The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

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.

Today’s News Bits

First, please head to the Philadelphia Inquirer and read Will Bunch’s column, The NYT should tell readers whether it helped crooked FBI agents get Trump elected in 2016.

This week’s stunning corruption charges against a top FBI spymaster who assumed a key role in the bureau’s New York office just weeks before 2016?s “October surprise” — an agent who by 2018 was known to be working for a Vladimir Putin-tied Russian oligarch — should cause America to rethink everything we think we know about the Trump-Russia scandal and how it really happened that Trump won that election.

The government allegations against the former G-man Charles McGonigal (also accused of taking a large foreign payment while still on the FBI payroll) and the outsized American influence of the sanctioned-and-later-indicted Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska — also tied to U.S. pols from Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell — should make us also look again at what was really up with the FBI in 2016.

How coordinated was the effort in that New York field office to pump up the ultimate nothingburger about Clinton’s emails while poo-pooing the very real evidence of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, and who were the agents behind it? What was the role, if any, of McGonigal and his international web of intrigue? Was the now-tainted McGonigal a source who told the New York Times that fateful October that Russia was not trying to help Trump win the election — before the U.S. intelligence community determined the exact opposite? If not McGonigal, just who was intentionally misleading America’s most influential news org, and why?

It’s not exactly behind a paywall, but the Inquirer may make you jump through some registration hoops first. It’s worth it.

See also Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money at Insider and So Many Dangling Threads at TPM.

George Who Goes by Santos But Who The Hell Knows What His Name Is is stepping down from his committee assignments until the issues surrounding his election are “resolved.”

Also see Paul Waldman, The GOP presidential contenders don’t want to have a beer with you. This is more serious than it sounds.  “It has to do with something called the Dark Triad, a concept described by psychologists, which is made up of narcissism (an exaggerated self-importance), Machiavellianism (the willingness to deceive and manipulate) and psychopathy (a callousness toward others),” Waldman writes. A lot of top Republican contenders exhibit these traits. Politicians with these traits attract some voters and repel others.

This is juicy — Another SCOTUS scandal: Chief justice’s spouse makes millions placing attorneys at top law firms that argue before the court.

The New York Times reports that “a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.”

Yes, it stinks out loud. What can be done about it, though?

What the Videos Told Us: No Surprises

I wrote a post a couple of years ago that says pretty much everything I want to say about the police videos showing the death of Tyre Nichols. This is from Law Enforcement: This Is Not Working:

Videos of the police encounters with Lt. Caron Nazario in Virginia and Daunte Wright in Minnesota have been viral for the past several hours. After watching these, I’d like to suggest that we fire every cop in America and start over.

It’s beyond obvious that what went wrong in these encounters — as well as with George Floyd in Michigan, Maurice Gordon in New Jersey, Sandra Bland in Texas, Elijah McClain in Colorado, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Philando Castile in Minnesota (again), and so many others — is that police officers unnecessarily took what should have been routine, low-tension situations and escalated them into life-and-death struggles.

Of those mentioned above, only Lt. Nazario survived. This is because he was admirably disciplined and kept his head, but it should be police who are disciplined and keep their heads. Instead, in videos more often than not you see shouting and screaming and foaming-at-the-mouth hysteria on the part of the cops. Are they not trained to de-escalate tension rather than ramp it up? Apparently not.

Except, according to several news stories, since 2020 Memphis police have been required to have de-escalation training. Apparently, it didn’t work.

Eugene Robinson writes today,

The fact that the five officers charged in Nichols’s death are themselves African American tragically illustrates a point that the Black Lives Matter movement has been trying to make all along: The race of the perpetrators in these police killings sometimes matters, but the race of the victims always matters. Too many officers of all races and ethnicities, imbued with a culture of us vs. them, do not see a Black man who has a broken taillight or makes an illegal U-turn as a citizen who made a mistake. They see him as a threat to police dominance and control — and therefore as someone who must be subdued, humiliated, cowed, put in his place.

That is what the slogan “no justice, no peace” means to me, and why the issue of unwarranted police violence against African Americans will not go away until the “warrior” culture of police departments — not in the suites, but in the streets — finally is made to change.

The problem, I keep reading, is that police academies use a military-style approach to training —

“There is something about policing itself that makes it very difficult and resistant to reform, that makes things like implicit bias training and de-escalation training something of a dead-end,” said Brendan McQuade, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine who favors police abolition. “The problems are so entrenched. They say a few bad apples rot the barrel. The policing barrel is so rotten it’s mush, it’s totally toxic, it’s fermented … dump it out and start again.”

