Friday, June 11, 2021

Notations From the Grid (Special Friday Edition): An "Outsider Wall" On the Week That Was

It has been quite a week in our World.   We present an "Outsider Wall" Courtesy the Daily Show, Politico, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Politico, Haaretz, The Atlantic, Heather Cox Richardson & The Financial Times: 


Today, Katie Benner of the New York Times broke the story that former president Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Five emails provided to Congress show Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asking the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, in December, to investigate rumors of voter fraud. One of the fantastical stories Meadows wanted investigated was the story that “people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.”

The Department of Justice is not the president’s to command. It is supposed to enforce the laws of the United States and administer justice. The office of the president has its own lawyer—the White House counsel—and the president can also have their own personal representation. That Trump tried to use our own Department of Justice to overturn the will of the American voters is eye-popping.

But that was not the only news of the day. We also learned that the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, told Trump advisor Steven Bannon on a public show that had he not been able to block a great deal of mail-in voting in 2020, Biden would have won Texas.

We also learned that Oregon Representative Mike Nearman, who was already in trouble for opening the doors of the Oregon Capitol to anti–coronavirus restriction rioters on December 21, held a meeting beforehand, on December 16, to plot the event. An attendee filmed the talk, which set up “Operation Hall Pass.” That operation ultimately opened the Oregon capitol building to far-right rioters, who endangered the entire legislature. The video, which shows Nearman winking and nodding at setting up the invasion, has raised questions about whether other Republicans worked with insurrectionists in other settings.

It is an odd day for these stories to come to light. 

Seventy-seven years ago today, on June 5, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was preparing to send Allied troops, who fought for democracy, across the English Channel to France. There, he hoped, they would push the German troops, who fought for an authoritarian fascist state, back across Europe, securing a victory for democracy over authoritarianism. 

More than 5,000 ships waited to transport more than 150,000 soldiers to France before daybreak the following morning. The fighting to take Normandy would not be easy. The beaches the men would assault were tangled in barbed wire, booby trapped, and defended by German soldiers in concrete bunkers.

On the afternoon of June 5, as the Allied soldiers, their faces darkened with soot and cocoa, milled around waiting to board the ships, Eisenhower went to see the men he was almost certainly sending to their deaths. He joked with the troops, as apparently upbeat as his orders to them had been when he told them Operation Overlord had launched. “The tide has turned!” his letter read. “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”

But after cheering his men on, he went back to his headquarters and wrote another letter. Designed to blame himself alone if Operation Overlord failed, it read:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

The letter was, of course, never delivered. Operation Overlord was a success, launching the final assault in which western democracy, defended by ordinary men and women, would destroy European fascism.

[U.S. Army photograph, 1944, Library of Congress]





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POLITICO Nightly logo



With help from Peter S. Canellos and Tyler Weyant

FORGET 2009 — It’s become fashionable in politics to compare 2021 to 2009, another year when an incoming Democratic president faced serious economic and public health challenges and struggled with how long to let bipartisan talks play out on his top domestic priority. But the more relevant year when it comes to President Joe Biden’s agenda is actually 2013.

Let’s journey back in time to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to squash the filibuster for all executive-branch nominees except the Supreme Court. That monumental step set the stage for Mitch McConnell, Reid’s GOP successor as Senate leader, to end filibusters of Supreme Court nominees in 2017. Now progressives are pressuring current Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to deliver the final blow to the Senate’s 60-vote threshold by eliminating it for legislation.

But Reid made his move against the filibuster in the chill of November — and only after laying months upon months of groundwork. On July 16, 2013, dozens of senators in both parties spoke at a “highly unusual” confab “in the ornate old Senate chamber — where deals like the Missouri Compromise were struck nearly two centuries ago,” per our story in the POLITICO archives. Even then, Reid waited four more months to act. The three judicial nominees whose confirmations the GOP blocked, in what proved the last straw before Reid went nuclear, weren’t even tapped until the first week of June 2013.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid waits for the Senate subway after a vote in December 2013 on Capitol Hill.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid waits for the Senate subway after a vote in December 2013 on Capitol Hill. | Getty Images

Aspiring Senate prognosticators can take a few lessons from 2013: on timing, on stakes and on behavior.

