Kenny Stancil

Biden criticized for lack of transparency after refusing to publicize virtual visitor logs

While President Joe Biden has been less secretive than his immediate predecessor, watchdog groups—unimpressed by the president's ability to clear the low ethical bar set by former President Donald Trump and frustrated by the White House's refusal to release virtual visitor logs despite the ongoing need for online meetings—are criticizing the current administration for its lack of openness and urging Biden to prioritize government transparency.

Emphasizing that "Biden has fallen short" of his previous boss, former President Barack Obama, when it comes to "bringing transparency back to the White House," Politico reported Monday that "the White House has committed to releasing visitor logs. But it doesn't plan to divulge the names of attendees of virtual meetings, which are the primary mode of interaction until the coronavirus pandemic eases."

"We're in a pandemic," said Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and now a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, an anti-corruption nonprofit. "People meet by video conference instead of in person. Why offer to release visitor logs and then keep virtual meetings secret?"

Politico noted that critics, who want Biden to "do more to restore confidence in the federal government following Trump's chaotic term," also cited his administration's failure to share the president and vice president's schedules online, to reinstate the White House comment line, and to allow for citizen petitions on the White House website.

"And while Biden has received kudos for keeping the American public informed, primarily by resuming the daily White House press briefings, he has yet to hold a news conference of his own," Politico added.

Alex Howard, director of the Digital Democracy Project at the left-leaning Demand Progress Educational Fund, told Politico that the steps taken by the Biden administration are "insufficient to the moment and the need." Howard advocated "opening Cabinet meetings, disclosing information, and using political capital to emphasize that being 'open by default' isn't just an option but an obligation across the government."

As Citizens forResponsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) tweeted, "Being more transparent than Trump (the president who refused to release his tax returns) is a very low bar. Biden should go even farther to ensure that Trump's standard is not the new normal."

In the interest of promoting good government, dozens of civil society organizations—having recently sent letters to the White House that questioned existing practices and pushed for policy changes—are now insisting that Biden address the weaknesses in transparency laws that his predecessor exposed during his time in office.

As the news outlet noted, "That includes answering public records requests more quickly; publishing Office of Legal Counsel opinions; revising classification policies; and releasing logs of virtual meetings and physical meetings at other locations where the president and his aides travel."

According to Shaub: "We have now learned the system was too weak. And we've been through four years of having to battle tooth and nail to get any documents and we need [Biden] to set up new systems so the next administration will follow them."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced before Inauguration Day that the White House "would bring back the release of its visitor logs—a practice started by Obama eight months into his presidency, when the administration would regularly release and archive visitor logs for its core offices, with exceptions," Politico reported. "Trump discontinued the practice, though after a lawsuit he agreed to allow monthly publication of visitor logs for some White House offices, including the Office of Management and Budget."

"When Biden pledged to bring the logs back, it was seen as a reversion to the Obama norm," the news outlet noted. "But Covid changed the basic concept of White House visitation and has altered expectations around what should be revealed."

An unnamed White House official confirmed the Biden administration would not release virtual logs, telling Politico: "Virtual meetings will not be subject to release—in the same way that previous administrations didn't release phone logs—but we're planning on regularly releasing the attendee lists for in-person meetings at the White House."

Not everyone is buying the White House's comparison of virtual meetings to phone calls, given how virtual meetings have, for public health reasons, become a stand-in for in-person meetings.

One of the skeptics who thinks Biden should publicize the virtual logs is Norm Eisen, who served as Obama's "ethics czar" from 2009 to 2011. Eisen, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, recently edited a report (pdf) urging Biden take steps to rebuild faith in U.S. democracy in the wake of Trump's norm-shattering presidency.

"For the Covid era when so much is being done remotely," he said, "there should be an accommodation for that."

In addition, Biden has come under fire for his failure to restore the We the People page on the White House website, which was a popular citizen petition tool launched by Obama and discontinued under Trump. He has also been criticized for not restarting the White House comment line, an alternative to the website frequently used by senior citizens.

Despite taking "promising first steps toward transparency," said Anna Diakun, staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, "the Biden administration hasn't yet unveiled any broader plan to make good on its commitment to open government."

This Republican senator accidentally made a great case for raising the minimum wage

A story of the $6 wage he earned working in a restaurant as a kid blew up in the face of Sen. John Thune overnight after economic justice advocates pointed out that the powerful Republican's personal anecdote only goes to show that, adjusted for inflation, that seemingly low wage would now be somewhere north of $24 an hour—helping solidify the case that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 is the very least Congress should be doing.

"I started working by bussing tables at the Star Family Restaurant for $1/hour and slowly moved up to cook—the big leagues for a kid like me—to earn $6/hour," Thune, who represents South Dakota and is the second-most powerful Republican in the Senate, tweeted Wednesday night. "Businesses in small towns survive on narrow margins. Mandating a $15 minimum wage would put many of them out of business."

Several progressive critics quickly pointed out that, depending on the exact year when Thune, born in 1961, started earning $6 an hour, the seemingly modest wage he pulled in as a teenager would be equivalent to roughly $25 today.

