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    The Guardian view on the US and vaccine disinformation: a stupid, shocking and deadly game | Editorial

    In July 2021, Joe Biden rightly inveighed against social media companies failing to tackle vaccine disinformation: “They’re killing people,” the US president said. Despite their pledges to take action, lies and sensationalised accounts were still spreading on platforms. Most of those dying in the US were unvaccinated. An additional source of frustration for the US was the fact that Russia and China were encouraging mistrust of western vaccines, questioning their efficacy, exaggerating side-effects and sensationalising the deaths of people who had been inoculated.How, then, would the US describe the effects of its own disinformation at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic? A shocking new report has revealed that its military ran a secret campaign to discredit China’s Sinovac vaccine with Filipinos – when nothing else was available to the Philippines. The Reuters investigation found that this spread to audiences in central Asia and the Middle East, with fake social media accounts not only questioning Sinovac’s efficacy and safety but also claiming it used pork gelatine, to discourage Muslims from receiving it. In the case of the Philippines, the poor take-up of vaccines contributed to one of the highest death rates in the region. Undermining confidence in a specific vaccine can also contribute to broader vaccine hesitancy.The campaign, conducted via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (now X) and other platforms, was launched under the Trump administration despite the objections of multiple state department officials. The Biden administration ended it after the national security council was alerted to the issue in spring 2021. The drive seems to have been retaliation for Chinese claims – without any evidence – that Covid had been brought to Wuhan by a US soldier. It was also driven by military concerns that the Philippines was growing closer to Beijing.It is all the more disturbing because the US has seen what happens when it plays strategic games with vaccination. In 2011, in preparation for the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the CIA tried to confirm that it had located him by gathering the DNA of relatives through a staged hepatitis B vaccination campaign. The backlash was entirely predictable, especially in an area that had already seen claims that the west was using polio vaccines to sterilise Pakistani Muslim girls. NGOs were vilified and polio vaccinators were murdered. Polio resurged in Pakistan; Islamist militants in Nigeria killed vaccinators subsequently.The report said that the Pentagon has now rescinded parts of the 2019 order that allowed the military to sidestep the state department when running psychological operations. But while the prospect of a second Trump administration resuming such tactics is alarming, the attitude that bred them goes deeper. Reuters pointed to a strategy document from last year in which generals noted that the US could weaponise information, adding: “Disinformation spread across social media, false narratives disguised as news, and similar subversive activities weaken societal trust by undermining the foundations of government.”The US is right to challenge the Kremlin’s troll farms, Beijing’s propaganda and the irresponsibility of social media companies. But it’s hard to take the moral high ground when you’ve been pumping out lies. The repercussions in this case were particularly predictable, clear and horrifying. It was indefensible to pursue a project with such obvious potential to cause unnecessary deaths. It must not be repeated. More

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    Biden surges in the 2024 race … for celebrity support

