Trump term.

Should Trump reclaim the presidency in November, they say, it would represent a historic opportunity to put their interpretation of Christianity at the center of government policy. …

… Among the proposals being pushed by the Christian right’svariousgroups and leaders:

  • Removing the words “gender” and “abortion” from federal program documents, as well as the related funding.
  • Imposing new restrictions on abortion pills, perhaps through the authority of the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Carving out greaterexemptions to anti-discrimination laws intended toprotect LGBTQ people.
  • Establishing a more visible role for Christianity in public schools, including more prayer led by both teachers and students.

There was some good news on the theocracy front today. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the bid to restrict distribution of mifepristone, the main abortion pill. And it was unanimous. The court found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue, because they couldn’t prove they had been personally harmed. Okay. But Justice Kavanaugh dropped big hints that maybe someone else could sue.

In other news: Trump wants to eliminate most federal income tax by just adding tarrifs to all imports. Basically, he wants to go back to the antebellum economy.

Trump is getting called out for his stream-of-consciousness ramblings. Apparently he was so inchoherent at a closed-door meeting with House Republicans it was “like talking to your drunk uncle.” See also Eugene Robinson, Is Donald Trump okay? and Tom Nichols, Let’s talk about Trump’s gibberish.

A Ceasefire, Maybe, But It’s Iffy

Hunter Biden was found guilty of three federal gun crimes. President Biden says he will respect the verdict. One might think the Right would be holding a victory dance now, but they’re strangely subdued. At least, reaction on the rightie websites is fairly subdued. They don’t seem to know if they’re supposed to celebrate or just continue to be angry about something. Well, moving on …

There’s a lot of contradictory reporting, but something seems to be happening with the cease-fire proposal President Biden announed a few days ago. Yesterday the United Nations Security Coundil approved this plan.. The Associated Press:

The U.S.-sponsored resolution welcomes a cease-fire proposal announced by President Joe Biden that the United States says Israel has accepted. It calls on the militant Palestinian group Hamas to accept the three-phase plan.

The resolution — which was approved with 14 of the 15 Security Council members voting in favor and Russia abstaining — calls on Israel and Hamas “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition.”

Israel has not accepted this plan, though. Here’s Al Jazeera:

The resolution welcomes a three-phase ceasefire proposal announced by US President Joe Biden last month, which calls for an initial six-week ceasefire and the exchange of some Israeli captives held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The second phase would include a permanent ceasefire and the release of the remaining captives. The third phase would involve a reconstruction effort for the devastated Gaza Strip.

The US says Israel has accepted the proposal, although some Israeli officials have since promised to continue the war until the elimination of Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs Gaza.

The resolution calls on Hamas, which initially said it viewed the proposal “positively”, to accept the three-phase plan.

It urges Israel and Hamas “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition”.

Hamas was quick to welcome the resolution on Monday. In a statement after the vote, Hamas said it was ready to cooperate with mediators and enter indirect negotiations over the implementation of the principles of the agreement.

It seems the official position of the United States that Israel has accepted this plan, even though I’m not seeing such a commitment from Netanyahu. The BBC reported earlier today:

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “reaffirmed his commitment” to a Gaza ceasefire plan, and that if it does not progress Hamas will be to blame.

Mr Blinken reiterated his call for Hamas to accept the plan as outlined by President Biden 11 days ago. He was speaking a day after holding talks with Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

He said the onus was on “one guy” hiding “ten storeys underground in Gaza” to make the casting vote, referring to Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

Mr Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed what Mr Biden outlined nor said whether it matches an Israeli ceasefire proposal on which Mr Biden’s statement was based.

Reuters, but so far no one else, is reporting that Hamas has accepted the ceasefire plan.

Also earlier today, CNN reported that Israel has vowed to press on in Gaza.

Hamas accepts a U.N. resolution backing a plan to end the war with Israel in Gaza and is ready to negotiate details, a senior official of the Palestinian militant group said on Tuesday in what the U.S. Secretary of State called a hopeful sign.
Qatari and Egyptian mediators said they had received a formal reply from Hamas to the U.N.-backed truce proposal, and Hamas and its ally Palestinian Islamic Jihad expressed “readiness to positively” reach a deal to end the war in Gaza in a joint statement on Tuesday.

That’s today. But now let’s look at what Juan Cole wrote yesterday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against whom warrants have been requested for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, made the case against him stronger with his massacre of innocent Palestinian civilians during the botched hostage rescue at Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp. As I write, the United Nations is reporting from Gaza health authorities that Israel fire killed 270 persons and wounded nearly 700. Netanyahu has deliberately damaged or destroyed all the hospitals in Gaza, so the Nuseirat health facility is woefully unprepared to deal with 600 wounded people, and there is no functioning morgue to hold the 270 corpses.

