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House approves $1.5T plan to fix crumbling infrastructure – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House approved a $1.5 trillion plan Wednesday to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into projects to fix roads and bridges, upgrade transit systems, expand interstate railways and dredge harbors, ports and channels.

The bill also authorizes more than $100 billion to expand internet access for rural and low-income communities and $25 billion to modernize the U.S. Postal Service’s infrastructure and operations, including a fleet of electric vehicles.

Lawmakers approved the Moving Forward Act by a 233-188 vote, mostly along party lines. It now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where a much narrower bill approved by a key committee has languished for nearly a year. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not attempted to schedule a floor debate and none appears forthcoming.

The idea of “Infrastructure Week” in the Trump era has become a long-running inside joke in Washington because there was little action to show for it. Still, Wednesday’s vote represented at least a faint signal of momentum for the kind of program that has traditionally held bipartisan appeal.

Democrats hailed the House bill, which goes far beyond transportation to fund schools, health care facilities, public utilities and affordable housing.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a sponsor of the legislation, called it a “transformational investment in American infrastructure that will create millions of jobs.”

Republicans ridiculed the bill for what they called a Green New Deal-style focus on climate.

“Instead of seeking bipartisan solutions, this bill adds $1.5 trillion to the nation’s debt and disguises a heavy-handed and unworkable Green New Deal regime of new requirements as an ‘infrastructure bill,’” said Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the top Republican on the transportation panel.

Graves blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats for turning what has traditionally been a bipartisan issue in Congress — infrastructure — into what he called “a partisan wish list.”

Republicans scored a rare procedural victory, winning approval of an amendment to block money from the bill going to Chinese state-owned enterprises or companies responsible for building internment camps for the nation’s Uighur minority.

The White House promised a veto if the measure reaches the president’s desk. In a statement this week, the White House said the bill “is heavily biased against rural America,” is based on debt financing and ”fails to tackle the issue of unnecessary permitting delays” that have long impeded infrastructure projects.

President Donald Trump has frequently declared his support for infrastructure projects and pledged during the 2016 campaign to spend at least $1 trillion to improve infrastructure. Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly called for enactment of an infrastructure package — but those efforts have failed to result in legislation.

Hopes were dashed last year when Trump said he wouldn’t deal with Democrats if they continued to investigate him. The House later impeached him.

Trump said after signing a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that low interest rates made it a good time to borrow money to pay for an infrastructure bill. No formal proposal has emerged, although the White House has suggested the next virus response bill could include an infrastructure component.

The centerpiece of the House legislation is a nearly $500 billion, 5-year surface transportation plan for roads, bridges and railways. The White House said in its veto threat that the proposal is “heavily skewed toward programs that would disproportionately benefit America’s urban areas.” The bill would divert money from the Highway Trust Fund to transit and rail projects that “have seen declining market shares in recent years,” the White House statement said.

Democrats countered that the bill would rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure, not only by fixing crumbling roads and bridges, but also by investing in public transit and the national rail network, boosting low- and zero-emission vehicles and cutting carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.

The bill also authorizes $130 billion in school infrastructure targeted at high-poverty schools with facilities that endanger the health and safety of students and educators, Democrats said. The schools portion alone could create more than 2 million jobs, they said.

The bill would spend more than $100 billion to create or preserve at least 1.8 million affordable homes. “These investments will help reduce housing inequality, create jobs and stimulate the broader economy,” Democrats said in a “fact sheet” promoting the bill.

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Adam Schiff takes dim view of social media; says ‘We may all be moving to Canada soon’

Adam Schiff (Image via Twitter)

[Ed. – This must have been quite a forum.]

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence committee, said Monday that he might want to move to Canada, during a discussion about disinformation and election interference on social media platforms.

“We may all be moving to Canada soon,” he said during a forum on “Social Media Disinformation and Election Interference,” organized by George Washington University. …

Reflecting on a recent House Intelligence committee hearing with social media companies, Schiff said he gets “the sense that there’s something going on at Twitter, that maybe, we’ve reached the last straw for what the management of Twitter can take …”

Trending: Chutzpah alert: Minneapolis mayor seeks federal aid to rebuild city he let burn

He shared his impression of Google after the hearing on foreign influence and election security took place.

“I, until proven otherwise, have the sense with respect to Google-YouTube that their strategy is to avoid the scrutiny of the other platforms and disclose as little as possible,” he said. “It’s not unlike the — although I’m sure they won’t appreciate this analogy — the president’s view that if you don’t test it, there is no virus.

Continue reading →

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“I’m all for masks, I think masks are good”

The line at the end about the Lone Ranger made me laugh.

This is progress. In May he mocked a reporter for being “politically correct” by wearing a mask. The day before that he retweeted Brit Hume when Hume posted a photo of a mask swallowing half of Joe Biden’s face with the caption, “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public.” Today he’s all in favor of wearing them, at least around other people, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll take that extra step of donning one himself.

Why’d he change his tune? The easy answer is that virtually every other Republican on Capitol Hill, starting with Mitch McConnell, has been nudging him to grant the MAGA seal of approval to mask-wearing in hopes that it’ll influence populists who have resisted until now. As Lamar Alexander put it, “Unfortunately, this simple, lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do.” Now you can wear a mask and still be for Trump!

But I don’t think pressure from other Republicans had much to do with it. Trump doesn’t take orders from them, he gives them. If you want to change his behavior, you need to show him what’s in it for him. Two pieces of news over the last 24 hours helped do that. First was this analysis from Goldman Sachs, which reframed mask-wearing in terms POTUS can understand:

The dire situation [with new outbreaks in southern states] has raised the specter of another round of state-level stay-at-home orders to halt the pandemic’s spread and caused a number of governors to pause or reverse reopening plans. Against this backdrop, a team of economists at Goldman Sachs has published an analysis suggesting more painful shutdowns could be averted if the United States implements a nationwide mask mandate.