First, if Schumer wants to follow Reid down the road to a rules change while commanding a majority five votes smaller than the Nevadan he once called a “foxhole buddy,” he’s going to have to wait longer to get enough buy-in. Reid acted about halfway through a 2013-2014 Congress that ended up seeing what was, at the time, the highest number of votes on cloture (a.k.a. filibuster cutoff) in the maneuver’s history: 218, surpassed only by the 298 such votes in the 2019-2020 session. The current Congress, by contrast, has seen only 43 cloture votes.

When it came to stakes, Reid also worked hard to build a case before putting his cuffs on the filibuster. He could point to multiple nominations that would have sailed through if not for GOP blockades. Schumer’s Democrats, on the other hand, have yet to win over their own colleague Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for their big-ticket elections measure, much less the Republicans. This year’s Democratic caucus has similar problems maintaining unity on other liberal legislation, from policing to labor organizing.

Which leaves the most important lesson that this year’s filibuster reformers can take from 2013 as they push Biden to take risks: Behavior matters when it comes to cajoling 50 Democratic caucus members to ditch a century-old tradition. Before Reid did his thing, which was also made possible by a strong 2012 campaign after which Democrats picked up two Senate seats, then-President Barack Obama used his bully pulpit to excoriate Republicans for throttling his priorities. Lately, though, you’ve heard Biden speak more sharply toward Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) than he does toward GOP senators.

And while White House allies have talked about their interest in learning lessons from Biden’s time in the Obama administration by not letting talks with the GOP drag on for too long, the president doesn’t seem eager to let go of bipartisan infrastructure talks just yet. Until we see a White House acting like it’s prepared to take drastic steps to curb the filibuster, Schumer has no room to act like a majority leader ready to go that far.

So until you see both Biden and Schumer acting a lot more like Obama and Reid did in 2013, on messaging as well as execution of raw political power, the legislative filibuster will remain alive and well – with more fans than just Manchin and Sinema, though they’re the only two Senate Democrats willing to say so out loud.

The Minister of Chaos

Photo: Prime Minister Boris Johnson seated, with a superimposed reflection through glass, 10 Downing Street, May 2021

(Nadav Kander)

You might think that you know Boris Johnson. But the British prime minister can still be a difficult read, our staff writer Tom McTague argues in our latest magazine cover story.

“For three decades, we’ve followed his writing, his ambition, his outrages, his scandals,” Tom writes. “Yet the truth, for a professional Boris-watcher such as myself, is maddeningly elusive.”

In advance of this week’s G7 Summit, hosted by the U.K., we’re looking at three ways to try to understand Johnson, as explained by Tom:

1. He believes in the power of storytelling.

“Johnson very clearly appreciates the importance of shaping perceptions. To him, the point of politics—and life—is not to squabble over facts; it’s to offer people a story they can believe in.”

2. He’s relentlessly optimistic.

“Whenever you talk to Johnson, you bump up against an all-encompassing belief that things will be fine.”

3. He likes mess.

“The world is messy, and Johnson likes mess. He believes the key is to adapt. He has spent a lifetime turning ambition, opportunism, and ruthless self-promotion into extraordinary personal success. Why can’t a country do the same?”

Read the story.

At Least Two Political Prisoners Have Died in Past Four Months 

Niknafs Was Jailed Despite Health Conditions That Made Him Unfit for Prison

June 7, 2021 – Another political prisoner has died in state custody two weeks before Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, who is ultimately responsible for the care of prisoners, runs for president.

“The reported death of Sassan Niknafs in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary reveals the mounting human toll of the Iranian judiciary’s policy of imprisoning individuals for criticizing the government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“These individuals shouldn’t be in prison in the first place yet they’re dying in state custody while Raisi focuses on his latest power grab,” he said.

Niknafs’ death was reported just four months after another political prisoner, Behnam Mahjoubi, died in state custody after Iran’s State Medical Examiner had concluded he could not withstand incarceration.

