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Mark Sumner

The State Department knows how much it's been funneling to Trump — but it's not going to tell you

Donald Trump makes a big show of giving away his annual paycheck to some agency each year. He can afford to, since the Secret Service has rewarded him with two years' worth of pay just in the money it has spent on golf carts. Really. And then there's the money that the Air Force has dropped at Trump's Scottish golf resort. And how Trump has doubled the dues at several of his clubs so that people wanting insider access have to pony up at least $200,000 to bend his elbow in the buffet line (for the buffets that they are still having despite COVID-19).

Assembling the full list of all the ways Trump has tapped his position to line his pockets over the past four years, is a project that will probably still be occupying scholars in the year 3020. However, there is at least one government department that seems to have taken a shot at assembling a compendium. The State Department has put together a 450-page tome showing all the ways it slipped dollars to the boss.

That report is ready to go … they're hiding it until after the election.

As The Washington Post reports (and by Washington Post, I mean David Fahrenthold), the documents were assembled in response to a public-records lawsuit which the Post won earlier this year. In response, the State Department had promised to release 300 pages on Thursday. Instead, they sent the Post two (2) pages. On those two pages: "the receipts of a single hotel bill from Trump's Irish golf course, involving security for Trump's daughter-in-law and campaign adviser Lara Trump."

That single bill is a slap in the face to both the public and the whole idea of transparency. It's also a reminder of just how wide a selection of documents the State Department has when it comes to Trump. It's not just Donald Trump and his massive entourage that racks up six-figure bills every single day they're parked at one of his properties. The entire extended first family is also traveling on the taxpayer dime, with those dimes often being channeled right back home by making sure they—and their advisors, assistants, and security personnel—stay at Trump properties.

The State Department also often picks up the tab for foreign dignitaries when they are in the United States, and they also of course pay the bill when Mike Pompeo or any of the department's 13,000 employees are on the road. How much of that money goes back to Trump? We simply do not know.

We do know that Trump never misses an opportunity to pad his own accounts. The man who went out of his way to cash a $0.13 check raised room prices during the Republican Convention by 60% … and that was just a virtual convention. The prices anyone walking into a Trump hotel might face seem astoundingly fluid, with prices in December of 2019 shooting up to 13 times the normal rate, as Trump funneled money from a campaign event to his personal accounts. A hotel room that normally went for $500, was jacked up to $6,719 that night so that Trump could maximize his take.

How much has Trump been playing this game with government visitors, charging them beyond top dollar to maximize profit from his position? It's unclear, but based on the contracts between the Trump Organization and the Secret Service, it is clear he's not giving anyone a discount.

The Post had previously identified $1.2 million in government dollars that were mostly brought into Trump hotels by the travels of Ivanka, Don Jr, and Eric. That includes $245,000 from the Secret Service alone. But for an accurate look at just how much Trump is benefiting from the ability to tell everyone in the government when to travel, where to stay, and how much to pay, it will require more transparency. Which is not forthcoming.

The State Department was supposed to hand over the documents in two batches, one on Thursday, with the second batch on Nov. 16 … two weeks after the election.

Apparently the single receipt handed over now counts as the first "batch." And if you're waiting to see what's in the remainder, don't count on it arriving in November. Or on any other date.

Rudy Giuliani's supposed Biden 'smoking gun' looks like an obvious Russian propaganda frame-up

On Wednesday morning, the New York Post broke the genuinely unbelievable story about a soggy laptop with a hard drive that contains emails suggesting that Joe Biden had a previously unreported meeting with a Ukrainian businessman … and video of Hunter Biden having a crack-laced party with a sex worker. Because, sure, if you're going to have illegal drugs while engaging in illegal sex, you have to be sure to film it, right after the email that's a threat to your father.

This Donald Trump fantasy reel was then delivered to the Post through the unimpeachable (but definitely indictable) hands of Trump attorney, Rudy Giuliani. According to Giuliani, the source of this supposed mystery computer was a mystery customer who, extremely conveniently, left a Beau Biden Foundation sticker attached when dropping it off at a Delaware repair shop. But the mystery customer never returned—or apparently gave his name. So it was totally understandable that the repair shop guy busted out his best hacking tools and began reading those emails and watching those videos. And absolutely understandable that his first action was to make a copy for Giuliani.