“A face mask mandate could potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP,” the team, led by the investment bank’s chief economist, Jan Hatzius, writes.

That reminds me of the model put together by a team of computer scientists a few months ago showing that universal masking (i.e. 80 percent of the public or more) absent a lockdown would lead to fewer American deaths than an indefinite lockdown without masks would. In the first scenario, the model predicted that 60,000 people would die; in the second, 180,000 would. The key, though, is universality. A certain high threshold percentage of the public needs to be masked up to severely curtail transmissions. (It’s not unlike herd immunity in that respect.) The Goldman analysis also assumed universality via a mask mandate, not just voluntary mask-wearing.

Trump sounded iffy about a mandate in today’s interview, as you can see from the excerpt. He’s right to be ambivalent about that as the head of the executive branch, as the feds lack that constitutional power. The states, on the other hand, do have it. Pennsylvania issued a statewide mask mandate this afternoon as I was writing this post.

The other news that may have grabbed the president’s attention was this scoop about a meeting of the Federal Reserve a few weeks ago, before cases in the south began rising:

Federal Reserve officials raised concerns about additional waves of coronavirus infections disrupting an economic recovery and triggering a new spike in unemployment and a worse economic downturn, according to minutes released Wednesday by the central bank about its June 9-10 meeting…

“In light of the significant uncertainty and downside risks associated with the pandemic, including how much the economy would weaken and how long it would take to recover, the staff judged that a more pessimistic projection was no less plausible than the baseline forecast,” the minutes read. “In this scenario, a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, with another round of strict limitations on social interactions and business operations, was assumed to begin later this year, leading to a decrease in real GDP, a jump in the unemployment rate, and renewed downward pressure on inflation next year.”

That was always a core argument against reopening early. Trump treated the reopening debate as an either/or: We can either focus on reducing transmissions or we can focus on an economic recovery but we can’t do both. In reality, if you give up too soon on reducing transmissions, you risk a new outbreak that’ll get out of hand and wreck your recovery by forcing newly reopened businesses to close again. Whether they close because a new stay-at-home order is issued or because consumers get too spooked by the epidemic to keep visiting them is inconsequential. There’s no revenue either way. Maybe Trump has begun to see that. His only hope of reelection is a big economic comeback, and his only hope of a big economic comeback is restoring confidence in consumers that it’s safe to shop and dine out. Universal mask-wearing gets him closer to both, so now he’s unambiguously (mostly) pro-mask.

There’s a lot of damage to undo here on the right side of the aisle, though. These numbers from HuffPost are bad:

Nothing there specifically touches on *voluntary* mask-wearing, but I’m going to guess that wearing masks has been less prevalent in the redder southern states that are now experiencing an outbreak than it’s been in bluer ones in other regions. That’s especially dangerous for POTUS in Arizona, Texas, and Florida, three must-win battlegrounds for him in November. If swing voters there blame him for their rising case counts, he’s cooked. His new pro-mask rhetoric should make it a little harder for them to do that, however belated it may be.

Politico reports today that the White House is currently debating whether to bring back the daily coronavirus briefing in some form. That seems like a smart idea to me (so long as Trump’s remarks are short and scripted) for the simple reason that they need to do a waaaaaay better job communicating to people that they’re still focused on the pandemic and, more basically, that they care. That’s one of Trump’s main liabilities against Biden. A little “we feel your pain” empathy from the White House amid all the “get back to work” encouragement might go a long way.

Here he is on Fox Business earlier. He also said today for the umpteenth time that he thinks the virus will go away on its own eventually, which is true in the sense that herd immunity is a real thing but not encouraging in that it’ll take several hundred thousand more deaths, in all likelihood, to get there.

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Vote by mail: Senate Democrats worry over Native American reservation poll closures

Alarmed by the recent closure of in-person polling places on Native American reservations due to Covid-19, Senate Democrats are pressing Attorney General William Barr for more information.

Vox obtained a letter to Barr from Democratic members of the Senate Rules Committee, led by the committee’s ranking member Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). The letter comes after a recent Vox report on the barriers Native Americans face with mail-in voting.

“We write to express serious concern regarding the mass closures of polling locations in Tribal communities due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” the letter states. “We request a commitment from the Department of Justice to work with Tribal governments to find solutions that do not disenfranchise voters in Indian Country.”

Native American voters face unique obstacles to voting even in normal election years. But the rise of vote-by-mail — a method that’s supposed to make voting easier — presents even more barriers for them.

Access to mail for voters in rural Native communities is complicated; many people don’t have traditional mailing addresses, making home delivery of mail-in ballots impossible. Many get their mail in post office boxes, which can be located many miles away and have limited hours of operation.

“Vote-by-mail works really well for middle- and upper-class white folks,” Jean Schroedel, a political science professor at Claremont Graduate College who has studied Native American voting rights, told Vox recently. “It doesn’t work for other populations, and it really, really does not work for Native people living on reservations.”

In some states, increased use of absentee ballots has meant some in-person satellite offices on Native American reservations have closed. For instance, ahead of Montana’s June 2 primary, the state gave its counties the option to switch to mail-in ballots — and all of them did. Instead of in-person voting on Election Day, voters could drop their ballot in the mail or vote early in person at each county’s election office.

But some satellite voting offices on Indian reservations like the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Blaine County also closed, leaving just one satellite office open for the primary. Local voting rights advocates on the reservation told Vox the closure meant some people on Fort Belknap’s southern end had to drive up to 78 miles one way to cast their ballot at the one satellite office that remained open.

