How do nations sleepwalk into war? Often through lack of imagination. That is the thesis that impelled Adm. James Stavridis, a former NATO supreme commander, and Elliot Ackerman, a prominent fiction writer and decorated Marine veteran, to write "2034: A Novel of the Next World War." The new novel envisions how the United States and China could blunder into a nuclear conflict, propelled by Chinese nationalism, American hubris, and a U.S. failure to grasp the extent of Chinese advances in cyberwarfare. At a time when the world is changing with a rapidity few of us foresaw – including a pandemic ...
Pundits are always atwitter if this mean that Democrats are moving too far left or Republicans are shifting too far right and speculate what this means for the party's fortunes in the next election. (Usually you get some “Washington is broken" laments for good measure.)
While all that's a standard part of political discourse, it does obscure a rising and more sinister trend: An explicit goal of the fascist far-right-wing of the Republican Party — those who stormed the U.S. Capitol to wage a violent coup and their myriad sympathizers who hold elected office — is to make good people quit politics, from members of Congress down to members of school boards.
The goal is to exact such a personal toll that people decide it's just not worth it for them, and especially their families, to serve. In a disturbing interview with the New York Times, Gonzalez, 37, described an “eye-opening" moment when uniformed police officers showed up at the Cleveland airport to give him extra security after his January impeachment vote.
“That's one of those moments where you say, 'Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?'" he told the Times.
Gonzalez, of course, isn't alone in Congress. U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), who also voted for Trump's impeachment, said afterward he and colleagues were buying body armor.
Those who stood up for democracy now have some decisions to make — and one of them is quitting like Gonzalez. While it makes complete sense to put your family first, it does, unfortunately help the far-right's goal of opening up a seat for a pro-insurrectionist Republican.
An explicit goal of the fascist far-right-wing of the Republican Party — those who stormed the U.S. Capitol to wage a violent coup and their myriad sympathizers who hold elected office — is to make good people quit politics, from members of Congress down to members of school boards.
– Susan J. Demas
And now U.S. House GOP leadership has now openly thrown in with the insurrectionists, trying to stonewall investigations, even though violent rioters were hunting down Republican and Democratic members alike on Jan. 6. For good measure, the caucus booted U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who also voted for impeachment, as conference chair.
In Michigan, we've almost become used to violent threats as a standard right-wing political tactic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and after Trump's thumping in the 2020 election (despite his lies and endless voting conspiracy theories). We were the site of some of the largest, heavily armed protests over stay-home orders featuring signs calling for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's murder.
Right-wing activists stormed the state Capitol on April 30, 2020, with some AR-15-toting men looming over senators in the gallery as they took critical pandemic votes in what's been described as a “dress rehearsal" for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
BIPOC lawmakers, in particular, raised the alarm, but said they had to take security measures into their own hands when GOP leaders ignored their pleas. Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) was escorted to the Capitol afterward by armed Black citizens, while Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) donned a bulletproof vest.
Then in October, Whitmer made international news after federal agents busted a self-described militia plot to allegedly kidnap and kill her over her health orders — and incite civil war. Notably, the top GOP leaders at the time, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), joined yet another anti-Whitmer rally at the Capitol just hours after law enforcement announced the arrests. (Shirkey told the crowd, “We need to be strong … and not be afraid of those who are taking our freedoms away from us.")
We also had warnings that the far-right wasn't content just to intimidate officials at the federal or state level, with car caravans known as “Trump Trains" rolling through small communities last year like Houghton in the western Upper Peninsula. Vehicles donned Trump, American and Confederate flags and Trump supporters allegedly yelled out threats and racial slurs.
We've seen throughout history that these are popular fascist terror tactics, like the “squadrismos" that roamed the Italian countryside. Gangs of hundreds or even thousands of men brutalized citizens, particularly socialists, in the runup to Mussolini coming to power.
We're not supposed to believe that kind of wanton violence can happen here, but after witnessing hundreds desecrate the Capitol and try to overthrow the government, why would we be so sure?
It's not a coincidence that local health officials and school board members are the latest targets of right-wing hate over school mask mandates, even as COVID cases are skyrocketing in kids. There's the genteel attempt to strip state and local health officials' power to stop mass death with the well-financed Unlock Michigan ballot petition, but then there are the crass threats and protests at what used to be sleepy local meetings across the state and country.
Melissa Ryan, the editor of the Ctrl Alt-Right Delete (CARD) newsletter and an expert on extremism, told the Advance that this is just the next phase of well-funded, well-connected national right-wing groups that first whipped up anger against lockdowns, and then moved on to blasting school sports bans and the COVID vaccine.
