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I’ve been on kleptocrat watch this week, and this morning I spent some time monitoring yet another villain’s speech at yet another billionaire soirée. In tonight’s issue of the newsletter, I’ll talk a bit about the revelations from that gross little lobbyist gathering and spin out into other important news stories that have broken this week, at every level of government. Everything in this country is political and everything is connected.
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After blasting out footage of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s vituperative and unhinged anti-worker speech to his minions in Seattle on Tuesday, today I watched a speech by an even more cynical and greedy hack: Kyrsten Sinema, speaking to a Koch-sponsored event filled with exorbitantly wealthy people who continue to pour their fortunes into trying to avoid paying their taxes.
The NFIB is one of those conservative interest groups that purport to represent small businesses but is actually an astroturf front for billionaire Republican mega-donors seeking to package their greed as advocacy for folksy, middle-class Americans. The NFIB received millions of dollars from the Koch political operation and is a member of ALEC, the right-wing network that’s responsible for all the voter suppression laws enacted over the past two years.
Hidden in her chipper robotic delivery were Sinema’s first comments on the December demise of Build Back Better. In short, she slammed the left, thanked the group for helping her kill the Democratic agenda, and reassured them that she’ll hold the line in the Senate as they continue to bilk Americans.
Sinema has fully refused to meet with the grassroots groups that got her elected in 2018, and a recent report in The American Prospect relayed that she hardly ever communicates with her Democratic colleagues in the Senate, either. She and Joe Manchin have long been the main roadblocks to any Democratic policy initiatives, but increasingly, they’re not alone in running to the right.
We’re now officially in the spring of an election year, which can only mean one thing: Democrats are transitioning from disappointing the voters that put them in office to trying to win over the voters that literally tried to burn the office building down to stop them from taking power.
Now, here I’ll note that this is not going to be a newsletter that just slams Democrats. I believe the Republican Party is a terrorist organization and have said as much for four years now. So just stick with me, there’s a larger point to make.
Not every Democrat is guilty of participating in this biannual scramble, and for some, the panic pivot to conservative cosplay is more situational in nature. But the trend is undeniable and, considering both the moral hazard and proven political stupidity of the move, very alarming.
Cops Won’t Love You Back
When he got into the Pennsylvania Senate race last fall, Rep. Connor Lamb did his best to present himself as a relatively progressive, pro-labor Democrat for the primary electorate. But voters saw right through the blue-collar impersonation, so after months of trailing by double digits in the polls to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (an imperfect candidate, but no corporate stooge), Lamb has pivoted back to his more natural self.
Now, free of that awkward false populism, he’s allowing his Super PAC allies to go scorched earth against Fetterman by using explicitly right-wing messaging. The ad — which had to be pulled because it was misleading — isn’t likely to work in the primary, but it’s almost tailor-made for constant rotation on Fox News. Lamb is essentially pulling the pin on a grenade that will blow up on the Democratic Party in November, long after he’s left the race and begun pursuing a job as a lobbyist.
Lamb will stay involved in Democratic politics, because he’s really only passing through a revolving door of the DC lobbyist-government-industrial complex. The entire system is powered equally by power and gobs of corporate money.
This week, CNBC broke the news that the Democratic comms powerhouse Global Strategy Group, was hired by Amazon to help lead the union-busting campaign in Staten Island. GSG has clients all throughout the Democratic Party, from Joe Manchin and NY Governor Kathy Hochul to Ed Markey. They are at the center of this rot, using polling to move Democrats further and further to the right.
Here’s a more pervasive example: For the past year, immigrant rights groups have been calling on the Biden administration to rescind Title 42, a typically cruel Trump-era CDC ruling that blocked migrants from seeking asylum in the United States and required them to be deported. The White House held firm on it for far too long, but finally recently announced that it will end the order in late May.
The change marks a victory for empathy and takes some modicum of authority away from ICE, but it triggered a freak out at Fox News, which conveniently decided that the border was under siege starting in late January 2021. So instead of embracing this rebuke of a cruel and racist Trump rule, Democratic senators up for re-election this fall have decided to come out publicly against the decision.
Arizona’s Mark Kelly joined Kyrsten Sinema in opposing the change, much to the chagrin of the Hispanic grassroots organizations that helped put him in office. Immigration is shrinking in importance among Arizona voters, who polls show to be much more concerned with the economy (housing prices are skyrocketing there), and the stance won’t do his base November turnout any favors. Neither will his turn against labor rights, which I covered last weekend, so it’s hard to understand what kind of coalition he’s realistically trying to put together.
Arizona’s position along the Mexican border made it impossible for Kelly to not take some kind of stand on the issue, but there’s no obvious justification for Raphael Warnock’s decision to oppose the change. The lead pastor at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church in Georgia has quickly become the Senate’s loudest and most eloquent voice on civil rights, acting as the conscious of an institution that has rarely chosen the righteous path.
