The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Lamar Johnson Is Free

I’ve written about Lamar Johnson in the past; here and here. Johnson was convicted of murder in 1995 on outrageously fabricated evidence. But even after two other men confessed to the murder Johnson couldn’t get a new hearing in Missouri. St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner had to fight with the state for the past few years before finally getting a hearing in December 2022. Today, the conviction was overturned, and Lamar Johnson was freed.

The Trump-Kushner-Saudi Connection

The Washington Post has a long article by Michael Kranish about the business dealings between Trump and Jared Kushner and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (no paywall).

The substantial investments by the Saudis in enterprises that benefited both men came after they cultivated close ties with Mohammed while Trump was in office — helping the crown prince’s standing by scheduling Trump’s first presidential trip to Saudi Arabia, backing him amid numerous international crises and meeting with him repeatedly in D.C. and the kingdom, including on a final trip Kushner took to Saudi Arabia on the eve of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

New details about their relationship have emerged in recently published memoirs, as well as accounts in congressional testimony and interviews by The Post with former senior White House officials.Those revelations include Kushner’s writtenaccount of persuading Trumpto prioritize Saudi Arabia over the objections of top advisers and a former secretary of state’s assertion in a book that Trump believed the prince “owed” him.

They also underscore the crucial nature of Trump’s admission that he “saved” Mohammed in the wake of the CIA’s finding that the crown prince ordered the killing or capture of Post contributing opinion columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Did Trump and his son-in-law use the office of the presidency to enrich themselves vis-à-vis MBS? Hell, yes they did. We probably don’t yet know the full extent of it.

Now, with Trump running for president again, some national security experts and two former White House officials say they have concerns that Trump and Kushner used their offices to set themselves up to profit from their relationship with the Saudis after the administration ended.

“I think it was an obvious opportunity for them to build their Rolodexes,” John Bolton, who was Trump’s national security adviser, said in an interview. “And I think they were probably hard at work at it, particularly Jared.”

“Why should Jared be worried about the Middle East?” Bolton said. “It’s a perfectly logical inference was that had something to do with business.”

At CNN, Dean Obeidallah points to the House Congressional committee investigating Hunter Biden and his laptop. This is chaired by James Comer (R-KY).

Comer, a Kentucky Republican, alleged in a letter last week to Hunter Biden that he and his associates “peddled influence to generate millions of dollars for the Biden family.” He declared in his committee’s press release touting the investigation, “The American people deserve transparency and accountability about the Biden family’s influence peddling.”

If Comer is sincere about transparency and accountability when it comes to influence peddling in politics, then he should be readying similar letters to Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump. All three may have personally profited from their time in the White House.

It may very well be that Hunter Biden is guilty of trading on his relationship with his father to make money. But Hunter Biden has never had a position in the U.S. government, and so far nobody has come up with a connection to Joe Biden. I’m fine with the criminal justice system investigating Hunter Biden, and if someone does learn that Joe Biden somehow inappropriately used U.S. government resources to help his son, then let’s hear about it. But until such a connection is found, this isn’t the business of a congressional committee.

The Trumps (including Jared Kushner), on the other hand, were operatives of the Trump administration and supposedly on U.S. government business when they were cultivating the Saudis to make money. That’s a whole different thing. Back to CNN:

Now we see Trump hosting Saudi-backed LIV Golf tournaments at his golf courses — which typically pay the course owner in the case of PGA events $2 million to $3 million, as the Post reported. However, Trump has not revealed how much he’s pocketing from the Saudis — which is especially alarming given he is running for President in 2024.

The Trump Organization also has recently secured an agreement with a Saudi real estate company that plans to build a Trump-branded hotel, villas and golf course in Oman as part of a $4 billion project, according to The New York Times.

Then there’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who was also a White House adviser. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, urged the Justice Department to investigate her four years ago over potentially violating conflict of interest laws by participating in the implementation of a program giving tax breaks for investors in so-called opportunity zones. (A spokesperson for Trump’s ethics attorney called the claim “politically motivated and meritless.”)

CREW also had raised concerns over Ivanka Trump’s business receiving “registration” approval for trademarks from the Chinese government in 2018 around the time that her father lifted sanctions on Chinese telecommunications company ZTE — whose controlling shareholder is a Chinese state-owned corporation.

