GOP Senators’ Choice: Convict, or be Complicit

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Jefferson, NH – 2021 photo by Dorothy Benjamin Bell

Long time blog reader David P. commented on Thursday’s column about the demographics of the Capitol insurrectionists:

“This analysis suggests that they look like the folks who the rest of us see at the grocery store, gas pump or PTA meeting (especially if we live in a county where Trump scored 40-60 % of the vote). Not “those people,” but “our people”…..neighbors.”

Following up on the idea that these are our neighbors, Political Violence at a Glance (PVG) says that we should be focusing on movements not groups. Movements are often the lifeblood of militant groups, but the groups often die out before the movements. The movement can remain, inspiring both groups and individuals to act on their own.

And PVG says that recent violence in the US has tended to come more from individuals linked to broader movements.

Does this compute with what we saw at the Capitol? We learned that only 10% of the rioters were members of militias or militant groups. That means 90% were as David P. says, our neighbors, albeit our right-wing neighbors.

Let’s link this idea up with the findings of a new poll by the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The AEI conducted a survey of 2,016 US adults between Jan. 21 and Jan. 30. They found that politically motivated violence has the support of a significant share of the US public: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“….nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that, “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

The use of violence has more support among Republicans than Democrats. Only 17% of Democrats support taking violent action along with 31% of Independents. Here are more findings:

  • 66% of Republicans say Biden was not legitimately elected:

  • 75% of high-school educated Republicans don’t think Biden won the election.
  • About 60% of white evangelicals said that Biden was not legitimately elected, and don’t think that Trump encouraged the attack on the Capitol. These views were not held by most white mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, or Catholics.
  • 27% of white evangelicals said it was mostly or completely accurate to say Trump “has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.”
  • 55% of Republicans support the use of force to prevent a further decline of the traditional American way of life.

The AEI poll shows us that Republicans have become a fringe group of extremists, embracing conspiracy theories that support their basic world view that everyone is against them. Their worldview persists even when it’s clear that our political system is heavily stacked in favor of conservative white people: The Senate, the federal courts, Republican gerrymandering of state legislatures, and the most-viewed media.

So, how are these sentiments playing in the show trial happening in the US Senate? This is the oath that each Senator took:

“I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God.”

So far, the evidence to convict in the trial is overwhelming, but it’s certain that the Senate won’t convict Trump. This is because many of these so-called “impartial” jurors acted throughout the post-election period as accomplices to Trump’s Big Lie about the election. They have no defense. There is only complicity, whether motivated by their fear of their base, or by sharing in the conspiracy

And the House managers have forced every Republican Senator to feel that complicity. The Republicans reflect what the AEI poll shows about their constituents. They are now a Party largely defined by conspiracy theories and irrationality.

The Senators sitting as jurors are facing this choice:

Photo by Erin Scott for Reuters

JFK’s 1956 book “Profiles in Courage” was only 272 pages, mostly because political courage is rare. Politicians want to be re-elected, so they have no intention of convicting Trump. They will be complicit in his effort at sedition. But they must be confronted; they can’t be let off the hook.

After Trump is exonerated, each Republican Senator must face an uphill fight to win reelection. This cannot be dropped down the memory hole.

Republicans won’t voluntarily morph into a responsible governing force simply by walking away from Trump. Think about those white male voters who didn’t get beyond high school: They prefer conspiracy and violence against their enemies.

Will Republicans confront the truth about these people? You know, their neighbors and our neighbors, or will they continue to surrender to them?

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Demographics of the Insurrection

The Daily Escape:

Winter at Oak Creek, Sedona, AZ – 2021 photo by mwinaz3106

With the impeachment trial underway, we’re seeing lots of video of the insurrectionists. Now, more than a month later, what do we know about the people who attacked the US Capitol on January 6? The truth is, we don’t know a whole lot, because we can only examine the demographics of those who have been arrested.