While it is great good news that the hostages have been rescued, and one’s heart goes out to their families, who have lived through hell since the Hamas war crimes of October 7, these statistics unfortunately suggest that each Israeli life is worth 67.5 Palestinian lives.

The raid is not the political victory for Netanyahu that he was seeking, however, since it was a cynical ploy on his part to justify his rejection of the Biden proposal for an at least temporary halt to the hostilities that would have resulted in the release of all the remaining hostages. Netanyahu was getting pressure not only from Biden but from the Israeli public, which has mounted large demonstrations against him for failing to negotiate the release of the hostages. Even Joe Biden has admitted that it is reasonable to conclude that Netanyahu insists on continuing his total war on Gaza in order to stay in power and avoid the court cases he is facing for corruption, which could send him to jail.

The operation did not dissuade opposition politician Benny Gantz from resigning Sunday from the war cabinet, the national unity government that was formed after Hamas’s October 7 atrocities. Gantz said that it had been a painful decision, which he took because Netanyahu stood in the way of attaining a genuine victory in Gaza. He said Netanyahu had obstructed essential strategic decisions, and called upon him to call an early election: “it is necessary to have a Zionist, nationalist, genuine unity government.”

Implicitly slamming the enormous human cost and limited benefits of the Nuseirat raid, he said, “I support the deal presented by Biden, which he asked the prime minister to have the courage to achieve it.”

“I say to the families of the kidnapped that we failed the test, and we were not able to return your children.”

I confess I do not have a depth of insight into the nuances of Israeli politics, but it seems to me Netanyahu’s poisition is increasingly untenable.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, appears to be reporting that Hamas is not going to accept the deal and believes it can outlast Israel. I say “appears” because I don’t have a subscription and can’t see past the headline. But this story was filed yesterday, and the Reuters report that Hamas has accepted the ceasefire plan is dated today. And that’s as much as I know.

Alito Wants to Return the Nation to Godliness

Rolling Stone is reporting that Sam Alito has said the quiet part out loud.

Justice Samuel Alito spoke candidly about the ideological battle between the left and the right — discussing the difficulty of living “peacefully” with ideological opponents in the face of “fundamental” differences that “can’t be compromised.” He endorsed what his interlocutor described as a necessary fight to “return our country to a place of godliness.” And Alito offered a blunt assessment of how America’s polarization will ultimately be resolved: “One side or the other is going to win.”

Alito made these remarks in conversation at the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual dinner on June 3, a function that is known to right-wing activists as an opportunity to buttonhole Supreme Court justices. His comments were recorded by Lauren Windsor, a liberal documentary filmmaker. Windsor attended the dinner as a dues-paying member of the society under her real name, along with a colleague. She asked questions of the justice as though she were a religious conservative. 

It should be noted that Lauren Windsor did ask some leading questions, but Alito didn’t hesitate to take the bait. What’s sad is that the “Christians” who want Christianity nationalized (I don’t think Jesus would approve) imagine they are under threat from liberals. But speaking as a liberal I am happy to let them be as rightie-religious as they wannabe. I have absolutely no desire to interfere with their religious beliefs and practices in any way. They just can’t force their beliefs and practices on anyone else. In insisting they and they alone can set policy for the U.S., they have made themselves a threat to the freedom of everyone else. If they want a war they’re going to get one, but they started it. And it’s entirely unnecessary. And anyone who thinks like Alito absolutely should not be on the Supreme Court.

In other news: Trump is scheduled to have his probation interview today, and apparently he’s going through with it. He’s not in New York City, though. He’s being interviewed remotely from Mar-a-Lago. This means he gets to skip the blood test part, I take it. Otherwise I don’t care. I’m fine with him being someplace other than New York. Sorry about that, Florida.

SCOTUS: Nice Work if You Can Get It

I have some charts for you today. Let’s start with this one I snagged from Newsweek  —

Sorry the print is so small. But if you can read it, the column on the left lists Supreme Court justices going back twenty years. Some of them are retired and/or deceased. I understand this chart gives the number of gifts received by each justice and whether they were disclosed or undisclosed. That long bar at the top belongs to Clarence Thomas.

This chart shows us the value of those gifts.

The long bar at the bottom is Clarence Thomas, showing a total value of gifts received to be over $4 million. Of the current justices the second-place winner is Sam Alito, whose gifts totalled just over $170,000.