None of this is news to most of you, I bet. All of this and more was reported in most major newspapers at the time. But it wasn’t endlessly harped on by bobbleheads on television news, so most Americans probably never heard about it. Well, they need to hear about it now. You want whataboutism, television news media? How about for every minute covering Hunter Biden investigations you give equal time to what Trump and Kushner did. I’m still not seeing anywhere close to equal time, mostly because the Democrats aren’t pushing the Kushner-Trump-MBS story as much as the Republicans are pushing the Hunter Biden story. But from now on James Comer shouldn’t be allowed to so much as walk his dog without reporters asking him when he’s going to hold hearings on the Trumps.

Old and New News on Trump Investigations

Three sections of the Fulton County Special Grand Jury’s final report will be released to the public on Thursday, per an order from a Fulton County district judge. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers are saying they really truly have looked everywhere and have turned over all the classified documents now. This time they really did. Cross their hearts and hope to die.

One of the last bits the Trump lawyers turned over was an empty folder marked “classified evening summary.” The lawyers were a bit miffed that the authorities even wanted the folder, which was empty. Trump was using it as a lampshade.

“He has one of those landline telephones next to his bed, and it has a blue light on it, and it keeps him up at night. So he took the manilla folder and put it over so it would keep the light down so he could sleep at night,” Parlatore [one of the lawyers] said. “It’s just this folder. It says ‘Classified Evening Summary’ on it. It’s not a classification marking. It’s not anything that is controlled in any way. There is nothing illegal about it.”

I’m not sure I’d take the word of a Trump lawyer about what is illegal and what isn’t.

Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Alan Feuer have a long article at the New York Times headlined Jack Smith, Special Counsel for Trump Inquiries, Steps Up the Pace. (No paywall.)

Did former President Donald J. Trump consume detailed information about foreign countries while in office? How extensively did he seek information about whether voting machines had been tampered with? Did he indicate he knew he was leaving when his term ended?

Those are among the questions that Justice Department investigators have been directing at witnesses as the special counsel, Jack Smith, takes control of the federal investigations into Mr. Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss and his handling of classified documents found in his possession after he left office.

I liked this part.

In addition to the documents and Jan. 6 investigations, Mr. Smith appears to be pursuing an offshoot of the Jan. 6 case, examining Save America, a pro-Trump political action committee, through which Mr. Trump raised millions of dollars with his false claims of election fraud. That investigation includes looking into how and why the committee’s vendors were paid. …

… A vast array of Trump vendors have been subpoenaed. Investigators have been posing questions related to how money was paid to other vendors, indicating that they are interested in whether some entities were used to mask who was being paid or if the payments were for genuine services rendered.

Of course Trump misused donations to his PAC, just as he misused donations to his old charity, and we still don’t know where the inauguration money went.

The intensified pace of activity speaks to his goal of finishing up before the 2024 campaign gets going in earnest, probably by summer. At the same time, the sheer scale and complexity and the topics he is focused on — and the potential for the legal process to drag on, for example in a likely battle over whether any testimony by Mr. Pence would be subject to executive privilege — suggest that coming to firm conclusions within a matter of months could be a stretch.

I’ve gotten to the point that I just want to live long enough to see Trump in jail. Sometimes it seems we’ll both die of old age first.

Next item: The balloons. Am I the only one not concerned about the balloons? The balloons are mildly interesting. They are not hair-on-fire worrisome. This was a scary balloon:

The recent balloons just aren’t that frightening. For all we know the smaller balloons shot down over the weekend were somebody’s hobby.

I’ve been writing nerdy history articles at another site called Patheos. Some of y’all might get a kick out of this one, on the British invasion of Tibet. I bet you didn’t know the British ever invaded Tibet. It’s not something Britain celebrates, I’ve noticed, even though they sorta kinda won. I even found an illustration, from a French magazine —

Today’s News Bits: Things Seen and Not Seen

There’s a report at Rolling Stone that Twitter had an entire database of Republican requests to censor posts. I don’t know if this fact came out during last week’s House Oversight Committee hearing dedicated to expressing outrage because Twitter took down Hunter Biden’s dick pics, but it’s out now.

These are important hearings because, as everybody knows, if more people had only gotten a better look at Hunter Biden’s junk, Trump would have won the election. Which he says he did win anyway, but it was stolen from him. Whatever.

The testimony at the hearings showed that requests to delete offensive tweets routinely came from people of both parties, a fact that shouldn’t surprise reasonable people.

