Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


THE JAN 6 REPORT'S KEY FINDING: TRUMP ENABLED MILITIA GROUPS: First and foremost, the report busts a myth promoted by right-wing apologists that because some insurrectionists began the assault on the Capitol before Trump concluded his “Stop the Steal” speech, he was not the inspiration for the attack. Wrong. Chapter 6 details the degree to which members of extremist groups (e.g., Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters) seized upon Trump’s “big lie” of a stolen election. They heard his call to come to D.C. and believed he wanted them to do what was needed to keep him in power. The Proud Boys planned to move ahead of the crowd, which later — at Trump’s instruction — followed them down Pennsylvania Avenue. In Chapter 8, the report details the early removal of barricades at the Peace Circle by the Proud Boys and their associates. That cleared the way for thousands of protesters to move down Pennsylvania Avenue directly to the Capitol. That provides evidence of the meticulous preparation that went into the assault. Moreover, several people in Trump’s inner circle were intimately involved with the insurrectionists. This includes former White House advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Michael Flynn and Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone. These individuals met with members of extremist groups, encouraged them to act and amplified their message. Bannon, of course, had a direct line to the president. (The committee reports that the two communicated on Jan. 5.) Trump was also in regular contact with Stone. The report does not connect Trump to the armed insurrectionists directly, but it gets alarmingly close. This was a genuine conspiracy (unlike wacky QANON bullshit), an effort to engineer a coup to allow Trump to remain in power. In virtually any other country, the leader of such an effort would be in jail. But here we are two years later, watching this idiot plan for another campaign.

NO RESOLUTIONS FOR ME, BUT HERE'S HOPING THERE WILL BE A RECKONING FOR TRUMP: I resolve to neither renew old New Year’s resolutions nor add any new ones. I do, however, fervently wish that 2023 will bring about a reckoning between Donald Trump and the law; that in the new year, the former president will be called to account for betraying his oath of office — and, if there is sufficient evidence to prove he has committed other crimes, that he be indicted. Neither is too much to hope for, and both are much desired. Trump, who is divisive and demagogic at home and favors autocratic regimes abroad, is the United States’ greatest scourge on public service in the 21st century. It was the most violent domestic attack on the U.S. government since the Civil War. There it was: a mob seeking to delay and disrupt a joint session of Congress empowered by the Constitution to transfer presidential power. This is not after-the-fact guesswork. We learned what happened not only from the report by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, but also through our own eyes and ears. It was not our imagination: We witnessed mobs clashing with and overtaking the police. We saw them storming the Capitol building, climbing scaffolding and smashing windows. We saw one carrying a full-size Confederate battle flag into the building. As commander in chief, Trump had the capacity to marshal the power of the U.S. government to stop the blatant attack on a constitutional process. For more than three hours — 187 minutes, as the committee clocked it — Trump sat back and didn’t lift a finger. Despite his sworn obligation to “protect and defend the Constitution,” Trump shamefully and shamelessly violated his oath. Partisan GOP grousing and Trump’s witch-hunt claims notwithstanding, the Garland-led Justice Department can be expected to follow the facts and the law in reaching decisions about Trump and his confederates. Here’s hoping 2023 will see Trump meeting at the bar of justice, with verdicts to follow. Your mouth to God's ears, Colbert. But I'm not holding my breath.

THE COMING BATTLE FOR THE RACIST VOTE IN AMERICA: The sight of dishevelled, travel-worn refugees stuffed into buses and dropped off on to the curb with nothing and no one excites the hearts of the racist spectators. The governor – in his bid to win their support – offers them the sight of “foreigners” forced to drink from toilets in the borderlands that once belonged to their ancestors. What is offered to the racists – what is always offered to the racists – is nostalgia. The stealing of babies and distributing them across the country without record and without any hope for their parents to find them reassembles the slave auction sites. With “family separation” the mob is treated to their own modern version of the scenes of wailing in slave quarters. On this side, his lance polished, his name sung in every county that hosted a lynching, his banner raised in every small town that owes its present demographic makeup to the hundreds of 19th and 20th-century pogroms which chased Black and Indigenous people out of its borders with torches, is the former president. He, with his signature flapping wig, needs no introduction. The former president will argue that he doesn’t just talk about it, he is about it. He is a “man of action”, of high energy, “manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them”. It was he who strode in carrying white nationalism like a banner, exciting white supremacist activists around the globe from Canada to Australia. It was he who rode in with no resistance as the American media then, as now, was no more willing or equipped to examine, recognise or even call out a national white supremacist movement than those American journalists of the 1920s who praised Adolf Hitler as a young “magnetic speaker”. Apparently befuddled, the American media – or that part of it which is not openly part of the lynch mob – is forced to make up a nonsense word: Trumpism. Their patriotism, their dedication to the famously racist state always overriding their interest in informing the traditionally targeted populations and naming what is patently obvious: an American Nazi movement. The former president did what racist politicians like George Wallace and David Duke dreamed of doing but fell well short of. For this reason, he has the right – he indirectly claims – to the racists’ hearts. Al Jazeera doesn't pull any punches, and I find it quite refreshing from time to time.

