Call it authoritarianism

“Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.

It’s common to call this GOP behavior “anti-democratic,” but the description can only go so far. It tells us what they’re moving America away from, but not where they want to take it. The term “minority rule” is closer, but euphemistic; it puts the Republican actions in the same category as a Supreme Court ruling, countermajoritarian moves inside a democratic framework rather than something fundamentally opposed to it.

It’s worth being clear about this: The GOP has become an authoritarian party pushing an authoritarian policy agenda.”

“When people think of authoritarian governments, they typically think of police states and 20th-century totalitarianism. But “authoritarianism” is actually a broad term, encompassing very different governments united mostly by the fact that they do not transfer power through free and fair elections.”

“competitive authoritarian systems survive in part by convincing citizens that they are living in a democracy. That’s how they maintain their legitimacy and prevent popular uprisings. As such, they do not conduct the kind of obvious sham elections held in places like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria (he won the 2021 contest with 95 percent of the “vote”).

In competitive authoritarianism, the opposition does have some ability to win a bit of power through, well, competition — even if the scope of their possible victories are limited.

It’s a tricky balance for the regime to pull off: rigging elections enough to maintain power indefinitely while still permitting enough democracy that citizens don’t rise up in outrage. Many competitive authoritarian regimes have collapsed under the stress, either transitioning to democracy (like Taiwan) or forcefully repressing the opposition and becoming a more traditional autocracy (like Belarus).”

“Happily, the United States still passes the most basic test of whether a system is democratic: whether the public can vote out its leaders. But it is hard to deny that the Republican Party has begun chipping away at that baseline principle, using the flaws in our political system to entrench their power.”

Trump’s lies about the 2020 election are endangering America’s election workers

“In a speech on voting rights delivered on Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned that “the dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats against all manner of state and local election workers” is a threat to the country’s democracy.

Garland is right to be concerned. A new survey released by the Brennan Center for Justice found that 17 percent of local election officials in the United States have faced threats because of their job. The same survey, which was released alongside a larger report by Brennan and the Bipartisan Policy Center on threats to America’s elections, found that nearly a third of these officials — 32 percent — have “felt unsafe because of [their] job as a local election official.”

The survey was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group, and it included interviews with 233 election officials “from across the country.”

The Brennan Center’s survey quantifies a phenomenon that appears to have emerged from former President Donald Trump’s conduct during the 2020 election, and his subsequent defeat in that election. Just hours before Garland pledged to prosecute individuals who target election officials in that same speech, Reuters published a long article cataloging some of the threats faced by election administrators and their families.”

Biden’s Cuba policy is suddenly in the spotlight

“Cuba’s economic problems largely predate the pandemic, but the coronavirus sharpened them. It decimated Cuba’s tourism industry, a huge slice of the island’s economy. Trump-era sanctions — which the Biden administration has not rolled back — have added to the pressure. And the pandemic itself is taking a toll: Cuba is currently experiencing a record surge in cases and deaths.”

“Biden said the US supports Cuba’s “clarion call for freedom and relief.” Both Democrats and Republicans have backed the protests, but US lawmakers are split over how to approach the demonstrations and acute humanitarian crisis on the island.
Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to roll back Trump’s sanctions on Cuba, but he hasn’t acted. Now, the issue is urgent — both for those who want to see the sanctions gone and for those who feel Biden must keep them in place to continue pressuring the regime.

Biden’s best-laid plans on foreign policy didn’t include Cuba as a priority. But now a crisis in Cuba is here. What the US should do is always a complicated decision, but it’s clear Biden can’t just ignore Cuba.”

“After the protests, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed much of the unrest on the United States, claiming US-backed mercenaries caused the unrest. He called on supporters to also go to the streets and “defend the revolution.” About 100 people were arrested, according to human rights groups.”

“The specter of United States interference remains powerful in Cuba, given, well, a very long history of US intervention there. Fast-forwarding to the Cuban Revolution in 1959, communist revolutionary Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator and began to pursue closer ties with the Soviet Union — an absolute no-no for the US during the Cold War.

The US tried to overthrow Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in the 1960s, but after that failure, the US strengthened an economic embargo that largely blocked Americans from doing business or trade with Cuba. There have been tweaks on the margins since, but the embargo has long outlasted the Cold War.

In 2014, then-President Barack Obama began a historic diplomatic opening with Cuba, and as a result of the process, rolled back some economic restrictions tied to the Cold War-era US embargo and opened up travel.

Trump, as president, vowed to reverse those policies; he did throughout his time in office, significantly stepping up the pressure starting in 2019. He imposed renewed travel restrictions and other sanctions, including designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terror” in his final days in office. A key pillar of Trump’s sanctions severely limited remittances to the island, which cut off another economic spigot.

As experts said, Cuba’s problems are deeper than US sanctions alone, but the Trump-era policy, especially coming during the pandemic, is adding to the strain. And that is creating a dilemma for Washington.”

Feds Seize CNN Reporter’s Data, Then Gag CNN

“On Wednesday, CNN Executive Vice President and General Counsel David Vigilante made a revelation sure to startle those unaware of the state’s vast power to not just seize information from journalists but bully their employers into silence about it under penalty of jail time.

“Since July 17, 2020,” Vigilante wrote, “I have been bound by a gag order or a sealing order that prohibited me from discussing, or even acknowledging, that the government was seeking to compel the disclosure of the professional email communications of CNN reporter Barbara Starr.”

The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr had been requesting email header data and phone logs of Starr, a Pentagon reporter, dating from June 1 to July 31 of 2017, for reasons that are still unknown to any third parties aside from some federal judges operating a secret court. (Starr herself was not the target of the investigation, the feds confirmed to reporters.)