“It's largely the same people; it's the same groups; it's the same resources. They're trying to keep their base as enraged as possible," Ryan said. “They're not necessarily trying to change anyone's mind. They're trying to cause so much disruption that it's just easier for a school board member to resign or for the policy to change, not because it's how the majority of parents feel, but because it's just easier not dealing with them."
School board members tend to be parents or former educators who volunteer their time because they care about kids and their communities. Health officials are just trying to make evidence-based decisions for public safety. They didn't sign up to be subjected to Nazi salutes or death threats. You can't blame people for resigning like Ohio's health director, Dr. Amy Acton.
But we can't sleep on the fact that these fascist tactics are working and the far-right is emboldened. This week, Ryan Kelley, a GOP gubernatorial candidate who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection, posted a disturbing TikTok video outside an Ottawa County Commission meeting.
“You don't even know yet what this is going to look like if you guys keep trying this tyranny," Kelley declared.
Right-wing extremists are prepared to get what they want by any means necessary. This isn't the fight a lot of us wanted, but it's here. Pick a side.
Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: email@example.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.
Farm lobbies and Republicans, along with influential Democrats like House Agriculture Chairman David Scott of Georgia, strongly objected to tax changes that President Joe Biden proposed in his “Build Back Better" plan for farmland and other assets handed from one generation to the next.
Biden, along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, wanted to end the “stepped-up basis" for determining capital gains taxes on those assets. Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, has taken to the pages of The Wall Street Journal and popped into a White House press briefing to make the case that closing loopholes like these is necessary to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share.
Over the next decade, the administration's plan for taxing farmland inheritances could bring in as much as $322 billion in new federal tax revenues.
But U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, an Iowa Republican, said farmers in his district have been complaining to him about the proposal ever since it was unveiled earlier this year. The farmers, he said, are worried that a new tax scheme would make it impossible to keep farms in the family.
“Let's say a mom and dad bought their farm at $2,000 an acre, and now it's worth $12,000 an acre. If they want to give it to their son or daughter or whoever, [the heir] would have to pay tax on the difference of that," Feenstra told States Newsroom in an interview.
“A son or a daughter wouldn't have that money, so they'd have to sell the land to pay the tax," he continued. The buyer would most likely be a large corporation, not a local farmer, he said. “That's why so many people are worried that it will destroy the family farm, literally destroy the family farm."
Proponents for the change say those concerns are overblown or easily addressed through policy tweaks. But the emotional pleas to save small-town America appear to have won this round.
Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, the group that handled the tax aspects of Biden's economic revival plan, left out the president's proposed changes to the stepped-up basis when they approved their piece of the reconciliation bill last week.
The idea could reemerge later, as the package continues its journey through the House and Senate. But the committee's decision reflects how politically radioactive the idea has become.
Several Democrats balked at Biden's proposal, as well. Scott, the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, wrote the president in June, arguing that the stepped-up basis was “a critical tool enabling family farming operations to continue from generation to generation."
“I have been working tirelessly to ensure that stepped-up basis is protected," Scott said in a statement last week, “and I am very pleased that the package released does not impact the benefit's operation."
But Vilsack, who owns 600 acres of farmland, argues that the stepped-up basis is really just a way for rich people to avoid paying taxes.
“This policy has allowed the wealthy to amass large fortunes," Vilsack wrote earlier this month in The Wall Street Journal.
“Millionaires and billionaires borrow against their assets, usually stock or real estate, but also art and collectibles, really anything a bank will lend against. When those assets are transferred upon death, their heirs can sell the property without being taxed to pay off the debt. This is one of the most popular ways the rich avoid taxation, and it must end."
The agriculture secretary said Biden's proposal had special protections for family farms.
First, the administration wanted to impose the capital gains tax only when the heir sold the property. So in Feenstra's example, the son or daughter wouldn't have to pay taxes when they inherited the farm, only when they sold it.
Second, Vilsack said that the Biden plan would exempt all capital gains of up to $2.5 million. He claimed that 95 percent of family farms would not owe anything with that level of an exemption.
Marc Goldwein, a senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the fact that House Democrats so far have not included changes to the stepped-up basis was a “discouraging starting point."
Getting rid of the policy, he said, should be a “no-brainer."
“You want tax policy that treats people in similar situations similarly, that doesn't create bad incentives and that raises revenue in a progressive way," he said. “Stepped-up basis fails all three of those."
It makes no sense, he argued, that someone who sold their property the day before they died would have to pay capital gains on it, but that someone who inherited the same property and sold it a day later would have to pay none.
The policy encourages people to hold on to their assets longer than they otherwise would, just to avoid taxation. And it disproportionately benefits rich taxpayers, Goldwein said.
He also said the policy mostly affects people with assets other than farms.
A 2014 U.S. Treasury study, for example, found that farm assets made up only 2 percent of the fair market value of assets that are protected by the policy.