A number of commentators noted that a senator's staff could easily verify the current worth of wages from the 1970s by using the CPI Inflation Calculator, raising questions about why they didn't.

Journalist Matt Novak suggested that Thune and other opponents of minimum wage hikes are well-aware of inflationary pressure on earnings and cost of living. "They just don't think people who make their food and clean their bathrooms deserve the same things they got," argued Novak.

While Republicans have based their opposition to raising wages on the notion that it would negatively affect small businesses, progressive Democrats such as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) have argued that "we don't want low-wage businesses."

"I think most successful small businesses can pay a fair wage," said Khanna. "I don't want small businesses that are underpaying employees."

Thune wasn't the only GOP lawmaker who failed to acknowledge inflation when objecting to raising the wage floor to $15 per hour. Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) based his argument against increasing the minimum wage on the fact that his job in the late 1970s and early 1980s paid for his entire college tuition.

"When he graduated from Kansas State University," journalist Timothy Burke tweeted, "tuition was $898/year. It is now $10,000/year. The minimum wage was $3.35. It's now $7.25."

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie provided the inflation-adjusted figures: "His tuition was $3,600/year and the minimum wage was $13.44 an hour."

In another tweet denouncing Thune, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an epidemiologist and Medicare for All advocate, drew attention to the fact that Thune "didn't have to keep bussing tables and raise your kids on that wage."

"When you were young," El-Sayed continued, "your elected officials hadn't spent the last 30 years peddling tired 'hard work' arguments just to give handouts to corporations, bust unions, and automate and offshore jobs."

Former labor secretary Robert Reich noted that Thune's comments provided an important lesson about the necessity of ensuring that minimum wage increases are tied to changes in the cost of living.

"Let's raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour," Reich said, "and then peg it to inflation."

Texas declared 'a failed state' as power outages and freezing weather threaten lives

Much of the United States is currently engulfed in a deadly winter storm on top of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the negative public health effects of this convergence may be most severe in Texas, where millions of people are endangered by a lack of heat amid record low temperatures and thousands of vaccine doses nearly expired in thawing freezers after the Lone Star state's isolated and underregulated electric grid was hit with widespread power outages.

As journalist Emily Atkin explained Tuesday, the jet stream "bringing frigid and dangerous Arctic weather to millions of Americans" is, like other forms of extreme weather, related to global warming. That's because, as Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Atkin several years ago, "all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be."

What's made Winter Storm Uri especially fatal in Texas is not only the arrival of an unprecedented cold spell, but the way the weather event is occurring in the context of preexisting social injustices like homelessness as well as how it is interacting with the state's underdeveloped infrastructure, inadequate planning and regulation, and lack of emergency preparedness.

Writing for Discourse Blog Tuesday, Samantha Grasso argued that "occasionally, something will happen in Texas to remind the people who live here that we live in a failed state."

Grasso explained how freezing temperatures cascaded into power outages causing millions to go without heat and water in the midst of a winter storm and pandemic:

While people began losing power Thursday, statewide outages spiked early Monday morning, after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the entity that controls the power grid for almost the entire state, announced a "rolling blackout," estimating outages around 40 minutes long in order to keep the grid from being overwhelmed. (The ERCOT, for what it's worth, was borne out of Texas' brainless reflex to buck federal regulation.) But by that time, it was likely too late, for a variety of reasons. Forty minutes turned into hours, and then days, with no real sign of when things will get better. After the power went out, so did the water, with several cities issuing boil water notices, or asking residents not to drip their faucets despite their pipes freezing, or even shutting off the water.

As Grasso noted, "It would be an understatement to say that ERCOT was unprepared for a cold weather crisis of this scale."

The rest of the lower 48 states use two electric grids: the Eastern Interconnect and the Western Interconnect. By contrast, in Texas, 90% of the state's residents rely on ERCOT. As Kate Galbraith explained a decade ago in the Texas Tribune, the Lone Star state sought independence from the national grids to avoid federal regulations.

While Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures have used the crisis in Texas as an opportunity to attack renewable energy for its alleged unreliability, The Daily Poster reported Tuesday that ERCOT attributed the blackouts to "a shortage of natural gas due to a drop in pressure and frozen instruments at fossil fuel and nuclear facilities."

"The fact that Texas deregulated its power grid in the 1990s could also be part of the problem," The Daily Poster added. "Electricity market incentives are currently structured in such a way that Texas' power companies receive more money if they don't weatherize all their plants and shut down some of them during cold weather."

Notably, the parts of Texas that are connected to the two national grids have not been devastated by power outages. In El Paso, for instance, "about 3,000 customers had power outages lasting five minutes or less when the winter storm moved in on Sunday," a local ABC affiliate reported. "As of Monday afternoon, only 12 customers were impacted."

Occurring as they did in the midst of a pandemic, the widespread power outages in Texas threatened to squander thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine, which must be kept between -13°F and 5°F. As the Houston Chronicle reported Monday night, public health officials in Harris County "hustled to distribute thousands of doses" after the storage facility lost power and "its backup generator failed."