“I think this is not the right time, and we have not seen a detailed plan from the administration. We need assurances that we have security at the border and that we protect communities on this side of the border,” Warnock said this week. “I think this is the wrong time, and I haven’t seen a plan that gives me comfort.”
Georgia Republicans have been seized by a right-wing fury over the past year, but Warnock and fellow Sen. Jon Ossoff won their elections just over a year ago by harnessing a multiracial grassroots coalition in a state that has experienced explosive growth powered almost entirely by people of color. By running to the right on immigration, he sends the message that he’ll capitulate to right-wing talking points when urged on by consultants. Already, activists are publicly decrying Warnock’s decision to throw immigrants under the bus.
Democratic leaders have been scrambling to appear serious about law and order since November 2020, when their least inspiring lawmakers and the most disconnected columnists began to blame the “Defund the Police” hashtag for underwhelming election performances dating back to 2016.
Less than two years after the Black Lives Matter movement seemed to have forced some kind of reckoning with race in this country, the Democratic embrace of police at the expense of their most loyal voters is happening at every level of government.
President Biden’s budget proposal includes record funding for police departments. The Democratic supermajority in the Illinois legislature is pouring money into police recruitment, retention, and benefits even as crime numbers fall. And nearly every major city in supposedly liberal California took vast sums of the relief money provided by the American Rescue Plan intended for Covid mitigation and handed it right over to law enforcement.
Don’t even get me started on Eric Adams’ psychotic reign of terror here in New York City.
Not all of these decisions were motivated by nervous politics — I’m not going to speculate as to why Fresno spent 40% of relief funds on police salaries — but Democrats are absolutely guilty of letting paranoia and a fundamental misunderstanding of both voters and Republican politics drive what are very real and very damaging policy choices.
Triangulation Is Dead, Killed By Cult Psychosis
The reality is that conservatives have long since moved on from their obsession with law enforcement; now, their ceaseless victim complex has convinced them that police officers are part of a conspiracy against the righteous revolutionaries that stormed the Capitol on January 6th.
Republican insanity metastasizes like stage four cancer these days. Last year, they progressed from attacking cancel culture to harping on “critical race theory,” and this year, they’ve quickly zipped from book bans to curriculum whitewashing, from asserting “parents’ rights” over classroom curriculum to asserting that LGBTQ+ people, teachers, Democrats, and even some Republicans are “groomers” and pro-pedophile. Their homophobia has been unleashed again, reviving the old trope of gay people as deviants obsessed with child pornography and trying to turn kids gay or trans or worshipping the devil or whatever.
Look at what’s happened in Florida. Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis banned the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools and disqualified trans kids from playing high school sports. This year, he managed to get the legislature to ban anything that might make white kids uncomfortable, then pursued a nightmare “Don’t Say Gay” bill that will have enormous repercussions for kids and teachers.
Once his communications director called anyone who opposed the bill a “groomer,” it quickly became a mainstream Republican talking point, used to tar gay legislators, teachers, and parents. And when Disney, under pressure from outraged employees, finally declared its belated opposition to the bill, DeSantis and the GOP launched a war on a company that regularly fills its campaign coffers in exchange for preferential tax treatment.
Just like that, Disney, a paragon of American nostalgia and traditionalism, transformed into a company of groomers, a den of pedophiles trying to turn boys into girls and girls into lesbians. The virus coursing through the far-right movement is rotting brains at a record pace, leading to shit like this and this and this:
Simply put, there is no world in which Democrats will ever be able to keep up with the right-wing outrage machine or outrun their accusations. They should forcefully point out their absurdity and hypocrisy — DeSantis, for example, is protecting a likely sex offender right now — but they can no longer triangulate. The goalposts move so fast that they are now just a blur.
Already, Republicans across the country are copying the “Don’t Say Gay” law, including in Ohio, where lawmakers want to combine it with a “divisive concepts” bill that would cram several kinds of bigotry into one law. They’re also electing psychotic true believers to school boards all across the country, including in key suburbs in key swing states like Wisconsin.
A Supreme Problem
It’s no coincidence that Republicans spent weeks trying to tar Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as some pedophile sympathizer with an agenda straight out of QAnon nightmares. Shameless hacks like Josh Hawley knew that they couldn’t derail her confirmation; instead, their real goal was to earn two weeks of nonstop media coverage of theatrics that inextricably linked a progressive Black woman with sexual predators and allow their base to write off Brown Jackson’s decisions as the work of a deviant.
Justice Brown Jackson’s confirmation on Thursday was a historic moment, and a long overdue one that should be celebrated for as long as it took to arrive. But Democrats largely abandoned her during those hearings, doing nothing to stop the relentless onslaught of idiotic questions. They seemed paralyzed during the assault, so concerned with maintaining a normal process that they didn’t notice the house burning down all around them (see: the filibuster). And now the newest justice will join a court that remains a bastion of far-right lunacy, at least in part because once again, Democrats won’t step up to the challenge posed by the most senior justice.