But that number has been growing, and two University of Chicago political scientists Robert A. Pape and Keven Ruby, have analyzed the demographics of 193 individuals arrested for entering the Capitol. Here are some characteristics of those arrested on January 6:

  • They are 94% white, and 86% male.
  • By age, 32% are between 35 to 44, 24% are aged 45 to 54, and 12% are 55-plus.
  • By economic status, 9% are unemployed, 27% are white-collar workers, and 13% business owners.
  • 10% are members of a right-wing militia/violent group.

Pape and Ruby have been studying right-wing violence for years, and they say the characteristics of those arrested on Jan. 6 are different from those arrested for right-wing violence in prior years. They are older, less likely to be unemployed, and less likely to be affiliated with right-wing groups.

They conclude that the differences are troubling because:

“Pro-Trump activists joined with the far right to form a new kind of violent mass movement….This is not about a few hundred arrests,….We need to understand who we are dealing with in the new movement. Targeting pre-2021 far-right organizations will not solve the problem.”

Pape and Ruby warn that the ingredients are there for a violent mass movement to grow. The ingredients are:

  • A leader (Trump) willing to engage in extra-legal activity.
  • Grievances perceived by large numbers of people (the “stolen” election).
  • A deadly focal point event (January 6).

An important finding from the Pape and Ruby study was that more than half came from counties that were won by Biden. And nearly 17% came from counties that Trump won with less than 60% of the vote. They found that 39% of suspected insurrectionists came from battleground counties, where Trump received between 40 and 60% of the vote, while 12% came from counties where less than 60% of the population is white. More from the study: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Importantly, our statistics show that the larger the absolute number of Trump voters in a county—regardless of whether he won it—the more likely it was to be home to a Capitol arrestee. Big metropolitan centers where Biden won overwhelmingly…still have hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters. A third of suspected insurrectionists come from such counties; another quarter come from suburban counties of large metro areas.”

They conclude:

“This breakdown mirrors the American population as a whole—and that is the point. If you presumed that only the reddest parts of America produce potential insurrectionists, you would be incorrect.”

Again, we’re dealing with limited data, but Trump has actively been fomenting division for the past five years. He has been aided and abetted by most of the Republican Party. This has made the people who attacked the Capitol and those around America who still think that Trump won the election into a bunch of entitled assholes who have no regard for democracy.

The bottom line is that regardless of their financial histories, they feel that they’ve been wronged. They’ve developed a grievance, and they tend to connect that to a broader issue, in this case, Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

But in what world is being a fuckup somehow a reason to riot? How did that get to be the government’s fault? Or the fault of Pelosi and Pence, the people they wanted to assassinate at the Capitol?

Life is hard for everyone, but not everyone gears up and invades the Capitol.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 8, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Winter pond, near Bragg Creek, Alberta, CN – photo by Frank King Photos

Trump’s second impeachment trial starts tomorrow. There is the one charge, “incitement”, and the defenses to that charge will be tossed around a lot over the rest of the week.

The defense will start by saying that there can’t be a trial because Trump is no longer president. That will be shot down.

Beyond that, their main argument will be that Trump didn’t incite anyone, that he was simply exercising his Free Speech rights. They will argue that: Donald Trump did not say, “Invade the Capitol.” Donald Trump did not say, “Break windows.” Donald Trump did not say, “Engage in violence.” He did not say, “Insurrection.” He did not say, “Riot.”

He certainly didn’t say those things, so what’s the rebuttal to the argument?

The House impeachment managers need to make a case that regular people can understand about what incitement is, and what actions would meet a legal definition of incitement.

University of Michigan law professor Len Liehoff laid out the incitement legal criteria in the Detroit Free Press:

  • The speech must be directed toward producing action.
  • It must be likely to result in such action.
  • The action must be unlawful.
  • And the action advocated for must be imminent.

