DemSem

Dam begins to break on ridiculous Big Lie — even in GOP circles

Biden came out swinging against Trump on January 6th, which enraged the former president, but something notable happened. Few Republicans stood up for Trump. Many Republicans tried the delicate balance of condemning the insurrection attempt on January 6th but not the guy responsible for it by propagating the Big Lie. It seems some have finally had enough.

GOP Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) was fed up with Trump’s ego when he appeared on This Week. He said what every non-cultish person already knew: "the [2020] election was fair, as fair as we have seen."

This was followed by Mitt Romney, who will always stand up for what’s right--after someone else does it first:

Then Senator Kevin Cramer, Senator John Thune, and Senator Shelley Capito backed him. Even Trumpy Senator Ron Johnson said Trump lost---although he said it in private and was caught on tape.

I'm not giving much props to Mitch McConnell, who immediately condemned the Big Lie last year, but is happy to capitalize on the conspiracy to support state-level voting restrictions that he believes will help Republicans. Anything to hold on to power, I suppose.

Then I watched a Fox person pile on:

Everyone with the slightest degree of common sense knows Trump can’t handle losing. He said the Emmy’s were rigged; he said the popular vote in 2016 was rigged; and he even said Ted Cruz’s Iowa caucus victory was rigged. How you rig a caucus when the people are publicly counted in front of everyone remains unclear, but this was never supposed to make sense. No one ever explained who was doing the rigging, or how millions of ballots were fraudulent for Biden yet picked Republicans in all the down-ballot races.

Yet instead of believing that the guy who claims to get tweets from Korean War parents is lying, Republicans expect us to believe that all the poll workers, Republican state legislators, the media, Republican governors, Bill Barr, election officials, and all of the judges who threw out more than 60 fake cases--including the ones who were appointed by Trump--were all in a giant conspiracy to help Joe Biden beat Trump. The GOP leaders were so terrified of Trump they actually tried to make this plausible, at great cost to their reputations. Shame, however, is something you need to dispense with if you want to be a Republican official or pundit these days.

The GOP is turning on Trump’s Big Lie, but not because they suddenly got patriotic. These guys aren’t doing it because they want to save Democracy, but because, in Kilmeade’s own words, if “we simply look back and tell our people don’t vote because there’s cheating going on, then we’re going to put ourselves in a huge disadvantage.”

He’s right. The Big Lie may soothe Trump’s ego, but if the people he picks in the mid-terms lose and are told it was rigged, his cult-like followers will wonder what’s the point of voting. The only turnout depressed by the Big Lie is Trump’s own people. It’s a lose-lose proposition for Trump, but he’s too arrogant and dumb to change course. He all but said at an unofficial campaign stop that he’s going to run on his 2020 Election loss because that gets the “biggest applause” at his (increasingly sparsely-attended) rallies.

As Trump begins to lose steam, Republican leaders are finally beginning to break ranks. Trump’s cult seems to be open to following other authoritarian leaders, who Republican politicians hope next time won’t be as selfish and self-destructive.

How the Republican fight against high-speed rail in Florida exposes their grift

Florida is uniquely configured for a high-speed rail line. Major cities are at each corner of our vast state, and it's not practical to fly, so you must drive. Florida is essentially a bastion, with only one highway going in and out: Interstate 95, which is often backed up. In a hurricane, we are told not to even use the interstate unless absolutely necessary because it will inevitably become clogged.

After decades of ignoring citizen's initiatives and rejecting federal funds for a high-speed rail, a private company called All Aboard Florida has developed a high-speed rail line called Brightline. The company is so confident of success in Florida, it has poured billions of dollars into linking South Florida to Orlando and beyond. Right now, it only has one small line between Miami and West Palm Beach, which according to the CEO, ran at capacity with three times the number of passengers expected. The rail line has temporarily suspended service due to the pandemic.

Currently, Brightline executives are in negotiations with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to extend its line from Orlando to Tampa. This was the route of the federally funded planned high-speed rail line 11 years ago that former governor Rick Scott killed. Disney has also asked for a stop in Disney Springs, and is willing to pony up a handsome sum for it. Opponents, however, have made a special effort to ensure Brightline can't go any further. FDOT has given Brightline only until July 31 of this year to reach a lease agreement on the state-owned land set aside for rail, or the project to Tampa will be killed. Most outrageous, however, are the onerous terms imposed.

FDOT has demanded a long list of terms for Brightline to fulfill. At the top of the list is the requirement that Brightline conduct a study to figure out how many cars will be taken off of Central Florida's toll roads … and then punish the train for it.

