Republicans and Trump drive US democracy to the edge of extinction

Bob Sheak, September 21, 2022

A divided electorate

Democrats face a tenuous political situation, despite advancing a mostly democratic agenda

The record is clear. Biden and the Democrats have advanced policies that, at least in part, often benefit or potentially benefit most Americans but are typically now viewed as threatening to the interests of the powerful and rich, the Republican Party, and the interests of the Republicans/Trump base.

In the current highly politically partisan environment, the more the Biden’s administration accomplishes, the greater the party’s chances of Democratic electoral wins. But such potential outcomes face strong headwinds. If the already tenuous democracy of the U.S. is to continue, then the Democratic Party, imperfect as it is, must prevail politically over the ever-more extremist Republican Party.

The outlook would be far better if the transition to a more energy sustainable transformation was occurring faster than it is and if the society devoted far less to military spending. See Ray Acheson’s on the need to drastically reduce military spending in his book, Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages or Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad’s book, The Withdrawal.

The accomplishments of the Biden Administration

According to one source, the accomplishments of the administration as of September 2022 are extensive, and range across 15 policy areas (https://joebiden.com/accomplishments/#). The accomplishments reflect Biden’s executive actions and, in some cases, the ability of Congressional Democrats to win support from a minority of Republicans or pass legislation through a reconciliation process that avoids a Republican filibuster. Often as not, reconciliation requires making compromises with “conservative” Democrats (e.g., Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema) that undermine or weaken the initial intention of the legislation.

Here are the areas of the Biden administration/Democratic accomplishments, and excerpts of what they represent.

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Signed the Inflation Reduction Act 

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act to bring down costs, reduce the deficit, and take aggressive action on climate – all paid for by making sure the largest corporations and billionaire tax cheats finally pay their fair share in taxes.

Improved health care for veterans 

In his first State of the Union address, President Biden called on Congress to pass legislation to make sure veterans impacted by toxic exposures and their families get the comprehensive care and benefits they earned and deserve. In August of 2022, President Biden signed the PACT Act – the largest single bill to address our service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxins in American history. 

Signed the CHIPS and Science Act

President Biden signed landmark legislation into law that will accelerate semiconductor manufacturing in the United States. The CHIPS and Science Act will help lower the cost of everyday goods, strengthen American manufacturing and innovation, create good-paying jobs, and bolster our national security. 

Took historic action to address the gun violence epidemic 

President Biden brought together Democrats and Republicans to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, breaking a 30-year streak of federal inaction on gun violence legislation. The legislation took important steps, including requiring people under 21 to undergo enhanced background checks, closing the “boyfriend loophole,” and providing funding to address youth mental health.

Restored American leadership on the world stage

Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, international confidence in the United States has sharply increased. America is back, and our alliances are stronger than ever. 

Ended America’s longest war 

In acting to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, President Biden ended an era of major military operations to remake other countries and refocused our national security efforts on the threats of today – not the threats of 2001.

Took action to address gender-based violence 

Thanks to President Biden’s leadership, the Violence Against Women Act is now reauthorized through 2027 and includes new provisions to expand legal services for survivors and support underserved communities. 

President Biden also signed historic legislation ending forced arbitration of sexual assault and sexual harassment, protecting survivors and making it safer to report harassment in the workplace.

Passed the American Rescue Plan 

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act into law, an unprecedented $1.9 trillion package that helped combat COVID-19 and supercharge a historic economic recovery. 

Helped get over 500 million shots in arms, distribute millions of therapeutics, and dramatically expand testing capabilities. Over two-thirds of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 thanks to the American Rescue Plan. 

Delivered needed relief to families by sending over 160 million checks to Americans, expanding food and rental assistance, and providing aid to thousands of small businesses. The expanded Child Tax Credit led to the largest-ever one-year decrease in childhood poverty in American history.

Safely reopened America’s schools and made a historic investment to tackle learning loss and address mental health. Today, over 99% of schools are open for in-person learning. Before the ARP, only 46% of schools were open in-person.

Biggest year of job growth in American history

President Biden is leading America through a historic economic recovery. In 2021, the U.S. economy added over 6.5 million jobs – the greatest year of job growth under any President in history. At the same time, we saw the largest annual decline in unemployment ever recorded and the strongest year of GDP growth since 1984. 

Took action to combat COVID-19

Before President Biden took office, there was no comprehensive plan to get Americans vaccinated. President Biden got to work immediately on a national effort to get shots in arms. Funding from the American Rescue Plan helped vaccinate over 200 million Americans and administer over 500 million shots.

Thanks to the Biden-Harris Administration, over three-quarters of American adults are fully vaccinated, up from less than 1% before President Biden took office. 

President Biden took action to drastically increase the number of free testing sites around the country and secure millions of rapid, at-home tests. The Administration launched COVIDtests.gov so Americans could order tests to be shipped directly to their homes for free. 

At the same time, the President expedited the development of numerous, effective COVID-19 treatments including life-saving antiviral pills. In total, the Administration secured 20 million courses of antiviral pills that have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%.

Passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a once-in-a-generation, transformational investment that will help create thousands of jobs and set America up to win the 21st century. The law provides billions in funding to repair bridges and roads, begin replacing every lead pipe in America, upgrade our ports and airports, and expand broadband access to all. It also includes the largest federal investment in public transit ever and the biggest investment in Amtrak since its creation. 

In 2022 alone, repairs will begin on 65,000 miles of roads and 1,500 bridges. 

President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America’s critical infrastructure,  create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, and increase our competitiveness for years to come.

Took action to combat the climate crisis and reduce emissions

President Biden has made combatting the climate crisis a top priority. In the first days of his Administration, President Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and committed to cutting U.S. emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030. 

As part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, the Biden-Harris Administration is making the largest investment in clean energy transmission ever. In addition, the law allocated billions to clean up abandoned mines and oil wells, fund research of next-generation clean energy technologies, build zero-emission public transit, and create a national network of EV charging stations. 

Expanded health care to millions of Americans

After four years of endless attempts to strip health care from millions of Americans under the previous Administration, President Biden took action to strengthen the Affordable Care Act by expanding eligibility and extending the open enrollment period.

As a result, President Biden has brought down costs and expanded health care access for millions of Americans. Thanks to tax credits in the American Rescue Plan, a record 14.5 million Americans signed up for coverage for this year through the ACA, including 5.8 million new customers. At the same time, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan made quality coverage more affordable than ever, with millions of families on ACA plans saving an average of $2,400 yearly on their premiums. 

Nominated and confirmed historic judicial nominees 

The President delivered on his promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court when he nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman and public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. 

President Biden is working to shape a federal judicial system that fully represents America’s diversity. Of the judges confirmed in the President’s first year, 80% were women and 53% were people of color. 

Overall, more than 50 of President Biden’s circuit and district court nominees have been confirmed by the Senate – far outpacing recent previous administrations. In his first year alone, 40 of President Biden’s circuit and district court nominees were confirmed by the Senate – the most in any President’s first year since Ronald Reagan.

Took big steps toward a future made in America 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law made investments to strengthen our supply chains and encourage companies to bring good-paying manufacturing jobs back home. Among other measures, the President strengthened Buy American rules to make sure more of what we buy in America is made in America. These critical steps towards a future made in America will lower costs at home and set us up to win the 21st century.

President Biden’s Made in America strategy resulted in the largest yearly increase in U.S. manufacturing jobs in nearly 30 years.

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Republican attacks on democracy: Examples

Acceptance of 2020 election lies by Trump and his allies

David Leonhardt makes this point, among others (https://nytimes.com/2022/09/17/us/american-democracy-threats.html).

“The party’s growing acceptance of election lies raises the question of what would happen if Mr. Trump or another future presidential nominee tried to replay his 2016 [or 2020] attempt to overturn the result.

“In 11 states this year, the Republican nominee for secretary of state, a position that typically oversees election administration, qualifies as an ‘election denier,’ according to States United Action, a research group. In 15 states, the nominee for governor is a denier, and in 10 states, the attorney general nominee is.

“The growth of the election-denier movement has created a possibility that would have seemed unthinkable not so long ago. It remains unclear whether the loser of the next presidential election will concede or will instead try to overturn the outcome.”

Reject the legitimacy and the documentation of the House Jan. 6 Select Committee investigation

Dana Milbank gives the following examples, among others in his book, The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party.

“Republican lawmakers began referring to the January 6 defendants as ‘political prisoners.’ Twenty-one House Republicans voted against a proposal to award the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who defended the Capitol on January 6.

“By early 2022, the Justice Department had brought cases against 791 people for their January 6 actions, according to a George Washington University tally, and 281 had been convicted…. Trump suggested he would pardon them all if he were returned to power – while the RNC officially labeled the insurrection ‘legitimate political discourse’” (p. 304).

Obstruction: The filibuster as a Republican weapon

Sharon Zhang reports on Truthout, September 8, 2022, that “17 of 18 Pro-Democracy Bills Were Killed by Filibuster This Congress” (https://truthout.org/articles/report-17-of-18-pro-democracy-bills-were-killed-by-the-filibuster). She writes as follows.

“According to a new report from Common Cause, the Senate filibuster has been at least partially responsible for blocking the passage of 17 out of 18 pro-democracy legislative texts that have come to a vote in Congress before the House or the Senate in 2021 and 2022, according to the group’s analysis of votes for each piece of legislation. The analysis was first reported by Insider.

“The 117th Congress has considered a number of pro-democracy bills and resolutions, ranging from the For the People Act, which tackles dark money in campaigns and expands voting access, to the impeachment of Donald Trump, for his attempt to stoke a violent overturn of the 2020 election.”

Other bills include the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would have strengthened rules preventing racial discrimination in voting, a bill that would have granted statehood for Washington, D.C. and the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which have would placed limits on presidential power in reaction to Trump.

“None of these bills have passed Congress, likely because they were either blocked by the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold or never came to a vote because of their likelihood of being blocked by the filibuster.”

“Only one of the measures that Common Cause analyzed passed Congress: the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which passed unanimously in the Senate and strengthens requirements for Supreme Court and other federal judges to disclose their financial holdings and stock trades.

“In the end, with high levels of support in Congress and an overwhelming outpouring of public support, Congress ran into one of the reasons our democracy needs to be modernized: the filibuster,” Common Cause wrote of Democrats’ attempt to pass the For the People Act last year.

“Even if conservative Democrats Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia) had been on board with the bill and given it a majority of 51 votes, “the arcane Senate procedure known as the filibuster requiring super majorities just to debate an issue, prevented the Democrats from passing major democracy reform and voting rights legislation or the Republicans from considering negotiating in good faith to get to 60 votes,” the group wrote.

“…’ Opponents of the filibuster also say that it is used to block climate action that is crucial to keeping a livable planet, action to stave off white supremacy, moves to workers’ rights, advance protections for abortion rights, and more.

“In their analysis, Common Cause also tracked votes for various pro-democracy measures for each individual member of Congress. Of the 535 voting members of Congress, only 101 members earned a perfect score, voting for each measure. All 101 of those members were Democrats or progressives.”

Republican revenge on opponents anticipated, if they take the House and/or Senate in 2022

There is a lot at stake in upcoming elections at all levels of the political system, and certainly this is true of both houses of the U.S. Congress. Robert Kuttner points out that if Democrats lose even one house of Congress, “escalating Republican anti-democratic behavior suggests the kind of retribution that could occur.” Here are his ominous thoughts.

“Progressive Democrats could be censured or expelled from the House or denied committee seats on one pretext or another. The loss of either house in 2022 could also make it easier for Republicans to steal the presidential election in 2024. A legal memo to Donald Trump by attorney John Eastman…provides a cynical playbook whose strategies will again be available in 2024. Several Republican-controlled states could certify electors who would reverse the actual results of the election. If that occurs, either the election will be stolen outright, or the final result will be thrown to the House or decided by a partisan Supreme Court. If a Republican Congress is fraudulently elected in 2022, leading to a Republican president installed in 2024, voter suppression will deepen and America effectively ceases to be a democracy.”

Trump, Republicans and violent extremists

Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, describes Trump as a “sociopathic narcissist who wants nothing more than to divide then nation” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/09/16/trump-latest-threat-doozy-and-required-four-responses).

He points out that on September 15, 2022, “Donald Trump threatened that if he is indicted on a charge of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House, there would be ‘problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before,’ adding ‘I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.’” And, in August, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that if Trump is prosecuted for his illegal handling of government documents, “there would be ‘riots in the street.’ Trump appeared to endorse Graham’s threat, sharing a video link on his Truth Social platform.”

Reich takes the position that there should be four responses to these threats.

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1. Trump is daring the Justice Department to prosecute him, in effect asserting he is above the law. He is not above the law. The Justice Department is methodically and carefully sifting through evidence and presenting it to a grand jury.

Neither the Department nor the grand jury should be intimidated by Trump’s latest threat.

2. Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous. We have already seen the consequences of what happens when Trump invites a mob to the streets. Five people died on January 6, 2021. Many more—including members of Congress and the former Vice President—could have been killed on that day. Since the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s incendiary words have fueled death threats to numerous federal officials, judges, and lawmakers.

All Americans should condemn Trump’s latest threat and incitement to violence.

3. We are dealing with a sociopathic narcissist who wants nothing more than to divide the nation over himself. This is not a matter of left versus right, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. It is a question of the Constitution and the rule of law versus authoritarianism and tyranny. If Trump prevails—if he intimidates law-enforcement officials from doing their jobs over his attempted coup or his theft from the White House of secret documents—we lose our democracy.

The media must stop covering this as if there are two sides to this story. There are not.

4. The time has come for Republican lawmakers, candidates, and rightwing media owners and personalities to show some backbone and vigorously repudiate Trump. Their failure to do so before now has created a monster that threatens to consume this country. It is up to them to tell their constituents, followers, readers and viewers that there is no place in America for Trump’s threats to law enforcement and his incitements to violence.

Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, Lindsey Graham, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Rupert Murdoch, and others must say it loudly and clearly: We repudiate Trump and his threats. No person is above the law

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Qanon on board

Chris Walker considers how Trump has explicitly endorsed the bizarre and violent-prone group Qanon (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-shares-image-observers-say-is-explicit-endorsement-of-qanon). Walker reports in this article published on September 13 as follows.

“Former President Donald Trump shared a post on his Truth Social website this week that appeared to be an explicit endorsement of the QAnon movement.

“Trump has referenced QAnon in the past but has typically feigned ignorance about the false and dangerous conspiracy theories peddled by the far-right movement. During a town hall in October 2020, for instance, he claimed he knew ‘nothing about’ the extremist movement while also seeming to endorse it.

“‘What I do hear about it is they are very much against pedophilia, and I agree with that,’ Trump said.

QAnon followers believe that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running many national governments around the globe, including in the U.S. They believe that Trump is waging a secret, underground war against this cabal — which is made up of Democrats or anti-Trump Republicans, according to the conspiracies — and that he will be restored to the presidency in due time.

“On Monday evening, Trump shared a picture of himself (posted by another account on Truth Social) wearing two lapel pins on his jacket — one with the U.S. flag, the other bearing the letter “Q.”

“Included in the image were the words ‘The Storm is Coming,’ a common saying among QAnon followers that reminds them to have faith that Trump will reveal members of the so-called ‘Satanic ring’ and return to the presidency.”

Walker continues.

“Many followers of the QAnon movement have acted out in violent ways, including attacking those who they believe are part of the conspiracy (whether they be loved ones or political figures). Many of Trump’s loyalists who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, cited QAnon conspiracies to explain why they took part in the attack, for example.

“Last year, the FBI warned that QAnon followers may engage in further violence in the coming years. According to the agency, QAnon adherents could shift “towards engaging in real-world violence — including harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition — instead of continuing to await Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”

“While the movement has been rejected by most Americans, it is becoming more mainstream in Republican politics, as Trump’s hold on the party remains strong. Several GOP candidates running for Congress have espoused viewpoints that can be traced back to the QAnon movement.”

What policies do the Republican Party and their allies promote?

Consider some examples.

#1 – They push neoliberal economic policies that favor low taxes, deregulation, privatization, and have no quarrel with concentrated corporate power in most industries.

#2 – They oppose government “deficits,” but Republicans are responsible for more of the national debt than the Democrats. Author and journalist Michael Tomasky provides a useful summary to document this contention in his recent book, The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity.

“The topic of deficits is especially galling. When Democratic presidents are running up deficits, Republicans carry on like Victorians who just heard someone say the word ‘intercourse.’ But the truth over these last forty years is that it’s Republicans who’ve saddled the nation with deficits. Under Reagan the deficit went from Carter’s $74 billion to $155 billion. Under George H. W. Bush , it shot up to $290 billion. Then Bill Clinton went from that figure to leaving office with a surplus of $236 billion. George W. Bush converted the surplus into a deficit of $459 billion by 2008. Barack Obama went from that figure up to $585 billion, though it’s entirely fair to insert an asterisk in Obama’s defense, in that he also inherited a global meltdown that pushed the deficit to above $1 trillion for his entire first term; he cut it by more than half from is 2011 peak. Donald Trump inherited Obama’s $585 bill and ran it back up to $960 billion in 2019, and that was pre-pandemic. He left office with the deficit at $3.2 trillion. That was pandemic related, but even if we exclude that, we are left with the fact that from 2000 to 2020 the United States dug a more than$3 trillion deficit hole, with the Democratic presidents responsible for only $126 billion of that” (p. 77).

#3 – Republicans support fossil-fuel usage and dismiss, avoid or delay attempts to curtail their use. Michael Mann has documented this in his book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet.

Jessica Corbett refers to a memo by Fossil Free Media and the Stop the Oil Profiteering (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/09/14/report-exposes-decades-big-oil-lies-industry-faces-congressional-scrutiny). This is in the context of

“decades of climate denial by the fossil fuel industry, which long knew of the world-wrecking impacts of its products, and months of the sector’s price gouging and war profiteering since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.”

Corbett continues.

“Authored by Fossil Free Media and the Stop the Oil Profiteering, the memo was released as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s civil rights and liberties panel held a hearing on the fossil fuel industry ‘weaponizing the law’ to stifle protests, and the House Natural Resource Committee’s oversight subcommittee held a hearing on public relations firms’ contributions to crafting and spreading climate misinformation.”

“The memo features sections on the oversight hearings; how companies are ‘adding the pockets’ of executives and shareholders; greenwashing efforts; loopholes in fossil fuel giants’ climate plans; profiles of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell; the sector’s lobbying against climate solutions; and what comes next.

“Highlighting that Big Oil has hiked prices to rake in record profits, which have funded stock buybacks that serve shareholders—including executives with stock holdings—the report warns that ‘continued reliance on fossil fuels will keep pouring money into the pockets of those who are most protected from the damage of the climate crisis and rising costs, while the vast majority of Americans and people around the world suffer.’”

“Fossil fuel firms may publicly claim they want to help tackle the climate emergency, but their ‘net-zero pledges are the latest round of greenwashing in Big Oil’s decades long campaign of denial and disinformation,’ the memo argues. These ‘false climate commitments are all designed for one purpose: delay. Delay regulations, delay public pressure, delay accountability, delay the inevitable transition to clean, renewable energy.’”

In 2021, fossil fuel companies poured over $115 million into political lobbying, “accommodating a payroll of 746 lobbyists, one of whom was infamously caught on camera bragging about weekly meetings with Joe Manchin,” the document notes, referring to the Democratic senator from West Virginia who has impeded his own party’s climate goals while pushing legislation to benefit the fossil fuel industry.”

There is some good news. As the memo points out, “The House Oversight Committee hearings into climate disinformation are part of a growing wave of regulatory efforts, lawsuits, and public campaigns designed to finally hold Big Oil accountable for their climate crimes.”

“Cassidy DiPaola, a spokesperson for the Stop the Oil Profiteering campaign, compared the congressional scrutiny of the fossil fuel industry to that which was ultimately brought to bear on the nation’s powerful tobacco companies.

“‘For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to erect a mountain of denial and disinformation to stand in the way of climate progress,’ said DiPaola. “But like Big Tobacco, Big Oil may soon have to pay for its abuses.”

“Jennifer K. Falcon of Ikiya Collective and Fossil Free Media stressed that ‘Big Oil’s reckoning couldn’t come a moment too soon.’

“As this summer’s catastrophic heatwaves and record flooding make it clear, the impacts of the climate crisis are already being felt around the world, especially in Indigenous, Black, communities of the global majority and low-income communities,” Falcon said. “Our window to avoid utter chaos is closing rapidly.”

“That warning of the need to act now was also the key takeaway from a United Nations report published Tuesday—which coincided with the release of a peer-reviewed study showing that fully transitioning to clean energy by 2050 could not only save lives and the planet but also save the world $12 trillion.

“Accelerating the transition to renewable energy is now the best bet not just for the planet,” said the lead author of that study, “but for energy costs too.”

#4 -They are anti-union, support “right-to-work” laws, put profits over workers, and typically oppose or want to marginalize government efforts to protect workers (e.g., Occupational and Safety, the National Labor Relations Act). The corporate attitude toward workers is exemplified in the railroad industry. Kenny Stancil reports that the big railroad corporations engaged in stock buybacks while fighting against workers’ demands for humane working conditions (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/09/19/while-fighting-workers-railroads-made-over-10-billion-stock-buybacks).

Stancil refers to research by the Groundwork Collaborative, “based on recent corporate earnings calls from Union PacificCSXCanadian National Railway, and Norfolk Southern.”  He writes:

“Our research shows just how far railroad executives will go to funnel record profits to their shareholders—even if that means stagnant wages, inhumane attendance policies, and throwing our supply chain into further turmoil….”

“At the same time they have fought to deny sick days and other vital benefits to workers in the freight industry, rail carrier executives have been rewarding shareholders with billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividend bumps.”

“According to Railroad Operators: Bad for Workers, Good for Investors, a collection of data compiled by the Groundwork Collaborative and shared with Common Dreams on Monday, a handful of major rail companies reported more than $10 billion in buybacks and dividends over the first six months of 2022.

“Meanwhile, workers who try to visit a doctor amid a global pandemic continue to be disciplined, leading to higher staff turnover and soaring injury rates.

“Railroads have been enjoying record profits after decades of deregulation, consolidation, and “just-in-time” practices known as “precision railroad scheduling” transformed the industry into what Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, describes as “another monopolized cash cow for Wall Street.”

As Groundwork’s new analysis points out, Union Pacific chief executive officer Lance Fritz told investors on a July call that the company had cut staff by a third since 2018 and said, “We’ve got to do some other unique and creative things with our labor unions in order to make our crews more available and more productive.”

Fritz admitted “that Union Pacific’s workforce “hasn’t seen a raise in 2.5 or three years.”

“He also said that Union Pacific is prepared to make further staffing cuts during an economic downturn, asserting that conductor-less trains would be ‘better for the conductors’ quality of life.’”

“Norfolk Southern’s chief operating officer Cindy Sanborn said that the company is looking into ‘sign-on and attendance bonuses, retirement deferral, and referral incentive[s]’ to boost hiring and retention, but she didn’t say anything about workers’ fundamental demands for sick days, paid leave, and other basic benefits revolving around better “quality of life.”

“Last week, labor lawyer Jenny Hunter and Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, argued in Slate that railroad companies nearly inflicted an economic catastrophe on the U.S. because they chose profit-maximization over humane workplace policies.

“It should not be controversial to say it, but: People should have sick leave so they do not have to come to work when they get sick. They should be able to take leave to attend doctors’ appointments or deal with family emergencies without risking their jobs. Workers should also have regular time off, not be on call almost every day of their lives. This strike or lockout was threatened because of the railroad companies’ refusal, right up until the last minute, to accept these basic human needs, and their willingness to bring an already weary country to the brink of yet another economic disaster, all in the name of ever more profits.”

#5 – They hate any policy that is aimed at the “public good,” and would, if given the opportunity, dismantle or eliminate government subsidized social-welfare programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any but the most limited benefits – and then they want work requirements.

#6 – They want to create electoral processes at all levels of governments that limit the opponents’ opportunities to vote. On this point, Dana Milbank (referred to earlier) writes:

“… by early 2022, nineteen states had enacted thirty-four laws restricting voting and compromising election integrity; the Brennan Center for Justice, a voting rights group, found an ‘unprecedented’ effort at disenfranchisement” (p. 305).

#7 -They support policies that placate Trump’s base.

#7a – For example, they want unhindered gun ownership, the severe curtailment or elimination of women’s reproductive rights, the endorsement of Christian Nationalism and the end of the Constitutionally mandated separation of state and religion. On the latter example, the Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute notes,

“The separation of Church and State is a phrase that refers to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The phrase dates back to the early days of U.S. history, and Thomas Jefferson referred to the First Amendment as creating a ‘wall of separation’ between church and state as the third president of the U.S. The term is also often employed in court cases. For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously stated in Everson v. Board of Education that ‘[t]he First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state,’ and ‘[t]hat wall must be kept high and impregnable.’”

#7b -They encourage local school boards to ban books that parents or right-wing groups may deem offensive. Elizabeth A. Harris reports on a report from the free speech organization PEN America which “looked at the role of politics and advocacy groups in the growing number of book bans in schools across the country” (https://nytimes.com/2022/09/19/books/advocacy-groups-book-ban.html). She writes:

“At least 50 advocacy groups pushed to ban books during the last school year, according to a report that the free speech group PEN America released on Monday, highlighting how challenges to reading material have become a political issue across the country.”

Harris continues.

“‘This is a concerted, organized, well-resourced push at censorship,’ said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America. The effort, she said, ‘is ideologically motivated and politically expedient, and it needs to be understood as such in order to be confronted and addressed properly.’”

“Traditionally, when individual parents had concerns about books their children were reading, they would approach a teacher or librarian directly to discuss it. But today, long lists of titles deemed objectionable circulate online, bouncing from one district to the next. Elected officials, including local office holders and governors, have staked out vocal positions on the issue, demanding that ‘obscene’ materials and even specific titles be rooted out from school libraries. Restrictions have also come in the form of district-level policy changes and statewide legislation, the report said.”

“Of the groups that have pushed to have certain books removed from schools, PEN said, Moms for Liberty has grown the fastest. Formed in 2021, it now lists more than 200 local chapters on its website, according to the report.”

“PEN found that more than 1,600 book titles were banned from schools the United States from July of 2021 to June of 2022 — it defined a ‘ban’ as the removal of a book or a restriction of access to it. The state with the most bans was Texas, the organization said, followed by Florida and then Pennsylvania.

“Across the country, PEN said, restrictions occurred in 138 school districts, which included 5,000 individual schools and enrolled nearly 4 million students.”

What can Democrats do?

Tell the true story based on verifiable facts, contest the lies and anti-democratic efforts of the Republican Party, Trump, and their allies, encourage the political education and engagement of citizens, and make voters aware of the accomplishments of the Democratic Party. Here are two examples.

Encourage civic engagement

In the Introduction to his book, Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed, professor of law and public policy at Georgetown University David Cole makes his basic point: “the defense of liberty depends as much or more on citizens engaging collectively to fight for the values they believe in than it does on the courts and the lawyers who appear before them. The preservation of liberty through a written constitution was a major innovation in modern democracy. But it has survived more than two centuries not because the job was assigned to the courts, but because ‘we the people’ have consistently taken up the charge to define, defend, and develop liberty in our own image, so that it reflects our deepest

Commitments, not just those of a privileged elite who do not represent us” (pp. 13-14).

Be clear on what works best in economic policy

Michael Tomasky, whose book was referenced earlier, identifies four “pillars of the Democratic argument” (The Middle Out, pp. 226-245).

#1 – “Attack the idea that Republican administrations are better for the economy.” He writes: “On key economic indicators like GDP growth, increase in the median household income, deficit management, and even performance of the stock market, Democratic administrations have a far better track record than Republican administrations.” Here’s some of his documentation.

“…under sixteen years of Republican administration (Bush, Bush, Trump, and sixteen years of Democratic administrations (Clinton and Obama),” Democrats did far better than Republicans. For example, “Jobs created during the sixteen years of Democratic presidencies: 33.8 million versus 1.9 million…. Average GDP growth: Democrats 3.1 percent; Republicans 1.62 percent. Dow Jones Industrial Average increase: Democrats 185.5 percent; Republicans 26 percent.”

#2 – “Destroy the myth of Homo economicus and replace it with a human being.” That is, the notion “that we are all self-interested and that acting selfishly promotes the common good is inherently right-wing.” His general argument:

“Most of us spend part of our lives being dependent on others: when we are children, when we are sick, when we are old. Most of us also understand and accept that we are members of a society and that membership carries certain obligations. We accept the idea that there is such a thing as the common good.”

#3 – “Tie economics to democracy.” “…if Democrats explicitly connect paid family leave and free community college and the rest to the preservation and strengthening of democracy, and the great democratic purpose of advancing happiness, and link all that back to the nation’s founding, will put Republicans on the defensive.”

#4 – “Tie economics to freedom.” “Democrats today must say this: It is our economic vision that will give people freedom, and the Republican vision of freedom has left millions struggling…. Freedom is not freedom if you work full time and live in poverty. Freedom is not freedom if a single medical crisis can drive you into bankruptcy. It is not freedom if child care is too expensive for you to hold a job, or if you are born poor and at every turn are blocked in your rise: by underfunded schools, overpriced colleges, and usurious college loans.”

Franklin Roosevelt addressed such issues in his famous Four Freedoms speech to Congress from January 1941 and the ideas are embedded in the 1948 United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Trump and his lawyers work to subvert the government’s efforts to obtain illegally-held documents

Bob Sheak, Sept. 6, 2022

Introduction

This post focuses on the DOJ/FBI attempts over months to obtain documents that Trump kept at Mar-a-Lago, his residence and club in Florida. Trump and his lawyers have done their utmost to slow down the process, while at the same time criticizing the government for continuing to pursue the issue, contending (without evidence) that the whole process was partisan, unfair, and aimed at undermining Trump’s political ambitions.

The evidence assembled in this post indicates that Trump did violate federal laws about how former presidents should deal with presidential documents, which belong to the government, not to Trump. The protests and evasions from Trump and his supporters over the FBI search and ongoing analysis of the documents are based on lies and efforts to delay and ultimately end the investigation. Meanwhile, Trump has employed rhetoric based on conspiracy theories and designed to inflame his supporters.

The entire months-long episode is yet another example of Trump’s disregard of the law and his seeming desire to create a right-wing political force that will continue to do what they can to undue American democracy.  

A timeline on the DOJ/FBI attempts to get all of the government documents unlawfully located in Trump’s residence and club

Rosalind S. Helderman provides a timeline of the FBI’s attempts to obtain all the government documents in Trump’s possession and stored at Mar-a-Lago, some classified, how Trump and his lawyers repeatedly delayed, only partially responded, or ignored such lawful requests, and culminating in the August 8 FBI raid of Trump’s Florida club and residence (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/30/mar-a-lago-timeline-trump-documents). Here are some of the highlights of Helderman’s timeline, including references to other sources.

Fifteen boxes with thousands of documents arrived at the archives, at the National Archives and Records Administration, on January 18. In opening these documents, archives officials find documents clearly marked classified, intermingled with printouts of news articles, mementos and items. They made a formal referral asking the Justice Department to investigate the possible mishandling of classified records.”

Legal expert Marjorie Cohn points out:

“A preliminary review of the 15 boxes by the FBI revealed that 14 of them had classification markings. They found 184 unique documents, including 67 marked CONFIDENTIAL, 92 marked SECRET and 25 marked TOP SECRET. Each of these markings respectively indicates an increased threat of harm to national security if the information is disclosed without authorization, according to the unnamed special agent of the FBI who signed the affidavit. Several documents contained what were apparently Trump’s handwritten notes” (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-affidavit-contains-broad-based-probably-cause-of-three-federal-crimes).

According to Cohn, “NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] agents found that the 15 boxes contained more than 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some included the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program information, which are highly classified data with safeguards and restrictions on access greater than those for ordinary classified information.”

Back to Helderman’s “timeline.”

On May 6, 2021, almost four months after initial inquiries and stonewalling by Trump, the National Archives and Records Administration contacted Trump’s team ‘to say some high-profile presidential documents appear to be missing. ‘We know things are very chaotic, as they always are in the course of a one-term transition,’ Gary Stern, the agency’s chief counsel writes to Trump lawyers. ‘But it is absolutely necessary that we obtain and account for all presidential records.’” Over the next several months, archives officials repeatedly ask for the missing records and Trump resists returning them.”

Then on May 16 to 18, the “FBI conducts a preliminary review of the material held at the archives, according to an affidavit that would be filed several weeks later in support of the request for a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago. Agents find 184 documents with classification markings: 67 marked confidential, 92 marked secret and 25 documents marked top secret. They include: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI — acronyms that refer to, among other things, the government systems used to protect intelligence gathered from secret human sources, the collection of information through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and intelligence that cannot be shared with foreign allies. Some documents contain what appear to be Trump’s handwritten notes.”

At the end of May, “members of Trump’s legal team conduct what they characterized as a thorough search of documents still held at Mar-a-Lago, attorney Christina Bobb would later say in interviews. ‘The legal team had done a very thorough search. We turned over everything that we found,’ Bobb told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. ‘It’s my understanding based on very good belief, based on a thorough investigation, that there was nothing there.’” Bobb’s statements turned out to be false.

In the continuing pursuit of the documents not yet released by Trump to government officials, the FBI requested on August 5 that Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart approve the FBI’s request for a search warrant to examine the documents still held at Mar-a-Lago. Reinhart approved the request. On August 8, “FBI agents in casual clothes and without their guns spend nearly nine hours at Mar-a-Lago searching the club’s storage room, Trump’s residential suite and offices. According to a property receipt they leave behind, they collected more than two dozen boxes of documents, including 11 sets of documents with classification markings. A more detailed accounting in a later court filing indicates the FBI seized more than 100 documents marked classified, from the confidential to top secret level. Seventy-six were found in the storage room. Others were found in Trump’s office, including three documents found in the drawers of desks.”

Subsequent reporting on August 22 by Maggie Haberman and her colleagues at the New York Times indicates that Trump had “more than 300 classified documents” (https://nytimes.com/2022/08/22/us/politics/trump-mar-a-lago-documents.html). They write:

“In total, the government has recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Mr. Trump since he left office, the people said: that first batch of documents returned in January, another set provided by Mr. Trump’s aides to the Justice Department in June and the material seized by the F.B.I. in the search this month.”

Probable federal crimes

Marjorie Cohn refers to Judge Reinhart’s view that Trump is probably involved in three federal crimes” in his handling of the documents (https://truthout.org/articles/trump-affidavit-contains-broad-based-probably-cause-of-three-federal-crimes). The crimes: unauthorized possession, obstruction, and mutilation of government documents. Cohn continues:

“After considering the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) affidavit, U.S. District Judge Bruce E. Reinhart had found probable cause that a search of Mar-a-Lago would turn up evidence of three federal crimes: unauthorized possession, obstruction and mutilation of government documents. He issued a search warrant on August 5. When Reinhart unsealed the affidavit on which the warrant was based, half of the 38 pages were redacted, or blacked out.”

Cohn continues: “It is highly unusual to unseal a search warrant affidavit before criminal charges are filed. In fact, affidavits are generally unsealed only after the defendant makes a motion to suppress evidence seized in the search. Defendants often argue that the evidence should be excluded from their trial because the search violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. No charges have yet been filed in this case. But due to strong public interest in the search of Trump’s home and seizure of hundreds of classified documents, the judge unsealed the affidavit with extensive redactions. The redactions in the Affidavit were justified “because disclosure would reveal (1) the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents, and uncharged parties, (2) the investigation’s strategy, direction, scope, sources, and methods, and (3) grand jury information protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e).”

The disappearance of classified documents

“On September 2, 2022, the Department of Justice ‘released an inventory of items seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida home last month, and one aspect of the newly disclosed document raised eyebrows and many questions: Namely, the listing of dozens of empty folders marked as ‘classified,’” as reported by Jake Johnson (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/08/02/where-did-classified-content-go-dozens-empty-folders-seized-trump-home).

“‘Where did the classified content go?’ asked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), voicing a sentiment also expressed by reporters and watchdogs in response to the inventory, which indicates that the FBI retrieved from Mar-a-Lago 18 documents marked ‘top secret,’ 54 marked ‘secret,’ and 48 empty folders with ‘classified’ banners.”

“The inventory offers no specific details on what the empty folders were supposed to contain, leaving observers to speculate on the sensitivity of the documents and where they may have ended up as the DOJ continues to investigate the former president’s removal of classified documents from the White House.”

“The Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday that it “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed” from a Mar-a-Lago storage room as investigators attempted to retrieve them, possibly further implicating Trump’s team and the former president himself in a criminal scheme to obstruct justice.”

Despite Trump’s outcries, the majority of Americans approve of the government’s investigation

Chris Walker reports on an Economist/YouGov poll (https://truthout.org/articles/poll-majority-of-americans-approve-of-search-on-mar-a-lago-for-files-trump-took).

A recent Economist/YouGov poll surveyed Americans about the issue from August 13-16, after portions of the search warrant that was executed last week Monday were unsealed. According to the survey, the vast majority of Americans have heard about the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation, with 50 percent saying they’ve heard a lot about it and 36 percent saying they’ve heard a little about the search of the Trump property. Just 14 percent said they haven’t heard anything about it.

“When survey participants were asked how they felt about the search, most said they approved of the DOJ’s actions, with 54 percent saying so. Only 36 percent said they disapproved. Similarly, only 30 percent of those surveyed said they approve of Trump having taken the records after leaving office, while 52 percent said they disapproved.

Negative feelings increased in regards to reports that Trump took classified documents, potentially illegally, related to nuclear weapons, which sources close to the investigation said he did.

“Among all survey respondents, 57 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Trump taking nuclear weapons-related documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate. Those who voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, however, were split on that question, with 35 percent saying they approved of him potentially taking such documents, and 36 percent saying they didn’t (19 percent were unsure how to feel about it).”

The response of Trump and his supporters

Amanda Marcotte, senior politics writer at Salon and the author of “Troll Nation,” reports on Trump and his allies “have been drastically “escalating rhetoric that unsubtly invites political violence in response to the FBI’s efforts to recover classified materials that Trump has been illegally holding on to (https://salon.com/2022/08/31/truth-social-rants-against-the-fbi-inadvertently-undercut-his-main-january-6-defense). She continues: “By blitzing out these conspiracy theories, he’s sending signals to the most unhinged people in his base. And they are most definitely hearing the signals he’s sending.”

Trump embraces violent right-wing conspiracy theories

Marcotte refers to an NBC News report, 

“Users of QAnon forums rejoiced at Trump’s apparent endorsement of the conspiracy theory and its mythology. The top response on the most visited QAnon forum to one of Trump’s posts about the conspiracy theory read simply, “Wipe them out sir.” Others pleaded with Trump to “nuke them from orbit” and to “sir, please finish them off,” referring to QAnon enemies such as Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden.

Dana Milbank also reports on the influence of QAnon conspiracy theories on Trump (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/31/trump-gop-lies-qanon).

The former president used his Truth Social site on Monday [Aug. 29] to demand that he be declared ‘the rightful winner of the 2020 election, and he followed that by posting and sharing on Tuesday a barrage of QAnon slogans and themes, doctored photos and false conspiracy notions, including a claim that the “FBI colluded with Antifa” in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and a forged tweet falsely purporting to be from Ivanka.”

“If it appears the volume of deception coming from MAGA Republicans is increasing, that’s because it is. Two academics from New York University set about documenting the proliferation of rubbish in a study they described this week for The Post’s Monkey Cage feature. They found that 36 percent of the news that Republican congressional candidates shared on social media came from unreliable sources on an average day from January to July, up from 8 percent for the same period in 2020. (The news shared by Democratic candidates from unreliable sources rose to 2 percent from 1 percent.)”