The obvious irony here is, the sources note, that Republican leaders and elected officials have long been committing precisely the kind of “government interference” that they are now investigating, fundraising off of, and accusing Democrats and the so-called anti-Trump “Deep State” of perpetrating. Some of the loudest conservative and MAGA voices on Capitol Hill — who’ve been endlessly demanding taxpayer-funded, high-profile investigations into Big Tech “bias” and “collusion” — were themselves engaged in the behavior they now claim is colluding.

One wonders if this committee will hold any more hearings on how Big Tech and the Democratic Party are trying to “censor” them. They probably will.

And then, of course — one more time — we find that the wingnuts don’t grasp what
censorship is or what “free speech” is protected. Rep. Jamie Raskin explained to the committee that a private company, which Twitter is, can curate its own content any way it likes. The First Amendment prohibition on censorship only applies to government.

James O’Keefe is on “paid leave” from Project Veritas and may be ousted from the company he founded by its board. It turns out he’s an asshole who doesn’t work well with others. Imagine.

This one’s fun — the Trump campaign paid researchers to prove 2020 fraud but kept findings secret. (No paywall.) 

The campaign paid researchers from Berkeley Research Group, the people said, to study 2020 election results in six states, looking for fraud and irregularities to highlight in public and in the courts. Among the areas examined werevoter machine malfunctions, instances of dead people voting and any evidence that could help Trump show he won, the people said. None of the findings were presented to the public or in court.

Because the researchers found that nothing had happened that would have changed the results. But you knew that.

Note that this study was completed before January 6. It’s more evidence that Trump knew, or should reasonable have known, that his stolen election claims were false.

Senior officials from Berkeley Research Group briefed Trump, former chief of staff Mark Meadows and others on the findings in aDecember 2020conference call, people familiar with the matter said. Meadows showed skepticism of the findings and continued to maintain that Trump won. Trump also continued to say he won the election. The call grew contentious, people with knowledge of the meeting said.

Some people can’t handle the truth.

Do read this Greg Sargent column, This Gen Z Democrat is deftly skewering right-wing fantasies. It’s about Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), the first Gen Z member of Congress. Rep. Maxwell seems very good at doing obvious things that Democrats have somehow managed not to do in the past. For example:

Yes, Dems, Is that so hard?

A SOTU to Remember

Was that some State of the Union, or what? About halfway through I was sorry I didn’t live blog it. The thing turned into an actual event.

I want to start with a couple of peripheral things. The first peripheral thing is Kyrsten Sinema’s dress.

I assume she has enough money to purchase clothes that (a) are appropriate for the occasion and (b) fit. This is neither. Although maybe she enjoys rummaging around in thrift shops for 1980s-era bridesmaid dresses, which is what this thing looks like. I wouldn’t comment except that how people dress for any sort of official or formal occasion can reflect how those people perceive themselves. This is screaming “I need an intervention!” Loudly. It also tells us that she is blissfully lacking in self-awareness. And if she had any close women friends they would have told her not to wear it.

Yes, she wanted us to notice her. She wanted us to see that she was sitting with Republicans. Fine. And next year will be your last SOTU, lady.

The other peripheral thing was The Lecture. I understand that George Who Calls Himself Santos showed up way early and grabbed an aisle seat so that he would be near the big shots when they walked in and get in a lot of photos. And then Mitt Romney put him in his place.

Mr. Romney admonished Mr. Santos for positioning himself in a prime camera-ready spot in the chamber, saying he didn’t belong there, and had no shame.

“I didn’t expect that he’d be standing there trying to shake hands with every senator and the president of the United States,” Mr. Romney said afterward to reporters who asked about the incident, which was captured on camera and erupted on social media.

He added: “Given the fact that he’s under ethics investigation, he should be sitting in the back row and staying quiet instead of parading in front of the president and people coming into the room.”

Mitt was right. Unfortunately Mitt somehow ended up sitting next to Big Bird Sinema during the speech.

Now for the important stuff. I have no criticisms of the speech. The President clearly was enjoying himself. He’s got to feel good about it today. Here IMO was the most memorable part:

MTG, who also had some fashion issues, made a bigger ass of herself than Kyrsten Sinema. But hell yes Republicans want to kill Social Security and Medicare. Maybe not all of them, but a substantial percertage of them do. That was something I wrote about a few days ago. You might remember the headline —

And see Republicans, Eyeing Majority, Float Changes to Social Security and Medicare from the New York Times, November 2022 (no paywall).