Liehoff explained using a Supreme Court case:

“…the law has developed a very specific and relatively narrow definition of incitement. That definition comes from the US Supreme Court’s 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio. In the case…Clarence Brandenburg addressed a gathering of Ku Klux Klan members in a field. In a speech that included racist and anti-Semitic remarks, Brandenburg bemoaned the fate of Caucasians, made a vague reference to “revengeance,” and announced that Klan members planned to march in Washington, DC on Independence Day.”

Liehoff goes on: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Court held that speech like Brandenburg’s could be criminally punished only where “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

Liehoff explains the general idea: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“If I urge you to do something unlawful next Saturday, then you’ll have plenty of time to consider it and talk yourself out of it. But if I spur you to do something now, it tends to short-circuit the reasoning process. You don’t think, you just go.”

Trump’s words and actions on Jan. 6 meet these criteria. As Rep. Liz Cheney, (R-WY) said:

“There’s no question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”

The unmistakable message was that people should go to the Capitol and disrupt the proceedings in an attempt to keep Trump in office. And that is unlawful conduct. The Senate really is deciding one question: Were the events that followed Trump’s rally the likely result?

Liehoff says they were the inevitable result.

The right loves to attack the left for their speech and actions. The Trump defense team has already said it plans to use videos of Democrats to create a false equivalency. They will attempt to show Democrats using inflammatory language during the BLM demonstrations last summer. They will try to use these same criteria to show Trump did nothing more than Democrats did. That’s untrue, and unequivalent.

The trial could take longer than expected, since David Schoen, a lead member of Trump’s defense team requested that the trial be suspended during the Jewish Sabbath so that he can meet his obligations as an observant Jew.

Will Trump be convicted for incitement? Probably not, since so many Republican Senators have already made up their minds. In essence, we’ll be watching a trial with a rigged jury.

So time to wake up America! Even if the Senate won’t convict, there are other pending cases against Trump. Remember that should he get convicted for money laundering, he won’t be able to hold public office either.

To help you wake up, listen and watch the Black Pumas do a much better live version of their song “Colors” that was played at the Biden inaugural celebration.

This is absolutely beautiful, and is the perfect song if the country has aspirations of unity.

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Super Bowl Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 7, 2021

Buzzfeed reports that the right-wing social media platform Parler offered Trump a stake in the company if he would post exclusively with them:

“Talks between members of Trump’s campaign and Parler about Trump’s potential involvement began last summer, and were revisited in November by the Trump Organization after Trump lost the 2020 election….Documents seen by BuzzFeed News show that Parler offered the Trump Organization a 40% stake in the company.”

Parler was focused on building a social network that would serve as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter by taking a much more lax approach to content moderation. By late 2020, it had become a go-to online gathering place for hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and believers in the QAnon mass delusion. It also had attracted prominent Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Devin Nunes.

The deal was never finalized, and the discussion was derailed when Parler was deplatformed after the Jan. 6 coup attempt.

Still, some legal experts say Trump could have legal trouble. Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, said it warranted an immediate criminal investigation:

“A company’s mere act of offering a stake for the president’s participation looks unethical and deserves further scrutiny….If the offer included anything of value…that would almost certainly be illegal, and he should be held accountable.”

Trump “accountable’? Never happening. Enjoy the Super Bowl, if that’s your thing. On to cartoons.

New rules for this Super Bowl:

The snake charmer is about to lose:

The GOP just can’t quit her:

Republican logic:

More GOP hypocrisy:

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Saturday Soother – Graham’s Stalling on Garland Edition, February 6, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Quail Mountain, Joshua Tree NP -2020 photo by sandinthehourglass

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou

Are you wondering about why Merrick Garland hasn’t been confirmed as Attorney General? It’s because Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Judge Garland. He blamed the Senate’s second Trump impeachment trial that starts next week.

Graham had the power to keep the Garland hearing off the calendar because he remained chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee until the new Senate organizing resolution was passed last Wednesday. While he ran the committee, Graham denied a request from the incoming committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to hold hearings for Garland starting on Monday, February 8. The impeachment trial starts on the 9th.

