In the 1850s, a barroom brawler named John Morrissey took on and defeated some of the leading boxers of the time. Nicknamed “Old Smoke,” the Irish immigrant who grew up in Troy, NY, would go on to mastermind a gambling empire, found the famed Saratoga horse racing track and win a seat in the US House of Representatives. But Morrissey is also known for popularizing one enduring phrase.
Challenging a rival to fight him for stakes of $2,500, Morrissey said, “Now, if he means business, let him put up, or shut up…”
Those last five words were the same ones former White House counsel Pat Cipollone used when he described to House investigators his reaction to the 2020 election deniers in Trump’s inner circle who floated increasingly desperate schemes to overturn the results.
“There was a real question in my mind and a real concern, you know,” Cipollone told the January 6 committee, “particularly after the Attorney General had reached a conclusion that there wasn’t sufficient election fraud to change the outcome of the election when other people kept suggesting that there was. The answer is, what is it? And at some point you have to put up or shut up.”
Trump’s extreme supporters showed “a general disregard for the importance of actually backing up what you say with facts,” said Cipollone.
And seizing voting machines, as lawyer Sidney Powell and others suggested during a tumultuous six-hour meeting on December 18, 2020, was “a terrible idea,” he added. “That’s not how we do things in the United States.”
Cipollone may have killed that bonkers idea, but it didn’t deter Trump from tweeting, shortly after the White House meeting broke up, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump and his backers never put up real evidence of fraud – but they also didn’t shut up, and the 45th president harps on about it even now as he considers when to announce he will run for the presidency again in 2024.
Will the House select committee’s investigation block Trump’s path back to the White House? Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer praised the committee for “a blockbuster series of seven hearings – we would argue the most important ones we’ve seen in a half century.”
Trump’s “will be wild” tweet served as a “siren setting us on the path to the conflagration that was January 6…”
And now, the threat to democracy remains, according to Eisen and Wertheimer. “The mob dispersed on January 6 and Trump left the White House, but he and his enablers continue to push the outrageous lie that the 2020 election was stolen. There are over 100 Trump adherents running for federal and state office, over 200 pieces of legislation based on the election fraud lie, and the Supreme Court is set to take up a case that could allow state legislators to do the kinds of things that Trump and his allies sought. With all of this, we face not only a constitutional crisis, but also an existential one.”
As Michael D’Antonio pointed out, “Among the startling bits of evidence the committee presented was a text message exchange between Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale and former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson after the riot. Parscale expressed that he was feeling ‘guilty’ for helping Trump become president because his rhetoric had inflamed the mob.
“Pierson texted. ‘You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right.’
“‘Yeah. But a woman is dead,’ Parscale replied.
“Pierson said Trump’s rhetoric hadn’t been the cause of the attack. Parscale answered, ‘Katrina. Yes it was.’”
D’Antonio wrote, “If, come 2024, we find ourselves with a candidate Trump on the presidential ballot, this hearing provides a terrifying glimpse of what’s at stake. It should serve as a huge wake up call to voters that they would be electing a man who will let nothing – not the truth or the safety of Americans – stand in the way of his omnipotent aspirations.”
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The Democrats’ dilemma
Democrats seemed determined last week to prove the truth of Leo Tolstoy’s famous line: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A New York Times/Siena College poll found that 64% of Democratic voters think the party should pick a 2024 candidate other than President Joe Biden. Nearly half of Republicans don’t want Trump to run again either. And while only 13% of American voters think the country is headed on the right track, the poll shows, at this very early stage, that Biden could narrowly defeat Trump in a 2024 rematch.
On Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, made it known that he would block most of the remaining parts of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, to the fury of progressives seeking action on climate change and other priorities. Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman, said Manchin’s stance is understandable: Biden won in 2020 because of the “exhaustion, disgust and contempt so many voters had” for Trump. “The big mistake Biden and Democrats made was believing voters gave them control of Washington, DC, to force a progressive agenda through Congress. On the contrary, voters wanted stability, normalcy and moderation – a fact Manchin is quite willing to remind Biden and his congressional colleagues of.”