Some of them want to kill Social Security and Medicare so badly that they seem determined to utterly destroy the U.S. economy so that there won’t be any choice but to cut Social Security and Medicare.  Yes, they’ve talked recently about sunsetting; them. Yes, they’ve talked recently about raising the age for claiming benefits. No one is imagining this. There has been credible reporting on this, in some newspapers at least.

Just two days ago, Business Insider reported that Some GOP lawmakers aren’t quite ready to take Medicare and Social Security out of the debt limit battle — even after Kevin McCarthy said the matter is ‘off the table’. Just last week former Veep Mike Pence was making noises about privatizing Social Security. That’s another zombie idea that won’t die. In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik writes,

Former Vice President Mike Pence dipped his toes into the presidential campaign waters Feb. 2 with a proposal that would mean the death of Social Security.  …

…That’s when Pence unearthed the old Republican idea of privatizing Social Security wholly or partially….

… Pence didn’t say outright that he advocates killing Social Security. Instead, he took the course I reported on just last week. That’s the Republican and conservative habit of employing plausible-sounding jargon and economists’ gibberish to conceal their intention to hobble the program.

But make no mistake: Diverting any significant portion of Social Security taxes into private accounts would make the program unworkable, funnel untold wealth into the hands of Wall Street promoters and leave millions of families destitute.

Josh Marshall writes Press Is Way Behind on Social Security FlimFlam (no paywall).

The prime movers in the House spent most of last year pushing for major cuts to Social Security that would be at the top of their agenda if they reclaimed the Congress. McCarthy and others tried to rein them in a bit or rather get them to be quieter. But not much.

For most political reporters, this is like it used to be with “voter fraud.” My colleague David made the proper analogy in an editorial conversation this morning. It used to be that lots of reporters thought, “It turns out Republicans are pretty exercised about voter fraud and they seem to think there’s a lot of it. So, well, glad they’re on the case!” Over the last decade they’ve rightly taken a far more jaundiced view of this kind of malicious and deceptive GOP politicking. But when it comes to Social Security, Medicare and other social insurance programs they’re still basically there.

Maybe the press is cautious about reporting this stuff because to a sensible person making changes that would in anyway reduce Social Security payments or Medicare coverage is just unthinkable. But Republicans are not sensible people.

I couldn’t bring myself to watch Sarah Sanders’ rebuttal speech, which I understand was weird. I just want to respond to this quote from her talk:

Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols…all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is—your Freedom of speech.”

First, I well remember the culture war was declared by Pat Buchanan in 1992. And it’s been Republicans who have perpetrated the thing all these years. Of course, that doesn’t mean we hadn’t been at war before 1992. But the terms of the war shift. It went from desegregation to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Affirmative Action through our failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and eventually to same sex marriage rights. And the Right has, basically, been fighting in a long retreat except for abortion rights, where they’ve taken back some territory.

I don’t doubt it’s hard for them to not be able to enforce their bigotries and biases, as they could in the old days. But expecting the rest of humanity to cater to their bigotries and biases is unreasonable. As somebody said, if you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t get gay married. And considering yesterday’s post about banning books in Florida public schools, accusing the left of stripping away freedom of speech is just demented.

Anyway, back to Kyrsten Sinema’s yellow dress. I’m reading she wore matching yellow booties with it. Mercifully, the booties are not in any photos I’ve seen. It’s been reported she resells some of her used clothes and shoes on Facebook Marketplace, so expect the Big Bird dress to show up there soon.

DeSantis Protects School Children from Cow Lit

I was struck by the juxtaposition of these two blurbs from the New Yorker website. There’s Ron DeSantis, merrily banning books and destroying academic freedom to save Floridians from being “woke.” And there’s Salman Rushdie, persecuted for years because of something he wrote.

Pen America, a nonprofit founded in 1922 to promote free expression in literature, has a list of books that have been removed from Duval County, Florida, schools. Some of these are baffling. Like Cow on the Town: Practicing the Ow Sound. The publisher says it tells a funny story about a cow in a big city that children can read while “reinforcing basic phonemic sounds.” Oh, yeah, that sounds subversive.

