Thursday, January 4, 2024

Something to Know - 4 January

More HCR and a colorful cartoon.  There is a lot to know today.

Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American 

Jan 3, 2024, 11:48 PM (16 hours ago)
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If yesterday was a news storm, today was a lot of follow-up.

Tensions in the Middle East continue to tighten with the explosion of two bombs at a ceremony today honoring prominent Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on the fourth anniversary of his death from a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. At least 95 people were killed. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Iran-backed militias, including Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are aligned against Israel.

Meanwhile, today the U.S. and twelve allies warned the Houthis to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea or face military action. Since December 19, Houthi rebels have hit more than 23 ships in the crucial passage. "Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews," the countries said. "The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region's critical waterways."

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell today said that the world must "impose" a solution to the Middle East war before it expands. 

At home, at least eight U.S. state houses had to evacuate today. According to Andy Rose of CNN, an emailed bomb threat was sent to state officers in 23 states. Law enforcement officers found no explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has called the threats a hoax. It is not clear who was behind the threats.

Aside from today's threats, the dramatic rise of violence in our politics since former president Trump entered political life is reshaping the country. In Vox yesterday, Zach Beauchamp noted that mayors, federal judges, public health officials, election workers, and even school board members, officials who previously had gone about their business without much attention, are facing unprecedented threats. Before 2020, threats against election workers were virtually nonexistent, Beauchamp notes; now they are so frequent that 11% of election workers surveyed by the Brennan Center for Justice are "very or somewhat likely" to  leave their jobs before the 2024 election. 

While attacks on election workers and political officials show Trump's attempt to erode faith in our electoral system, Beauchamp notes that another key aspect of today's violence has been to threaten Republicans to fall in line behind Trump. The fear of physical violence from Trump supporters kept certain Republicans from voting to convict him after his impeachments. MAGA Republican threats against other Republicans insufficiently supportive of Trump have led party members to swing publicly behind a leader that many of them privately oppose. 

That pressure has reduced the formerly grand old Republican Party to a vehicle for promoting Trump.  

Today, Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN), whose bid for the House speakership Trump torpedoed just weeks ago, became the latest to endorse Trump for president as party leadership lines up behind him. 

The decision of the right-wing Fifth Circuit today illustrated what the Trump leadership of the MAGA party means for the majority of the country. Three Republican judges, two appointed by Trump, ruled that hospital emergency rooms don't have to perform life-saving abortions in states that have passed antiabortion laws.

After the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the constitutional right to abortion, Biden's Department of Health and Human Services reminded hospitals that accept Medicare money that under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), they had to provide care to stabilize patients in a medical emergency, including abortion care, regardless of state law.

Texas sued, and the Fifth Circuit has agreed, saying that the EMTALA does not preempt Texas law. 

Today's news also highlighted the MAGA plan for immigration. House leaders have refused to pass legislation providing additional funds to help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion until the measure also contains their own immigration policies, patterned on Trump's. Although President Biden has asked for additional funding for the border since he took office and has said he will offer significant concessions in negotiations even though those concessions will anger progressive Democrats, House Republicans say they will reject any compromise and will insist on their own policies. 

Those measures include significantly narrowing asylum programs or even ending them altogether, outlawing the electronic application system the Biden administration put in place to require appointments to apply for asylum, ending parole programs for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, and taking private property to build a border wall. Their plan has no provision for creating a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, those brought to the U.S. as children, although a strong majority of Americans support such a pathway.

Now House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) says the House conference does not want and will not accept a compromise, such as the one senators are working on; they want a complete change of policy. That is, the Republicans in the House, who have a majority of two, are bowing to their far-right members and insisting that until that faction's policies are put in place over those of the Senate and the president, they will refuse to fund Ukraine, whose defense from Russian aggression is key to our own national security. 

It's a wild power grab. And it is apparently being done with an eye to 2024. Representative Troy Nehls (R-TX) said to Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona, and Lauren Fox of CNN, "Let me tell you, I'm not willing to do too damn much right now to help a Democrat and to help Joe Biden's approval rating."

As CNN anchor and chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto noted, "This would leave Ukraine—currently under its worst bombardment since the start of the Russian invasion—very much out in the cold."

Finally, today is the 65th anniversary of Alaska's joining the Union as the 49th state. In order to convince Congress and the president to make their territory a state, Alaskans had to overcome concerns on the part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower that, because the territory bordered the Soviet Union, its admission as a state might compromise national security.


Twitter (X) jimsciutto/status/1742662911737110568

Juan Matute

Winston S. Churchill
"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."
― Winston S. Churchill

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