GasLit Nation: Help Ukraine by Cleaning Up Western Corruption. The Maksym Eristavi Interview

May 18, 2022

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

In this interview conducted a few weeks before Russia’s escalation of its invasion of Ukraine, Eastern European journalist and writer Maksym Eristavi explains the social and political crises that led the world to this point. Andrea and Maksym discuss corruption in Ukraine, how the Kremlin has weaponized that corruption, and how corruption in Ukraine is an enduring legacy of Russian genocidal colonialism, and how the West can help Ukraine by cleaning up its own corruption. They also discuss Ukraine’s efforts to build a free and just civil society despite corruption, in particular ongoing initiatives to preserve LGBTQ rights. This interview provides vital historical context on the ongoing regional conflict.

Beginning The Reckoning

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 13, 2022

Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas for testimony to five members of Congress: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). The committee previously invited them to cooperate voluntarily, and they refused. The committee has evidence that these five, in particular, know crucial things about the events of January 6 and activities surrounding the attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s election. 

McCarthy communicated with Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. A recently released tape shows McCarthy claiming that Trump admitted some guilt over the attack.  

Perry tried to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to overturn the election. 

Jordan was part of meetings and discussions after the election to overturn its results. He also communicated with Trump on January 6th, including in the morning, before the attack took place.

Biggs was part of the planning for January 6, including the plan to bring protesters to Washington, D.C. He also worked to convince state officials that the election was stolen. Former White House officials say Biggs sought a presidential pardon in connection with the attempt to overturn the election results. 

Wearing body armor, Brooks spoke at the January 6 rally, where he told rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Since then, he has said Trump tried to get him to help “rescind the election of 2020” and put Trump back in the White House.

Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said: “We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done.”

This is an escalation of the committee’s investigation into the attempt to keep Trump in power, and today we learned more about what Trump’s presidency meant for national security.

The Department of Justice has opened a grand jury investigation into the handling of the classified documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors have issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to get the boxes of documents and have asked to interview people who worked in the White House in the last days of Trump’s presidency. A spokesperson for Trump said: “President Trump consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable law and regulations. Belated attempts to second-guess that clear fact are politically motivated and misguided.”

We also learned more about the people Trump’s presidency empowered.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) and charged with examining waste, fraud, and any other issues relating to the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, issued a report today laying out how meatpacking giants got around local and state health officials trying to protect workers. 

Working with Under Secretary of Food Safety Mindy Brashears at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who industry lobbyists boasted “hasn’t lost a battle for us,” top executives of JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to get Vice President Mike Pence to throw his weight behind keeping workers in the plant. Less than a week later, Pence said at a press conference that meatpacking workers “need…to show up and do your job.” Industry leaders wrote a proposed executive order for Trump to issue, declaring a meat shortage and invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure that the plants continued to operate. Less than a week later, Trump issued a similar executive order.

But there wasn’t actually a shortage. Even as John H. Tyson, chair of Tyson’s board, ran full-page ads in national newspapers warning that “[t]he food supply chain is breaking” and “[o]ur plants must remain operational so we can supply food to our families in America,” U.S. pork exports were at a three-year high.

At the same time, companies asked for federal liability protection against lawsuits if workers got Covid-19 on the job. And they did get sick. Taylor Telford of the Washington Post noted that research from the University of California at Davis showed that about 334,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to meatpacking plants across the country. They have caused more than $11 billion in economic damage. Not, apparently, to the meatpacking companies, however. According to a Reuters story from December 2021, meat packers’ profits jumped 300% during the pandemic.

This story points to a larger problem of the consolidation of food production, a problem we are seeing right now in the acute shortage of baby formula in the U.S., where supplies are 43% below normal. The problem stems primarily from a recall of formula produced by Abbott, the country’s largest producer of infant formula, in its Sturgis, Michigan, factory after Cronobacter bacteria, which can cause a potentially deadly infection in infants, was found in test samples.  

Abbott has had a good run lately: in October 2019 it announced a $3 billion share buyback program to make its stock more valuable. Two years later, last October, a whistleblower warned that the Michigan plant was in need of repair, and claimed that Abbott had falsified records and hidden information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four months later, in February 2022, the FDA warned consumers not to use products from that facility. It is now closed, and other companies are scrambling to make up the difference. Today the administration announced it would increase imports of baby formula until U.S. production comes back to normal levels. 