Seriously, the believability factor of this whole story is somewhere worse than a love child between Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster. This is a story so ridiculous, Q would not want to be associated with it, which hasn't stopped White House Press Sec. Kayleigh McEnany from tweeting out parts of it as if it's serious. But now at least one aspect of the mystery is somewhat less mysterious, because the repair shop guy has been located. And he's a peach.

As Daily Beast reports, the apparent start of the journey from wet laptop to Post story inexplicably promoted by reporters from The New York Times and Politico is a shop owner named John Paul Isaac from Wilmington, Delaware. In a question and answer session lasting over an hour, Isaac gives often jaw-dropping and occasionally hilarious responses to questions about how exactly what Giuliani has been searching for happened to come into his hands, and how he then handed it over for appropriate scandal-level attention.

According to Isaac, he has a "medical condition" that prevented him from seeing who actually dropped off the laptop. But that Biden Foundation sticker clued him in that this had to be the Macbook of Hunter Biden. After all, it's not like the Beau Biden Foundation has a dozen board members, several dozen employees and volunteers, has trained over 9,500 adults to assist in spotting and preventing child abuse, and worked with families in over 20 states. Who but Hunter might have such a sticker?

Isaac then called the FBI, who took the device, but then called him back in for his expertise on accessing hard drives. Or he accessed the hard drive and then contacted the FBI. Or both. All of this is reported at various points in the conversation. "Muddled" doesn't begin to describe the explanation. Isaac also provides the reason that he copied the drive for Giuliani. That reason is: Seth Rich, as in the right-wing conspiracy theory that Seth Rich was murdered by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) because he knew the "truth" about DNC emails stolen by Russian sources and provided to Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and Donald Trump.

At various points, Isaac seems to believe the FBI killed Rich, and might kill him. Which makes it difficult to understand why he would have called the FBI in the first place. To make it extra confusing, Isaac at various points claims the FBI didn't know he made a copy—except they had to know he would make a copy. "They probably knew I had a copy because I was pretty vocal about not wanting to get murdered," said Isaac. (Complete audio of the interview can be found with the Daily Beast article.)

The biggest problem with the claims in the emails is the same as that in every other Biden did something-something in Ukraine story. That problem is simple: Prosecutor Viktor Shokin was not investigating the company where Hunter Biden was on the board. How do we know that? Not only are there no records of such an investigation in Ukraine, Shokin himself has said as much. In fact, it was Shokin's refusal to open such an investigation that led to U.K. officials requesting that he be removed from office.

How does the Post story weasel-word their way around this problem? In the most weasel-y way imaginable. According to the Post, Shokin had made "specific plans" to investigate Burisma. So not only did Joe Biden apparently step in to stop the investigation, he stopped it when it was just an idea in Shokin's head that had not been acted on. Pretty darn clever, that Biden.

It might also be worth a quick look at the author of this Post article. The byline on the story is Emma-Jo Morris, who is listed on the masthead as Deputy Politics Editor at New York Post. Since when? Since today, that's when. Morris has exactly three stories on her resume at the Post … all of them written on Wednesday. All of them about Hunter Biden. What did Morris do prior to her instant appointment as editor? She booked guests for Sean Hannity.

If all of this wasn't shakier than watered down Jell-O, there's the little problem with how the contents of the hard drive seem to be perfectly in line with what Giuliani has been claiming all along. Trump's latest personal attorney has been beating the bushes, and paying off criminals, in Ukraine for over two years, looking for anyone willing to provide Biden dirt. It was almost exactly one year ago that Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Furman were arrested while trying to leave the country. Back in December, Parnas turned over documents to the House Intelligence Committee as charges of election law violations, perjury, falsifying records, and conspiracy against the United States were clearly expanding into "a broader probe that is looking at numerous people in Giuliani's orbit."

Just last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA officials made it clear that Giuliani's orbit was a tight circle around Vladimir Putin. That included identifying former Ukrainian legislator Andrii Derkach—Giuliani's primary contact in Ukraine—as a Russian disinformation agent who was in direct contact with the Kremlin. Derkach worked with Giuliani to spread disinformation about Biden "inside the United States through lobbyists, Congress, the media and contacts with figures close to the president."