Clarence Thomas was once on the fringe of the Supreme Court, a radical ideologue grumbling at the decisions issued by the more mainstream (if still conservative) justices with whom he served. Now, he is the driving force behind a court that seems poised to return the country to the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow era. He’s also undoubtedly compromised, tied to the treason of January 6th through his wife Ginni and the vast right-wing political network that they share.
Democrats have shocked even me with their disinterest in pursuing any sort of real investigation into Thomas’s ties to the coup or pushing for any significant consequences now that they know that he has already tried to cover up that involvement. Joe Biden deferred to the 1/6 committee, a few lawmakers called for him to voluntarily recuse himself from just cases related to that attack on the very core of American democracy, and now some anonymous lawmakers are floating a “stronger response” that would ultimately consist of trying to make this supermajority of reactionary cult member justices impose a “code of ethics” upon themselves.
Needless to say, if it were Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s husband caught up in a fringe conspiracy to topple the government, Republicans would be talking about it so obsessively that they’d have to buy more cable networks to handle the flood of outrage. But Democrats are just ignoring this constitutional crisis and hoping it goes away.
Their inaction isn’t just a total abdication of responsibility and failure to do the bare minimum to protect the already imperiled rights of Americans, it’s actually an insult to all the people who volunteered, donated, voted, and invested their hopes in the Democratic Party.
Standing idly by as details emerge about how a member of the Supreme Court abetted a fundamentalist assault on the democratic process is pure cowardice. Whether it be from disinterest, debility, or delusional misunderstanding of power and politics, the silence is unconscionable.
No, their thin margin won't allow for Thomas’s removal, but speaking up and taking action would keep the story in the news, put pressure on the GOP, and perhaps force the expedited release of even more evidence. And who knows what would happen from there. Maybe it would force a few more sane Republican justices to think twice.
In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt was fresh off a landslide reelection and sought next to take on a conservative Supreme Court that had struck down several of his more ambitious New Deal initiatives. Feeling emboldened by his popularity, FDR announced a plan to expand the Supreme Court to up to 15 justices. The “court-packing” scheme was ultimately blocked, but it put a chill down the spine of many of the sitting justices, who suddenly started ruling in the White House’s favor much more often.
That’s how you use power to achieve your goals and tame your opponents. But both Biden and congressional leaders have steadfastly refused to even consider expanding the court, which has given these goons free rein to do whatever they want.
The Supreme Court issued a stunning decision on Wednesday, overruling a lower court’s stay of a Trump administration policy that allowed states to weasel out of parts of the Clean Water Act. The court’s rationale behind this very unusual and very significant blow to what remains of American environmental policy? It didn’t offer one — the ruling was made via the so-called “shadow docket,” which the court’s five most right-wing justices are increasingly using with impunity.
The shadow docket was intended to be an emergency measure that would allow the Supreme Court to skip extensive legal briefs and proceedings to block a lower court ruling that threatened to cause immediate, irreparable harm to the public. But over the past few years, it’s been transformed into a legal weapon for the right, providing a way for the court’s conservatives to act on ideology without consequence, imposing their cruel and unpopular worldview on the American people.
The shadow docket has become such a crucial part of their ideological assault that even not using it sends The last fall, for example, the court refused to issue a stay on Texas’s bounty hunter-enforced abortion ban, SB 8, which not only forced all clinics in Texas to virtually shut down but also signaled to other states that it was open season on a woman’s right to choose.
GOP legislatures have rushed to take them up on the offer, most recently in Oklahoma, which on Tuesday night passed a law that would punish any doctor convicted of performing an abortion with up to 10 years in prison. Just over three weeks ago, Wyoming Republicans passed a ban on abortions after just five days of pregnancy, when nobody knows they’re pregnant.
Thankfully, Democrats were able to block a total ban from passing the State Senate in Nebraska on Wednesday night, but should the Supreme Court dismantle Roe v. Wade as expected in June, the GOP could return for a special session to finish the job.
The Supreme Court also recently used the shadow docket to invite a new wave of attacks on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. By staying lower court decisions that had tossed out Alabama’s blatantly racist Congressional gerrymander, it told GOP states like Texas to begin filing challenges that could be terminal for the VRA.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey just signed a law that requires that people provide proof of citizenship to register to vote, a preposterous standard that’s incredibly hard to meet for people with lower incomes in particular. The law is designed to be challenged and land at the Supreme Court, where decisions are now predetermined far in advance.
So Now What?
There’s still time to right the ship. As I’ve written here, over and over again, Democrats could embrace their base, empower grassroots activists, and speak out forcefully against corporate greed.
They could force Republicans to own the disastrous housing market in key states.
But more than anything else, they have to wake up to the urgency of the moment, cast aside whichever soulless corporate consultants are telling them to chase a conservative movement that has left this plane of reality, and use every tool at their disposal to win back the public and stop the reactionary legal and political revolution.
That means pursuing prosecutions of the entire Trump cabal, challenging Clarence Thomas’s place on the Supreme Court, and taking on every other injustice they can find. Giving more money to cops and proclaiming things back to “normal” just isn’t going to cut it.
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