    Hello!We’re sending the newsletter out slightly early this week, as Wednesday is Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free – more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black Americans since the late 1800s and was made a federal holiday in 2021.While the day will be marked by parades and events across the US, the Biden and Trump campaigns are continuing their sprint to November.In the past week Joe Biden raised more than $30m at a star-studded fundraising event in Los Angeles. Jack Black, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Barbra Streisand were among the big name acts, and Biden is certainly leading the race for celebrity endorsements: Donald Trump can only offer the musician Kid Rock, the British actor turned strange man Laurence Fox, and the guy who played Superman on TV in the 1990s.But does it matter? Should we care whether or not Taylor Swift endorses Biden? (His campaign has been courting her for months.) We’ll take a look after the headlines.Here’s what you need to know1. A silent debate?The debate between Biden and Trump later this month will feature muted microphones, CNN announced on Sunday: meaning neither man will be able to talk over the other during the 90-minute event. The first Biden-Trump debate in 2020 was one of the great farces of our time, with Trump continually interrupting and heckling Biden, before telling a white supremacist group to “stand by”.2. Trump can’t remember his doctor’s nameTrump was in Michigan on Saturday, bragging about his mental acuity and demanding Biden take a cognitive test. Trump said he had “aced” a cognitive test administered by his presidential doctor, whom he identified as “Ronny Johnson”. “[Ronny Johnson] was the White House doctor, and he said I was the healthiest president, he feels, in history. So I liked him very much,” Trump said. The only problem was that Trump was thinking of Ronny Jackson. The Biden campaign was quick to point out the error.3. Biden acts on immigrationBiden is set to announce a new executive action that will allow some undocumented immigrants who are spouses and children of US citizens to become American citizens themselves. The action will help about 500,000 American families, according to the Department of Homeland Security, and 50,000 children. Politically it could help insulate Biden somewhat from accusations from the left that he has given in to hard-right Republican demands on border immigration, while potentially shoring up his support with minority communities, which has slipped slightly since the last election.George Clooney and Julia Roberts v Phil Robertson and Randy QuaidView image in fullscreenIn the celebrity endorsement race – if such a race exists – Biden is defeating Trump comfortably.Saturday night was the perfect illustration. Biden flew west, to Los Angeles, for a campaign fundraiser with a who’s who of Hollywood names, including Clooney, Roberts, Black, Streisand, Jason Bateman, the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel – who compered proceedings – and Barack Obama, appearing alongside his former vice-president. The celebs coughed up $30m, a significant boost to the Biden campaign coffers.In May, Robert De Niro popped up to criticize Trump outside court in Manhattan, while Queen Latifah and Lizzo were featured at a fundraiser in New York in March. Michael Douglas hosted Biden for a campaign event at his home earlier this year.Trump, the former TV host and celebrity builder who has a long-running obsession with the rich and famous (he sent invitations for his third wedding to various stars including Billy Joel, who attended but later said he wasn’t sure why he was invited), has a less deep bench.Dean Cain, a former actor who played Superman in the 1990s TV series Lois and Clark, backed Trump in April – “I’m endorsing President Trump 100%. No question about it,” Cain told Fox News – but hardly anyone noticed because, well, very few people know who Dean Cain is.Kid Rock, the country singer and cowboy-hat wearer, has been a long-term Trump backer (“Many close to him wonder what the hell happened,” Rolling Stone reported last month.) There’s also Randy Quaid, best known for playing a booze-addled, alien-obsessed, ex-pilot in Independence Day, and Dennis Quaid, Randy’s brother. There’s the actor Jon Voight, who these days is perhaps most known for being Angelina Jolie’s dad. Phil Robertson, who invented a sort of pipe thing that replicates the quack of a duck and was a reality TV star before voicing his homophobia, is also keen.But that’s about it. If this was a celebrity-gathering competition, Biden would definitely win.But it isn’t. It’s an election. So does it matter?Kind of. Sometimes. Although not always.Hillary Clinton had the backing of all the hip-ish A-listers in 2016 – I remember listening to Demi Lovato belting out her hits at a Clinton event in Iowa one evening – and still lost. But studies have found that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 did make an impact: it boosted Obama’s vote and increased contributions.There is a difference between then and now, however. In May 2007 the future president was a relative unknown: Winfrey was introducing him to some people for the first time. Few Americans alive haven’t heard of Biden and Trump, so the effect of an endorsement from, say, a duck-noise inventor is debatable.What some politicos believe really could make a difference is the backing of Taylor Swift. In 2023, one fairly innocuous Instagram post from Swift – “I’ve heard you raise your voices, and I know how powerful they are. Make sure you’re ready to use them in our elections this year!” – inspired tens of thousands of people to register to vote.It’s safe to assume plenty of those new voters were young people – exactly the kind of voter Biden needs in November. No wonder that the Biden campaign is eagerly pursuing Swift, who backed Biden in 2020: the New York Times reports that Swift is “the biggest and most influential endorsement target” for the president.Swift is clearly on Trump’s mind, too. He brought her up at a meeting with Republican lawmakers in DC last week, spoke about Swift at length – “She probably doesn’t like Trump” – in an interview for a new book.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionOf course, Swift hasn’t actually endorsed anyone yet. In 2020 she announced her support for Biden just one month before the election, so we could be waiting a while yet.Out and about: DetroitView image in fullscreenIf Trump had been hoping that the 80-minute headline speech at the Turning Point USA convention would improve his standing with Black voters, he would have been disappointed. The crowd before him on Saturday night in Detroit – which is 77% African American, and overwhelmingly Democratic – was almost exclusively white.The former president has been attempting in recent campaign appearances to present himself as popular with Black and Latino voters, as polls show his support among these demographic groups edging upwards. Michigan is also one of a handful of critical battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome of this year’s presidential race.Earlier on Saturday Trump visited a Black church in Detroit for an event billed as a “community roundtable” – but there was little audience crossover into the Turning Point event. Those attending were able to hear speeches from a range of Trump luminaries, including his former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon. Supporters could also pose for selfies in front of a gold-plated Mercedes bearing Trump’s image on the hood.– Ed Pilkington, chief US reporter, Detroit, MichiganBiggest lie: the vice-presidential hopefulsView image in fullscreenTim Scott, the South Carolina senator, and Byron Donalds, a Florida congressman, who are both auditioning to be Trump’s vice-president, each made similar claims during TV appearances this weekend – namely, that Biden is responsible for rampant violent crime.Scott said communities have been “ravaged by a wave of violent crime that we haven’t seen in five decades”, while Donalds claimed that while the murder rate might be down, it doesn’t mean violent crime overall is.Both are actually down. Recently released data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed big declines in violent crimes, including murder, and in property crimes in 2024 compared to 2023. Nor is it just a one-year drop. Violent crime is now at a nearly 50-year record low, Biden has said – and FBI crime data backs this up: it peaked in 1991, then has largely fallen, with occasional upward ticks such as 2020, which is often attributed to pandemic stresses.Unfortunately, while crime may be down, the public’s perception of crime is different. A Gallup poll in October found that 77% of Americans believe there is more crime in the US than a year ago, and Republicans seem to be happy to stoke those fears.– Rachel Leingang, misinformation reporterWho had the worst week: Republicans who like to smoke cigarsView image in fullscreenPity Tom Cole, the Republican congressman from Oklahoma, and his cigar-smoking pals, who have been left without a place to suck on their stogies after Cole left his position as chairman of the House rules committee.Cole spent 15 months as the Rules head honcho, and he allowed colleagues to puff on cigars in the rules office in the Capitol building. But it seems the new chair clamped down.“We desperately need a place to smoke cigars,” Cole told Business Insider this week.Smoking is banned in many public places in the US – including in Washington DC – but members of Congress can smoke all they like in their offices … which does little to counter the notion that politics is an elite little club, with its own little rules. More