It sure feels like we are beginning the reckoning of forty years of decisions, decisions that have concentrated power in a small minority and that have finally led us to the place where a congressional committee wants to talk with five members of Congress to hear what they know about the attempt to overturn an election so a Democratic president could not take office.   

The dog has caught the car

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 3, 2022

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan’s team made a conscious effort to bring evangelicals and social conservatives into the voting base of the Republican Party. The Republicans’ tax cuts and deregulation had not created the prosperity party leaders had promised, and they were keenly aware that their policies might well not survive the upcoming 1986 midterm elections. To find new voters, they turned to religious groups that had previously shunned politics.

“Traditional Republican business groups can provide the resources,” political operative Grover Norquist explained, “but these groups can provide the votes.” To keep that base riled up, the Republican Party swung behind efforts to take away women’s constitutional right to abortion, which the Supreme Court had recognized by a vote of 7–2 in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and then reaffirmed in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Although even as recently as last week, only about 28% of Americans wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, Republicans continued to promise their base that they would see that decision destroyed. Indeed, the recognition that evangelical voters would turn out to win a Supreme Court seat might have been one of the reasons then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for then-president Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Leaving that seat empty was a tangible prize to turn those voters out behind Donald Trump, whose personal history of divorces and sexual assault was not necessarily attractive to evangelicals, in 2016.

But, politically, the Republicans could not actually do what they promised: not only is Roe v. Wade popular, but also it recognizes a constitutional right that Americans have assumed for almost 50 years. The Supreme Court has never taken away a constitutional right, and politicians rightly feared what would happen if they attacked that fundamental right.

Last night, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, revealed that the court likely intends to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive choice. In the decision, Alito declared that what Americans want doesn’t matter: “We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work,” he wrote.

The dog has caught the car.

Democrats are outraged; so are the many Republican voters who dismissed Democratic alarms about the antiabortion justices Trump was putting on the court because they believed Republican assurances that the Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents and confirmed with Republican votes would honor precedent and leave Roe v. Wade alone. Today, clips of nomination hearings circulated in which Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and even Samuel Alito–—the presumed majority in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade—assured the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that they considered Roe v. Wade and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision upholding Roe settled law and had no agenda to challenge them.

Those statements were made under oath by those seeking confirmation to our highest judicial body, and they now appear to have been misleading, at best. In addition, the decision itself is full of right-wing talking points and such poor history that historians have spent the day explaining the actual history of abortion in the United States. This sloppiness suggests that the decision—should it be handed down in its current state—is politically motivated. And in a Pew poll conducted in February, 84% of Americans said they believed that justices should not bring their political views into their decision making.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) provided key votes for Trump’s nominees and are now on the defensive. Collins publicly defended her votes for both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh around the time of their confirmation, saying she did not believe they would overturn Roe. She noted that Gorsuch was a co-author of “a whole book” on the importance of precedent, and that she had “full confidence” that Kavanaugh would not try to overturn Roe. Murkowski voted to confirm Gorsuch and Barrett.

Collins today said: “If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office.” Like Collins, Murkowski noted that the final decision could change, but ‘if it goes in the direction that this leaked copy has indicated, I will just tell you that it rocks my confidence in the court right now.” The draft is not going in “the direction that I believed that the court would take based on statements that have been made about Roe being settled and being precedent.”

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin suggested that the Senate Judiciary Committee should hold hearings on whether the justices lied in their confirmation hearings, and call Senators Collins and Murkowski as witnesses.

This apparent shift from what they had promised is a searing blow at the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, which was already staggering under the reality that three of the current justices were nominated by Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote and then tried to destroy our democracy; two were nominated by George W. Bush, who also lost the popular vote in his first term; and one other is married to someone who supported the January 6 insurrection and yet refused to recuse himself from at least one case in which she might be implicated.

Today, Republicans tried to turn this story into one about the leak of the draft document, which is indeed a rare occurrence (although not unprecedented), rather than the decision itself. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blamed the leaker for attacking the legitimacy of the court, although McConnell’s refusal in 2016 to hold hearings for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee on the grounds that eight months was too close to an election to confirm a justice before shoving Barrett through in October 2020 when balloting was already underway arguably did more to undermine the court’s legitimacy. Echoing him, one commentator said the draft leak was worse than the January 6 insurrection.