Since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Raisi to judiciary chief in March 2019, at least three political prisoners—Niknafs, Alireza Shirmohammadali, and Mahjoubi—have died in state custody, though this number only includes reported deaths and does not include the significantly higher numbers of death by execution or deaths of non-political prisoners.

Niknafs—who was imprisoned despite displaying multiple physical and mental health issues—reportedly died in Firouzabadi Hospital on June 5 after displaying “declining consciousness” while being seen by prison clinicians, according to a statement by the Tehran Prisons Organization that was published by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on June 7.

“The death of Sassan Niknafs could be deliberate murder due to the authorities’ lack of attention to his inability to endure imprisonment,” tweeted Iranian human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan on June 7.

“Based on Article 290 of the Islamic Penal Code, it would be considered intentional murder if a person deliberately commits an act that leads to a crime that was unintentional but committed with the knowledge that the action could result in a crime,” Dehghan wrote.

According to Article 502 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, if imprisonment worsens the health of a prisoner suffering from physical or mental illness, the judge could suspend punishment after consulting with the medical examiner until the prisoner recovers.

Niknafs Was Jailed Despite Serious Physical and Health Conditions

Since July 27, 2020, Niknafs had been serving a five-year prison sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and against “the founder of the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader.”

Judicial authorities sent Niknafs to prison despite his history of attempted suicide and his need to receive “daily medication” during his imprisonment, as well as requiring dozens of doctors’ appointments during his detainment, according to information in the statement by the Tehran Prisons Organization.

“They have not informed his family but sources from inside prison say his death was announced through the prison loudspeaker and condolences were expressed to the prisoners,” Ali Sharifzadeh, Niknafs’ attorney, told BBC Persian on June 7.

Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care. The UN has expressed serious concerns over Iran’s continued denial of appropriate healthcare to detainees, which violates the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Dozens of Prisoner Deaths Since 2003, Three Since Raisi Appointed Judiciary Chief

Iran’s State Prisons’ Organization and judiciary chief to which it reports are responsible for the health and well-being of all prisoners.

Since 2003, at least 32 political prisoners—all individuals who were imprisoned in Iran after being accused of criticizing state policies—have died in state custody, according to investigations by CHRI.

The deaths occurred because of beatings while in custody, denial of critically needed medical care, or other gross negligence or ill-treatment on the part of the authorities.

The lack of prosecutions of high-level officials for the deaths of individuals in state custody reflects a judiciary that allows intelligence and prison officials to commit egregious violations with impunity as well as the absence of mandatory investigations, autopsies or publicly available medical examiner’s reports when a death occurs in state custody.

There are also no effective grievance mechanisms for the families.

Fears Grow for Political Prisoner Mohammad Nourizad and Others

Countless political prisoners including the dissident Mohammad Nourizad are meanwhile in urgent need of medical treatment.

“We are seriously concerned at the mistreatment of Mohammad Nourizad and his continued imprisonment for expressing his opinion,” UN human rights experts said in a statement in May 2021. “Furthermore, his continued detention despite medical professionals finding he cannot stay in prison given his serious health condition, and the resulting denial of adequate medical care, may amount to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“His case is emblematic of the situation many Iranian political activists face in detention,” added the experts. “He must be immediately released.”

One month after political prisoner Alireza Shirmohammadali was murdered in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary in June 2019 after being unlawfully held in a ward with inmates convicted of violent crimes, a parliamentary faction announced a proposal to help counter what it identified as a “serious problem” of prisoners dying in state custody—though no serious action has been taken to stop the deaths to date.

“This mounting death toll of political prisoners in Iran is the result of a decades-long policy of treating critics of the state as less than human, and the judiciary chief’s refusal to protect prisoners or hold those who mistreat them accountable,” added Ghaemi.

“Raisi has displayed disregard for human life throughout his career—from serving on a committee that paved the way for thousands of political prisoners to be extra-judicially executed in 1988 to the mounting toll of political prisoners presently dying from lack of medical care,” he added.

“This is what political prisoners are forced to endure with Raisi as the head of the country’s judiciary; imagine what the Iranian people will face if he also takes the presidency,” Ghaemi said.

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