Graham insisted that the Senate’s plan to begin Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday meant that there would not be enough time to hold Garland’s hearing. Graham said to Durbin:

“Your request is highly unusual….the Senate is about to conduct its first ever impeachment trial of a former president, and only its fourth trial of a president, incumbent or not…But you want us to rush through Judge Garland’s hearing on February 8….An impeachment is no small thing. It requires the Senate’s complete focus,”

Of course, Graham isn’t clean on this. The new AG will be responsible for overseeing any prosecutions that come out of the attempt to overturn the election, and the Senate Judiciary Committee includes three Republican Senators involved in that attempt. Graham was accused by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of asking Raffensperger to alter the state’s vote count back in November. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) both challenged the counting of Electoral Votes.

Marcy Wheeler reports that one of the last things Graham did before turning over the reins was to send a letter to Trump’s Acting AG Monty Wilkinson urging him not to stop work on two investigations:

“We have two properly predicated, ongoing investigations Democrats would rather go away: Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the investigation by the Delaware U.S. Attorney’s Office into Hunter Biden….I…respectfully request that you refrain from interfering in any way with either investigation while the Senate processes the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the position of Attorney General….”

Graham raises this even though there hasn’t been a peep about these investigations from the Biden Administration. Instead, this may only be relevant because Hunter Biden has a book deal. It’s apparently about his problems with addiction, and comes out in April.

It’s hard to see this as anything except more of an effort by Trumpy Republicans to continue the conspiracy theories Trump waved around in the weeks leading up to the presidential election. In spite of bipartisan support for Garland, Graham’s delaying tactics mean that the DOJ may not have a confirmed Attorney General until late February or early March. Garland is a centrist, the kind of AG you would expect Republicans would welcome as a Democratic nominee. Instead, Republican Senators have sought to prevent or delay his appointments many times.

We all remember how they wouldn’t consider Obama’s nomination of Garland to the Supreme Court because it was 11 months before a newly elected administration would take office.

Few remember that, in September, 1995 when Joe Biden chaired the Judiciary Committee, Garland was nominated to the US Circuit Court of Appeals. But then-minority leader Bob Dole (R-KS) filibustered the nomination. No vote was taken.

In 1997, Clinton renominated Garland, and the Judiciary Committee, then led by Orrin Hatch (R-UT), recommended confirmation, and the Senate, then led by majority leader Bob Dole, confirmed him to the Appeals Court. But, Mitch McConnell was one of 23 “no” votes against Garland.

What is it with Republicans and Merrick Garland?

Time to forget about politics. Here in Connecticut, we’re still digging out from about 18″ of snow that is finally starting to melt. It’s Saturday, and we need to make it to tomorrow, when America will huddle in front of our TVs and worship a bowl of guacamole: Brady, or Mahomes?

To help you get through until then, let’s start by brewing up a cup of Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha coffee ($56.00/8 ounces), from the brewers at Chicago’s Big Shoulders Coffee. It is said to be sweet-tart with a very full, syrupy mouthfeel, and a flavor-saturated finish resonates on and on. YMMV.

Now, settle back in a chair by a window and watch Mumford & Sons play their cover of the Nine Inch Nails tune, “Hurt”, performed live at the 2019 Rock Werchter Festival. This song was covered most notably by Johnny Cash just before his death:

Marcus Mumford’s voice can heal just about anything. It’s needed in this time of global grief.

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Myanmar Coup Parallels Trump’s Coup

The Daily Escape:

Last light on Mt. St. John, MT – 2021 photo by vincentledvina

Tuesday was the deadline for Trump’s brand-new legal team to present their briefs to the Senate for the impeachment trial that is due to start next Monday. The House impeachment managers have delivered their trial brief to the Senate.