A financial boost

Milbank continues: “Trump, for his part, now appears to be hoping to monetize the QAnon conspiracy movement, whose sometimes violent followers hold that a network of pedophiles secretly controls the government. His Truth Social media venture has struggled — losing money, gaining few users, squabbling with a vendor and seeing its stock price fall nearly 75 percent since March.

“So, Truth Social is wooing the QAnon crowd, banished from more reputable sites.

“NewsGuard, which rates the reliability of media organizations, reported this week that Truth Social awarded its verification badges to 47 QAnon-promoting accounts, each with more than 10,000 followers. In all, it said, 88 QAnon-associated users (32 of them previously banned from Twitter) have more than 10,000 followers apiece on Truth Social. Trump and current and former Truth Social executives have shared QAnon graphics and messages and promoted the QAnon accounts. Trump had done so 65 times, the report said — and that was before his QAnon extravaganza Tuesday.”

Trump encourages his base to embrace violence

In another article, Amanda Marcotti delves further into Trump’s reactions to the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago (https://salon.com/2022/08/16/is-giving-the-fbi-the-jan-6-treatment). She reports: “After FBI agents searched Trump’s Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, for classified documents, Trump has been using every avenue possible to send a message to the Department of Justice: Stop the investigation or my supporters could become even more dangerous.” She gives the following examples.

“On Saturday [Aug 13], the New York Times reported that Trump ‘reached out to a Justice Department official to pass along a message’ to Attorney General Merrick Garland. “The message Mr. Trump wanted conveyed, according to a person familiar with the exchange, was: ‘The country is on fire. What can I do to reduce the heat?'”

“The message is disguised as helpful, but it’s obviously meant to be threatening. It’s a variation on the cliched mobster threat: ‘Nice place you’ve got there. Shame if something happened to it.” Both Trump and the intended target understand that Trump is the one who lit the fire with his repeated claims of being ‘persecuted’ and the flat-out lies he uses to bolster those claims. So, his ‘question’ is really more a form of blackmail. He’s not actually offering assistance, so much as trying to remind Garland of his continued power over his followers. 

Trump’s base responds with financial support for him

Trump rakes in millions off FBI search at Mar-a-Lago

Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf report that Trump raked in millions off the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago (https://washingtonpost.com/politico/2022/08/17/trump-fundraising-fib-raid).

“The former president’s political fundraising surged to over $1 million a day last week after sagging earlier this year.

“Former president Donald Trump bombarded his supporters with more than 100 emails asking for money based on the FBI’s search of the Mar-a-Lago Club for classified materials last week. They paid off.

“Contributions to Trump’s political action committee topped $1 million on at least two days after the Aug. 8 search of his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, according to two people familiar with the figures. The daily hauls jumped from a level of $200,000 to $300,000 that had been typical in recent months, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information.”

Endangering the lives of FBI agents

The search warrant

A search warrant is an order signed by a judge that authorizes government authorities to search for specific objects or materials at a definite location.

Marcotti: “The threatening nature of this rhetoric was underscored by Trump’s game-playing with the warrant release. First, he pretended not to have the warrant and demanded that it be released, even though he did have a copy and could release it whenever he wished. Then his team released the warrant to Breitbart before the DOJ had a chance to release it. By doing so, Trump made sure the version of the warrant that spread most rapidly was one featuring the unredacted names of the individual FBI agents involved in the search, putting them and their families in danger.” 

The Affidavit

Marcotti: “In case there was any doubt that this was intentional, Trump is playing the same game with the affidavit that led to the warrant.

“Trump has been using every avenue possible to send a message to the Department of Justice: Stop the investigation or my supporters could become even more dangerous. 

“The DOJ is resisting the public release of the affidavit underlying the search warrant, which has much more detailed information about what crimes Trump is suspected of and the evidence the FBI has to support their suspicions. Its release would not only be highly unusual, but it would also “likely chill future cooperation by witnesses,” authorities argued. Trump responded with a rant on Truth Social, his far-right alternative to Twitter, in which he demanded ‘the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit.’ As with the warrant release, the only purpose of releasing an unredacted affidavit would be to expose the identities of people who have provided evidence against Trump. 

Trump pushes his vitriolic message on Fox News

Marcotti: “Monday morning [Aug 15], Trump made his veiled threats to Garland public, going to Fox News to engage in faux-handwringing over how the ‘country is in a very dangerous position,’ as if he weren’t the person who made it that way. 

“There is tremendous anger, like I’ve never seen before, over all of the scams, and this new one—years of scams and witch hunts, and now this,” he said. ‘If there is anything we can do to help, I, and my people, would certainly be willing to do that.’

As Eric Kleefeld of Media Matters reported Monday, Fox News has been heavily hyping ‘Trump’s veiled threats that his supporters will carry out more political violence against federal law enforcement.’ As Kleefeld notes, Trump is using the passive language of faux ‘predictions’ to package his threat, by saying things like, ‘the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen.’ But, of course, he and his targets both know things aren’t just ‘happening.’ They are being provoked by Trump’s hyperbolic language and hint-dropping to his followers. 

Attempts to delay and subvert the investigation

In an article published on Sept. 3, 2022, Marjorie Cohn considers Trump’s request for a “special master,” so that any investigation into the criminal and national security implications of Trump’s actions may be put aside (https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-special-master-request-may-be-bid-to-delay-investigation-beyond-midterms). Cohn suggests that they are making the request to “delay the investigation beyond the midterms.”

Trump and his supporters hope that the Republicans will take control of the House and the Senate in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. If they take even just the House, they will be in a position to direct attention away from the investigation by the Department of Justice. Some have warned that House Republicans would then move to impeach President Biden. In such a context, the government’s investigation into Trump’s mishandling of documents could be sidelined and Biden’s policy agenda could be subverted. Here’s some of Cohn’s analysis.

“On August 22, Trump filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida requesting the appointment of a ‘special master’ to review the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. Although the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Filter Team had already segregated documents that might be protected by the attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, Trump wants a special master (usually a retired judge) to inspect them for privileged or potentially privileged material.

“Trump’s motion is pending before Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee. Judge Cannon indicated she is inclined to agree with Trump and appoint a special master. She held a hearing on September 1, but has not yet issued a ruling. A special master could substantially delay the DOJ’s criminal investigation of Trump and his associates.”

Cohn elaborates this point. “Appointing a special master is unnecessary, the DOJ maintains in its filing. It ‘would impede the government’s ongoing criminal investigation’ and the ‘Intelligence Community from conducting its ongoing review of the national security risk that improper storage of these highly sensitive materials may have caused’ and ‘identifying measures to rectify or mitigate any damage.’”

“Moreover, the DOJ argues, Trump lacks ‘standing’ to seek a special master or the return of the documents since he does not own them. The Presidential Records Act says that presidential records are the property of the government.”

“During the nearly two-hour hearing on September 1, Judge Cannon signaled that she might appoint a special master but she did not order the FBI to halt its review of the files. On September 2, she unsealed a more detailed list of documents the FBI seized during its August 8 search.

“The newly-released inventory includes 31 documents labeled CONFIDENTIAL, 54 labeled SECRET and 18 labeled TOP SECRET. It lists 48 empty folders labeled CLASSIFIED and 42 empty folders labeled for return to a military aide, with no indication of where the missing documents are located.

“This detailed inventory also contains more than 11,000 government documents and photographs without classification markings. Classified documents were commingled in boxes with documents that had no classification labels as well as personal items and media articles.”

Whether a criminal case against Trump and/or his attorneys is every advanced, “the evidence seized during the search of Mar-a-Lago strengthens the such a case against Trump and/or his attorneys and associates.”

Judge Cannon rules in support of a “special master”

Despite the evidence, Judge Cannon grants Trump request for special master to review Mar-A-Lago documents, as reported by Perry Stein (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/09/05/trump-special-master-documents).

“U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon wrote in her decision that the Justice Department cannot continue reviewing the materials seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 or use them in its criminal investigation until the special master concludes his or her assessment.” A special master to sift through nearly 13,000 documents and items seized by the FBI from Trump’s Florida residence will be appointed by a federal judge. Cannon “sided with Trump’s legal team and said that the former president does retain some executive privileges after leaving office — a stance that the Justice Department disagrees with.”

Meanwhile, Cannon ruled, “the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would be allowed to continue its ongoing assessment of the possible risk to national security posed by the removal from government custody of classified documents, some of them related to highly sensitive government and intelligence secrets.”

Some high-profile Republicans oppose the decision. Stein cites an interview that aired Friday [Sept 2], in which former Trump attorney general William P. Barr said there is no reason classified documents should have been at Mar-a-Lago after Trump was no longer president.

“‘People say this was unprecedented,’ Barr said in an interview with Fox News. ‘But it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?’”

Cannon dismissed such views as well as the position of the Justice Department lawyers who told her “they had already sorted through the documents, using a ‘filter team’ to separate out more than 500 pages of potentially privileged documents. That arrangement was approved by a U.S. magistrate judge who authorized the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. Prosecutors said appointing a special master would be pointless, given the previous filter team review — but Cannon disagreed. They also said that there was no legal basis to appoint a special master in this case and that Trump had no rights to possess White House documents once he left office.”

Judge’s competence is questioned

Julia Conley reports on criticisms of Judge Cannon’s lack of competence (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/09/05/unfit-bench-trump-appointed-judge-orders-hald-doj-review-seized-materials). As we know, Trump wants loyalty and compliance, not independence and competence. Conley writes:

“This judge is now an active participant in Trump’s crimes,” said one critic.

“Political observers on Monday said U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon ‘engaged herself in obstruction of justice’ by ruling that the U.S. Department of Justice must halt its review of materials seized at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

“Cannon, who was appointed by the former Republican president and confirmed after he lost the 2020 election, ruled that Trump ‘faces an unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public’ if the review of the materials, which included documents marked ‘confidential’ and ‘top secret’ continues.

“Political scientist Norman Ornstein noted that lawyers for Trump hand-picked Cannon to oversee the case and, in a tweet, adding that her ruling is ‘a clear-cut impeachable offense.’

“Slate journalist Mark Joseph Stern said he had been assured that “no judge would take Trump’s absurd filing seriously” after the former president sued the DOJ over the FBI raid which was sparked by the department’s finding that Trump had taken classified documents from the White House when his term ended in January 2021.

“‘The problem, of course, is that Cannon is not a real judge, but a Trump judge, and one of the most corrupt of the bunch,” said Stern.”

“The Justice Department now has until September 9 to propose a list of special master candidates. It was unclear Monday whether the Biden administration would appeal Cannon’s ruling.”

Historian Heather Cox Richardson refers on her Sept. 15, 2022, post to some of the reactions against Cannon’s ruling (https://heathercoxrichardson@substack.com). She writes:

“Legal analysts appear to be appalled by the poor quality of the opinion. Former U.S. acting solicitor general Neal Katyal called it ‘so bad it’s hard to know where to begin.’ Law professor Stephen Vladeck told Charlie Savage of the New York Times that it was ‘an unprecedented intervention…into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation.’ Paul Rosenzweig, a prosecutor in the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, told Savage it was ‘a genuinely unprecedented decision” and said stopping the criminal investigation was “simply untenable.’ Duke University law professor Samuel Buell added: ‘To any lawyer with serious federal criminal court experience…, this ruling is laughably bad…. Trump is getting something no one else ever gets in federal court, he’s getting it for no good reason, and it will not in the slightest reduce the ongoing howls that he’s being persecuted, when he is being privileged.’”

At first Trump rally since FBI search, the former president lashes out at the FBI, Biden, and other “enemies”

Katie Glueck and Michael C. Bender report on Trump’s blustering at a rally held in Wilkes-Barre Township, Pa., on Sept. 3, 2022 (https://nytimes.com/2022/09/04/us/politics/trump-rally-pennsylvania.html). They write:

“In his first rally since his home was searched by the F.B.I. on Aug. 8, former President Donald J. Trump on Saturday lashed out at President Biden and federal agents, calling his Democratic rival ‘an enemy of the state’ and the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice ‘vicious monsters.’”

“In an aggrieved and combative speech in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump stoked anger against law enforcement even as the F.B.I. and federal officials have faced an increase in threats following the search of Mr. Trump’s residence to retrieve classified documents.”

Trump’s tirade “came two days after Mr. Biden warned that democratic values were under assault by forces loyal to Mr. Trump. The former president described Mr. Biden’s address as ‘the most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by an American president.’”

Brett Wilkins reports on Trump’s crazed assertions in his speech

(https://commondreams.org/news/2022/08/04/trump-calls-biden-enemy-state-fully-unhinged-speech).

“What Trump did by calling Biden an ‘enemy of the state’ to his poorly educated crowd is literally threatening the president.”

Making his first public appearance since the FBI’s August 8 raid on his Florida resort home, Trump addressed supporters at a “Save America” rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he stumped for Republican gubernatorial candidate and “Big Lie” supporter Doug Mastriano and U.S. Senate hopeful and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

During his speech, Trump called Biden’s Thursday evening address to the nation [Sept. 1] the “most vicious, hateful, and divisive speech ever delivered by a president,” namely that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.”

Wilkins quotes attorney and author Seth Abramson, who called Trump’s speech “fully unhinged.” Abramson wrote on Twitter that the speech “is quite simply, a speech intended to incite domestic terrorists to kill FBI agents and members of the Biden administration.’ ‘It is shocking that there are no legal consequences for incitement anymore.’” Everything he is saying, Abramson says, “bespeaks future violence.”

Are Trump and his right-wing supporters fascists?

Tom Nichols considers this question and thinks that the U.S. under Trump and the Republicans is in a “pre-fascist interlude” ((https://theatlanatic.com/newsletters/archive/2022/08/fear-of-fascism/671289). Here is some of what he writes.

“I’ve long resisted using the word fascism to describe Donald Trump and his Republican followers, but we have to overcome our reluctance to use strong language and admit that America is now beset by a dangerous antidemocratic movement masquerading as a party.”

“President Joe Biden has been getting a lot of static for referring to the ideology of Donald Trump and his followers as ‘semi-fascism.’ It isn’t surprising that right-wing pundits, such as the Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway, are practically having to take out loans to buy extra strings of pearls to clutch. But even John Avlon at CNN and Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast are trying to warn Biden off from insulting millions of voters.” They are worried that it is unfair to some of Trump’s followers who may not accept everything Trump does or proposes.

Nichols continues: “We cannot, however, let our understandable fear of words such as fascism scare us out of talking about the reality staring us in the face. The GOP itself might not meet the full definition of a ‘fascist’ party—not yet, anyway—but it’s not a normal party, and its base is not an ordinary political movement. It is, instead, a melding of the remnants of a once-great party with an authoritarian, violent, seditionist personality cult bent on capturing and exercising power solely to benefit its own members and punish its imagined enemies among other Americans.

“Is that fascism? For most people, it’s close enough. A would-be strongman and a party of followers enveloped in racism, seized with nostalgia for an imagined glorious past, and drunk on mindless blood-and-soil nationalism all stinks of fascism.”

Nichols hesitancy about using the term is that the political conditions in the U.S. are not yet conducive for the full-blown emergence of a fascist party.

Fascism is more than a romance with a forceful right-wing leader. (And let’s remember: Trump is not a “strongman” in any way—he is one of the weakest and most cowardly men ever to serve as president.) A fascist takeover relies on a disciplined and organized mass party led by dedicated people who, once they gain the levers of government, will zero in on destroying the mechanisms—laws, courts, competing parties—that could dislodge them from power.”

Still, there exists a large and powerful right-wing movement threatening the democratic political system. Nichols puts it this way:

“But something has changed in American life. Trumpism, which has captured the base of the Republican Party, is authoritarian, antidemocratic, anti-constitutional, and anti-American. For now, Trump and the GOP activists are capable only of igniting scramble-brained jacqueries. But Trump’s most faithful followers are headed for fascism, and they will use the GOP as the vehicle to get there unless the rest of us remain true to a pro-democracy coalition.” Trump “has paved the way for them by corroding the guardrails of the American system, normalizing the kinds of rhetoric and attacks on opponents used by actual fascists, and convincing ordinary American voters that mass violence is an alternative to the ballot box.”

What would a Trump second term look like?

Jonathan Rauch considers this question

https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/08/trump-2024-election-victor-orban-hungary/671264 — Rauch is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.

“Ever since the U.S. Senate failed to convict Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection and disqualify him from running for president again, a lot of people, myself included, have been warning that a second Trump term could bring about the extinction of American democracy. Essential features of the system, including the rule of law, honest vote tallies, and orderly succession, would be at risk.

“Today, however, we can do more than just speculate about how a second Trump term would unfold, because the MAGA movement has been telegraphing its plans in some detail. In a host of ways—including the overt embrace of illiberal foreign leaders; the ruthless behavior of Republican elected officials since the 2020 election; Trump’s allies’ elaborate scheming, as uncovered by the House’s January 6 committee, to prevent the peaceful transition of power; and Trump’s own actions in the waning weeks of his presidency and now as ex-president—the former president and his allies have laid out their model and their methods.”

Their playbook:

“First, install toadies in key positions. Upon regaining the White House, the president systematically and unabashedly nominates personal loyalists, with or without qualifications, to Senate-confirmed jobs. Assisted by the likes of Johnny McEntee, a White House aide during his first term, and Kash Patel, a Pentagon staffer, he appoints officials willing to purge conscientious civil servants, neutralize or fire inspectors general, and ignore or overturn inconvenient rules.

“A model for this type of appointee is Jeffrey Clark. A little-known lawyer who led the Justice Department’s environmental division, he secretly plotted with Trump and the White House after the 2020 election to replace the acting attorney general and then use the Justice Department’s powers to pressure officials in Georgia and other states to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Only the threat of mass resignations at the Justice Department derailed the scheme.

“Trump has plenty of Jeffrey Clarks to choose from, and a Republican-controlled Senate would confirm most or all of them. But no matter if the Senate balks or if Democrats control it. Trump will simply do more, much more, of what he raised to an art in his first term: appointing “acting” officials to circumvent Senate confirmation—a practice that, the Associated Press reports, “prompted muttering, but no more than that, from Republican senators whose job description includes confirming top administration aides.”

Second,intimidate the career bureaucracy. On day one of his second term, Trump signs an executive order reinstating an innovation he calls Schedule F federal employment. This designation would effectively turn tens of thousands of civil servants who have a hand in shaping policy into at-will employees. He approved Schedule F in October of his final year in office, but he ran out of time to implement it and President Biden rescinded it.

“Career civil servants have always been supervised by political appointees, and, within the boundaries of law and regulation, so they should be. Schedule F, however, gives Trump a new way to threaten bureaucrats with retaliation and termination if they resist or question him. The result is to weaken an important institutional safeguard against Trump’s demands to do everything from harass his enemies to alter weather forecasts.

Third, co-opt the armed forces. Having identified the military as a locus of resistance in his first term, Trump sets about cashiering senior military leaders. In their place, he promotes and installs officers who will raise no objection to stunts such as sending troops to round up undocumented immigrants or intimidate protesters (or shoot them). Within a couple of years, the military will grow used to acting as a political instrument for the White House.

Fourth,bring law enforcement to heel. Even more intimidating to the president’s opponents than a complaisant military is his securing full control, at long last, over the Justice Department.

“….Trump immediately installs political operatives to lead DOJ, the FBI, and the intelligence and security agencies. Citing as precedent the Biden Justice Department’s investigations of the January 6 events, the White House orchestrates criminal investigations of dozens of Trump’s political enemies, starting with critics such as the ousted Representative Liz Cheney and whistleblowers such as the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. With or without winning convictions, multipronged investigations and prosecutions bankrupt their targets financially and reputationally, menacing anyone who opposes the White House.”

Fifth,weaponize the pardon. In Trump’s first term, officials stood up to many of his illegal and unethical demands because they feared legal jeopardy. The president has a fix for that, too. He wasn’t joking when he mused about pardoning the January 6 rioters. In his first term, he pardoned some of his cronies and dangled pardons to discourage potential testimony against him, but that was a mere dry run.

Now, unrestrained by politics, he offers impunity to those who do his bidding. They may still face jeopardy under state law and from professional sanctions such as disbarment, but Trump’s promises to bestow pardons—and his threats to withhold them—open an unprecedented space for abuse and corruption.

Sixth, the final blow:defy court orders. Naturally, the president’s corrupt and lawless actions incite a blizzard of lawsuits. Members of Congress sue to block illegal appointments, interest groups sue to overturn corrupt rulemaking, targets of investigations sue to quash subpoenas, and so on. Trump meets these challenges with long-practiced aplomb. As he has always done, he uses every tactic in the book to contest, stonewall, tangle, and politicize litigation. He creates a perpetual-motion machine of appeals and delays while court after court rules against him.”

“Yet having been reinstated and never again to face voters, Trump now has no compunctions. The courts’ orders, he claims, are illegitimate machinations of Democrats and the “deep state.” Ordered to reinstate an illegally fired inspector general, the Justice Department nonetheless bars her from the premises. Ordered to rescind an improperly adopted regulation, the Department of Homeland Security continues to enforce it. Ordered to provide documents to Congress, the National Archives shrugs.

“At first, the president’s lawlessness seems shocking. Yet soon, as Republicans defend it, the public grows acclimated. To salvage what it can of its authority, the Supreme Court accommodates Trump more than the other way around. It becomes gun-shy about crossing him.

“And so we arrive: With the courts relegated to advisory status, the rule of law no longer obtains. In other words, America is no longer a liberal democracy, and by this point, there is not much anyone can do about it.

“Of course, there are congressional hearings, contempt-of-court orders, outraged New York Times editorials. Trump needn’t care. The MAGA base, conservative media, and plenty of Republicans in Congress defend their leader with whatever untruths, conspiracy theories, and what-abouts are needed. Fox News and other pro-Trump outlets play the role of state media, even if out of fear more than enthusiasm.

“Meanwhile, MAGA forces are busy installing loyalists as governors, election officials, district attorneys, and other crucial state and local positions. They do not succeed in every attempt, but over the course of four years, they gather enough corrupt officials to cast doubt on the legitimacy of any election they lose. They invent creative ways to obstruct anyone who challenges them politically. And they are not shy about encouraging thuggish supporters to harass and menace “traitors.”

“And so, after four years? America has crossed Freedom House’s line from ‘free’ to “partly free.” The president’s powers are determined by what he can get away with. His opponents are harried, chilled, demoralized. He is term-limited, but the MAGA movement has entrenched itself. And Trump has demonstrated in the United States what Orbán proved in Hungary: The public will accept authoritarianism, provided it is of the creeping variety.

“We should not be afraid to go against the spirit of the age and build an illiberal political and state system,” Orbán declared in 2014. Trump and his followers openly plan to emulate Orbán. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Concluding thoughts

Despite Trump’s mishandling, most likely criminal mishandling, of government documents, Judge Cannon’s ruling to require a “special master” has the goal of stopping the DOJ/FBI investigation. The future of the investigation is thus jeopardized. The decision could be appealed, but this would take months and the government’s investigation could end up being shelved by House Republicans if they obtain a majority of seats in the 2022 midterm elections. Meanwhile, Trump and his allies at all levels of the political system will continue to spout lies about January 6 and about the FBI search and use their power to advance their extremist policies. Tens of millions of MAGA/Trump supporters will enthusiastically go along.

What will it take to protect US democracy from Trump and the right-wing fanatics and other Republicans who support the former president.

Dana Milbank identifies some of what must happened to prevent an anti-democratic Republican takeover of the federal government in his recently published book, The Destructivists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican. He writes:

“There are any number of things we could do, as a country, to restore democratic institutions, and faith in them: restoring and protecting voter rights; cracking down on social media disinformation; reining in the corruption unleashed by Citizens United; reforming the Supreme Court; rebuilding civics education; rescuing local newspapers. But any of these remedies presupposed that both major American political parties are operating on the level. We don’t have that now. The Republican Party is not a good-faith actor in the democratic system. So there’s not much we can do but ride it out – and vote as if our way of life is at stake, for surely it is” (p. 308).

Indeed, such reforms are necessary. But it will take a broad, majoritarian, pro-democratic coalition to make these reforms and others politically feasible.

Trump and his allies attack the FBI

Bob Sheak, August 23, 2022

Introduction

The central question for this post is whether U.S. democracy can survive the onslaught by Trump and his vast right-wing allies against the constitutional rights of Americans and institutions of the country. There is no doubt that Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. There is no doubt he and his supporters could care less about democracy. The reaction to the FBI raid on Trump’s residence Mar-a-Lago is an example of the willingness of Trump’s base to believe whatever he says, however devoid of verifiable evidence, however outlandish. There is also evidence that some in Trump’s electoral base are willing to engage in violence when Trump claims he is under attack or when he promotes “the big lie.”

Part 1 – Trump at the center of the political disarray and challenge to U.S. democracy

There is little doubt that Trump retains the dominant role in the Republican Party. His power rests on the unquestioning, cult-like support he gets from tens of millions of Americans. Recall that 74 million Americans voted for his presidential bid in 2020. Republicans now running for office at all levels of government tap into this massive force by publicly supporting Trump and his right-wing policies.

#1 – Trump’s base and their interests

Trump has won the allegiance of his large electoral base by supporting unhindered gun ownership, an end to legal abortion, strong anti-immigrant policies, Christian nationalism, a culture of white supremacy, ignoring or being dismissive about global warming and promoting the unlimited use of fossil fuels, and going along with whatever his largest constituency of extremist evangelicals wants. On the latter point, Nicholas Powers reports on how “wealthy donors bankroll Christian Nationalists to sustain unregulated capitalism” (https://truthout.org/articles/wealthy-donors-bankroll-christian-nationalists-to-sustain-unnregulated-capitalism). But there is more. Many of Trump supporters are drawn to support him because he also represents, however ambiguously, opposition to the present political order. Here are some of what stands out from these dark corners of the political system.

#2 – A vision of anti-democratic transformation

From the perspective of Trump and his allies, the values of liberal or progressive democracy are viewed as inimical to the kind of political system they want. They want to limit the vote of black and brown people. (See Kathleen Belew and Ramon A. Gutierrez’s book, A Field Guide to White Supremacy, or Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote.) They want to eliminate or censure information in the schools and media that contradicts their anti-democratic views. They attack the right of privacy and other “rights.” They view existing political institutions as posing barriers to their view of “freedom.”

And, for some, if the society’s laws cannot be changed to suit the extremists, then sometimes violence or threatened violence is necessary. See Malcolm Nance’s new book, They Want to Kill Americans: The Militias, Terrorists, and Deranged Ideology of the Trump Insurgency.

Additionally, Trump’s base seems to care little about how Trump lies or his malicious narcissism (Bandy Lee, ed., The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump) or the financial benefits he and his family have accrued during his presidential years (David Cay Johnston, The Big Cheat: How Donald Trump Fleeced America and Enriched Himself and His Family).

#3 – An increasingly violent society

Tom Nichols, an American writer, academic specialist on international affairs, and retired professor at the U.S. Naval War College, considers that a “new era of political violence is here” (https://theatlantic.com/newsletter/archive/2022/08/the-new-ear-of-political-violence-is-here/671146). Nichols does not think that the country is about to enter a civil war like the one fought in the 1860s. Nonetheless, it is serious. Trump and his followers appear to be unrelenting and uncompromising in their beliefs and determination to radically change the system.

“The United States now faces a different kind of violence, from people who believe in nothing—or at least, in nothing real. We do not risk the creation of organized armies and militias in Virginia or Louisiana or Alabama marching on federal institutions. Instead, all of us face random threats and unpredictable dangers from people among us who spend too much time watching television and plunging down internet rabbit holes. These people, acting individually or in small groups, will be led not by rebel generals but by narcissistic wannabe heroes, and they will be egged on by cowards and instigators who will inflame them from the safety of a television or radio studio—or from behind the shield of elected office.

“Occasionally, they will congeal into a mob, as they did on January 6, 2021.”

Nichols delves into what draws them to Trump. “There is no single principle that unites these Americans in their violence against their fellow citizens. They will tell you that they are for ‘liberty’ and “freedom,’ but these are merely code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments, and a generalized paranoia that dark forces are manipulating their lives. These are not people who are going to take up the flag of a state or of a deeper cause; they have already taken up the flag of a failed president, and their causes are a farrago of conspiracy theories and pulpy science-fiction plots.”

“What makes this situation worse,” Nichols writes, “is that there is no remedy for it. When people are driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalized sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything. Winning elections, burning effigies, even shooting at other citizens does not soothe their anger but instead deepens the spiritual and moral void that haunts them.

Donald Trump is central to “this fraying of public sanity.” He is lauded “because he has done one thing for such people that no one else could do: He has made their lives interesting. He has made them feel important. He has taken their itching frustrations about the unfairness of life and created a morality play around them, and cast himself as the central character. Trump, to his supporters, is the avenging angel who is going to lay waste to the ‘elites,’ the smarty-pantses and do-gooders, the godless and the smug, the satisfied and the comfortable.”

The danger to U.S. democracy intensifies.

Nichols continues: “When enough Americans decide that a cult of personality matters more than a commitment to democracy, we risk becoming a lawless autocracy. This is why we must continue to demand that Trump and his enablers face the consequences of their actions: To cave in the face of threats means the end of democracy. And it would not, in any event, mollify those among our fellow citizens who have chosen to discard the Constitution so that they can keep mainlining jolts of drama from morning ’til night.

“We are going to be living in this era of political violence for the foreseeable future. All any of us can do is continue, among our friends and family and neighbors, to say and defend what is right in the face of lies and delusions.”

Trump continuously looks for opportunities to incite the anger of his electoral base and to consolidate their ongoing support. Verifiable facts are dismissed or ignored.

#4 – Trump’s record of disinformation

Fred Wertheimer, the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote government accountability and integrity, reviews Trump’s record of lying, arguing that he “has no allegiance to the truth or rule of law” (https://commondrams.org/views/2022/08/19/trump-has-no-allegiance-truth-or-rule-law-mar-lago-edition). Here’s some of what he writes.

“Trump constantly attacks the integrity of our government institutions, our constitutional system, and the rule of law in order to support his autocratic and demagogic ways.

“During Trump’s presidency, he made 30,573 false or misleading claims—a stunning average of 21 per day—according to The Washington Post.

“Trump is a bald-faced liar. His nonstop lying that the 2020 election was stolen from him is a classic version of the Big Lie made infamous by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“Trump also practices the art of ‘lie shifting,’ strategically bouncing from one lie to the next to minimize the ability of the truth to catch up with him.

“Trump’s latest example of “lie shifting” began when the FBI exercised a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago last week to recover classified government documents.”

—————

Part 2 – Reactions to the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, Trumps palatial property in Palm Beach, Florida

On August 8, the FBI, with the approval of Attorney General Merrick Garland, carried out the search as part of an investigation into whether Trump mishandled classified documents when he was president.

The FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago generated a blizzard of diverse responses. Generally, the majority of Democrats support the action, Republicans criticize it, and Independents lean more toward opposition than support (see, for example: https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2022/08/17/trump-fbi-and-mar-lago-raid-economist-yougov-poll).  

#1 – Republicans rally in support of Trump

Republican strategist John Thomas told Newsweek’s Xander Landen,

“The FBI‘s raid of former President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago property turned him into a ‘victim’ and boosted his support among GOP voters.” From Trump’s perspective, the raid is a “watershed” event for Trump that led “people who liked him but might have softened on him to now run to his support or run to his defense” (https://newsweek.com/mar-a-lago-made-trump-victim-boosts-support-gop-strategist-1735432).

Landen refers to three polls to substantiate the right-wing reaction.

“A poll conducted by Morning Consult and Politico two days after the FBI’s raid showed Trump with his highest level of Republican support since he lost the 2020 election, with 58 percent of GOP voters saying they would back the former president if he ran for reelection in 2024. Nearly 70 percent of the Republicans polled said they believed the search was primarily conducted to damage Trump’s political career.

“Another poll published by The Economist/YouGov on Thursday found 57 percent of Republicans with a favorable view of the former president—up from 45 percent from the same poll taken the week before.

“Another recent poll by conservative-leaning polling firm Rasmussen Reports shows that the Mar-a-Lago raid may also be chipping away at independents’ trust in the FBI. It found 46 percent of voters who don’t identify with the two major political parties trust the agency less after the event.”

#2 – Funds pour into Trump’s coffers

Washington Post journalists Josh Dawsey and Isaac Arnsdorf report on how in the wake of the FBI raid the president’s fundraising rose to over $1 million a day, after sagging earlier this year in 2022

(https://washingtonpost.com/politico/2022/08/17/trump-fundraising-fib-raid). Trump sent out “more than 100 emails asking for money based on the FBI’s search of the Mar-a-Lago Club for classified materials last week. They paid off.”

“The fire hose of [false or misleading] Trump fundraising emails referencing the Mar-a-Lago search exceeded the PAC’s average pace of about nine per day. The messages used alarming phrases in bold and all-caps such as ‘THEY BROKE INTO MY HOME,’ ‘They’re coming after YOU,’ and ‘THIS IS INSANE.’ One message included a poll asking, ‘Do you agree that President Trump is being politically persecuted?’ Another promised ‘an exclusive 1300% MATCH today only!,’ a common tactic used to encourage people to respond immediately.”

Dawsey and  Arnsdorf continue.

“Contributions to Trump’s political action committee topped $1 million on at least two days after the Aug. 8 search of his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, according to two people familiar with the figures. The daily hauls jumped from a level of $200,000 to $300,000 that had been typical in recent months, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information.”

“The influx comes at a crucial time for Trump as he considers an early announcement for a 2024 presidential campaign and has seen dwindling returns on his online fundraising solicitations earlier this year. The former president’s PAC brought in $36 million in the first half of the year, dropping below $50 million in a six-month period for the first time since he left office, according to Federal Election Commission data.”

A record of self-serving deception

“The House Jan. 6 committee has been investigating fundraising emails from Trump and Republican groups that promoted false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. At a June hearing, a committee investigator said the Trump campaign sent as many as 25 emails a day asking for donations to an ‘Official Election Defense Fund’ that did not actually exist. But the solicitations raised hundreds of millions.

“Since leaving office, Trump has raised more than $100 million for his PAC — often with misleading pitches — but has kept most of the money, only spending big on a handful of races and paying for some staff, legal fees and travel, according to a review of disclosure filings. He has told advisers he wants to keep the money and that it shows political strength.”

#3 – Why did Trump resist returning government documents?

Maggie Haberman considers Trump’s motives and his false explanations about the FBI raid on the Mar-a-Lago residence (https://nytimes.com/2022/08/18/us/politics/trump-fbi-classified-documents.html).

Classified government documents treated as his personal property

“For four years, former President Donald J. Trump treated the federal government and the political apparatus operating in his name as an extension of his private real estate company.

“It all belonged to him, he felt, melded together into a Trump brand that he had been nurturing for decades.

“‘My generals,’ he repeatedly said of the active-duty and retired military leaders who filled his government. ‘My money,’ he often called the cash he raised through his campaign or for the Republican National Committee. ‘My Kevin,’ he said of Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader.

Trump also believed that the documents in question were his possessions.

“‘They’re mine,’ three of Mr. Trump’s advisers said that he stated repeatedly when he was urged to return boxes of documents, some of them highly classified, that the National Archives sought after Mr. Trump took them with him to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Fla., in January 2021. A nearly 18-month back-and-forth between the government and Mr. Trump ended in an extraordinary F.B.I. search for the documents at Mar-a-Lago last week.”

Haberman quotes lawyer Mark S. Zaid.

“‘From my own experiences with him, which is bolstered by those around him who are speaking in his defense, his actions seem to fit the pattern that as ‘king,’ he and the state are one and the same,’ said Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer who frequently handles cases related to national security and security clearances, including during the Trump presidency. ‘He seems to honestly believe that everything he touches belongs to him, and that includes government documents that might be classified.’”

Trump has been careless in handling documents.

“Although Trump White House officials were warned about the proper handling of sensitive material, aides said Mr. Trump had little interest in the security of government documents or protocols to keep them protected.

“Early on, Mr. Trump became known among his staff as a hoarder who threw all manner of paper — sensitive material, news clips and various other items — into cardboard boxes that a valet or other personal aide would cart around with him wherever he went.

“Mr. Trump repeatedly had material sent up to the White House residence, and it was not always clear what happened to it. He sometimes asked to keep material after his intelligence briefings, but aides said he was so uninterested in the paperwork during the briefings themselves that they never understood what he wanted it for.

“He also had a habit of ripping up paper, from routine documents to classified material, and leaving the pieces strewn around the floor or in a trash can. Officials would have to rummage through the shreds and tape them back together to recreate the documents in order to store them as required under the Presidential Records Act.

“On some occasions, Mr. Trump would rip up documents — some with his handwriting on them — and throw the pieces in a toilet, which occasionally clogged the pipes in the White House. He did the same thing on at least two foreign trips, former officials said.

#4 – Violent right-wing reactions are provoked

Hanna Allam reports on the “simmering violence” emanating from Trump’s reactions to the FBI search of his property (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/09/trump-violence-threats-fbi-search)

She points out that right-wing agitators with millions of followers have for months

“peddled the idea that a moment was coming soon when violence would become necessary — a patriotic duty — to save the republic.” Then, within hours of the search at Mar-a-Lago, “a chorus of Republican lawmakers, conservative talk-show hosts, anti-government provocateurs and pro-Trump conspiracy theorists began issuing explicit or thinly veiled calls for violence.” For example, she refers to Steven Crowder, a right-wing podcaster with nearly 2 million followers on Twitter, who described the raid as something akin to “war.”

Research by Caroline Orr Bueno, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland has “compiled a collage of dozens of screenshots of tweets calling for violence in response to the search, or ‘raid’ in the parlance of Trump supporters. ‘I already bought my ammo,’ one person boasted in the sampling. ‘Civil war! Pick up arms, people!’ ordered another.”

Allam also refers to threats to the Judge who approved the search warrant, writing:

“An immediate concern is the safety of the federal judge in Florida who approved the search warrant. Once his name made its way to right-wing forums, threats and conspiracy theories soon followed. Online pro-Trump groups spread his contact information and, as of Tuesday afternoon, the judge’s official page was no longer accessible on the court’s website.”

“Since the search Monday, Telegram channels popular with right-wing militants have been awash with vows to ‘lock and load’ for civil war against what they deem a tyrannical federal government subverting the Constitution and ‘persecuting’ a patriotic leader. NBC News identified one user who referenced civil war on The Donald, a Reddit-like forum for Trump supporters, as Tyler Welsh Slaeker, who is awaiting sentencing for his role in storming the Capitol.

“In mainstream GOP quarters, extremism trackers say, the nudges toward violence are more subtle, with statements delegitimizing the government as a ‘police state’ or a ‘banana republic’ that must be opposed, starting with the dismantling of federal agencies. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called the search ‘the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.’

Consider other points Allam makes about the violent rhetoric stemming from the Right.

Tolerance for violence

“A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that about 1 in 3 Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified, the largest share to feel that way in more than two decades. Other studies similarly have found a growing tolerance of violent ideologies that historically were confined to fringe elements.

Don’t trust government

“Extremism analysts said that’s what they fear is happening now, with a burst of inflammatory rhetoric this week telling millions of Republicans that they should abandon trust in the FBI, the electoral system, schools — virtually all functions of government.”

Seize power by force

“Holley Hansen, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University who researches political violence and conflict mediation, cited a description of democracy as ‘governance through conflict,’ a system that encourages vigorous debate but with mechanisms to resolve disagreements peacefully. The problem, Hansen said, is that the 2020 election denial was a catalyst in the militant movement’s long game to undermine democratic institutions and seize power by force.

“‘If you can’t trust the institutions that are designed to peacefully resolve disputes and you begin to see the other side as an enemy,’ Hansen said, ‘the desire to act — and the need to act — really becomes more easily justified.’”

