Friday, March 10, 2023

On Our "Virtual Route 66" (A Special Friday Edition): This Week In America


A "Virtual Walkabout On Our Route 66" This Week in America headlined by reflections this week courtesy Matt Wuerker at Politico and as the President's Budget Plan was being unveiled :

Andrew Restuccia, Richard Rubin, and Stephanie Armour of the Wall Street Journal today published a preview of President Joe Biden’s budget, due to be released tomorrow. Their article’s beginning sent an important message.

Biden’s budget plan, they wrote, will “save hundreds of billions of dollars by seeking to lower drug prices, raising some business taxes, cracking down on fraud and cutting spending he sees as wasteful, according to White House officials.” Those officials said that, over the next ten years, the plan would cut deficits by close to $3 trillion.

Reflecting the needs of Ukraine to fight off the 2022 Russian invasion, as well as tensions with China, Biden will call for a larger defense budget. As he outlined yesterday, part of the budget plan will fund the Medicare trust fund for at least another 25 years, in part by increasing tax rates on people earning more than $400,000 a year.

“That is not going to happen. Obviously he knows that,” Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) told the Wall Street Journal reporters. “Republicans are not going to sign up for raising taxes.”

Without a budget plan of their own to offer, House Republicans appear to be trying to steal the president’s thunder. They told Tony Romm of the Washington Post that they are getting ready for the House Ways and Means Committee to begin consideration tomorrow of a bill to prioritize the national debt in preparation for a national default. House Republicans continue to insist they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling to pay for expenses already incurred—many of them under Trump—thus forcing the U.S. into default for the first time in our history.

They are suggesting they could rank the debts in order of importance, but as Brian Riedl, an economist at the Manhattan Institute, told Romm, the computer systems were written with the assumption the country would, in fact, pay its debts, and they do not have programs that would let them prioritize payments to one group or another.

In any case, the White House has refused to negotiate over paying the nation’s bills. It remains eager to discuss the budget with Republicans and to negotiate over it—which is how the process is supposed to proceed—but insists the Republicans cannot hold the nation hostage by threatening a default that would spark an international financial crisis and destroy the American economy.

Indeed, the willingness of the Republican Party to default on the country’s debt shows how thoroughly radicalized it has become. Even the Republican leaders who do not embrace the racism, sexism, religiosity, nihilism, and authoritarianism of the hard-core MAGA Republicans appear to believe they cannot win an election without the votes of those people. And so the extremists now own the party.

They continue to support former president Trump, who at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend promised “those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution.” The party is now one of grievance and revenge, feeding on their false conviction that Trump won the 2020 election.

The Fox News Channel was key in feeding that Big Lie, of course, and filings from the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit against the Fox News Network have revealed that Fox executives and hosts alike knew it was a lie. They continued to spread it because they didn’t want to lose their base.

On Monday, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson, who has found himself badly exposed by the Dominion filings, threw himself back into the Trump camp. He showed a false version of the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, suggesting it was a mostly peaceful tourist visit rather than the deadly riot it actually was. Carlson’s false narrative was possible because House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) gave Carlson exclusive access to more than 40,000 hours of video taken in the Capitol on that fateful January 6, illustrating that there is no daylight between the lies of the Fox News Channel and the House Republican leadership.

Outrage over that transaction has sparked a backlash. Former officer of the Metropolitan Police Michael Fanone, who was badly injured defending the Capitol on January 6, published an op-ed at CNN saying he knew for certain that Carlson’s version of that day was a lie. “I was there. I saw it. I lived it,” Fanone wrote. “I fought alongside my brother and sister officers to defend the Capitol. We have the scars and injuries to prove it.”

Former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted that if the House Republicans want new January 6th hearings, “bring it on. Let’s replay every witness & all the evidence from last year. But this time, those members who sought pardons and/or hid from subpoenas should sit on the dais so they can be confronted on live TV with the unassailable evidence.”

Senate Republicans also spoke out against Carlson’s lies. Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) aligned himself with Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who called Carlson’s piece “offensive.” McConnell said: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.”

Democrats, along with the White House, also condemned Carlson’s video. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said the White House supported the Capitol Police and lawmakers from both parties who condemned “this false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law—which cost police officers their lives.” Bates went on: “We also agree with what Fox News’s own attorneys and executives have now repeatedly stressed in multiple courts of law: That Tucker Carlson is not credible.”

But McCarthy says he does not regret giving Carlson access to the tapes, and Carlson indicated that anyone who objected to the false narrative he put forward on Monday had revealed themselves as being allied against the Republican base. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-KY) are organizing a visit for members of Congress to visit the jail where defendants charged with crimes relating to the January 6th riot are behind held. In the past, Greene called those defendants “political prisoners of war.”

Today the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. It warned that transnational “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists” (RMVEs) continue to pose a threat more lethal to U.S. persons and interests than do Islamist terrorists.

RMVEs are “largely a decentralized movement of adherents to an ideology that espouses the use of violence to advance white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other exclusionary cultural-nationalist beliefs. These actors increasingly seek to sow social divisions, support fascist-style governments, and attack government institutions,” the report said. They “capitalize on societal and political hyperpolarization to…mainstream their narratives and conspiracy theories into the public discourse.” They are recruiting “military members” to “help them organize cells for attacks against minorities or institutions that oppose their ideology.”

Finally, John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News reported that 81-year-old Senator Mitch McConnell fell at an event at the Waldorf Astoria in Washington, D.C., tonight and has been hospitalized.


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