But while McConnell and the right wing are implying that a liberal justice’s office leaked the draft, there is no evidence either way. Observers note, in fact, that the leak would help the right wing more than the dissenters, since it would likely lock in votes. Those trying to blame the liberal justices did not comment on an apparent leak from Chief Justice Roberts’s office that suggested he wanted a more moderate decision. Jennifer Rubin suggested calling the bluff of those blaming the liberal justices: she proposed agreeing that whichever office leaked the draft ought to recuse from the final decision.

Republican politicians have largely stayed silent on the draft decision itself today, but the reaction of Nevada Republican Adam Laxalt, who is running for Senate, suggested the pretzel Republican politicians are going to tie themselves into in order to play to the base without alienating the majority. Laxalt issued a statement on Twitter that said the leaked draft represented a “historic victory for the sanctity of life,” but also said that since abortion is legal in Nevada, “no matter the Court’s ultimate decision on Roe, it is currently settled law in our state.”

Democrats, though, are not only defending the constitutional right recognized by Roe v. Wade, but also calling attention to the draft’s statement that the Fourteenth Amendment under which the Supreme Court has protected civil rights since the 1950s can cover only rights that are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.”

It seems likely that the right-wing justices, who are demonstrating their radicalism by overturning a 50-year precedent, are prepared to undermine a wide range of constitutional rights on the grounds—however inaccurate—that those rights are not deeply rooted in the justices’ own version of this nation’s history and tradition.

Protesters turned out in front of the Supreme Court and across the country today vowing that women will not go backward. As actress Ashley Nicole Black tweeted: “There’s a particular slap to the face of being told we can vote for abortion rights, by the court that gutted voting rights.”

Republican Minority Leader McCarthy: “The country is too crazy … this is serious sh*t”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 27, 2022

Last night, New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin released more of the audio recording of Republican leadership that they obtained in the process of writing their forthcoming book. This recording features a conversation among the House leadership on January 10, 2021. In it, the two top Republicans in the House of Representatives—House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House minority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA)—agreed that the Trump loyalists calling out other Republicans as “anti-Trump” were endangering lives, including that of the third-top House Republican at the time, Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was also on the call. 

McCarthy noted that Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) had just sent him a recent tweet from Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) about Cheney and that McCarthy was going to talk to Gaetz to get him to stop. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol,” he said. “These people came prepared with rope, with everything else.” Scalise agreed, saying “it’s potentially illegal what he’s doing.”

McCarthy singled out Representatives Gaetz and Mo Brooks (R-AL) as key culprits, but he and the others on the call also discussed Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Barry Moore (R-AL). McCarthy said he was going to be talking to those people because “this is serious sh*t,” and they needed “to cut this out.” “The country is too crazy,” he said. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”

And yet, of course, they did not cut it out. Instead, McCarthy did play politics with it. He caved, Cheney lost her position in House leadership, and Gonzalez, once seen as a rising star in the party, announced in September 2021 he would not run for reelection. Gonzalez’s vote to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection and his support for an investigation into the events of January 6 led Trump supporters to threaten him and his family. In his announcement that he was leaving Congress, Gonzalez called Trump “a cancer for the country.” 

Last night, after news broke of the recording, Gaetz issued a statement saying that McCarthy and Scalise “held views about President Trump and me that they shared on sniveling calls with Liz Cheney, not us. This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders…. While I was protecting President Trump, they were protecting Liz Cheney from criticism…. On the bright side, you no longer have to be a lobbyist with a $5,000 check to know what McCarthy and Scalise really think. You just have to listen to their own words as they disparage Trump and the Republicans in Congress who fight for him.” 

Gaetz is clearly throwing himself entirely behind Trump. Even his language here is like that of the former president. While Gaetz’s political loyalty is part of a larger story, it is also worth remembering that Gaetz is still under investigation for sex trafficking, and two of his associates have pleaded guilty in that case. One admitted to sex trafficking, and the other admitted to drug and fraud charges. Both are cooperating with authorities. Seeing Trump back in power could smooth Gaetz’s potential legal troubles.

Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson also went after McCarthy, calling him “a puppet of the Democrats…a man who, in private, turns out sounds like an MSNBC contributor. The chyron under his monologue read: “KEVIN MCCARTHY HATES PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND THIS SHOW.” News broke today that Carlson, who has openly supported Hungary’s rising authoritarian Viktor Orbán, will speak this summer at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit, a gathering traditionally used to launch presidential campaigns. 