#5 – Attacks on FBI

Aishvarya Kavi reports on how Democratic lawmakers are demanding social media firms stop allowing posts on their platforms that encourage such violence (https://nytimes.com/2022/08/19/us/politics/social-media-threats-fbi-trump.html).

“The leaders of two House panels sent letters on Friday to eight social media companies demanding that they take ‘immediate action’ to address threats on their platforms toward federal law enforcement officials after a surge in right-wing calls for violence following the F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s home in Florida.

In the letters, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, and Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of its National Security Subcommittee, also expressed concern about ‘reckless statements’ from Mr. Trump and some Republican members of Congress. The statements have ‘coincided with a spike in social media users calling for civil war and violence toward law enforcement,’ they said.”

“The letters were sent to mainstream platforms like Twitter, TikTok and Facebook’s parent company, Meta, as well as right-wing social media sites like Gab, Gettr and Rumble. A letter also went to Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s social media site, which erupted with calls for violence last week, after F.B.I. agents carted away boxes of highly sensitive documents from Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Mr. Trump had apparently taken the materials from the White House and refused to return them.

Kavi continues.

“The lawmakers’ letters specifically cited comments from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, accusing the Justice Department of being ‘weaponized’ against Mr. Trump, and inflammatory tweets from Republican lawmakers. Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, separately drew comparisons between the F.B.I. and the Nazi secret police. A state lawmaker in Florida wrote that F.B.I. agents operating there “should be arrested upon sight.”

“The House lawmakers asked companies to provide information on the number of threats they had identified against federal law enforcement, how many they had removed and reported to the authorities, and whether they were directly related to the Mar-a-Lago search. The letters also asked for information on the companies’ approaches to removing threats from their platforms.

“In the 24 hours after the Mar-a-Lago search, Twitter saw a tenfold increase in posts mentioning “civil war,” according to Dataminr, a tool that analyzes Twitter data. On Telegram, a messaging platform that the lawmakers also contacted, the Proud Boys, a far-right group, posted in the hours after the search that “civil war is imminent.”

“Truth Social users also posted messages urging others to take up arms and ‘fight back.’ An account matching the name of Ricky W. Shiffer, the Ohio man who tried to breach the F.B.I.’s field office in Cincinnati last week and was killed by law enforcement after exchanging gunfire in an hours long standoff, posted messages proposing war and urging others to kill federal agents. The House lawmakers cited the episode as an instance of how online vitriol had resulted in real-world violence, and they noted other clear threats to kill F.B.I. agents on sites like Gab.

“‘Violent rhetoric and personal threats and attacks toward law enforcement officers have deadly consequences,’ the lawmakers wrote.”

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Part 3 -Trump’s criticisms of the FBI raid don’t hold up

Bill Blum, a Los Angeles lawyer and a former state of California administrative law judge, delves into what the FBI seized and the dubious justifications Trump and his advisers have offered for keeping the documents (https://progressive.org/latest/mar-a-lago-raid-trump-capone-blum-081522). Blum’s article was published on August 15, 2022.

What did the FBI seize?

“The return to the warrant indicates the FBI seized twenty-eight items of evidence, including twenty-one boxes containing unspecified materials, four sets of ‘top secret’ documents and one set of ‘classified TS/SCI [top-secret segmented compartmented information] documents,’ a reference to information concerning intelligence sources and methods that requires special handling and could involve nuclear science and design files. In addition, the FBI hauled away various photo binders, information about the president of France, and Trump’s signed grant of clemency to Roger Stone.” 

Maggie Haberman and her colleagues at the New York Times report that Trump had 300 classified documents at Mar-a-Lago (https://nytimes.com/2022/08/22/us/politics/trump-mar-a-lago-documents.html). They write:

“In total, the government has recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings from Mr. Trump since he left office, the people said: that first batch of documents returned in January, another set provided by Mr. Trump’s aides to the Justice Department in June and the material seized by the F.B.I. in the search this month.”

Trump and his sycophants have floated various “defenses” against a possible future prosecution. Blum reviews the claims.

#1 – “In a post on his Truth Social media platform two days after the search, the former President suggested federal agents may have secretly ‘planted’ evidence against him. The claim has been echoed by at least one of Trump’s attorneys and by rightwing media personalities such as Jesse Waters of Fox News.” 

“No evidence, however, has been made public to support the claim, and subsequent reporting has disclosed that Trump and family members, who were in Trump Tower in New York City at the time of the search, watched the entire operation via a closed-circuit security feed broadcast from Mar-a-Lago.”

#2 – “Trump and his minions have also protested that any documents the FBI found had been declassified before they were removed to Mar-a-Lago while Trump was still in office. Thus, they contend, no crimes were committed. 

“Although Presidents do have broad authority to declassify information, this defense won’t save Trump, either. Detailed procedures must be followed to implement a declassification directive, the directive must be in writing, and even a President lacks authority to unilaterally declassify nuclear secrets. 

“Equally problematic for Trump is that the three statutes he is alleged to have violated do not explicitly require that the records in question be classified. All that needs to be shown is that the records belong to the government, not Trump, and in the case of the Espionage Act, that the records pertain to national defense.” 

#3 – “Apparently realizing that he’s been trapped by a predicament of his own making, Trump has argued that former-President Obama left the White House with ‘33 million pages of documents, much of them classified,’ including items related to U.S. nuclear programs, and that Obama faced no adverse consequences.

However, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) quickly issued a sharp rebuke of the Obama comparison. Obama, according to the agency, turned everything over.” 

#4 – “As the Justice Department’s probe proceeds, Trump also can be expected to reprise his condemnation of Hillary Clinton, who narrowly avoided prosecution for her use of a private email server that contained classified documents while she was Secretary of State. This defense, too, will prove ineffective.

“Clinton was investigated by the FBI. But, as former Director James

Comey famously explained in a July 2016 press release, while Clinton was ‘extremely careless’ in her email use, it could not be shown that she acted with criminal intent to willfully mishandle classified information or obstruct justice.

National Archives first alerted Trump in Jan 2021

“The same cannot be said of Trump. The National Archives first alerted Trump in January 2021 of his obligation to return all official records from his time in office. Trump turned over fifteen boxes of records a year later, but withheld other records. NARA referred the matter to the Justice Department last February, and the Justice Department has been trying ever since to obtain compliance. 

Lying and delaying

“Far from cooperating with the department, Trump hedged, delayed, and prevaricated. According to The New York Times, a Trump attorney signed a written statement in June, asserting that all classified material held at Mar-a-Lago had been returned. That assertion was untrue.

Some Trump supporters now demand to see the affidavit – not a bad idea

“In a sign of growing desperation, some of the former President’s staunchest allies, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are demanding to see the affidavit filed in support of the search warrant, upon which Judge Reinhart based his finding of probable cause. 

“Affidavits are the heart of any application for a search warrant. In compliance with the Fourth Amendment, they are used to detail the facts and circumstances requiring the issuance of a warrant, and to specify the places to be searched and the items to be seized. They are typically sworn to by federal agents and are rarely released while an investigation is in progress in order to protect the identity of federal agents and any informants who have cooperated with the government. 

“Still, if there was ever a case that merited the early release of a redacted version of an affidavit, the first-ever search and seizure involving a former President of the United States is such a case. And make no mistake: Releasing the affidavit is the last thing Trump and his supporters really should want. They would be well advised to devote all their energy and limited legal talent to suppressing the affidavit along with the evidence seized. If and when it sees the light of day, the affidavit will help to bury Trump.”

John Wagner reports that Trump and his lawyers seem now to agree that releasing the affidavit is not a good idea (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/22/fbi-search-trump-affidavit).

“The affidavit would provide the most comprehensive rationale for why the government pushed to search Trump’s property — and what investigative steps it took beforehand. It would show whom the Justice officials had interviewed, what they believed was potentially on the premises and why they assessed there was probable cause that crimes had been committed.

“Writing on his Truth Social platform, Trump called last week for “’the immediate release of the completely Unredacted Affidavit.’ However, his lawyers have yet to follow through in court.

“The judge noted Monday that in the two weeks since the FBI seized classified documents, Trump has not filed a legal motion about whether the affidavit should be made public.

“‘Neither Former President Trump nor anyone else purporting to be the owner of the Premises has filed a pleading taking a position on the Intervenors’ Motions to Unseal,’ the judge wrote.”

Another Trump defense – material is protected by executive privilege

“On August 14, Trump offered yet another defense, demanding that the FBI return the seized material as some of the boxes taken allegedly contained confidential attorney-client communications, and items protected by executive privilege. The former President apparently doesn’t realize that by raising this objection, he has completely undercut his earlier claim that the documents were planted. 

We may want to see Trump prosecuted for his role in the January 6 insurrection, but holding him accountable for serious records and reporting violations may be the easiest and quickest road to a felony conviction. 

——————

Part 4 – Potential government charges

Interviewed Aug. 15, 2022 on Democracy Now, Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, thinks that Trump faces Espionage and other federal charges (https://democracynow.org/2022/8/15/donald_trump_fbi_investigation_espionage_act). Here’s what she said.

“Well, I think it’s very significant, I think, symbolically, as well as legally. Now, the Espionage Act actually raises the specter of crimes against the country’s national defense. This part of the Espionage Act that’s referred to in the warrant is not the part that’s about spying, but about the handling of national defense information — in their words, gathering, transmitting or losing defense information. It’s illegal to remove documents related to national security from their proper place, which, as we know, is the National Archives, if they could pose a threat to national security. So that’s the big charge that gets all the headlines that was leveled against president.

“But then, there are also two other issues here, and they carry higher charges, and they’re very important. One is the criminal handling of government records, the destruction, alteration or falsification of government records or documents in investigations. And it’s a prison sentence that could be up to 20 years. This is the obstruction of justice charge that is referred to. And finally, there’s the potential charge of making illegal the destruction of, theft of any government document. And we’ve seen in the recent past use of this, for example, with Petraeus and sort of allegations of this with others, but Petraeus is the name that comes to mind by this. And this is punishable by three years.

“So, these are incredibly serious charges, not just in the espionage front, but in other possible charges. Now, he hasn’t been charged. This is what’s just said in the warrant could be what they are looking for. It justifies the search legally…. So, again, he hasn’t been charged, but this is what they’re looking for in the documents that they took away. And remember that some of the documents they took away were reported to be classified. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Concluding thoughts

Trump and his allies have no interest in preserving democracy. They want power by whatever means. There are fascist implications of what they are doing. Their rage and duplicity over the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago is just one recent example. If they get their way, the U.S. will end up with a fascist state that ignores constitutional restraints and that uses social and other media to attack opponents and to generate detailed information on what people think and do.

Bear in mind that after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration introduced a program called Total Information Awareness. Matthew C. MacWilliams describes it in his book, On Fascism: 12 Lessons From American History.

“In the days immediately following 9/11, President George W. Bush issued a flurry of public proclamations and executive orders. With stroke of a pen, Bush declared a national emergency, ordered the ready reserves of the armed forces to active duty, and established the Office of Homeland Security. Three public pronouncements were accompanied by secret presidential orders that still remain under wraps today. One of these orders, uncovered by the New York Times four years later, authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to warrantlessly intercept telephone calls and emails made with the United States – a direct violation of both the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. With a green light from the president to ignore Fourth Amendment protections against warrentless search and seizure, the NSA began a programs of surreptitious snooping into private conversations and communications of Americans far and wide.”

Trump and his allies seem to want a society that will be one that consolidate the privileges of some, while systematically denying it to the majority of Americans. It will be a society in which fear of those in authority and of violent, gun-toting militia is pervasive. It will be similar to other oligarchic regimes around the globe (see Moises Naim’s book, The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century, or John Feffer’s Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response).

It doesn’t have to be. Politically, a majority of Democratic voters could vote for liberal and progressive candidates in the 2022 mid-term elections. Left-of-center social movements could have a positive influence in educating Americans and encouraging their political involvement – at least to vote. And the achievements of the Biden administration may sway some citizens. Fear of what Trump and his allies envision and work for may motivate opposition to Trump and his allies. Such influences, moreover, may be enough to draw independent voters to support Democratic candidates. Presently, the other side is well-organized, well-funded, covered by right-wing media, well-armed, and, with the additional support of a right-leaning Supreme Court, seems willing to ignore the constitution and employ violence to get their way. The question: Will democracy in America prove to be strong enough to weather the autocratic, fascist storm.

The existential threat of global warming amid political gridlock and fossil-fuel dependence

Bob Sheak, Aug 11, 2022

Trump, the Republican Party, and their supporters have either denied the realty of global warming, dismissed its seriousness, proposed untested geo-engineering “solutions,” and/or continued to promote fossil fuels. If Republicans succeed in taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives and/or U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, any Democratic policies that are aimed at phasing out fossil fuels, or just reducing emissions and increasing support for solar, wind, and geothermal energy or energy efficiency measures, will be eliminated or scaled way back.

In that situation, the rising temperatures associated with global warming will continue to rise as will a myriad of harmful effects associated with it. At some point over the next 1 or 2 decades, a tipping point will be reached at which time global warming will be out of control, societies will crumble, and more and more of the planet will become uninhabitable. See Mark Lynas’ book, Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency, for an analysis of the effects of each additional degree of warming.  

Republicans and their supporters appear willing to continue the energy status quo, to go on wallowing in right-wing propaganda, and to avoid or reject policies that require serious government intervention.

There are four parts to this post. First, I give examples of the effects of global warming to make the point that it is real and worsening. Second, I identify some of the principal sources of the problem, including large swaths of the corporate community, the Republican Party and its supporters, the lobbyists who sway government lawmakers. Third, I consider what the Biden administration has done to reduce the carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels. Four, I consider the  Democrats’ just passed “Inflation Adjustment Act,” and its positive and negative provisions.

———————

Part 1 – Global warming is real

The Republican and associated right-wing forces who reject, dismiss, or marginalize the existential threat of global warming, live in a fantasy world divorced from science.

Chris Hedges provides an overview of the unfolding effects of global warming across the world as well as in the U.S. (https://scheerpost.com/2022/07/26/chris-hedges-the-dawn-of-the-apocalypse).

“The past week [last week of July, 2022] has seen record-breaking heat waves across Europe. Wildfires have ripped through Spain, Portugal and France. London’s fire brigade experienced its busiest day since World War II. The U.K. saw its hottest day on record of 104.54 Fahrenheit. In China, more than a dozen cities issued the “highest possible heat warning” this weekend with over 900 million people in China enduring a scorching heat wave along with severe flooding and landslides across large swathes of southern China. Dozens of people have died. Millions of Chinese have been displaced. Economic losses run into the billions of yuan. Droughts, which have destroyed crops, killed livestock and forced many to flee their homes, are creating a potential famine in the Horn of Africa. More than 100 million people in the United States are under heat alerts in more than two dozen states from temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s and low 100s. Wildfires have destroyed thousands of acres in California. More than 73 percent of New Mexico is suffering from an “extreme” or “severe” drought. Thousands of people had to flee from a fast-moving brush fire near Yosemite National Park on Saturday and 2,000 homes and businesses lost power.”

Hedges quotes U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres who told ministers from 40 countries that “half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires…. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.” Politico reported Thursday that the oil and gas industry—which has spent more than $200 million since last year to tank climate legislation—has “identified provisions that may make the climate medicine go down a little easier.”

Examples of the effects of global warming

Heat waves

Isabella Grullon Paz reports that almost “a third of the U.S. faces excessive heat, with misery spreading to the coasts (https://nytimes.com/2022-07/20/us/heat-adversaries-warnings-oklahoma-texas-arkansas.html). She writes:

“Heat warnings and advisories were in place for parts or all of 28 states. People in the Southeast and the Southern Plains faced the most oppressive temperatures, with triple digits forecast for Wednesday and beyond across parts of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, said Andrew Orrison, a Weather Service meteorologist.

Oklahoma City broke a daily heat record dating back to the Dust Bowl era on Tuesday with a temperature of 110 — tied for the state’s highest-ever July temperature, the Weather Service said — and Austin is set on Wednesday to see its 40th straight day of highs over 100 degrees.

Droughts

Research scientist Imtiaz Rangwala points out that “[m]uch of the western U.S. has been in the grip of an unrelenting drought since early 2020 ((https://theconversation.com/grim-2022-drought-outlook-for-western-us-offers-warnings-for-the-future-as-climate-change-brings-a-hotter-thirstier-atmosphere-182640).  The dryness has coincided with record-breaking wildfires, intense and long-lasting heat waveslow stream flows and dwindling water supplies in reservoirs that millions of people across the region rely on.”

Water shortages

Daniel Rothberg writes on the “Coming Crisis Along the Colorado River” (https://nytimes.com/2022/08/04/opinion/drought-climate-colorado-river.html).  

 Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Mr. Rothberg is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, where he covers the environment, water and energy. He is writing a book about water scarcity in Nevada. His major point here is captured by the following statements.

“About 40 million people rely on the Colorado River as it flows from Wyoming to Mexico. But overuse and climate change have contributed to its reservoirs drying up at such a rapid rate that the probability of disastrous disruptions to the deliveries of water and hydroelectric power across the Southwest have become increasingly likely. Now the seven states that depend on the river must negotiate major cuts in water use by mid-August or have them imposed by the federal government.

“Those cuts are merely the beginning as the region struggles to adapt to an increasingly arid West. The rules for operating the river’s shrinking reservoirs expire in 2026, and those seven states must forge a new agreement on water use for farmers, businesses and cities.

“What’s worse, all of this is happening in a region that is one of the fastest growing in the United States, even as the signs of an impending crisis become more pronounced. Outside of Las Vegas, Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir by volume, fed by the Colorado and three smaller tributaries, is nearly three-quarters empty and at its lowest level since April 1937, when it was first being filled. The 22-year downward trend is “a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries,” according to NASA’s Earth Observatory program.”

Deforestation

Kathy Egland and Leo Woordberry report on how logging is slashing the ability of US Forests’to absorb carbon by over one-third (https://truthout.org/articles/logging-is-slashing-us-forests-ability-to-absorb-carbon-by-only-one-third).

“Forests are the only proven, large-scale system we have for soaking up carbon and locking it away for centuries. But logging is slashing U.S. forests’ ability to accumulate carbon by over one-third. And because felled trees immediately release most of the carbon they store, logging in the United States releases about 723 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.”

They also note,

“It doesn’t make sense to keep using taxpayer money and taxpayer-owned land to expand logging, but that’s exactly what’s happening. For example, last year’s giant infrastructure bill called for 30 million acres of additional logging on public land — an area bigger than the state of Pennsylvania. It also featured $400 million to expand markets for wood, while easing environmental standards for logging in national forests.”

Wildfires

Winston Choi-Schagrin points to evidence on how wildfires are intensifying

(https://nytimes.com/2021/07/16/climate/wildfires-smoke-safety-questions.html). Here’s some of what he writes.

“By nearly every metric, the wildfires in the Western United States are worsening. They are growing larger, spreading faster and reaching higher, scaling mountain elevations that previously were too wet and cool to have supported fires this fierce.

They are also getting more intense, killing a greater number of trees and eliminating entire patches of forest.”

The causes. “Wildfires require a spark and fuel. In the forests of the Western United States, half of wildfires are initiated by lightning. The other half are human-caused — frequently started by power lines, cigarettes, cars, camp fires or arson.

“In recent years, there’s been an abundance of very dry fuel. Drought and high heat can kill trees and dry out dead grass, pine needles, and any other material on the bottom of the forest floor that act as kindling when a fire sweeps through a forest.

Wildfire experts see the signature of climate change in the dryness, high heat and longer fire season that have made these fires more extreme. ‘We wouldn’t be seeing this giant ramp up in fire activity as fast as it is happening without climate change,’ said Park Williams, a climate scientist at UCLA. ‘There’s just no way.’”

The National Fire Information Center is a useful source on wildfires (https://nifc.gov/fire-information/nfu). The Center reports that, since January 1, 2022, 39,337 wildfires have burned 5,713,135 acres. Lightning ignited 3,540 that burned 3,281,839 acres. People have caused 35,797 wildfires that consumed 2,431,295 acres. The states with the most human-caused wildfires include: Texas, California, North Caroline, Georgia, and Florida.”

Ice melting

Juan Cole reports on how Greenland lost 6 billion tons of ice in three days, “a harbinger of unprecedented coastal flooding” (https://juancole.com/2022/07/greenland-harbinger-unprecedented.html). The cause: “The melting was because of a heat wave at the top of the world, caused by our burning coal, gasoline and methane gas and spewing billions of tons of the dangerous heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“These sorts of events are directly responsible for sea level rise and coastal flooding around the world and in the United States (which has a lot of coast if you think about it). Often it is the poorest and most disadvantaged who will suffer most severely from disruptions like storm surges, coastal erosion, salt water invasion of lagoons, and urban flooding.”

—————-

Part 2 – The sources of Global Warming

The principal resistance to action on global warming are the fossil fuel corporations, all levels of the Republican Party and their supporters, and all of the organizations that fund anti-climate-change lobbying efforts. Trump stands as a coalescing and reactionary force behind it all. The war in Ukraine has added to the pressure on governments, including the Biden administration, to find additional sources of oil and natural gas, while the administration simultaneously looks for ways to reduce the heavy reliance of the U.S. energy system on climate disrupting emissions from fossil fuels.

Corporate facilitators go for the profits

Karl Frosch finds that oil executives are bragging about record-breaking $90 billion profits (https://commondreams.org/newswire/2022/08/05/embarrassment-riches-oil-execs-brag-about-record-breaking-90-billion-profits).

“Today, Accountable.US released an updated report showing that the 26 largest oil companies made a record-breaking $90 billion in profit in the second quarter of 2022 – a 183% increase over the same quarter from last year. Some firms, such as Phillips 66, reported net profit increases up to 981%. In the last three months, these big oil companies funneled $15 billion in dividends to their shareholders while raising gas prices to historic levels for American consumers.”

At the same time, “working people and small businesses were forced into an impossible position trying to make ends meet and afford sky-high gas prices.”

According to the investigation by Jake Johnson, “Big Oil Has Spent Over $200 Million to Sabotage Climate Action” since 2021

https://commondreams.org/news/2022/07/28/2021-big-oil-has-spent-over-200-million-sabotage-climate-action-analysis

“The oil and gas industry, one of the most powerful corporate forces in American politics, has spent more than $200 million over the past year and a half to stop Congress from slashing carbon emissions as evidence of their catastrophic impact—from deadly heatwaves to massive wildfires—continues to accumulate in stunning fashion.”

Most of industry’s contributions, nearly 80%, “went to Republican candidates, according to Climate Power, whose analysis draws on data from OpenSecrets.”

And pointedly, Johnson refers to a study published last week showing that “the global oil and gas industry has raked in nearly $3 billion in profit per day over the past five decades as it has sown disinformation about its central responsibility for the climate crisis and tanked efforts to address destructive warming.”

Michael Klare sees evidence that US dependence on oil is not letting up (https://tomdispatch.com/the-enduring-tyranny-of-oil). He calls the situation “the tyranny of oil.” Klare notes that just 15 years ago “many of us were talking confidently about ‘peak oil’ — the moment of maximum global oil output after which, with world reserves dwindling, its use would begin an irreversible decline.” However, the notion of peak oil has been shelved as the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had boosted production beyond expectations. Here’s what Klare makes of all this.

“Why global oil consumption is expected to hit such heights remains a complex tale. Foremost among the key factors, however, has certainly been the introduction of fracking technology, permitting the exploitation of mammoth shale reserves once considered inaccessible. On the demand side, there was (and remains) a worldwide preference — spearheaded by American consumers — for large, gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. In the developing world, it’s accompanied by an ever-expanding market for diesel-powered trucks and buses. Then there’s the global growth in air travel, sharply increasing the demand for jet fuel. Add to that the relentless efforts by the oil industry itself to deny climate-change science and obstruct global efforts to curb fossil-fuel consumption.”

The result is that, with more oil use, there will be more carbon emissions and rising temperatures. As temperatures rise, there will be more severe weather events, such as being experienced in the American West, now experiencing the worst drought in 1,200 years.

There is also a connection between the increased demand for oil and the war in Ukraine. They have combined to produce a global crisis unlike any in recent history. Klare offers the following explanation. “Because humanity has become so thoroughly reliant on petroleum products, any significant rise in the price of oil ripples through the global economy, affecting nearly every aspect of industry and commerce. Naturally, transportation takes the biggest hit, with all forms of it — from daily commuting to airline travel — becoming ever more costly. And because we’re so thoroughly dependent on oil-powered machines to grow our crops, any increase in the price of oil also automatically translates into increased food costs — a devastating phenomenon now occurring worldwide, with dire consequences for poor and working people.”

In response to the inflationary prices of oil and as they ripple through the economy, President Biden has resorted to looking for ways to increase the domestic supply of oil and natural gas. He has “been scouring the planet for additional sources of petroleum in a desperate drive to lower prices at the gas pump. At home, he released 180 million barrels of oil from the national strategic petroleum reserve, a vast underground reservoir created after the ‘oil shocks’ of the 1970s to provide a cushion against a time like this, and lifted environmental regulations prohibiting the summer use of an ethanol-based blend known as E15, which contributes to smog during warmer months. Abroad, he’s sought to renew contacts with the previously pariah regime of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, once a major oil exporter to the United States. In March, two senior White House officials met with Maduro in what was widely viewed as an attempt to restore those exports.  

“In the most controversial expression of this drive, in July the president traveled to Saudi Arabia — the world’s leading oil exporter — to meet its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. MBS, as he’s known, was viewed by many, including analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency (and Biden himself), as the person ultimately responsible for the October 2018 murder in Turkey of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist.”

“But most independent analysts suggest that his primary objective was to secure a Saudi promise to substantially increase that country’s daily oil output — a move they only acceded to after Biden agreed to meet MBS, terminating his pariah status in Washington. According to press accounts, the Saudis did indeed agree to boost their rate of production, but also promised to delay announcing the increase for several weeks to avoid embarrassing Biden.”

Klare’s final point is about whether a future based on rising oil and natural gas usage is likely or not.

“Overcoming such a global phalanx of oil-industry defenders will require far more political muscle than the environmental camp has yet been able to muster. To save the planet from an all-too-literal hell on earth and protect the lives of billions of its inhabitants — including every child alive today or to be born in the years to come — petroleum tyranny must be resisted with the same ferocity that anti-abortion forces have employed in their campaign to protect (or so they claim) unborn fetuses. We must, like them, work tirelessly to elect like-minded politicians and advance our legislative agenda. Only by fighting to reduce carbon emissions today can we be sure that our children and grandchildren will live in an unscorched, habitable planet.”

Republican obstructionists

Ari Drennen and Sally Hardin identify the “Climate Deniers in the 117th Congress” (https://americanprogress.org/article/climate-deniers-117th-congress).

“According to new analysis from the Center for American Progress, there are still 139 elected officials in the 117th Congress, including 109 representatives and 30 senators, who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. All 139 of these climate-denying elected officials have made recent statements casting doubt on the clear, established scientific consensus that the world is warming—and that human activity is to blame. These same 139 climate-denying members have received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries.

“While the number of climate deniers has shrunk by 11 members (from 150 to 139) since the CAP Action Fund’s analysis of the 116th Congress—largely in the face of growing and overwhelming public support for action on climate—their numbers still include the majority of the congressional Republican caucus. These climate deniers comprise 52 percent of House Republicans; 60 percent of Senate Republicans; and more than one-quarter of the total number of elected officials in Congress. Furthermore, despite the decline in total overall deniers in Congress, a new concerning trend has emerged: Of the 69 freshmen representatives and senators elected to their respective offices in 2020, one-third deny the science of climate change, including 20 new House Republicans and three-of-four new Republican senators. Of note, no currently serving Democratic or independent elected officials have engaged in explicit climate denial by this analysis’ definition.”

GOP unveils hollow climate proposals

Benjamin J. Hulac reports on recent Republican proposals (https://rollcall.com/2022/06/02/gop-unveils-climate-agenda-with-familiar-proposals).

Hulac finds that “[e]xpanding the use of natural gas and exporting it to allies and other countries is a central pillar to a climate agenda House Republicans unveiled Thursday [June 2] that runs counter to the overwhelming advice from scientists.”

“There are six issues the group said it was focusing on, according to a summary of the agenda, which reads: ‘Unlock American Resources, American Innovation, Let America Build, Beat China and Russia, Conservation with a Purpose, and Build Resilient Communities.’” 

“The agenda endorses a bill to expand hydroelectricity, another to block the president from barring fossil fuel and mining development on federal land without congressional approval, and a third about critical minerals, which are used in modern hardware and machines, including electric vehicles.

“A fourth bill, from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., which the agenda listed as a climate and energy solution, would approve oil pipelines, greenlight oil and gas leasing on federal lands and in federal waters, and require the president to submit an ‘energy security’ plan about oil and gas imports and to consider steps to increase domestic production of petroleum products to offset Russian imports.”

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Part 3 – Is there a viable Democratic alternative?

Is Biden and his administration doing enough?

A “fact sheet” released by the White House on August 1, 2022, lists ten accomplishments of the Biden administration in “making America resilient to climate change” (https://whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/01/fact-sheet-10-ways-the-biden-administration-is-making-america-resiliant-to-climate-change).

——————

#1 – Providing historic investments for climate resilient infrastructure projects: Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, President Biden secured $50 billion in resilience investments, the most in American history, to protect communities against extreme weather. For example, the Department of Transportation recently announced $7.3 billion in formula funding through the PROTECT program, which will help states and communities make transportation infrastructure more resilient by focusing on resilience planning, making resilience improvements to existing transportation assets and evacuation routes, and addressing at-risk highway infrastructure.

#2 – Combating growing wildfire threats: Agencies are undertaking various actions, such as the joint planning and coordination of historic investments in conservation programs and natural resource infrastructure projects across the West, including the new Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These investments improve wildfire response and reduce the overall loss of infrastructure and critical resources, while prioritizing assistance to underserved communities. This summer, as directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission was established, gathering Federal and non-Federal members to formulate and deliver policy recommendations to Congress for wildland fire prevention, mitigation, suppression, and management.

#3 – Protecting communities and workers from extreme heat: The Biden-Harris Administration is taking a wide range of actions to respond to intensifying heat waves and reduce associated health risks, especially for vulnerable groups and underserved communities. These efforts include using the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to reduce cooling costs and deliver air conditioners and electric heat pumps to homes, developing nationwide standards and enforcement programs to protect workers on the job, launching Heat.gov as a one-stop hub for accessible information and response tools, and supporting community-led urban heat island mappingoutreach and communication strategiesinnovative cooling technologiesurban tree and greening projects, and more.

#4 – Strengthening drought resilience: In June, Vice President Harris highlighted the Drought Resilience Interagency Working Group First Year Summary Report, which details the efforts accomplished and underway to assist drought-stricken communities and build their resilience to worsening conditions. A new Federal-state task force was launched in partnership with Western governors to coordinate conservation programs. Many agencies – in collaboration with states, Tribes, and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations – are utilizing Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to support projects that improve our Nation’s water infrastructurerehabilitate watershedspromote water reuse, and enhance soil and drought monitoring systems.

#5 – Reducing flood risk for households and communities: President Biden re-established the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that will reduce flood risk and protect infrastructure investments. The White House is coordinating Federal efforts on flood resilience and ensuring that federal investments include safety standards for flooding and sea-level rise. Agencies are already taking action by implementing guidance to ensure communities are protected from floods. In addition, FEMA launched an updated website for purchasers to evaluate property-level flood risk and released a report highlighting best-practices for states requiring flood risk disclosures during real estate transactions.

#6 – Protecting coastal communities from storms, sea-level rise, and other climate impacts: The Biden-Harris Administration announced $3 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds to strengthen coastal resilience, improve climate data and services, and more. As directed in President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order, the Administration is exploring greater deployment of nature-based solutions to address coastal and other climate impacts. Through the Coastal Resilience Interagency Working Group, agencies have developed a resource guide to help communities build climate resilience along coastlines with nature-based solutions—streamlining access to more than 100 information resources and 48 federal programs.

#7 – Supporting disadvantaged communities: Through the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC), the White House formed a new WHEJAC Climate Resilience Working Group to advise on how to promote and execute equitable climate change resilience and disaster management. The White House continues to coordinate with agencies to implement the President’s Justice40 Program, ensuring that 40% of program benefits reach disadvantaged communities. This includes benefits offered through the FEMA BRIC program.

#8 – Prioritizing assistance to Tribal communities: Tribal communities and lands face particular risks to climate effects. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $216 million in funding to establish a new Tribal transition and relocation assistance program under DOI, which supports the voluntary, community-led transition for Tribal communities severely threatened by climate change and accelerating coastal hazards. The White House launched a new Community-Driven Relocation Subcommittee, which will convene agencies to explore key considerations, issues, and strategies for working in partnership with communities to support voluntary movement away from high-risk regions.

#9 – Addressing climate risks to the economy: The Biden-Harris Administration launched the first comprehensive, government-wide strategy to measure, disclose, manage, and mitigate the systemic risks that climate change poses to American families, businesses, and economy. Climate change has cost Americans an additional $600 billion in physical and economic damages over the past five years alone. To respond, Federal agencies are taking action to protect the hard-earned life savings of workers and homeowners while protecting the broader financial system and the Federal Government’s fiscal health against climate-related financial risk.

#10 – Leading by example across the Federal Government: The White House worked with Federal agencies to develop more than 20 climate adaptation and resilience plans to enhance climate readiness across their facilities and operations. This will reduce costs and damages caused by extreme weather, minimize disruptions to Federal programs and services, and protect workers and communities. Last week, USDA announced a strategy to address a reforestation backlog of four million acres on national forests and plant more than one billion trees over the next decade as part of its climate adaptation plan. Agencies are implementing the actions identified in their climate adaptation and resilience plans and will provide annual progress updates.

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In addition to these accomplishments, Senate Democrats were able on August 7, 2022, to pass a 755 page “Inflation Reduction Act” without any Republican votes.

Deepa Shivaram provides an overview of the legislation (https://npr.org/2022/08/07/1116190180/democrats-are-set-to-pass-a-major-climate-health-and-tax-bill-heres-whats-in-it).

“The legislation was passed through the budget reconciliation process, which means all 50 Democrats and one tie-breaker vote from Vice President Harris were needed, since none of the 50 Republican senators voted for the bill. It also restricts the measures in the bill to those that directly change federal spending and revenue.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday that despite a few cuts from the Senate parliamentarian, the bill overall is still a legislative win for Democrats.

“It’s been a long, tough, winding road,” Schumer said before the final vote Sunday.

Democrats have argued the measure will tackle voters’ main economic concern, naming it the Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans argue the new spending will aggravate inflation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says, though, the bill has a “negligible” effect on inflation in 2022 and into 2023.

“Overall, the bill is a very scaled-down solution to what many Democrats, including President Biden, had asked for originally.

In addition to health and tax provisions, the act addresses the climate crisis. Here’s what’s in the bill on climate.

“More than $300 billion would be invested in energy and climate reform, the largest federal clean energy investment in U.S. history.

“The bill has support from many environmental and climate activists but is short of the $555 billion that Democrats had originally called for.

“This portion of the bill takes on transportation and electricity generation, and it includes $60 billion for growing renewable energy infrastructure in manufacturing like solar panels and wind turbines.

“It also includes several tax credits for individuals on things like electric vehicles and making homes more energy efficient.

“The bill would, according to Democrats, lower greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, based on 2005 levels, by the end of the decade, which is short of the 50% Biden had originally aimed for.

“It puts us within a close enough distance that further executive action, state and local government efforts and private sector leadership could plausibly get us across the finish line by 2030,” said Jesse Jenkins from Princeton University, who leads the REPEAT Project analyzing the impact of government climate actions.”

Tony Romm reminds us:

“The package is the byproduct of the political realities in the narrowly divided Senate, where Republicans stood immovably opposed to the bill and Democrats had to negotiate among themselves to shepherd it to the chamber floor. It hinged on a breakthrough deal negotiated in late July between Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), a moderate who nearly eight months ago single-handedly scuttled a previous attempt to advance his party’s agenda. And its fate teetered at one point because of a last-minute snag with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)” (https://washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2022/08/07/senate-inflation-reduction-act-climate).

The legislation is mixed on climate issues.

On the one hand, it has provisions that are aimed at lowering carbon emissions.

“Democrats set aside about $370 billion for energy security and climate change. The investments include a bevy of tax credits to incentivize wind, solar and other renewable power sources, while helping people purchase new or used electric vehicles and install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems in their homes. The bill creates a $1.5 billion program that includes new payments for companies that cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with some penalties for those firms that do not.”

On the other hand, “Democrats coupled it with additional provisions that boost fossil fuels — an approach necessary to win Manchin’s support. Democrats agreed to mandate new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, while party leaders committed to pursue a separate bill in the coming months that makes it easier for developers to override some environmental objections. That proposal could greatly benefit a long-stalled pipeline in Manchin’s home state, a trade-off that some Democrats described as an uncomfortable necessity.”

Romm also refers to a report by Politico that the oil and gas industry—which has spent more than $200 million since last year to tank climate legislation—has “identified provisions that may make the climate medicine go down a little easier.”

“For instance, fossil fuel companies that are already posting record profits could benefit massively from the part of the legislation that requires drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. Another potential boon is the bill’s mandate that oil and gas lease sales be held before the federal government can greenlight new solar and wind development.”

Oil corporations welcomed these provisions.

“The American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry’s largest U.S. trade organization, responded less enthusiastically, but still welcomed what it described as “some improved provisions in the spending package.”

Barrons reported Thursday that ExxonMobil Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and Equitrans Midstream could be among the bill’s leading beneficiaries given its incentives for carbon capture technology, which climate advocates and scientists have decried as a false solution pushed by oil companies trying to stop genuine efforts to slash emissions.

“The legislation extends a tax credit for carbon capture and storage that oil companies can claim based on how much carbon they capture and sequester,” Barrons noted. “Exxon has made carbon capture a centerpiece of its low-carbon investments, and wants to build hubs in industrial areas where several companies could collaborate on projects… While it’s still a relatively small business, the big oil companies could start growing their projects quickly with federal help.”

Concluding thoughts

Global warming is rising. There is too little being done to curtail or reverse it. There are powerful forces in the U.S. – and across the world – that oppose any meaningful efforts to change the existentially threatening energy trajectory. The Republican Party and its supporters lead the opposition and they may increase their control of the Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. The Democrat’s have only razor thin edges in the House and Senate and have to deal with two rogue Democratic senators who insist on counterproductive compromises.

Still, there are some experts, such as economist Joseph Stiglitz, who view the Inflation Reduction Act as “a major step in the right direction (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/08/10/far-perfect-inflation-reduction-act-major-step-right-direction). Stiglitz acknowledges that this legislation “is not as good as the original Build Back Better bill, but it is certainly progress.” He makes his main point as follows.

“There is a simmering debate about the causes of today’s inflation; but regardless of what side one takes, this bill represents a step forward. For those worried about excessive demand, there is more than $300 billion in deficit reduction. And on the supply side, the bill would mobilize $369 billion of investments in energy security and decarbonization. That will help bring down the cost of energy—one of the main drivers of current price growth—and put America back on track to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by some 40% (from 2005 levels) by 2030.

There are also experts who view the compromised legislation as doing too little to reduce carbon emissions or avoid the most devastating consequences. Chris Hedges identifies the options in stark terms.

“The greatest existential crisis of our time is to at once be willing to accept the bleakness before us and resist. The global ruling class has forfeited its legitimacy and credibility. It must be replaced. This will require sustained mass civil disobedience, such as those mounted by Extinction Rebellion, to drive the global rulers from power. Once the rulers see us as a real threat they will become vicious, even barbaric, in their efforts to cling to their positions of privilege and power. We may not succeed in halting the death march, but let those who come after us, especially our children, say we tried.”