Police abolition not being practical, in the short term there simply has to be bigger and faster consequences for any cop who is caught using excessive force. And a lot of people are asking why routine traffic stops have to happen at all. Unless the motorist is doing something dangerous, police could issue tickets based on car licenses and put them in the mail. We’ve been talking about this for at least a couple of years.

Speaking of videos — yesterday video of the assault on Paul Pelosi was released also. It’s beyond obvious in this video that Paul Pelosi was in danger, knew he was in danger, but was (sensibly) behaving very calmly and choosing his words carefully to not cause the assailant, David DePape, to lose control and attack him. Which he eventually did anyway. At Vanity Fair, Bess Levin reminds us,

Tucker Carlsonfueled conspiracy theories that Paul Pelosi and his attacker, David DePape, were lovers. Elon Musk, who’d become the owner of Twitter just three days prior, shared a story with his 112 million followers from a website known to traffic in false information, that the man was a prostitute with whom Pelosi had gotten into a dispute. (He later deleted the tweet but not before writing, “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye.”) Donald Trump Jr.retweeted a “Paul Pelosi” Halloween costume made up of simply underwear and hammer, writing: “The internet remains undefeated.” Representative Claudia Tenneycommented “LOL” on a photo of a group of men holding hammers beside a gay pride flag, before deleting the tweet. Charlie Kirk, the conservative YouTube host, said on his podcast he hoped an “amazing patriot” would go bail out DePape, “ask him some questions,” and become a “midterm hero.”

On Thursday, Fox News host Sean Hannity had a guest on his show who speculated that set-to-be-released footage of the attack would “not help the prosecution” and raise “more questions than it answers.”

On Friday, footage of the attack was released. In addition to being deeply difficult to watch—viewers can see the moment when DePape beats the 82-year-old Pelosi with a hammer—it also makes the gang at Fox News and beyond not only look very stupid but like the depraved ghouls they are. Will they see it that way and apologize to the victim and his family? We’re going to go out on a limb and assume the answer starts with an “h” and ends with a “—ell f–king no.” Are you familiar at all with how these people operate? They’re about to double down, if they haven’t already.

Sure enough, here is a headline from the right-wing site Gateway Pundit.

Words cannot describe my opinion of Jim Hoft.

On the plus side, there are reports the Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on taking action against George Whoozits Who Goes by Santos. This is considered a clear sign that the Justice Department is preparing a criminal action against him. I hope so.

Bill Barr, John Durham, and Fun With Fishing

How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner in the New York Times is THE article to read today. The link should take you to it without a paywall. To call this jaw-dropping doesn’t even come close. The whole thing was nothing but a fishing expedition. For example,

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

This sham was literally a weaponization of the Justice Department to protect Trump and damage Trump’s political enemies. There is nothing else you can call it. And I suspect more will trickle out about his over the next several days.

Andrew Prokop at Vox:

Attorney General Bill Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate those government officials who had presumed to look into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

The FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, Barr argued publicly, was born of chasing thin conspiracy theories and relied on phony evidence, and its investigators were either blinded by political bias or acting with blatant political motives.

And then Durham and Barr proceeded to do all those same things. …

Durham is supposed to be writing a final report about what he found. That should be fun.

Dems Go on Offense. Republicans Bay at the Moon.

The nutjob “fair tax that would eliminate the IRS and impose a 30 percent tax on all retail sales has been introduced to the House before. This Wikipedia page says it’s been introduced “regularly” since 2005, but it’s never made it out of committee. This was true even when Republicans had a big majority in the House. Now it’s in committee again, What’s different is that in years past no one talked about it much. Now Democrats are talking about it, a lot.

“Democrats are seizing on a Republican proposal to impose a national sales tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service as a cudgel against the GOP, even though the bill has few fans even among Republican lawmakers,” WaPo says. Even the patriarch of tax nutjobbery, Grover Norquist, is calling the fair tax bill a “gift to Democrats.”

Of course, even if the House passed the thing it would die in the Senate and would never be signed by President Biden. It doubt it has any better chance in the House now than it’s had in the past. The point is that the Dems are going on offense for a change. This is a good thing. More of this, please.

Trump’s Facebook and Twitter suspensions have ended. I don’t know if he’s written anything on those platforms yet. If he does, I question whether it will work for him as it has in the past. Charlie Cooke — yeah, I know, it’s Charlie Cooke — has a takedown of Trump on National Review that’s actually worth reading. You will laugh.

