GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
Hey DOJ – quit writing and start indicting! This week we discuss the ongoing grotesque trend of former officials writing books about all the crimes they didn’t solve instead of actually protecting our country while in office. This is a long-brewing crisis going back to the days of John Bolton and James Comey, and its latest iteration is Mark Pomerantz, another lawyer lackey timing his “tell-all” for maximum profits and minimum democracy. We discuss how NDAs block the public from vital info and how the publishing industry has created an incentive for officials to remain silent about – or even participate in — state crimes.
We continue to discuss the case of Charlie McGonigal – the indicted FBI official who was secretly working for sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska – in the context of a broader look at corruption in the so-called “department of justice.” We examine the factors that contribute to this crisis including insularity, elitism, and nepotistic networks. We also destroy the myth that authoritarianism and law are two separate categories and that expertise on one negates knowledge of the other. Mafia states are in fact dependent on the judiciary, which functions as the cage bars of autocracy. If you understand how the judicial system works in a typical kleptocracy, the Biden and Trump DOJs will strike you as familiar. This is why the “legal pundits” polluting our airways with savior syndrome myths are not only vapid, but, over time, dangerous, as they destroy public expectations of good governance.
We also discuss the difficulty of parenting during this era of flagrant injustice. It’s Merrick Garland’s DOJ, but our children will have to live in its aftermath.
For our bonus episode, available to Patreon subscribers at the Truth-Teller lever or higher, we answer questions from our listeners. Among the topics covered are Fani Willis and the Georgia investigation, what happens if Trump is indicted, Ron DeSantis lackey Christina Pushaw, and the debt ceiling crisis. We will answer ANYTHING so please join on Patreon and send us your questions! Gaslit Nation is 100% independent. Our independence is what makes it possible to address topics most media outlets avoid. We thank you for your support and for keeping us going!
Democrats are generally staying out of the way and letting Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans make a spectacle of themselves. In order to get the votes to become speaker, McCarthy had to give power to extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and now has openly brought her on board as a close advisor, making the extremists the face of the new MAGA Republican Party. If McCarthy appears to have abandoned principle for power by catering to the far right, Representative George Santos (R-NY) hasn’t helped: stories of his lies have mounted, and financial filings yesterday suggest quite serious financial improprieties.
Even the Senate Republicans seem to be keeping their heads down while the House Republicans perform for their base. Demanding big cuts in spending before they agree to raise the debt ceiling has put the House Republicans in a difficult spot. They have been clear that they intend to slash Social Security and Medicare, only to have Trump, who was the one who originally insisted on using the debt ceiling to get concessions out of Democrats, recognize that such cuts are enormously unpopular and say they should not touch Medicare and Social Security. Senate Republicans have said they will stay out of debt ceiling negotiations until the House Republicans come up with a viable plan.
While the House Republicans take up oxygen, the Democrats are highlighting for the American people how, over the past two years, they have carefully and methodically changed U.S. policy to stop the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few.
In July 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to promote competition in the economy. Since the 1980s, he said, when right-wing legal theorist Robert Bork masterminded a pro-corporate legal revolution against antitrust laws, the government had stopped enforcing laws to prevent giant corporations from concentrating their power. The result had been less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses, less bargaining power for workers, and higher prices for consumers.
“[T]he experiment failed,” he said.
Biden vowed to change the direction of the government’s role in the economy, bringing back competition for small businesses, workers, and consumers. Very deliberately, he reclaimed the country’s long tradition of opposing economic consolidation. Calling out both presidents Roosevelt—Republican Theodore, who oversaw part of the Progressive Era, and Democrat Franklin, who oversaw the New Deal—Biden celebrated their attempt to rein in the power of big business, first by focusing on the abuses of those businesses and then by championing competition.
The administration put together a whole-of-government approach to restore competition based on the 72 separate actions outlined in Biden’s executive order. A terrific piece today by David Dayen in The American Prospect suggests that the effort has worked. Overall, Dayen concludes, the executive order of July 9, 2021, was “one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR.”
While administrations since Reagan have judged whether consolidation is harmful solely by its effect on consumer prices, the Biden approach also factors in the welfare of workers, including their ability to negotiate higher wages. It has also taken on the sharing of medical patents that have raised costs of drugs and equipment like hearing aids by preventing others from entering the market. It has taken on large businesses’ strangling of start-up competitors simply by buying them out before they take off. And, crucially, it has claimed the ability to review previous mergers that it now deems in violation of antitrust laws, citing the 1911 breakup of Standard Oil.