“Voter suppression in Native communities is systemic and has taken many forms over the years,” Udall told Vox in a statement. “Now, we’re seeing state and local jurisdictions double down on decisions to eliminate polling and registration locations without Tribal consultation and under the cynical guise of public safety — forcing Native Americans to travel hundreds of miles to vote.”

In the letter, Democratic senators say they’re concerned that polling locations being closed could seriously hamper the voting rights of Native Americans across the country.

“Requests from Native American voters for more accessible polling locations have been ignored for far too long,” they write in the letter to Barr. “The Department must take action to uphold the constitutional right of Native Americans.”

The senators are asking Barr to commit to working with Native American tribal leaders to not disenfranchise voters in the middle of the pandemic. The letter specifically asks Barr to provide any complaints the Department of Justice might have received regarding a lack of polling locations for Native American voters. It also asks whether the DOJ Civil Rights Division’s Indian Working Group has engaged with state and local election officials to make sure Native American voting rights are protected in upcoming primary and general elections.

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, and we must ensure that voting is safe and easy during this pandemic,” Klobuchar told Vox in a statement. “The Department of Justice needs to commit to working with Tribal leaders to ensure that Native Americans’ ability to vote isn’t a victim of this pandemic.”

For Native Americans, distance presents a huge barrier to vote

Voting by mail is supposed to make voting easier, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. But it doesn’t necessarily solve a long-standing access barrier for Native Americans that one attorney referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”

Approximately one-third of all Native Americans, or about 1.7 million out of 5.3 million people, live on what the census designates as “hard to count” tracts of land. The Southwestern Navajo Nation, for instance, is 27,000 square miles spread out over Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. In Alaska’s remote Native villages, planes are the only method of transportation to the outside world.

“Indian country is rife with what are called nontraditional mailing addresses,” attorney Jim Tucker, who has represented Alaskan Native villages in lawsuits against the state, told Vox recently.

Distance is often coupled with high rates of poverty on reservations. About 26 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 14 percent for the US as a whole, according to the US census.

Activists and attorneys like Tucker worry that a move to vote-by-mail will compound long-standing access problems. Some voters have to drive anywhere from 50 to over 200 miles to get to a post office and check their box. The vast majority of roads on the Navajo Nation are not paved; if there’s a rainstorm and a road washes out, they’re stuck. In Montana, winter snowstorms in November have blocked reservation roads and required snowplows to clear a path to the polls. Post office boxes on reservations aren’t necessarily open five days a week, many have limited hours, and many families share a box.

Advocates say that in addition to vote-by-mail, Congress should pass increased funding for protective equipment for poll workers and expand periods of early voting on reservations. House and Senate Democrats have been advocating for similar measures in recent coronavirus relief legislation, but so far, the bills haven’t gone far in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“I think the answer is, this is not simply a hard one-size-fits-all,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), an advocate for vote-by-mail and a member of the Rules Committee, recently told Vox. “It’s a recognition that we start with the presumption that everyone is going to get a ballot by mail, and in circumstances where that’s particularly challenging, like with people living on reservation land, that we adjust the rules so they will be able to get their ballots and return their ballots easily.”


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Shortages of poll workers, polling places put election officials on alert for November

Washington — While states are trying to expand vote-by-mail for voters in the primary and general elections due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters are still showing up to cast their ballots in person, leading to long lines and delays caused by the consolidation of polling locations and a shortage of election workers.

But with the November election expected to bring record turnout, state elections officials and voting rights advocates see the primaries as a snapshot of what to expect in four months and have begun taking steps to beef up their armies of poll workers.

“There are many people who value the experience of going out and voting in person, and many of those people had to weather long lines to have their voices heard in the primary,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told CBS News. “We need to make sure that we have sufficient numbers of polling places that are open to accommodate the high levels of turnout that we’ve seen during the primary and will increase dramatically during the general election, and we need properly trained — not just warm bodies — but properly trained individuals who can staff those sites on Election Day. It’s extremely critical that we get this right.”

In Jefferson County, Kentucky, where Louisville is located, the Kentucky Exposition Center served as its lone polling location for more than 530,000 registered voters.

Beth Thorpe, a Democratic strategist and communications chair for the Louisville Democratic Party, said the size of the convention center allowed those voting in-person to comply with social distancing guidelines and keep wait times below what voters in other states, such as Georgia and Nevada, experienced. But Thorpe said problems arose for some voters who were unaware of the change in polling locations and had difficulties getting to the large facility.

“There was one bus shuttle provided from a single location downtown, and we don’t know who simply couldn’t access that shuttle or get to the Expo Center because they didn’t have access to a vehicle or lived outside the public transportation network,” Clarke said. “Giving people options and thinking carefully about low-income communities and marginalized voters in particular is important.”

Thorpe was at the convention center last Tuesday when Louisville voters cast their ballots in the state’s primary, including the Democratic Senate primary between ex-fighter pilot Amy McGrath and state Representative Charles Booker. As the clock ticked toward 6 p.m. local time, when polls officially closed in the state, Thorpe recalled yelling at voters who were in their vehicles or in the parking lot to run if they wanted to vote. 

“People ditched their cars, we had older people running,” she said. “It ended up being a lot of confusion.”

Both Booker, who experienced a late surge in the race, and McGrath asked the Jefferson Circuit Court to keep the voting site open three additional hours, but the request was denied. A judge did, however, order election officials in Jefferson County to keep polls open until 6:30 p.m., ensuring those who were in line at the convention center would be able to cast their ballots.

Thorpe urged Kentucky elections officials to devise a clear plan for voting in November, when turnout is expected to be far higher, especially since the coronavirus threat is not expected to fade.

“We need to start planning immediately, to do PSAs on television on how to vote in the election and partner with organizations all over the state to make sure everyone knows how to vote,” she said. “We’d like information sooner, clearer, on how it works.”