NBC News reported Tuesday that "of the 8,430 vaccines, county health officials distributed 5,410 doses to five locations, including 3,000 to the Harris County Jail, 1,000 to Houston Methodist Hospital, 810 to Rice University, and 600 to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and Ben Taub Hospital."

"The remaining doses were salvaged," the news outlet added, "after Moderna advised county officials that the rest could be refrigerated and used for patients later that same day."

Meanwhile, mutual aid and political action groups were scrambling to provide resources and shelter to people "who were facing below-freezing temperatures without robust city assistance," Grasso wrote. "Though cities opened warming centers and shelters, facilities quickly reached capacity and weren't safe to travel to in the harsh weather conditions."

Reflecting on Covid-19, Grasso said that "Texas, just like the rest of the country, killed so many people because our leaders thought it more important to prioritize short-term gains than invest in people for a long-term gain."

"And through this mismanaged crisis," she added, "it will kill others, too."

By Tuesday night, at least 23 people had died nationwide, the majority in Texas, as a result of Winter Storm Uri, according to the New York Times.

'Outrageous': Big Pharma using loophole to get taxpayers to fund billions in fines for fueling opioid crisis

Four pharmaceutical corporations that agreed to pay a combined $26 billion to settle lawsuits resulting from a deadly opioid crisis they helped create reportedly plan to recoup a portion of those costs by deducting roughly $4.6 billion of the payouts from their taxes—sparking intense condemnation.

Big Pharma is attempting to make the public cover some of the fines related to lawsuits filed by dozens of state and local governments highlighting the culpability of opioid manufacturers and distributors in the deaths of an estimated 70,000 people per year.

As Public Citizen president Robert Weissman put it in a statement released Friday, "The drug companies are settling with taxpayers (local government entities) and then demanding that taxpayers pay part of the cost (via a federal tax subsidy)."

The Washington Post, which analyzed regulatory filings, reported Friday that "as details of the blockbuster settlement were still being worked out, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and the 'big three' drug distributors—McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal Health—all updated their financial projections to include large tax benefits stemming from the expected deal."

Weissman called it "beyond outrageous for the drug makers and distributors to take a tax deduction for their settlement of city and county claims relating to the drug companies' alleged role in creating and worsening the opioid addiction epidemic."

"Making this scheme even more infuriating," he added, "is that the opioid manufacturer and distributor companies are preparing to claim billions in tax subsidies via a Covid-19 relief provision."

According to the Post, "U.S. tax laws generally restrict companies from deducting the cost of legal settlements from their taxes, with one major exception: Damages paid to victims as restitution for the misdeeds can usually be deducted."

The newspaper noted that "Congress has placed stricter limits on such deductions in recent years, and some tax experts say the Internal Revenue Service could challenge the companies' attempts to deduct opioid settlement costs."

But the ploy might work, as The Week noted, thanks to the CARES Act, which "opened up billions of dollars in tax breaks to companies regardless of pandemic suffering."

The Post provided an example of how one of the companies may exploit the loophole: "Dublin, Ohio-based drug distributor Cardinal Health said earlier this month it planned to collect a $974 million cash refund because it claimed its opioid-related legal costs as a 'net operating loss carryback'—a tax provision Congress included in last year's coronavirus bailout package as a way of helping companies struggling during the pandemic.

"Whether the payments will be deductible may hinge on specific word choices in the final terms of the settlement," the newspaper reported. "Though recent changes to the tax code have attempted to close loopholes that permit companies to deduct taxes when they have committed wrongdoing, many companies now push to make sure their settlements include a 'restitution' payment for victims—the 'magic word' that often qualifies them for deductions."

"Greg McNeil, whose son became addicted to opioids and died from an overdose... said $26 billion is only a small fraction of the epidemic's financial toll and argue[d] the proposal doesn't include what many family members of opioid victims want the most: an admission of guilt," the Post added.

Not only do "all four firms disavow any wrongdoing or legal responsibility," the Post noted, but there is now a chance that Big Pharma could make the public foot part of the bill for its corporate malpractice—in the midst of the devastating coronavirus pandemic.

"While tens of millions of Americans are experiencing extreme economic hardship and dealing with intermittent and often inadequate governmental support for unemployment, food, housing, and small business continuity," Weissman said, "Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, Cardinal Health, and Amerisource-Bergen are laughing all the way to bank."

Analysis reveals Trump operation paid $3.5m to organizers of the rally that led to deadly capitol attack

A new political spending analysis released Wednesday shows that former President Donald Trump's 2020 campaign and its joint fundraising committees paid more than $3.5 million to the individuals and firms involved in organizing the January 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that presaged the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Investigators at OpenSecrets, a project of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that examines how money influences U.S. elections and public policy, analyzed recent Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings and found "newly identified payments... [that] show people involved in organizing the protests on January 6 received even larger sums from Trump's 2020 campaign than previously known."