A lot of them seem to be about not-white people. These include Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story; The Gift of Ramadan (well, we know why that one’s out); Grandfather Tang’s Story; Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heroes in the Old West; Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Journey. Etc. etc. I know the author of The Rough-Face Girl, Rafe Martin. He’s a Zen teacher who tells stories. I understand this is an Algonquin story that’s sorta kinda like Cinderella.

They banned The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question? I understand that in this book Mama and Papa explain the concept of God to Stan and Jan. Maybe it wasn’t Jesus-y enough for some people.

From Jacksonville Today:

Dozens of books the Duval County school district ordered in the summer of 2021 will never hit classroom shelves. That’s the result of an ongoing review after the district pulled almost 200 books this spring while the Florida Legislature passed limits on what teachers can say about race, gender and sexual orientation in classrooms and set new rules for purchasing classroom materials. 

After a 10-month process – delayed by staffing shortages, according to the district – 47 titles are being returned to the distributor. Twenty-six others will remain in storage, awaiting further state guidance. 

Among the rejected titles are a book about Martin Luther King Jr. intended for fourth graders; a biography of Rosa Parks for second grade classrooms; a first grade Berenstain Bears book about God; and multiple titles including LGBTQ+ characters and families. District staffers are sending the rejected books back to the distributor, Perfection Learning, for exchange. 

I still want to know why they nixed Cow on the Town.

The New Yorker story about the book bans begins this way:

In late January, at Greenland Pines Elementary, kids attended a party for an annual event called Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! There was an escape room and food trucks. Brian Covey, an entrepreneur in his late thirties, came to pick up his daughter, who’s in second grade, and his son, who’s in fifth. His kids looked confused. “Did you hear what happened at school today?” his daughter asked. “They took all the books out of the classrooms.” Covey asked which books. “All the books,” she said. Covey’s son had been reading “Measuring Up,” a coming-of-age story about an immigrant to the United States from Taiwan. Students who read from a list of pre-selected books, including this one, were rewarded with an ice-cream party. “They even took that book,” Covey said.

Covey went into the school classrooms to see what his children were talking about and found bookshelves papered over to hide the books. (He also went to another local school and later uploaded a video to Twitter showing that its shelves were bare.) “This has never been an issue before,” Covey told me, noting that he’d grown up in the same public-school system, in Duval County, which includes Jacksonville. “But I read books about the consequences of this kind of thing when I was in school.” He was thinking of “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984,” he said. His kids, he added, seemed confused about what would make a book inappropriate for school. “The only way I could get them to understand was to ask what happens if a book in the library or classroom had the F-word in it a bunch of times,” he told me. “My son said, ‘We’d bring it to the teacher or the librarian.’ ” Covey couldn’t think of any books at their library that he would keep from them. (Communications officials for the public schools in Duval County insisted that some approved books remained available to students, including those on the list that Covey’s son was reading from.)

The article also links to a group in Manatee County, Florida, that’s pushing for more book bans. You really have to see this. Someone should give them a copy of Mrs. Guernsey Explains Apostrophes.

Shoot It Down, Burn It Down

Now that the famous Chinese spy balloon is no more, whatever will we talk about?

“A senior defense official has said there have been four previous known Chinese balloon incursions over the continental United States: one early in the Biden administration and three during the Trump administration,” it says here.

I do want to talk more about the debt ceiling. WaPo has an article that lists seven proposals for budget cuts that the Republicans are considering. It’s a bit wordy, but to sum:

One. Big cuts to discretionary spending, “which includes funding for the Defense Department and other federal agencies.”

These cuts would hit politically popular programs such as spending on energy assistance for low-income Americans; K-12 education; Pell Grants for college students; the National Institutes of Health; NASA; and others. There are other, potentially less dramatic options, such as freezing future increases in non-Pentagon spending or just cutting spending by less, Riedl said. Another idea being batted around is to demand $3 of spending cuts for every $1 increase in the debt ceiling, although that still leaves the all-important question of what to cut.

Two. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In recent days a lot of Congress Critters have backed away from this, but they haven’t given up on it entirely.

Three. Undo the IRS Increase. A lot of them want to reverse last year’s $80 billion funding increase for the Internal Revenue Service. This would actually increase the debt considerably, but they’re too stupid to understand that. Or they understand it and want to do it anyway.

Four. Claw Back Covid Aid. There isn’t enough of it yet unspent to make that much difference.