Newsweek says “The data was compiled using official disclosure reports as well as reporting from a number of media outlets which identified gifts received by justices between January 2004 and December 2023.” So that’s probably not all of it, just what could be teased out of available information.

This was compiled by a group called Fix the Court, and you can get more details from them about what they figured into this data. A lot of the gifts were things like plaques, medals, and “gift baskets” (fruit and cheese?) that aren’t necessarily a big deal. There are also advance and royalty payments for books written by justices, which doesn’t bother me either as long as they are disclosed. Seems to me profits from books aren’t gifts but income. But Thomas, obviously, is in a class by himself.

As soon as Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate …  It still takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove a judge from office, but we can dream.

In other news. This is what happened when the Federalist published a hit piece on Dolly Parton because she doesn’t hate gay people.

Elon Musk has threatened to leave Tesla if his $56 billion pay package is not approved. Considering that Tesla sales have been lagging way behind other EVs, I’m not sure what value Musk has been adding to the company that’s worth $56 billion. Seems to me Tesla would be better off breaking from him. But this will be up to the shakeholders, who will vote on June 15. If it were up to me I’d cut him down to $56 with a promise of some gift baskets if sales pick up.

ProPublica revisits the biggest political crime in American history, even though nobody is exactly sure what it is.

D-Day + 80 and Today’s News Bits

Today is the 80th anniversary of D-Day. There are some good history articles online, such as On D-Day, the U.S. Conquered the British Empire by Michel Paradis at The Atlantic and ‘Almost terrifying to contemplate’: Why D-Day nearly didn’t happen by Garrett M. Graff at WaPo.  And we should be grateful President Biden is representing the U.S. at the commemoration today and not that other guy.

“In their generation, in their hour of trial, the Allied forces of D-Day did their duty,” Biden said, standing before dozens of World War II veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery. “Now the question for us is, in our hour of trial, will we do ours?”

Yesterday’s Senate vote on the right to contraception amounted to an IQ test for Republicans. They flunked.

Republicans argued the bill was unnecessary, because they don’t oppose contraception and there are no efforts to ban it.  

“Senate Democrats are using their power in the majority to push an alarmist and false narrative that there was a problem accessing contraception,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on the Senate floor. “This is not an issue unless their candidate for president is running behind in the polls.” 

If they don’t oppose access to contraception, then why block the bill? They must have known the point of the bill was to get them all on the record of being for or against a right to contraception. And, in fact, there are several attempts by Republicans in the states to put limits on access to contraception. See also:

Republican lawmakers in Missouri blocked a bill to widen access to birth-control pills by falsely claiming they induce abortions. An antiabortion group in Louisiana killed legislation to enshrine a right to birth control by inaccurately equating emergency contraception with abortion drugs. An Idaho think tank focused on “biblical activism” is pushing state legislators to ban access to emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs) by mislabeling them as “abortifacients.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion two years ago, far-right conservatives have been trying to curtail birth-control access by sowing misinformation about how various methods work to prevent pregnancy, even as Republican leaders scramble to reassure voters they have no intention of restricting the right to contraception, which polls show the vast majority of Americans favor.

The divide illustrates growing Republican tensions over the political cost of the “personhood” movement to endow an embryo with human rights, which has also animated the debate around in vitro fertilization.Mainstream medical societies define pregnancy as starting once an embryo has implanted in the wall of the uterus. But some conservative legislators, sharing the views of antiabortion activists, say they believe life begins when eggs are fertilized — before pregnancy — and are conflating some forms of birth control with abortion.

One of the things that’s going to have to happen to restore any amount of sanity to state and federal legislatures is for the forced pregnancy movement go away. (This happened to the Christian Temperance movement, which for a time was hugely powerful. Where is it now?)

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a story allegedly sourced from several people, Democrats and Republicans, that allegedly documented deep concern about President Biden’s mental decline. Yeah, they’ve gone back to that. Josh Marshall read it for all of us and reports that the “several people” are Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy.

I read the piece and I noticed right away, but had to go back and make sure I was understanding the circumlocutions, that this purported deep dive on Biden’s slipping leads off with the accounts of two people: Speaker Mike Johnson and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. There are some efforts to fuzz that up with Johnson since you have to piece together the meaning of the sourcing. (It’s based on the accounts of “six people told at the time about what Johnson said had happened” during a one-on-one meeting between Biden and Johnson. ¯\_(?)_/¯ ) About ten paragraphs in it notes in passing that of the more than 45 people the reporters spoke to for the piece over several months “most of those who said Biden performed poorly were Republicans.”