The findings come in the midst of the Senate impeachment trial that will determine whether or not Trump will be convicted for inciting the violent insurrection carried out by a mob of his supporters.

Anna Massoglia, one of the campaign finance researchers who unearthed more than $3.5 million in direct payments from the then-president's political operation to the January 6 organizers, wrote that there are "unanswered questions about the full extent of [Trump's] ties" to the incendiary demonstration that preceded the pro-Trump mob's invasion of the halls of Congress.

"Recent FEC filings show at least three individuals listed on permit records for the Washington, D.C. demonstration were on the Trump campaign's payroll through November 30, 2020," Massoglia noted. "The Trump campaign paid Event Strategies Inc., a firm named in a permit for the rally that also employed two individuals involved in the demonstration, as recently as December 15, just three weeks before the attacks on the U.S. Capitol."

And yet, "because the campaign used an opaque payment scheme that concealed details of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending by routing payments through shell companies where the ultimate payee is hidden," Massoglia wrote, "the American public may never know the full extent of the Trump campaign's payments to organizers involved in the protests."

The permit for the so-called "Save America Rally," hosted by a pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First, "did not explicitly allow for a march from the rally location, which was near the White House to the Capitol," Truthout reported Wednesday. "But it does say that 'some participants may leave to attend rallies at the United States Capitol.'"

Despite their attempts "to distance themselves from the rally," the Associated Press reported last month that members of the Trump campaign "played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol... undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president's grassroots supporters."

In a statement shared with AP, Trump's failed reelection campaign claimed that it "did not organize, operate, or finance the event," and that if any former employees or independent contractors participated, "they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign."

The AP's review of records, however, found evidence to the contrary. Megan Powers, whose LinkedIn profile said she was still the Trump campaign's director of operations into January 2021, "was listed as one of the two operations managers for the January 6 event." And "at least three of the Trump campaign aides named on the permit rushed to obscure their connections to the demonstration."

According to Massoglia, demonstrating the full extent of the Trump campaign's involvement in the conspiratorial demonstration that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol is made more difficult by "the rise of shell companies and politically active nonprofits channeling money from untraceable sources."

She continued:

Trump's 2020 campaign and joint fundraising committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, spent more than $771 million through American Made Media Consultants LLC, according to new data analyzed by OpenSecrets. The secretive limited-liability company was created by campaign aides and members of Trump's inner circle to act as a "clearinghouse" to pay vendors, concealing the campaign's transactions with those vendors.
The FEC generally does not require campaigns to detail payments vendors make to subcontractors so long as the campaign does not have undue influence over the vendor and the subcontractor does not work under the direction or control of the campaign. But the role individuals in Trump's inner circle played in creating the limited-liability company through which the campaign routed millions of dollars raises the question of whether the company is truly separate from the campaign. The former president's son-in-law and White House advisor, Jared Kushner, reportedly helped create the limited-liability company and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, reportedly sat on its board.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed an FEC complaint alleging that the Trump campaign and its joint fundraising committee may have violated federal election reporting rules by "laundering" those funds and concealing details of the campaign's financial dealings...
The role of nonprofit "dark money" groups that do not disclose their donors in organizing the demonstrations on January 6 only adds to the opacity.

"Politically active nonprofits are only required to report limited information about their financial dealings in tax filings more than a year after activities take place—and may be able to keep their funders secret forever," Massoglia added. "The lack of transparency required of such groups means many details of who they pay and who bankrolls their activities can remain hidden."

Despite those limitations, the recent findings by OpenSecrets of explicit financial connections between the Trump campaign and the organizers of the January 6 rally that culminated in a coup attempt corroborate the case for Trump's conviction being made by the House impeachment managers.

As the House Democrats have shown, Trump told his followers for months that "their victory was stolen, the election was rigged," and then as Congress prepared to certify President Joe Biden's victory on January 6, Trump told a well-armed crowd "their patriotic duty was to fight to stop the steal," as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said.

The political spending data unearthed by OpenSecrets further substantiates, as Truthout noted, the arguments of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), and others that "many of the events surrounding the attack on the Capitol were premeditated, and that Trump and his team knew this and egged it on."

Regarding the FEC, "the sole federal agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance law," Massoglia pointed out that it "was largely powerless throughout the 2020 election cycle" due to a lack of commissioners. "With its quorum restored, the FEC can again vote on enforcement matters addressing a backlog of complaints alleging campaign finance violations."

"The possibility that a failed presidential candidate's campaign may have continued bankrolling operatives behind a rally that escalated to violent insurrection raises the question of how this could have been hidden from the American public," she wrote, "and raises the stakes for campaign finance transparency to a new level."

America 'should be ashamed': Texas teen forced to use college savings to prevent mom's eviction

After Alondra Carmona, a high school senior in Houston, recently exhausted all of her college savings to prevent her unemployed mother from being evicted, one media outlet on Tuesday tried to portray it as an "act of kindness," but progressives are emphasizing that the all-too-common story is an indictment of a deeply unequal society reliant on private charity as a result of policymakers' failure to guarantee livable incomes, affordable housing and higher education, and more.