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    Vermont Republican secretly poured water into colleague’s bag over months

    A Vermont lawmaker was compelled to apologize publicly after being caught on video pouring water into her colleague’s work bag multiple times across several months.The bizarre behavior is allegedly a part of a campaign of harassment that one legislator aimed at another who represents the same district in the Green Mountain state, independent outlet Seven Days first reported.The Republican representative, Mary Morrissey, 67, confessed to dumping water in the bag of the Democratic legislator Jim Carroll, 62. She later apologized during a Vermont state house session on Monday, Boston.com reported.“I am truly ashamed of my actions,” Morrissey said.Morrissey did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.She and Carroll both represent the city of Bennington, about 25 miles outside of Manchester. Morrissey has served 13 terms in the Vermont legislature while Carroll has served two.Carroll told the Guardian that Morrissey had poured cups of water into his bag since January.Carroll says he first suspected Morrissey as she had been “nasty” to him for several months despite the two knowing each other since childhood and even attending the same church.“[She] would say demeaning things in front of other legislators,” Carroll said.But Carroll had no evidence, so he decided to launch his own investigation. For weeks, Carroll secretly recorded footage of his backpack to catch the person in the act.In two videos Carroll captured, Morrissey is seen dumping a cup of liquid into Carroll’s green tote bag. Morrissey’s face was not captured in the video, but fellow lawmakers were able to identify her by her gray hair.Seven Days later used a public records request to obtain footage of Morrissey dumping water into Carroll’s bag. That was after the outlet initially reported on Morrissey’s behavior and an ethics investigation into her.Carroll initially refused to release the videos to Seven Days but ultimately changed his mind.“I have been very reluctant to disclose the video because I believe it will deeply embarrass Representative Morrissey,” Carroll wrote in a statement to the outlet. “However, it has become clear to me that the media are aware of the details of Representative Morrissey’s behavior and likely will continue to report on that behavior in the near future.”Carroll said when he first saw the video of Morrissey, he felt “sad”. “There was no good that was going to come out of this,” he said.Morrissey later apologized to Carroll during a subsequent meeting and claimed that she didn’t know the bag belonged to him.According to Carroll, Morrissey initially said that she “flicked” water on the bag because she saw a bug on it. But she later added that she didn’t know why she decided to dump water on Carroll’s bag for months on end.“At the end of the meeting, I looked at her and said, ‘You know, this has really fucked me up.’ There were weeks when I didn’t know who was doing this or why,” Carroll said.“I walked around this place, paranoid of my fellow legislators, racking my brain trying to think, ‘What could I have possibly said or done?’”Carroll said that he was still weighing whether he should pursue charges against Morrissey for the harassment.As for whether he forgives Morrissey, Carroll said: “I guess I would have to say yes in the spirit of forgiveness, reluctantly. But if I had to be a smartass, I’d say her apology holds about as much water as my canvas bag.” More

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    Trump to stage Wisconsin rally days after calling Milwaukee a ‘horrible city’

    Donald Trump is set to pitch for support in the key battleground state of Wisconsin on Tuesday, just days after calling its biggest population centre, Milwaukee, “a horrible city”.In what will also be his first visit to the midwestern state since last month’s felony conviction related to hush-money payments, Trump will stage a ticket-only rally in Racine, a city of about 76,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, about 30 miles from Milwaukee.The former president will deliver remarks “on Joe Biden’s failed presidency”, according to his campaign.His message will compete with an advertising billboard placed nearby by the Democratic National Committee aimed at reminding locals of his Milwaukee comments, reportedly made last week to House Republicans during Trump’s first visit to Capitol Hill since the January 6 attack by a mob trying to overturn his presidential election loss to Joe Biden.“Want to know what’s really ‘horrible?’ Donald Trump for Wisconsin’s economy,” the ad will say.Republicans have scrambled to downplay or otherwise explain the unflattering reference to Milwaukee – all the more embarrassing because the city will host the party’s national convention, which starts 15 July and at which Trump’s nomination as its presidential candidate will become official.Trump himself, in characteristic fashion, has denied even uttering the remark, which was first reported by the Punchbowl website.“The Democrats are making up stories that I said Milwaukee is a ‘horrible city’. This is false, a complete lie, just like the Laptop from Hell was a lie, Russia … was a lie, and so much more,” he posted on his Truth Social site.“It’s called disinformation, and that’s all they know how to do. I picked Milwaukee, I know it well. It should therefore lead to my winning Wisconsin. But the Dems come out with this fake story, just like all of the others. It never ends. Don’t be duped. Who would say such a thing with that important state in the balance?”He conveyed a different message in an interview with Fox 6 News, in which he implicitly admitted the comment by attempting a clarification.“I think it was very clear what I meant. We’re very concerned with crime. I love Milwaukee,” he said. “But as you know the crime numbers are terrible, and we have to be very careful. But, I was referring to, also, the election,” when he unsuccessfully challenged vote tallies by falsely alleging fraud.Whatever the explanation, Democrats have announced plans to cash in by placing 10 billboards throughout Milwaukee blaring out Trump’s negative description in the run-up to the convention.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionThe ads coincide with a $50m advertising offensive in battleground states, the focal point of which is a Biden campaign video zeroing in on Trump’s convicted felon status following the conviction in a Manhattan court of falsifying documents to hide hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actor.The intense messaging reflects Wisconsin’s status as a potentially crucial swing state, with Racine county being one of its most competitive bellwether districts. Trump won the county by 50% and 51% in 2016 and 2020 respectively. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush won it by comparable margins in their two election victories.Biden, who won Wisconsin by 21,000 votes in 2020, visited Racine last month, when he highlighted a $3.3bn investment planned in the area by Microsoft as evidence of the benefits of his economic policies.A RealClearPolitics survey this week showed Biden recording a 39.3% approval rating in Wisconsin, with 55.7% disapproving.Trump and Biden are running neck-and-neck in most national polls, with the former president showing leads in several battleground states. More