The Trump administration launched a crackdown in 2017 against national security-related leaks, an effort that led to the secret seizure of three Washington Post reporters’ phone records, which was revealed only last month. In doing so, former President Donald Trump’s DOJ prosecutors followed the rules and legal justifications established by their predecessors in the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leakers than every prior presidency combined, even charging Fox News White House chief James Rosen as “at the very least, either…an aider, abettor, and/or co-conspirator.””

“one of the only judges to lay eyes on the DOJ’s reasoning for harassing CNN concluded that it was based on “speculative predictions, assumptions, and scenarios unanchored in any facts.”

Commented CNN’s Vigilante: “This was the first characterization of the evidence we had seen, and it was stunning: After months of secret proceedings and heavy-handed enforcement tactics, a neutral judge said that, in large part, the emperor had no clothes.””

“As Nick Gillespie and I wrote six years ago, “From press accounts of similar actions at other news publications and social media sites, we know that it is increasingly common for the federal government to demand user information from publications and websites while also stifling their speech rights with gag orders and letters requesting ‘voluntary’ confidentiality.””

“while the increasing but still comparatively rare open clashes between the DOJ and news organizations tend to make headlines, the real data collection is happening every day, quietly, in the form of requests and subpoenas to social media companies and other third-party vendors.”

China Is Paying Less Than 8 Percent of Tariff Costs. Americans Are Paying the Rest.

“American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs of the tariffs applied to Chinese goods, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service. Just 7.6 percent of the added costs of the tariffs are being absorbed by China, the investment firm found.

And it gets worse. When China responded to Trump’s tariffs by slapping new tariffs on many American goods, American firms paid a significant price. That’s because “U.S. exporters, unlike China’s exporters, lowered by roughly 50 percent the prices of goods affected by foreign retaliatory tariffs, carrying a much higher cost burden than foreign importers of goods under U.S. tariffs,” writes Dima Cvetkova, an associate analyst at Moody’s and author of the report.

In other words, American companies ended up on the losing end of the trade war both going and coming. Importers absorbed most of the cost of the Trump tariffs, and American businesses that export to China got hit by the retaliatory tariffs worse than Chinese exporters to the U.S. did.”

“More than half of the goods traded between the world’s two largest economies are now subject to tariffs, according to PIIE data, up from less than 1 percent before the trade war began. The so-called Phase One trade deal inked by the Trump administration and Chinese government in December 2019 (there never was a second phase) barely had any impact on those figures.”

“According to the American Action Forum, a free market think tank, Trump’s tariffs (and retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries) have increased annual American consumer costs by about $57 billion. The Tax Foundation estimates that Trump’s tariffs amount to an $80 billion tax increase on U.S. businesses. And researchers from Columbia University, Princeton University, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that the tariff costs “have been passed on entirely to U.S. importers and consumers.”

More than three years after Trump launched his trade war and four months after President Joe Biden inherited it, the consequences of the tariffs should no longer be subject to debate. The evidence is overwhelming and one-sided: American consumers are being hammered.”

Why Would Republicans Want a Credible, Nonpartisan Investigation of the Capitol Riot?

“While McConnell initially seemed genuinely outraged by the riot and the presidential “lies” that “provoked” it, he pretty quickly abandoned any thought of trying to separate the Republican Party from the Trump personality cult.

“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said after voting to acquit him (based on the position that former presidents cannot be tried in the Senate). “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth. The issue is not only the president’s intemperate language on January 6th….It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe—the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-president.”

But McConnell eventually decided that Trump’s domination of the GOP was inescapable, which meant there was no political advantage to be gained by dwelling on the former president’s reckless conspiracy mongering or the violence it inspired. Based on that assumption, it’s better for the party if any further interest in those subjects can be easily dismissed as blatantly partisan.”

The Trump administration forced Apple to turn over lawmakers’ data. Democrats are outraged.

“That the Department of Justice sought the private phone data of US lawmakers without their knowledge is remarkable and disturbing. While details are still emerging, the exchange sets a concerning precedent about the ability of the executive branch to obtain the digital records of lawmakers as well as tech companies’ roles in complying with such orders.”

“The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced on Friday that he will start a review of the agency’s actions under the Trump administration and will look at “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.””

More Than 300 Manufacturers Just Asked Biden To Repeal Trump’s Steel Tariffs as Prices Skyrocket

“Steel prices are surging and American manufacturing is paying the price—literally, thanks in part to the ongoing consequences of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs, which President Joe Biden has not removed.”

Delivered to Danger

“As of February 19, 2021, there are at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers and migrants forced to return to Mexico by the Trump Administration”

“These figures are likely only the tip of the iceberg, as the vast majority of the more than 68,000 individuals already returned to Mexico have not been interviewed by reporters or human rights researchers, let alone spoken to an attorney.”

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/campaign/remain-mexico

Trump’s Border Policies Let More Immigrants Sneak In

“President Trump’s top policy priority was supposedly “border security.” But government data show that he failed to improve it. Border Patrol recorded 41 percent more successful illegal entries in fiscal year 2019 than in 2016 and was on pace for 47 percent more through four months of 2020. As he left office in January, reports indicate that the numbers have reached even greater heights.

Government officials and the media typically measure border security by the number of people “apprehended” (or arrested) by Border Patrol. But the main security concern for the agency are those it cannot interdict—who it calls “got‐aways”. Border Patrol released a horrifying video last year that fantasized about a “got‐away” evading capture and murdering someone in a dark alley.

Yet despite this supposed focus, the government records show that Border Patrol was observing more immigrants sneaking into the country than when President Trump took office. In fiscal year 2016, Border Patrol agents witnessed about 100,000 successful entries. By 2018, the number had risen to nearly 128,000. In 2019, it hit 150,000. Through four months of 2020, it was on pace to hit almost 156,000.”