"In February of 2020, my mom broke her ankle and was not able to work," Carmona explained in a GoFundMe ad she created to support her family. "Come March, the coronavirus started, which added to the financial problems we already had. Today, I found out that my mom has not had a job for 3 months and hid it from us. She owes two months of rent and will most likely get evicted in March."

"All of my college savings will go to paying the rent that we are behind on," wrote Carmona. "As much as I dream of going to Barnard College, it is not looking promising right now. I am turning to this as a last resort because Barnard will not be able to change my financial aid package."

While the performance of Carmona's online fundraising page suggests there may be a happy ending in this particular instance for the Barnard-bound aspiring scientist, critics slammed ABC News 7 for framing the story as a heartwarming tale of generosity rather than an opportunity to reflect on society's failure to meet people's needs—especially, but not only, during a pandemic.

Critics asserted that Carmona's effort—though undoubtedly selfless—is a devastating expression of how ordinary people, left behind by a government that caters to the wealthy while workers fend for themselves in a market-fundamentalist rat-race, are forced to suffer and beg privately—typically not as successfully—amid worsening inequality made even more intense by the coronavirus crisis.

"This is a heartbreaking story and one our nation should be ashamed of," said Julián Castro. The former Housing and Urban Development secretary also pointed out that if the federal government refuses to deliver adequate rent relief to Americans who "owe $70 billion in back rent that they won't be able to pay... there will be millions of stories like these."

Alan MacLeod, a sociologist and journalist, in 2019 published an article denouncing corporate media outlets for spinning "horrifying stories as... perseverance porn."

"Any of these stories could have been used to explore the pressing social and economic realities of being poor in the United States, and having to work for things considered fundamental rights in other countries," the media critic wrote in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. "But instead they are presented as uplifting features, something only possible if we unquestionably accept the political and economic system."

MacLeod continued:

What these articles highlight so clearly is not only the grim, inhuman, and unnecessary conditions so many Americans are forced to live under, but the degree to which mainstream corporate journalists have completely internalized them as unremarkable, inevitable facts of life, rather than the consequences of decades of neoliberal policies that have robbed Americans of dignity and basic human rights. Because corporate media wholly accept and promote neoliberal, free-market doctrine, they are unable to see how what they see as "awesome" is actually a manifestation of late-capitalist dystopia.

As philosopher Ben Burgis argued in Jacobin in May 2020, rather than forcing people to convince strangers to help them on crowdfunding sites, the U.S. needs a strong welfare state funded through redistributive taxation to ensure that everyone's basic needs are met.

"The scale of the current crisis casts the absurdity of relying on GoFundMe for these social needs into sharp relief," wrote Burgis. "It's as if we were living on an island about to be wiped out by a volcano and we were relying on a multitude of individual fundraisers, each jostling for attention, to purchase each individual boat or plane to be used in the evacuation."

"But it's even worse," he added. "The fact that anyone has ever needed to use GoFundMe to pay for things like rent or healthcare is a symptom of a social sickness far older than Covid-19."

Schumer: GOP embracing 'fringe legal theory' with claim Trump trial is unconstitutional

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday announced a resolution outlining the plan for former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, just one day after Democrats received an unexpected assist from a conservative attorney—highly respected in GOP legal circles—who skewered the right-wing argument that it's unconstitutional for the Senate to try and convict a former officeholder.

Speaking from the Senate floor on Monday soon after reaching an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the trial's details, Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Republican lawmakers' objections to trying Trump are based on a "fringe legal theory," which they are attempting to hide behind.

Schumer cited a Sunday Wall Street Journal op-ed by Charles Cooper, whom the top Democrat described as "no liberal," and said it "driv[es] a stake into the central argument" being advanced by Trump's legal team and his allies.

After delaying Trump's second impeachment trial, 45 Republican senators voted late last month to invalidate the trial, as Common Dreams reported at the time, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) arguing that "impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office."

Though Paul's attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the trial on constitutional grounds ultimately failed, it was significant in that it officially revealed that all but five Republican senators are opposed to the trial, delivering a preemptive blow to the prospects for conviction, which requires the support of two-thirds of the chamber, including 17 GOP lawmakers.

Cooper, whom the New York Times called "a stalwart of the conservative legal establishment," defended the constitutionality of prosecuting Trump even though he's no longer in office and argued that "the senators who supported Mr. Paul's motion should reconsider their view and judge the former president's misconduct on the merits."

In the op-ed, Cooper, an attorney for former National Security Adviser John Bolton, had this to say:

Forty-five Republican senators voted in favor of Sen. Rand Paul's motion challenging the Senate's jurisdiction to try Trump. But scholarship on this question has matured substantially since that vote, and it has exposed the serious weakness of Mr. Paul's analysis.

The strongest argument against the Senate's authority to try a former officer relies on Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, which provides: "The president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The trial's opponents argue that because this provision requires removal, and because only incumbent officers can be removed, it follows that only incumbent officers can be impeached and tried.