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    Boeing bosses accused of ‘strip mining’ company for profit in Senate hearing

    The CEO of Boeing has acknowledged “something went wrong” at the embattled planemaker after another whistleblower came forward, alleging that corners were cut on its production line.Dave Calhoun acknowledged some employees who raised concerns about safety and quality inside the company faced retaliation.The executive did not have the number of managers fired for retaliating against whistleblowers “on the tip of my tongue”, he told senators, “but I know it happens”.At a hearing entitled “Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture”, Richard Blumenthal, chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, declared that the company was facing a “moment of reckoning” – and called for prosecutions.In heated exchanges, Calhoun – who has already announced plans to step down later this year – and Boeing executives were accused of “strip mining” the company for profit. “You’re cutting corners, you’re eliminating safety procedures, you’re sticking it to your employees,” said Josh Hawley, the Republican senator.“It’s working out great for you,” Hawley added, citing Calhoun’s “extraordinary” $33m pay package and asking why he had not yet resigned. “I’m sticking this through,” Calhoun replied. “I am proud of every action we have taken.”Hours before the session Sam Mohawk, a quality assurance inspector for the company in Renton, Washington, became the latest Boeing employee to go public with claims of safety issues. He alleged that he was instructed by his supervisors to conceal evidence from regulators.Boeing has come under intense scrutiny since a terrifying cabin panel blowout in January prompted fresh questions about quality and safety.View image in fullscreen“More than a dozen” whistleblowers have now come forward, according to Blumenthal, who urged other concerned workers at Boeing to contact his office. “Boeing needs to stop thinking about the next earnings call and start thinking about the next generation.”Calhoun insisted that he did not “recognize any of the Boeing you describe” when senators accused the company of weakening safety systems. “​Our culture is far from perfect,” he said, “but we are taking action, and we are making progress.”As he spoke, the families of victims of two Boeing plane crashes, in 2018 and 2019, in which 346 people were killed, and whistleblowers who spoke out about their experiences at the company, were sitting with him in the room.Turning to the families before starting his evidence, Calhoun apologized to them directly for their “gut-wrenching” losses.The company has delivered a quality improvement plan to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and claimed that employees have been emboldened to come forward with safety and quality concerns on the factory floor.But accounts from inside Boeing’s facilities have raised further questions. Earlier this month the Guardian reported on claims the firm’s largest factory was in “panic mode”.Whistleblowers including Sam Salehpour, a current engineer at Boeing, and Roy Irvin, a former quality investigator, have gone public with allegations about safety in recent months.“This is a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits and disregard its workers,” Blumenthal said of Boeing before Tuesday’s hearing. “A culture that enables retaliation against those who do not submit to the bottom line. A culture that desperately needs to be repaired.”Blumenthal said Mohawk recently told the panel he had witnessed systemic disregard for documentation and accountability of nonconforming parts.In a report released by the committee, Mohawk said his work handling nonconforming parts became significantly more “complex and demanding” after the resumption of production of the 737 Max, its bestselling commercial jet, in 2020. Production had been suspended following the two crashes in 2018 and 2019.Mohawk alleged the number of nonconformance reports soared 300% compared with before the grounding of the Max. The 737 program lost parts that were intentionally hidden from the FAA during one inspection, he claimed.Mohawk filed a related claim in June with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal regulator.Boeing said: “We received this document late Monday evening and are reviewing the claims. We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public.”Reuters contributed reporting More

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    JD Vance ‘disrespecting the dead’ with bump stock remarks, Nevada senator says