Dayen notes that one of the causes for a sharp drop in mergers and acquisitions in the second half of 2022 is that government agencies are willing to enforce antitrust laws. “Just about everything on competition has been hard-fought,” he writes, “[b]ut there’s plenty of evidence of real movement.”
Not only government agencies, but also the Democratic Congress—along with some Republicans—passed a number of laws that have shifted the economic policy of the nation. Biden is fond of saying that he doesn’t believe in trickle-down economics and that he intends to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. New numbers suggest the policies of the past two years are doing just that.
The December jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that job growth continues strong. The country added 223,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate went down slightly to 3.5 percent. The last two years of job growth are the strongest on record, and the country has recovered all the jobs lost during the pandemic. According to the White House, 10.7 million jobs were created and a record 10.5 million small businesses’ applications were filed in the past two years.
On Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that median weekly earnings rose 7.4% last year, slightly faster than inflation. For Black Americans employed full time, the median rise was 11.3% over 2021. A median Hispanic or Latino worker’s income saw a 4.8% raise, to $837 a week. Young workers, between 16 and 24, saw their weekly income rise more than 10%. Also seeing close to a 10% weekly rise were those in the bottom tenth of wage earners, those making about $570 a week. The day after the Wall Street Journal’s roundup, Walmart, which employs 1.7 million people in the U.S., announced it would raise its minimum wage to $14 an hour, up from $12.
Democrats promised that the CHIPS and Science Act would bring “good paying” jobs to those without college degrees by investing in high-tech manufacturing. A study by the Brookings Institution out yesterday notes that the act has already attracted multibillion-dollar private investments in New York, Indiana, and Ohio and that two thirds of the jobs they will produce are accessible to those without college degrees. Those jobs do, in fact, pay better than most of those available for those without college degrees, although Brookings urged better investment in training programs to make workers ready for those jobs.
The Inflation Reduction Act gave Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and capped the cost of insulin for those on Medicare at $35 a month (Republicans blocked an attempt to make that cap available for those not on Medicare). It made hearing aids available over the counter, making them dramatically cheaper, and it also expanded subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. Today the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a record number of Americans enrolled in the ACA in the last open enrollment period: 16.3 million people.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes that much of the investment from these laws is going to Republican-dominated states even though their Republican lawmakers opposed the laws and voted against them. The clean energy investments of the Inflation Reduction Act are going largely to those states, bringing with them additional private investment. A solar panel factory is expanding into Greene’s own district despite her vocal opposition both to alternative energy and to the Inflation Reduction Act.
For 40 years the Republican Party offered a vision of America as a land of hyperindividualism, in which any government intervention in the economy was seen hampering the accumulation of wealth and thus as an attack on individual liberty. The government stopped working for ordinary Americans, and perhaps not surprisingly, many of them have stopped supporting it. Biden refused to engage with the Republicans on the terms of their cultural wars and has instead reclaimed the idea that government can actually work for the good of all by keeping the economic playing field level for everyone.
Biden and members of his administration are taking to the road to tout their successes to the country, especially to those places most skeptical of the government. If they can bring the Republican base around to support their economic policies, they will have realigned the nation as profoundly as did FDR and Theodore Roosevelt before them.
Today the bill for the elevation of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House speaker began to come due. McCarthy promised the far-right members of his conference committee seats and far more power in Congress to persuade them to vote for him.
Now they are collecting.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was removed from committee assignments in the last Congress for her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as her encouragement of violence against Democrats, has a spot on the Homeland Security Committee. Such spots are usually filled by those with experience in either the military or intelligence, neither of which she has. And security is an odd fit for her: voters in her district tried to get her disqualified from running in 2022 because of her participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.
Greene has not just that plum assignment, but another on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. That committee manages investigations and has emerged as a coveted spot for the far right as its members prepare to go after figures in the Biden administration. It now includes right-wing figures Greene, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), and Gary Palmer (R-AL), all of whom refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 election.
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who was removed from committees two years ago after threatening Democratic lawmakers on social media, is now back on the Natural Resources committee. He also is now on the Oversight Committee.
The elevation of newer representatives over their more senior colleagues caused hard feelings. Tara Palmeri of Puck reported today that Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who was in line to become the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, confronted McCarthy for putting McCarthy ally Jason Smith (R-MO) in the spot instead. “You f*cked me, I know it was you, you whipped against me,” Buchanan told McCarthy.