Primaries in some states that have held in-person voting have been plagued by hours-long waits at the polls, delays that are attributed in part to a consolidation of polling places and shortage of poll workers. But in anticipation of the November general election, some states have launched campaigns to expand their ranks of election workers, especially since the group typically skews older and is therefore more at risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.

In Michigan, the secretary of state’s office launched Democracy MVP, an initiative to recruit poll workers for its August primary and November general election.

By Tuesday, the state had recruited 2,245 volunteers from 78 of Michigan’s 83 counties, Jake Rollow, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said.

“We know that traditionally, many of the folks who serve as election workers are older, and what we heard from clerks are some of those people were telling them they weren’t going to be able to serve this year,” Rollow said. “We are looking for people willing to serve in their absence.”

More than half of the poll workers recruited said they heard of Michigan’s Democracy MVP campaign through social media, Rollow said, and those selected will undergo training from both the state and counties ahead of the upcoming elections.

Poll workers could work either the August primary or the November election, or could be tasked for both, and they may be in county clerk’s offices processing ballots or at in-person polling places.

“We know that Michiganders have a great desire to participate in democracy and have a healthy democracy,” Rollow said. 

Iowa’s Secretary of State’s Office also helped counties with recruiting poll workers through its own statewide initiative and received more than 1,000 responses from Iowans interested in becoming a precinct election official, Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Secretary of State Paul Pate said. 

The state used media interviews, posts on social media and targeting in specific counties to spread the word about its need for poll workers, the number of which are needed is determined by each county.

Iowa held its primary June 2, and Pate’s office is working to determine what changes need to be made ahead of the general election, Hall said.

Clarke, of the National Lawyers’ Committee, said her organization is also working with lawyers in its network to encourage people to serve as poll workers.

“It’s critical that jurisdictions get creative in how they can activate a new generation of people to serve as poll workers,” she said.

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Trump: I’ll veto defense bill to keep Confederate base names

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is vowing to veto a massive defense bill to keep military bases such as Fort Bragg named after Confederate officers, swimming against sentiment in his own party and imperiling a 3% pay raise for the troops.

Trump took to Twitter late Tuesday to threaten a veto of a $741 billion annual Pentagon authorization bill because it would require a host of military bases named after Confederate figures to be renamed within three years.

Trump rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., won a bipartisan vote in a GOP-controlled panel to force the bases to be renamed, and it’s clear that opponents of the idea don’t have the votes to remove it during floor debate.

“I will Veto the Defense Authorization Bill if the Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren (of all people!) Amendment, which will lead to the renaming (plus other bad things!) of Fort Bragg, Fort Robert E. Lee, and many other Military Bases from which we won Two World Wars, is in the Bill!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s threat comes as he is increasingly appealing to his core supporters as his troubled reelection campaign has fallen behind former Vice President Joe Biden in opinion polls.

The response by top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer? Make my day.

“I dare President Trump to veto the bill over Confederate base naming. It’s in the bill. It has bipartisan support. It will stay in the bill,” Schumer said Tuesday.

The annual measure has passed every year for almost six decades and typically enjoys veto-proof support, though various controversies often mean that it does not pass until late in the year. Trump’s salvo probably ensures that the issue won’t come to a head until after the November election.

A Democratic-controlled House panel is holding a daylong bill drafting session Wednesday in which it is sure to address the topic. The panel on Wednesday adopted an amendment by Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., that would ban displays of the Confederate battle flag on any Department of Defense properties. That would codify a Marine Corps edict but other military branches have yet to follow suit as Trump has been more forceful of late in defending Confederate symbols and figures.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Warren’s measure to force the bases to be renamed within three years by a voice vote last month. A commission would be set up to oversee the process.

Since the Senate’s 45 Democrats and two Democratic-aligned Independents are behind the provision, GOP opponents of the idea would have to — at a minimum — summon 50 of the chamber’s 53 Republicans to replace it if everyone votes and Vice President Mike Pence is available to break a tie. As a practical matter it would take 60 votes under filibuster rules.

That means that opponents of Warren’s provision like Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a top Trump acolyte, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., face impossible odds during floor debate. The chamber is debating the bill now but won’t finish it until later this month.

“Instead of mandating the renaming of military bases, including Fort Bragg, we need a thoughtful and constructive process that includes the input of our military communities,” Tillis said.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says that he won’t fight the Warren amendments and that he is “OK” with whatever negotiators on the measure ultimately decide on the issue. That’s a view generally shared by top House Republican Kevin McCarthy of California.

In an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday, McConnell said, “I would hope the president really wouldn’t veto the bill over this issue.”

On Wednesday morning, Schumer eagerly returned to the topic.

“Let me predict, President Trump will not veto a bill that contains pay raises for our troops and crucial support for our military,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “This is typical bluster from President Trump. The (defense bill) will pass, and we will scrub from our military bases the names of men who fought for the Confederacy and took up arms against our country.”

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What’s the matter with Kansas State University? UPDATED: KSU announces new mob mollification plan, by Michelle Malkin

(Scroll down for latest updates)

Kansas hasn’t voted for a Democrat in presidential elections since 1964. From 1995 to 2002 and from 2011 to 2017, Republicans in Topeka held the iron trifecta of the governor’s mansion, the state House and the state Senate. In 2016, Donald Trump walloped Hillary Clinton in this quintessential red state by a 57-36 margin.

So why is it that, in 2020, a mainstream conservative Christian college student under fire by a violence-inciting campus mob can’t find a single prominent Republican in the Sunflower State to uphold and defend his free speech rights?

Jaden McNeil is a 21-year-old Kansas State University undergrad, former Turning Point USA chapter leader, and founder of America First Students. Since quitting TPUSA last year over its shocking embrace of drag queens, open borders and a “culture of censorship,” McNeil has been attacked by left-wing journalists and tarred through guilt by association. Local reporters such as Judy Thomas at the Kansas City Star have regurgitated baseless lies that McNeil (who I’ve known since last year and consider a friend and rising conservative star) is connected to “white nationalism” for advocating traditional social conservatism and an end to mass migration.