    Political ripples from the supreme court’s decision to overturn a Trump White House-era ban on sales of “bump stocks” – a spring-loaded stock that uses recoil to in effect turn a semi-automatic firearm into a machine gun – continued to radiate on Monday when Jacky Rosen took exception to comments on the issue made by his Republican colleague JD Vance.Vance, the Ohio senator and potential vice-presidential pick as Trump seeks a second presidency in November had dismissed efforts by senior Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, to pass legislation banning the devices as “a huge distraction”.Vance went further. “What is the real gun violence problem in this country, and are we legislating in a way that solves fake problems? Or solves real problems?” Vance said, before adding: “My very strong suspicion is that the Schumer legislation is aimed at a PR problem, not something that’s going to meaningfully reduce gun violence in this country.”Rosen, the Democratic senator, hit back, facing re-election this year in politically purple Nevada, the site of the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting that killed 58 and prompted Trump to ban the rapid-fire device.“This is not a fake problem,” she told reporters. “Let him come to Las Vegas. Let him see the memorial for those people who died. Let him talk to those families. It’s not a fake problem. Those families are dead.”Rosen said Las Vegas, the gambling mecca and major source of Nevada’s revenue, had been “changed forever because of what the shooter did, and the bump stocks helped him”. She invited Vance to visit memorials to the victims as well as to talk to first responders. “Shame on him,” Rosen added, visibly enraged. “Shame on him for disrespecting the dead.”In its ruling last week, the conservative majority on the supreme court ruled that the executive branch of government did not have the power to use existing firearms laws to prohibit bump stocks. But the justices allowed legislators to pass new laws banning the accessory.Schumer and other senior Democrats have since said they would quickly move to do so.Outcry from Democrats mounted after Vance reasoned that a bill to ban bump stocks would “end up just inhibiting the rights of law-abiding Americans” and mused about how many people would still have been killed if the heavily armed video poker player Stephen Paddock had not outfitted his armory with the contested devices.“How many people would have been shot alternatively? And you have to ask yourself the question: will anyone actually not choose a bump stock because Chuck Schumer passes a piece of legislation?” Vance said.After Vance made his comments, Schumer retorted: “Talk to the people in Las Vegas who lost loved ones.”The supreme court ruling gives both sides of the gun issue red meat for the election campaign, though it is complicated by the initial ban coming from the Trump White House. Lindsey Graham, the Republican South Carolina senator, told NBC News he will block the Democrats’ measure. And Vance questioned Democrats’ legislative priorities.Chris Murphy, the Democratic Connecticut senator who has championed tougher gun laws after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012, said Republicans in his chamber should have no problem voting for the measure banning bump stocks.“Is it good politics to make it easier for potential mass killers to get their hands on machine guns? Probably not,” Murphy said. “The idea is to try to make this attractive to Republicans. And we would be a lot better off if psychopaths couldn’t get their hands on machine guns.”Between Friday – when the supreme court’s ruling on bump stocks returned gun control to the top of the national discourse – and Monday, there were 17 mass shootings reported across the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive.Among those was a shooting Saturday in Rochester Hills, Michigan, in which nine people – including two children – were wounded at a city-run splash pad that families frequent to cool off in the summer. Police said the attack was carried out at random by a gunman who later died by suicide.Another shooting on Saturday in Round Rock, Texas, saw 14 people wounded and two killed. There, the shooting erupted after an altercation between two groups of people – the victims were uninvolved bystanders, police said.The non-partisan Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more victims are wounded or killed.There have been at least 230 such shootings reported in the US so far this year, a high rate which has fueled public calls for more substantial gun control but which Congress for the most part has not heeded.
    Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed reporting More

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    Biden is lurching right on immigration. Democrats must be the party of Dreamers | Chris Newman