Five. Various Anti-Immigrant Proposals. Some of them want to hold the debt ceiling hostage until there is a commitment to finish Trump’s moronic border wall. Some of them want to block all undocumented immigrants at the borders, including asylum seekers.

Six. Work Requirements to Receive Aid. Or, let’s force the destitute into indentured servitude or, even better, sharecropping. Some guy from the Manhattan Institute points out that as much fun as this proposal is, a lot of states have already done it.  “There aren’t that many places to go with work requirements that we have not gone already,” he said.

Seven. Let It Burn. Some of them want to push past the debt ceiling last days, figuring the economic chaos would give them even more leverage to cut spending they don’t like. Some of them are still talking about a “prioritization plan” would specify what payments Treasury should prioritize over other payments. That would still screw with the nation’s credit score and drive up the cost of borrowing.

In brief, they don’t have a real plan at all. They just have fantasies.


The Right’s Bizzaro Definition of Freedom

I’m finding The Bulwark interesting, even though it’s written by a lot of reformed wingnuts. See, for example, How Rod Dreher Caused an International Scandal in Eastern Europe by Balázs Gulyás. Rod Dreher is a long-time writer for The American Conservative who “has played a key role in encouraging other members of the American conservative movement to engage with Hungary and to look toward Orbán’s political strategy and governance as a model,” it says here.

“In 2022, speaking to Andrew Marantz of The New Yorker he said, ‘Seeing what [J.D.] Vance is saying, and what Ron DeSantis is actually doing in Florida, the concept of American Orbánism starts to make sense. I don’t want to overstate what they’ll be able to accomplish, given the constitutional impediments and all, but DeSantis is already using the power of the state to push back against woke capitalism, against the crazy gender stuff.'” I like the part about “constitutional impediments.”

Anyway, back to The Bulwark.

Dreher’s stay in Hungary is apparently financed, at least in part, by the Hungarian taxpayers. Last year, he was a visiting professor at Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), an institution engaged in training future government cadres that operates from public funds provided by the government of Viktor Orbán. The Hungarian edition of Dreher’s most recent book, Live Not by Lies, was published by the MCC Press. And this year, Dreher is a visiting research fellow at the Danube Institute, a conservative think tank founded by the Hungarian government.

These days Dreher has been attracting attention as something of an apologist for Prime Minister Orbán, who, Dreher claimed in a tweet last Thursday, has made Hungary “more free than many western liberal democracies that have surrendered to the dictatorship of woke.”

But later that same day, something else Dreher wrote caused a whole lot of trouble for his hosts in Hungary.

Last Thursday evening, Orbán invited the friendly foreign press to his office on the Castle Hill, perched high above the Hungarian capital. In keeping with what has become the accustomed practice in the Orbán era, the prime minister chose to share his ruminations about the current state of the world exclusively with reporters who would never dare to criticize him, but only nod with enthusiastic agreement instead. (This happy group included, in addition to Dreher, Sohrab Ahmari, Gladden Pappin, Roland Tichy, Boris Kálnoky, Ralf Schuler, Javier Villamor, and Jorge González-Gallarza Hdez.)

Dreher returned home to his apartment Thursday night and wrote down what he heard, publishing it in his American Conservative blog. Since Rod Dreher grew up in the United States, he didn’t know that in an autocratic country like Orbán’s Hungary, friendly agents in the media (I’m intentionally eschewing the word “journalist”) are not allowed to write down and publish exactly what they heard if it goes against the interests of their politicians/employers. (Such a blunder could never happen in a Hungarian paper controlled directly by Orbán. Even if a Hungarian equivalent to Dreher wrote an article that would be damaging for the Orbán government, editors working for the party-state would never let it see the light of day.)

Apparently Orbán made some off-the-cuff remarks that the Hungarian journalists understood were not for publication, but Dreher didn’t understand the rules. He assumed he enjoyed the same freedom of the press as in the oppressively woke United States. He was wrong.  For example,

Dreher quoted Orbán’s words: “We are in a war with Russia. That’s the reality. . . . Every day we are moving further in.”

Someone asked the prime minister if he wanted Hungary to stay in the EU. “Definitely not!” he said, adding that Hungary has no choice, because 85 percent of its exports are within the EU.