McNeil also refuses to bend his knee to Black Lives Matter, unlike so many swamp conservatives folding like cheap origami these days. On June 25, the young KSU student tweeted an edgy joke about BLM hero George Floyd:

“Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”

The snarky line is a variation on a common internet commemoration of the deaths of drug-addicted celebrities. You may think it’s bad humor or brilliant humor but newsflash: It’s humor. No matter. In end-stage America, where we are now governed by the wokest of the insane and indignant, there is no bigger human rights violation than a George Floyd joke.

A manufactured outrage backlash by KSU College Democrats, athletes and bloodthirsty Black Lives Matter extremists ensued.

K-State freshman quarterback Jaren Lewis fulminated:

“We are demanding that Kansas State University put a policy in place that allows a student to be dismissed for displaying openly racist, threatening or disrespectful action toward a student or groups of students. We have resolved that we cannot play, practice, or meet until these demands are heard and actions taken.” K-State Democrats will hold a march this weekend calling for McNeil’s head.

In response, KSU president Richard Myers proclaimed that “Black Lives Matter” and immediately pledged “to fast-track action plans to combat racism and bigotry and other forms of social injustice.” KSU vice president for student life Thomas Lane attacked McNeil for lacking “basic decency.” The school has launched an “immediate review” of its “options.”

The adults in charge poured virtue-signaling fuel on a riotous fire, resulting in an avalanche of violent death threats and doxxing of McNeil’s family:

“KICK JADEN MCNEIL OUT OR WE WILL HANDLE HIM OURSELVES. This is not a threat, it’s a promise!!” a Twitter user exclaimed. “I swear to God you better never show your face in public in the state of Kansas. F–kin dead man.”

Another user named Billy threatened: “I don’t know who you are but I hope your (gets) face stomped in. If no one has, I’ll do it.”

An Instagram user messaged McNeil: “White cracker n—a ur gonna die.”

“People are more upset about this tweet than they are about George Floyd robbing a pregnant woman at gunpoint,” McNeil bluntly noted. Twitter, the supposedly neutral platform, forced McNeil to delete both his original joke and his observation about the selective outrage because the company claimed, the tweets were “glorifying violence.”

In the meantime, not a single Kansas Republican has risen to condemn the threats against McNeil, nor defended his rights to free speech and free association. The academic liberty champions of FIRE, however, sent off a letter to KSU President Myers on Monday firmly reminding the school that “the First Amendment bars KSU from punishing or investigating McNeil for his tweets.”

FIRE Letter to Kansas State University, June 30, 2020 (1)

Robert Shibley, FIRE’s executive director, told me:

“Kansas State may say that it is reviewing its ‘options’ in response to a demand that a student be kicked out for an unpopular tweet, but it knows those options don’t include meeting that demand—at least not legally. The free speech guarantees that some students demand be denied to others are the only thing that protects them from being the next casualty of shifting political winds.”

Shibley added: “The many attempts to silence dissenting voices in the past few weeks point to a profound failure among universities nationwide to maintain the climate of free inquiry that gives them purpose. Censorship does nothing to persuade its targets that their views are ‘wrong’—only that they must lie about them, or stay silent. While this may result in a temporary political benefit, driving views underground is a ticking time bomb for a democratic society.”

Unapologetic nationalist conservative students like Jaden McNeil are under siege at publicly funded universities—not just at blue state Ivy League schools or crazy California Marxist echo chambers but smack dab in the middle of red state America. Conservatism Inc.’s multimillion-dollar decades-old culture war is an abysmal failure. The kids deserve better.

***

I asked KSU president Richard Myers the following questions yesterday afternoon and have received no reply as of 9:30am Eastern time this morning:

1) What steps are you and your institution taking to protect Mr. McNeil’s First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association?

2) Have you condemned the death threats against Mr. McNeil and will you be issuing a statement against the incitement of violence against conservative students on campus?

3) What steps are you taking to ensure that Mr. McNeil’s organization, America First Students, is protected from unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination as protesters lobby the university to chase his group off campus?

***

Update 11:00am Eastern 7/1/20. K State president Richard Myers has unveiled The Plan To Mollify The Mob.

https://www.k-state.edu/today/info/announcement/?id=66089

What’s the matter with Kansas State University? EVERYTHING.

Dear K-State Community,

Recent national events and #BlackAtKState bring into clear focus how much work needs to be done to address racial and social injustice issues at our university. The university has committed to developing meaningful, measurable action plans with concrete steps.

ORDER IT NOW

These proposed steps take into account the reality that, as a governmental entity, we must operate within the law. There have been many calls for us to expel a student who posted racist messages on social media, and while these messages are disrespectful and abhorrent, we cannot violate the law.

What we can do is use these incidents as a catalyst to more crisply define the way we will work to stop hate at K-State and combat racism on our campuses. These initial steps have been based on the many voices heard so far, we will continue to listen and develop actions based on the many voices in our community.

Toward creating a more inclusive K-State, we commit to the following action steps.

Student-Related Action Steps:

1. Create a Student Ombudsperson Office in collaboration between the Provost, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and Vice President for Student Life to advocate for students experiencing a campus climate concern.

2. Establish a work group to analyze and make recommendations regarding all university policies, including discrimination and harassment policies and the Student Code of Conduct, with the goal of identifying and addressing institutional bias and barriers through an anti-racist lens.

3. Increase recruitment efforts with the aim of raising enrollment of students of color to meet or exceed the state of Kansas demographics.