    Joe Biden is making a huge mistake by lurching to the right on immigration, away from his base and toward Donald Trump and the Republicans. In trying to be seen as tough at the border, ending asylum and curtailing immigrants’ rights, he is forgetting what happened the last time a Democratic president did right by immigrants in a big way.It happened 12 years ago this week, in the summer of an election year. Barack Obama took bold executive action to expand rights for an entire generation of undocumented immigrants. It was the right thing to do – and it helped him immensely at the polls.The move was Daca – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The policy offered hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought here as children, known as Dreamers, renewable protection from deportation and permission to work legally. It was the most important advance for undocumented immigrants in more than two decades.Ever since Congress first comprehensively regulated immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, every generation since has seen immigrants fighting for legalization (or political equality) the way that previous generations moved from illegal to legal status. Germans, Jews, Irish, Italians, newcomers from across Asia – they were all Dreamers once. They all benefited from presidential leadership.During the Covid lockdown, I taught a course at the University of California, Los Angeles, on the history and legacy of Daca. My students – some of them Dreamers themselves – learned what a landmark achievement it was in the evolution of US immigration policy, while placing it within the long continuum of immigrants’ progress from “illegal” to “legal”. White nationalism and xenophobia are forever flaring up in our history, and immigrants are always the scapegoat. But until recently, US presidents have doused the flames of nativism while expanding the country’s capacity for inclusion and shared prosperity.On 15 June 2012, against the advice of his advisers, Obama stepped out into the Rose Garden to announce the new policy: if young people came forward and registered with the Department of Homeland Security, he would give them what some would call amnesty. Rather than being electrocuted on the so-called “third rail” of US politics for advancing immigrants’ rights, Obama won re-election with an overwhelming share of the Latino vote. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, looked cruel and even foolish by comparison. The incipient Tea Party movement was rattled.By November, after Obama secured a come-from-behind victory, Beltway pundits acknowledged that it had been a good idea to advance equal rights for undocumented immigrants. Even Sean Hannity of Fox News changed his tune and declared that he had “evolved” to support a “path to citizenship” for the longterm undocumented.This may seem like a forgotten memory from before the twin plagues of Trumpism and the pandemic threw politics as we knew it into a black hole. But Dreamers, their families, and their employers remember what Obama did. Daca gave about 600,000 young people the chance to plant roots and contribute to the national well-being. A small fraction of the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants finally caught a break and our economy and society didn’t collapse. Things actually got better.The biggest Daca myth is that it was a gift that a benevolent Obama bestowed on a needy and timid cohort of immigrants. On the contrary. Obama had stubbornly resisted using his deferred action authority, saying the constitution didn’t allow it. The Dreamers knew better; they found their own lawyers (I was one of them) to make their case, and they pushed the idea that the executive branch had every right to exercise discretion and its limited resources, particularly to recognize the inexorable fact that all immigrants’ status inevitably change over time.The reasons people come to America are very often different from the reasons they stay. Quite literally since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, constitutional values of inclusion have always powered through political forces of exclusion to expand the definition of who deserves equal rights.Emulating the gift that 1960’s civil-rights leaders bestowed on the country, Dreamers marched, fasted, protested and prayed. They had sit-ins and teach-ins. Significantly, they committed acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. They got themselves arrested and thrown into deportations. All to prove that Obama could and should use his presidential authority to expand protections for undocumented immigrants. They played political hardball too, vowing to take their support to whoever would listen to them – perhaps evenMarco Rubio, a senator from Florida, back when he was seen as a Republican who could be reasoned with.Unlike Biden, Obama began his presidency tacking hard to the right on deportations. He used his discretion to conscript police and sheriff’s departments across America into civil immigration enforcement. Imagine if all cops were compelled to check someone’s tax status with the IRS upon arrest – that is what Obama did with immigration. It is a decision he came to regret.While Obama carried out record deportations (significantly more than Trump), he resisted the Dreamers as long as he could. He spent his first term convincing the immigrant rights lobby to suspend their criticism of his deportations with the promise that he was pursuing a long shot “comprehensive” immigration deal with Republicans that would trade a harshly militarized border, workplace crackdowns and interior removals in return for a so-called path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents.Obama kept his end of the enforcement bargain by setting a record on expulsions that led immigrant-rights advocates and even The New York Times editorial page to label him “the Deporter-in-Chief”. While some in the administration winced at the moniker, Obama’s political advisors like David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel likely rejoiced: by moving to the right on immigration, Democrats ostensibly took an issue away from Republicans, while making caricatures of Republicans as anti-Latino racists.But the Republicans kept demanding more – and getting it. And then they got Trump. Not long ago the Republican immigration agenda was more border personnel, workplace verification and scattered job-site raids. Now they’ve moved on to second world war-style detention camps, with the US military used to effectuate the mass expulsion of millions.What did Obama and the Democrats achieve by trying to out-tough xenophobic Republicans on immigration? Little to nothing. They’re still labeled the party of amnesty by the Maga media machine. And to their own fractured coalition, their position on immigration became incomprehensibly illegible.Most insidiously, their weakness coupled with their own record of deportations gave Trump and his party tacit permission to be even worse. Every capitulation by the Democrats on punishing immigrants is seized on by Republicans as ratification of their big lie – that the country is being invaded and that the only way to save America is to shut the border and drive the dangerous aliens out.What is the alternative? Remember Daca. Remember how it was achieved. By fighting back. Honor and learn from the courageous young immigrant civil rights leaders who – putting their lives and livelihoods at risk – pushed Obama into the one immigration action he can be proud of. At this dire moment for the country’s future, we need more courage, not less. From everyone, but especially from Biden.If he values his legacy, Obama should step up alongside those immigrant kids (now adults) who convinced him to do the right thing. He should urge his friend and successor, Biden to do the same: respect and protect immigrants’ rights, draw from their courage as the nation trembles with fear of the prospect of Trump seizing power again.It is not hyperbole to fear, as the current president is fond of saying, that US democracy itself is on the ballot in this election. If it is to prevail this November, Biden must learn the lesson from Daca and use his singular authority to expand the definition of who “we” are as Americans. If he does so, he and the country will be rewarded.
    Chris Newman is legal director of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, which advocates for immigrants and low-wage workers’ rights More

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    Trump’s enablers in Congress are a fascinating case study of political amnesia | Sidney Blumenthal