And Trump’s lawyers filed their answer, arguing his incitement was protected by the First Amendment, that the House moved too quickly to impeach, and although he was impeached while still President, the Senate can’t constitutionally try him now that he’s out of office.

As we head into next week’s impeachment circus, there are parallels between the attempted Trump coup in DC and the military coup that just took place in Myanmar. First, an update: Troops there are patrolling the streets and a night-time curfew is in force. A one-year state of emergency was declared with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in control. Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of the government, along with several other leaders of her National League for Democracy party (NLD) were arrested in a series of raids. Later, the military announced that 24 ministers and deputies had been removed, and 11 replacements had been named, including in finance, health, and the interior and foreign affairs.

It’s unclear what will happen next.

But, check out the similarities between what has happened there, compared to what happened here three weeks ago in Washington:

  • The military coup follows weeks of tensions between the armed forces and the government following parliamentary elections lost by the army-backed opposition party.
  • The opposition had demanded a re-run of the election, raising allegations of widespread fraud that were not confirmed by Myanmar’s electoral commission.
  • The coup occurred on the week that the first session of Parliament since the election was due to start. That session would have certified the election result by seating the next government.

What differentiates Myanmar from the Jan. 6 coup in America is that in Myanmar, there was an “army-backed opposition.” When the opposition lost the election, the military claimed fraud, demanded a do-over, and then intervened before the new Parliament could legitimize the results.

Apparently in Myanmar, there has been an ongoing power struggle between the head of the military and Aung San Suu Kyi. The two have rarely met since 2015, often only at public events. Suu Kyi’s party wasn’t simply a victim in this coup. Last November, her government barred huge numbers of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, who typically support their own political parties, from participating in national elections. Her party then won in a landslide.

And last year, Suu Kyi attempted to push through constitutional amendments that would have gradually shrunk the military’s share of Parliament from 25% to 5%. It failed, but this may have been what turned the military against her.

One lesson to take from Myanmar as we head into next week’s impeachment trial is that Trump’s coup may have failed because he didn’t have the support of the US military.

All of our institutions matter, they need to be strong. While they can be bureaucratic, inefficient, and boring, they always matter. Trump tried to use the courts to overturn the election, and failed. He tried to use the state-level electoral vote certification process to overturn the election, and failed. He tried to use his base to invade the US Capitol to block the certification of the Electoral College Vote on Jan. 6, and it failed.

Trump couldn’t use the US military to overturn the election despite a significant number of military supporting him, and believing that the election was rigged. That’s because the US military has never been a political tool, and it wasn’t going to change that by being a tool for Trump.

America isn’t Myanmar. In many less developed countries the military has an important political role. We’re in an entirely different situation, at least for the present, and hopefully, forever.

The fight for American democracy cannot be left to election officials, judges, or corporations like Twitter. It must first be fought by the Republican Party, many of whom still say the presidential election was a fraud, and who still refuse to acknowledge Biden as president. They have to reject their Sedition Caucus. Then Democrats and Republicans together can reset the terms of the political battle in America.

Democracy is a contest of ideas; it isn’t simply a propaganda war. It must start from a shared reality, one that Trump and his followers fail to see.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Fire the Lawyers Edition, February 1, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai HI – photo by cosmosch. Called the “Grand Canyon” of Hawaii.

From CNN:

“…Trump’s five impeachment defense attorneys have left a little more than a week before his trial is set to begin, according to people familiar with the case, amid a disagreement over his legal strategy.”

CNN said that Trump wanted the attorneys to argue there had been massive election fraud and that the presidential election was stolen from him, rather than focus on the legality of convicting a president after he’s left office. Also, the attorneys had not been paid any advance fees and their letter of intent was never signed.

Isn’t it predictable that Trump will refuse to employ the only semi-sound legal strategy available to him? He has a valid defense to say he had no intention to foment sedition, and besides, the Senate has no jurisdiction, since he’s a private citizen.