4. Increase efforts to raise retention and graduation rates of students of color with annual measurable goals.

5. Increase the amount of need-based scholarships with annual measurable goals. Additionally, this next fiscal year’s voluntary salary reductions from administrative leaders will go directly towards need-based scholarships for students.

6. Improve the process for receiving complaints of discrimination.

7. Develop a policy on social media usage for students that balances our institutional values and free speech. Currently one exists for faculty and staff.

8. Initiate a “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation” campaign through Student Life modeled after the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ program to develop and track progress on co-curricular equity initiatives.

Faculty-Staff Related Action Steps:

9. Increase hiring and retention efforts for faculty and staff of color with the goal of meeting or exceeding relevant local, state, and national labor market demographics.

10. Work with the colleges and faculty to adopt the U.S. multicultural overlay as a universitywide model.

11. Develop and offer mandatory cultural competency workshops for faculty and staff.

A publicly available dashboard for measuring progress and identifying accountable university leaders for each of the above action steps will be developed. These commitments are an initial response and further action steps will be encouraged to be added by additional university units and through our shared governance process.

We will ensure students, faculty and staff of color are at the table along with other underrepresented groups as the above action steps move forward. Work on this plan begins immediately and progress will be reported monthly to the university community.

Richard B. Myers
President of Kansas State University

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Supreme Court: Imagining John Roberts Explaining Himself

Chief Justice John Roberts departs as the impeachment trial of President Trump continues in Washington, D.C., January 27, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

A Message from the Chief

Ever since I was a little boy, the other boys never called me “John” or “Johnny” or even “Roberts.” It was always “John Roberts.” The words would always run together, so in essence my name, to one and all, was “JohnRoberts.” “JohnRoberts, did you hear wrestling practice was canceled?” “JohnRoberts, Father Reilly said he wants to see you after Mass.” “JohnRoberts, do you want to go to the Dairy Queen for a root beer?” (Root was the only kind of beer I drank.) I did consider it a little strange when my own father started calling me “JohnRoberts,” but I didn’t mind. It was simply a gesture of respect for my immense propriety. I wanted to impress my elders with my rectitude, and I think I did.

I impressed the other students too. I know I was not seen the way the other boys were. People didn’t ask me, “Hey, JohnRoberts, want to go get high and see Gimme Shelter?” More often they would ask me for my opinion about cross-comparing the various options in life-insurance annuities or what model sedan I considered the most decorous and respectable. (Buick. Always Buick.) Often a group of boys would approach me, and one boy in the group would ask me these kinds of questions while his friends stood around, snickering at some private joke to which I was not privy. In retrospect, I suppose these were strange questions to ask a high schooler, but then again, it was my practice to wear long, black silken robes everywhere I went, just to be prepared for my future. I guess you could say young Kavanaugh did enough youthful hijinks for the both of us. He once told me he went to see Porky’s when he was only 16 and a half! Can you imagine? He’s a card, that boy.

Sometimes the fellows would ask me for my philosophy of life, which is intertwined with my legal philosophy, which is what I want to speak to you about today. I know that some of you are calling attention to how, when the liberals have five votes without me, I sometimes let forth a mighty roar denouncing the irreparable harm to our constitutional fabric, but when the liberals have only four votes without me, I tend to join them, while issuing a meek, technicality-filled ruling explaining why I’m unable to do anything conservative because, well, that’s just how the law works. I know that some of you are calling my judicial philosophy “Loserism” behind my back, and that is hurtful to me. Our side is not “losing.” That’s preposterous. I prefer the term “alternative winning.”

Let me explain how alternative winning works. This week, though I did stop the liberals from singling out religious schools for punishment in Montana, I know I disappointed conservatives when I voted the wrong way about abortion (again) and even voted against myself, just four years ago on a very similar case. What you don’t give me enough credit for is quoting Edmund Burke in my decision. Burke, I need not remind you, is a conservative icon. You think you would have gotten a Burke reference out of Sotomayor or Kagan? No, that’s what JohnRoberts gave you. I don’t merely let our adversaries whip conservatives about the head and neck with rusty chains, I quote Edmund Burke while I join them in whipping conservatives about the head and neck with rusty chains. Burke should warm your heart as you pass into unconsciousness because your spinal column feels like it’s being stomped on by orcs. Alternative winning.

Some of you have pointed out that when I joined the liberals to save Obamacare eight years ago by declaring that the penalty for not complying with the individual mandate was a tax, I not only disagreed with the people who wrote the law but switched sides at the last minute. It wounded me when some of you described this as “chickening out.” I prefer to think of it as “alternative courage.” As I said at the time, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” even constitutionally dodgy ones. You vote it, you got it! When it comes to American voters enacting any limits on abortion whatsoever, though, it is most definitely my job to save American voters from the policies they vote for. You vote it, you must be stopped!

The rules, as Elena Kagan has so helpfully explained to me, are straightforward enough: Abortion is not in the Constitution, but it’s implied by the right to privacy, which is also not in the Constitution, but the implications within these non-specified rights are super-specific. Even down to the level of whether Louisiana medical professionals doing abortions must be held to the same standards as Louisiana medical professionals doing LASIK: This question was settled for all time back in 1787. Though I was on the opposite side of this particular question in 2016, the doctrine known as stare decisis means I am not allowed to agree with 2016 me.

Stare decisis, of course, is Latin for “I can’t do anything hard.” True, I voted to overturn longstanding precedents in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), Janus v. AFSCME (2018), and Knick v. Township of Scott (2019), which means “respects the precedent” goes out the window when I’m feeling up to doing my job. You might say that it is our duty as Justices to drop-kick bad precedents, as we have done throughout the whole history of the country. Sometimes I do that! If it’s not too hard.