    After 40 months and two weeks Donald Trump succeeded in being driven by car to the Capitol. The last time he attempted to get there was 6 January 2021. The mob was rampaging, ransacking offices and chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” Trump was “irate”, according to the account of Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide, because he was not among the mob. “The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now.’” Hutchinson stands by her story of being told he had tried to grab the steering wheel and lunged at his driver.If the US supreme court had not intervened to postpone Trump’s January 6 trial it would likely be proceeding today or perhaps even have already reached a verdict on his conspiracy, according to the indictment of the United States of America v Donald J Trump, “to defraud the United States by using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit to impair, obstruct, and defeat the lawful federal government function by which the results of the presidential election are collected, counted, and certified by the federal government”.But on Thursday, in this universe, under the shadow of the insurrectionist banners displayed by Samuel Alito, the associate justice, and Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House, a key player in Trump’s January 6 scheme, Trump arrived as a conquering hero before the Republicans of the Congress, key members of whom were his confederates in his plot while others on that day raced to safe rooms, yet all now desperately rallying for party unity around their nominee against the rule of law.Trump’s conviction a week earlier on 34 felonies in New York for business fraud to deceive the voters in the 2016 election excited Republican hysteria to embrace him to a frantic level. Johnson assembled the Republican members into an impromptu J6 Choir, after the imprisoned members of the Capitol mob whose violent crimes Trump has pledged to pardon, to serenade the beaming felon with a rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr President.”Lindsey Graham unsteadily took his Marilyn Monroe turn. He tweeted on X: “Happy Birthday to @realDonaldTrump. Your golf game has never been stronger, and America needs you now more than ever. Your best present will come in November when the American people elect you as our next President and Commander in Chief.” Then prodded by the Trump Stasi that he had neglected a crucial word, he sent a revised tweet: “Happy Birthday to President @realDonaldTrump.”Unlike Graham, Monroe got it right from the start, and JFK was in fact the president. Unlike Monroe, a Georgia grand jury recommended Graham’s criminal indictment as a co-conspirator in Trump’s election fraud in the state, though he escaped when the prosecutor decided not to charge him. He’s been freed to genuflect another day.One after another the Republicans came to bend the knee and offer tribute to their overlord. “No real Republican with any credibility in the party is still blaming him for January 6,” said JD Vance, a senator from Ohio, desperately seeking the vice-presidential nod. Vance, whose career has advanced by assuming multiple identities, now worships at the shrine of the one and only cult of personality.Of course, inevitably and naturally,Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, stood cheering behind Trump, despite the testimony in Trump’s trial of David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, about the deal he made with Trump not only for the “catch and kill” payoffs but also to print scurrilous falsehoods about his opponents, pointedly Cruz, whose father was smeared as an associate of JFK’s assassin. Trump once went out of his way to demean Cruz’s wife as unattractive. And there was Cruz furiously clapping as if his life depended on it and if he stopped he would be taken to the Lubyanka prison basement.The Old Crow, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, performed a literally incredible act of willful amnesia, forgetting and forgiving everything. In a tone of barely restrained anger after January 6, he had called for Trump’s prosecution for his responsibility for the attack on the Capitol. Trump called him a “dumb son of a bitch”, a “stone cold loser”, and his wife, Elaine Chao, a member of Trump’s cabinet as Secretary of Transportation, who quit in protest on January 6, his “China loving wife, Coco Chow!”Now, walking out of his meeting with Trump, McConnell eked out a rigid semblance of a smile, as he said: “We shook hands a few times. He got a lot of standing ovations. It was an entirely positive meeting. I can’t think of anything to tell you out of it that was negative.” He did not even recall Trump disparaging Milwaukee, the host city for the Republican National Convention, as “horrible”. Thus spake the institutionalist, the adult in the room.Loss of memory about Trump, down to his coldly calculated refusal to acknowledge the Covid crisis because it would affect the stock market in the election year and his utter incompetence in handling the pandemic, is essential to his current poll standing. It is a form of mass aphasia masked as nostalgia that is at the core of Republican politics. Trump nostalgia is the political equivalent of long Covid, with similar symptoms of lack of mental focus and fatigue. McConnell, for his part, emerged from his meeting with Trump to act as though he had instantly suffered short-term memory loss about Trump’s weird meandering and perverse maundering in the room. He may reason that the greater Trump’s buffoonery, the more space for him to be the true hidden power, his immovable illusion.In the entire history of the Congress, there has never been such a scene of wholesale self-abasement, humiliation and degradation. The Congress has been the site of countless indignities since its beginning. In the early 19th century there was a deadly duel. There was a shocking caning by a South Carolina congressman of the abolitionist Charles Sumner, a senator, in 1856 on the floor of the Senate as he sat at his desk. There were other scuffles before the Civil War. Even the Confederacy, while it existed, made no effort to build a cult of personality around Jefferson Davis.This recent disgraceful and shameful episode glaringly stands as the diametric opposite example from the Republican congressional leaders who 50 years ago decided in the Watergate scandal that they must pressure Richard Nixon to resign. Until now, there has never been a more dishonorable spectacle than of members prostrating themselves before the cult of a criminal who has attempted to overthrow democracy and subvert the constitution – and who promises to complete his “retribution”.Since Trump’s conviction he has been obsessed with retribution and revenge, with crime and punishment. He intersperses his vindictive projections about the injuries he will inflict on his enemies with paranoid projections about the fate that awaits him. “Look, when this election is over, based on what they’ve done, I would have every right to go after them,” Trump told Dr Phil on his Fox News show.At the same time, Trump wondered aloud at a Nevada rally about whether he would choose to be electrocuted on a sinking electric boat or eaten by a shark. Trump’s Thanatos fantasies are a Freudian field day. He ruminates about his impending death by the most violent and bloody means. Which will it be?Contemplating his death by electrocution, he has substituted an electric boat for the electric chair, Old Sparky, which was in use to execute prisoners at Sing Sing prison in New York until 1963, and whose most famous victims were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were condemned as espionage agents stealing nuclear secrets for