A privately owned and funded company, Brightline must also agree to a method for compensating the state and the authority for lost toll revenues.

That's right. The rail line has to somehow figure out how many cars won't be using the toll roads, and then pony up the supposed difference to the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX). It was the very first two bullets in FDOT's letter to Brightline:

  • Agree that Brightline will submit a ridership and toll diversion study and analysis with updated traffic and methodology and documentation acceptable to CFX and Florida's Turnpike Enterprise;
  • Agree to the method that will be used for Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) and the Department to recover any loss of toll revenue due to the construction and operation of the Brightline system.

Think about how damned stupid that is. You might ask yourself how that is even legal.

Just keep in mind that this is Florida.

Our governor, Ron DeSantis, recently signed a law that punishes private companies like Twitter and Facebook for banning political candidates on their own platform—no matter what they say or do. (If your tech company, however, happens to own a theme park in Florida, you are exempted.) Even more recently, he signed a law that will require students and professors to register their political views with the state. As you can see, the Constitution and rule of law is pretty fluid in my home state when the GOP is allowed to run rampant.

It's bad enough to extort money from a private rail company to a toll road organization. Yet what's even worse is who will actually be getting that money.

If you live in Central Florida, you are most likely aware of the decades-long corruption at CFX. In 2013, a grand jury investigation found a "culture of corruption" at the authority involving gifts, campaign donations, bribery, and secret meetings. Then-governor Scott's pick for board chair, Scott Batterson, is still in prison for giving out millions in contracts to companies that agreed to hire his buddies.

The authority was originally created decades ago to pay for roads connecting Orlando to the coast, and once the roads were paid off, it was supposed to have been disbanded. That never happened. Tolls are still being collected, and the authority has grown into a behemoth. The millions in tolls collected goes to reconfigure existing roads and directly to the agency itself—but never to the community. The authority has high costs for lobbyists and marketing to ensure that it can continue the grift, along with the exorbitant salaries of its members. Asking a high-speed rail line to compensate for this is beyond the pale.

Yet this has been just one of many unnecessary roadblocks put forth. Republican leaders in several red counties, like Martin County and Indian River County, have so far sued to stop any expansion of Brightline, laughably claiming that they are concerned about safety. Indian River County spent $3.8 million of taxpayer funds in legal expenses since 2014, and even tried to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the train. Donors from Indian River Shores, one of the wealthiest cities in Florida, donated over $200,000 for the effort. Since "safety" is their supposed reasoning for opposing the rail line, on June 2 Brightline offered to pay over $31 million in safety improvements (additional gates, signs, horns, etc.) if Indian River County agrees to stop suing.

Brightline Map Planned route will connect Miami to Orlando to Tampa

Like everything else in American society, public transportation is seen through an ideological lens. Democrats push hard for high-speed rail funding, and liberal congressional leaders are demanding it be part of the infrastructure package because it has proven to "dramatically improve our environment, reduce inequity, and help grow cities and sustain vibrant downtowns across the nation." The positive impact on the environment is backed up by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that reports rail carries 8% of the world's passengers and 7% of freight, yet only accounts for just 2% of transport energy use.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a long history of hating high-speed rail. They decry it as "socialist," just like they do anything else that could help the average citizen. One of the most disingenuous and dumbest things George Will has ever written was that the goal of rail is to secretly modify people's behavior toward communist "collectivism." You see, cars can go anywhere, but trains can't. With that impermeable logic, I guess airplanes and ships are communist as well.

In reality, Republicans oppose rail because they get much of their campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, which have a strong interest in keeping us car dependent. Same goes with car manufacturers, which tend to be very loyal to the GOP. If you have any doubt, look no further than Toyota, which has defiantly donated more money than any other company to support members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

Sadly, people have been conditioned to accept traffic as an inevitable part of life. You have no other options. I love visiting Tampa from Orlando, but I don't ever go unless I absolutely have to. A rail line would make sense. In fact, land has already been set aside thanks to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is a Democratic House representative today.

In 2000, after years of conservative politicians in Florida refused to even entertain the idea of high-speed rail, the voters of this state forced them to act. They voted for a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that required the state to establish a high-speed rail corridor connecting the five largest urban areas. Instead of listening to the will of the people, the GOP legislature and then-Gov. Jeb Bush put forth another amendment to cancel out the first one—because that's how government works here.