Not only is Giuliani's October surprise anything but believable, the odds that it's not a direct ploy to slip disinformation sourced by Russia into the American media appear vanishingly small. Because it's not just Derkach who is a disinformation agent.

Twitter has now blocked access to the Post story. Good for them. At least someone is trying to stop the flow of Russian propaganda.

Donald Trump is not 'over' COVID-19. He's facing the most critical point in the disease right now

On Saturday morning, former governor and expert on how to torture people who stutter, Chris Christie, announced that he was leaving Morristown Medical Center after being hospitalized for seven nights. Combined with Donald Trump's release from Walter Reed Medical Center Monday evening, it seems that COVID-19 can bypass even people with highly evident co-morbidities, given that those people are given inordinate levels of medical care and mass doses of experimental drugs that are unavailable to ordinary Americans. Or … does it?

Assuming that Donald Trump is giving an accurate account of the chronology of his COVID-19 infection, which is, admittedly, a yuge assumption, he first tested positive on Thursday, Oct. 1 after feeling ill on Wednesday, Sept. 30. For Christie, that positive test came on Saturday, Oct. 3. With both of them now checked out of their respective hospitals—and, in Trump's case, diligently returning to the work of subverting democracy by repressing votes, lying about election fraud, and threatening to have political opponents arrested—it may seem they're out of the woods.

They're not. Because nine months into this pandemic, doctors understand that COVID-19 tends to follow a pattern, especially in patients who have more than an asymptomatic case. That pattern suggests that the critical moment for Trump is … pretty much right now.

As Scientific American explains, Trump has by no means "beaten" COVID-19 at this point. Instead, his course of infection is at a "crucial stage," with the next few days likely to either see him on a path to recovery, or crashing down a slope toward serious relapse.

Doctors and researchers have put together a kind of COVID-19 timeline that reflects how the infection operates. Starting with the initial exposure, it can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for the virus to incubate in someone's system to the point where they become contagious in turn. It's not clear where Trump became exposed. If it was at the Rose Garden super spreader intro of Amy Coney Barrett—where 150 Republican leaders were gathered closely together, mostly without masks, and mostly without any attempt at social distancing—then Trump's incubation period was a fairly typical five days. Trump's refusal to release any negative test results before that date suggests he may have been infected sooner, while changes in precautions at the White House, including the use of two widely-separated podiums for Trump and Mike Pence on Monday following the Barrett event, suggest that he was known to have been exposed by that point.

A person infected with COVID-19 becomes contagious before showing symptoms, which is part of what makes fighting this disease so difficult. However, symptoms (which can be a cough, fever, aches, diarrhea, or a seemingly endless list, including that weird pink eye thing Pence was displaying at his debate) usually begin around the fifth day. That also marks pretty much "peak contagious," so anyone who was around Trump in that last Wednesday through Friday period was getting a maximum dose of Filet-o-Fish-scented virus. It also means that Trump was, almost certainly, highly contagious at the time of his Tuesday debate with Joe Biden.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, Trump had difficulty breathing and was treated with oxygen. Trump also let slip that he had been given the steroid dexamethasone because he had "swelling" in his lungs. This further confuses his timeline, because it's genuinely odd for a patient to go downhill from onset of symptoms to difficulty breathing, hospitalization, and lung involvement in a single day.

In any case, all that was a week ago. Since then, Trump has gone joyriding with the Secret Service, made a panting appearance on a White House balcony, engaged in an unusually explosive bout of Twitterhea, and played stand-in for Rush Limbaugh. So … does that mean the danger is all in his rearview? Not at all.

A week to 10 days after the onset of symptoms is the critical point for most people infected with COVID-19. That's the point where the immune system has had time to mount a response against the invading virus. It's also the point where some people mount too vigorous a response, throwing them into the infamous "cytokine storm." The result can be sudden return of a high fever, and a condition where the immune system begins to attack, not the virus, but the person's own cells. This is the point where people suffer abrupt organ failure. This is the point—not one day after testing positive—when many people end up on oxygen, or even on a ventilator. This, not last week, is the dangerous point for Trump.

Checking out of the hospital after being infected with COVID-19 isn't an all-clear signal. Because a significant number of people check back in, in worse condition than they went through the system the first time.