the Russians, and railroaded to the chair by the prosecutor, Roy Cohn, who became Trump’s lawyer and tutor in malice.Now, Trump has been indicted for “felony violations of our national security laws”, including unlawful possession of nuclear secrets, and “participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice”. The case may be bottled up by a Trump-appointed judge, Aileen Cannon, but Trump surely knows that the sentence for espionage in the past was a death sentence. Perhaps the Rosenbergs are the Rosebud of his electrocution-inspired night sweats. Through the ghost of Roy Cohn, he has entered a new phantasmagorical scene in Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s play in which Cohn, dying of Aids, is visited by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. In Trump’s nightmare, he’s the one walking the lonely mile to Old Sparky, except it’s an electric boat.Imagining his death by sharks, Trump has returned to his long recurrent terror. “He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks,” Stormy Daniels told an interviewer. When she entered his hotel suite for their tryst, he had the television set tuned to a series called Shark Week. “He was like, ‘I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.’ He was like riveted. It’s so strange.” Now, the sharks are circling him. If he needs a bigger boat he must hope it will not be electric.Before the Republicans in the Congress, Trump momentarily set aside his fear of death, perhaps in order not to dampen their adulation. The warm atmosphere instead stirred his sexual fantasies. In the meeting he spoke about his objects of desire, his previously undisclosed lust for Nancy Pelosi and abiding longing for Taylor Swift.Basking in the idolization of the House Republicans, Trump, according to some people present, suddenly blurted, “Nancy Pelosi’s daughter is a whacko, her daughter told me if things were different Nancy and I would be perfect together, there’s an age difference though.” Then he reportedly expressed his wish for Taylor Swift to come to his side: “Why would she endorse this dope?” Trump wondered about his presumption that the liberal Swift would support Biden as she did in 2020.His daydream about Pelosi was quickly smacked down by her daughter Christine Pelosi, who tweeted, “Speaking for all 4 Pelosi daughters – this is a LIE. His deceitful, deranged obsession with our mother is yet another reason Donald Trump is unwell, unhinged and unfit to step foot anywhere near her – or the White House.”Pelosi’s relationship to Trump is one of unrelenting contempt and domination. He is the one dominated. At a meeting with Pelosi and other congressional leaders in October 2019 in the White House Cabinet Room, he had what she described as “a meltdown”, and she stood, pointed her finger at him, and the Democrats walked out. Trump tweeted back at her, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”After Trump delivered his State of the Union address months later, she stood at the podium ripping it into pieces and proclaiming she felt “liberated”. On January 6, during the mob attack, sequestered in her office, when she was told Trump wanted to come to the Capitol, she said, “If he comes, I’m going to punch him out. I’ve been waiting for this. For trespassing on the Capitol grounds, I’m going to punch him out. And I’m going to go to jail, and I’m going to be happy.”But, as Stormy Daniels testified, Trump likes a stern hand; she has said he asked her to spank him with a rolled copy of Forbes magazine with his picture on it. Apart from the kinky spanking, she described his sexual technique as “textbook generic”. Now, he fantasizes about a romance with Pelosi, an older woman – “perfect together”.His fantasy for a younger woman has fixated on Swift. Here he is his younger self, the leering creep whispering in the ear of Jeffrey Epstein as he points out this one or that one in a roomful of women dancing. Here he is, the proprietor of the Miss Teen USA and Miss Universe Pageant, walking in on naked contestants in the dressing room. “Well, I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show,” Trump told Howard Stern on his radio show in 2005, “and everyone’s getting dressed and ready and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere. And I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it … You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.”Here was the earliest statement of his seductive technique he elaborated in the Access Hollywood tape that precipitated his “catch and kill” payoffs: “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”“I think she’s beautiful – very beautiful!” Trump says about Swift. “I find her very beautiful. I think she’s liberal. She probably doesn’t like Trump,” he told a reporter. He wondered if Swift is “legitimately liberal” or it’s “just an act”. Worried she would choose Biden over him, he has sworn to wage a “holy war” against her. He is, he says about the most popular pop singer in the world, “more popular”. He anticipates rejection and plots revenge.The giddy Republicans in the room, listening to the unfiltered sexual reveries of the adjudicated rapist in their midst, said nothing. They burst into song: “Happy Birthday, Mr President!”The tableau of the authoritarian leader surrounded by his fawning followers had a distinctly foreign flavor, reminiscent of Soviet totalitarian art. The Republican members staged themselves like the commissars of the Politburo, smiling faces upturned to the Leader, in unison sustaining “stormy applause”, as the Soviet newspapers always interjected in transcripts of Stalin’s speeches.“He was extremely gracious by the way. There was no score settling,” said Josh Hawley, a senator from Missouri, who had signaled his support to the mob on January 6 with a raised fist and later in the day was filmed running for cover inside the building.It is fitting that the most apt commentary on the nature of the Republican meeting at the Capitol was written by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his Memoirs about life in the bizarre court of Joseph Stalin: “Stalin found it interesting to watch the people around him get themselves into embarrassing and even disgraceful situations,” wrote Khrushchev. “Once Stalin made me dance the gopak before some top Party officers. I had to squat down on my haunches and kick out my heels. Later, I told Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan ‘when Stalin says dance, wise man dances.’”After Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev became the first secretary of the Communist party and premier of the Soviet Union. At the 20th Party Congress, on 25 February 1956, he exposed and denounced Stalin’s crimes, which he attributed to a cult of personality. “Comrades, the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person,” Khrushchev stated to the stunned presidium.He spoke of “the most dissolute flattery, an example of making a man into a godhead, of transforming him into an infallible sage, ‘the greatest leader’, ‘sublime strategist of all times and nations’. Finally no other words could be found with which to lift Stalin up to the heavens. We need not give here examples of the loathsome adulation … ”Khrushchev asked his fellow Communists, “How could it be?” He blamed “those who are blinded and hopelessly hypnotized by the cult of the individual” for covering up Stalin’s crimes. “Comrades,” he announced, “in order not to repeat errors of the past, the central committee has declared itself resolutely against the cult of the individual. Comrades, we must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all … ”
    Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. He is a Guardian US columnist More