A decade later, President Obama offered Florida billions to build a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa. There was absolutely no downside to this. The federal government would have picked up almost all of the cost, with the little bit remaining likely picked up by private contractors. It was win-win. Yet Rick Scott shocked everyone by killing it outright. Scott owed his political fortune to the Koch brothers, oil barons who founded an entire organization—the ironically named Reason Foundation—to fight against any kind of "socialist" rail lines. This foundation has a long track record of showing up with biased experts and studies every time a community looked into high-speed rail to help shoot it down.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker rejected $800 million in federal funding to build a rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, even though it would have fully been paid for. Gov. John Kasich turned away $400 million for a line that would have connected Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Coincidentally, the Koch brothers donated the maximum amount allowed to Kasich's campaign and $43,000 to Walker's campaign via the Koch Industries PAC. However, this paled in comparison to the amount of help they got from the Koch's super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

So Rick Scott rejected the federal funds with absolutely no study committees, no ridership studies, no waiting for construction bids, and certainly not listening to bipartisan leadership in Orlando and Tampa begging for him to just accept the money, Scott claimed he was opposed to government spending, even though the money wouldn't go back to the government coffers—it went to New York and California for their projects.

Now, once again, Florida is front and center for Biden's effort to drag our state and nation into the 21st century. Pete Buttigieg outlined why Florida is the prime candidate for high-speed rail, and is proposing an expansive infrastructure package that Florida leaders would be stupid not to take.

Just a reminder that our governor is Ron DeSantis.

It is highly unlikely that our Republican government will accept any funds to help along the high-speed rail initiative in Florida. Yet Democrats do have options. One thing the Democratic House can do right now is make it easier for high-speed rail companies to get private investment. Thanks to conservative efforts on the national stage, it is extremely expensive and difficult for private companies like Brightline to borrow money for these kinds of projects. Democrats have a real opportunity to break the logjam, and a very limited-time opportunity to do so.

If certain Democratic members can get past their obsession with bipartisanship, progress can be made. I say that because one party is ideologically opposed to technological progress, and I'm happy to provide examples:

  • America's lighting industry supported legislation to put more energy efficient incandescents on the market, but conservatives somehow made this a political issue about freedom to use energy-wasting bulbs.
  • Americans are decades behind all other industrial nations when it comes to renewable energy, which not only has cost us valuable jobs and technology, but is causing catastrophic environmental consequences as well.
  • Meanwhile, treatment of various injuries and
  • diseases have been stymied by baseless Republican opposition to fetal tissue and embryonic stem cell research.

Just imagine how far along America could be without the Republican party.

In China, there are 40,000 kilometers of high-speed rail. In America, before Brightline, there was essentially zero. (Technically, Amtrak's Acela line has portions that are high speed.) Despite having the necessary infrastructure in place and the obvious need, America has fallen so far back that we are now two generations behind in rail—and we will likely never catch up. While every other nation upgraded to high-speed rail decades ago, the GOP ensured our trains stayed mired in 1950s technology. Now, even the high-speed rail we are fighting to get is outdated, while Asian and European nations are experimenting with magnetic levitation. Maglev trains can go between 250-500 mph. We'd settle for Amtrak trains that can go faster than 40 mph.

Like the mask debate, a good percentage of Florida Republicans want to oppose something beneficial only because progressives point out we need it. Yet despite their rhetoric, they know that high-speed rail is not only necessary, but profitable. That's why there are so many private investors, including one Rick Scott.

Brightline Milestone



In May 2021, Brightline announced a major milestone, the company has passed the halfway mark for construction on its extension to Orlando. Brightline, the on...

Here are 11 ways to beat Mitch McConnell — even if Democrats don't take back the Senate

Ideally, if Democrats do their job up to and on Jan. 5, we will win both of Georgia's Senate seats, and secure a bare majority in both chambers of Congress. Coupled with President-elect Joe Biden, this small trifecta means, at the very least, that our government can still function. This is a big deal, since certain Republican senators have indicated that they plan on indefinitely blocking every single one of Biden's Cabinet nominees. Biden shouldn't waste any precious time trying to get the Republican Party to do the right thing, such as respecting the will of the voters. If he wants to get anything done, he is going to have to do it alone.

Hopefully, Democrats will take both Senate seats in Georgia, as this would be the easiest path for governance. However, it isn't at all necessary for Biden to get things done. There is a critical loophole that would prevent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from blocking votes—as long as Democrats are willing to use it. There's also plenty of things that Biden can make happen, and not a single Republican is required to participate. Extremists rule the opposition, so we must continue to rethink the old adage that bipartisanship is a good thing; the other side—either through sabotage or cowardice—is hellbent on undermining democracy and going all in with the politics of destruction.

But what if the Democrats don't win both Senate seats in Georgia? McConnell retains control of his chamber, and blocks all legislation and all nominees, leading to at least two years of solid obstruction. Game over, right?