Even before Manchin’s pronouncement, Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, was deeply dissatisfied with the Democratic Party’s approach. “For millions of Americans, myself included, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was a tragedy. But while watching our rights to privacy, choice and bodily autonomy go up in flames was gutting to many of us, it wasn’t surprising – and neither was Democrats’ tepid response.
“In a moment that demanded action, the Democrats gave us… messaging. Lots and lots of messaging. They flooded our inboxes with desperate pleas to donate, our nightly news with hollow soundbites and our Twitter feeds with warnings that low turnout in November would usher in a draconian future that, come to think of it, looks a whole lot like the present.
“If the Democratic Party wants us to mobilize for them en masse – yet again – they need to prove that they’ll actually do something with the power we give them.”
Longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala wrote that he shares the progressives’ frustration but believes internal party criticism is weakening the President at a critical time.
“The reality is that Biden has, in fact, done a ton of good despite GOP obstructionism. … His policies – especially the child tax credit in his rescue package – reduced child poverty, keeping some six million kids from falling into poverty.
“My message to my progressive friends is this: We’re all in the same boat, so stop poking holes in the boat and then complaining that Biden is getting you wet,” concluded Begala.
“Many young Americans who were keen to vote former President Donald Trump out of office are now profoundly unhappy with Biden as well,” wrote Julian Zelizer, citing the Times’ poll.
“They have experienced firsthand a growing climate crisis, racial injustice, the breakdown of democratic institutions and norms, gender inequity and widespread economic insecurity – issues that have been much discussed but rarely addressed.
“Many of these young people have also grown up participating in active shooter drills at school. Unlike the famous duck-and-cover drills of the 1950s meant to prepare kids for a nuclear war that never happened, this country has witnessed the persistent drumbeat of school shootings. Can we really blame young people for feeling disillusioned with the US political system that allows this to continue?”
The working class
Writing in his Substack newsletter, Ruy Teixeira pinpointed a “yawning chasm” in voter backing for Democrats, drawing upon on the Times’ poll. “The lack of Democratic support among working class (noncollege) voters is striking. Democrats lose among all working class voters by 11 points, but carry the college-educated by 23 points…
“It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Democrats’ emphasis on social and democracy issues, while catnip to some socially liberal, educated voters, leaves many working class and Hispanic voters cold. Their concerns are more mundane and economically-driven. This is despite the fact that many of these voters are in favor of moderate abortion rights and gun control and disapprove of the January 6th events. But these issues are just not salient for them in the way they are for the Democrats’ educated and most fervent supporters.”
Sensing an opportunity as well as a need, Republicans are rallying behind a new version of Sen. Mitt Romney’s proposed Family Security Act which would give working families a cash benefit of $250 to $350 per child per month, according to Oren Cass, executive director of the think tank American Compass. It would be partly funded by eliminating the tax deduction for state and local taxes, which Democrats from high-tax states would no doubt oppose.
But if it gets off the ground, Cass wrote, “It could offer the best opportunity in a long time for a meaningful, durable, widely supported program to help working families with the costs of raising children. If America is going to have a robust family benefit, it will look something like this.”
Inflation remains a top worry, politically and economically, with June’s index showing consumer prices in the US rising at the highest rate in more than 40 years. (That report covers last month and doesn’t reflect the more recent drop in gasoline and oil prices.)
As grocery shoppers know, food prices have spiked, partly because Russia’s war on Ukraine is blocking grain and other exports.
Tim Benton of Chatham House noted that Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter of wheat and the biggest exporter of sunflower oil. “By impeding the flow of grain from this breadbasket region, food becomes a powerful weapon in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arsenal. This is nothing new for warmongers. For centuries, siege tactics have been deployed to starve populations.”