But the provision cuts against their interpretation. It simply establishes what is known in criminal law as a "mandatory minimum" punishment: If an incumbent officeholder is convicted by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, he is removed from office as a matter of law.

If removal were the only punishment that could be imposed, the argument against trying former officers would be compelling. But it isn't. Article I, Section 3 authorizes the Senate to impose an optional punishment on conviction: "disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States."

That punishment can be imposed only on former officers. That is because Article II, Section 4 is self-executing: A convicted officeholder is automatically removed at the moment of conviction. The formal Senate procedures for impeachment trials acknowledge this constitutional reality, noting that a two-thirds vote to convict "operates automatically and instantaneously to separate the person impeached from the office." The Senate may then, at its discretion, take a separate vote to impose, by simple majority, "the additional consequences provided by the Constitution in the case of an impeached and convicted civil officer, viz: permanent disqualification from elected or appointed office."

Thus a vote by the Senate to disqualify can be taken only after the officer has been removed and is by definition a former officer. Given that the Constitution permits the Senate to impose the penalty of permanent disqualification only on former officeholders, it defies logic to suggest that the Senate is prohibited from trying and convicting former officeholders.

According to The Hill, "the Senate will debate and vote on Tuesday on whether or not the trial is constitutional," meaning that Cooper's arguments are likely to be invoked as soon as the trial begins.

Opening arguments will start on Wednesday. Under the bipartisan framework, House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team will have 16 hours over two days each to make their case to the Senate. The trial could conclude within roughly one week if no witnesses are called, though "the deal leaves the door open to calling witnesses," The Hill noted.

As Common Dreams has reported, polls continue to show that a clear majority of the American public supports convicting Trump and barring him from ever holding office again following the former president's incitement of a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as Congress was certifying President Joe Biden's electoral victory.

'Downright scary': GOP Introduces more than 100 voter suppression bills in 28 states — in 2021 alone

Since former President Donald Trump failed to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans in more than two dozen states have introduced over 100 bills to restrict voting access, an alarming development that voting rights advocates have pointed to as yet another reason for Democrats to abolish the filibuster, an anti-democratic tool currently allowing the GOP minority to block the enactment of a suite of popular pro-democracy reforms.

Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman on Thursday reported on the GOP's ongoing nationwide push to make voting more difficult—particularly for communities of color and other Democratic-leaning constituencies—and in some cases to empower state legislatures to overturn election results. He called state-level Republicans' efforts "a huge scandal that should be getting as much attention as Trump's plot to overturn the election."

Republicans across the country, Berman said, are "weaponizing Trump's lies" about fraud in an attempt to roll back voting rights after last year's historic turnout and expansion of mail-in ballots.

"Democrats have a clear choice," Berman continued. "They can get rid of the filibuster to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act to stop GOP voter suppression, or they can allow the GOP to undermine democracy for the next decade."

"The stakes," Berman added, "couldn't be higher." That's because, according to an analysis conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice in late January, Republicans at the state level have introduced three times as many bills to chip away at voting rights compared to the same point last year.

Already this year, 106 bills have been introduced in 28 states—including 17 under complete GOP control, where passage is more likely—to undermine access to the franchise. According to the Brennan Center's report, "These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) limit successful pro-voter registration policies; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges."

"These bills," the report argues, "are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election."

And this week, as CNN reported on Friday, "lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Georgia Senate added more. They include proposals that would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting for many state residents and end automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver's license."

According to Berman, the nine bills that Georgia Republicans introduced on February 1 would amount to "one of the worst voter suppression laws ever passed."

Not to be outdone, Arizona Republicans have since the start of 2021 introduced 34 bills to make voting harder, including reducing the number of polling places in Maricopa County from 100 to 15.

Georgia and Arizona are not alone; similar reactionary proposals are being pushed by Republicans in more than two dozen additional states.

The spike in anti-democracy bills represents an intensification of an existing trend rather than a new development. As Common Dreams reported last November, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) admitted shortly after the election that making voting more accessible hurts the GOP's electoral prospects.

"If we don't do something about voting by mail, we're going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country," Graham told Fox News host Sean Hannity.

The GOP has been trying to undercut efforts to expand voting access for years. "A decade ago," Berman wrote, "Republicans passed new voter ID laws and other efforts to curtail voting rights when they took power in the states following [former President] Barack Obama's election."

But now, he added, "Republicans are taking their assault on voting rights to the next level." Like the Brennan Center, Berman attributed the surge in anti-democracy legislation to Trump's failed bid to subvert the will of the people in last year's election.

According to Berman, the GOP is "trying to accomplish through legislation what Trump couldn't with litigation. All in all, these efforts amount to the most concerted attempts to roll back voting rights since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965."

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to expand ballot access.

CNN reported that "the voting bills in Congress—which Democrats have said are an early priority—would establish at least 15 days of early voting in federal elections, allow for automatic voter registration, restore voting rights to former felons, and bar states from prohibiting mail-in and curbside voting—along with a slew of other changes to election and campaign-finance laws."