Nope.

The Senate Majority Leader is a made-up position. It's not in the Constitution, or even in the Senate rules: The power of the Majority Leader is based solely on Senate norms and traditions. Since Republicans have decided those no longer concern them, then Democrats aren't bound by them, either, which presents a serious opportunity for the Biden administration. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution clearly states that the vice president shall be "President of the Senate," but have no vote unless the votes are equally divided.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is also the president-elect of the Senate.When the vice president is not presiding over the Senate, the Senate will choose a president pro tempore to preside in her absence. Tradition has junior members of the majority party presiding, but the president of the Senate can take control anytime. If McConnell refuses to bring up legislation, or refuses to hold hearings or votes on Cabinet or judicial nominees, then Vice President Kamala Harris has the legal authority to take control. She would then decide what comes up for a vote.

This would come in handy in a situation where, say, McConnell decides to go with the Ted Cruz plan to block all of Biden's Cabinet nominees. While the overwhelming majority of Republicans would back McConnell, sadly, not all of them would. A few, like Utah's Mitt Romney, know that not having qualified experts in top positions during a pandemic or a foreign policy crisis is dangerous. It isn't typically in the Democrats' nature to play this kind of hardball, but we've got a nation to repair—a nation we all know the GOP is now hellbent on destroying.

As far as appointments go, Biden has a lot of options, as helpfully outlined by Washington Monthly. Obama paved the way for the appointment of nearly unlimited policy czars, and Biden also has the ability to appoint "acting" positions for more than 1,200 agency positions. (Trump managed to do it for other positions, as well.) Perhaps most interestingly, Biden can use the adjournment clause, in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, to force numerous recess appointments. This technique would simply require the speaker of the House to propose a lengthy adjournment, of which the Senate can either accept or disagree. However, if the Senate disagrees, the refusal would constitute a "disagreement"—which means Biden gets to decide. This technique has never been used, but again, if the GOP is going to obstruct everything they can, Democrats better be ready to fight back—hard.

As far as legislation goes, if we lose the Senate, and can't get one Republican to do the right thing, there are plenty of things Biden can do by himself without Congress. The one thing Donald Trump did well was show us all how much a president can get done without Congress.

It's time to put on those aviators and play hardball, Joe.

The executive branch carries a lot of unilateral power, which presidents have been increasingly less hesitant to use: Think executive orders, federal regulations, and national security decision directives. Importantly, Biden has already promised on his first day to hit the ground running—without waiting for Congress. Here's a sampling of actions he might take.

COVID-19: Biden has promised to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by immediately appointing a "national supply chain commander" and establishing a "pandemic testing board" upon assuming office. It is very likely he won't be picking his children for any of those roles. Incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain coordinated the federal government's response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which is good, since Trump was keen on pushing out experts. Biden will bring the experts back, and put scientists back in charge, instead of political hacks. This is critical, since the CDC and FDA have suffered so much under Trump. This new leadership will standardize guidance and base it on facts. Biden could and should reinstate the pandemic response team that Trump dissolved, which would improve the federal coordination in the fight against COVID-19. With new leadership, Biden could work with the CDC, and even the military, to develop a national distribution network for the vaccines. He could use the powers of the Defense Production Act to manufacture supplies and equipment—which Trump didn't want to do.

Voter Suppression: Bill Barr's DOJ was not at all interested in fighting voter suppression. You can bet that whomever Biden picks won't have that issue. However, there is one thing that Biden can do immediately that would be a huge victory against the GOP's war on voting. The entire point of Republican voter ID laws is to make voting inaccessible to thousands of poor voters. That's because voters of color are the least likely to have a driver's license, given that they are more likely to live in urban areas which have adequate public transportation, and unable to afford a car. Furthermore, tracking down the documentation to obtain a driver's license can be time-consuming and expensive. Other valid IDs, such as passports, are even harder to get. However, giving people the option to add a photo to their Social Security card, which most people have anyway, could ensure that they're not barred from voting in the red states with strict voter ID requirements where concealed carry licenses are fine, but student IDs typically are not accepted. This is an easy directive with no congressional approval requirement.

Paris Climate Accord: Biden already stated he will bring the U.S. back into the Accord as one of the first orders of business. This pact is an agreement among nations to reduce emissions. Biden does not need the Senate to do so, because the Accord is an executive agreement; Biden just needs to send a letter to the United Nations stating his intent to rejoin. Furthermore, Biden can reverse the more than 125 environmental rules that Donald Trump overturned by fiat, such as rules on energy efficiency, oil exploration, and use of biofuels. There are other accords and agreements that Biden can rejoin on his own if he chooses to, but this is arguably the most important one.