Meanwhile, excerpts from that same new book say that early in the morning of January 7, after the January 6 insurrection, then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Martin: “I feel exhilarated by the fact that this fellow [Trump] finally, totally discredited himself.” McConnell said of Trump, “He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” adding, “Couldn’t have happened at a better time.” McConnell vowed to crush the extremist “sons of b*tches… in the primary in ’22.”

And yet now, a year later, the Trump loyalists are running strong, having abandoned the democratic ideology of the U.S. and replaced it with white Christian nationalism. They are embracing the same idea that Russian president Vladimir Putin advances: that the democratic principle of equality is immoral because it does not privilege white, straight, Christian men. They are trying to stop public discussion of race or gender, end the constitutional right to abortion, and center schools around the Christian religion. 

While pro-business Republicans could live with these ideas in the past if it meant getting the economic legislation they wanted, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Texas governor Greg Abbott have illustrated that the Trump wing of the party has abandoned Republicans’ traditional support for business. DeSantis infuriated Republicans as well as Democrats when he demanded a new—and evidently illegal—law to break up the independent governing zone under which the Walt Disney Company operates in Florida unless Disney stops supporting LGBTQ rights. And Abbott’s recent shutdown of trade to and from Mexico in order to “search” for drugs and undocumented immigrants cost the U.S. an estimated $9 billion in gross domestic product while turning up no drugs or immigrants. 

Meanwhile, 18 House Republicans, led by Jim Jordan (R-OH), warned Twitter that it could be investigated if it didn’t accept an offer from billionaire Elon Musk for its purchase. This is an uncanny echo of the techniques of the Ukrainian leaders who worked for oligarchs: those leaders used “investigations” to punish opponents, just as Trump hoped to do to Hunter Biden in 2019.   

The business Republicans appear finally to be fighting back, at least a little, likely recognizing that the extremes of the Trump loyalists will hurt them with the “suburban” voters they badly need. (By “suburban voters” they usually mean white middle-class voters, although the last census showed that in 2020, about 54% of Black residents within the 100 biggest American metro areas lived not in the cities themselves but in suburban areas.)

This week, they went after Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), in what sure looks like a strategic move to distance the party from the Trump loyalists without actually losing the religious base. Cawthorn’s remarks about being invited to orgies with drugs made headlines a few weeks ago, and he has been embarrassed since by photos of him in lingerie, drinking with women, at a party. Perhaps to distract from that story, Cawthorn tried to take a loaded gun on a plane and was caught—this was the second time he was caught doing this—and then complained that the “political establishment” was out to get him. 

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) called for a “thorough and bipartisan” investigation of Cawthorn’s potential involvement in an insider trading scheme involving the “Let’s Go Brandon” cryptocurrency, which appears to have been a pump-and-dump scheme. (But former president Trump and his son Don, Jr., also promoted the coin, and no one has complained about their participation.) Cawthorn called Tillis a “RINO,” a Republican in Name Only. 

Today, 17 Republicans were the only lawmakers to vote against a House resolution expressing support for Moldova’s democracy. As CNN reporters Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju, and Gabby Orr noted, when Trump loyalists do such a thing, they might be reminding McCarthy of their power to force more concessions on him if he becomes speaker with a small majority, enabling them to move the country in their direction no matter how unpopular they are.

The chaos in the Republican Party inspired Democratic political consultant Tim Hogan to tweet: “At this point I’m willing to believe Kevin McCarthy accidentally turned on a voice memo for the month of January and when he tried to delete it he accidentally forwarded it to the New York Times.”

GasLit Nation: “Targeted by the Mafia State” – An Interview With Cheri Jacobus

April 20, 2022

GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR

Back in 2015 and 2016, as the GOP caved to the Trump crime cult and the mainstream media normalized their corrupt ambitions, a few voices from the right rose up in dissent. One of the leading lights in this regard was Cheri Jacobus, a political commentator and former Republican who was an early target of Trump’s vicious campaign and its propaganda machine. Currently a registered Independent, Cheri was the founder, President, and Executive Producer of “America Reads The Mueller Report” and the former host of the podcast “Politics with Cheri Jacobus”. She remains an outspoken critic of the Trump crime cult and its enablers..