There was a point in time at which Trump’s unusual verbal affect and singular nose for underutilized wedge issues gave him a competitive edge. Now? Now, he’s morphing into one of the three witches from Macbeth. To peruse Trump’s account on Truth Social is to meet a cast of characters about whom nobody who lives beyond the Trump Extended Universe could possibly care one whit. … safely ensconced within his own macrocosm, Trump is busy mainlining Edward Lear. Day in, day out, he rambles about the adventures of Coco Chow and the Old Broken Crow; the dastardly Unselect Committee; the (presumably tasty) Stollen Presidential Election; the travails of that famous law-enforcement agency, the Gestopo; Joe Scarborough’s wife “Mike”; and other unusual characters from Coromandel. “Where the early pumpkins blow / In the middle of the woods / Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò / Who STOLLE THE ELECTION / Don’t you know?” …

… Throughout his public career, Trump has resembled nothing so much as a drunken talk-radio caller from Queens, and, on Truth Social, readers get the treat of watching him at the zenith of his rhetorical powers.

Recently Trump declared himself the winner of a golf tournament at his West Palm Beach golf club, even though he hadn’t played the entire tournament. Not that his head was ever screwed on all the way, but I wonder if he’s getting worse.

Now three good people have announced they are running for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat in 2024. These are Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter. We need them all in Washington. I understand Feinstein has said she won’t decide about 2024 until 2024. She will be 91 years old in 2024. Someone close to her really needs to tell her to retire.

A letter writer to Talking Points Memo asks people not to throw money at the Senate primary candidates in California too soon. That seat will be won by a Democrat, no matter what. Unlike in 2022, Democrats are defending a lot of Senate seats next year. It’s going to be hard for them to keep the Senate. It doesn’t make sense to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the California Senate race when those dollars are needed elsewhere.

Debt ceiling updates. Roll Call reports that the House GOP may be wanting to buy themselves more time on the debt ceiling.

House Republicans are mulling an attempt to buy time for further negotiations on federal spending and deficits by passing one or more short-term suspensions of the statutory debt ceiling this summer, including potentially lining up the deadline with the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. …

… Any such short-term measure would likely be “clean” of any strings attached or specific spending cuts, and be designed as a suspension of the borrowing cap, which had been done repeatedly over the past decade until 2021, rather than a dollar increase in the debt limit. That would presumably make it easier for Republicans to swallow voting for it after pledging to only back a debt limit increase if paired with spending cuts.

However, as Steve Benen wrote yesterday, it’s apparent a lot of House Republicans still don’t understand what the debt ceiling is. Several of them recently have made public statements that linked the debt ceiling to government shutdowns. And, of course, shutdowns are what happens when Congress fails to pass budget legislation with the necessary appropriations. The debt ceiling is something else.

Also yesterday, WaPo reported that House GOP leadership is “embarking on an education campaign to make sure their members understand how the debt limit works, the consequences of failing to raise the ceiling, and the difference between a garden-variety government shutdown and a potential debt default.” Good luck with that, peeps.

Force House GOP to Go on the Record

Big headline at WaPo this mornng —

First, I’m trying to remember an election in my lifetime in which Republicans haven’t pledged to cut spending and balance the budget. I wasn’t sure about Eisenhower, who is the first Republican president I remember, so I looked him up. Yep, he did. And he sorta kinda balanced the budget for a brief time, making him the last Republican president to do so — with the help of a Democratic Congress — more than 60 years ago. So I can’t say that Republicans have never balanced the budget, but they haven’t done it since Eisenhower. Whether they ever managed it before Eisenhower, I don’t know.

We all remember, I’m sure, that the last time the budget was balanced was during the Bill Clinton administration. And George W. Bush absolutely could not stand it. He and the Republicans in Congress would not rest until they had screwed up federal finances by cutting taxes and sending everybody big tax rebates, because obviously if there was a balanced budget that meant the federal government was collecting too much in taxes! And then of course he started the stupid War on Terror, which transferred endless amounts of taxpayer dollars to the military-industrial complex and who knows where. Dubya, having been handed a balanced budget, left us with a $3.293 trillion budget deficit, it says here. Brilliant.

So Republicans need to forgive me if I don’t take their pledges to cut spending and balance the budget seriously. Of course, they do want to cut spending, especially benefits essential to ordinary people, but they aren’t going to balance any budgets without raising taxes and sending a beefed up IRS to collect it from those who hoard most of the money.

From the article in the screen grab:

Only weeks after taking control of the chamber, GOP lawmakers under new Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have rallied around firm pledges for austerity, insisting their efforts can improve the nation’s fiscal health. They have signaled they are willing to leverage the fight over the debt ceiling — and the threat of a fiscal doomsday — to seek major policy concessions from the Biden administration.