As BBC News points out, the timing of events around Trump's illness are extremely confusing thanks to the lack of transparency, and obvious attempts to cover-up basic information—from when Trump was exposed to when he began displaying symptoms. There is also a problem of Trump's treatment, none of which follows anything like the normal pattern. Not only was Trump given a massive dose of experimental antibodies—four times the dose people are being given in trials—he also received multiple treatments with dexamethasone, which is usually given to patients with a more severe response at just about this time in their treatment, because the steroid is used to limit the immune response and tamp down the possibility of a cytokine storm.'

That Trump received dexamethasone so early, suggests that the official timeline of his illness might be off by as much as a week. It could be that what Trump experienced back on Oct. 2 was not his first onset of symptoms, but that "crossroads" moment that can set in a week later. The combination of kitchen-sink treatment and deliberately obfuscated information makes it impossible to tell.

But if the White House timeline is anything like accurate, then it's this weekend, not last, when Trump faces the real test. This is the point where, according to Dr. Abraar Karan of Brigham and Women's Hospital, people who earlier checked out feeling fine, "come back feeling much sicker, with even worse oxygen levels and possibly other harm to the body's organs." Patients who go down that fork in the road, can face genuinely serious threats.

Donald Trump and Chris Christie may be out of the hospital, but it doesn't mean that either of them is out of the woods. The next few days will tell whether their treatment has helped put them on the road to recovery … or somewhere else.

It may be worth noting that, as of this writing, Trump appears to have skipped his usual morning "executive time" and issued no tweets.

Author's note: None of this should be read as a wish for Trump to be ill. I want him awake, alert, and without an excuse when he loses the election in three weeks. But he should also not be allowed to use his own apparent recovery to suggest that, a week after testing positive for COVID-19, all is well. That assumption is as dangerous as any of the other misinformation Trump has spread.

Participants in Amy Coney Barrett's introduction were encouraged to take off their masks and mingle

A day after Donald Trump admitted to testing positive for COVID-19, the Rose Garden ceremony formally introducing Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court has emerged as a super-spreader event. In addition to Trump, at least 11 others — including former White House press secretary Kellyanne Conway, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, Republican Senator Mike Lee, and Republican Senator Thom Tillis have tested positive following Barrett's introduction. While others—including Hope Hicks, who did not appear at the event, it seems clear that this was the nexus of transmission. At that event one week ago, someone had an active case of COVID-19, and it spread.

It spread because, as The Washington Post notes, the event was treated like "a triumphal flashback to the Before Times." Though some guests—notably those who sat near the back of the affair—chose to wear masks, most of those front and center came in mask-free. There was also little effort to demonstrate any form of social distancing, with ecstatic Republicans hugging, shaking hands, and generally celebrating at close range their hunger to replace a legendary Supreme Court Justice who was at that moment still awaiting her funeral.

The Barrett introduction was certainly not the only event over the past week at which people in contact with Trump and his entourage became sick. Following the debate on Tuesday night in Cleveland, at least 11 cases of COVID-19 have been found among those involved with debate preparations. These cases appear to be either members of the prep team who were not actually present at the debate, or members of the media. It's unclear at this point where and when they became infected. If they were infected by a member of Trump's team, then the White House hotspot has generated at least 25 cases to date.

The explosion of cases associated with the Barrett appearance is serious and still expanding. And, as with Hicks and the debate workers in Cleveland, a second wave of cases may have already begun to develop from this event. As this article was being written on Saturday morning came word that Republican Senator Ron Johnson has also tested positive. Though Johnson is not on the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Lee and Tillis are.

If Lee and Tillis are unable to participate, it's possible that Barrett's nomination could fail to emerge from committee. If it reaches the floor, and both Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski stick to their refusals to vote (which is a big assumption), Barrett's nomination could actually fail before the full Senate. At this point, that failure would be by a single vote, but there were other Republican Senators who were present at the Rose Garden event, as well as potential participants in fundraisers over the last week that also reportedly failed to enforce wearing of masks or social distancing.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham continue to insist that the timeline for rushing Barrett's nomination through the Senate is unchanged, with a goal of having a vote no later than October 22. McConnell insists that the Senate will sit down for business on Monday, despite what appears to be a rapidly spreading contagion. McConnell is still refusing to say whether he has even been tested for COVID-19 following the Barrett event. Graham reportedly tested negative on Friday night.