“What is new is that this tactic is not being deployed to subjugate the country under attack, but to hurt the world’s most vulnerable to create political leverage for Russia,” Benton wrote. “Exporting stolen grain as ‘Russian’ to Russia’s allies adds further insult to injury.”
Beyond Ukraine though, there are larger questions about food prices. “Over 70 years, we have collectively designed a food system to deliver an excess of calories as cheaply as possible, with little focus on nutrition. The result is ever cheaper and more processed food, through long and complex supply chains, with the health and environmental consequences it brings.
Former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty shed light on the fate of WNBA all-star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for five months. Griner faces a possible 10-year prison sentence on charges of drug smuggling after customs officials say they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
“In relations with Russia, as with Iran and North Korea, American citizens who are not spies have been arrested and held as political ‘hostages,’ bargaining chips to be exchanged for citizens those countries want back,” Dougherty observed.
“With her star quality, Griner would be a valuable asset if Putin did want a prisoner exchange, something Moscow has indicated might be a possibility. … Last week Griner pleaded guilty to the drug trafficking charge, telling the judge: ‘But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.’ That admission could help resolve the case, legal experts believe.
“But this highly politicized trial is being decided in the glare of cameras and public outcry, amidst a crisis in diplomatic relations.”
A dangerous road
Driving in a high occupancy vehicle lane meant for at least two people, Brandy Bottone told a police officer who pulled her over in Dallas that her unborn child, due early next month, should count as the second passenger. It didn’t work.
“It seems Texas’s strict anti-abortion law, which defines an ‘unborn child’ as ‘an individual living member of the homo sapiens species,’ only applies when it can be used against women – not when it can help them get out of a traffic ticket,” wrote Jill Filipovic.
“It’s understandable, given how disheartening the last weeks have been for those of us who believe women have a fundamental right to bodily autonomy, to want to cheer for the moments that clarify just how dystopian anti-abortion laws really are. But as satisfying as this gotcha moment might be, establishing a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus as a separate person imbued with the same rights as you or I is a step down a dangerous path. It is absurd to be sure. But it’s also incredibly perilous for women’s rights and for a reality-based society more broadly.”
Historian Mary Ziegler spotlighted the reaction to the Indianapolis Star’s report of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had been sexually assaulted – and was six weeks and three days pregnant. It was “three days past the cutoff in her state for legal abortion. The story went viral, with President Joe Biden asking Americans to ‘imagine being that little girl.’”
“And yet the response to the story, for many,” Ziegler pointed out, “was scorn and disbelief. Republican US Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio blasted the story as ‘another lie.’ Ohio attorney general Dave Yost joined Fox News anchors in suggesting that the story had been made up. The Wall Street Journal described the report as ‘too good to be true.’ Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, labeled the story ‘#FakeNews from the liberal media.’”
Only it wasn’t fake. A 27-year-old man had been arrested, and according to police, he confessed to sexually assaulting the girl, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
“The horrific story of one little girl in America is not just a reminder that we still struggle to believe women and girls,” wrote Ziegler. “It’s a cautionary tale about how quick we are to demonize some girls and women. If we have worked to trust and support victims of sexual violence, many of us have too often left people seeking abortion out of the equation.”
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The epicenter of the world’s air travel chaos last week was the busiest airport serving London. Peggy Drexler noted that “on a recent weekday at Heathrow Airport, almost a third of scheduled flights were late; about 2% of all scheduled flights were canceled. … The airport has now asked airlines to stop selling more tickets this summer.”
As Drexler wrote, demand for travel is high. “Having lost out on traveling farther afield for much of the last two years, many of us assumed we’d finally have the summer we’d been waiting for,” she wrote.
But now, “suddenly, what had felt like one of our only respites – the classic summer jaunt – feels as stressful as being stuck at home for yet another summer.”