But instead, he wants to employ, with zero evidence, the “election was stolen” defense.

The House impeachment article charges Trump with “incitement of insurrection” in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a pro-Trump mob. Let’s hope that Trump tries to represent himself. It’s possible that an incompetent defense that doesn’t address the charge may be sufficient to allow 17 Republicans to vote to convict him.

OTOH, Trump may not know the law, but he knows this jury.

What went down at the Capitol was an insurrection, not a cotillion. So let’s watch those Republican sycophants listen to him spout more bullshit that he’s completely and obviously unable to prove.

The election was stolen strategy forces Trump to make an argument that the insurrection was “justified”, however nothing in the 2020 election justifies insurrection. But, he would just love that platform. One more chance to put himself in front of the cameras, and play to his base. One more chance for them to declare Trump a victim.

But what would he say when being sworn in? He’s asked to swear to tell the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. Opinions differ.

There’s no reason he has to be represented by a lawyer. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. However, it is likely that ethics rules would cover the actions of a lawyer representing Trump at the impeachment trial. As non-lawyer, Trump would not be so constrained.

Testifying on his own behalf may be the best chance that enough Senate Republicans could be shamed into convicting him. Let him face 100 Senators with the argument that he actually won by millions of vapor votes.

Eventually, when there is a roll call vote, the choice is either to vote “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”. But the two real choices facing Republican Senators are “Do I show minimal integrity, or utter debasement?” We’ll see if once again, they’ll choose the latter.

Trump knows it’s likely that there are 45 Senate votes in the bag to acquit. He just wants to continue the Big Lie propaganda war. Trump’s already using the stolen election and attempted coup as a Creation Myth for his political movement.

But the facts of the case are well known to everyone. We were all eyewitnesses. And the Senate will vote according to some combination of conscience and political necessity, regardless of evidence or arguments.

If conviction of the one count of Impeachment doesn’t happen, let’s at least look forward to a criminal indictment of Trump on seditious activity. It could happen as the DOJ learns more about the coordination by the coup leaders, and their connection to Trump.

Time to wake up America! Once again we will take a roll call vote that shows how craven the Republican Party has become.

To help you wake up, Wrongo returns to a live performance by the Killers doing their anthem “When You Were Young” performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in London, just over a decade ago. Wrongo has said before that British crowds are the best. It makes the Killers’ Live at The Royal Albert Hall an all-time favorite live rock performance.

The crowd knows the music, the band is energized throughout. See the entire concert if you have time. They picked the venue specifically for the DVD, then made tickets available through various chapters of their fan clubs. Everybody in that crowd is a die-hard fan.

Here is “When You Were Young”:

Make sure to catch the “Song Exploder” episode on Netflix that delves into the making of the song.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 31, 2021

Trump left office with numerous lawsuits against both him and his administration still pending. That was part of a run-out-the-clock strategy to avoid accountability while president.

Shortly after Trump’s presidency ended, so too did the two lawsuits claiming he used the Oval Office to enrich himself, violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause barring federal officeholders from accepting certain gifts and payments while in office.

Some legal actions, like efforts to obtain his tax returns, are continuing, but experts say that while he was in office, Trump’s run out the clock strategy worked. Before Trump took office, it was rare for presidents to petition the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of a lower court ruling. Those stays had the effect of allowing a federal policy to go forward while a legal challenge plays out. Trump treated these requests as a standard litigation tactic. From the Hill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The combined administrations of former Presidents GW Bush and Obama made just eight such requests over 16 years, with only four requests being granted.

In Trump’s first three years in office, his Justice Department asked for 29 emergency stays. In response, the court granted relief 17 times. A number of stays were still in effect when Trump’s term ended Jan. 20, meaning a final ruling is unlikely to ever be reached in the underlying cases…”

Exactly as envisioned by The Founders. On to cartoons.