The contrast between what the Post called the "carefree, cavalier attitude toward the virus on display in the Rose Garden last Saturday" and the somber roll call of test results a week later is shocking, but what happened at the White House was only one of thousands of such outbreaks that have happened across the nation. And no matter what they apparently believed, no one is immune.

The red death had long devastated the country. … But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court …


— From Edgar Allan Poe's, "Masque of the Red Death"

Put down that dystopia: Let two short films challenge you with visions of a hopeful future

In 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) teamed with illustrator Molly Crabapple to create a short film called A Message from the Future. That film presented something extraordinarily rare when it comes to looking ahead these days: optimism.

After what seems like an endless parade of dystopias in literature and film, the short film, in which Crabapple illustrates scenes to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez's narration, seems almost shocking in its optimism. Set two decades in the future, it brings to life—or at least, to still life—a world in which the Green New Deal becomes reality. Starting from that basis, it projects the kind of changes that might be expected by 2040, and the kind of world the next generation could inherit.

But that was 2019. As in "Before 2020." In the wake of everything that has happened over the last 10 months—the pandemic, the protests, the ongoing police violence, the continued threats to democracy—is it still possible to paint a picture of a future where things take a turn for the good?

Now there's a new A Message from the Future, one that takes 2020 into account. And the future it projects may be challenging in ways that you don't expect.

The original AOC version of A Message from the Future is heavily focused on the effects of living in a world where the Green New Deal upset the course humanity was taking toward climate disaster. Though it projects those changes in the future, it actually spends about half its time in the recent past, showing how we found ourselves on the path to the climate cliff … before projecting a world that starts with Democratic victories in 2018, adds new wins in 2020, and lifts the nation into a far fairer, greener place.

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The 2020 version, again illustrated by Crabapple and scripted by author Naomi Klein, seems somewhat less hopeful right from its title: Years of Repair. It recognizes that where we are in 2020 isn't a position to head off problems ahead, but that going forward requires addressing damage that has already happened, and not just in 2020. Like the first film, it places a strong focus on the need to address both climate change and other environmental issues. And like the first film, there's not an assumption that everything will be just peachy moving ahead. Among other issues, this letter from the future makes the assumption that COVID-19 is far from the last time the world will have to deal with a fast-moving emerging disease.

The new film pushes even harder into social issues. Issues of race, employment, policing. It sometimes does so in ways that may make even people who think of themselves as progressive uncomfortable. But that's the point. This isn't so much a sequel to the first film as a letter from another future, one in which things have changed tremendously from the world we know in this sorry, exhausting year.

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Personal Note: Back in May of 2016, I wrote an essay promising that I was going to spend time over the next year "reclaiming Utopia" and writing about the ways we could create "the good future." Of course, I wrote that months before the election of 2016 hurtled us toward a place I had not imagined. I allowed that event to smother that project before it really got off the ground. But consider this article to be two views into the kind of utopias I was talking about that day.

I promise, no matter what happens in November, they won't be the last.

Grand juror in police murder of Breonna Taylor accuses Kentucky AG of hiding truth about case

As has been obvious from the beginning, the legal story of the police murder of Breonna Taylor has been badly misreported. In almost every article or news story, journalists have used phrases like "the grand jury failed to charge" or "the grand jury did not return"—phrases that make it seem that the decision not to charge any of the three officers involved for Taylor's death was a exactly that, a decision.

Those reports might seem to be well founded, based on the initial statements of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron:

Grand jury proceedings are secret. And so I'm not going to get into the specifics of details about that proceeding. What I will say is that we presented all of the information and they ultimately made a determination about whether to charge. In this instance, they decided to indict Detective Hankinson.

But now, one of the members of that grand jury is asking a judge to set aside the usual rules that protect grand jury proceedings and release the transcripts of the proceedings. And there are very good reasons to think that what Cameron called "all the information" did not include the option for the jurors to return any charges related to Breonna Taylor's death. The judge has already agreed with the juror, and the Associated Press is reporting that Cameron will comply with the order to release the transcript.

As The Louisville Courier-Journal reports, an attorney for that juror is saying that, "The full story and absolute truth of how this matter was handled from beginning to end is now an issue of great public interest and has become a large part of the discussion of public trust throughout the country." That motion to the judge also accuses Cameron of using the grand jury "as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility for those decisions."