Postal Banking System: North Dakota has a very popular public bank, but nowhere else in the U.S. does a government-run bank compete with private banking. Fortunately, President-elect Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders convened a task force to look into the creation of a public banking option, set up through the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Reserve, for low-income and middle-income families. Biden can set parts of such a system up without any legislation, such as USPS launching their own refillable, prepaid debit cards.

Student Loans: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that "President Biden can undo this debt—can forgive $50,000 of (student) debt—the first day he becomes president. You don't need Congress. All you need is the flick of a pen." Over 90% of the student debt in this nation is owed to the federal government. Biden can either forgive or eliminate the interest. Student loan debt is the only debt that you can't discharge through bankruptcy, thanks to a 2005 law. Educational debt is a massive burden to millions of people who are currently paying at least 10% of their income every month, and will for at least a decade. Forgiving it can provide much-needed relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overtime: The Trump Administration's Department of Labor allows companies to screw workers out of overtime, simply by classifying workers as managers. Dollar General is the worst offender, but there are plenty of others. Most likely, the workers you see helping you in these stores were classified as managers just so they can be forced to work extra hours without overtime pay. One ex-CEO of Dollar General faced no less than four class-action lawsuits over wage theft. That CEO became very rich exploiting this loophole. He is now an incumbent senator fighting to save his seat in Georgia—Mr. David Perdue himself.

Immigration: Biden still needs to work with Congress on pathways to citizenship, but he can do so much in this area without the Senate. This is an area where Trump was at his cruelest. Immigration in this nation has been virtually shut down, and refugees were limited to only 15,000 per year. Biden has already promised to raise that by over eight times the current amount. He has also promised to set up a task force to reunite those missing children lost under the Trump administration, and end the child-caging that Trump will forever be remembered for. Biden also vowed there would be no more Dreamer deportations, Muslim bans, workplace raids, or child separations.

Affordable Care Act: Trump did everything he could to sabotage Obama's signature achievement, but Biden can reverse much of the damage on his own. He can extend the enrollment period, increase advertisement spending, and repeal the IRS rule that workers must accept a health care plan from their employer, no matter how bad, if one is offered. Biden can also help states create their own plans—something Trump was not at all interested in—and lower prescription drug prices.

Cannabis: A Florida doctor prescribed opium to a friend of mine, who suffered tremendously in the hospital before she died. Cannabis would have been a better drug, but that was not a possibility. Such is the insanity of keeping cannabis a Schedule 1 drug, which means it is classified alongside heroin. There is some disagreement between legal scholars, but many, such as a professor Sam Kamin of the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law, assert that the president-elect can unilaterally reschedule cannabis through executive powers—he just can't deschedule it entirely. Rescheduling would make things easier for marijuana businesses, so for example, they could at least deduct business expenses with the IRS. While Biden can't deschedule cannabis—making it legal—on his own, he could order his Health and Human Services to run tests on the medical value of cannabis, which would help with descheduling down the road. He could also order the DOJ to not focus on prosecuting cannabis-related offenses.

Drug Prices: Two words: drug patents. The feds issue drug patents to companies, giving them exclusive rights to sell drugs for several years, at any price, before allowing generic versions to be manufactured. Biden has the option of "march-in rights," meaning that if a drug is being sold at an outrageous price point—which is more common than it should be—the government can seize the patent and issue it to generic manufacturers, in exchange for those manufacturers selling that drug at a reasonable rate. Although this would help the elderly on fixed incomes the most, it would also benefit everyone. Republicans would scream, but who the hell cares?

There's plenty more, such as restoring government unions, breaking up monopolies, utilizing municipal lending instruments for better access to loans, and enacting Wall Street reform—just to name a few. The point is that Joe Biden can do a lot on his own, and if Georgia's runoff goes sideways, he'd better get ready to do 'em.

Republicans will complain about everything on this list, and whine that Biden is doing things without them. So what? The American people no longer care what the excuses are for not getting things done. Trump went so far as to redirect benchmarked funding toward his own projects, and blatantly violate established law—such as the Hatch Act. He even disregarded court rulings, as with the Census and DACA. When Congress refused to give him the people he wanted for his Cabinet, he made them "acting in the role of" and dared somebody to do something about it.

Biden doesn't have to go as far as breaking the law, but breaking from norms and traditions to get his agenda through? You'd better believe it.

We need all hands on deck to win the Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, and you can volunteer from wherever you are. Click here to see the Georgia volunteer activities that work best for you.

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