The Republican assault on democracy has momentum leading up to 2022 midterm elections

Bob Sheak, July 24, 2022

Introduction

In this post, I consider how Trump, the Republican Party, and their allies are trying to replace our tenuous democracy with an authoritarian alternative. I analyze the anti-democratic positions of the Republican Party and Trump, how Trump has been instrumental in galvanizing varied right-wing forces into a relatively unified political force, and how they are using anti-democratic means to achieve their goals. The current evidence suggests that they have a political advantage in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections. If they should win elections and win a dominating role in the political system, we would lose our democracy and many of our constitutional rights.

A two-party political system

The U.S. political system revolves around two dominant political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. This realty is reflected in the 2020 presidential election results.

James M. Lindsay reports Biden won the Electoral College tally by 306 to Trump’s 232, and the popular vote by 81,283,098, or 51.3 percent of the votes cast, to Trump’s 74,222,948, or 46.8 percent (https://cfr.org/blog/2020-election-numbers). That is, Biden won the popular vote by over 7 million votes. Third parties picked up only 1.8 percent of the votes cast. Lindsay writes:

“That’s the largest total voter turnout in U.S. history and the first time more than 140 million people voted. Voter turnout in 2020 was the highest in 120 years when measured as a percentage of the voting-eligible population: 66.7 percent. You have to go back all the way to 1900 to find a higher percentage turnout (73.7 percent). The election of 1876 holds the record for highest turnout: 82.6 percent. That, of course, was also one of America’s most controversial and consequential elections—and not in a good way.”  

Was the 2020 presential election “close”?

Lindsay poses this question and suggests there are two ways to answer it.

On the one hand, Biden won comfortably if you go by the popular vote. “In the past six presidential elections, only Barack Obama in 2008 won by a larger total vote margin than the 7,060,140-vote margin that Biden piled up. Likewise, Biden’s 4.5 percentage point lead is the largest win in the past six elections other than Obama’s seven-point win in 2008.”

On the other hand, it would have taken only the ‘right mix of 42,921 votes in Arizona (10,457), Georgia (11,779), and Wisconsin (20,682), the Electoral College would have been tied at 269 all. The House would have then decided the election. Republicans will hold the majority of state delegations in the new Congress, and they undoubtedly would have chosen Trump.”

What the Republicans stand for

At least since the election of Ronald Reagan in1980 and the increasing influence of right-wing forces in the Republican Party, the party has been drawn domestically to hyper-partisan, extreme, anti-democratic policies.

Economically, the Republicans favor deregulation, low taxes (especially on the rich and powerful), and the privatization of or little-restricted access to any potentially profitable government functions or assets. Overall, Republicans follow their corporate benefactors by supporting anti-union laws, lower and restrictive government spending, especially on social-welfare programs. Along with many Democrats, they support increases in military spending. For them, the corporate elites and the rich are the wealth creators on which the rest of society depends and therefore deserve government support. They blame the high inflation rates on Biden’s policies rather than on the prices set by oligopolies.

Corporate concentration

President Biden issued an executive order on July 9, 2021, titled “To Promote Competition in the American Economy” (https://whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/07/09/executive-order-on-promoting-competition-in-the-american-economy). The order documents how the economy has increasingly ceased to be a “fair, open, and competitive marketplace…while excessive market concentration threatens basic economic liberties, democratic accountability, and the welfare of workers, farmers, small businesses, startups, and consumers.”

Yet over the last several decades, “industries have consolidated, competition has weakened in too many markets.” The Executive Order goes on:    

“Consolidation has increased the power of corporate employers, making it harder for workers to bargain for higher wages and better work conditions.  Powerful companies require workers to sign non-compete agreements that restrict their ability to change jobs.  And, while many occupational licenses are critical to increasing wages for workers and especially workers of color, some overly restrictive occupational licensing requirements can impede workers’ ability to find jobs and to move between States.”

CEO-worker pay gap

Anne Field reports on relevant data from Just Capital, a nonprofit that ranks large publicly traded companies on their performance in governance and labor policies

(https://forbes.com/sites/annefield/2022/05/23/ceo-worker-pay-gap-widens-and-employees-arent-happy-about-it/?sh=2249f56a142c). The data show that average CEO pay has increased 31% over the last three years and median worker pay rose 11%.” She continues.

“In fact, the average CEO-to-median -worker pay ratio as of 2020 is 235:1, up from 212:1 three years before.

“Furthermore, certain industries had ratios with particularly wide disparities. Those with the highest pay gaps—averaging above 340:1 from 2020 to 2022—included many sectors, such as restaurant and leisure and healthcare, that employ large numbers of frontline workers. Those with the lowest pay gaps—averaging below 160:1 from 2020 to 2022—included banks, capital markets and computer services.”

Politically, the Republicans in Congress, most importantly in the Senate, do their best to obstruct most legislation advanced by Democrats. Wide swaths of the corporate community support right-wing policies. The political clout of large corporations rests fundamentally on their control of vast resources and the impact large corporations have on communities, jobs, businesses, and ecosystems.

Corporate executives also lobby government, hire government officials when they retire, and fund candidates and groups, often without revealing the identity of the source, while supporting massive political ad campaigns. Fox, Facebook, and the MAGA Media spread right-wing analysis and content. Dan Pfeiffer’s writes: “The conservative movement invested billions in building up a vast and varied disinformation apparatus – buying up television networks, investing in websites, promoting YouTubers, and so on. And they all push out these Big Lies” (Battling the Big Lie, p. 62).

Protect the rich and powerful wealth creators

Ideologically, they are arch neo-liberals. See Jack Rasmus analysis of neoliberalism in his book, The Scourge of Neoliberalism. The rich and powerful  believe or assert that wealth is created by private-sector innovators and corporations, that government should support policies that buttress top-down economic policies, and, as indicated, they expect the economy will grow and economic benefits in jobs and consumer prices will trickle down.

Punitive views of the poor

They blame poverty on unsubstantiated claims about the poor, for not looking for work, for not being disciplined workers on the job, for not getting a good education, for unstable family life, for anti-social values. Such people do not deserve much public support and such support should be limited and require that the adult poor must work off any benefits they may receive. Historian Michael B. Katz provides a broad overview of this attitude in his book, The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty.

Profiting from jails and prisons

Republicans are willing to support funds for privately-run prisons. It heightens support for the party in towns where the prisons are located and is consistent with Republican animus toward most public policies. They accept the reality of high jail and prison rates as a price to be paid for living in a “free” society. They have little inclination to reform the prisons. Maya Schenwar elaborates the point (Locked Down, Locked Out). Here’s a sample of what she writes on the problem.

“Incarceration serves as the default answer to many of the worst social problems plaguing this country – not because it solves them, but because it buries them. By isolating and disappearing millions of Americans (more than 2.3 million, making us the most incarcerated nation on the planet), prisons conveniently disappear deeply rooted issues that society – rather, those with power in society – would rather not attend to.”

She adds: “Ninety-five percent of prisons are released. They’re emerging from their isolation poorer and more alienated then when they went in. They’re coming out with fewer economic opportunities and fewer human connections on the outside. Many…fall into harmful patterns, sometimes in order to survive, sometimes because they feel they have nothing much to live for. Others are reincarcerated for the flimsiest of reasons as ‘parole violators, especially if they’re black or brown or Native or gender-nonconforming poor. More than 40 percent of those released return to prison within three years.”

At the same time, Republicans lean toward treating powerful law-violators leniently in the corporate community, in government and among the rich. On the latter point, see Rena Steinzor’s book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

Subverting democracy

At the state and local levels, Republicans are gerrymandering federal and state congressional districts, finding ways to suppress the vote of opponents, and passing laws that give Republican-dominated state legislatures the opportunity to nullify or ignore the popular vote and select their own “electors” to certify presidential and state elections. Will Wilder and Katie Friel give examples from Georgia, Florida, and Texas on laws that are designed to limit the overall vote in 2022 (https://brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/5-state-laws-based-voter-fraud-myths-will-hamper-future-elections). Here’s one example in Georgia’s S.B. 202.

“It prohibits local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors from accept­ing fund­ing from private sources and expand­ing the legal rights of poll watch­ers to observe elec­tions without constraints by elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors. The law also limits the avail­ab­il­ity of drop boxes and restricts access to mail voting by impos­ing stricter iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ments for absentee voters and short­en­ing the window to apply for absentee ballots. Tellingly, one of S.B. 202’s cospon­sors echoed wide­spread conspir­acies support­ing the Big Lie, suggest­ing in an op-ed that unre­li­able mail ballots changed the outcome of certain races in 2020.”

Purging the civil service

Eric Katz reports that, “If Trump Is Reelected, His Aides Are Planning to Purge the Civil Service” (https://govexec.com/2022/07/trump-reelected-aides-plan-civil-service/374842).

“Officials are looking to revive a controversial order issued in Trump’s waning days and have already identified 50,000 federal positions to target.

“Former aides close to President Trump are working to revive and expand his signature proposal to upend the federal civil service, according to a new report, and are working in conjunction with the former commander in chief to quickly purge thousands of federal employees if he were to return to office. 

“The plan, as detailed to Axiosand confirmed by Government Executive, would bring back Schedule F, a workforce initiative Trump pushed in the 11th hour of his term to politicize the federal bureaucracy. The former officials and current confidantes are, through a network of Trump-loyal think tanks and public policy organizations, creating lists of names to supplant existing civil servants. They have identified 50,000 current employees to dismiss under the new authority they seek to create, Axios reported and Government Executive confirmed, though they hope to only actually fire a fraction of that total and hope the resulting ‘chilling effect’ will cause the rest to fall in line.”

The point is to give a Trump or Republican administration in the future “the power to get rid of any employees it deems as standing in the way of implementing its agenda and replace them with loyalists.” 

If Republicans should win control of the federal government in the 2022 and 2024 elections, then the civil service and other parts of the federal government will be reorganized in ways that strengthen the power of the anti-democratic Right and further diminish independent government regulation, oversight, and voting rights for opponents.

Culturally (or social policies)

Freedom?

Ronald Brownstein critically analyzes the Republican Party’s claim that they alone are the party that will protect American freedoms (https://theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/07/democrats-republicans-rhetoric-freedom-rollback/661519).

“For decades Republicans have marketed themselves as the party of freedom. During the 1990s and early 2000s, conservative activists took up the description of the GOP coined by the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist as the ‘leave us alone’ coalition, so named because it consisted of voters whose stated aspiration was to live without government interference. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Republican governors led by Ron DeSantis in Florida gravitated toward unbending opposition to business and school shutdowns, as well as to mask or vaccine requirements, often overriding Democratic-run local governments that tried to impose them.”

“‘It has frustrated me that Republicans love to cloak themselves in this blanket of freedom and feel as though they own it somehow, when in fact what they are selling to the people of Pennsylvania, or the American people, really isn’t freedom at all,’ Josh Shapiro, the state’s attorney general and Democratic nominee for governor, told me in an interview. ‘It’s far bigger government and more control over people’s everyday lives.’”

Brownstein continues.

“Supposedly representing the party of smaller government, Republicans across red states have in recent months approved a wave of intrusive actions as they work to unravel the ‘rights revolution’ of the past 60 years. These measures include authorizing vigilante lawsuits by private citizens against anyone involved in providing an abortion and state investigations of parents who approved medical transition treatment for their transgender children (both in Texas), as well as restrictions on how both teachers and private companies alike can talk about race and gender and how K–12 teachers can discuss sexual orientation (the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, in Florida). DeSantis has penalized in various ways the Walt Disney Company, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, and the Special Olympics for objecting to his policies.

Abortion.

The Party vigorously supports anti-abortion laws that eliminate a girl’s or woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. The New York Times editorial board critically responds to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that makes I hard, if not impossible, for a girl or woman to obtain an abortion in “red” (Republican) states (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/24/opinion/dobbs-ruling-roe-v-wade.html). The Board makes these points.

#1 – “For the first time in history, the Supreme Court has eliminated an established constitutional right involving the most fundamental of human concerns: the dignity and autonomy to decide what happens to your body. As of June 24, 2022, about 64 million American women of childbearing age have less power to decide what happens in their own bodies than they did the day before, less power than their mothers and even some of their grandmothers did. That is the first and most important consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

#2 – “About half the states in the United States are expected to enact laws that restrict or make abortion illegal in all or most cases.

#3 – The expected harms. “Many women may be forced by law to carry pregnancies to term, even, in some cases, those caused by rape or incest. Some will likely die, especially those with pregnancy complications that must be treated with abortion or those who resort to unsafe means of abortion because they can’t afford to travel to states where the procedure remains legal. Even those who are able to travel to other states could face the risk of criminal prosecution. Some could go to prison, as could the doctors who care for them. Miscarriages could be investigated as murders, which has already happened in several states, and may become only more common. Without full control over their bodies, women will lose their ability to function as equal members of American society.

#4 – “The central logic of the Dobbs ruling is superficially straightforward, and the opinion is substantially the same as the draft Justice Alito distributed to the other justices in February, which was leaked to the press last month. Roe and Casey must be overruled, the ruling says, because ‘the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,’ including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process. While that provision has been held to guarantee certain rights that are not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.’

#5 – “The three dissenters in the Dobbs case — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — called out the majority’s dishonesty, noting that its exceedingly narrow definition of ‘deeply rooted’ rights poses a threat to far more than reproductive freedom. The majority’s denial of this is impossible to believe, the dissenters wrote, saying: ‘Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure.’”

Christian and White Nationalists

These are large contingents of the right-wing coalition. Mike Lofgren writes that the “GOP’s Army of Christian Nationalists and White Supremacists Pose a Danger Greater Than You Know” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/07/14/gops-army-christian-nationalists-and-white-supremacists-poses-danger-greater-you). Here’s some of what he writes.

“From my former staff position in Congress, I observed the infiltration of the Republican Party by the religious right. In particular, I became alarmed at the shadowy undertakings of GOP congressman belonging to ‘the Family,’ a secretive group that believes in imposing theocracy on America. Having left the Hill partly as a result of what I saw as the religious right’s subversion of the Party of Lincoln, I’ve spent the last decade attempting to warn the public about the existential danger the GOP poses.”

“There is another group associated with “nationalism” that is much in the news: white nationalists, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, neo-Nazi groups like Richard Spencer’s blandly named National Policy Institute, the Aryan Nation, and similar groups. At first sight, Christian fundamentalists and white nationalists seem to have little in common: what do self-described sober, church-going Christians have to do with a violent rabble of criminal misfits?

“First, there is a substantial overlap in membership, as strange as this might sound. In recent decades, many Christian nationalist leaders have begun obsessing over ‘taking back America’ by any means necessary, including violence. This is unsurprising, because fundamentalist Christianity broods over violence and mayhem as a theological tenet, emphasizing the gorier parts of the Old Testament such as the Israelites’ mass slaughter of the Canaanites.”

“The irony of this is that many white nationalists are either nonreligious or explicitly pagan (like Aryan Nation and the various neo-Nazi groups). Yet they and the Christian nationalists bury their extreme theological differences to ally against their common enemy: the Enlightenment, a tolerant society, and equal justice under law. 

“If one still thinks of white supremacists as a not very numerous lunatic fringe, their nearly successful attempt to violently overthrow the government should dispel any illusions. As such, they may act as shock troops for a movement of millions of people. And let us not forget the grotesque irony that many January 6th rioters piously paused to pray before seeking to hang the vice president and the speaker of the House; the fact that a pagan shaman was also on hand seemed to seal a bizarre alliance.

“Other strange fellow travelers of the Christian fundamentalists are the extreme libertarians. It has been said that libertarianism is the peculiarly American form of authoritarianism; it is often a label used by people to disguise, for tactical reasons, the fact that they are de facto Republicans. These libertarians are frequently the paymasters of Republican politicians (as evidenced by Peter Thiel, the Koch fortune, the Mercer family, et al.), and as such, wield outsized influence over the GOP.”

“Peter Thiel’s philosophy boils down to saying that your moral worth equates to how much money you have. His notions dovetail nicely with Christian fundamentalists who espouse the Prosperity Gospel, the claim that one’s wealth is a sign of God’s favor. Both libertarianism and fundamentalism have more similarities than differences in their hostility to a liberal, tolerant society with a social safety net. Rich libertarians reason that they can buy their way out of any inconvenience that an intolerant theocracy might entail, like no social services or a rotting infrastructure.

“Many libertarians such as the Randian Objectivists are dismissive of religion. Ayn Rand herself was a militant atheist who regarded Christianity as the creed of slaves. But like the white supremacists, they feel they have more in common with Christian extremists than a liberal, secular society that might presume to tax them and regulate product safety or insure against the vicissitudes of old age or disability.” 

The myth that the founding fathers were all Christians

Nicholas Rathod challenges this widely held position in Republican circles (https://americanprogress.org/article/the-founding-fathers-religious-wisdom). He writes:

“Many of the founding fathers—Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison and Monroe—practiced a faith called Deism. Deism is a philosophical belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems. Deists believe in a supreme being who created the universe to operate solely by natural laws—and after creation, is absent from the world. This belief in reason over dogma helped guide the founders toward a system of government that respected faiths like Christianity, while purposely isolating both from encroaching on one another so as not to dilute the overall purpose and objectives of either.

“If the founders were dogmatic about anything, it was the belief that a person’s faith should not be intruded upon by government and that religious doctrine should not be written into governance. James Madison, for instance, was vigorously opposed to religious intrusions into civil affairs. In 1785, when the Commonwealth of Virginia was considering passage of a bill “establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” Madison wrote his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” in which he presented 15 reasons why government should not become involved in the support of any religion.

“In his first term as president, Thomas Jefferson declared his firm belief in the separation of church and state in a letter to the Danbury, Conn. Baptists. He said: ‘Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.’”

Trump – the head of the right-wing coalition/alliance

Trump has been instrumental through tweets, rallies, and appearances on Fox News and other right-wing outlets in bringing various groups into an implicit or explicit alliance. Initially, he gained national notoriety around his false claim that Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore legally ineligible to be president.

He has since become the leader of a massive right-wing movement that brings together pro-gun advocates, Christian nationalists, white supremacists, anti-immigrant proponents, many of the rich and powerful, and those who favor strongman governments. On the last point, see Ruth Ben-Chiat’s book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present).

Admiration for authoritarian governments

Julia Conley reports on how Trump and many Republicans admire the authoritarian government of Victor Orban (https://commondreams.org/2022/07/11/authoritarian-victor-orban-speak-us-conservatives-annual-summit). For example, Orban was invited to speak at the U.S. upcoming Conservatives’ Annual Summit in August.

“Orbán won his fourth term as prime minister in April on what one progressive called a ‘dark day for democracy.’ After becoming prime minister in 2010, he began to muzzle independent media outlets, resulting in rampant disinformation and fawning coverage of Orbán leading up to the election, as well as little coverage of his opponent.

“He also rewrote election laws in order to become Hungary’s longest-serving prime minister and has led the government’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, banning schools from presenting information about gender identity and homosexuality—as right-wing state leaders in the U.S. have in recent months.”

“A primary driver of the prime minister’s collaboration with the Republicans, however, appears to be helping corporations and the wealthy maximize their profits. As Common Dreams reported last week, Orbán’s government is coordinating with the GOP to defeat a 15% global minimum tax pushed by President Joe Biden.”

Journalist Sarah Kendzior writes on Trump’s and the right-wing attraction to authoritarian leaders ((https://cnnn-com/2019/07/02/politics/donald-trump-dictators-kim-yong-un-vladimir-putin/index.html).

“Trump is part of a complex illicit network including individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and more – some of whom do not have loyalty to any particular country. Their loyalty is to themselves and their money” (Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, p. 8). CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Brenna Williams report that by July 19, Trump as praised authoritarian leaders 15 times, including Kin Jong Un (North Korea), Recep Tayyip Erdogon (Turkey), Xi Jinping (China), and Vladimir Putin (Russia)

Also see John Feffer’s new book, The Right Across the World: The Global Networking of the Far-Right and the Left Response. In addition to the far-right leaders already referred to, Feffer identifies as authoritarian leaders Rodrigo Duterte (Phillipines), Narendra Modi (India), Victor Orban (Hungary), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil). Beyond the leaders, there are right-wing political parties, still minority parties, in most European countries.

Scheming an attack on the Capitol

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including a crowd of some 30,000, that Trump told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building”

Supporting the violent assault on the Capitol

The House impeached Trump the first time for his activities and lies, but could not get the needed two-thirds of the Senate to indict him. The House impeachment report, released on January 12, 2021, includes the following statements from the “Introduction” (The Second Impeachment Report).

“The Constitution grants the House of Representatives the ‘sole Power of Impeachment,’ not merely as a safeguard for the nation between elections, but also in cases where the removal of the President is urgent and necessary to preserve the security of the constitutional order. The House must invoke this power now to impeach President Trump for inciting an insurrection on January 6, 2021. President Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors when he urged his supporters to storm the United States Capitol Building and then failed to stop the ensuing violence. His actions marked the culmination of an exclusive and unprecedented effort to overturn the results of the presidential election” (p. 2).

In the months after the failed impeachment trial, Trump – and many members of the Republican Party – continued to lie about the election and to encourage supporters to go on looking for the evidence of fraud, hoping the election could be reversed.

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes.

Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country ‘had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th’ ((https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore).

Glasser continues:

“As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’”

They continue to support the Big Lie

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9, 2020] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 64 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him. Seventy-seven per cent of Republicans” according to a Quinnipiac poll [Nov 10, 2020] agreed with Trump that the election has been stolen.

The percentage has since shrunk, in part perhaps because of the Jan.6 Select Committee’s hearings. Still, the majority of Republicans agree, according to a Reuter/Ipsos poll completed on Thursday [July 21, 2022], that the 2020 presidential election was stolen? (https://reuters.com/world/us/cracks-appear-trumps-standing-among-republicans-after-jan-6-hearings-2022-07-21).

Jason Lange, the author of the article, offers the following evidence.

“In the latest poll, a majority of Republicans – or 55% – continue to believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

“While that share is down from 67% in early June, the view has remained prevalent even after state and federal judges dismissed more than 50 lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies challenging the election. Reviews and audits similarly found no evidence of widespread fraud.

“Some 57% of Republican respondents said they believed most of the protesters at the Jan. 6 riot were peaceful and law-abiding, a share essentially unchanged from early June. Four people died on the day of the attack, at least 140 police were assaulted, and one Capitol Police officer who fought against the rioters died the next day.

“More than half of Republicans polled continue to believe the riot was led by left-wing protesters, even though nearly all of the hundreds of people arrested following the attack have been Trump supporters, according to U.S. prosecutors. FBI Director Christopher Wray has said there was no evidence leftist extremists disguised themselves as Trump supporters during the attack.”

Tax cuts for the rich and powerful

Trump’s tax legislation, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, was passed in Congress by a party-line vote of 224 to 201 and signed into law on December 22, 2017. According to David Floyd, the disproportionate share of benefits went to corporations and higher-income groups (https://www.investopedia.com/taxes/trumps-tax-reform-plan-explained). Floyd writes:

“For the wealthy, banks, and other corporations, the tax reform package was considered a lopsided victory given its significant and permanent tax cuts to corporate profits, investment income, estate tax, and more. Financial services companies stood to see huge gains based on the new, lower corporate rate (21%), as well as the more preferable tax treatment of pass-through companies. Some banks said their effective tax rate would drop under 21%.”

Encouraging violence against election workers

Stan Cox documents such violence (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/07/15/confronting-policy-murder-and-rising-violence-right).

“Last month, the House January 6 committee hearings highlighted the abuse now being endured by the people who keep the electoral system going. Perhaps most appalling was the testimony of Georgia election workers Wandrea’ “Shaye” Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman. When Donald Trump falsely accused them by name of scanning fake ballots in 2020, they were bombarded with death threats, many of them racist. Moss had to change her appearance, go into hiding, and work remotely. She finally left her job in April and is still suffering harassment.

“Election workers across the country, fearing for their safety, are resigning in droves. Often, they are being replaced by people who are willing to subvert the vote. A nationwide survey found that one in six election officials has been personally threatened, and one in three knows a fellow official who resigned because of threats.

“The election-year metaphor ‘battleground states’ is threatening to turn grimly literal. I was shocked to learn that today only seven states and the District of Columbia ban guns from polling places. With the rise in violent rhetoric and gun violence that’s been occurring since the 2020 election, voting sites and vote-counting centers are bracing for increased violence in November. Officials are worried because of folks like Mike Detmer, a contender for the Michigan state senate in the August 2 Republican primary. He told a meeting of prospective poll workers in January, ‘The ideal thing is to do this peaceful, that’s ideal, but the American people at some point in time, if we can’t change the tide, need to be prepared to lock and load. So, if you ask what we can do, show up armed.’

“In a panoramic, chilling July 6 article, Rachel Kleinfeld, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace laid out how the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other violent “militias have been embraced by GOP leaders at the national, state, and local level,” including in Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, Texas, California, Arizona, Wyoming, Florida, and Nevada. Having studied the rise of party-linked militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Nigeria, Colombia, and other countries, and the bloody consequences, Kleinfeld warns that “Even if Trump passes from the scene, the embrace of violence and intimidation as a political tactic by a faction of the GOP will cause violence of all types to rise—against all Americans.”

Republicans appear to have an advantage going into 2022 midterm elections

Nate Cohn analyzes the evidence as of July 13, 2022, when Republicans seem to have an advantage as the 2022 midterm elections approach (https://nytimes.com/2022/07/13/upshot/poll-2022-midterms-congress.html).

#1 – Events have caused President Biden’s approval ratings to be “mired in the 30s and with nearly 80 percent of voters saying the country is heading in the wrong direction.”

#2 – New York Times/Siena College survey finds respondents split on whether they prefer Democratic or Republican control of Congress – 41% favor Democratic Control v 40% who favor Republican control.

#3 – The recent “wave of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have at least temporarily insulated the Democrats from an otherwise hostile national political environment while energizing the party’s predominantly liberal activist base.” “The results suggest that the wave of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have at least temporarily insulated the Democrats from an otherwise hostile national political environment while energizing the party’s predominantly liberal activist base.” – “In the wake of the court’s ruling, the poll finds greater public support for legal abortion than previous Times/Siena surveys. Sixty-five percent of registered voters said abortion should be mostly or always legal, up from 60 percent of registered voters in September 2020.”

“Voters who said issues related to abortion, guns or threats to democracy were the biggest problem facing the country backed Democrats by a wide margin, 66 percent to 14 percent.”

“Over all, white college graduates preferred Democratic control of Congress, 57-36. Women propelled Democratic strength among the group, with white college-educated women backing Democrats, 64-30. Democrats barely led among white college-educated men, 46-45.”

#4 – At the same time, Republicans appear to be making new inroads among nonwhite and working-class voters — perhaps especially Hispanic voters — who remain more concerned about the economy and inflation than abortion rights and guns.

“The fight for congressional control is very different among the often less affluent, nonwhite and moderate voters who say the economy or inflation is the biggest problem facing the country. They preferred Republican control of Congress, 62 percent to 25 percent, even though more than half of the voters who said the economy was the biggest problem also said abortion should be mostly legal.

“Just 74 percent of the voters who backed Mr. Biden in the 2020 election, but who said the economy or inflation was the most important problem, said they preferred Democratic control of Congress. In contrast, Democrats were the choice of 87 percent of Biden voters who said abortion or guns was the most important issue.

“The economy may be helping Republicans most among Hispanic voters, who preferred Democrats to control Congress, 41-38. Although the sample size is small, the finding is consistent with the longer-term deterioration in Democratic support among the group. Hispanics voted for Democrats by almost a 50-point margin in the 2018 midterms, according to data from Pew Research, then President Donald J. Trump made surprising gains with them in 2020.

“No racial or ethnic group was likelier than Hispanic voters to cite the economy or inflation as the most important issue facing the country, with 42 percent citing an economic problem compared with 35 percent of non-Hispanic voters.

“Republicans also appear poised to expand their already lopsided advantage among white voters without a college degree. They back Republicans by more than a two-to-one margin, 54-23. Even so, nearly a quarter remain undecided compared with just 7 percent of white college graduates.

“As less engaged working-class voters tune in, Republicans may have opportunities for additional gains. Historically, the party out of power excels in midterm elections, in no small part by capitalizing on dissatisfaction with the president’s party.

“Only 23 percent of undecided voters approved of Mr. Biden’s job performance.

Silvana Read, a certified nursing assistant who lives outside Tampa, Fla., is one of the Hispanic voters whom Republicans will try to sway to capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden.”

Steve Peoples and Aaron Kessler also report on the Republican electoral advantage, as “voters switch lopsidedly to the GOP

(https://apnews.com/article/2022-midterm-elections-biden-covid-health-presidential-e50db07385831e67f866ec45402be8b9).

“A political shift is beginning to take hold across the U.S. as tens of thousands of suburban voters who helped fuel the Democratic Party’s gains in recent years are becoming Republicans.

Across 31 states, about two-thirds of voters who have switched their official party registrations in the past year have switched to the Republican Party, according to voter registration data analyzed by The Associated Press. The phenomenon is playing out in virtually every region of the country — Democratic and Republican states along with cities and small towns — in the period since President Joe Biden replaced former President Donald Trump.

“Nowhere is the shift more pronounced — and dangerous for Democrats — than in the suburbs. Over the last year, far more people are switching to the GOP across suburban counties from Denver to Pittsburgh. Republicans also gained ground in counties around medium-size cities such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Des Moines, Iowa.”

Concluding thoughts

The right-wing forces in the U.S. are gaining momentum and, as of July 2022, appear to be on the cusp of taking control of the House and possibly the Senate in the November mid-term elections. They already control the Supreme Court and the majority of state governments, have strong support from the rich and powerful, spread disinformation to millions of Americans through right-wing media, appeal to the cultural, if not the economic, interests, of right-wing forces, and include people and militia who are armed and ready to engage in violence to get the changes they want. Indeed, there is even some discussion of a possible civil war, if Republicans do not take control of the government through elections (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/07/04/50-year-attack-right-wing-corporate-forces-leading-us-back-toward-civil-war).

The eclipse of democracy is not inevitable. But, as this post has documented, Trump, the Republican Party and their supporters want to replace democracy with an autocratic leader and a right-wing transformation of the government at all levels. In the process, they have galvanized substantial political support.

The resultant society would stifle or eliminate many constitutional protections for critics, health providers, and teachers. A right-wing government would also promote armed militia, encourage citizens to inform on health providers, teachers, and anyone who is suspect under such a regime, undermine the social safety net.  

Robert Reich considers the current situation as a battle involving Democracy vs. Autocracy” (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/07/08/lets-be-clear-battle-us-democracy-vs-autocracy). He says that “America needs a national pro-democracy movement to stop the anti-democracy movement now underway.”

“This political alliance with corporate power has given these Republican legislatures free rein to pursue an extreme culture war agenda — one that strips away rights that majorities of people support — while deflecting attention from their corporate patrons’ economic agendas.

“Republicans are introducing bills that restrict or criminalize abortion. They’re banning teachers from discussing the history of racism in this country. They are making it harder to protest and easier to harm protestors. They are punishing trans people for receiving gender-affirming care and their doctors for providing it.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are still laboratories of democracy where true public servants are finding creative ways to defend the rights of us all.

“Elected officials in Colorado and Vermont are codifying the right to abortion. California lawmakers have proposed making the state a refuge for transgender youth and their families. And workers across the country are reclaiming their right to organize, which is helping to rebuild an important counterweight to corporate power.

“But winning will ultimately require a fifty state strategy — with a Democratic Senate willing to reform or end the filibuster to codify Roe v. Wade, protect voting rights, and protect the right to organize nationwide.

“America needs a national pro-democracy movement to stop the anti-democracy movement now underway — a pro-democracy movement committed to helping candidates everywhere, including in state-level races.”

More fossil fuels, more global warming

Bob Sheak, July 3, 2022

Foreword

Fossil fuel emissions are the chief drivers of global warming. As emissions continue to increase, the planet gets hotter and there are a multiplicity of increasingly detrimental environmental, economic, political, social, community, and individual effects.

The Republican Party, the Supreme Court, large swaths of corporations, and other right-wing forces oppose reasonable policy initiatives and want to undo past ones.

I pay some attention in this post on the obstacles that prevent us from adopting reasonable policies, very importantly the phasing out of fossil fuels.

Introduction

Global warming (also referred to as climate change, climate crisis, climate emergency) is real, devastating, and accelerating. It’s supported by ongoing lab and field research, as well as multivariate modeling, from thousands of scientists. The problem is indicated most generally by the rise in the planet’s rising temperature and the consequent increase in severe weather events and related environmental calamities and devastation. The primary, not the only, drivers of global warming are the carbon emissions from coal, oil, and gas. The U.S. is second only to China in current emissions, though it has contributed more than any other country historically to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (see:  https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/28/world/china-us-climate-cop26-intl-hnk/index.html).

Polls in the U.S. find that a majority of Democrats, but not most Republicans, believe that global warming is a realty (e.g., https://pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/04/22/for-earth-day-key-facts-about-american-views-of-climate-change-and-renewable-energy).

The Democratic Party and its supporters accept the scientific findings, though disagree on how much to do about this existential problem. Until recently, the Republican Party  was the only major political party on earth to deny the realty of global warming. This increasingly right-wing party now accepts the connection between fossil fuel carbon emissions and global warming, but wants to continue and extend the society’s dependence on these sources of energy, arguing that the economy depends on fossil fuels, and that there are cost-effective technological ways to ameliorate the problem of carbon emissions. Thus, they contend, we can in the meantime increase our use of oil, natural gas, and coal with few if any limits.

Indeed, U.S. House Republicans just released a “climate” plan that reveals how little value they place on the problem of global warming. Mike Lukwig reports that the plan, released on June 2, 2022, is a “giveaway to the fossil fuel industry” (https://truthout.org/articles/the-house-gop-has-a-climate-plan-its-a-giveaway-to-the-fossil-fuel-industry). He writes:

“The plan, first outlined in a brief press release Thursday morning, appears to contain few new policy ideas. What it does contain are clear giveaways to the fossil fuel lobby, according to environmental groups. Republicans would provide tax credits or incentives to controversial (and struggling) ‘carbon capture’ projects as well as to nuclear power, while weakening environmental rules to speed up permitting for oil drilling, pipelines, natural gas export terminals, and other large infrastructure.”

Bottom of FormThe continuing dependence of the U.S. fossil fuels, especially oil and natural gas, is reflected in the recent rise in prices at the gas pump, how this is negatively affecting the pocketbooks of Americans, and the political implications for future elections. There are several causes of the rise in gas prices. Economist Jack Rasmus provides an in-depth analysis of the cause of inflation generally, including rising gasoline prices, the harmful impacts on the economy, and the counterproductive responses of the Federal Reserve. (https://counterpunch.org/2022/06/24/the-anatomy-of-inflation).

Challenges ahead

Ironically and tragically, the high gas prices and their economic effects reveal how dependent the society continues to be on gas and oil, despite the science, despite public awareness, despite some state and local initiatives (e.g., David Miller, Solved: How the World’s Great Cities are Fixing the Climate Crisis), and despite falling prices for solar and wind energy.

The solutions to the problem require major changes in the economy and probably in the standards of living for Americans, in transportation, in housing, perhaps in diet, and more. Many Americans support relevant changes to reduce global warming in the abstract, but also want to continue their present life styles and consumption, or at least avoid downward mobility. In the final analysis, the current concerns about rising gasoline prices and the political fallout exemplify, understandably, how immediate personal financial considerations seem to overshadow environmental concerns.

The scientific findings

The climate crisis is worsening

Here are two articles that provide an overview of the current situation.

Article one

In an article for Common Dreams, Brett Wilkins reports on June 3, 2022, that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds “[t]here is more carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere than at any time in the past four million years, as the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels keeps humanity hurtling toward a ‘global catastrophe’” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/06/03/racing-top-speed-towards-global-catastrophe-noaa-says-co2-levels-highest-human). Here’s more from Wilkins article.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are steadily increasing in the atmosphere

“CO2 pollution is generated by burning fossil fuels for transportation and electrical generation, by cement manufacturing, deforestation, agriculture, and many other practices. Along with other greenhouse gases, CO2 traps heat radiating from the planet’s surface that would otherwise escape into space, causing the planet’s atmosphere to warm steadily, which unleashes a cascade of weather impacts, including episodes of extreme heat, drought and wildfire activity, as well as heavier precipitation, flooding and tropical storm activity.

“Impacts to the world’s oceans from greenhouse gas pollution include increasing sea surface temperatures, rising sea levels, and an increased absorption of carbon, which makes sea water more acidic, leads to ocean deoxygenation, and makes it more difficult for some marine organisms to survive.”

Statements from researchers

“Pieter Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, said that ‘carbon dioxide is at levels our species has never experienced before—this is not new. We have known about this for half a century, and have failed to do anything meaningful about it.’ ‘What’s it going to take for us to wake up?’”

And NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad pointed out, “The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to. We can see the impacts of climate change around us every day.”

Article two

Henry Fountain also reports on key parts of the evidence from the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii that “carbon dioxide levels are highest in human history” (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/03/climate/carbon-dioxide-record.html). Fountain specializes in the science of climate change and its impacts. He has been writing about science for The Times for more than 20 years and has traveled to the Arctic and Antarctica. Here’s some of what he reports.

“Humans pumped 36 billion tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere in 2021, more than in any previous year. It comes from burning oil, gas and coal.”

“The amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere broke a record in May, continuing its relentless climb, scientists said Friday. It is now 50 percent higher than the preindustrial average, before humans began the widespread burning of oil, gas and coal in the late 19th century.”

“The concentration of the gas reached nearly 421 parts per million in May, the peak for the year, as power plants, vehicles, farms and other sources around the world continued to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Emissions totaled 36.3 billion tons in 2021, the highest level in history.

“As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, the planet keeps warming, with effects like increased flooding, more extreme heat, drought and worsening wildfires that are already being experienced by millions of people worldwide. Average global temperatures are now about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than in preindustrial times.”

Scientific unanimity

There is close to a total agreement among climate scientists and all national and international science organizations that fossil fuels and the climate-altering gases they emit are the primary drivers of global warming. Jonathan Watts reports on research that documents this statement (https://theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/19/case-closed-999-of-scientists-agree-climate-emergency-caused-by-humans). He writes:

“The scientific consensus that humans are altering the climate has passed 99.9%, according to research that strengthens the case for global action at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

“The degree of scientific certainty about the impact of greenhouse gases is now similar to the level of agreement on evolution and plate tectonics, the authors say, based on a survey of nearly 90,000 climate-related studies. This means there is practically no doubt among experts that burning fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, coal, peat and trees, is heating the planet and causing more extreme weather.

“A previous survey in 2013 showed 97% of studies published between 1991 and 2012 supported the idea that human activities are altering Earth’s climate.

This has been updated and expanded by the study by Cornell University that shows the tiny minority of skeptical voices has diminished to almost nothing as evidence mounts of the link between fossil-fuel burning and climate disruption.

“The latest survey of peer-reviewed literature published from 2012 to November 2020 was conducted in two stages. First, the researchers examined a random sample of 3,000 studies, in which they found only found four papers that were skeptical that the climate crisis was caused by humans. Second, they searched the full database of 88,125 studies for keywords linked to climate skepticism such as ‘natural cycles and ‘cosmic rays’, which yielded 28 papers, all published in minor journals.”

In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position (https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus).

For example, eighteen American Scientific societies, including, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Medical Association, the

American Physical Society, the Geological Society of America have agreed that there is a climate crisis. Additionally, the U.S. National Academy of Science, the  U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a reference to nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations hold the position that climate change has been caused by human action.

Evidence

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one of the world’s most authoritative sources of evidence on global warming. In a series of reports on its website, NASA scientists and officials summarize the evidence, the causes, the future effects, and the scientific consensus that global warming is real, has a growing number of dire effects, and there is little time to contain or reverse it (https://climate.nasa.gov).