That full truth is likely to be related to something Cameron said in his initial statement following Judge Annie O'Connell's announcement of the surprisingly brief grand jury results.

"While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation show and the grand jury agreed that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker."

Though Cameron slips an "and the grand jury agreed" into the middle of this, the key statement here is his declaration that homicide charges "are not applicable." Cameron repeated that claim a few sentences later.

"Let me state that again. According to Kentucky law, the use of force by Mattingly and Cosgrave was justified to protect themselves. This justification bars us from pursuing criminal charges in Ms. Breonna Taylor's death."

The grand jury doesn't determine charges. It doesn't determine the evidence it gets to hear, which witnesses appear, or what questions they are asked. It seems exceedingly clear that, at best, Cameron worked the grand jury to get them to agree that the indiscriminate gunfire from the three plainclothes officers arriving in the middle of the night was "justified." But whether or not that question was ever put to the jury, it also seems clear that Cameron never offered them the chance to return any charge against Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, or Myles Cosgrove as it relates to Taylor. As Cameron says straight out, he determined that he was "barred from pursuing criminal charges" in Taylor's death. That's not a grand jury decision. That's a Daniel Cameron decision.

There are also very good reasons to doubt the whole justification that Cameron, and Louisville police, have used from the very first day of this tragedy—the claim that Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired first, and shot one of the officers on the scene. A ballistics report by the Kentucky State Police does not support those claims. It was unable to identify Walker's gun as the source of a bullet that struck Mattingly. The Louisville police had previously claimed that the bullet had to come from Walker because none of the officers carried a 9mm handgun, but one of Walker's attorneys noted that police department records showed that Hankinson—the only officer charged for firing shots that went into another apartment—was issued a 9mm weapon.

Why Trump's Supreme Court nominee believes all Civil Rights legislation is 'illegitimate'

Amy Coney Barrett regards herself as an "originalist," that is, someone who believes that all legal decisions must be based on the "original understanding" of the Constitution. This is often put forward as a straightforward, consistent lens through which law can be viewed, rather than trying to put into context little things like shifting views on race and gender equality. However, originalism is further complicated by a split between groups focused on "intent" and those focused on "meaning." And if you think those are the same things … well, you're just wrong. Intentionalists believe the law is determined by what the original authors of the Constitution intended when they took quill to parchment. Those focused on meaning insist that they support the "public meaning" of the words at the time they were written. People who, like Barrett, belong to the later group, insist that their interpretation is more consistent.

In fact, both approaches require jurists to peer into the minds of 18th-century Americans, interpreting words, attitudes, and relationships that have shifted enormously over two and a half centuries. In short, any claim that the nation can be properly governed by divining the inner monologue of wig-wearing slaveholders not only makes about as much sense as using the plans for a Conestoga wagon as the repair manual on the Space Shuttle, it's also just plain bullshit.

But there's something even more odd about how conservatives like Barrett apply originalism. Because they seem to believe that the "original meaning" of every word and phrase just happens to be a conservative meaning. And where they can't find the meaning that they want, these dedicated preservationists have a second approach … throw it out. Throw it all out. Like the entire 14th Amendment.

The 13th Amendment may have abolished slavery when it was ratified in 1865, but it took the14th and 15th Amendments to define what the end of slavery really meant in terms of law. After all, slavery is more than just forced labor. If slavery "ended" but some people still were denied equal protection, equal rights, and equal representation, was slavery really over? It took until 1868 for the 14th Amendment, upholding citizenship rights and equal protection, to be ratified. It wasn't until 1870 that the 15th Amendment extended this to voting rights.

As far as the 14th Amendment goes, it includes what are now referred to as the Citizenship Clause, the Privileges Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. In short, it says that everyone born in the United States is a full citizen, with the full rights due to a citizen, and can't be deprived of those rights unless they're given due process of law. All of this makes the 14th Amendment integral to questions of citizenship, and foundational for Civil Rights legislation. It's such an important amendment, that legal scholars have called it "the second Constitution" for its attempts to tear out the elements of slavery built into the original document. Among other things, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 rests entirely on the authority granted to Congress by the 14th Amendment.

For clarity, here's Section 1 of the 14th Amendment.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

That's not just pretty straightforward, it's a pretty undeniable good. So how did it come to be that when Barrett writes about this text, she mentions it in this way.