Republicans will let him skate again:

The GOP elephant never remembers:

Some DC pets have been there a long time:

Republicans resume the position:

Evolution of the elephant:

Not so sleepy:

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Saturday Soother – January 30, 2021

The Daily Escape:

View of Torrance, CA from Palos Verdes, CA – January 2021 photo by Gary W. Stuart. A perfect reason to live in Palos Verdes, where Wrongo and Ms. Right lived for 10 years: Views of ocean and mountains on a rare crystal clear LA winter day. The San Gabriel Mountains in the background are ~35 miles away.

We’ve had a few bitter cold days on the snow-covered fields of Wrong. Friday morning, it was 6° with a 20+mph wind, making it a tough walk for the dog.

The emotional temperature is also icy in DC.  There is a growing rupture between Republicans who insist that the deadly Capitol riot was not the work of Trump supporters, and who insist on carrying concealed weapons onto the floor of the House, and Democrats who say they are afraid they’ll be harmed by those very same Republicans.

Since Republicans refuse to hold their colleagues accountable, some House Democrats have started refusing to work with some of their GOP counterparts, specifically those who favored the election sedition and who refuse to wear masks.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) is moving her office away from the office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Greene and her staff are berating and harassing the Congresswoman and her staff because they wear masks. Bush said:

“I’m moving my office away from hers for my team’s safety,”

Three weeks after the attack on the Capitol, and two weeks after the disgraced president was impeached for the second time, the GOP is wallowing in a debate over impeachment, trutherism, and… Jewish space lasers?

Yes to the Jewish space lasers: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is also a gun-toting’ QAnon disciple elected by the same Georgians who elected Biden. She says that California’s Camp Fire was started by a laser beam fired from space by “Rothschild Inc.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), sums up THE issue of 2021:

There were plenty of jokes made about the space lasers, but one thing that isn’t a joke is the palpable fear by Democrats who have to deal with this lunacy every day. We learned that the new acting head of the Capitol Police wants a wall around the Capitol:

“Vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing”

The acting head of the Capitol Police has no faith that we can satisfactorily explain to Republican-Americans that Biden was fairly elected. That his victory was reasonably large. That Trump and most of his enablers lied continually about the outcome of the election.

She thinks the only option is to put fences and razor wire around the Capitol to discourage people whose minds have been poisoned, from attacking it again. And our government may well follow her recommendation. We can’t harden a free society. Whatever you fence off will be “safe” while other places are open to attack. As Jonathan Last says,

“The fences and razor wire at the Capitol are the physical manifestation of the Republican lie. Every time you see them, remember Kevin McCarthy and Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz and…the hundreds of elected Republicans across the country who created this lie.”

The tragedy of Trump is that words and deeds, no matter how reckless or disconnected from the truth, carry no political consequences.

Organizer Bree Newsome translated Republicans’ current attitude:

“Sorry we tried to assassinate you & overthrow the election. We didn’t expect it to fail & create this awkwardness between us. Let’s move forward & get back to normal with us blocking any legislation you introduce while we continue to feed a racist terrorist movement. Love, GOP”

We live in disturbing times, but we must find ways to let go of the anger and fear, at least for a few moments on a Saturday. Outdoor activities are not recommended when the wind chill is below zero, so pick up that long read that you’ve been putting off, settle into a comfy chair and get going!

To help get you started, brew up a vente cup of Dafis Abafita Natural Ethiopia ($21.50/12 oz.) from Topeka Kansas’ PT Coffee Roasting Co. The roaster says you can taste mulberry, cocoa nib, tangerine zest, and agave syrup in the cup. Sounds like that cup is doing a lot of work!

Now put on your Bluetooth headphones and listen to “Born in the Right Country” by the group River Whyless, from the mean streets of Asheville, NC. This song is a powerful and elegantly drawn statement about racism in America. It’s a must-watch:

Sample lyric:

I’ll tell you baby a secret
Manufactured truth is easy to sell
When you own the factory
And you own the hearts of the clientele

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Are the Wrong People Manipulating the Market?