The sources

“Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

“The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause Earth to warm in response.

“Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming. Carbon dioxide from human activity is increasing more than 250 times faster than it did from natural sources after the last Ice Age.”

Findings

The global temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, driven “largely be increased carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and other human activities.” NASA continues: “Most of the warming occurred in the past 40 years, with the most seven most recent years being the warmest.”

“According to NASA data, 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 141-year record have occurred since 2005, with the seven most recent years being the warmest.”

The ocean has been warming, “with the top 100 meters (about 328 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit… since 1969.” The ocean has also been acidifying, absorbing between “between 20% and 30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions in recent decades (7.2 to 10.8 billion metric tons per year).”

Ice sheets are shrinking. Between 1993 and 2019, “Greenland lost an average of 279 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2019, while Antarctica lost about 148 billion tons of ice per year.” Glaciers are retreating “almost everywhere around the world – including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska, and Africa.” The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere “has decreased over the past five decades and the snow is melting earlier.”

Global sea level is rising and have risen “about 8 inches…in the last century, and the rate of increase has accelerated in the last two decades. Arctic Sea Ice is declining rapidly both in its extent and thickness over the last several decades.

There have been a record number of high temperature events in the United States and the number has been increasing, including the “increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.”

Ice and snow cover melting in the Arctic

Kenny Stancil considers a report issued by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) on May 20, 2021, documenting that, over the past five decades, “the Arctic has warmed three times faster than the world as a whole, leading to rapid and widespread melting of ice and other far-reaching consequences that are important not only to local communities and ecosystems but to the fate of life on planet Earth” (https://commondreams.org/news/2021/05/20/real-hotspot-study-shows-arctic-warming-3-times-faster-rest-of-earth).

“According to the report,” Stancil writes, “the Arctic’s annual mean surface temperature surged by 3.1ºC between 1971 and 2019, compared with a 1ºC rise in the global average during the same time period. Arctic warming has been accompanied by a decrease in snow cover and sea and land ice; an increase in permafrost thaw and rainfall; and an uptick in extreme events.”

These changes are “adversely affecting the livelihoods and food security of Arctic communities, especially Indigenous ones…. [and] poses risks to unique terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems in the region, some of which are vulnerable to irreversible harm.” At the same time, the report found, “No one on Earth is immune to Arctic warming.” Consider the following examples.

“The rapid mass loss of the Greenland ice sheet and other Arctic land ice contributes more to global sea-level rise than does the melting of ice in Antarctica.” “Some projections estimate that by 2050, 150 million people worldwide will be displaced from their homes just by rising sea levels.” All of these conditions will be exacerbated by additional increases in the annual mean surface air temperatures in the Arctic, which are expected to “rise to 3.3–10°C above the 1985–2014 average by 2100, depending on the course of future emissions” – and could be higher. “Under most emission scenarios,” the report says, “the vast majority” of climate models ‘project the first instance of a largely sea-ice-free Arctic in September occurring before 2050,’ and possibly as early as 2040.”

Obstacles to reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels

ONE- The American economy largely runs on fossil fuels

Fossil fuels are pivotal economically to the U.S. and high- and middle-income countries globally. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels represented 79 percent of primary U.S. energy consumption in 2021, with petroleum accounting for 36 percent, natural gas for 32 percent, and coal for 11 percent (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts).

They provide the energy sources for heating and cooling homes, for major sectors of the economy, and for most transportation. According to data from Statista, there were, for example, 283.8 million “vehicles” (cars and light trucks) in operation in the U.S. during the 4th quarter of 2021 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/859950/vehicles-in-operation-by-quarter-united-states).

Millions of people in the U.S. depend on having affordable access to the gasoline to power their vehicles, to get to work, to school, to health care services, and other places that are important in their daily lives.

At the same time, there are some positive trends. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “[h]ybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicle sales in the United States have increased in recent months as sales of non-hybrid internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles fueled by gasoline or diesel decreased. In the fourth quarter of 2021, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles collectively accounted for 11% of light-duty vehicle sales in the United States, according to data from Wards Intelligence”

(https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=51218).

That means that there are about 31 million such hybrid and electric vehicles. On the road, however, they are still overwhelmed by cars fueled by gasoline and diesel, the number of which is about 254 million. There’s a long way to go, but not that much time to find ways for people to replace their gas-driven vehicles.

TWO– The power of fossil fuel corporations

In his book, The New Climate War, climate scientist Michael Mann states that “our planet has now warmed into the danger zone, and we are not taking the measures necessary to avert the largest global crisis we have ever faced.” In order to address this situation, “we must understand the mind of the enemy” (p. 1).

The enemy includes the fossil-fuel corporations (e.g., ExxonMobil, Shell, BP) and their supporters, the billionaire plutocrats “like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Scaifes,” who have “funneled billions of dollars into a disinformation campaign beginning in the least 1980s and working to discredit the science behind human-caused climate change and its linkage with fossil-fuel burning” (pp. 2-3).

This enemy additionally includes those in government in the U.S. and abroad who deny or dismiss the seriousness of global warming and use their positions to protect and advance the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and other polluters.

Deflection

Mann finds that the climate denial tends now to be “more in the form of downplaying the impacts rather than outright denial of the basic physical evidence” (p. 42). He gives the example of how Trump deflected attention from the part that global warming played in the extensive wildfires that have been afflicting California. The then president did so by disparaging state officials and “blaming them for ‘gross mismanagement’ of the forests, attributing the problem specifically to an absence of ‘raking’ of forests” (p. 42). There is indeed a need to better manage forests to reduce the risk of wildfires, but Trump’s off-the-cuff notion reflects his need to comment on events, regardless of his lack of knowledge.

New York Times journalist Winston Choi-Schagrin delves into the issues of why wildfires are intensifying and what can be done (https://nytimes.com/2021/07/16/climate/wildfires-smoke-safety-questions.html).

They are, by “every metric, the wildfires in the Western United States are worsening.” He continues: “They are growing larger, spreading faster and reaching higher, scaling mountain elevations that previously were too wet and cool to have supported fires this fierce.” Furthermore, “They are also getting more intense, killing a greater number of trees and eliminating entire patches of forest.” The proximate causes: “Wildfires require a spark and fuel. In the forests of the Western United States, half of wildfires are initiated by lightning. The other half are human-caused — frequently started by power lines, cigarettes, cars, camp fires or arson.”

The deeper causes of wildfires are that “there’s been an abundance of very dry fuel. Drought and high heat can kill trees and dry out dead grass, pine needles, and any other material on the bottom of the forest floor that act as kindling when a fire sweeps through a forest.” Climate change is involved, as it exacerbates “the dryness, high heat and longer fire season that have made these fires more extreme. ‘We wouldn’t be seeing this giant ramp up in fire activity as fast as it is happening without climate change,’ said Park Williams, a climate scientist at UCLA. ‘There’s just no way.’”

The problem

Choi-Schagrin continues. “These conditions have been exacerbated by fire-suppression policies. Before the modern settlement of the American West, forested land in the region burned naturally from lightning or else was intentionally burned by native communities as a form of forest maintenance. But for the past hundred years, most Western states have suppressed fires. That has led to increasingly dense forests and ample brush on the forest floors.”

Prescribed burns

Better forest management would help to reduce wildfires. That would require “[f]requent, low-intensity fires known as prescribed burns.” Choi-Schagrin elaborates as follows.

“Experts agree that prescribed burns — intentionally set fires that periodically clear underbrush or other fuels — are a key to reducing the severity of wildfires in the future. State and federal agencies have already committed to conducting more prescribed burns.

“But experts also stress that there needs to be more federal and state legislation that prioritizes this technique. There are currently bills in the U.S. Senate and the California Assembly to provide more funding and training for prescribed burns.

Another important step is taking care of the landscape to remove dead trees and other fuel. After a huge die-off in the Sierra Nevadas in the 2010s, an estimated 150 million trees fell, but only 1 percent of those trees have been removed, creating more fuel for future fires.

“But a long-term solution requires major changes, experts say. Importantly, the mind-set needs to shift from fighting fires toward mitigating the risk of extreme events that are causing them to worsen. ‘We’ve treated fire for so long it as if it’s something we can fight. We don’t fight hurricanes or earthquakes or floods,’ said Ms. Quinn-Davidson. ‘We need some radical shifts in the way that we do things in order to adapt, but, yes, I think we can.’”

Inaction

Mann contends: “The forces of inaction – that is, the fossil fuel interests and those doing their bidding – have a single goal – inaction. The most hard-core contingent – the deniers – are…in the process of going extinct (though there is still a remnant population of them). They are being replaced by other breeds of deceivers, namely, downplayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers – willing participants in a multiprongred strategy seeking to deflect blame, divide the public, delay action by promoting ‘alternative’ solutions that don’t actually solve the problem, or insist we simply accept our fate – it’s too late to do anything about it anyway, so we might as well keep the oil flowing.” This is the new climate war (p. 44).

THREE – Rising gas prices

Gas prices in the U.S. are now at record highs and are a major source of the high level of inflation. Polls find that high gas prices and inflation top the list of Americans’ economic concerns. Many blame President Biden and his administration for not doing more to increase the supply of oil/gas and, in that way, reduce gas prices. The inflation issue may have political implications that favor the increasing right-wing, conspiracy-based, climate-denying or dismissive Republican Party, their powerful supporters, Trump and his unquestioning electoral base. The price crunch may also reduce or distract public concern generally about global warming.

David Koenig identifies the factors coming together to spur rising gas prices (https://apnews.com/article/why-are-gas-prices-rising-541819ca1aa4d3dc0a0206271f9f8589).

#1 – “Global oil prices have been rising — unevenly, but sharply overall — since December. The price of international crude has roughly doubled in that time, with the U.S. benchmark rising nearly as much, closing Friday at more than $120 a barrel.”

#2 – “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions by the United States and its allies have contributed to the rise. Russia is a leading oil producer.”

#3 – “The United States is the world’s largest oil producer, but U.S. capacity to turn oil into gasoline is down 900,000 barrels of oil per day since the end of 2019, according to the Energy Department.”

#4 – “Tighter oil and gasoline supplies are hitting as energy consumption rises because of the economic recovery.”

#5 – “Finally, Americans typically drive more starting around Memorial Day, adding to the demand for gasoline.”

FOUR – The Biden administration pushes for more fossil fuel supply

Dan Avery addresses this issue in a June 7, 2022, article (https://cnet.com/personal-finance/fas-prices-are-at-record-highs-why-they-wont-drop-anytime-soon). He makes the following points on the administration’s efforts to combat rising gas prices by focusing on ways to increase the supply of fossil fuels, while paying little attention to renewables.

#1 – “In late March, Biden announced he was releasing a million barrels of oil a day from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months. According to the White House, the unprecedented withdrawal could lower gasoline prices between 10 to 35 cents a gallon.

“But insiders say it probably won’t help much in the long run.

“‘It will lower the oil price a little and encourage more demand,’ Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Texas oil company Pioneer Natural Resources, told The New York Times. ‘But it is still a Band-Aid on a significant shortfall of supply.’”

#2 – “In April, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed for year-round sales of cheaper E15 gasoline, which contains a 15% ethanol blend. The impact will be modest as only about 2,500 of the more than 100,000 gas stations nationwide sell the higher-ethanol blend.”

#3 – “The White House continues to pressure US oil companies to increase drilling and production. Criticizing energy firms for ‘sitting on’ more than 12 million acres of federal land and 9,000 approved production permits, the administration would like companies to face fines if they leave wells leased from public lands unused.”

“But Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said ‘the price of gasoline is not set by a dial in the Oval Office. When an oil company is deciding, hour by hour, how much to charge you for a gallon of gas, they’re not calling the administration to ask what they should do,’ he told ABC News This Week. ‘They’re doing it based on their goal of maximizing their profits.’”

#4 – “The government is looking at getting energy products from other sources: The Biden administration has been working at improving diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which has been banned from selling oil to the US since 2018, and is negotiating another nuclear nonproliferation treaty with Iran, which would bring Iranian oil back onto the market.”

#5 – “There is also a bill in Congress that would pause the federal fuel tax, though it faces stiff opposition. Individually, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Georgia have suspended state gas taxes to help consumers, and at least 20 other states are considering similar moves. 

Blaming Biden

Ben Casselman refers to a U.S. poll, which found that about “half of those surveyed say they are worse off financially than a year ago, and most disapprove of President Biden’s handling of inflation (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/30/business/economy/economy-inflation-survey.html). Implicitly, the respondents want Biden to do even more in rectifying the supply problem.

FIVE – Renewables are stalled

Evan Halper reports on the following. “How big solar projects are facing major delays. Plans to adapt the grid to clean energy are confronting mountains of red tape. Affordable electric vehicles are in short supply.” One salient fact: “There was 24 percent less solar installed in the first quarter of 2022 than in the same quarter of 2021” (https://washingtonpost.com/business/2022/06/14/gas-price-energy-climate).

Digging into the problem, Halper points out, “The country’s lofty goals for all carbon pollution to be gone from the electricity sector by 2035 and for half the cars sold to be electric by 2030 are jeopardized by years of neglect of the electrical grid, regulatory hurdles that have set projects back years, and failures by Congress and policymakers to plan ahead.”

No significant policy initiatives

He gives these examples. “The “United States does not have a tax on carbon, nor a national cap-and-trade program that would reorient markets toward lowering emissions. The unraveling in Congress of President Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better plan has added to the head winds that green-energy developers face.” Heather Zichal, a former White House climate adviser who is now the chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, is quoted: “There is literally nothing pushing this forward in the U.S. beyond the tax code and some state laws.”

Expanding infrastructure and opportunities for continuing dependence on fossil fuels

Further undermining efforts on solar, wind, geothermal, are “plans to build costly new infrastructure for drilling and exporting natural gas that will make it even harder to transition away from the fossil fuel.”

Problems in connecting to the existing electrical grid

Halper puts it this way: “adding clean electricity to the power grid has become an increasingly complicated undertaking, given the failure to plan for adequate transmission lines and long delays connecting viable wind and solar projects to the electricity network.”

“The Department of Energy reports that transmission systems need to be expanded by 60 percent by 2030 to meet the administration’s goals. And they may need to triple in capacity by 2050.

“Patching wind and solar projects into the grid infrastructure that does exist, meanwhile, is increasingly challenging. Over the last decade, the time it takes to get a project online has jumped from two years to longer than three and a half years, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Its researchers say grid operators are taking longer to study project viability and are overwhelmed by a dramatic rise in the number of projects in the queue.

“The Biden administration is promising to ease congestion and shore up the grid through billions of dollars in spending on transmission lines and other improvements authorized in the infrastructure package that Congress passed. But it will probably be years before the upgrades and expansions are operational.”

Restrictions in Congressional bills

Halper gives the following example.

“Clean-power producers are also hitting numerous barriers in their bid to generate huge volumes of energy with offshore wind turbines. Among them is a provision in the House bill funding the Coast Guard mandating that only American ships can be involved in construction work on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. Amid a shortage of such American ships and trained crews to operate them, wind energy developers warn, the measure would effectively halt production of offshore wind.

Obstacles confronting electric car industry

“Only 4 percent of cars sold in the United States last year were electric vehicles.

The sticker price of a new electric vehicle is $10,000 more than a comparable gas-powered model, and lawmakers have so far balked at renewing some of the subsidies designed to bring the price down while the industry scales up. Even so, interest in the vehicles is so high that many buyers eager to get in an electric car or hybrid have found themselves instead on a waitlist.

“A plan the administration unveiled Thursday [June 9] to install hundreds of thousands of new charging stations will help accelerate the transition. But even more crucial right now are $7,500 federal tax credits that make the cars affordable for consumers. They have expired for several models and cannot be used to purchase used vehicles.”

SIX – The illusory promise of carbon capture technology

Nicholas Kusnetz addresses this issue in an article for Inside Climate News on March 9, 2022 (https://insideclimatenews.org/news/09032022/carbon-cabture-and-storage-fossil-fuels-climate-change). The technology, favored by Republican lawmakers and energy corporations, is aimed at “sucking carbon dioxide from smokestacks and the atmosphere” and burying it underground. It has the support of the “oil industry, Biden administration and even some environmentalists.” President Biden is planning to spend $12 billion from the 2021 infrastructure bill on such technologies.

Investment

“The promise of a bigger payout has helped spur a wave of entrepreneurial activity and corporate investment in carbon removal. Microsoft, Stripe, United Airlines and other companies have announced millions of dollars in investments in carbon removal, and some have even bought carbon offsets from the first commercial ‘direct air capture’ plant, which began operating last year in Iceland. Technology giants—and billionaire executives including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos—have been pouring money into start-ups. Elon Musk’s foundation is funding a $100 million competition for efforts to pull carbon from the atmosphere, including direct air capture, nature-based and other approaches.

“Occidental Petroleum has said it plans to begin construction this year on a direct air capture plant in Texas that will initially pull up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air. The company could then pump the gas into depleted oil reservoirs to increase their production, a process that can also store most of the carbon dioxide underground.

Big fossil fuel companies drawn to the technology

“The funding in the infrastructure bill was the culmination of years of lobbying by industry and unions. One carbon capture bill, which was later included in the infrastructure law, drew lobbying from dozens of corporations and industry groups in the coal, oil and power sectors, as well as from labor unions, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics. In Exxon’s lobbying disclosures, carbon capture and storage were the only issues tied to the infrastructure law it reported discussing. In fact, Exxon reported lobbying on carbon capture more than on any other issue last year, according to an Inside Climate News analysis.  

“The result was more than $12 billion dollars that will fund large scale demonstration projects to capture and store carbon dioxide, as well as funding for the pipelines and infrastructure that would tie it all together. The Department of Energy, which will oversee most of the money, is required to fund at least one demonstration project each for coal and natural gas power plants and an industrial application. The bill directed an additional $8 billion to ‘clean hydrogen’ projects. Some of that funding, too, is earmarked for using fossil fuels paired with carbon capture to produce hydrogen. Today, hydrogen is commonly produced from natural gas, but the process emits carbon dioxide.”

The potential impact is limited

“In 2020, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totalled nearly 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, including other pollutants like methane. Even optimistic projections say that carbon capture and removal technologies will be able to cut only about 250 million metric tons annually by 2035, or about 4 percent of 2020 emissions.”  

Expensive and energy-intensive

“Despite decades of research and development, and billions of dollars spent, carbon capture and removal remain extremely expensive and energy-intensive, even as the costs of alternatives have plummeted.

“The technology generally requires large amounts of power, heat or both, so scaling it would consume vast quantities of energy and money.”

“Large-scale carbon capture would require pipeline networks that would rival the scale of existing oil pipelines. They would come with their own set of safety risks associated with leaks and ruptures—in large volumes, carbon dioxide is an asphyxiant.

“Then there is all the other pollution associated with producing, transporting and burning fossil fuels, much of which would remain unaddressed by carbon capture equipment.

Carbon capture projects have not worked

“A December report by the Government Accountability Office said the Department of Energy gave nearly $684 million to six coal plants for carbon capture projects from 2010 through 2017, but that only one of those projects was built and it ceased operations in 2020, citing high costs.

SEVEN- The right-wing Supreme Court is adding fire to the flames

Thom Hartmann, author and talk-show host, argues that the Supreme Court has, in its West Virginia v. the US Environmental Protection Agency, used “it’s ill-gotten power on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to cripple America’s ability to meet the challenge of climate change” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/06/21/right-wing-supreme-court-readies-help-destroy-planet). The decision will “cripple virtually every regulatory agency in Washington, DC, from the EPA to the FCC to OSHA.” It is a decision that supports “the fossil fuel industry’s desire to end government regulation and kill subsidies of green energy.”

Fundamentally, it seeks to marginalize the authority of federal regulatory agencies and transfer regulatory power to the Congress. Regulation will hence be in the hands of elected representatives who typically know little about the technical aspects of regulation but who, if they are Republicans, will engender chaos and neglect in such regulation. The naivety of most in Congress doesn’t matter under the new regulatory regime. Given the record, the ill-equipped legislators will continue to be eager to advance the interests of fossil-fuel corporations and to reap the financial and campaign support in return.  

Here’s the way regulation has worked for more than a century

“Congress passes a law that says, for example, that the Environmental Protection Agency should limit the damage that carbon dioxide in the environment causes to the planet. Congress (the Constitution’s Article I branch of government) defines the broad goal of the legislation, but the Executive Branch (Article II) has the responsibility to carry it out.

“The EPA, part of that Executive Branch and answering both to the law and the President, then convenes panels of experts. They spend a year or more doing an exhaustive, deep dive into the science, coming up with dozens or even hundreds of suggestions to limit atmospheric CO2, ranging from rules on how much emission cars can expel to drilling and refining processes that may leak CO2 or methane (which degrades into CO2), etc.

“The experts’ suggestions are then run past a panel of rule-making bureaucrats and hired-gun rule-making experts for the EPA to decide what the standards should be. They take into consideration the current abilities of industry and the costs versus the benefits of various rules, among other things.

“After they’ve come up with those tentative regulations, they submit them for public review and hearings. When that process is done and the rules are approved, they make them into official EPA rules, publish them, enforce them….”

Subverting government regulatory authority

“Now,” Hartmann continues, “comes a group of rightwing Supreme Court justices including Neil Gorsuch, whose mother tried to destroy the EPA when she ran it (and had to resign in disgrace) during the Reagan administration.

“In addition to Gorsuch, the Court also has Amy Coney Barrett whose father was a lawyer for Shell Oil for decades, and John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh who are all on the court in part because of support from a network funded by fossil fuel billionaires and their industry (among others).”

“They’re arguing, essentially, that the EPA (and any other regulatory agency) can’t do all the steps listed above: instead, that detailed and time-consuming analysis of a problem, developing specific solutions, and writing specific rules has to be done, they say, by Congress itself.

“In other words, Gorsuch says, Congress itself—not the EPA—must evaluate the science and then write the rules.

“As if Congress had the time and staff. As if Congress was stocked with scientific experts. As if Republicans in the pockets of fossil fuel billionaires wouldn’t block any congressional action even if it did.”

New York Times Editorial Board takes a shot at the Supreme Court’s decision

The Supreme Court Sabotages Efforts to Protect Public Health and Safety (https://nytimes.com/2022/07/01/opinion/supreme-court-epa-ruling.html). They write.

The court’s ruling constrains any effort to tighten restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It also threatens the Biden administration’s ability to impose new limits on tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks and on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities. As the three members of the court’s liberal minority wrote in a stinging dissent, the majority’s decision strips the E.P.A. of the power ‘to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.’”

The editors add:

“Thursday’s ruling also has consequences far beyond environmental regulation. It threatens the ability of federal agencies to issue rules of any kind, including the regulations that ensure the safety of food, medicines and other consumer products, that protect workers from injuries and that prevent financial panics.”

“When it comes to “major questions” of regulatory policy, the court said, it would not hesitate to second-guess regulators — and to strike rules that it decided did not have a clear congressional warrant.”

It is “a blow to both the public interest and democracy.”

Concluding thoughts

Global warming, reflected most basically in rising temperatures that result from greenhouse gas emissions, is a growing problem in the U.S. and across the world. The solution to the problem, if any, is ultimately international, although the U.S. under propitious political circumstances could serve as a major model, facilitator, innovator, subsidizer, and investor in clean energy.  

However, because the climate diners and detractors have so much political and economic power in the U.S., even modest climate stabilizing initiatives are currently in doubt.

But there is an even more basic question about whether a capitalist economy based on the interests of shareholders, profit, and growth, combined with a complicit Republican Party, a right-wing Supreme Court, and a stymied Biden administration, can ever be reformed or transformed enough to begin the process of containing and reducing the climate crisis soon enough.

So far, the U.S. and the nations of the world have done a poor job in finding ways to significantly curtail the climate crisis. The current forces driving energy prices upward, along with the Right-wing forces in Congress, the Supreme Court, and in the majority of state legislatures, avidly favor deregulation and undiminished corporate power. One big question is whether the right-wing, highly partisan Republican Party, will consolidate their power in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections or not.

What can individuals do?

Katherine Hayhoe’s book, Saving US: A Climate Scientist’s Hope for Healing in a Divided World, offers ideas for what concerned citizens may do to influence the attitudes of people. She argues that informed individuals can reach out to those who buy the right-wing line – not the hard-core right wingers – and start conversations that over time introduce the scientific facts documenting the problem.

Hayhoe is a distinguished climate scientist. The implication of her analysis is that such conversations can have ripple effects that eventually will expand the population that accepts the science, how global warming is already generating great environmental and human harms, and how there is a pressing need to support transformative actions, particularly the rapid phase out fossil-fuels. If this should ever happen, individual conversations and the groups that grow out of them would be one part of larger social and political movements and activities that, if combined, might lead the society to move on a path toward clean energy.

But time is short and the powerful forces arrayed against reasonable and scientifically-based energy policies are unlikely to compromise.

Trump v Jan. 6 Select Committee

Bob Sheak, June 20, 2022

Introduction

The Jan. 6 Select Committee is praiseworthy in its efforts to add to the factual record of how on January 6, 2021 Trump and his benighted supporters tried to subvert the legitimate and peaceful transfer of presidential power. If these anti-democratic forces had been successful, then the U.S. would have lost its democracy for generations, if not permanently. The worry is that they have not given up. Indeed, they have gained momentum and are now well into the process of achieving their subversion, as they continue to challenge the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency and continue to have tens of millions of Americans who buy their anti-democratic narrative and support right-wing candidates and the attacks on majority rule.

In this post, I reconstruct this important story. The central question is whether the evidence that is being gathered by the Select Committee will achieve the goal of persuading Americans to register to vote, then vote, for candidates who offer platforms that will strengthen democracy or not. At the same time, there are dark forces in the society, continually encouraged by Trump, the Republican Party, Fox News, and other extremists, that the only road ahead for the country is one that follows a non-democratic, oligarchic (if not fascist) path.

The evidence that Trump incited the Jan. 6 rioters

In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the United States Capitol, Democrats in the U.S. Congress attempted to impeach Trump for his involvement, but Republicans in the Senate employed the filibuster to stymie the effort. The failed impeachment of Trump occurred despite the evidence against him.

You can see the abundance of materials in support of the impeachment effort in the book, The Second Impeachment Report, written by the majority staff of the House Committee on the Judiciary (published by Hot Books, 2021). Here are some general highlights of what the staff documents.

“President Trump has engaged in a prolonged effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and maintain his grip on power. He has spent months spreading disinformation about the results – falsely claiming that he ‘won by a landslide,’ that the election was being ‘stolen,’ and that the reported results are somehow fraudulent. He has stated that it would be illegitimate to accept the results as certified by state officials and upheld by state and federal courts, and he has implied that accepting these results would pose an existential threat to the country, its democracy, and the freedoms of his political supporters. He has directly threatened government officials to ‘find’ lost votes or face criminal penalties, encouraged his own Vice President to unlawfully overturn the election results and, ultimately, incited his supporters to take violent action and present the counting of the election results.

“President Trump invited his political supporters to Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021, the day fixed by law for the counting of electoral votes. The crowd gathered in the Ellipse that morning was large, angry, and widely reported to be preparing for violent action. At that rally, the President delivered an incendiary speech to his supporters. Among other statements, President Trump reiterated false claims that ‘we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.’ He stated that ‘if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’ And then he exhorted his supporters to ‘walk down Pennsylvania Avenue’ to prevent the Congress from confirming the election of ‘an illegitimate President’” (p. 2).

I also wrote on January 15, 2021, about the attempted Jan. 6 insurrection as one part played by Trump and the Republicans in the Senate to overturn the election results, prevent a peaceful transfer of presidential power for the first time in American history, and illegally keep Trump in the White House, in which case American democracy would have been stolen from the majority of Americans (https://vitalissuesbobsheak.com/2021/01/15/trump-the-insurrection-and-what-comes-next). Here is my introduction to this 7,600-word analysis.

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In this post, I review evidence of Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and stolen from him and how he tried to override the election results to favor him. I then consider the answers to some questions. Why so many Americans were willing to accept Trump’s claims? How thousands were mobilized to travel to Washington D.C. with the purpose of disrupting the Joint-Session of the U.S. Congress as it was in the process of counting the already certified electoral votes? What were they told by Trump at the March to Save America rally on January 6? What did the crowd do, once it reached the Capitol building grounds? And, in concluding thoughts, I raise a series of questions that have become relevant since the attack on the U.S. Congress, while also discussing the impeachment of Trump by the U.S. House….

In the weeks before and after the presidential election, Trump proclaimed the “big lie” that the election had been rigged and stolen from him and that he, not Biden, had won the presidency by a landslide.

Trump’s efforts to win the 2020 presidential election by any means began well before the election itself, when he repeatedly said that millions of mailed-in ballots were fraudulent. Then after the election, Trump claimed that he had won the election by millions of votes – that the election was fraudulent, that millions of votes cast for Biden were invalid, that millions of votes for him were not counted, and, absurdly, that Biden must prove to him that the 80 million plus votes he received were indeed valid votes before he concedes. Susan B. Glasser writes in an article for The New Yorker on January 7th that the country “had to brace for an alarming confluence of virus denialism and election denialism between November 3rd and January 20th.” Glasser continues: “As devastating as it is for American democracy, it is no longer news that the President insists, as he did in a tweet the other day, that he is the victim of the ‘greatest Election Fraud in the history of the United States.’” Then, in the days immediately following the election, “Trump said that his goal was to ‘STOP THE COUNT,’ ‘stop the steal,’ or to demand recounts, or to discover evidence of fraud’” (https://newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trump-washington/its-not-just-trumps-war-on-democracy-anymore). Glasser further writes:

“Trump has escalated and escalated, culminating on Wednesday [Nov 9] with a single-word tweet announcing his new goal: not to win the election but to ‘#OVERTURN’ the results.” Even more strikingly, while his lawyers lost 64 court cases since the election, Trump has told millions of Americans through his Tweet account to believe that the election was rigged against him—seventy-seven per cent of Republicans now say mass fraud occurred, according to a… Quinnipiac poll out Thursday [Nov 10, 2020]—and enlisted virtually the entire national leadership of the Republican Party in his concerted attack on the legitimacy of the results.”

Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report that “Trump has been fixated on overturning the election for weeks, making hundreds of calls to allies, lawyers, state legislators, governors and other officials and regularly huddling with outside lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others.” And Trump fed “his base through twitter that the election was rigged against him, even before he lost the election on November 3. He asked his right-wing supporters to come to Washington for a rally on December 6, when a joint-session of Congress was convening to take the final step to sanctify Biden’s victory. It was at this rally, including an assemble of some 30,000, that told the crowd to march to the US Capitol building” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-election-capitol-building).

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Trump and his allies don’t give up on the “big lie”

Republicans in the Senate acquit Trump after he is impeached by the House

John Wagner and his colleagues at the Washington Post report on the failed impeachment effort as follows

(https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/02/13/trump-impeachment-trial-live-update).

“The Senate voted Saturday [Feb. 12, 2022] to acquit Donald Trump of a charge of inciting the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, bringing the historic second impeachment trial of the former president to a close.” They add: “Fifty-seven senators voted to find Trump guilty — short of the two-thirds threshold needed for a conviction — while 43 voted to find him not guilty. Seven Republicans joined the 50 members of the Democratic caucus in voting for conviction.”

Republicans then opposed a proposed bipartisan commission for further investigation of the Jan. 6 attack

Democrats in the House did not drop the matter, given that there was additional evidence being generated all the time about the Jan. 6 attack and how Trump and others had been active in planning, inciting, and mis-leading the public about the attack. By all factual accounts, Trump was the chief inciter of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Brian Naylor fills in the details of what transpired (https://npr.org/2021/05/28/1000524897/senate-republicans-block-plan-for-independent-commission-on-jan-6-capitol-riot). He writes:

“Bipartisan legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was supported by Democrats and a few Republicans in the U.S. Congress. The House approved the measure 252-175 the previous week [the last week in May, 2021] with 35 Republicans joining all Democrats in support of the plan. But in the final vote in the Senate, 54-35, “Republicans withheld the votes necessary to bring the bill up for debate. Just six GOP senators joined with the Democrats, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.”

“The proposed commission was modeled on the one established to investigate the 9/11 terror attacks, with 10 commissioners — five Democrats and five Republicans — who would have subpoena powers. A Democratic chair and Republican vice chair would have had to approve all subpoenas with a final report due at the end of the year.”

Nonetheless, Republicans in the Senate, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, opposed the idea. McConnell viewed the proposals as a “purely political exercise” and said that he did “not believe… Democratic leaders would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing.” McConnell also alluded to investigations underway by the Senate Rules and Homeland Security Committees, both of which are “looking at the response to the insurrection by police and the National Guard.” Naylor points out, however, that “neither is focused on the events leading to the incitement of the attack.”

Naylor also quotes Senate Minority Whip John Thune, who “voiced concern about a commission distracting from the party’s message heading into the 2022 midterm elections. [and that] “A lot of our members … want to be moving forward.” Trump

“attacked the effort to create the panel as a ‘Democrat trap.’”

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., opined that the Republican Senators who voted against the proposal did so “[o]ut of fear of — or fealty to — Donald Trump, and that “the Republican minority just prevented the American people from getting the full truth about Jan. 6.” Schumer added: “Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.”

“Biden supported the commission. Speaking to reporters Friday [May 27], White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Republican senators swear ‘an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And today, unfortunately, they failed to do that.’”

“In the end,” Naylor writes, “only four other Republican senators joined Collins and Murkowski in voting to advance the bill: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Rob Portman of Ohio. Nine Republicans and two Democrats abstained from voting.” Pat Toomey, a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, would have supported the proposal but a family commitment kept him out of Washington.

The creation of the Select Committee

As a last resort, Majority Leader Pelosi appointed a select commission, or committee, to investigate the Jan. 6 events, still vainly hoping for bipartisan support.

The January 6 Select Committee was created on June 30, 2021 by a vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chris Marquette reports that the vote was “222-190 to establish the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, a backup option Democrats enlisted after Senate Republicans quelled the formation of a bipartisan, independent 9/11-style commission” (https://rollcall.com/2021/06/30/house-creates-jan-6-select-committee).

The House vote in favor of the proposal included 35 House Republicans, including Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney and “all 10 GOP members who voted to impeach President Donald Trump in January for inciting the Capitol insurrection.” Sixteen Republican members did not vote. As result, Nadler writes, “The resolution empowered Pelosi to appoint eight members to the committee, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to appoint five members ‘in consultation’ with Pelosi.” 

Senate Republicans use the filibuster threat again to defeat support for the Select Committee

In the Senate, however, the Democrats could not marshal the votes to overcome another Republican filibuster. “In the Senate, a procedural vote on the commission bill earned majority support, 54-35, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rob Portman of Ohio were the only Republicans who voted to move forward on the legislation.”

Republican resistance in the House

The resolution empowered Pelosi to appoint eight members to the committee, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to appoint five members “in consultation” with Pelosi. 

Wikipedia offers the following description of what happened next.

“On July 1, Pelosi appointed eight members, seven Democrats and one Republican, Liz Cheney (R-WY); Bennie Thompson (D-MS) would serve as committee chair.[22] On July 19, McCarthy announced the five members he would recommend as the minority on the select committee. He recommended that Jim Banks (R-IN) serve as Ranking Member, and minority members be Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), and Troy Nehls (R-TX).[23] Banks, Jordan, and Nehls voted to overturn the Electoral College results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Banks and Jordan had also signed onto the Supreme Court case Texas v. Pennsylvania to invalidate the ballots of voters in four states.[24]

“On July 21, Pelosi said in a statement that she had informed McCarthy that she would reject the recommendations of Jordan and Banks, citing concerns for the investigation’s integrity and relevant actions and statements made by the two members. She approved the recommendations of the other three.[26] McCarthy then pulled all of his picks for the committee and stated that he would not appoint anyone on the committee unless all five of his choices were approved.[27][28]

After McCarthy rescinded his recommendations, Pelosi appointed Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to the committee and he became the second Republican member of the committee along with Liz Cheney. Both had rejected Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. Kinzinger has since decided not to run for office again and Cheney has been ostracized by the Republican Party and will have difficulty in future elections (e.g.,

https://cnn.com/2021/09/29/politics/liz-cheney-2024/index.html). Still, Cheney has been one of the most eloquent critics of Trump’s lies and self-serving scheming. In her opening statement at the Select Committee’s June 9 hearing, she made searing criticisms of Trump and the Republican Party, as reported by Catie Edmondson and Jonathan Martin (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/09/us/politics/liz-cheney-jan-6-vice-chair.html). Consider:

“Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, had just matter-of-factly rattled off a string of damning revelations illustrating how former President Trump had stoked the mob who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when she paused to address the members of her own party who she said were “defending the indefensible.”

“‘There will come a day when President Trump is gone,’ Ms. Cheney said. ‘But your dishonor will remain.’

Edmondson and Martin report: “She has been unrepentant in continuing to blame Mr. Trump for stoking the attack, and her Republican colleagues for following his lead by spreading the lie of a stolen presidential election.” They continue:

“Unfurling new testimony, she illustrated how Mr. Trump had persisted in pushing the fiction of a stolen election even as his top officials told him his claims of election fraud were false. And she emphasized how Mr. Trump had responded blithely when told that the rioters storming the Capitol threatened his vice president, chanting, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’

“The president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea.’ Mike Pence ‘deserves it,’ Ms. Cheney said, quoting from testimony collected by committee investigators.”

 What the Select Committee has done and plans

Already by early June, as reported by Billy House, the committee had “conducted more than 1,000 interviews and collected more than 100,000 documents, including emails and texts. It held a public hearing in July 2021 to hear testimony from police officers at the Capitol who came under attack. It’s issued at least 99 subpoenas for witness testimony and document production; in four instances where the recipient hasn’t complied, the Democratic-controlled House has voted to pursue charges of contempt of Congress”

(https://washingtonpost.com/business/what-the-jan-6-committee-has-done-and-whats-next/2022/06/06/ea08a8e0-e604-11ea-a422-11bbb01db30_story.html).

In addition, the Committee has held three hearings, on June 9, 2022, June 13, June 15, and June 16 (https://january6th.house.gov/legislation/hearings).

What the Select Committee plans to do

Amber Phillips identifies 6 takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee’s first prime-time hearing on June 9 (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/09/first-january-hearing-takeaways). Here are excerpts from 5 of the takeways that give us a sense of the committee’s evidence. There are other sources that describe the highlights of the second hearing (e.g., https://npr.org/2022/06/13/1104657476/recap-jan-6-committee-hearing), and third hearing (e.g., https://cnn.com/politics/live-news/jauary-6-hearings-june-16/index.html).

Excerpts from Phillips article

#1 – The committee holds Trump responsible for the attack – “The committee said it will present evidence that the president “refused for hours to do what his staff, his family and many of his other advisers begged him to do: immediately instruct his supporters to stand down and evacuate the Capitol,” “yelled at advisers who told him to act,” and “cheered on the protesters’ most violent tendencies,” while being aware “of the rioters chanting to ‘hang Mike Pence,’ the president responded with this sentiment: ‘Maybe our supporters have the right idea. [Mike Pence] deserves it.’” Additionally, Cheney said, “the committee will present evidence that Trump made not a single call to the Defense Department or other national security agencies during the attack. The committee played testimony from Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that it was Vice President Mike Pence who made those calls.”

#2 – How the committee plans to tell its story

“The committee opened by seeking to jolt the American public back to that violent day with never-before-seen footage of the attackers marching up to the Capitol and smashing windows to get in, overwhelming Capitol Police officers. “We can’t hold this, there are too many f——g people. Look at it from this vantage point. We’re f—-d,” one officer says.” There is evidence that “Trump ignored…the rulings of our nation’s courts,” and “ignored his own campaign leadership.” The committee “played video of Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, who told the committee he resigned in the final month of the administration in part because Trump was trying to wrestle his way to staying in power: ‘I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,’ Barr said.”