With respect to Ukraine, Dreher quoted Orbán as saying that “It’s Afghanistan now,” “the land of nobody” …

And so on. These remarks created an uproar within and without Hungary. Agents of the Hungarian government must have gotten to ol’ “Freedom First” Ron, because he quickly revised his published article.

So Rod, employing a solution not uncommon in autocratic countries, rewrote the article to change its meaning. The original headline: “Viktor Orban: ‘We Are In A War With Russia’” was changed to “Viktor Orban: West Is ‘In A War With Russia,’” and Orbán’s lines about wanting to take Hungary out of the EU were replaced by the exact opposite. …

… Then, after changing the blog post, Dreher and the Hungarian government started brandishing the new version about, shamelessly claiming that “the Left media in Hungary distort what the PM actually said.” Because, of course, the “Left media in Hungary” is also following and quoting Dreher. (By the way, “Left media” as Orbán uses that term, refers to what remains of the independent media in Hungary. Dreher has learned this usage quite quickly.) 

And will this episode cause anyone on the Right to reflect on the deeper meaning of “freedom”? Of course not.

To most of us, the word freedom connotes stuff like the absence of coercion or restraint by a government or others in our choices of action. This includes freedom from government goons demanding one rewrites a published news story. But that’s not what “freedom” means to a wingnut. I wrote back in 2012 that “Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a ‘liberty or death’ T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.”

If you look deeper, though, you see that the iconic imagery and language of the American Revolution represents something profoundly reactionary to today’s conservatives. These icons speak to the mythic origins of American national identity, developed in 19th century textbooks and handed down in popular fiction and Disney movies. That the myths bear only superficial resemblance to what actually happened doesn’t register with them.

American mythos congeals into a kind of tribal identity in the rightie mind. It is this tribal identity that prevents them from seeing anyone who doesn’t look and think like them as “real Americans.” The protection and preservation of the tribe is the beating heart of today’s American right.

To a wingnut, “freedom” doesn’t mean “slavery,” exactly. But it does represent a kind of unquestioning allegiance to the 21st-century version of feudal lords — the Koch Brothers, Christian institutions, corporations and the wealthy generally. These are their tribal elders, after all.

The reactionary Right has not only claimed exclusive rights to patriotic icons like the flag and tri-corner hats; they also have adopted the language of the Left about rights. But “rights” to a rightie are not about standard civil liberties, but about their childish desires to deny equal rights to “others” who are different from them. So they call for the “right” to discriminate as they see fit.

So we shouldn’t have been surprised — and I doubt many of us were — by January 6 insurrectionists trying to overthrow the Constitution and representative government while hollering “1776!” See also When Freedom Is Dictatorship from 2011.

So what does wingnut “freedom” look like in action? Today Gym Jordan’s House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray compelling him to “turn over documents and communications related to the FBI’s ‘misuse of federal criminal and counterterrorism resources’ to target parents at school board meetings.”

Y’all might remember this nonsense from 2022, I think. Seems like a long time ago now.

In Gym Jordan world, the people in the video above are just concerned parents exercising their constitutional rights, and asking the FBI to look into violent threats against school board officials is “weaponizing government.” The hypocrisy is strong with these people. This is from a May 2022 Politifact column.

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears recently said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland “sicced police” on parents who spoke out at school board meetings.

Her statement came at the start of a May 12 television interview on “Fox & Friends.” Earle-Sears, a Republican, was asked why Virginia was “tolerating” protests outside the Fairfax County homes of three U.S. Supreme Court justices who endorsed a draft ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We’re not tolerating it,” she replied. “In fact, our governor has had the state police outside of their homes this whole time since the very first time it started.

“What we need now is for Merrick Garland to go ahead and do his job,” she continued. “You saw that he sicced the police on parents when they were at the school boards simply trying to be heard for the safety of their children.”

Earle-Sears said Garland should be enforcing a federal law that bars protests near a judge’s residence that are aimed at influencing the “discharge of his duty.” She accused Garland of “selectively enforcing the laws” and offered his actions on demonstrations at school board meetings as an example.

So, according to this, people protesting peacefully outside the homes of Supreme Court justices for ending Roe v. Wade should be arrested, but physical threats against local school officials must be allowed because freedom? The FBI got involved with the school board threats because Merrick Garland “directed the FBI to meet with local governments and law enforcement to discuss strategies for dealing with increasing threats to teachers and school board members spurred by a conservative backlash against discussions of race in public schools,” it says here. The feds didn’t personally show up at school board meetings to arrest parents. But this is the kind of nonsense Gym Jordan plans to go on about.