But the Louisiana case is quite hard, because it’s about abortion. You may have noticed that when the liberals don’t get what they want on abortion, they turn . . . grouchy. This matters, because they get to write all of the newspaper stories and history books. It is therefore my considered judgment that if I did anything that made it the least bit difficult for any American to get an abortion, my well-earned reputation for judiciousness would suddenly be worth about as much as a Jefferson Davis statue in Harlem. It is my settled view that no one should ever be mad at JohnRoberts, pillar of rectitudinous propriety.

Fellows, I worked really hard to be boring. My passion in school was Latin. Do you think I want there to be a chapter in the history books dedicated to hating JohnRoberts? The U.S. is one of the seven most permissive countries on earth for abortion. That may be unfortunate, but as long as it stays that way, no one’s dragging an effigy of JohnRoberts through the streets.

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The Problem With Israel’s Annexation Is Its Brutality, Not Its Optics

We need strong condemnation of Israel’s annexation plans, not handwringing over bad P.R.

Palestinians have been forced to endure Israel’s policies of expulsion and land appropriation for over 70 years.

With Trump’s approval, Israel plans to formally annex—or steal—large swaths of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and permanently rule over Palestinians without giving them citizenship or basic rights. There has been much U.S. media attention paid to condemnations of the annexation plans from supporters of Israel. Robert Satloff, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Peace, a hawkish, pro-Israel think tank, wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled, “I’m an Ardent Zionist and I am Opposed to Annexation.” (Zionism refers to the political ideology that supports the realization of a Jewish-ruled ethno-state in Palestine.) Islamophobe and right-wing Zionist Daniel Pipes in May wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Annexing the West Bank Would Hurt Israel.” These stories might give the impression that criticism of Israel’s belligerent act of aggression is alive and well in the United States.

However, a closer look at these criticisms shows that they stem not from a concern about the safety, rights and sovereignty of the Palestinian people being further dispossessed, but rather, from a fear that the planned annexation will harm Israel’s image as a democracy with a commitment to a negotiated peace. In other words, it’s about protecting Israel’s optics, for the purpose of allowing it to continue its ruthless treatment of Palestinians.

Peace Now, which calls itself “the largest and longest-standing Israeli movement advocating for peace,“ issued a statement entitled, “Annexation is Bad for Israel,” delineating that it opposes annexation because it threatens Israeli security, enflames Palestinian “extremists,” and promotes support for the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. J Street, a U.S.-based “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, likewise opposes annexation but has not advocated for legislation to reduce U.S. funding to Israel. Most important for Peace Now and J Street is that annexation ends the illusion of a two-state solution. This is because Israel would be claiming sovereignty over roughly 30% of the land in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, land that has been designated to be part of a future Palestinian state.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which bills itself as a civil rights organization, has in recent decades become a shield to protect Israel from accountablity and defend the state’s racist policies, and has a documented history of surveiling Black, Palestinian, and other progressive organizers and supporting racist policing. The ADL is also concerned with how Israeli annexation will be seen in the United States specifically at this time of Black-led uprising against racist and deadly policing. A leaked internal memo, reported at Jewish Currents, shows that the ADL expressed worry about how the organization will be able to defend Israel from accusations of apartheid and formalized discrimination given that any resistance by Palestinians to annexation “will be looked at from the prism of the George Floyd domestic movement.” The ADL memo goes on to say that at no point should the organization give the impression that it supports Israeli annexation, but should rather engage quietly with Democratic lawmakers, such as Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, to avoid public confrontations. “The memo suggests that the group hopes to avoid appearing openly hostile to public criticism of annexation while it works to block legislation that harshly censures Israel or leads to material consequences, such as conditioning United States military support,” writes reporter Joshua Leifer. 

Pro-Israel organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have been working to let lawmakers know that criticizing annexation is fine, but the line should be drawn at any real repercussions for Israel. Elected officials seem to be falling within these parameters. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has stated that he is opposed to annexation and is committed to a two-state solution. On June 17, Biden’s foreign policy advisor, Tony Blinken, said that Biden “would not tie military assistance to Israel to things like annexation or other decisions by the Israeli government with which we might disagree.” In other words, he spoke against the idea that Israel would face consequences for such an aggressive act—namely, withdrawal of aid. This position has been repeated elsewhere. In May, Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), on a phone call with Jewish Democratic Council of America, expressed concerns that annexation is not in the best interests of Israel and the United States, but went on to add that the United States “should never, never ever, condition security assistance or unbreakable bond with Israel on annexation or on other political policies.”

Let’s get some things straight. Israel has already undertaken de facto annexation of the West Bank, and currently operates a separate-and-unequal system across historic Palestine. Some people have full rights and others don’t, simply because of who they are. Jews across the globe have rights inside Israel not afforded to Palestinians living under Israeli rule on the land.

This is the not the first time that “liberal Zionists,” individuals who adhere to maintaining a Jewish majority in Palestine through continued dispossession of Palestinians while at the same time claim to support progressive values, have faced this kind of dissonance between their professed values of equality and their support of the Jewish state. In July 2018, the Israeli Knesset passed the Nation-State Law enshrining Israel’s exclusively Jewish character. The law states that only Jews are entitled to national self-determination, and makes no mention of the political rights of Palestinians. Like annexation, the passage of the Nation-State Law elicited an outpouring of opposition among American supporters of Israel who see themselves as progressive on domestic issues, many of whom lamented the “end of democracy” in Israel. However, Israel has always been racist, undemocratic and exclusionary when it comes to Palestinians. But “liberal Zionists” are more concerned with Israel’s image than with the Palestinian people’s lived reality.

Palestinians have been forced to endure Israel’s policies of expulsion and land appropriation for over 70 years. In 1948, roughly 750,000 Palestinians were forced out or fled from Palestine. They have never been allowed to return, leaving millions of Palestinians refugees. Discrimination, land theft and exclusion have always been built into Israeli policy. This annexation scheme is only the latest manifestation of Zionist ambitions to control all Palestinian land.