Barr told Trump that he did not believe the election was stolen

“Later, the committee will spend a significant amount of time on the pressure Trump and his allies put on Pence to overturn the election results on Jan. 6, something Pence said was ‘wrong.’ They’ll also talk about how Trump ‘corruptly pressured’ state legislators and election officials to change election results, and will shed new light on the Trump campaign’s efforts to set up slates of false electors in states he’d lost.”

“Finally, the committee will revisit the day of the riot, accusing Trump of having “summoned” right-wing groups to attack the Capitol, then resisting calls by his allies and family members to tell the attackers to go home.”

#3 – A sharp attack on Trump’s Republican defenders

“Top Republican lawmakers — even Pence, whose life was threatened by the attackers — have spent the year and a half since the attack downplaying what happened. It’s now a badge of honor in some circles to have been in D.C. protesting the election results or to be labeled an insurrectionist.

“Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) compared those who have justified what happened to those who defended slavery and the Civil War.”

#4 – How Trump influenced the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys

“The committee alleges that right-wing extremist groups were motivated by Trump himself. The committee spent a large chunk of Thursday’s hearing introducing Americans to two of these groups — the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers — and making the case for how Trump’s statements and tweets influenced their actions and eventually, their violence.

“The committee presented evidence that membership of the Proud Boys ‘tripled’ after Trump praised the group in a presidential debate toward the end of the election campaign. The hearing also featured footage of rioters reading aloud, over a bullhorn, a tweet Trump sent attacking Pence for his lack of ‘courage.’ And when Trump tweeted ahead of Jan. 6, ‘Be there, will be wild,’ the committee said that these extremist groups took it as “a call to arms.”

“Filmmaker Nick Quested, who embedded with the Proud Boys that day, testified that some group members went to the Capitol early that morning; others left the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on the Ellipse to march to the Capitol before Trump’s speech even began. They didn’t seem very interested in hearing Trump speak, which Quested said confused him at the time. But he described the group’s atmosphere as ‘much darker’ than usual.

“The hearing also featured interviews with several men charged in the riot who said they came because Trump told them to. ‘We were invited by the president of the United States!’ an attacker yells in footage from that day.

Rioters: ‘Trump asked us to come’

“A video from the Jan. 6 committee hearing on June 9 featured rioters explaining why they went to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Video: The Washington Post)

And the committee presented evidence that the groups took credit for the attack. ‘Make no mistake. We did this,’ the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, said in an encrypted text, according to a Justice Department indictment of Tarrio. He and four of his top lieutenants were recently charged with seditious conspiracy — allegations that they conspired to overthrow the government. The leaders of the Oath Keepers have also been charged with this.

#5 – The production value of Night 1

“Throughout June, the committee has to weave together thousands of hours of testimony, tens of thousands of documents, more than 1,000 people interviewed — and make it all coherent, compelling and as concise as Congress can be. In its first prime-time hearings, the committee did that expertly.

“Over a period of two hours Thursday (relatively short for a congressional hearing), the committee aired snippets of about a dozen pretaped interviews, including Trump’s former attorney general; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (who said he thought the White House counsel’s threats to resign over the election fraud push was “whining”); his daughter Ivanka Trump (testifying that she accepted the Justice Department’s assessment that the election wasn’t stolen); Trump campaign officials; and attackers who are now serving sentences for breaching the Capitol.”

Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards testified and showed “played graphic footage of protesters knocking her unconscious with a police barricade. After she recovered, she went to the front lines again and served alongside Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who suffered two strokes and later died. She described how she and Sicknick were tear-gassed and knocked down repeatedly, calling it ‘a war scene.’

“I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood,” said Edwards, later adding, ‘It was carnage.’”

Officer Edwards on Jan. 6: ‘It was carnage, it was chaos’

Will the Select Committee’s investigations have the desired political impact?

The committee’s efforts will not change the views of Trump, his allies, and his huge, cult-like electoral base. Most Democratic voters will be influenced by the Select Committee’s findings. They will vote against Republican candidates, and the committee’s findings may be one factor influencing that decision. It’s not at all clear whether Independents will vote for Democratic candidates. They may blame Biden and the Democrats for the current inflation, which is currently the top issue for most Americans. Right now, the most prevalent view is that Republicans will take back the U.S. House of Representatives and many state offices and have a chance even to win back the Senate. If that happens, then the Select Committee will be eliminated and Congress will cease investigating the Jan. 6 riots and attempted insurrection.

Republicans are poised to win one of both chambers of the U.S. Congress in 2022

Politico rated every race in play in 2022 and found that the Senate “leans Republican” and the House is likely to go Republican (https://www.politico.com/2022-election/race-forecasts-ratings-and-predictions).

Anthony Zurcher writes (https://bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-61280069) the following.

“The Republican party is widely expected to win back at least one chamber of Congress in the mid-term elections later this year. But its leaders have been reluctant to say what it would do with that power — and that could mean trouble in the not-so-long run.

“Some Republican 2024 presidential hopefuls have each released multi-point policy agendas that they may try to build a campaign around. But those in the Republican congressional leadership seem to believe that the path to power will be smoother if they keep the details of their agenda intentionally vague. It keeps their party united and gives Democrats less of a target to attack.

“For the seventh time in 22 years, control of at least one chamber of the US Congress appears poised to switch to the opposing party, and this time, it’s the Republicans who have the upper hand.

“According to polls, a plurality of Americans plan to vote for Republican congressional candidates – a good sign of impending success. And they only need to flip a handful of seats to take control.”

Other factors that favor Trump and his supporters

As indicated, Trump’s supporters will not be influenced by any findings of the Jan. 6 Select Committee.

The millions who have supported Trump and his dominance in the Republican Party are unlikely to be influenced by any of the evidence from the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Jason Lange reports on a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, completed on June 8, that believe that “[m]ore than half of U.S. Republicans believe the false claim that left-wing protesters led the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot to try to make then-President Donald Trump look bad” (https://reuters.com/world/us/half-us-republicans-believe-left-led-jan-6-violence-reutersipsos-2022-06-09).

The partisan divide is intensified by social media

This is the view of political scientists identified by Thomas B. Edsall in his June 15, 2022, New York Times column titled “We’re Staring at Our Phones, Full of Rage for the “Other Side” (https://nytimes.com/2022/06/15/opinion/social-media-polarization-democracy.html). Here is an few example.

“…in a November 2021 paper, “How social media shapes polarization,” Jay J. Van BavelElizabeth HarrisClaire Robertson and Anni Sternisko, all of N.Y.U., and Steve Rathje of the University of Cambridge concluded that ‘social media shapes polarization through the following social, cognitive, and technological processes: partisan selection, message content, and platform design and algorithm.’ Although they cautioned that “social media is unlikely to be the main driver of polarization, we posit that it is often a key facilitator.”

“On the internet, Van Bavel and his colleagues write:

“Not only do people seek out politically congruent information, they also update their beliefs more when that information supports what they already believe (asymmetric updating). Finally, they are more willing to share politically congruent information online. These cognitive biases in information seeking, belief updating, and sharing may all increase polarization.

“Not just polarization, but negative or hostile polarization, Van Bevel and his co-authors point out:

“Divisive social media messages tend to receive more engagement, which might contribute to polarization. An analysis of nearly 3 million social media posts found that posts about the political out-group (often reflecting out-group animosity) were more likely to be shared than those about the political in-group. Each additional out-group word (e.g., “liberal” or “Democrat” for a Republican post) increased the odds of that post being shared by 67 percent and increased the volume of “angry” reactions on Facebook.”

Polls find that there is a declining percentage of Americans who view Trump as the instigator of the Jan. 6 riots

Zach Beauchamp reports, as follows (https://vox.com/2022/6/8/23156442/january-6-committee-trump-polarization-fatigue).

“In the nearly year and a half since the Capitol riot, it has only grown dimmer in the public imagination. Two polls, from Pew and NBC News, found that the percentage of Americans who believe Trump is responsible for the January 6 attack has declined significantly over the course of the year. That number has fallen among both Republicans and Democrats, suggesting it’s the result of people seemingly forgetting the former president’s pivotal role in inciting the riot.

“Perhaps the committee’s hearings can reverse this trend among Democrats (and independents), but Republicans are almost certainly a different story.

“Trump’s grip on the GOP remains quite strong — certainly strong enough to convince the vast majority of Republicans not to abandon him over an attack in which they sympathize with the attackers. And there’s little evidence to believe that a GOP base that hates both Democrats and the mainstream media will be persuaded by coverage of hearings; they’re more likely to be swayed by the counter-programming that’s sure to come on Fox News and talk radio.

“Absent any kind of national consensus on the importance of January 6, it’s hard to imagine the hearings leading to an outcome that might deter those responsible from trying to steal another election.”

Republican candidates with January 6 ties are winning primaries for competitive House seats

Dan Merica documents this trend (https://cnn.com/2022/06/12/politics/january-6-republican-candidates-house-elections/Index.html). Here’s some of what he reports.

“…across the country…Republican candidates with alleged ties to the events in Washington, DC , on January 6 — from Annie Black in Nevada to Jason Riddle in New Hampshire to Derrick Van Orden in Wisconsin — are on the ballot for competitive seats.

“Not all candidates who were in DC on January 6 to protest the 2020 election have won, but the results from Ohio and North Carolina make clear that the association with January 6 isn’t a disqualifying factor with many Republican primary voters.”

Amy Gardner and Isaac Arnsdorf report, “More than 100 GOP primary winners back Trump’s false fraud claims (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/14/more-than-100-gop-primary-winners-back-trumps-false-fraud-claims).

Amid growing economic difficulties in people’s lives, there is evidence that many are preoccupied with other issues than Jan. 6

Dan Balz and Marianna Sotomayor consider “key issues” for the upcoming 2022 midterms (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2022/key-issues-voting-2022-midterms). Here’s some of what they found.

 “Democrats and Republicans agree that inflation has been the preeminent political issue this spring — at least until the leak of a draft ruling that suggested the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade. The abortion issue now threatens to upend election calculations. But voters will also be hearing about crime, education, immigration and jobs before they cast their ballots.” However, inflation and the economy seem to top the others.

Balz and Sotomayor find,

“Inflation is a constant presence in the minds of voters when buying groceries, filling their gas tanks or paying their home heating bills. There is no escaping from it, and unless there is a significant easing in the next few months, it will continue as one of the top issues of concern.

“The issue overshadows what is otherwise an economic story that the Biden administration would like to talk about, especially the number of jobs created and low unemployment rate. Democrats also see possible ways to soften concerns about rising prices by talking about their efforts to lower the cost of, say, prescription drugs. It could be a hard sell.

“The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll finds nearly 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of the way President Biden has handled the inflation issue. Fifty percent say they trust Republicans to handle the issue, compared with 31 percent who say they trust Democrats more.”

Concluding thoughts

Ankush Khardori, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, is a Politico Magazine contributing editor, argues that simply “revealing what happened” can make a difference in buttressing opposition to Trump and the Republicans (https://politico.com/news/magazine/2022/04/12/jan-6-house-select-committee-criminal-referral-00024654). His key point is as follows.

“Thus far, the committee, which has conducted more than 1,000 witness interviews, has already generated an array of discrete and significant revelations, despite being hampered by many Republicans’ refusal to cooperate. The hearings, however, will provide the public’s first insight into whether the committee has been able to answer, in something approximating an authoritative and comprehensive manner, some of the major questions within its broad investigative purview. Those questions may concern what happened on Jan. 6 itself, the failure of federal law enforcement to adequately safeguard the Capitol that day or, perhaps most importantly, the broader, extra-legal campaign by former President Donald Trump, along with his supporters and allies, to overturn the results of the election.”

All this is true. However, as noted, there are competing narratives and experiences that may counter such evidence. Nonetheless, a democracy can only work properly if there are enough informed citizens who are willing to vote, if some are willing to engage in the political processes, and if there are viable political options. Being informed about the relevant facts is important, but may not be enough to save American democracy.

The other side inhabits a political space that rejects verifiable facts and that is unquestioning in its submission to the anti-democratic Trump and right-wing interests and values. It is not far-fetched to think that the U.S. may be at the dawn of a fascist state that will favor oligarchs, advance the interests of the rich and powerful, white supremacists, the gun lobby, Christian nationalists, while systematically suppressing voting rights, severely restricting immigration, reproductive rights, and encouraging armed and violent militias.

The flawed opposition to reasonable gun safety regulations

Bob Sheak, June 1, 2022

bsheak983@gmail.com

The present post builds on and updates my analysis in a post that was circulated back on March 14, 2018 (https://wordpress.com/post.vitalissues-bobsheak.com/11).

An argument for reasonable gun restrictions rests most fundamentally on the premises that the ownership of guns should be regulated, and that gun ownership is not an absolute, unlimited right of citizenship. Thomas Gabor, who has studied gun violence and policy for over 30 years in the United States and other countries, concludes that we need to find a “delicate balance” between ownership/access and regulation. He states his position, along with other reasons, writing that “[g]un ownership can be a right while every effort is made to ensure that those who pose a risk to public safety cannot easily obtain them” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 32).

Reasonable regulations would, for example, include the requirement that gun purchasers must have and pass a universal background check before they can purchase a weapon. Another regulation: Firearms must be registered and gunowners must have a license.

Reasonable regulations additionally would include the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The Brady United website offers this definition: “An ‘assault weapon’ refers to a semi-automatic gun designed for military use and quick, efficient killing. Assault weapons are uniquely lethal because of their rapid rate of fire and high muzzle velocity — coupled with high-capacity magazines, which attach to an assault weapon to allow dozens of gunshots without needing to reload. A high-capacity magazine is typically defined as any magazine or drum that is capable of holding more than either 10 or 15 rounds of ammunition” (https://bradyunited.org/fact-sheets/what-are-assault-weapons-and-high-capacity-magazines).

Reasonable regulations would ban open-carry laws that allow individuals to carry their weapons visibly in public. Reasonable regulations would emphasize the need to secure schools, without arming teachers.

Part 1: the grim gun situation in the U.S.

Gabor’s position would only be considered radical by the NRA, weapons’ makers, the Republican Party, and the millions in Trump’s base who oppose any gun regulation. There is an enormous lobbying effort nationally and in the states against any gun regulation. Robin Lloyd, managing director of the gun violence prevention organization Giffords, provides a glimpse of this powerful, right-wing lobbying effort in an interview on Democracy Now (https://www.democracynow.org/2022/5/26/uvalde_texas_robb_elementary_school_gun).

“The American gun lobby, which is supported by American gun manufacturers, is alive and well. The National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been weakened due to self-inflicted wounds of greed and mismanagement of funds. But other organizations, like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the lobbying arm for the gun industry and gun retailers, is alive and well. And actually, the National Shooting Sports Foundation spends more on lobbying against gun violence prevention measures here in Washington than the NRA does. So, they’re the true face of the American corporate gun lobby. And quite frankly, there’s a lot of money at stake. There has been an incredible surge of gun sales in the past decade, largely driven by fear and conspiracy promulgated by the corporate gun lobby here in the United States, and that has meant an incredible increase in their bottom line.”

Opposition from the Right against any gun regulation

For decades, since the early 1970s, opponents of gun regulation, most prominently the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Shooting Sports Foundation, weapons producers and their army of lobbyists have used their political influence in the Republican Party to promote a one-sided interpretation of the Second Amendment. They want to keep government at all levels from regulating gun ownership. On this point, Gabor captures the uncompromising position of the NRA and its allies as follows: “…those viewing gun ownership as an inalienable right often see this right as an absolute and will yield little ground regardless of the annual death toll or other evidence pointing to the harm produced by widespread gun ownership” (p. 263).

New York Times reporter Greg Weiner illustrates this retrograde viewpoint, reporting on a speech given by Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, at the [2018] Conservative Political Action Conference. Here’s some of what Weiner reports.

“According to this conception, rights are zones of personal autonomy where the individual owes no explanation and the community has no jurisdiction. This manner of thinking about rights is a serious barrier to reasonable regulations of firearms. The N.R.A. ritually claims the mantle of the Constitution, but the American founders who framed it had a far richer view in which individual rights were subject to considerations of the common good.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/wayne-lapierres-unconstitutionalism.html?_r=0.ab).

Brian Schwartz reports on May 27, 2022, for CNBC that the National Rifle Association’s lobbying machine is still potent and that it continues to support an absolutist anti-regulation position on ownership and access to guns, including unregulated access to semi-automatic and automatic guns made for war (https://cnbc.com/2022/05/27/nra-holds-convention-has-lobbying-cash-after-texas-school-shooting.html). He writes, for example:

“The group has spread its messaging widely in recent days. The NRA’s Facebook ads, which was launched last week [third week of May, 2022], are still active, according to the social media giant’s ad library. One of the active NRA ads has a picture of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with a message of “Don’t let them take your guns.”

The ad “leads viewers to an online petition to Congress that reads, in part, ‘I demand that Congress vote down every bill, every treaty, every resolution, and every amendment that would infringe upon my Second Amendment rights in any way.’”

Of course, Trump pushes for maximum gun rights to please a major segment of his electoral base. Kelly Hopper reports on Trump’s address on May 27, 2022, to “the National Rifle Association’s annual conference in Houston, slamming Democrats for their positions on gun control and pointing to mental health as the root cause of mass shootings just three days after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school” (https://politico.com/news/2022/05/27/trump-gun-rights-nra-speech-uvalde-shotting-00035836). According to Hopper,

“The former president invoked Second Amendment rights several times and stated that ‘evil’ is the reason to arm citizens. He stressed the importance of added school security measures such as metal detectors and arming teachers, and said teachers have to be ‘able to handle’ an active shooter situation.”

The U.S. is unique in the world with respect to widespread gun ownership

Chris Hedges brings our attention to one of the ugly facts about gun ownership in the United State, that is, the country is loaded with a massive number of guns, far more than any other country, and yet, rather than curtail violence, the pervasive availability of guns of all kinds seem to aid and abet it (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/guns-and-liberty).

Laurel Wamsley provides the following facts on the sadly unique international U.S. position on gun ownership (https://npr.org/2022/05/28/1101307932/texas-shooting-uvalde-gun-violence-children-teenagers). She notes:

“When the total number of firearm deaths are counted, the U.S. ranks second in the world, after only Brazil, according to a study using data from 2016.

“One factor in America’s high level of gun deaths is the massive number of guns in the country: Civilians in the U.S. own an estimated 393 million firearms, according to a 2018 study by the Small Arms Survey [now over 400 million]. That’s nearly 46% of the estimated 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world. That’s a striking proportion, when the U.S. has just 4% of the world’s population.”

In the U.S., kids are more likely to die from gun violence than in other wealthy countries, according to Wamsley’s sources.

“For years, researchers at the University of San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have compared the rates of firearm deaths in the U.S. and other populous, high-income countries — mostly nations in Europe.

Their most recent study, which looks at data from 2015, finds that the U.S. accounts for the vast majority of firearm deaths among children. Across the 29 countries in the study, the U.S. accounted for almost 97% of the firearm deaths among children 4 years old or younger, and 92% of firearm deaths for those between the ages of 5 and 14.

“And over time, the U.S. is accounting for an ever-larger share of people killed by guns in these countries. The U.S. firearm death rate increased nearly 10% between 2003 and 2015, even as it fell in other high-income countries.”

The numbers of gun-related deaths and physical and psychological injuries are climbing

“Five years ago, just under 4,000 children and teens up to the age of 17 were killed or injured by gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive. By the end of last year, that number was up 43% to 5,692. Some 1,560 of these children and teenagers died.

“So far in 2022, at least 653 children and teens in the U.S. have been killed by guns. Another 1,609 children and teens have been injured by firearms, according to the archive.

“The highest rates for gun-related deaths, according to an analysis by the National Safety Council, are among people ages 15 to 34.”

Journalists at the Washington Post have “spent years tracking how many children have been exposed to gun violence during school hours since the Columbine High massacre in 1999. The facts have been updated, as of May 24, 2022 (https://washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shooting-database/?itid=hp-banner-main). They report:

“Beyond the dead and wounded, children who witness the violence or cower behind locked doors to hide from it can be profoundly traumatized.

“The federal government does not track school shootings, so The Post pieced together its numbers from news articles, open-source databases, law enforcement reports and calls to schools and police departments.

“While school shootings remain rare, there were more in 2021 — 42 — than in any year since at least 1999. So far this year, there have been at least 24 acts of gun violence on K-12 campuses during the school day.

“The count now stands at more than 311,000 children at 331 schools have been killed, wounded, or exposed to school shootings.

“The Post has found that at least 185 children, educators and other people have been killed in assaults, and another 369 have been injured.”

Additional evidence on mass killings

In April 1999, the country was stunned by the mass killing of 13 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students, who then committed suicide. In the course of the past 20 years, eruptions of homicidal violence have become almost commonplace, and the death tolls resulting from such incidents have in many cases far exceeded the terrible loss of life at Columbine. The 2017 attack in Las Vegas resulted in 58 deaths. The 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Florida left 49 dead. The 2014 shooting in San Bernardino cost the lives of 14 people. The 2012 assault at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed 28 lives. The attack on an audience at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, also in 2012, took 12 lives. The shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in 2009 resulted in 13 deaths.”

“The killings are not only deadlier than in 1999. Such incidents occur much more frequently. Mass killings involving more than four deaths take place every 16 days in the US, 10 times more frequently than in the period between 1982 and 2011, when the average time between mass killings was 200 days.”

The editors at Education Week provide an update, as follows

“There have been 27 school shootings this year (2022]. There have been 119 school shootings since 2018, when Education Week began tracking such incidents. The highest number of shootings, 34, occurred last year. There were 10 shootings in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018 (https://www.edweek.org/leadership/school-shootings-this-year-how-many-and-where/2022/01). They also refer to the most recent school murders.

“On May 24, 19 children and two adults were killed and 16 injured in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. It was the deadliest school shooting since 2012, when a gunman shot and killed 26 people as young as 6 years old at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Fatalities exceeded those in the 2018 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead.”

Part 2: Rebutting right-wing rationales for non-regulation of guns:

(1) that the Second Amendment legitimates unfettered gun ownership, access, and where guns can be carried; (2) that a right-wing U.S. Supreme Court should have the final word in ruling on constitutional issues; (3) that gun regulation, if any, should be left in the hands of state officials; (4) that mass shootings are carried out only or mostly by those with mental illness; (5) that teachers should be armed to protect themselves and the children.

#1 – The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not mean absolute and unregulated gun ownership

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” (https://law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment).

There are two parts of the Second Amendment.

Those who want more gun regulation put their emphasis on the opening phrase of the Second Amendment that refers to “a well-regulated militia.” This phrase suggests that the federal or state governments should play the major role in determining who can own guns. The implication is that regulation of guns for private ownership is not about individual rights but about rules that aim to provide collective security and what is in the common good.

Those who want little or no gun regulation focus on the second part of the Amendment, that is, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” From the perspective of the contemporary National Rifle Association and other unbridled gun supporters all regulation is anathema and as threats to the most fundamental “freedom” of Americans. The Legal Information Institute adds, “some believe that the Amendment’s phrase ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms’ creates an individual constitutional right to possess firearms. Under this ‘individual right theory,’ the United States Constitution restricts legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, or at the very least, the Amendment renders prohibitory and restrictive regulation presumptively unconstitutional.

What does the historical record indicate? Through most of US history up through the end of the 20th Century, the courts have found that, as John Atcheson reports, the introductory phrase “a well-regulated militia” constrains, or takes precedence over, the clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/24/no-founding-fathers-didnt-give-you-right-to-bear-arms).

Atcheson puts it this way: “In short, the individual ‘right’ was contingent on the need to keep a well-regulated militia, and hence it protected the States’ interests in having a militia, not an individual’s right to have and carry a weapon.”

Gabor (cited previously) refers to supporting evidence. He writes:

“In four Supreme Court rulings between 1876 and 1939 and in 37 cases involving challenges to gun laws heard by federal courts of appeal between 1942 and 2001, the courts have consistently set aside these challenges and have viewed the Second Amendment as protecting state militias, rather than individual rights. Thus, with little exception, the first 125 years of ruling by higher courts interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that ‘The people’ collectively have the right to bear arms within the context of a well-regulated militia, rather than for protection against fellow citizens or for other personal reasons. This view of the Second Amendment is consistent with the requirement, in America’s first Constitution, that each state maintain a militia and with the modern Constitution, which provides for both state militias and a standing army” (p. 266).

The official state militias have been long ago abandoned. Nonetheless the point is, for most of U.S. history, individual rights to firearms were regulated and limited. Gabor also quotes several Supreme Court justices who expressed support for the “militia” preeminence interpretation of the Second Amendment. For example, former chief justice Warren Burger, “a conservative and hunter himself, said in an interview in 1991 on the MacNeill Lehrer News Hour that the focus on the “right to keep and bear arms” has “been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud…on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime” (Gabor, p. 266). As noted above, the interest group he has in mind is the NRA and its increasingly intense efforts to end virtually all restrictions on gun ownership by private citizens.

Remarkably, given the power of the NRA and the pro-gun lobbies, President Clinton signed a 1994 law banning the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (holding more than ten rounds of ammunition) – and it remained in in force for ten years until 2004, according to Gabor. The ban was allowed to expire by the US Congress in 2004. Even during the years of the ban, though, the law had loopholes. There were “grandfathering provisions” that “allowed weapons and high-capacity magazines already manufactured to continue to be bought and sold, severely undercutting the effectiveness of the ban” (Gabor, pp. 292-293). In short, Clinton’s ban on assault weapons had at best only very modest effects on reducing violence associated with guns, even from assault weapons. But, even with its flaws, the ban did have some modest, positive effect. In as assessment of the effects of the ban, Christopher Koper, associate professor at George Mason University, writes:

“Although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semiautomatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs. Therefore, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence [as of 2013]. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury, as we might have expected had the ban reduced crimes with both AWs and LCMs” (https://www.factcheck.org/2013/02/did-the-1994-assault-ban-work).

Nonetheless, it is worth emphasizing again that through most of U.S. history there have been federal laws in effect to limit the gun ownership of private citizens, other than for hunting, conservation, certified gun collections (where the guns are inoperable) and sports-related activities, and that the temporary assault ban did have some positive effect. Though it should also be mentioned that the ban did not close other ways by which individual can acquire guns. In addition to the grandfathering loophole and the parts of the gun market that were not covered by the ban, guns could be obtained through private sales (e.g., now through the internet) and at gun shows, both of which remain unregulated. Of course, there has always been an illegal market for guns. George Aisch and Josh Keller report on one aspect of this illegal gun market in their article “Traffikers Get Around State Laws (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffikers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html). At the same time, Gabor presents evidence that such bans can have some positive effect (pp. 292-293).

#2 – The Supreme Court has evolved into a pro-gun arbiter

The Supreme Court began to shift on gun rights in 2008 in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, a decision in which the court ruled 5-4 “that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes (e.g., self-defense within the home) in federal enclaves (jurisdictions)” (Gabor, p. 267). However, this decision did not affirm anything like an absolute right to gun ownership. Gabor interprets what the court had in mind.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” (Gabor, 267-268).

The upshot is that, even in recent years, federal law remained at odds with the NRA’s absolutist stance. This may change in favor of the anti-regulation position, as the Supreme Court has move further to the right with Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch on February 1, 2017, Brett Kavanaugh on July 10, 2018, and Amy Coney Barrett on September 29, 2020, combined with the 3 conservative justices already on the 9-person court, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts. 

In an article for CNN Politics, Ariane de Vogue quotes Adam Winkler, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, who said this about Gorsuch: Although Gorsuch’s exact views on the Second Amendment remain a mystery, several of his decisions made it harder to keep guns out of the hands of felons.  (https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/politics/neil-gorsuch-abortion-religious-liberty-enviornment-guns-control/index.html).

Even before Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, began to expand the rights associated with gun ownership.

Veronica Rose, chief analyst at the Office of Legislative Research for the state of Connecticut, provides a summary of a Supreme Court decision that was made after District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). Rose summarizes the McDonald v. Chicago 5-4 decision in 2010, the thrust of which is that the individual states have the right to pass laws that give individual’s the right to keep and bear firearms for lawful uses such as self-defense in one’s home (https://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/rpt/2010-R-0314.htm). Notice the words “such as” open the opportunity of states to expand the rights of gun ownership in any number of ways. Here I’ll quote some key paragraphs from Rose’s account.

“In a five-four split decision, the McDonald Court held that an individual’s right to keep and bear arms is incorporated and applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito observed: “It is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty” (p. 31). “The Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms fully applicable to the States.” In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the 2nd Amendment is fully applicable to states because the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment as a privilege of American citizenship.

“The Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the gun ban, deciding instead to reverse and remand the case for additional proceedings. However, the court’s decision on the 2nd Amendment makes it clear that such bans are unconstitutional. But, as it held in Heller, the Court reiterated in McDonald that the 2nd Amendment only protects a right to possess a firearm in the home for lawful uses such as self-defense. It stressed that some firearm regulation is constitutionally permissible and the 2nd Amendment right to possess firearms is not unlimited. It does not guarantee a right to possess any firearm, anywhere, and for any purpose.”

Note also that the court decisions employ vague words (“such as”) that open a wide range of undefined circumstances under which citizens have a legal right to purchase and own weapons, all sorts of weapons. The McDonald decision invokes the Fourteenth Amendment and in context in which lends support to the guns’ rights position. The relevant provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1, states “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” This is another one of the laws that can be interpreted and applied in several ways but which a conservative court is likely to be interpreted in a way that is favorable to the rights of individual gun owner rather than to public safety concerns.

#3 – State laws on gun ownership – diverse and often lax.

While the federal government and the various states can impose some, often ambiguous and often weakly enforced laws, on gun ownership by private citizens, they cannot ban such ownership. At the same time, federal law is vague enough to be applied expansively by the states. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia has a 63-page long review of the gun laws by the states that was updated on March 1, 2018 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_the_United_States_by_state).

It’s startling how extensive gun ownership rights are. The law is bewilderingly complex and diverse. Note that in the following summary list of state-level gun ownership laws, there are some issues like arming teachers or other school personnel that have not yet been legislated or addressed by the judicial system. Here’s is what the Wikipedia investigators find generally. There is also a table that includes all the states in alphabetical order and provides details on gun-related laws for each of the states.

        Some [not all] states and localities require that a person obtain a license or permit to purchase or possess firearms.

        Some [not all] states and localities require that individual firearms be registered with the police or with another law enforcement agency.

        All states allow some form of concealed carry, the carrying of a concealed weapon in public.

        Many states [not all] allow some form of open carry, the carrying of an unconcealed firearm in public on one’s person or in a vehicle.

        Some [not all] states have state preemption for some or all gun laws, which means that only the state can legally regulate firearms. In other states, local governments can pass their own gun laws more restrictive than those of the state.

        Some [not all] states and localities place additional restrictions on certain semi-automatic firearms that they have defined as assault weapons, or on magazines that can hold more than a certain number of rounds of ammunition.

        NFA weapons or weapons that are heavily restricted at a federal level by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. These include automatic firearms (such as machine guns), short-barreled shotguns, and short-barreled rifles. Some [not] states and localities place additional restrictions on such weapons.

        Some [not all] states have enacted castle doctrines or stand-your-own ground laws, which provide a legal basis for individuals to use deadly force in self-defense in certain situations, without a duty to flee or retreat if possible.

        In some [not all] states, peaceable journey laws give additional leeway for the possession of firearms by travelers who are passing through to another destination.

        Some [not all] states require a background check of the buyer when a firearm is sold by a private party. (Federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed gun deals, and for any interstate sales.)

The evidence establishes that there are states, “red” (Republican) states, that do not even require a license or permit to possess firearms or to register them with the police or other law enforcement agency. And “many states” allow “some form of open carry.” The states with the weakest gun laws and the highest household gun ownership rates, such as Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas, also have the highest homicide rates and highest rates of gun deaths. This is well documented by Gabor’s chapter 8: “The Deadliest States.” Indeed, there are many states that don’t place any restrictions on semi-assault weapons or on high-capacity magazines. There are even some states that allow private citizens to own machine guns. Overall, in the states where Republicans control the state houses and legislatures, gun laws allow for easy access to a wide range of weapons and ironically also have the highest rates of deaths and injuries from guns. It’s the opposite in “blue” states like California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut. Hawaii, Maryland, and Rhode Island.

In Ohio

What is the law on gun ownership by private citizens in Ohio, where the Governor is a Republican and the state house and state legislature are controlled by Republicans? According to the evidence that Wikipedia has compiled, private citizens in Ohio are permitted to openly carry long guns (e.g., rifles) or handguns without a permit if they are 18 years or older. There is no requirement that firearms must be registered or that gunowners must have a license. This means that there is too little time for an authorized gun seller to collect all relevant information on a person before he/she buys a gun, though as I already noted, the federal system that provides information for background checks is inadequate. And, further, there is no law in Ohio governing semi-assault or assault weapons.

You can see the status of 28 bills that would change how Ohioans purchase, carry and use their guns have been introduced since this legislative session started in January 2021, as reported by Anna Staver

 (https://dispatch.com/story/news/2022/05/25/ohio-lawmakers-have-introduced-nearly-30-gun-bills-what-they/9923728002). Fifteen of the bills were introduced by Democrats, only one of which has received a first hearing. Thirteen bills were introduced by Republicans, and “all but one of the Republican bills (which was just introduced) has started moving through the process. And some, like the one removing the requirement to get a permit before carrying a concealed weapon, have been signed into law.” 

#4 – They blame mental illness as the main, if not only, reason for mass shootings

There is a danger in creating and putting people into stigmatizing classification schemes. Those on the pro-gun side of the argument often argue that mass gun shootings are the result of persons with mental illness. Linda Qiu and Justin Bank consider the mental-health issue in an article titled “Checking Facts and Falsehoods About Gun Violence and Mental Illness After Parkland Shooting” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/fact-check-parkland-gun-violence-mental-illness.html). Their main finding is that most people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes. They cite the following evidence.

“Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book ‘Gun Violence and Mental Illness’ published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.

“To be sure, gun violence experts contacted by New York Times reporters have said that barring sales to people who are deemed dangerous by mental health providers could help prevent mass shootings. But the experts said several more measures — including banning assault weapons and barring sales to convicted violent criminals — are more effective.”

Qiu and Bank continue.

“A 2016 academic study estimated that just 4 percent of violence is associated with serious mental illness alone. “Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness,” the study concluded.

A 2015 study found that less than 5 percent of gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people diagnosed with mental illness.

“As John T. Monahan, a professor specializing in psychology and law at the University of Virginia, told The Times: ‘Two things typically happen in the wake of a mass shooting. First, politicians claim that mental illness is the major cause of violence in America. Then, advocates for people with mental illness respond by denying there is any relationship whatsoever between mental illness and violence. Both groups are wrong. Research shows that the association between mental illness and violence is not strong, but it does exist.”

Red Flag Laws

There is now some discussion in some states about introducing “red flag” gun laws that would urge teachers, school administrators, other school personnel to pay attention to and perhaps discipline students who exhibit dangerous behavior or talk in person or on twitter or facebook about committing violence to themselves or others. These laws would also encourage students and their parents to do the same.

Bennett Leckrone considers this issue in an article for The Columbus Dispatch and reports that Ohio legislators are considering ways to take guns from at-risk people before they might harm themselves or others (http://www.dispatch.com/news/20180303/ohio-lawmakers-mull-ways-to-take-guns-from-those-showing-red-flag-of-danger).

Jason Hanna and Laura Ly address this topic in an article the title of which captures the thrust of their report, namely, “After the Parkland massacre, more states consider ‘red flag’ gun bills” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/07/us/gun-extreme-risk-protection-orders/index.html).

Such a policy would first have to figure out a way to protect first amendment and due process rights, and also avoid over-reacting on racial grounds. When do behavioral problems forecast future violent outbursts. Should government and school authorities encourage a student “tip” system, in which students are encouraged to provide information about another student who is behaving aggressively? It seems reasonable that schools might be better positioned to anticipate such problems if they had trained psychologists and counselors who could intervene and investigate such situations professionally

#5 – They want to arm teachers  

If the responses of those who oppose gun regulation, for example the likes of Trump, the NRA, and many Republican legislators, continue successfully to achieve their pro-gun goals, we’ll unfortunately end up with fortress-like schools, armed teachers and/or other adults in the schools, fearful children, and, given the record, the chances that minority children in inadequately-resourced schools will end up disproportionately among the victims. Benjamin Balthaser, associate professor of multi-ethnic US literature at Indiana University, South Bend, argues, “arming teachers” will kill education 

(http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43707-arming-teachers-killing-education-why-trump-s-proposal-has-nothing-to-do-with-safety).

He’s worth quoting, as follows.

“Bearing the role of public education in mind, it is self-evident that arming teachers will do little if anything to actually make schools safer. Not only would having multiple shooters increase the confusion and mayhem of a mass shooting, the “good-guy-with-a-gun” theory has been widely debunked, and leads to all kinds of other bizarre questions, such as: Who decides which teachers are armed? Where are the guns stored? Who decides when a teacher can use a gun? What are the penalties for misusing a gun? The practical problems with arming teachers are so abundant, like many of Trump’s gestures of contempt, these ‘solutions’ are not designed to solve real-world problems, but rather to shift the discourse and change the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in civil society.

“The proposal to arm teachers should not be seen as just a joke. It is not serious as a way to stop violence but is deadly serious about one thing: ending the progressive role of education and educators. The proposal is not about helping students but turning the student-teacher relationship from one of trust and respect into one of violence…. The right [to gun ownership by private citizens] does not imagine teachers wielding weapons so much as weapons remaking teachers”

Henry Giroux echoes these and other concerns (https://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43732-killing-children-in-the-age-of-disposability-the-parkland-shooting-was-about-more-than-gun-violence).

Giroux is troubled by the call to eliminate the ordinary gun-free zones in the public schools by arming teachers for eliminating gun-free zones and arming teachers, when this “comes at a time when many schools have already been militarized by the presence of police and the increasing criminalization of student behaviors.”

Giroux continues: “Suggesting that teachers be armed and turned into potential instruments of violence extends and normalizes the prison as a model for schools and the increasing expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline. What is being left out of this tragedy is that the number of police in schools has doubled in the last decade from 20 percent in 1996 to 43 percent today. Moreover, as more police are put in schools, more and more children are brutalized by them. There is no evidence that putting the police in schools has made them any safer. Instead, more and more young people have criminal records, are being suspended, or expelled from school, all in the name of school safety.” Giroux quotes Sam Sinyangwe, the director of the Mapping Police Violence Project, to further document his point.

“The data … that does exist … shows that more police in schools leads to more criminalization of students, and especially black and brown students. Every single year, about 70,000 kids are arrested in school…. [Moreover] since 1999, 10,000 additional police officers have been placed at schools, with no impact on violence. Meanwhile, about one million students have been arrested for acts previously punishable by detention or suspension, and black students are three times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.”

“Trump’s proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers’ shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment.”

Brian Moench also brings our attention to what seems to be a commonsense fact, namely, that “teachers with handguns are no match for assault rifles” (http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/43689-teachers-with-handguns-are-no-match-for-assault-rifles-why-the-trump-nra-plan-doesn-t-work).

And Gyasi Ross worries that young African American and Native American students could turn out to be disproportionately the victims of armed teachers (https://www.truthdig.com/articles/arming-teachers-stupidest-racist-idea-going).

“According to a new CBS poll, the nation is split almost nearly in half on whether teachers should carry guns, with 44 percent of Americans saying they support arming more teachers and 50 percent opposing the idea. Even more unexpected is the fact that this is not split along entirely partisan lines. We tend to expect Republicans to stick to the party line in order to keep up their National Rifle Association contributions. But although 74 percent of Democrats oppose arming teachers, the poll shows that 20 percent support the prospect. Egads!”