As Common Dreams reported last month, Democratic leaders have said the For the People Act, a far-reaching package of democracy reforms, is a legislative priority. But GOP opposition to the bill renders passage unlikely unless lawmakers kill the filibuster.

The Brennan Center's Wendy Weiser told CNN that "you have an absolutely necessary piece of legislation to restore our democracy. The filibuster absolutely shouldn't stand in the way of accomplishing it."

Biden wins big cheers with a major push for peace

Peace advocates rejoiced on Thursday in the wake of President Joe Biden's announcement that his administration will be ending U.S. support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and appointing a diplomatic envoy to help resolve the devastating conflict.

"This war has to end," Biden said during an address at the State Department. "And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales."

Biden also named Timothy Lenderking as his special envoy to Yemen, saying the career foreign service officer will collaborate with the United Nations and "all parties to the conflict to push for a diplomatic resolution."

"It's about time that the U.S. end all complicity in the Saudi/UAE-led war on Yemen, with at least 100,000 dead and tens of millions on the brink of starvation," Paul Kawika Martin, senior director of policy and political affairs at Peace Action, said Thursday.

Danaka Katovich, Yemen campaign coordinator at the anti-war group CodePink, described Thursday as "a day peace activists around the world have been waiting for. On the campaign trail, President Biden said he would end support for the war in Yemen, and I hope he keeps that promise to the fullest extent."

As Medea Benjamin, CodePink's co-founder, pointed out on social media, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration's cessation of U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen will include "an end to precision-guided munition sales," which have contributed to the massive civilian death toll.

While the Biden administration's "decision to stop U.S. support for 'offensive operations' by Saudi Arabia is critically important," said David Segal, co-founder and executive director of Demand Progress, "we must learn more about how 'offensive operations' are defined—and ensure that Biden's plans entail ending targeting support, spare parts transfers, and other logistical support, both known and unknown to the general public."

As for the White House's appointment of Lenderking, Martin said the new special envoy to Yemen "can push Saudi Arabia and the UAE to change its conduct and negotiate in good faith to end their war on Yemen and allow humanitarian aid to flow."

Martin added that Peace Action wants "to make sure the details include stopping all support and blocking all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE," a concern shared by Philippe Nassif, Amnesty International's advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"As the conflict in Yemen enters its seventh year, it is vital for the United States to commit to prioritizing the safety of civilians in the country," said Nassif. "Central to these efforts will be stopping the flow of arms from the United States into situations where they will be used to commit war crimes and grave human rights violations."

While "halting the sale of precision-guided munitions is the first big step," Nassif added, "the human tragedy of United States arms sales is immense pain and suffering inflicted on civilians in Yemen that must not be continued to be swept aside, and crimes committed with arms sold by the United States must be investigated."

Calling Biden's announcement a "historic win," peace activists at Just Foreign Policy (JFP) echoed those at Peace Action and Amnesty, emphasizing that "advocates will need to ensure that this includes all unconstitutional support for the war."

In a Twitter thread, Just Foreign Policy shared a timeline depicting six years of advocacy that began in early May 2015, just weeks after the U.S. joined the war.

As JFP explained, Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) as well as former Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) in October 2017 introduced the first War Powers Resolution that would require the U.S. to end its participation in the war in Yemen on constitutional grounds.

That measure was blocked by congressional leaders, but it led to a compromise resolution that acknowledged for the first time that U.S. support for the war on Yemen had never been authorized by Congress.

In December 2018, the Senate passed for the first time in its history a War Powers Resolution. The effort, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), directed former President Donald Trump to end the country's participation in the war.

Khanna and Massie introduced another War Powers Resolution in the lower chamber as well, but then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) refused to allow a vote on the measure.

Nevertheless, Sanders and Khanna persisted, passing another War Powers Resolution through both chambers in April 2019. This time, Trump vetoed the measure, "with opposition inside the administration led by murderous extremists," including then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, JFP noted.

In November 2020, "as the Trump administration announced their intent to knowingly exacerbate the famine by labeling Houtis as terrorists, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), and Pocan and Khanna announced another new War Powers Resolution," JFP continued.

In a statement released Thursday, Sanders called Biden's cessation of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen and his naming of a diplomatic envoy "to help resolve this conflict and bring aid and reconstruction... a tribute to the work of so many activists over the years."

The senator added that "by honoring the bipartisan War Powers Resolution that the previous president vetoed, President Biden has shown a commitment to restoring authority over war where the framers of the U.S. Constitution placed it: with the Congress."

Pocan, one of the lawmakers who contributed to the effort to halt U.S. participation in the war, on Thursday tweeted: "This is a huge win—led by the work of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—demanding for years that America ends its complicity in the Saudi war in Yemen and the human rights disaster that has resulted."

Hassan El-Tayyab, legislative manager for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), called the Biden administration's decision "the result of years of activism from Yemeni Americans and grassroots activists all over the world. Congrats to lovers of peace everywhere who know #YemenCantWait."