I do wish I could ask Mike Johnson when the Commandment about not bearing false witness (number eight or nine, depending on the source) was suspended. But just notice that that Murdoch Media is resurrecting the “Joe is brain dead” talking point now.

Update: Charles Pierce:  “I find it more than a little convenient that, after a solid month of stories about how El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago was dozing off at the defense table during his own criminal trial, we have ‘some’ who ‘wonder’ about Biden.”

What we’re up against: Pennsylvania Republicans jeer, leave statehouse floor in protest of officers who defended Capitol on Jan. 6.

Finally we get to our not-favorite judge Aileen “Loose” Cannon. Loose continues to find creative ways to waste time and push the trial date further into the future. Yesterday she re-shuffled the dates of hearings on various issues and added a new one, a hearing on whether Jack Smith’s appointment of special counsel is unconstitutional. And she took the bizarre step of inviting third party “friends of the court” with no direct involvement in the case to offer testimony at this hearing. Next I expect Trump’s lawyers to file a brief claiming the court has no jurisdiction because Trump is actually the Dauphin of France. Loose would probably schedule a hearing on that. See also Judge Aileen Cannon Will Entertain Any Excuse to Delay Trump’s Trial at The New Repuplic.

Update: Judge orders Steve Bannon to report to prison on July 1 for contempt of Congress sentence

What Else Was Happening Lately

In all the hoopla over the thirty-four counts some other news got buried. On Friday  President Biden proposed a permanent cease-fire plan between Israel and Hamas (more here on the plan from Al-Jazeera). Very, very simply, the plan includes three phases that would begin with releasing hostages and prisoners on both sides plus allowing hundreds of food trucks into Gaza. Next would be negotiation toward a permanent end to hostilities, and last is the rebuilding of what was destroyed. I assume that somewhere in there some provision would be made for how Gaza will be governed.

President Biden initially framed the proposal as an Israeli proposal that he hoped Hamas would accept. Many have pointed out that he waited to announce the proposal until after Shabbat had started in Israel, so that Netanyahu couldn’t respond right away. By now it’s clear Netanyahu wasn’t behind the proposal and probably won’t agree to it. Juan Cole explains that if Netanyahu did accept a peace plan his hard-right coalition would collapse, costing him his position as Prime Minister. See also Fred Kaplan at Slate.

Complicating all this is that on Saturday Netanyahu was invited to address Congress. Speaker Mike Johnson has been pushing hard for this, and I take it Chuck Schumer finally caved. It’s not clear to me if Netanyahu will be speaking remotely or will show up in person. I don’t think he could set foot in the U.S. without being slammed by protests. A large part of the Democrats of both houses are already saying they will not attend.

In another surprise move, President Biden announced he is putting tighter restrictions on the number of migrants allowed to cross the border and apply for asylum. Progressives in Congress are not happy. I suspect Biden has his eye on the election with this one. There’s not much he can do about the border until he gets a Congress that will work with him.

Speaking of Congress — I couldn’t bear to watch any of the news stories about the House committees grilling Dr. Anthony Fauci and Attorney General Merrick Garland. House Republicans are just baboons throwing feces as far as I’m concerned. Some might consider that comparison an insult to baboons.

In other news — see 3 Organizers Of Trump Fake Elex Plot—Including Chesebro—Charged In Wisconsin.

Also, too — The Epoch Times is a horrible, hard-right propaganda rag. And now it may go out of business.

D’oh! Why didn’t we think of this?

Take a propagandistic news outlet and pump it full of cash from overseas criminal scams that you laundered yourself and bingo you have a supposedly growing media property. Allegedly.

The one glitch, as Epoch Times CFO Bill Guan found out, is that the law may eventually catch up to you.

Guan was indicted in the Southern District of New York on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of bank fraud for allegedly laundering $67 million in illicit criminal proceeds for the benefit of the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times.

Among the sources of the so-called “revenue” laundered into Epoch Times were fraudulently procured unemployment insurance benefits obtained using stolen identities that were then loaded onto prepaid debit cards and sold at 70-80 cents on the dollar, according to the indictment.

Falun Gong is a Chinese religious movement that also produces those Shen Yun music and dance extravaganzas you must have seen advertised on the TV. Falun Gong was horribly persecuted in China and now has its headquarters in New York state somewhere, I understand. I used to be sympathetic to them until I found out the organization is behind right-wing extremist politicians here and in Europe. So they came West for freedom and are working to destroy freedom. I appreciate why they would be anti-Communist, but neo-facsism isn’t an improvement.

Let’s just hope Epoch Times shuts down.