Ross continues.

“If Trump, Republican legislators, and the NRA have their way, school districts in communities will have the right, if not the mandate, to arm at least some teachers – and other school personnel. If this is the way the current debate is resolved, the tragic irony is that it will facilitate the manufacture and distribution of yet more guns in a society that already has a surfeit of guns, including semi-automatic and automatic weapons that are designed for war. It will be a boon for the weapons’ makers and a victory for the pro-gun advocates like the NRA and most Republicans. But, in the process, the schools’ basic missions will have been compromised, that is, providing students with the educational foundation to become informed and productive citizens. Indeed, there are already serious problems in the American schools, especially in how they are financed so much by local property taxes, resulting in great inequalities among school systems and in vastly unequal outcomes for students. This issue of an unequal school system has long been of concern and has worsened. See the articles and books of professor of education Diane Ravitch for incisive analyses of the problems and inequalities the school system generally and, in a recent book, the “hoax of the privatization movement.”

Part 3: An approach to achieve reasonable gun laws

John Donohue, distinguished professor of law at Stanford University, offers an outline of an approach for convincing people to support reasonable gun regulations (https://www.stanford.edu/2015/09/03/how-us-gun-control-compares-to-the-rest-of-the-world). He makes four points.

First, Donahue’s research team finds that the great majority of Americans, including a majority of NRA members, favor universal background checks. Indeed, 90% of Americans favored such checks after the Newtown school massacre of 2012.

Despite the influence of the NRA, Trump, the Republican Party, the gun manufacturers, the right-wing media, most Americans believe there is a need for gun regulation. Experts and the public agree on how to stop gun violence. Politicians don’t, according to Christopher Ingraham (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/02/experts-and-the-public-agree-on-how-to-stop-gun-violence-politicians-dont/?utm_term=.394c3020ba60).

“Despite its reputation as an intractable, deeply divisive issue, there’s a lot of agreement among the American public on support for gun-control measures.

Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza and Rachael Bade report for Politico, on “a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted entirely after the shooting in Uvalde, offering a snapshot of the mood of American voters at this moment in time, and where they stand on a variety of gun reform proposals” (https://politico.com/newsletter/playbook/2022/05/26/new-poll-shows-huge-support-for-gun-restriction). Here’s what they found.

“Requiring background checks on all gun sales: Eighty-eight percent strongly or somewhat support; 8% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +80

Creating a national database with info about each gun sale: Seventy-five percent strongly or somewhat support; 18% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +57

“Banning assault-style weapons: Sixty-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 25% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +42

“Preventing sales of all firearms to people reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider: Eighty-four percent strongly or somewhat support; 9% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +75

“Making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks: Eighty-one percent strongly or somewhat support; 11% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +70

“Requiring all gun owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit: Seventy-seven percent strongly or somewhat support; 15% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +62

“BUT voters also support a proposal that’s been floated by many advocates of gun rights:

“Equipping teachers and school staff with concealed firearms to respond in the event of a school shooting: Fifty-four percent strongly or somewhat support; 34% strongly or somewhat oppose. Net approval: +20.”

Second, the NRA’s claim that guns reduce crime is belied by the fact that the “US is by far the world leader in the number of guns in civilian hands” and it has by far the highest homicide rate. And “only the tiniest fraction of victims of violent crime are able to use a gun in their defense.” Donohue writes on this point:

“Over the period from 2007-2011, when roughly six million nonfatal violent crimes occurred each year, data from the National Crime Victimization Survey show that the victim did not defend with a gun in 99.2% of these incidents – this is a country with 300 million guns in civilian hands.” 

And,

“…a study of 198 cases of unwanted entry into occupied single-family dwellings in Atlanta (not limited to night when the residents were sleeping) found that the invader was twice as likely to obtain the victim’s gun than to have the victim use a firearm in self-defense.”

Donohue and his colleagues at Stanford have also spent years studying the effects of “right to carry” laws (RTC) found “the most compelling evidence to date that RTC laws are associated with significant increases in violent crime – particularly for aggravated assault.” Additionally, they report, the Uniform Crime Reports from 1979-2012 show that, “on average, the 33 states that adopted RTC laws over this period experienced violent crime rates that are 4%-19% higher after ten years than if they had not adopted these laws.”

Third, most other advanced nations make it harder for people to obtain a Glock semiautomatic handgun “or any other kind of firearm.” Donohue lists some examples of other countries that have tighter gun regulations than the U.S. and have much lower violent crime rates. The lesson: Other countries have proven they can protect the public safety with more strict gun regulations – and the U.S. should learn from them.

        Germany: To buy a gun, anyone under the age of 25 has to pass a psychiatric evaluation (presumably 21-year-old Dylann Roof would have failed).

        Finland: Handgun license applicants are only allowed to purchase firearms if they can prove they are active members of regulated shooting clubs. Before they can get a gun, applicants must pass an aptitude test, submit to a police interview, and show they have a proper gun storage unit.

        Italy: To secure a gun permit, one must establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm and pass a background check considering both criminal and mental health records (again, presumably Dylann Roof would have failed).

        France: Firearms applicants must have no criminal record and pass a background check that considers the reason for the gun purchase and evaluates the criminal, mental, and health records of the applicant. (Dylann Roof would presumably have failed in this process).

        United Kingdom and Japan: Handguns are illegal for private citizens.

There are other sources that support Donohue’s international comparisons. Audrey Carlsen and Sahil Chinoy report in an article for the New York Times that is more difficult in all other listed countries for citizens to obtain a weapon legally than in the United States (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/02/world/international-gun-laws.html?_r=0).

And Juliette Jowit and Sandra Laville in London, Calla Wahlquist in Port Arthur, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Lois Beckett in New York report that “The United States’s gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/mar/15/so-america-this-is-how-you-do-gun-control).

Fourth, according to Donohue, “Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996.” Prior to that year, there had been 13 mass shootings. The turning point came with “the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, in which a gunman killed 35 individuals using semiautomatic weapons.” The conservative government then introduced and succeeded in implementing tough new gun laws, including the banning of a large array of weapons and the imposition of a mandatory gun buy back. The murder rate fell dramatically and there has not been a mass shooting since 1996. None. Thus, banning an array of high-powered guns did not lead to the loss of individual freedom but to an improvement in public safety.

There is other evidence supporting those who see an urgent need for greater gun regulation. Authoritative research documents how permissive state gun laws are associated with higher homicide rates. Joan Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams reports on a new, sweeping analysis on gun policy from the RAND Corporation that finds stricter gun laws reduce gun violence, “that laws to prevent children from accessing firearms can decrease suicides and unintentional injuries or deaths,” and “that universal background checks would lead to a drop in suicides and violent crimes.” In the opposite direction, Rand researchers found that “[c]oncealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws—both backed by the NRA—were also found to increase violent crimes” (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2018/03/02/what-does-research-nra-doesnt-want-funded-show-gun-restrictions-save-lives).

Add to the list the proposals to ban semi- and fully-automatic.

The NRA argues that, even semi-automatic weapons, even when equipped with bump stocks, should not be regulated. One way to contest this claim is to help others understand the extraordinary harm to the body that is done by the AR-15 and other military style weapons. When the bullet from one of these weapons strikes a person, bones and soft tissue are obliterated. Even if victims survive, they often have injuries to their organs and bones that will never be healed, often living with pain and disability for the rest of their lives. This issue is expertly addressed by Gina Kolata and C. J. Chivers in an article published in the New York Times titled aptly “Wounds from Miitary-Style Rifles? A Ghastly Thing To See” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/health/parkland-shooting-victims-ar15.html).

Connecticut: a model for gun regulation?

The states that have strong gun regulation are all “blue,” or Democratic, states, including, as mentioned earlier, states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and California, which also have the lowest gun deaths according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Anthony Brooks reports that gun-regulation advocates are looking to “Connecticut as a model for gun control?” (http://www.wbur.org/views/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws).

Connecticut introduced its gun reform law after the Sandy Hook Shooting, which, according to Wikipedia’s account, “occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, United States, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. Prior to driving to the school, he shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home. As first responders arrived at the school, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.”

The Wikipedia section on Sandy Hook notes that “Newtown is located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, about 60 miles (100 km) from New York City. Violent crime had been rare in the town of 28,000 residents; there was only one homicide in the town in the ten years prior to the school shooting.” A report issued by the Office of the Child Advocate in November 2014 is cited by Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting).

The report “said that Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome and as a teenager suffered from depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but concluded that they had ‘neither caused nor led to his murderous acts.’ The report concludes that ‘his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder’. Lanza used his mother’s Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle, shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school, and commenced the horrifying shooting spree.

About four months after the murders, on April 4, 2013, Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy, completed the signing of legislation that included “new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines,” according to senior reporter Anthony Brooks (http://www.wbur.org/news/2018/03/08/connecticut-gun-laws).

State lawmakers “expanded an assault weapons ban, both the sale and manufacture, including on the AR-15, and outlawed high-capacity magazines” with more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Brooks continues: “They required background checks for the sale of all firearms, tightened gun ownership regulations, and increased funding for mental health and school security.” Subsequently, crime fell, homicides were down, and “violent crime is down here more than anywhere else in the country in the last four years,” Malloy told Brooks. Gun rights critics in Connecticut criticize the law, arguing that a better way to make school safer is to make schools more secure (which is already a part of the law) and give teachers the means to defend themselves. There is little support in Newtown or in the state for arming teachers.

Concluding thoughts

This post offers a case for reasonable gun regulations. The majority of adult Americans want such regulation, though it is not clear whether a majority would prioritize their desire for gun regulation when they vote. The evidence documents that other higher-income countries have been successful in regulating guns and reducing gun-related killing and mayhem. There are some states in the U.S., “blue” states, that have effective gun regulations. Effective gun regulation is correlated with lower gun violence and deaths.

However, there is a powerful coalition of right-wing forces that are opposed to even minimal gun regulation. For them, opposition to gun regulation is only one part of a larger agenda. Inspired by the conman and aspiring-autocrat Trump, they not only oppose gun regulation, but also oppose the reproductive rights of women, while favoring severe anti-immigration policies, unlimited campaign contributions and doing their utmost to limit the votes of their opponents. It’s an old, but sad, story. It also has the flavor of incipient fascism.

The results of the upcoming November elections in November 2022 will tell us a lot. If the Republicans take control of the Senate or House, they will have the power, with the right-wing Supreme Court, to obstruct any policy initiatives from the Democrats and perhaps find ways to nationalize their anti-gun-regulation position and make gun regulations in “blue” states illegal. They can only be stopped if voters elect Democratic candidates to federal and state offices, along with pursuing educational and organizing efforts.

Right-wing forces positioned to end the right to abortion

Bob Sheak, May 20, 2022

Introduction

The right-wing political and social movements to end or severely curtail access to abortion are relentless and anti-democratic. Democrats in the U.S. Senate are unable to pass abortion rights legislation. The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court moves toward banning Roe v Wade. Republican legislators in states across the country continue to mandate laws that limit access to abortion and also increase the penalties on those who violate these laws. There is a long-standing, well-funded, and well-organized anti-abortion movement that extends its influence. And right-wing media spread disinformation about the realities of abortion.

The last chapter in this story has not yet been written. A majority of Americans support abortion rights or some of them. There is a vibrant reproductive rights infrastructure and committed people who are passionate in their efforts to educate and organize about the need to preserve such rights. The right to abortion protects women from the authoritarian and punitive interventions in their reproductive decisions from state officials. We will know more about how this will end up when the results of the November 2022 elections are known.

But unfolding events are worrisome.

The Right has momentum

#1 – Prevented abortion rights legislation from being enacted

The U.S. House passed the 2021 Women’s Health Protection Act on September, 2021, as reported by the Center for Reproductive Rights (https://reproductiverights.org/historic-vote-house-passes-womens-health-protection-act). The Center points out that this is “the first ever congressional vote on proactive, standalone legislation to protect abortion rights. The bill, passed by a 218-211 vote, safeguards abortion access from state-level bans and restrictions.” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, noted that the “House has stepped in where the courts have failed us. This historic vote is the first time legislation has advanced in Congress to establish a right to abortion. Now the Senate must act or the current crisis on abortion access in Texas could reverberate across large swaths of the nation.” 

The Senate Democrats subsequently tried and failed twice to pass the WHPA. In February, Nick Lacata reports, the legislation was “defeated by the Senate 46-48, with Sen. Joe Manchin joining the Republicans against it” as [he would do] again on the second vote (https://counterpunch.org/2022/05/16/the-buffalo-shooting-and-the-great-replacement). Then on Wednesday May 11, “the Senate, for the second time in 2022, defeated Democrats’ legislation [S 4132] to protect abortion rights under federal law. The legislation went down 51-49.

It was a long shot. Few analysts thought the legislation would get 60 votes to bypass a Republican filibuster and they were right. Joe Manchin (D-WV) refused to join other Democratic Senators in circumventing the filibuster through a reconciliation process, which takes a simple majority vote of 51. Nonetheless, Licata writes, “Senate Democrats pushed ahead believing not that they would win the necessary votes to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, but that it would rouse voters sympathetic to retaining at least some aspects of Roe to become involved in the electoral process and, at a minimum, vote for pro-choice Democratic candidates.”

Provisions of the Women’s Health Protection Act

The details of the legislation are printed by the U.S. Government Publishing Office and can be found at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-117s4132pcs/BILLS-117s4132pcs.htm). Here from this source are the core provisions of the Senate bill, its goals and what would be impermissible in the unlikely event that the US Senate passed the Women’s Health Care Protection Act.

—————-

EC. 3. PERMITTED SERVICES.

    (a) General Rule. A health care provider has a statutory right

under this Act to provide abortion services, and may provide abortion

services, and that provider’s patient has a corresponding right to

receive such services, without any of the following limitations or

requirements:

            (1) A requirement that a health care provider perform

        specific tests or medical procedures in connection with the

        provision of abortion services, unless generally required for

        the provision of medically comparable procedures.

            (2) A requirement that the same health care provider who

        provides abortion services also perform specified tests,

        services, or procedures prior to or subsequent to the abortion.

            (3) A requirement that a health care provider offer or

        provide the patient seeking abortion services medically

        inaccurate information in advance of or during abortion

        services.

            (4) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        prescribe or dispense drugs based on current evidence-based

        regimens or the provider’s good-faith medical judgment, other

        than a limitation generally applicable to the medical

        profession.

            (5) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        provide abortion services via telemedicine, other than a

        limitation generally applicable to the provision of medical

        services via telemedicine.

            (6) A requirement or limitation concerning the physical

        plant, equipment, staffing, or hospital transfer arrangements

        of facilities where abortion services are provided, or the

        credentials or hospital privileges or status of personnel at

        such facilities, that is not imposed on facilities or the

        personnel of facilities where medically comparable procedures

        are performed.

            (7) A requirement that, prior to obtaining an abortion, a

        patient make one or more medically unnecessary in-person visits

        to the provider of abortion services or to any individual or

        entity that does not provide abortion services.

            (8) A prohibition on abortion at any point or points in

        time prior to fetal viability, including a prohibition or

        restriction on a particular abortion procedure.

            (9) A prohibition on abortion after fetal viability when,

        in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care

        provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to

        the pregnant patient’s life or health.

            (10) A limitation on a health care provider’s ability to

        provide immediate abortion services when that health care

        provider believes, based on the good-faith medical judgment of

        the provider, that delay would pose a risk to the patient’s

        health.

            (11) A requirement that a patient seeking abortion services

        at any point or points in time prior to fetal viability

        disclose the patient’s reason or reasons for seeking abortion

        services, or a limitation on the provision or obtaining of

        abortion services at any point or points in time prior to fetal

        viability based on any actual, perceived, or potential reason

        or reasons of the patient for obtaining abortion services,

        regardless of whether the limitation is based on a health care

        provider’s degree of actual or constructive knowledge of such

        reason or reasons.

——————-

Republicans at all levels of the political system oppose abortion rights.

One thing is clear. Most, if not all, Republicans in the House and Senate are opposed to legislation that protects a woman’s right to an abortion. They argue that at fertilization the embryo is a “person” deserving Constitutional protection, that those who violate relevant laws against abortion are to be held liable for possible criminal prosecution, and that individual citizens are promised financial rewards when they successfully inform authorities about any effort by physicians or others to facilitate an abortion.

Licata adds: “If Congress, in its current makeup, is unable to protect the right of women to have some freedom over their choice in having a child, then the Democrats will have to focus on state politics. They must craft a message on abortion that will assist their candidates in select states to retain or expand the number of seats in that chamber.” The problem is that Republicans are holding their own in the majority of states, suppressing the votes of opponents, gerrymandering “safe” congressional and state districts, and passing anti-democratic rules to enable Republican state election officials to reject the popular votes when that vote goes against them.

Support for S. 4132, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights published a letter to Senate leader Chuck Schumer on May 10, 2022 (https://civilrights.org/resource/support-s-4132-the-womens-health-protection-act-of-2022/#).

“On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 93 undersigned organizations, we write in support of S. 4132, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. We urge all senators to vote in favor of the bill. The Leadership Conference will include this vote in its Voting Record for the 117th Congress.

The letter points to the mounting threats to abortion rights.

“This issue is one of grave urgency for the civil and human rights community and for people across the United States. A draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which became public last week, indicates that a majority of justices are prepared to overturn the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.[1] If the draft decision prevails, as many as 28 states could ban or further limit abortion in the near future, which would block more than half the people in the United States who could become pregnant from their right to an abortion.[2] We have arrived at this perilous moment after a decades-long campaign by wealthy and powerful interests to rig the judiciary and stack our courts with extremists,[3] including Supreme Court justices selected with the express purpose of overturning decades of legal precedent and ending legal abortion.[4] While this decision has not yet been issued and abortion remains legal in the United States, immediate congressional action is imperative for the ability of people who can become pregnant to control their own bodies, lives, and futures.

“By protecting abortion access from medically unnecessary restrictions that obstruct the right of all persons to obtain safe, legal abortion services, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) seeks to remedy and prevent the onslaught of state-level abortion bans and restrictions that cause significant and sometimes insurmountable challenges to receiving abortion care. These restrictions disproportionately impact the ability of low-income women and women of color to access health care, robs pregnant people of bodily autonomy, and threatens the economic security of families and individuals, many of whom are already struggling to get by.

Will the abortion issue help Democrats in November?

Democrats in the U.S. Congress think that it will. Here’s what Licata offers on this issue.

“Schumer had warned the Republicans that their support of the Supreme Court Justices’ banning abortions would cost them at the polls. On the Senate floor, he said, ‘the elections this November will have consequences because the rights of 100 million women are now on the ballot.”

Poll results provide some support for such optimism. Licata points out, “Polls have shown that most voters don’t want to see the supreme court overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that protected abortion rights. He refers to the following examples.

“In February, a Yahoo News survey found that most voters supported ‘a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to abortion,’ while only about 30 percent agreed that ‘states should be able to outlaw’ abortion.

“Polling for retaining Roe is surprisingly strong across the political spectrum. In a Fox News poll this month, May 3, most Democrats and Independents (both over 70%) voted to let it stand. Even 60% of Republicans were of that opinion.

“Another recent poll in May taken by Politico found that nearly 50 percent of voters want Congress to pass ‘a bill to establish federal abortion rights granted through Roe v. Wade, in case the Supreme Court overturns the ruling.’ And only about 30 percent oppose overturning Roe.

Support among the public for abortion rights is growing

Andrea Germanos reports on a May 2022 NBC poll that finds support for abortion rights at “new high” (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/05/16/evisceration-roe-looms-poll-finds-support-abortion-rights-new-high).

“Released Sunday,” she writes, “the survey of 1,000 adults reveals that 60% say abortion should be legal at least some of the time. Thirty-seven percent say it should be legal all the time, and 23% say it should be legal most of the time. That combined amount of support marks the highest level since the poll first asked the question in 2003.” Other findings of the poll include the following.

“Just 5% say it should be illegal without exceptions—a new low level of support for that position—while 32% say it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life.

“The poll also found that 63% oppose overturning Roe, 54% of whom strongly oppose overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision. In contrast, 30% support overturning the ruling.”

“The survey…was conducted this month after Politico published Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would overturn the abortion rights enshrined by Roe and later affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.” In response to the Alito draft, “pro-choice advocates held actions Saturday [May 14] in cities nationwide.”

Will they vote?

With so many important issues before the public, it is not clear how abortion will figure in how people vote or don’t vote in the November 2022 elections.

Pollsters from FiveThirtyEight periodically ask a sample of Americans about what issues are most important. In the most recent poll of 2,000 Americans, they found, as of the second week in May, that inflation is the most important issue for people (https://fivethitryeight.com/features/we-asked-2000-americans-about-their-biggest-concern-the-resounding-answer-inflation).

“At this point, the answer to what Americans are most worried about is pretty straightforward: inflation. In the first FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll,1 52 percent of Americans said the most important issue facing the country was inflation. We asked Americans this question in a variety of ways,2 but regardless of how we asked it, the top answer was always the same: inflation.

“It’s true that a larger percentage of Republicans than Democrats or independents in our poll said they were concerned about inflation. But inflation still led the way regardless of party identification: About two-thirds of Republicans selected it as a top issue, as did about half of all independents and slightly more than 40 percent of Democrats. Inflation was the top issue for respondents of all age groups and for both men and women, too. Now, some Americans did find other issues more important, though. For instance, 43 percent of Black Americans listed “race and racism” as a top concern, while 37 percent named inflation.”

What about the abortion issue? Out of 20 “answers,” the issue of abortion ranked a lowly 16. This low ranking does not mean that abortion won’t play a role in the November elections. Lots can happen over the next six months. As in the case of most important issues, it depends on how relatively effective pro-choice parties and organizations are, the resources they have to support political action and movement building, what issues at the time are absorbing public attention and concern, and how over the coming months the media treat the issue.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court moves to ban or severely limit access to abortions

Ken Levy, a professor of criminal law at Louisiana State University Law School, and Jody Lynee Madeira, professor of law and Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow, Maurer School of Law, at Indiana-Bloomington University, consider the dubious assumptions of the Supreme Court on the abortion issue, and particularly of the assumptions in the recently leaked Justice Samuel Alito’s “draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. If the court rules in favor of the Dobbs case and ends or severely curtails access to abortion, Levy and Madeira anticipate that it will “unleash hardship, suffering, and chaos for millions.” The court’s official opinion will be released in June (https://commondreams.com/views/2022/05/07/right-wing-supreme-court-about-unleash-hardship-suffering-and-chaos-millions). The law professors argue that the fundamental issue concerns whether Americans have a right to privacy and protection against undue interference by the political system in their lives.

Right-wing Justice Alito offers two reasons for this why he concludes that the Constitution  “does not explicitly protect the right to abortion, and the right to obtain an abortion is neither ‘deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition’ nor ‘essential to our Nation’s ‘scheme of ordered liberty.’”   

Contrary to Justice Alito, Levy and Madeira point out that “a right may be constitutionally protected even if is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, “not deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition,” and not “essential to our Nation’s ‘scheme of ordered liberty.’” They refer to a position taken by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court case, County of Sacramento v. Lewis (1998).

“‘[H]istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry.’ (Substantive due process is the doctrine that specific language in the Fourteenth Amendment — ‘No State shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law …’ — guarantees citizens not only procedural due process but also substantive autonomy or privacy rights.)  

“Seventeen years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Justice Kennedy offered a fifth criterion in addition to explicit constitutional text, history, tradition, and essentiality to ordered liberty: “The fundamental liberties protected by [the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process] Clause … extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs.”    

“Yet a sixth criterion was offered in Griswold v. Connecticut (1964): An ‘unenumerated’ right may be constitutionally protected as long as it can be reasonably inferred from rights that are explicitly stated in the Constitution.

“Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas [then in 1964] argued that the right of married couples to use contraception falls within a more general ‘right to privacy’ and that this more general right itself derives from specific rights explicitly stated in the Constitution: the right of free association in the First Amendment, the right of domiciliary exclusion in the Third Amendment, the right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures” in the Fourth Amendment, and the right against self-incrimination in the Fifth Amendment.   

“According to Justice Douglas, these specific rights of privacy are both more ‘secure” and more “meaningful’ if it is assumed that the Constitution does indeed contain a general right to privacy. By analogy, our First Amendment right to freedom of speech is more robust, less vulnerable to government intervention, if we interpret it broadly rather than narrowly — that is, if we interpret it to protect not merely the right to speak but also the rights to think, read, publish and teach. If thinking, reading, publishing, and teaching were not thought to be constitutionally protected — because none of these verbs is explicitly mentioned in the First Amendment — our right to freedom of speech would be much narrower and under threat of being narrowed even further.   

Levy and Madeira conclude: “While Justice Alito does not deny a general right to privacy, he also does not affirm it. This ominous omission leaves the right to privacy, and therefore all the specific autonomy rights that have been predicated upon it — not only the right to use contraception but also the right to interracial marriage, to gay marriage, to consensual sodomy, to non-nuclear-familial cohabitation, and to refusal of medical assistance — vulnerable to eradication in one fell swoop.”   

And at the state and local levels.

Here’s some of what I wrote in a post titled the “right wing’s assault on reproductive rights gains disturbing momentum” (https://vitalissues-bobsheak.com/2021/12/23/the-right-wings-assault-on-reproductive-rights-gains-disturbing-momentum)

—————

Since the landmark court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, right-wing forces have supported and passed into law a bevy of restrictions designed to limit the right of female teenagers and women to abortion.

Elizabeth Nash refers to documentation of the last point, writing that “a staggering 1,300 restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court protected abortion rights in 1973 in its Roe v. Wade decision…. It’s an astounding number, although many of these laws were blocked in court, most of them are in effect today” (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-rights-are-at-the-greatest-risk-since-roe-v-wade-was-decided-in-1972).

 In another article, Nash reports on a tally on abortion restrictions through the first 10 months of 2021 (https://guttmacher.org/article/2021/10/first-time-ever-us-states-enacted-more-100-abortion-restrictions-single-year).

“States have enacted 106 abortion restrictions so far in 2021, a year that has been marked by unprecedented threats to U.S. abortion rights and access. Not only is 106 the highest number of restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, but also this year is the first time that Guttmacher’s count of enacted restrictions has hit triple digits. Earlier this year, the number of restrictions had already surpassed the previous record of 89 restrictions set in 2011

Professor and writer Dana Greene Foster offers similar evidence from her in-depth book, The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having – or being denied – an Abortion (publ. 2020), and writes:

“Conservative statehouses have passed countless regulations, keeping abortion legal but rendering it all be inaccessible for many Americans who don’t have the resources to travel great distances to less restrictive states. Forty-three states ban abortions for most women after a certain point in their pregnancy. A third of states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation. And in 2019, at least 17 states introduced legislation that would ban abortion at six weeks into pregnancy or even earlier” (p. 2).

The Outcome?

How all this will play out depends in the final analysis on who controls the levers of power in government, that is, on politics and elections. Currently, the GOP, a largely pro-life party, is working in the states to suppress the vote of opponents, intensifying the gerrymandered arrangements in congressional districts, and changing the electoral rules to enable state legislatures to decide which votes to count or not. David Pepper, among others, documents these unabashed anti-democratic projects in his book, Laboratories of Democracy. The Republicans also benefit from a huge electoral base of support that has been galvanized, not created, by Trump, though it appears slavishly willing to follow his leads.  

—————

The consequences of ending or severely curtailing abortion rights – some examples

#1 – Overturning “Roe” Would Immediately Activate Abortion Penalties in 13 States

Justin L. Brooks reports on this fact in an article for Truthout on May 7, 2022

(https://truthout.org/articles/overturning-roe-would-immediately-activate-abortion-penalties-in-13-states).

Brooks writes: “Fueling widespread anguish over this week’s revelation that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned in the coming weeks is the reality that the end of Roe would immediately activate civil and criminal penalties for those who obtain abortions or assist people to obtain abortions in 13 states.”

These states have “trigger legislation… that contains both a substantive provision and a trigger provision. The substantive provision of the law outlines what the law would be if the court were to change any given precedent. In most states with anti-abortion legislation, the trigger provisions plainly state that abortion restrictions would take effect as soon as Roe is overruled. For example, Louisiana’s RS 40:1061, trigger legislation passed in 2006, bans all abortions without exception and reads, ‘… this Act shall become effective immediately upon, and to the extent permitted, by the occurrence of … any decision of the United States which reverses in whole or in part, Roe v. Wade … thereby restoring to the state of Louisiana the authority to prohibit abortion.’

“At present, many other states — Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah — have passed anti-abortion trigger legislation that awaits and anticipates the U.S. Supreme Court overruling Roe v. Wade. To be sure, trigger legislation does not have to be as explicit as the 2006 Louisiana law. For example, in 2019 Georgia passed HB 481, which bans all abortions after six weeks; it also criminalizes all attempts to obtain an abortion after the six-week cutoff. These criminal statutes are currently unenforceable under Casey, but Alito’s draft makes clear that the court would be overruling both Roe and Casey. This means that, after a person endures a six-week pregnancy in the state of Georgia, self-termination of that pregnancy would be murder, traveling to a different state to obtain an abortion would be conspiracy to commit murder, and assisting someone with obtaining an abortion would be conspiracy to commit murder in a post-Dobbs world. This is because under Georgia law, a fetus is a legal human, or a resident of the state. If it is not yet clear that trigger legislation eschews the rule of law, it is worth noting that it poses a substantial threat to the legitimacy of our representative democracy.”

Brooks continues: “If the court overturns Roe without condemning the trigger legislation, this could become the go-to strategy for conservatives who aim to overrule settled law. To be clear, by Alito’s rationale, there are other unenumerated rights that the majority-conservative court would likely hold are not ‘deeply rooted in the Nation’s history’ and thus do not warrant constitutional protection. These fundamental rights were created in landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (a 1954 case outlawing segregated public schools), Gideon v. Wainwright (a 1963 case guaranteeing legal counsel to anyone accused of a crime), Loving v. Virginia (a 1967 case outlawing state legislation that banned interracial marriage), Lawrence v. Texas (a 2003 case invalidating sodomy laws that effectively criminalized same-sex intercourse), and Obergefell v. Hodges (a 2015 case guaranteeing the right to marry an individual of the same sex), among others. To offer an illustration of this strategy in effect, the Arkansas legislature can pass anti-interracial trigger legislation in its next legislative session that states:

“Interracial marriage is prohibited in the state of Arkansas. This will take effect if and when the Supreme Court overrules Loving v. Virginia.” If the court subsequently finds that interracial marriage is not a fundamental right, then the substantive provision would become enforceable law in Arkansas.”

“If Alito’s leaked draft is indicative of how the court will rule in Dobbs, it should be clear to us all that the conservative majority of the court is not concerned with constitutional precedent or the legitimacy of the law. It is not concerned with democratic deliberation and whether state legislatures represent majority will. It is, quite plainly, a coalition of jurists who are members of an aggrieved political bloc.

They seek to do nothing less than to throw the U.S. democratic republic into further disarray, and trigger legislation only makes that process more expedient.

#2 – Disrupt the lives of millions of individuals and families

Kelly Hayes, The End of “Roe” Will Lead to More Family Separation and Child Disappearance, Truthout, May 12, 2022

https://truthout.org/audio/the-end-of-roe-will-lead-to-more-family-separation-and-child-disappearance

-Sophie Novack, A glimpse of a Political Post-Roe Future Through Texas Women’s Stories, Washington Post, May 15, 2022

(https://washingtonpost.com/magazine/interactive/2022/texas-women-abortion-stories)

#3 – On the assumption of “fetal personhood,” the state will allow medical interventions to force women to give birth

Rebecca Kluchin, professor of U.S. women’s history and history of medicine at California State University, Sacramento, argues that “if courts recognize fetal personhood, women’s rights are [and will be] curtailed,” and one outcome will be “forced medical interventions” (https://washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/12/if-courts-recognize-fetal-personhood-womens-rights-are-curtailed).

Antiabortion advocates have been highlighting the argument since 1973 right after Roe v. Wade was approved by the Supreme Court that personhood begins with conception and the creation of an embryo. Kluchin writes: “As soon as the court handed down the decision in Roe in 1973, antiabortion legislators tried to include a Human Life Amendment in the Constitution that said life begins at conception. If the court overturns Roe this summer [2022] as a leaked draft opinion indicates, antiabortion legislators probably will again try to solidify fetal rights at the federal level.”

Kluchin refers to the claim that “the fetus has rights akin to a child already born — originated in the mid-19th century, when Boston physician Horatio Storer led the first movement to criminalize abortion at the state level. Storer and his supporters referred to fetuses as children, and cast abortion as murder and women who underwent the procedure as butchers in need of strong patriarchal guidance.”

The next generation of abortion opponents – “white, male and Catholic –
began to invoke fetuses’ right to life.” By the early 1960s, “they explicitly connected this claim to the Declaration of Independence. Just a few years later, as they rallied to halt the liberalization of abortion laws in states across the nation, antiabortion activists expanded their movement by reaching out to evangelical Christians to help them secure citizenship for the ‘unborn.”

Forced caesarean births

Kluchin recounts a case from 1986 that “makes the violence embedded within the claim of fetal personhood and court-ordered medical treatment clear.” The case involved Ayesha Madyun, nineteen-year-old and pregnant for the first time, who entered the D.C. General hospital, waiting for two days after her water had broken because she lacked health insurance or the financial wherewithal to pay the hospitable bill for these days.” Ayesha entered the hospital only after “substantial contractions began.” But her labor stalled, because, as her husband Mustafaa Madyun believed, hospital staff kept “his wife to bed in a prone position, refusing to allow her to walk or even sit up and kept her attached her to a fetal heart rate monitor.” Sixty-five hours after her water broke, the chief obstetrics and gynecology resident John Cummings insisted that Madyun undergo a Caesarean immediately but was unable to persuade her. Cummings then turned to the courts. There was no indication that the fetus was a risk.

The D.C. Superior Court judge on duty that night, Richard A. Levie, rushed to the hospital to hold an emergency hearing. The lawyer assigned to represent the Madyuns had had less than 30 minutes to interview her clients and no time to consult Ayesha Madyun’s medical records before the hearing began at midnight. The court proceedings took place outside of her room, excluding her from participating.

“At 1:05 a.m., Levie ordered Ayesha Madyun to undergo an immediate Caesarean section. “It is one thing for an adult to gamble with nature regarding his or her own life; it is quite another when the gamble involves the life or death of an unborn infant,” he declared. Two appellate judges upheld the order via phone an hour later. At 3:30 a.m. Madyun delivered a healthy, six-and-a-half-pound baby, Ishaan, via Caesarean section. She likened the surgery to being raped.”

Ayesha Madyun’s case was not that unusual.

“In many forced Caesarean cases, obstetricians, hospital administrators or social workers gained custody of the fetus — while still inside its mother — and used their new authority to compel pregnant women to undergo surgery on behalf of their ward. The court orders expired immediately after birth, at which time mothers gained custody of their newborns.” Then in a 1990 case, In Re Ac, the court reversed its position, allowing “family members of incapacitated patients to make medical decisions on their behalf and supported a patient’s right ‘to accept or refuse medical treatment.’ This decision “significantly reduced the practice of court-ordered Caesareans.”

But, Kluchin warns, if “fetal personhood becomes a legal reality… efforts to force pregnant women to accept medical interventions, including blood transfusions and Caesarean sections,” will become the law of the land.”

#4 – Abortion of even the fertilized egg viewed as “murder”

Kaia Hubbard reports on a Louisiana law that makes abortion murder

(https://usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2022-05-06/the-push-to-make-fetuses-people-and-abortion-murder). This represents a shift in the goals of the anti-abortion movement. Hubbard delves into the issue as follows.

“Historically, the anti-abortion movement has been hesitant to punish women who choose to terminate a pregnancy, instead painting them as victims to the abortion practice. But recent developments may suggest a future where states pursue criminal charges not only against abortion providers but also against the people seeking them out.”

“The new bill in Louisiana, known as the ‘Abolition of Abortion’ act, is an even more concrete step toward criminalizing the woman rather than the provider by way of making a fetus a human being. The bill says it would ‘ensure the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings,’ going on to dictate that the consequences associated with the homicide of any person would be extended to an unborn child.

“The occurrence is also happening more subtly, in legal moves unrelated to abortion that sought to criminalize pregnant women for harming an “unborn child,” like in South Carolina and Alabama, where the state supreme courts have upheld convictions ruling that substance use in pregnancy constitutes criminal child abuse.

“In reality, the occurrence – of someone being charged with a crime for harming a fetus – is not unusual. As of 2018, at least 38 states had fetal homicide laws conferring rights or protections upon the fetus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While some of those laws explicitly set parameters around abortion, excluding it from homicide charges, others make no mention of the procedure. And the charges even appear to have become so prolific that a recent proposal in California would attempt to combat the prosecution of pregnant women for crimes related to pregnancy loss by allowing those who are pregnant to sue prosecutors for incorrectly charging them.”

“In some more recent legislation, the anti-abortion movement also appears to have turned its back on messaging that promoted the ‘health and safety of the mother’ by stripping bills of exemptions to the procedure that have been somewhat common, at least in recent memory: namely, exceptions for incest, rape and the health or wellbeing of the mother.

“Mississippi’s ban beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy, along with Texas’ heartbeat abortion ban and more recently bans that have been signed into law in Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma make no exception for rape or incest, despite pleas from those in opposition decrying the ‘decency’ of those exceptions.”

“In recent weeks, Utah’s Republican Party threatened to take things a step further, announcing that it was considering changing its official stance on abortion to eliminate language that supported exceptions not only for rape or incest but also another commonly held exception to abortion bans: to ‘preserve the life of the mother.’”

However, amid controversy, the Louisiana bill to classify abortion as murder has been withdrawn for the time being, according to reporting by Jessica Kutz (https://truthout.org/arrticles/louisiana-bill-classifying-abortion-as-homicide-receives-backlash-from-the-right).

“The legislation’s singular sponsor, Rep. Danny McCormick, removed the bill, titled the Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act of 2022, from consideration for a House vote after a proposed amendment would have stripped the most extreme sections of the legislation, making it more akin to a trigger ban already on the books.

“It’s unclear what the future of the bill is. The amended version specifically says abortion seekers will not be criminalized by the law, but abortion providers could face 10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine for performing an abortion at any time during a pregnancy, starting at the moment of fertilization. Those penalties would increase if an abortion was performed after 15 weeks. The law also exempts instances where a pregnant person’s health is in jeopardy, and clarifies that birth control, including IUDs would remain legal.

“The original legislation including the possible homicide charges for abortion seekers passed out of a House committee with a 7-2 vote last Wednesday. Though it failed to move past that, experts said even that step was a marked shift in the abortion debate.

“The measure had received major backlash not just from abortion rights activists but also anti-abortion organizations and politicians, including the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life. Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who is Catholic and has historically supported anti-abortion legislation, came out forcefully against the original bill, writing in a statement, ‘To suggest that a woman would be jailed for an abortion is simply absurd.’”

Abortion Pills Stand to Become the Next Battleground in a Post-Roe America

Pam Belluck and Sheryl Gay Stolberg refer to how abortion pills are likely to become the next battleground in a Post-Roe America (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/05/health/abortion-pills-roe-v-wade.html).

Pam Belluck is a health and science writer whose honors include sharing a Pulitzer Prize and winning the Nellie Bly Award for Best Front Page Story. She is the author of Island Practice, a book about an unusual doctor.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a Washington Correspondent covering health policy. In more than two decades at The Times, she has also covered the White House, Congress and national politics. Previously, at The Los Angeles Times, she shared in two Pulitzer Prizes won by that newspaper’s Metro staff. 

Bottom of Form

“Medication abortion — a two-drug combination that can be taken at home or in any location and is authorized for use in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy — has become more and more prevalent and now accounts for more than half of recent abortions in the United States.” The two drugs are mifepristone and misoprostol.