In Gym Jordan’s America, only people who think and look like him get to be “free.”

Why Congress Critters Shouldn’t Be Armed

And we’re off to a not-great start

The House Natural Resources Committee’s first meeting of the year turned heated Wednesday when a Democratic member offered an amendment that would prohibit lawmakers from carrying guns in the panel’s hearing room.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said he was proposing the “sadly necessary” amendment because it’s a “major issue of safety for members of our committee.”

He noted that the Republican-controlled Rules Committee removed a provision that had been put in place by Democrats for the previous two-year period prohibiting firearms in hearing rooms and committees. One of the first acts of the new GOP majority was to remove the magnetometers that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had installed outside the House chamber after the Jan. 6 riot.

“To be clear, members and their staff are already prohibited by law from carrying guns into the hearing rooms and conference rooms of this Capitol. Currently, under statute and Capitol Police Board regulation, members are supposed to have firearms only in their offices,” Huffman said.

“This does not allow for carrying firearms into hearing rooms and doesn’t allow for walking around the Capitol with a loaded weapon. But we know some members think these rules do not apply to them,” he added.

So you’ll never guess … oh, okay, you probably have already guessed how Republicans on the committee responded that Huffman’s proposal.

Yeah, keep it classy, Boebert. Why is it the people who always insist they have to have guns are the last people on the planet you’d trust with guns? Anyway, after her juvenile little demonstration Boebert went on to complain that she hadn’t been armed on January 6.

Boebert went on to say that said she followed House rules on the day of the Capitol attack, and didn’t have her gun on her when protesters were trying to force their way into the building.

“It was the first time in many many years that I have been unprotected. I was disarmed, not unarmed, disarmed, because I was not allowed to possess my firearm,” said Boebert, who was first elected to Congress in 2020.

Then this exchange happened.

“With threats against members of Congress at an all time high, now is not the time to be stripping members of our constitutional right to defend ourselves,” the Colorado Republican said, before recounting several incidents of violence in the Capitol and against lawmakers over the years. …

… Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat who recently launched a Senate bid, noted Wednesday that Boebert’s list of incidents against lawmakers omitted the Jan. 6 riot.

“Yes, it was awful when Ashli Babbitt was murdered,” Boebert snapped back, referring to a rioter who was shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to get through a door leading to where members of Congress were being evacuated.

Okay, let’s deconstruct this. If I didn’t know better, I might assume that Boebert was saying she wished she’d had a gun on January 6 so she could have shot Ashli Babbitt herself. But we know that’s not what she meant. What she was arguing is that she should have had a gun to protect herself against the thugs breaking into the building, but at the same time she thinks it was wrong to shoot them.

So, lady, where’s YOUR tin foil hat?

In other GOP News: The Republicans are telling each other to double down on the stuff that voters don’t like about them. Christina Cauterucci writes at Slate,

In the wake of a disappointing midterm election cycle for the GOP, which analysts and exit polls attributed in large part to widespread public dissatisfaction with the party’s efforts to criminalize abortion, the Republican National Committee is urging party members to … er, redouble their efforts to criminalize abortion.

A resolution passed on Friday at the winter meeting of the RNC exhorts GOP lawmakers to “pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible”—essentially, to double down on one of the least popular parts of the party’s platform. The document suggests that six-week abortion bans, such as the one that took effect in Georgia after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, are one example of the types of laws Republican legislators should pursue, but it implies something much stricter: The “strongest possible” anti-abortion legislation would be a total abortion ban. The resolution also makes an oblique comparison between abortion and human enslavement, noting that the party’s original 1856 platform “rejected ‘the twin relics of barbarism,’ polygamy and slavery.”

Abortion, the document states, is one of “the new relics of barbarism the Democratic Party represents.”

The resolution goes on to criticize Republicans who, in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, strove to attract moderate voters by keeping quiet on the topic of abortion or walking back their extreme stances. In the parlance of the document, these candidates “failed to remind Americans of our proud heritage of challenging … the forces eroding the family and the sanctity of human life.”

An internal RNC report also encourages doubling down on election denialism.

Also today, Kevin McCarthy and President Biden met today to discuss the debt ceiling, among other things. I haven’t hear anything about that, yet.