The Daily Escape

Green River covered bridge in Guildford, VT photo by jackalatch

Out of nowhere, we’re all hearing about “GameStop”. From The NYT:

“Traders on the Reddit message board, r/wallstreetbets, a community known for irreverent market discussions, made GameStop their cause du jour and rushed to buy out-of-the-money GameStop options.”

GameStop (GME) is a struggling, mid-size retailer stuck in a legacy business. They sell physical video games in a world where you buy and play them online. The financial fundamentals for GameStop suggest that its price should be below $20. It’s a real company, with about 53,000 employees, but it’s not worth anything close to its current valuation. It began the year at $19, got as high as $350, and is currently dropping like a stone, at about $196 right now.

Here’s how the r/wallstreetbets crowd made it happen: A hedge fund shorted GME — betting the price would go down — and thousands of retail investors banded together on Reddit to buy the stock, driving the price up. That caused the hedge funds to lose money, since they had to buy the stock for more than they had sold it for.

The r/wallstreetbets crowd numbers about 2 million subscribers. They realized that GME’s float (the number of shares physically available to trade) was very small, small enough that any large order or volume of buy orders would greatly affect its share price.

They knew that GME’s stock could be driven up to the point where the hedge funds that shorted the stock would have to panic-buy them to cover their short positions and contain their losses. They also understood that this could seriously damage those hedge funds.

This is known as a short squeeze, and Wall Street players do it all the time. What’s different is that a bunch of day traders got in on the action. A well-executed short squeeze is a thing of beauty, and in this case, it’s out in the open, and probably legal.

No one seems to be managing this effort. It’s a self-organized campaign with people using message boards to communicate with each other. What’s interesting is that this time, it’s the institutions that were caught with their pants down.

R/wallstreetbets is drawing on techniques used during the 2016 presidential election. Over the course of that campaign, a loosely organized community of alt-right meme pushers and their followers, located on sites like 4chan and Reddit, used social media to barrage Hillary Clinton with an endless flow of memes targeting her supposed inauthenticity and corruption.

They exploited social media to disrupt the normal workings of the US political system, just like these traders are doing this week to the pros on Wall Street. Interestingly, the traders on r/wallstreetbets, describe themselves as “Like 4chan found a Bloomberg Terminal”. It’s a remarkable testament to the internet’s ability to facilitate collective action.

From Bloomberg:

“This is all fascinating. In the space of 12 years, the role of the short-seller has turned on its head. Back in 2008, it was the shorts who upset the status quo, revealed what was rotten in the state of Wall Street, and brought down the big shots. They were even the heroes of a big movie. It was the Wall Streeters who attacked them.”

Now, short-selling hedge funds are seen as part of a corrupt establishment (as they should). And there is a deep generational divide: those unable to own their own home, who have student debt up the wazoo, and are forced to plan retirement without a pension have a stunningly unfair deal, compared to those of an older generation. That percolates into anger, in this case, partly directed at hedge funds.

Anger, at least as much as greed, has the capacity to make us throw caution to the winds. Many of us have a lot to be angry about. It’s impossible to foresee the consequences of similar angry bubbles driven by social media.

It also made a few titans of Wall Street angry. Here’s Leon Cooperman:

This is hilarious! Short positions get squeezed all the time, but the fact that he’s losing to a bunch of losers, who are “sitting at home getting their checks from the government, trading their stocks.” is unacceptable!

For God’s sake these people didn’t even go to Wharton!

And early on Thursday, Wall Street got a measure of revenge, when the trading platform Robin Hood suspended trading in GME. More than half of all Robinhood users own at least some GameStop stock.

No shortage of irony when you’re named Robin Hood, but you protect the rich by blocking everyday citizens from trading.

It’s almost as if capitalism is a tyrannical system arranged to benefit a select few.

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