“For portions of the pandemic, the F.D.A. temporarily lifted the in-person requirement, then permanently removed it in December.” In addition, the agency said pharmacies could begin dispensing the drugs if they met certain qualifications.

“The agency is in the process of hammering out those qualifications with the two manufacturers of the drug, and reproductive health organizations said that some national retail pharmacy chains have expressed interest in being able to dispense the medication in some states, at least by mail.

Interest in the pills for medication abortions will likely rise if there is a ban on abortion. Belluck and Stolberg quote Mary Ziegler, a legal scholar who has written widely on abortion. Ziegler says, “Given that most abortions are early and medication abortion is harder to trace and already kind of becoming the majority or preferred method, it’s going to be a big deal. It’s going to generate a lot of forthcoming legal conflicts because it’s just going to be a way that state borders are going to become less relevant.”

In December [2021], the Food and Drug Administration made access abortion medications “significantly easier by lifting the requirement that patients obtain the first of the two pills, mifepristone, by visiting an authorized clinic or doctor in person. Now, patients can have a consultation with a physician via video or phone or by filling out online forms, and then receive the pills by mail.

“But,” Belluck and Stolberg continue, “many conservative states have already begun passing laws to restrict medication abortion, including banning it earlier than 10 weeks’ gestation and requiring patients to visit providers in person despite F.D.A. rules. Nineteen states ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. This year, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, listed laws against medication abortion as first among the organization’s ‘pressing priorities’ for 2022.

“‘In the last year, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas have enacted state-level safeguards to stop mail-order abortion drugs, and the Tennessee Legislature recently sent such protections to Gov. Bill Lee,’ Mallory Carroll, an official with Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, said. “In addition to creating health and safety standards, states are also increasing requirements for reporting complications from abortion drugs. We will be working with allies in additional states to tackle this growing public health threat.”

“Residents of states that would quickly ban all abortion methods if Roe were overturned — including Texas, Missouri, Utah and Tennessee — would be legally prohibited from having telemedicine abortion consultations from any location in their state, even if the doctor were located in a state with legal abortion. Such patients would have to travel to a state where an online, video or phone consultation is legal — the IP address of the computer or phone they were using would identify where they were located. Then, they would have to receive the pills by mail at an address in a state with legal abortion, even if it were a post office box or a hotel.

“Some patients are already doing this because they live in one of the states that ban the use of telemedicine for abortion. Some aspects of those laws are unclear, including whether patients who take the pills after returning to their home state are violating their state’s law.

“Several organizations, including Abortion on Demand and Hey Jane, now arrange telemedicine or online consultations and mail pills from one of two mail-order pharmacies that are currently authorized by the two mifepristone manufacturers to dispense that medication.

“‘But abortion opponents and states that outlaw abortion are likely to try to challenge or curtail the ability of patients to cross state lines to get the pills, legal experts said. There may be attempts by states that ban abortion to prosecute doctors and other health providers in states where abortion is legal, for example, or to try to block organizations or funds that provide financial help for patients to travel to other states,’ Professor Ziegler said.”

“States that support abortion rights are mobilizing to block such efforts. Legislation in California would provide financial assistance to patients traveling from other states to obtain abortions and increase the number of abortion providers. Connecticut just passed a bill that would prevent abortion providers from being extradited to other states, bar Connecticut authorities from cooperating with abortion investigations from a patient’s home state and allow Connecticut residents who are sued under another state’s abortion provision to countersue.”

“Because the F.D.A. has approved abortion pills as safe and effective and set forth a regimen by which they have to be dispensed, states are not allowed to do anything different, because federal law pre-empts or is supreme over state law,” said David Cohen, an expert in gender and constitutional law at Drexel University’s law school.

“But Lawrence Gostin, an expert in health law at Georgetown University, said there would also be a strong counterargument: that regulation of the medical profession is the province of states, which can therefore regulate what pharmacies prescribe.

“Reproductive health experts also predict that more patients will be ordering abortion pills from overseas, through websites like Aid Access — an international organization run by a physician that mails pills — a practice the F.D.A. has tried to stop.

“Professor Ziegler and others said it is hard for states or the federal government to stop or interdict the mailing of abortion pills because of the practical difficulties of tracking and identifying every such package.”

Concluding thoughts

America is under a number of internally generated threats to democracy. The anti-abortion movement is one of them. In this case, the anti-abortion movement that has used court challenges, protests, civil disobedience, and violence to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is advanced as well by the Republican Party, Trump, the majority of its Party’s electoral base, segments of the rich and corporate communities, conservative religious groups, and right-wing media.  

In the final analysis, the defense of the reproductive rights of women to obtain a legal abortion faces strong political headwinds. It is one of the highly partisan political battles that will determine whether America’s women will have reasonable control over their reproductive decisions or not. Normally, the outcome would rest on which side can most effectively educate and mobilize supporters and get them to act and vote. However, Republicans are doing their best to create electoral rules that will nullify the votes of the opposition.

So, in the final analysis, the battle over reproductive rights is tied up not only with legal arguments over the Constitution but also with the relative political power of the two major parties and their supporters

A militarizing world in the shadow of the Ukraine War

Bob Sheak

May 8, 2022

This post focuses on the Ukraine War and presents updated information and raises and addresses important issues. The main points are as follows. One, inspired by the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, the US and its allies are increasing military spending significantly, enabling the resistance to push back against Russian ground forces. Two, I refer to updated figures on the destruction, death, and displacement of Ukrainians generated by the Russian war. Three, I refer to the goals in the war of Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky and Russian head of state Vladimir Putin and the lack yet of meaningful negotiations. Four, I raise questions about the argument that Ukraine can win the war and drive the Russians out of the entire country. Five, Putin has said that he would, under certain circumstances, use nuclear weapons. I discuss the dangers. Six, I discuss the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and some allies, how they are working, the limits of sanctions, and how they gave a particularly severe impact on low-income countries. Seven, I touch on the reasons why Putin wants to basically annex the Donbas and the southern part of Ukraine. And, eight, what to expect in coming months.

US support for Ukraine is increasing

Support for increasing military aid, inspired by Ukrainian resistance

The Washington Post editorial staff captures the current dominant narrative regarding what the US should do directly to assist Ukraine forces in Putin’s “war” on the country. Putin refers to it as “a special military operation.” Whatever the name, the WP editors take the position that the US should not only continue but increase its military support of Ukraine (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/04/30/defeating-vladimit-putin-ukraine-war-requires-larger-risks). They, along with the US government and a majority of the public, are impressed with the resistance put forth by the Ukrainians, especially the defense of the capital Kiev. And it is clear that Ukraine needs ongoing and increased military assistance against the Russian onslaught. The assumption behind giving military assistance to Ukraine is that Moscow will not relent in its calamitous path. Therefore, the US and other countries must continue and escalate support for Ukraine now and for the foreseeable future, as long as the Ukrainians are able and willing to go on fighting.

It will be a costly and probably long-lasting war

The Washington Post editors write, “a longer, more costly military struggle looms. Russia’s aim is to push westward from its redoubts in Crimea and Donbas, eventually breaking through and encircling Ukrainian forces. Stopping this is the reason Ukraine needed an immediate infusion of heavy weaponry; actually enabling Ukraine to go on the counteroffensive later this spring and summer is the reason it will need still more in the coming weeks. Thus, President Biden’s request for $33 billion in new aid for Ukraine, of which $20 billion will be military, was not only appropriate but urgent, and Congress should respond accordingly. Coupled with the recent approval of a revived ‘lend-lease’ system, Mr. Biden’s proposal puts the United States in position to bolster Ukraine over the long haul.”

In an update on May 3 for CNBC, Amanda Macias reports that “President Joe Biden called on Congress to quickly pass $33 billion in additional U.S. assistance to Ukraine, as the war-weary country approaches its 10th week of fighting off a Russian invasion” (https://www.cnbc.com/2022/05/03/russia-ukraine-live-updates.html). She adds: “Biden’s latest military aid package of $800 million was announced on April 21, the eighth such installment of security assistance. It brought the U.S. weapons and security commitment to Ukraine up to $3.4 billion just since Russia’s late February invasion.” Of the most recent request for $33 military aid, $20 billion would be for weapons, with additional funding “to help Ukraine run its government and money for additional humanitarian and food aid.”

Spencer Bokat-Lindell notes that, if the $33 billion in requested aid is passed by the US Congress, the US will then have “authorized a total of $46.6 billion for the war, equal to more than two-thirds of Russia’s entire annual defense budget (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/04/opinion/peace-ukraine.html). European countries are also sending military aid to Ukraine. According to Bokat-Lindell, “France, Britain and other NATO allies have also scaled up their donations.”

Recent polls indicate a majority of Americans support the position of the Biden administration (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/02/poll-ukraine-support-biden).

The Biden administration’s current hope is that military support for Ukraine – along with economic sanctions – will ultimately make Putin realize that the cost of trying to destroy Ukraine as an independent state is ultimately too costly. However, it may take years, if ever, to reach such a turning point. Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “told the House Armed Services Committee that he expects the conflict in Ukraine to last for years” (https://thehill.com/news/3260171-top-us-general-says-he-expects-russia-ukraine-conflict-to-be-measured-in-years). And, sadly, if the war goes on as it has, what will be left of Ukraine? Putin seems bent on either subjugating or devastating the country, while controlling no matter what parts of the country. The US and allies support Ukraine to avoid such calamitous outcomes.

Spencer Bokat-Lindell reports on how the US involvement in Ukraine has escalated (https://nytimes.com/2022/05/04/opinion/peace-ukraine.html).

“In recent weeks, U.S. war aims have expanded beyond defending Ukrainian sovereignty, raising the stakes of the conflict even higher. After a recent trip to Kyiv with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, ‘We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.’

Bokat-Lindell quotes an article by Robin Wright, who writes that “the U.S. role has evolved — from a reactive response to Russia’s unjustified war to a proactive assertion of American leadership and leverage’ and that “Putin’s rhetoric has, in turn, become bolder and more aggressive. The war could now play out in many disparate ways,” according to Wright. “Each carries its own dangers — for the U.S. as well as Ukraine.”

Even nuclear war?

“One of those dangers, of course, is nuclear war. Last week, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that he viewed NATO as being engaged in a proxy war with Russia by supplying weaponry to Ukraine, raising the odds of nuclear conflict. ‘The danger is serious, real,’ he said. ‘It must not be underestimated.’

“Some analysts believe these threats are empty. But The Times’s David Sanger reports that some U.S. officials are indeed taking seriously the risk of Putin turning to stepped-up cyberattacks on Western infrastructure, chemical weapons or his arsenal of tactical, ‘battlefield’ nuclear weapons.” It’s one of the reasons, the US has avoided supplying Ukraine with the fighter planes or the weapons that would enable Ukraine’s army to strike targets in Russia. However, the US reluctance on this score may gradually lessen as the Russian military continues its destruction of Ukraine.

Russia has already caused massive destruction, death, and displacement

The Russian assault

In an update, CNBC’s Amanda Macias cites a senior US Defense official who said “Russian forces are carrying out about 40 to 50 missile strikes a day against Ukraine, with a high focus on the Donbas region and north of Mariupol” (https://cnbc.com/2022/05/04/russia-ukraine-live-updates.html).

She added the following information.

“The U.S. has observed Russian aircraft fly nearly 250 sorties over Ukraine, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share updates on the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“‘They are still hitting Mariupol and they are still wary of flying in Ukrainian airspace so they’re largely launching these things from outside Ukrainian airspace to the degree that they can.’

“The airstrikes are largely targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure, including electricity and railroads, according to evolving U.S. military intelligence. The official said that so far the strikes have not had an appreciable impact on Ukraine’s ability to continue the fight.” At the same time, “the U.K. defense ministry said Russia is probably unable to effectively discriminate targets when conducting air strikes in Mariupol [and elsewhere] because of its likely use of unguided free-falling bombs,” which also increase the risk of civilian casualties.

Physical damage and economic costs

The World Bank estimated on April 21 that Ukraine had already suffered “physical damage at roughly $60 billion so far,” as reported by David Lawder and Chris Gallagher (https://reuters.com/world/world-bank-estimates-ukraine-physical-damage-roughly-60-billion-so-far-2022-04-21). The Bank said that the damage will rise as the war continues. Ongoing news coverage of the war clearly documents that the Russian bombardment of Ukraine continues to be extensive and highly destructive. World Bank President David Malpass “told a World Bank conference on Ukraine’s financial assistance needs that the early estimate of ‘narrow’ damage costs does not include the growing economic costs of the war to Ukraine.”

In a virtual address to the conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

“told participants in interpreted remarks that Ukraine needs $7 billion per month to make up for economic losses caused by Russia’s invasion of his country.” Zelensky added: “we will need hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild all this later.” He also said that some of the money for reconstruction could come after the war from the “sanctions and freezes on Russian assets.” US Secretary Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, also attending the conference, agree that “Russia should shoulder some of Ukraine’s rebuilding costs.”

“Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who attended the conference in person, said “[i]f we do not stop this war together, the losses will increase dramatically,” adding that Ukraine would need a rebuilding plan similar to the post-World War Two Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild a war ravaged” continent.

Ukrainian deaths and casualties from Russia’s invasion

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 3,280 civilian deaths as of May 4, 2022, and 3,280 injuries (https://statistica.com/statistics/1293492/ukraine-war-casualties). OHCHR acknowledges these are under-estimates.

Other estimates suggest much higher rates of civilian casualties. Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko says more than 20,000 civilians have been killed in the city, according to a report on April 11 by David Child and his colleagues for Aljazeera (https://aljazeera.com/news/2022/04/11/three-killed-in-russian-attacks-ukraine-donetsk-liveblog). They add: “The mayor of Bucha reveals authorities in the Ukrainian town have found 403 bodies of people [in a mass grave] they believe were killed by Russian forces.” In addition, they write, “The United Nations demands an independent investigation into allegations that Russian forces have raped women and committed other forms of sexual violence.”

There are also reports of “mass graves,” identified by satellite imagery. Mass graves have been identified outside the city of Mariupol (https://cnn.com/2022/04/22/europe/mariupol-ukraine-inti-hnk/index.html), in Vinohradne, 7.5 miles from Mariupol (https://usatoday.com/picture-gallery/news/world/2022/04/26/mass-grave-sites-discovered-ukraine-grim-signs-death-toll/9538928002), and in Bucha outside of Kiev (https://cnn.com/2022/04/03/europe/ukraine-bucha-horros/index.html).

Displacement – to  where?

The BBC refers to estimates by the United Nations, as of May 6, 2022 (https://bbc.com/news/world-60555472).

The estimates indicate that over 5.7 million have fled their homes, with 3,143,550 going to Poland, 856,941 to Romania, 727,712 to Russia, 551,000 to Hungary, 452,038 to Moldavia, 391,592 to Slovakia, and 26,149 to Belarus. Unspecified, but much smaller numbers, have gone to countries in Europe, the US, and other locations. The BBC report notes, for example, that the “EU has granted Ukrainians who flee the war a blanket right to stay and work throughout its 27 member nations for up to three years” and “will also receive social welfare and access to housing, medical treatment and schools.”

Biden administration has rolled out plan for Ukrainian refugees, as reported by Maria Sacchetti (https://washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/04/22/biden-ukraine-refugees-resettlement-united-states). A month ago, back in March, “President Biden pledged…to accept as many as 100,000 Ukrainians, about 2 percent of the refugees, but the administration has not offered clear guidance on the process until now. Approximately 15,000 Ukrainians have arrived without permission over the past three months, mostly at the U.S.-Mexico border, senior administration officials said in a conference call with reporters Thursday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the new program.”

Sacchetti continues. “The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they are creating a new “‘streamlined’ program called Uniting for Ukraine that will grant most refugees ‘humanitarian parole’ to come to the United States for up to two years, as long as they have a sponsor willing to support them.”

The program “will provide an expedient channel for secure, legal migration from Europe to the United States for Ukrainians who have a U.S. sponsor, such as a family or an NGO,” Biden said.” Sponsors could be “ordinary citizens and organizations such as churches … but officials also warned that Ukrainians attempting to cross via Mexico will be denied entry starting next week.”

However, Sacchetti points out, “Ukrainians cannot directly apply to the parole program. Instead, starting Monday [April 25], U.S.-based sponsors such as private citizens, churches and civic groups may apply online to the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor Ukrainian citizens.” Many refugees applying to the new program “are expected to have relatives in the United States who could sponsor them, officials said. More than 1 million people of Ukrainian descent live in the United States, with significant numbers in states such as New York, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” There are also “organizations such as Welcome.US, an effort led by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to aid refugees, are expected to help, along with a number of Ukrainian American civic and church groups and ordinary citizens.

Sponsors “must clear background screenings and declare that they will support the new arrivals financially.” Additionally, Ukrainians must meet certain eligibility requirements, namely, they “must have resided in their homeland as of Feb. 11, just before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, and pass security checks and meet vaccine requirements.”

The UN also estimates that 6.5 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, that is fleeing their homes but remaining in the country. These estimates are based on research carried out by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) between March 9 and 16. So this estimate is likely to be higher now. “The IOM estimates that more than half of the people who are internally displaced are women, and many are deemed particularly vulnerable because they are pregnant, have a disability or are a victim of violence.”

The estimates also indicate that about “12 million people are…thought to be stranded or unable to leave areas affected by the fighting.”

The overall total of people in these three categories comes to 14.2 million. This is out of a total population of 41.5 million. Thus, about 34 percent of Ukraine’s population are refugees, internally displaced, or stranded. This is a mind-boggling, morally-wrenching situation caused by Russia’s destructive, law-breaking invasion. Bear in mind, the invasion was only launched on February 24, 2022, just over 10 weeks from ago (as of May 6, 2022). With no negotiated settlement in sight, the near-term future of Ukraine looks grim, that is, unless Ukrainian forces can begin to repulse the invaders. Otherwise, it may the war may continue.

What does Ukraine’s President Zelensky hope for?

Despite the vast military advantage Russia has over Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN’s Jake Tapper on April 15, as reported by Jeremy Herb, that Ukraine is not willing to give up territory in the eastern part of the country to end the war with Russia, and Ukraine’s military is prepared to fight Moscow’s military in the Donbas region in a battle he says could influence the course of the entire war” (https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/17/politics/zelensky-russia-war-tapper-interview-cnntv/index.html). Zelensky told Tapper that the weapons supplied by the US and the West are important but they need more weapons. He also told Tapper that he’s prepared to engage with Russia diplomatically to try to end the war but that Russia’s attacks [and negotiating demands] on Ukrainians make it harder to do.”

The question continues to be whether Russia will ever agree to stop its war and negotiate. Right now, the terms that Russia might accept (see in the next section) appear to be unacceptable to the Ukrainian government. In the absence of a Ukrainian victory in the war and in the absence of viable negotiations, the unmitigated and law-breaking destruction by the Russian forces is ongoing.

What does Putin want?

Bogat-Lindell refers to what Russia sees as possible grounds for a negotiated settlement. It would give Russia control of large areas of the eastern and southern parts of the country. “In March,” he writes, “the Kremlin said it would halt its assault on Ukraine if Kyiv met several conditions: commit to never join NATO; rid itself of any weapons that could pose a threat to Russia; recognize the annexed Crimean Peninsula as Russian territory; and recognize Ukraine’s Russian-occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics.”

Bogat-Lindell recognizes the desirability of a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia, but Russia’s terms are harsh.

He also raises another issue, namely, that, while the Russian attacks continue, the US should enter into parallel negotiations with the Kremlin to resolve the issues involving NATO expansion and sanctions and that such discussions might increase the chances for an eventual peace agreement that is less one-sided than now proposed by Moscow.

He continues.

“We can’t know for certain whether more rigorous U.S.-Russia diplomacy — including discussions surrounding NATO expansion and Ukrainian neutrality — might have succeeded in preventing Russia’s invasion,” writes Alex Jordan at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “We won’t know because it was — according to White House officials — never really tried.”

“NATO itself also needs to clarify its objectives, what it is willing to compromise on and how, argues Rajan Menon, a senior research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. Does NATO want to maintain sanctions indefinitely to diminish Russia’s power, or are there conditions it could meet to lift them? ‘It is within Putin’s power to wind down this war,’ he writes, ‘but what NATO does matters as well.’

“And if the goal is still a negotiated settlement, ‘We need to find a way of somehow discreetly conveying to the Russians that we would be willing to ease sanctions,’ George Beebe, a former chief of Russia analysis for the C.I.A., said. ‘The military aid to Ukraine could also be used as leverage.’

“Don’t give up completely on diplomacy. Even though U.S.-Russia relations are at a nadir, Fred Kaplan points out in Slate that the two countries still managed to carry out an elaborately planned prisoner exchange last week.”

An argument that says Ukraine can win the war

There are also analysts who think Ukraine can eventually defeat the Russians. In a column for the Washington Post, Max Boot argues that “Ukraine can win” (https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/02/west-should-not-fear-russia-escalation-threat-urkaine-war). If the Ukrainian forces with foreign military aid can defeat the Russians on the battlefield, then the need for a negotiated agreement would be irrelevant. Boot sees this as a possibility.

He points out that the Russians have already lost the battle of Kyiv. Now Vladimir Putin “is trying to salvage military success in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. His army’s progress has been ‘slow and uneven,’ and that’s even before all of the heavy weaponry committed by the West reaches the defenders. Once the Ukrainian armed forces incorporate all of their new equipment, they should be poised to launch a counteroffensive that could regain lost territory.”

In the absence of Russian military progress in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, Putin could “announce an expanded war effort in Ukraine. Having previously tried to pass off the invasion as a ‘special military operation,’ he could now declare war and announce a total, World War II-style mobilization. He might imagine that he could crush Ukraine with vastly more tanks and troops. But that will risk social unrest [in Russia] and still probably won’t deliver victory.”

Boot argues that Russia does not have a strong enough military to succeed even if he declares the conflict to be a full-blown war. He questions whether Russia has enough well-trained troops to advance the war, or enough up-dated equipment for such an invading army, or the logistical know how to continuously supply such a force. He also argues that Putin is not unhinged enough to employ nuclear weapons On the capabilities of the Russian military, Boot writes:

“On paper, Russia has more than 2 million former servicemen in reserve, but, according to the Institute for the Study of War, few of them receive any refresher training. A 2019 Rand report found that only 4,000 to 5,000 reservists would be considered comparable to U.S. National Guard or reserve members. The defense ministry launched an initiative in 2021 to expand the reserves to 80,000 to 100,000 troops, but there is no indication that this ambitious objective is being achieved.”

Furthermore:

“Even if Russia were to throw vast numbers of ill-trained conscripts into battle, it would have difficulty equipping them. The Russians claim to have more than 10,000 tanks and 36,000 other armored vehicles in storage, but most are likely antiquated and dilapidated. Russia is losing its best military equipment in Ukraine and will find it hard to field replacements. Western sanctions are strangling Russian military production lines by stopping the flow of microchips.”

As already noted, Boot does not think Putin would resort to using nuclear weapons, though, if and when Russia is losing the war, the Russian leader might order the use of “nuclear weapons against Ukrainian bases or population centers,” implying the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Even then, Boot argues, “NATO could launch [non-nuclear] airstrikes that would rapidly sink the entire Russian Black Sea fleet and destroy much of the Russian army in and around Ukraine. That would shake Putin’s criminal regime to its foundations.”

Questions

Boot’s argument for winning the war assume that the Russian army will ultimately be defeated by Ukrainian forces and driven out of the country. Indeed, Ukrainians have done better so far in the ground war than expected, with increasing support from the US and its allies. But Boot’s argument may under-estimate the impact of the sheer size of the Russian military forces, the large population it can draw on for recruits, however ill prepared, and the fact that, with its air force, artillery, naval and submarine lunched bombs and missiles, it has been able to deliver a level of destruction, death and displacement not seen in Europe since WWII.

There is also a good chance that Putin will further escalate the war, increasingly targeting the railroads, roads and bridges by which weapons are brought from Poland and elsewhere into Ukraine. Tom Nichols writes this:

“…Putin might call for a final push to overwhelm the Ukrainians by throwing men and machines into a meat grinder. This war was a deluded scheme hatched in Putin’s COVID-isolated bubble, and even now Putin seems truly unable to understand the disaster he’s unleashed on Ukraine and the damage he’s done to Russia. Advised by a tight circle of hawks—some of whom will fear getting tagged with blame if things continue to deteriorate—he might see doubling down as a realistic option” (https://theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/05/putin-speech-may-9-victory-day-russia/629742).

Tactical nuclear weapons – a misnomer

It is also important that all sides understand the meaning and terrible consequences of the use of “tactical nuclear weapons.” Boot seems somewhat blasé about such a potential situation.  

Nina Tannenwald, who teaches international relations in the Political Science Department at Brown University and has published on the non-use of nuclear weapons since 1945, worries about how Putin would respond to a situation in which Russia is losing the war in Ukraine (https://scientificamerican.com/article/limited-tactical-weapons-would-be-catastrophic).

Putin already “has given orders to increase the alert level of Russia’s nuclear forces and has made veiled nuclear threats. The blatant aggression against Ukraine has shocked Europe and the world. The war is a tragedy for Ukraine. It also exposes the limits of the West’s reliance on nuclear deterrence,” or the idea “that possessing nuclear weapons protects a nation from attack, through the threat of overwhelming retaliation. This concept is widely credited for helping prevent war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.” However, Putin now is ignoring the old idea of “deterrence” and threatening to use at least tactical nuclear weapons if his forces are losing the war. Tannenwald reminds us that nuclear weapons, smaller or larger, are more destructive in their impacts than even the largest conventional weapons. It may be that Putin is as naive about the effects of such weapons as Trump. She writes:

“In the world of nuclear weapons, tactical means an exceedingly large amount of explosive energy and strategic means even larger. Most nuclear weapons today are variable-yield, or “dial-a-yield,” providing a set amount of explosive energy that can range from fractions of a kiloton to multiples of a megaton. (For example, the U.S.’s newest version of its B61 nuclear bomb can release 0.3, 1.5, 10 or 50 kilotons of explosive energy. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb was about 15 kilotons.) Russia has about 4,500 nuclear warheads in its arsenal. Of these, the ones of largest yield—the “strategic” weapons—are deployed on submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“But Russia also possesses some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons kept in storage facilities throughout the country, developed to be used against troops and installations in a small area or in a limited engagement. Such weapons can be launched on the same short-range missiles Russia is currently using to bombard Ukraine, such as its Iskander ballistic missile, which has a range of about 500 kilometers. And these are not the only tactical weapons that could be deployed; the United States has about 100 nuclear “gravity bombs” (with less sophisticated guidance) stationed around Europe.”

Tannenwald’s major point: “No one should imagine, however, that it makes sense to use a tactical nuclear weapon. A thermonuclear explosion of any size possesses overwhelming destructive power. Even a “small-yield” nuclear weapon (0.3 kilotons) would produce damage far beyond that of a conventional explosive….It would also cause all the horrors of Hiroshima, albeit on a smaller scale [unless more than one tactical nuclear bomb was dropped]. A tactical nuclear weapon would produce a fireball, shock waves, and deadly radiation that would cause long-term health damage in survivors. Additionally:

“Radioactive fallout would contaminate air, soil, water and the food supply (Ukrainians are already familiar with this kind of outcome because of the disastrous meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986).

“No one knows if using a tactical nuclear weapon would trigger full-scale nuclear war. Nevertheless, the risk of escalation is very real. Those on the receiving end of a nuclear strike are not likely to ask whether it was tactical or strategic. In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on February 6, 2018, then–Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated ‘I do not think there is any such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. Any nuclear weapon used any time is a strategic game changer.’” Russian leaders have made clear that they would view any nuclear attack as the start of an all-out nuclear war.

“Especially worrisome is the possibility that the war could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. By increasing the alert level of Russian nuclear forces, Putin increases the risk of nuclear use through miscalculation or accident in the fog of war. In the worst scenario, if the war is going badly, Putin could reach for a tactical nuclear weapon out of desperation. While this is still unlikely, the risk is not zero.”

Tannenwald continues. “And increasing that risk is unacceptable. Although innumerable nuclear weapons have been tested over the years, not one has been used in warfare (or terrorism) since 1945. The 77-year-old tradition of nuclear nonuse—the nuclear taboo—is the single most important accomplishment of the nuclear age. It is a primary obligation of leaders today to make sure nuclear weapons are never used again. Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should stop threatening nuclear weapons. Other leaders should express shock and outrage, and make it clear that nuclear threats are irresponsible and unacceptable.”

She concludes: “This war will likely upend the European security order. It also demonstrates how little real protection nuclear weapons provide. The world would be better off without these weapons.”

What about the sanctions?

In a post I sent out on April 22, “The effects of Putin’s brutal invasion,” I wrote the following on US sanctions.

“There are other important issues stemming from Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. For example, the US and allied imposition of sanctions is a significant issue. The sanctions – and they are being increased over time – are designed to reduce the foreign wealth assets of Putin and Russian oligarchs, to persuade American and Western companies to leave Russia, to drive down the availability of products available to Russian consumers and undermine the Russian economy, to have Russia default on his foreign loan obligations, to reduce access to dollar-based currency, to induce Germany and other countries to make plans to reduce their purchase of Russian natural gas and oil, and to curtail agricultural and other export products from Russia. The New York Times provides an extensive list of the sanctions imposed by the US (https://nytimes.com/article/russia-us-ukraine-sanctions.html).

Here I present two different views on the effectiveness of sanctions.

Yes, sanctions are having the desired effect on the Russian economy

Jen Kirby gives a rundown of the effects of the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies as of early May and argues that are having the desired effect on “dismantling the Russian economy” (https://vox.com/23049187/russia-sanctions-ukraine-rubble). He writes: “The United States and its allies imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The swiftness and intensity of the penalties crashed the ruble, forced the Russian stock market to close, and sent Russians to line up at ATMs to withdraw dollars from their bank accounts.”

Despite the Kremlin’s attempt to ease the impact, “[t]he West’s sanctions are isolating Russia, cutting it off from key imports that it needs for commercial goods and its own manufacturing to make its economy work. That means high-tech imports like microchips, to develop advanced weaponry. But it also means buttons for shirts.” Kirby quotes Maria Shagina, a visiting fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“Russia is facing a deep recession, one the Bank of Russia says will be ‘a transformational nature.’ The Finance Ministry has predicted the Russian GDP will shrink by about 8.8 percent in 2022. Inflation is expected to clock in as high as 23 percent this year. Russia is looking at a looming debt default. All of this will mean hardship for ordinary Russians, who are already seeing their real incomes shrink. Some tens of thousands have tried to flee, especially those in tech, prompting a potential ‘brain drain.’ And these are the things we know; Russia will cease publishing a lot of economic data, a tactic, experts said, Moscow has used before to obscure the effects of sanctions.

The US and European allies are adding more penalties as Putin’s war continues. “The EU has proposed a phase-out of Russian oil products.” For the time being, however, Russia “is still exporting a lot of gas and oil, including to places like Europe, which gets one-third of its natural gas imports from Russia.” Eventually, the sanctions on gas and oil will intensify the economic pain in Russia.

“Oil and gas revenues help, but if sanctions against energy tighten, as with the EU’s proposal for a gradual oil ban, or Russia is forced to sell its gas on the cheap — or if the threat of running afoul of sanctions deters even the bargain hunters — the safety net frays over time. Russia has already said oil output is expected to decline as sanctions hinder investments and trade.”

The overall impact of the sanctions will be to increasingly isolate Russia’s economy over time. “Data from other countries has shown that it is already beginning to happen, as imports to Russia are crashing. For example, Finland’s exports to Russia are down 60 percent; South Korea’s are down about 62 percent.

Kirby refers to other effects as well.

No, the sanctions will not bring Putin to the table

Jeffrey D. Sachs lists six problematic and limiting aspects of sanctions (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/04/21/only-answer-war-ukraine-negotiated-peace-deal). He is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development.

“The first is that even as sanctions cause economic distress in Russia, they are unlikely to change Russian politics or policies in any decisive way. Think of the harsh sanctions the US has imposed on Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. Yes, they’ve weakened these economies, but they’ve not changed the politics or policies of these countries in the ways the US government has sought.

“The second problem is that sanctions are easy to evade at least in part, and more evasions are likely to emerge over time. The US sanctions apply most effectively to dollar-based transactions involving the US banking system. Countries seeking to evade the sanctions find ways to make transactions through non-bank or non-dollar means. We can expect a rising number of transactions with Russia in rubles, rupees, renminbi and other non-dollar currencies.

“The third and related problem is that most of the world does not believe in the sanctions—and also does not take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. Add up all of the countries and regions imposing sanctions on Russia—the US, UK, European Union, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and a handful of others—and their combined population comes to just 14% of the world population.

“The fourth problem is the boomerang effect. Sanctions on Russia hurt not just Russia but the entire world economy, stoking supply-chain disruptions, inflation and food shortages. This is why many European countries are likely to continue to import gas and oil from Russia, and why Hungary and perhaps some other European countries will agree to pay Russia in rubles. The boomerang effect will also likely hurt Democrats in this November’s midterm elections as inflation eats away at the real earnings of voters.

“The fifth problem is the inelastic (price-insensitive) demand for Russia’s energy and grain exports. As the quantity of Russian exports is reduced, the world prices of those commodities increase. Russia can end up with lower export volumes but nearly the same or even higher export earnings.

“The sixth problem is geopolitical. Other countries—and most importantly China—see the Russia-Ukraine war at least in part as a war in which Russia is resisting NATO enlargement to Ukraine. That’s why China repeatedly argues that Russia’s legitimate security interests are at stake in the war.”

The global economic shock of the sanctions

In the meantime, the destruction, disruption, and death continue in Ukraine, with the effects of the war reverberating around the world, as supply chains are disrupted and shortages of gas and oil, food, and important industrial commodities (e.g., computer chips) lead to rising prices across the world, with particularly serious economic impacts on people in low-income countries.

Democracy Now devoted part of its program on May 5 to the impacts of the war in Ukraine on food prices and access in low-income countries

(https://www.democracynow.org/2022/5/5/ukraine_war_causing_food_crisis_africa). Here’s their overview.

“This week U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres is in Nigeria, where he warned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is leading to a growing hunger crisis in Africa. A new report by Human Rights Watch finds the Russian invasion of Ukraine has worsened food insecurity, particularly for African countries that were already experiencing a hunger crisis. Russia and Ukraine are leading exporters of wheat and other grains, while countries such as Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda are among the largest importers. With climate change and trade stalled by the coronavirus pandemic, ‘all these changes within the availability of food has sent the food prices to new levels,’ says Lena Simet, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. Advocates are calling on exporting countries such as the United States and Canada to ‘open their markets, to not introduce export restrictions, and provide essential grains at an affordable price to humanitarian organizations,’ she adds.”

Patrick Cockburn, investigative journalist and the author of War in the Age of Trump, addresses the crisis-spreading effects of Putin’s war on Ukraine on global grain supply and access (https://counterpunch.org/2022/04/28/241051). He writes:

“In small and large ways, the war in Ukraine is affecting the rest of the world, but nowhere is its effect more devastating than on countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan, to name but four, which have been torn apart by decades of warfare. For them the Ukraine crisis is the final destructive blow for weak governments and societies that are barely holding together.

“Some 80 per cent of Syrians are rated as impoverished with many on the edge of starvation, while 12.4 million are described by the World Food Programme as being ‘food insecure.’

“Many are jobless or grossly underpaid after a collapse in the Syrian currency caused by harsher American sanctions in 2020 that established what amounts to an economic siege.”

Cockburn continues.

“The economies of these shattered countries in the Middle East and Africa were already close to capsizing because of endless military conflicts before the war in Ukraine began, but they are now close to sinking entirely.

“Catastrophic though their situation is there is limited international interest in their plight because world attention is fixated on Ukraine and what is fast becoming a proxy war between Russia and the US.”

Cockburn cites Matthew Hollingworth, the South Sudan country director of the World Food Programme (WFP), [who] says that of the 7.4 million people suffering from food shortages in South Sudan the WFP will only be able to feed 4.4 million because there is not enough money to pay for more rations.”

What to expect?

The Russian war in Ukraine is likely to continue for far longer than Putin expected in February, believing that Russian troops would face little resistance, be able to take over control of the capital Kiev, and then move ahead in to make the entire Ukraine a part of the recreated Russian empire. Nonetheless, it appears now that Putin will remain in power, despite the costs of the war, despite troop casualties, despite the economic hardship from the war and sanctions on Russia’s economy, Putin and his inner circle, and the general population.

Focusing on the Donbas

There are indications that Putin has modified his ambitions and would settle for an agreement that gave him control of the Donbas, having failed to make progress in other parts of Ukraine. Holly Ellyatt considers three reasons why the Donbas is important to Putin’s war (https://CNBC.com/2922/04/19/why-does-russia-want-the-donbas-region-so-much.html).

ONE, “Russia needs a victory,” and “the Donbas region includes two Russian-backed separatist ‘republics in Luhansk and Donetsk, in which Russian troops and separatists have been fighting Ukrainians since 2014.” Ellyatt quotes former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who says, “Putin has given up on his more ambitious goals completely,” and has changed the name of the war to “special military operation in defense of Donbas.’”

Putin and his inner-circle of advisers are now focusing their “efforts on the complete takeovers of key strategic cities in southern Ukraine and on the Black Sea, for example the port cities of Mykolaiv, Mariupol and Kherson. The latter two are almost completely in Russian control, despite pockets of fierce resistance from Ukrainian fighters.” Some experts and analysts also think that Russia is “looking to take over Odesa further up the coast to the west, although that’s seen as a much harder task.”

TWO, Russia wants a land bridge

There are economic benefits that come with the control of the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Ellyatt refers to two of them.

“Firstly, the Donbas itself is a heavily industrialized region known for its coal mining industry and large coal reserves that Russia could potentially access if it annexed the entire region.”

“And secondly, control of the region would also enable Russia to create a ‘land bridge’ to Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and which is a vital military and trading hub for Moscow on the Black Sea.”

ThreeRussian identity politics

Ellyatt identifies why. “Russia’s self-proclaimed defense’ of ethnic Russians in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (which are overwhelmingly Russian-speaking) has formed a large part of its justification for invading Ukraine. “The area is no stranger to conflict; the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics have been the location of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces ever since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Figures vary, but it’s believed that around 14,000 people were killed during the prolonged but lower-level conflict in the area.”

Concluding thoughts

The war will likely continue

Stephen Walt argues, “even if Russia achieves some limited gains in the Donbass, the war will accelerate its relative decline. Putin may prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO, but the long-term consequences of that achievement will leave Russia worse off as a whole. Unless he erects a new Iron Curtain, talented young Russians will continue to leave. State revenues will decline as more and more countries wean themselves off Russian oil, gas, and coal. Ukraine will continue to move toward Europe economically, a process that was already underway before the war began” (https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/13/ukraine-war-realism-great-powers-unipolarity).

US military spending will continue

The Biden administration with the support of the US Congress will continue giving Ukraine military support and continue the sanctions, with the support of most countries in the European Union and a few others. The war will profit US armaments makers and shortages caused by the war will contribute to inflationary pressures in the US and across the globe.

NATO will expand

NATO will expand, admitting Sweden and Finland as members and increase its military presence in Eastern Europe. This will intensify the Russian anxiety and anger. And it will likely lead to a renewed Cold War, which, in turn, will justify continuing large military budgets in the US, Europe, Russia, China, and other countries.

The Republican Party will use the war for partisan purposes

In the US, Republicans will do their best to use increases in military spending to defeat Democratic initiatives on domestic, social, and environmental policies.

The future of democracy in the US and around the world is under threat

The big question, then, is whether, in a divided world awash in weapons, and in a country increasingly influenced by a growing fascist right-wing movement, what will remain of democracy – and what will become of Ukraine?