So far, the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars. But some Republicans also have pitched a deeper examination of entitlements, which account for much of the government’s annual spending — and reflect some of the greatest looming fiscal challenges facing the United States.

In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade. Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits.

Yes, the old “we have to cut benefits now so we don’t have to cut them later” dodge.

House Republicans want to hold the debt ceiling hostage so that Democrats will bend to their demands to cut spending and balance the budget, but they can’t decide what those demands are. They can’t come up with a plan for cutting spending and balancing the budget, even as they stamp their feet and insist the debt ceiling not be raised, because reasons.

Catherine Rempell, not a great columnist, but she’s right here:

And even if Democrats wanted to pay a ransom for this hostage, it’s unclear that there’s any ransom Republicans would accept.

Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut “wastefulspending” … but can’t agree on what counts as “waste.”

This is similar to their pre-midterm promises to end inflation, even though none of them ever presented a plan for ending inflation. Have any of them said anything about inflation lately?

If I were in Congress, or the White House, I would very loudly demand that the Republicans come up with an agreed-upon, concrete plan for spending cuts and budget balancing that the Congressional Budget Office agrees will work, before there can be any negotiations. This plan will have to be specific; fantasy numbers about “waste and fraud” won’t be acceptable. I think it’s safe to assume they won’t be able to do it. In particular they won’t be able to do it without going on record that they plan to cut things that the American people don’t want cut.

Debt Ceiling Blues

The public debt in the 14th Amendment, section 4:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Not that the House nutjobs care, but that seems to be saying that not raising the debt ceiling to allow payment of public debt is unconstitutional. Further, there are other laws that don’t give the executive branch much wiggle room about paying for stuff. Josh Marshall explains,

If the Treasury cannot borrow money to finance legally mandated government functions, the President is faced with a menu of options each of which violate the law and the federal constitution. If Congress says X must be spent on Social Security and Y must be spent on defense, the President can’t simply decide not to do so. It’s the law and the President’s primary constitutional responsibility is to see that the laws be faithfully executed.

The nation’s op ed writers have mixed opinions about what to do. I’d already linked to this Paul Krugman column (no paywall):

A debt crisis, then, would be bad and possibly catastrophic. So should Democrats give in to Republican demands?

No. A party that barely controls one house of Congress shouldn’t get to impose deeply unpopular policies on the nation as a whole.

It’s important, Krugman thinks, to not save Republicans from themselves. If they drive the economy off a cliff, maybe we should let them.

Jeffrey Frankel writes at the Los Angeles Times,

Unfortunately, letting Republicans drive the U.S. economy off a cliff may be President Biden’s best option right now. The U.S. still has at least five months to jump out of the car. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said last week that she will pursue a set of “extraordinary measures” (all of which have become rather ordinary in recent decades) to postpone America’s day of reckoning until early June.  …

Ultimately, Republicans would have to back down. Because the GOP’s rebels have become even more intransigent over the last decade, the standoff will probably go down to the wire, and the government may be forced to shirk some obligations for a few days, or even weeks.

By then, perhaps crashing securities markets, outraged beneficiaries and shifting voter attitudes would finally persuade enough holdouts to raise the debt ceiling. In the meantime, we have no choice but to let this game of chicken play out.

Frankel proposes this option:

Biden could invoke the 14th Amendment and single-handedly raise the debt limit — as former President Clinton suggested during the debt-ceiling standoff of 2011. Adopted in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and ratified in 1868, the amendment states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

This would have huge political risks, and who knows if the nutjob Supreme Court would uphold it?

Jamelle Bouie, the New York Times makes the same suggestion, noting that President Biden has vowed to not negotiate.

This is the right approach — there were, after all, no negotiations over the debt limit when Donald Trump was president — but Biden could and should go further than rejecting Republican brinkmanship; he should reject the debt limit itself as an unconstitutional use of congressional power.

Basically, not raising the debt ceiling isn’t just a matter of economic catastrophe. It also creates a constitutional crisis because not honoring the debt is unconstitutional and the President under law has to spend the money Congress has appropriated.

The Democrats appear to be united against negotiation with the exception of Joe Manchin, who is flapping around wanting to be all bipartisan and shit. If Princess Kyrsten has said anything about the debt ceiling I haven’t heard it. The Washington Post is reporting that White House people want to force the House Republicans to abandon their hostage taking.

The GOP’s stance has forced White House officials to grapple in recent weeks with what their options would be if the Treasury Department can no longer meet the federal government’s payment obligations, according to five people with knowledge of preliminary internal conversations.