There were rumors that Buchanan would consider resigning over the slight, and McCarthy cannot afford to lose any Republicans. His desperation is clear in his embrace of George Santos (R-NY), whom McCarthy appointed to two committees: the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Santos is facing pressure to resign as his campaign lies appear to include shady financing.
But in an op-ed today at NBC News, Santos’s fellow New York representative Democrat Ritchie Torres noted: The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention,” but the Republican Party will not disavow him because “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy needs every vote he can get, and he needs George Santos to remain in power.”
House Republicans also appear to be prepared to move forward with an impeachment of Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. This is part of the Republican focus on applications for asylum at the southern border despite their recent refusal to consider updating legislation, as Mayorkas has repeatedly asked them to. Only once before has a Cabinet secretary been impeached—in 1876—and he was acquitted by the Senate. Two others resigned before impeachment votes were taken, the most recent in 1932.
Greene has her sights set even higher. She called today for the impeachment of President Biden, advising him on Twitter to “resign now.”
McCarthy also agreed that he would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts $130 billion in spending for next year, a demand that amounts to taking the nation and the world economy hostage to overturn measures that Congress has already agreed to. Once again, the debt ceiling is not about future spending, it is about paying the debts Congress has already incurred. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling means the United States will default, wreaking havoc on international markets and our own global standing.
But the right wing appears willing to burn down the global economy and to destroy our place in it to impose their will on the country.
Emboldened, the far right is already insisting it will not raise the debt ceiling. Today, Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who was involved in the planning for January 6, tweeted, “We cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our taxpayer money and devalued our currency. They’ve made their bed, so they must lie in it.”
In fact, the national debt skyrocketed under Republican president Donald Trump even before the pandemic, thanks to the big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would increase deficits by almost $2 trillion over eleven years. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the debt had grown to $22 trillion. Trump called it a crisis, but his budget that year increased the debt to $23.2 trillion. The CBO warned that the U.S. had never seen deficits so large in a time of high employment.
And then the coronavirus hit, and the debt jumped to $27.75 trillion.
At 5.2% of GDP, the growth of the deficit under Trump was third largest in our history, behind only that under Presidents George W. Bush—who launched two unfunded wars after passing a tax cut and thus presided over deficit growth of 11.7%—and Abraham Lincoln, whose Treasury had to invent a way to pay for a civil war out of whole cloth, resulting in the deficit growing by 9.4% of GDP.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the Treasury will hit the debt ceiling on Thursday but can extend extraordinary measures to keep functioning until June. McCarthy has called for Democrats to talk with him about a plan that will permit an increase in the debt limit while cutting Medicare, Social Security, and federal agencies.
Biden and administration officials say they will not negotiate with the right-wing Republicans who are trying to get their way not through normal legislative channels, but by holding the government—and the global economy—hostage
GASLIT NATION WITH ANDREA CHALUPA AND SARAH KENDZIOR
Welcome back to the fifth year of Gaslit Nation and the fiftieth year of the quest for Donald Trump’s tax returns!
This week we discuss a panoply of government criminals and their dirty donors, ranging from newly minted oligarch cash receptacle “George Santos” (or whatever his name really is) to fellow recipients of mafia money in Congress (sadly it’s nearly everyone) to Trump’s half-century free ride from the IRS (because, again, they’re all in on it!) to the backers of Putin and Netanyahu’s wars (again it’s the same network enabling the crimes!) We also discuss the chaos and corruption that will ensue under a GOP House, the disturbing rhetoric of new Democratic House Minority Speaker Hakeem Jeffries, and give an update into Putin’s war on Ukraine.
We come fully armed with receipts and discuss what this entrenched corruption means for American democracy in the year 2023, a year in which Congress may have lost its illusions but has not found its soul. We discuss the lackluster release of Trump’s tax returns and stress the urgent need for release of his returns going back to the 1970s, which is when he allegedly made a pact with the US government to not pay taxes for thirty years in return for unnamed favors. (Read about it in Sarah’s book HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT which is having a $2.99 Kindle sale.)
We are recording our weekly bonus episode, available to Patreon subscribers at the Truth-Teller level or higher, on Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the continued inaction of Merrick Garland’s DOJ to hold the organizers accountable. We will also be answering your questions so please keep them coming! If you subscribe to Gaslit Nation at the Democracy Defender level or higher, you can ask us anything you want and we will answer it in depth! Subscribers at that level are also invited to a live Gaslit Nation taping on January 24! Stay tuned for more details and thank you for your continued support of the show – we could not make it without you.