So it is not surprising that much of the current debate over annexation in mainstream U.S. policy circles has a singular focus on how annexation will harm Israel’s image. It steers clear of holding Israel accountable for its illegal land grab. The commentary suggests that taking Palestinian land is fine, so long as Israel is not obvious about it. Israel’s institutional backers and the Democratic Party leadership are opening the pressure valve to try to neutralize the growing grassroots support for Palestinian rights by offering condemnation of annexation. But by refusing to apply any meaningful pressure on Israel to change course, they are allowing Israel to continue its policies of land theft, dispossession and state-sanctioned racism against the Palestinian people. 

However, not all the Democrats have followed this line of thinking. On June 30, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and 12 other members of Congress announced they will release a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo that suggests that annexation is the foundation “for Israel becoming an apartheid state,” and that if annexation proceeds they will “pursue conditions on the $3.8 billion in U.S. military funding to Israel.” With 12 members of the House along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), this letter is the result of many years of grassroots movement organizing to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights. While the letter is a huge step in the right direction, the pressure now must turn to having Congress introduce legislation to leverage the $3.8 billion in taxpayer money that goes to Israel each year to hold Israel accountable for violations of human rights. 

Palestinians have long demanded that the United States stop funding the weapons, systems and policies that kill them. Palestinians in the United States and around the globe take inspiration from the demands of the Movement for Black Lives to divest from harm and invest in communities. Defunding the police is the domestic equivalent of the demand to end U.S. militarism around the globe, starting with an end to military funding to Israel, the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. aid since World War II. 

Ending the funding of systems of violence is a fundamental demand of any oppressed community. Our elected officials have a duty to stop bankrolling the killing of our people and ensure that budgets reflect the values and needs of their constituents. Palestinians and their allies demand the U.S. stop funding Israel to buy more weapons to kill Palestinians. We feel the immense pain of the families who have seen their loved ones killed by Israel since late May, among them Eyad Al-Hallaq, the 32-year old autistic man who was shot down by Israeli forces on the streets of Jerusalem while he was walking to his special needs school, and Ahmad Erekat, the 27-year old Palestinian man shot at an Israeli checkpoint on his way to pick up his sister from the beauty salon to deliver her to her wedding ceremony. 

Holding Israel accountable for its land grabs, extrajudicial killings and other violations of Palestinian rights must be our demand as a first step toward justice, whether or not Israel decides to go through with formal annexation. It’s long past time to divest from violence and invest in justice. It’s a simple ask: Stop funding the killing of our communities. This demand opens up the possibility for the better world we know is possible where everyone, not just those with power, live in safety and have the ability to thrive.


Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian organizer based in St. Louis. She is the director of the Adalah Justice Project.

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Senate Republicans shrug off Trump’s veto threat over renaming Confederate bases

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) acknowledged that it might be difficult to work through the amendment process on the behemoth yearly bill, but noted that it would be several months before the legislation actually reaches Trump’s desk.

“The veto would take place sometime probably in November,” Inhofe said. “And we have a long, long time between now and November. So we’ll see.”

The blasé responses from Senate Republicans followed a midnight tweet from the president in which he said he would veto the defense bill unless the Senate scrubs an amendment from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that requires the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate military figures from all U.S. bases, aircraft, and other facilities and equipment within three years.

It’s highly unlikely that Warren’s amendment will be removed from the legislation; it would take 60 votes on the Senate floor to get rid of it. And even if Trump vetoes the bill, it is expected to pass with a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

The amendment was approved by the GOP-led Senate Armed Services Committee in June during a closed-door markup. Several Republicans have since spoken out in support of the plan, despite Trump’s long-standing opposition to eliminating Confederate names from military bases.

“We knew that there was a possibility to begin with, and it’ll still continue to be a part of the question,” Rounds said of Trump’s veto threat.

The move to rename bases also comes as America faces a reckoning over racial injustice, generated in part by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police in Minneapolis and subsequent nationwide protests over police brutality.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment to the defense bill that would instead create a commission to address the issue of whether to rename the military bases. The amendment has support from a variety of Republicans, including Rounds. The amendment would need 60 votes on the floor to pass.

“I think a vote on that would solve this problem,” Hawley said.

Warren, like other Democrats, predicted that her provision will remain in the final bill, due at least in part to the 60-vote threshold.

“The decision to remove the names of Confederate generals who took up arms against the United States in defense of slavery was a bipartisan decision that came out of the committee, and it’s going to stay in the defense budget,” Warren said Wednesday in a brief interview. “The president can do what he wants, but it stays.”

Trump’s veto threat came after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in early June called the amendment an “absolute nonstarter” for the president. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy initially expressed an openness to renaming bases named after Confederate figures — only to later face opposition by Trump himself.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to weigh in on Trump’s veto threat Wednesday, but he has previously signalled support for the renaming effort.

“If It’s appropriate to take another look at these names, I’m personally OK with that — and I am a descendant of a Confederate veteran myself,” McConnell said last month. “With regard to military bases, whatever is ultimately decided, I don’t have a problem with.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, predicted on Wednesday that Trump would not actually veto the bill over his objections to Warren’s amendment, noting that the legislation includes a pay raise for American servicemembers and other priorities of the White House.

“This is typical bluster from President Trump,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who dared the president to veto the measure on Tuesday. “The NDAA will pass and we will scrub from our military bases the names of men who fought for the Confederacy and took up arms against our country.”

Some GOP senators, though, agree with the president on the preservation of Confederate bases. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), for example, introduced an amendment to the defense bill that would rename all U.S. military bases after Medal of Honor winners.

“If we’re going to do this fairly, we should reevaluate all bases,” Kennedy said.