2022 GAVE US A NEW SOCIAL MEDIA AUTOCRAT: Like millions of people around the world, I have been closely following the debacle at Twitter since Elon Musk took the company over. Not only do I fear the loss of a space for free debate and access to information – especially valuable for those of us from not-so-free places. But as a political cartoonist, I am also afraid of losing the platform where I and many of my peers started our activism during the Arab Spring, which made Twitter what it is today. Perhaps this turn of events was inevitable. For a while now, the tech industry has been cultivating personality cults. It started with Steve Jobs and his carefully constructed image of an open, curious innovator who in reality presided over “one of the tightest-controlled corporations” in the world. While Jobs stayed away from politics, the tech bros that have come after him, pursuing iconic status, have not. Their fervent quests to grow their fortunes and their egos have pushed them onto the political scene and exposed their self-serving agendas. Musk made his political intentions for the Twitter takeover quite apparent, tweeting in May – while the deal was still not concluded – a painting of Louis XIV, the “Sun King”. A self-declared “free-speech absolutist”, he crowned himself the new “enlightened” king of social media and declared that he will set Twitter “free”. But watching him act and react over the past two months, I see him much less as a “Sun King reigning over a flourishing kingdom, and much more as a little modern-day dictator presiding over a crumbling regime. Just like an ambitious power usurper, he started his takeover of Twitter by talking about “democracy” and the “will of the people”, but made a mockery out of them. He quickly transformed what he himself called “the digital town square” into his own private back yard, where he rules supreme. Just like a classic dictator, Musk has also shown no tolerance for dissent and criticism. He has reportedly fired employees for daring to speak up against his decisions within the company or on social media. Just like a wannabe autocrat, Musk is seeking to extract as much wealth as possible by merciless exploitation. He has cancelled benefits, forced employees into endless working days and even installed beds in the Twitter headquarters to squeeze any living energy out of them for the benefit of his company. And like a good tyrant, he has overseen an exodus of people from his domain, some leaving voluntarily, others being forced into “exile”. I endorse this message. Elon Musk is a disgusting human being, the easily predictable product of Apartheid, regardless of his suspect Progressive credentials during that period.

DEMOCRACY WON 2022. CAN IT KEEP ON WINNING? We have become so accustomed to bad news, crisis and dysfunction that it’s hard to accept the ways in which 2022 was a surprisingly good year for democracy, innovative government action and even a degree of social peace. Can we build on the good news in 2023? Yes, but it will take a lot of creative work because Washington will soon become much more of a partisan battlefield and because the global forces working against democratic advances will try to recoup their losses. Accepting that things have improved is almost never fashionable. It’s bad for page views and it carries the whiff of complacency. It’s safer to say that things are a mess because there are always so many injustices to be confronted and so much human suffering to be relieved. There’s also this: Since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, we’ve suffered from a frenzied addiction to the prospect of ruin. But supporters of democratic governments and societies will never right the world’s wrongs without confidence that democracy itself can work — and unless a majority of citizens sees evidence that this is true. In 2022, the evidence began accumulating. Government is building things again on a large scale. As it did in the era after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the United States is using public outlays to make the nation more technologically competitive. And the push for green energy shows there are ways to avert a planetary climate calamity while also restoring our manufacturing prowess. Finally, the skeptics who said that campaigning on democracy in the midterm elections was a foolish strategy for Democrats were proved wrong. The GOP’s red wave failed to materialize for many reasons — Supreme Court overreach, especially on abortion, was a factor, and the actual achievements of a Democratic president and Congress counted, too. But democracy mattered. The Republican candidates rejected by voters tended to be the most extreme, the ones especially committed to Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, and those least ready for office. There should be no compromising in the battle for U.S. democracy and voting rights. The broad middle of the American electorate sent a clear message that there is no rational reason to make voting harder, let alone wage a running battle against honest election administrators. Republicans should be pressed to choose: Trumpism or democracy? Bolding mine, because I have often blogged about the most recent Trump outrage du jour, and that constant barrage of rottenness is soul-sucking. But neither James nor I are fluffy-bunny people, or head-in-the-sand ostriches. But you gotta have a little lettuce with that fatback, if you want to stay healthy. I'll try to do better.