“The key to getting through the challenge of summer travel – should you choose to accept it – will be about managing your expectations, knowing where you fall on the risk/reward spectrum (that is, understanding whether the benefits of travel for you outweigh the very real risks), learning what you can control for yourself and knowing if you can let go of the rest.”
Biden fist bumps MBS
After a trip to Israel, President Biden flew to Saudi Arabia for his much-anticipated encounter with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
“Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a victory for MBS, as it granted him the recognition he craves,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “That’s why the palace rushed to broadcast the pictures of Biden fist bumping the prince – never mind that Biden likely meant it as a sign of chilliness. If the Saudis raise oil and natural gas output, helping ease the price of fuel as the West prepares for winter without Russian gas supplies; if they loosen more restrictions on women; if they allow now-restricted American citizens to leave the country, then we will know it was worth it.
There was strong incentive for visiting the nation which candidate Joe Biden had labeled a “pariah” after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi: “high gas prices are contributing to the worst inflation in the United States in four decades,” as Peter Bergen noted.
“Every US president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has made similar calculations of the kind that Biden is making about the House of Saud. Sure, the Saudi monarchs may be despots – slavery was only officially abolished in the kingdom in 1962, and MBS granted women the right to drive four years ago – but Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top oil producers and has around a sixth of the world’s proven oil reserves, which means that the Saudis can open up the taps and let the price of oil fall, or they can close the taps and the price of oil will rise.
“Relations between nations are based on shared interests, and the US-Saudi relationship is bound up not only with ensuring a steady supply of reasonably priced oil but also with counterterrorism initiatives and efforts to try and contain Iranian influence in the region,” Bergen wrote.
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Trump and Musk breakup
Elon Musk wants out of his costly deal to buy Twitter – and the company has gone to court to try to force him to go ahead with the purchase. Fallen by the wayside is Musk’s avowed intention to restore Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which was permanently suspended after the January 6 riot.
As Dean Obeidallah wrote, the Trump-Musk bromance is over. “It wasn’t that long ago that the Trump-Musk relationship was warm, complete with public displays of affection. In January 2020, Trump likened Musk to Thomas Edison, gushing that he’s ‘one of our great geniuses … and we want to cherish those people.’”
“Musk is a ‘bulls**t artist,’ Donald Trump bellowed to applause at a rally in Alaska … the former President made the remark in response to Musk’s recent comment that he had never voted for a Republican before a June special election in Texas,” Obeidallah noted.
The former President claimed that Tesla’s chief executive had told him he voted for Trump. Meanwhile, Musk indicated he is leaning toward supporting another potential 2024 Republican candidate – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
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A star is born
The James Webb space telescope, the largest one ever, began to reveal its riches last week, with the release of a series of stunning photographs that reached far back into the history of the universe.
Nicole Hemmer was captivated. “The first deep field photograph showed not just unprecedented details of deep space but of deep history: some of the galaxies it captured are – or were – 13.1 billion light-years away, meaning the images we saw offered glimpses of the universe in its infancy.
“At a moment when life on Earth has felt increasingly cramped and shuttered, hemmed in by pandemic shutdowns and border-obsessed nationalisms, getting lost in that vision of the vastness of the universe felt freeing. Tiny, fragile, fractious Earth, not even a blue dot in the crowded crush of galaxies on display in the Webb photographs, is surrounded by endless possibility.”
Writing for CNN Opinion, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson observed that the Webb telescope alters “our understanding of the universe.”
“These images show Webb’s power in searching for the markers of life and habitability on other worlds. Its extreme sensitivity will help scientists understand some of the great open questions about how and why stars form, and it will bring into clarity stars and galaxies in a way we’ve never seen before. From new-forming stars to devouring black holes, this telescope will reveal all this and more.
“Less than 100 years ago, we discovered that our Milky Way is just one of many throughout our universe. Today, Webb reveals an unprecedented understanding of the billions of galaxies that make up the cosmos.”