Those discussions have led administration officials to conclude, at least for now, that the only viable path is to press Republicans to abandon their demands to extract policy concessions over the debt limit — a position they have publicly reaffirmed in recent weeks. The Biden administration is focused on pressing the GOP to unveil a debt limit plan that includes spending cuts, with the hope that such a proposal will prove so divisive among Republicans that they are forced to abandon brinkmanship. This strategy stems in part from the belief among White House officials that it would be enormously risky either to negotiate policy with the GOP on the debt limit or try to solve it via executive order — and they appear willing to put that premise to the test.

President Biden says he and Kevin McCarthy are “going to have a little discussion” on the debt ceiling. Should be fun. I assume the President will tell the Speaker that whatever damage he does to the economy will be hung around his neck.

Today’s News Bits: Republican Machinations

First, let’s take a moment to remember David Crosby.

Sigh. Okay, on to the news …

Yesterday U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks slapped Trump and his lawyer with nearly $1 million in court-imposed sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Trump sued a bunch of people (see chart) claiming they all conspired to smear him with the false narrative that his 2016 presidential campaign was colluding with Russia. Which I still say wasn’t false.

Trump and and his lawyer are jointly and severally liable for the total amount of sanctions the judge imposed to cover the defendants’ legal fees and costs, which comes to $937,989.39. From the judge’s decision:

This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim. …

…Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm. …

… Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions. … As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.

Regarding the alleged investigation of the “leak” of the Dobbs decision, late yesterday it was admitted that none of the justices were questioned. Chief Justice Roberts had the Marshal, a lady with an administrative position who has never investigated anything in her life, run the investigation. Could it be that the Chief Justice didn’t want us to know who the leaker is? Now the House Judiciary Committee (Gym Jordan, chair) is saying it will investigate the leak. Gym might get a friendly memo from the Chief Justice saying to cool it.

Other stuff to read: Paul Krugman on not negotiating with terrorists; Greg Sargent on how blue states can show the way out of red state culture war madness.

Today’s News Bits, Trump Deposition Edition

Politico reports that Biden World is “giddy” at having MTG, Gosar, and Boebert on the Oversight Committee. The plan appears to be to make them the face of the Republican Party. The article goes on to say there is also solemn acknowledgment about the dangers ahead.

Yesterday’s George Santos story was that he grifted $3,000 from a dying dog’s GoFundMe page. Today’s story is that he used to compete in Brazilian drag queen competitions.

This is freaky. In a deposition, Trump mistook a photo of E. Jean Carroll for his second wife, Marla Maples.

An excerpt of the October deposition released by U.S. District Court for Southern New York on Wednesday includes an exchange in which Trump was asked by Carroll’s lawyer about a black-and-white photograph that showed a small group of people, including Trump and Carroll.

“That’s Marla, yeah. That’s my wife,” Trump said, referring to Maples.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba corrected the mistake, saying, “No, that’s Carroll.”

The article jumps on the way Trump dismissed Carroll as “not my type,” but to me this smacks of dementia.

The above was from a portion of Trump’s sworn deposition in the Carroll defamation case, which was released Wednesday. Trump has been calling Carroll’s accusation that he raped her a “hoax.” He calls a lot of things hoaxes. The prosecutor used that against him. Philip Bump wrote,

“Isn’t it true,” an attorney asked, “that you also referred to the use of mail-in ballots as a hoax?”

“Yeah, I do. Sure,” Trump replied. “I think they’re very dishonest. Mail-in ballots, very dishonest.”

Then the lawyer struck: “Isn’t it true that you yourself have voted by mail?”

“I do. I do,” Trump admitted. Then, a bit of moderation: “Sometimes I do. But I don’t know what happens to it once you give it. I have no idea.”

You get the point. Oh, mail-in voting is a hoax — but you vote by mail. Ergo, if the Carroll allegations are a hoax …

Something called the Gender Equity Policy Institute released a report stating that “Women in states with abortion bans are nearly three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after giving birth.” And “The report also found that infants born in states with abortion bans were 30% more likely to die than those in supportive states.” Not that the forced birth people will care.

Joe Manchin learns he is not a popular guy at Davos.

Princess Kysten, also at Davos, clearly hasn’t been getting enough attention lately.

I suppose we’ll be all debt ceiling, all the time for the next few days. I sincerely hope the Democrats maintain a united front. Joe Manchin has already been flapping his mouth about creating some bipartisan commission. But he seems to be all by himself on that.

Update: The Supreme Court has released a report saying the Marshall couldn’t find who leaked the Dobbs draft. I say it was Ginny and Clarence, and the Roberts Court doesn’t want to admit it.