"Congress has to decide whether to … rely on the power conferred by the possibly illegitimate Fourteenth Amendment." Or … "The originalist legislator might have to face questions … such as the legitimacy of the Fourteenth Amendment."

How did originalists, the people who are supposed to be following the text as written, come to doubt the legitimacy of a whole chunk of that text? Specifically, how did they come to X-out the part of the Constitution that ensures rights are extended to people of color and children of immigrants?

Back in 2011, The Atlantic took a look at this question and how conservative Republicans became "14th Amendment deniers." For some Republicans, the 14th Amendment was viewed as being only intended to help those who had been directly enslaved, and not applicable to future generations. This view has become common in right-wing media, and sorry as that sounds, it's not even the most radical view.

The even uglier approach has been to outright challenge the validity of 14th Amendment because members of Confederate states were not seated in Congress when the amendment was proposed just after the end of the Civil War. Because of this, say the deniers, the Congress itself was illegitimate, and so anything it recommended—including the 14th and 15th Amendments—are illegitimate.

This is not even worthy of being called a "myth." There is not the least bit of justification under law to support this position. There never has been. However, this claim has become deeply embedded in the whole Lost Cause, South Shall Rise Again, Back to the Cotton Fields culture of conservatives—especially Southern conservatives. And just like Confederate statues, this mythology has found admirers in the modern Republican Party.

How far has it gone in the past? Far enough that in 1957, Georgia's state legislature passed a resolution titled "A memorial to Congress of the United States of America urging them to enact such legislation as they may deem fit to declare that the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution of the United States were never validly adopted and that they are null and void and of no effect." The reason that Georgia did this in 1957 was simple—it wanted to uphold segregation, and it rightfully understood that the 14th Amendment made that position impossible.

To be absolutely clear, there is nothing in textual originalism that requires adherents to view the 14th or 15th Amendments as any less legitimate than any other additions to the original document. The idea of the "illegitimate 14th Amendment" is simply not a serious legal argument. It is white supremacist mythology that has gained supporters within the Republican Party specifically because it presents the basis by which all Civil Rights legislation can be undone.

That Barrett brings up questions of the 14th Amendment being legitimate in her writings with considerable frequency and apparent support should be an absolute bullhorn to the nation that she believes all Civil Rights legislation to rest on thin air. While Barrett has listed Brown vs. Board of Education among those Court decisions she regards as "super-precedents," she voted in 2017 to refuse a re-hear a case in which a company segregated employees by race to different locations. She has clearly stated her opposition to marriage equality, denied that rights extend to transgender Americans, and all that is on top of her direct threat to Roe.

Amy Coney Barrett stands as a threat to not just everything Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg achieved in her career, but to work that has been upheld by many members of the court—Democrats and Republicans—over the last half-century and more. She's not an originalist, she's an "eraserist."

Bolton says he wanted to release information during impeachment — but was blocked by White House

John Bolton wrote a book. That seems kind of hard to remember now, but you may recall it as the one that came out just before the one from Donald Trump’s niece that confirms Trump as “the dumbest student” his school had ever seen, and before the book by Bob Woodward that explains how Trump knew about the deadliness of COVID-19, but decided to ignore it because he thought it would be a political “win.” But it was definitely after the 40-something other books (not kidding) about Trump. Somewhere in there.

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Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley drop their Biden bombshell — and it's an absolute dud

For months, Republican Senator Ron Johnson has promised to deliver a body blow to Joe Biden. Like the report being put together by William Barr and John Durham, this was one of multiple efforts to “prove” the conspiracy theories about Biden and Ukraine. That would be the same conspiracy theories that Trump tried to force Ukraine to back through an extortion scheme that ended up getting him impeached.

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Ranking the possible nominees for Trump and McConnell's fast-tracked route to the Supreme Court

In a just universe, Republicans would be held to the “rule” they created in 2016, and there would be no Supreme Court nominee until 2021. Then Joe Biden could nominate Rep. Ilhan Omar. Sure, Omar doesn't have a law degree, but cleaning up all the exploding right-wing skulls would make a good jobs program, and be a great boost to the nation in so many ways. Then Omar could withdraw, Biden could nominate Sherrilyn Ifill or Cecillia Wang, and Republicans can act relieved, while we all go home happy.

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