JANE LANG: THE PERILS OF HOME OWNERSHIP: A house ages along with its owner and, after 30 — or 50 — years, suffers similar interior and exterior maintenance issues, often very expensive and hard to sort out. In a traditional single-family home, the stairs become a challenge and risk to homeowners in their 70s or 80s, turning the home into a prison for some. Absent financial resources, or the channels to deploy them, to make the home accessible, the chores doable and the repairs imaginable, the homeowners’ safety and quality of life might deteriorate and their social connections fail. The task of clearing out a lifetime’s accumulated possessions and detritus is overwhelming mentally and emotionally, so moving becomes unthinkable. These problems and tasks then devolve upon their children, if they have them. I reluctantly sold my house in my 70s, then unexpectedly morphed into a grateful renter. There are many ways to enjoy aging, or at least to minimize the more intractable burdens. Renting is one of them. I am on the verge of paying my house off in a few months, and have about $15,000 in repair projects to finance after that. New roof, new floor in one of the rooms, a few plumbing issues. But I'm still glad I decided to buy instead of rent.

JAMES PURCELL: UKRAINIANS AND AFGHANS NEED HELP NOW TO STAY IN THE U.S.: More than 200,000 besieged Afghans and Ukrainians were rescued and brought to this country under “humanitarian parole” in 2022. As their time to legally remain in that status runs out, they face horrendous consequences unless help comes soon. Appropriations for Adjustment Acts for both groups were proposed by the Biden administration but excluded in the recent end-of-year omnibus legislation; therefore, the Afghans and Ukrainians await a questionable future in the next Congress. Almost unprecedented private support exists for both groups in this country, as reported by the Dec. 19 news article “Retired officers press for Afghan act” and Karyna Falko’s Dec. 26 letter, “A Ukrainian refugee deadline.” Of the Afghans, Adm. Mike Mullen said, “If anything should be above politics, this should be it.” Of the Ukrainians, Ms. Falko said, “Because of the dates we arrived, we are not eligible for either temporary protected status or the Uniting for Ukraine program.” Both groups would be subject to deportation unless help arrives. The United States made promises to both groups but is falling short. For the sake of humanity, it is essential that our nation keep its word. Either Congress must immediately approve Adjustment Acts for Afghans and Ukrainians, or both groups should immediately be awarded refugee status under the provisions of the 1980 Refugee Act (which would provide permanence, status and necessary support without additional authorizing legislation). I agree, wholeheartedly.

RICHARD MOTT: ONE PARTY IS RESPONSIBLE, NOT BOTH: The Dec. 20 front-page article “Studies find partisan politics can affect people’s well-being” brought needed attention to the growing cost in human lives of anti-science conservatism. But the article erred in attributing this to “partisan politics” and to political polarization: “Researchers say the result of this growing polarization is clear: The nation’s overall health profile is going from bad to worse.” The recent rise in U.S. mortality is not a two-party problem: It stems entirely from the extreme positions of a single political party. Consider, for example, the Dec. 18 Politics & the Nation article “DeSantis does an about-face on covid vaccines,” about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) decision to oppose the vaccines. To the extent polarization comes into play at all, progressive policies aimed at saving lives offset the conservative trends. Instead of suggesting that “both sides” are responsible for the tragic increase in U.S. mortality, better to keep a laser focus on the single party whose policies are killing Americans. Yeah, this crap is tiresome. Democrats have introduced countless bills and policies to improve citizens' health and welfare, and Republicans have fought every damn one of them. Don't try to obscure the obvious, it's infuriating.



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That is all...