CodePink's Benjamin hopes "Biden's announcement marks the beginning of the end of this horrific war."

"We will be closely following the activities of the new envoy Timothy Lenderking in negotiating a peace process," she said, "and will push the Biden administration to increase U.S. aid to help repair the damages caused by our devastating participation in this war."

To that end, Khanna, another leader in the fight, said in a statement that "in addition to ending U.S. military, logistics, and intelligence support for the Saudi coalition, the U.S. must cease involvement in the Saudi-led de-facto blockade of Yemen that has helped push millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation."

"We should also swiftly and fully reverse the Trump administration's reckless designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization," the lawmaker added. "It's critical we ensure Yemeni civilians have access to the food, medicine, fuel, and other necessities on which they rely."

Demands for Marjorie Taylor Greene's removal grow: 'There must be consequences for her actions'

Demands that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene be expelled from the House of Representatives or at least removed from her committee assignments are growing, with pressure coming from Democratic lawmakers as well as progressive activists who say the Georgia Republican's "dangerous ideas have no place in Congress."

In a short period of time, Greene has become notorious for, among other things: perpetuating former President Donald Trump's baseless claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, which culminated in the deadly insurrection at the U.S. capitol on January 6; callously lying about a number of mass shootings as well as harassing David Hogg, a student who survived the Parkland massacre; spreading racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including one suggesting that a "Jewish space laser" is to blame for a 2018 wildfire in California; and expressing support for the execution of prominent Democrats.

A MoveOn petition calling on GOP leadership to remove Greene from the House Education and Labor Committees had garnered more than180,000 signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

Matt Hildreth of started the petition, in which he wrote:

Rep. Greene supports the QAnon cult and has called deadly school shootings "false-flag" operations by gun-control groups. She even accosted and harassed Parkland student and activist David Hogg on Capitol Hill. Back in 2019, Republicans removed Rep. Steve King of Iowa from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees in response to his support for white nationalists. Based on this precedent, Republican House leaders must remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee appointments.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David on Friday said that the revelations that Greene "openly endorsed executing public officials and harassed a teenage victim of gun violence, is deeply disturbing."

"Congresswoman Greene has demonstrated her lack of regard for our democracy and its institutions," David added, "choosing instead to fan the flames of division and hate—the same elements motivating the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol just three weeks ago."

Emphasizing that "there must be consequences for her actions," David implored House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "to hold her accountable and remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from all her assigned Congressional committees at the very least."

There are additional groups demanding that Congress take disciplinary action against Greene. The Women's March on Saturday called on the House to expel Greene from the chamber, citing several examples of the "extremist opinions, inciteful rhetoric, and toxic lies that she supports."

The Women's March was echoing a demand made the previous day by Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization fighting against Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination in the United States. In a statement released Friday, the group pointed out that Green has "suggested that Muslims do not belong in government, tried to force Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to re-swear their congressional oaths on a Bible and even posted a picture of herself holding a gun next to them."

Calling for Greene's immediate expulsion, Scott Simpson, Muslim Advocates public advocacy director, said that every minute Greene "remains in office is a minute where [Democratic Reps.] André Carson, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, their colleagues, and their staff in Congress are in danger."

"Each day," Simpson continued, "we learn more about Greene's recent history of spreading dangerous conspiracy theories, encouraging violence against public officials, and making bigoted statements about Muslims, Jews, and other marginalized communities."

"This behavior is an embarrassment to the U.S. Congress," he added, "and presents a real danger to the people of color who have to walk the same halls with Greene each day."

As Common Dreams reported Friday, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a Black woman and prominent progressive, was forced forced to relocate her congressional office to protect her "team's safety" after Greene and members of her staff "berated" Bush in the hallway and harassed her on social media.

Another progressive group, Indivisible, on Friday encouraged people to tell their representatives to support Rep. Jimmy Gomez's (D-Calif.) resolution to expel Greene from office.

Gomez must convince 70 House Republicans to support removing Greene from the chamber in order to attain the two-thirds majority required to pass the resolution, but other Democratic lawmakers have proposed an alternative that has a higher likelihood of success.

Reps. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) announced Friday that they will introduce a resolution next week to formally censure Greene and call for her resignation, as Common Dreams reported. Unlike Gomez's measure, Jacobs and Williams' resolution would only require a majority vote in the Democrat-controlled House.

According to Politico, McCarthy's office has said the GOP leader will "sit down for a conversation with Greene next week."

"But whether McCarthy decides to punish Greene will depend on how that meeting goes," the news outlet noted. "McCarthy had a similar face-to-face meeting in 2019 with former Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) after he defended white nationalism in an interview with the New York Times. The Iowa Republican showed little remorse during their interaction, and shortly afterward, McCarthy booted King from his committees."

As the HRC's David put it, "The integrity of our democratic institutions should be important to all elected officials regardless of political party. Accordingly, McCarthy should act—and act urgently."


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