Stocks and bonds, on the other hand, made up more than half of the value of protected assets.
Consequences for farmers
But Dustin Sherer, the director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the administration is underplaying the potential consequences for farmers if stepped-up basis is removed.
While Vilsack touted the administration's proposed exemption of the first $2.5 million of capital gains, Sherer noted, that would not be enough to shield farmers with a typical 500-acre farm in Vilsack's home state of Iowa.
There are more than 18,000 farms in Iowa that are bigger than 500 acres, Sherer said.
“More to the point," Sherer asked, “if you're trying to go after billionaires, why is $2.5 million your exemption level?"
And the administration's proposal to impose the capital gains tax when property is sold, rather than when it is inherited, still causes problems, Sherer said.
The lingering tax obligation would make it harder for the new property owner to take out a loan, for example.
“It completely changes the dynamics of the transfer," he said.
Sherer said he was encouraged that the policy hasn't gained traction in the House so far, but he worries that it could become part of the deal later.
“As long as politicians in D.C. are looking for money to offset their spending, it's not over," he said.
The reconciliation bill now goes to the House Budget Committee, which will consolidate input from other House committees. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants the full chamber to vote on the package before the end of the month, but that deadline could slip.
Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.
“I think there was excess brutality shown to Mr. Greene. There is just no reason for that," the governor said. “But the cover-up part of it, much of that is overblown or just false."
The governor was asked about the Greene case during his monthly call-in radio show, in which he answers questions from the public. Greene died in State Police custody following a car chase with troopers outside of Monroe.
Troopers said for over a year that the 49-year-old Black man died from injuries suffered in a car wreck, but the Associated Press split the case open when they obtained and published body-camera footage showing troopers beating, choking, and using a stun gun on Greene. The body camera footage also shows the troopers, who are White, spraying him in the face with pepper spray and dragging him by his leg shackles face down over pavement.
Since breaking that news, the AP has revealed other aspects of the case that call into question the State Police's handling of the case. In May the AP reported that the ranking trooper on the scene, Lt. John Clary, falsely told internal investigators that Greene was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and Clary denied the existence of his own body camera video for nearly two years until it emerged last April.
In an internal affairs document obtained by the AP, a detective wrote that Clary's 30-minute-long body-camera footage does not show Greene resisting, trying to flee or even raising his voice. or trying to get away. It shows Greene “lying on the ground, face down, handcuffed behind his back, leg shackles on his ankles, uttering the phrases, 'I'm sorry', or 'I'm scared' or 'Yes sir' or 'Okay."
In his radio interview, Edwards described the way Greene was treated by officers as “really criminal," but pushed back repeatedly on notions that state troopers might have engaged in a widespread coverup of the incident.
“Part of the things that are being called a coverup really are not," Edwards said. “For example, the district attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice asked that the videos in the Ronald Greene matter not be shown to the public. It would compromise the investigation that they're doing and potentially adversely impact a decision whether to prosecute. So if you have that from the DA and the U.S. DOJ, then you don't go out and show the video to the public. But by not showing the video to the public you get accused that you're trying to cover it up."
Earlier this year, Edwards allowed Greene's family and members of the Legislative Black Caucus to view some of the footage privately. Since then many of the videos the state has released came only after the AP obtained and published them.
Edwards said the investigation is still working to determine Greene's cause of death. The statements made by troopers that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car wreck have yet to be proven false, he said.
“The issue would be did he die from injuries sustained in the accident?" Edwards said. “Obviously he didn't die in the accident itself because he was still alive when the troopers were engaging with him. But what was the cause of death? I don't know that that was falsely portrayed."
Federal authorities have taken the unusual step of ordering a new autopsy of Greene, but the original autopsy of his body was inconclusive about whether his most severe injuries were caused by a car crash or being repeatedly hit by the troopers, according to the Associated Press.
Since the news reports of the case broke in 2019, the FBI has launched a civil rights investigation and the U.S. Justice Department is looking into whether State Police leaders obstructed justice.
In an interview with the Illuminator, Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Louisiana police watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the governor is not privy to the details of those inquiries.
“The information that he is getting is probably coming from the State Police, which is the subject of the investigation," Goyeneche said. “My advice to the public is to take what the governor is saying with a few grains of salt."
State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), who serves as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus — a close ally of Edwards — said he was disappointed to hear the governor downplayed a cover-up in the case.
“It's clear everywhere else across the state that the State Police did everything to try to conceal and hide the truth," James said.
James said the cover-up allegations didn't just arise when the agency withheld videos from the public. Troopers told Greene's family that he died on impact in the wreck, concealed body-camera footage and lied to internal affairs investigators, he said.
In an attempt to regain public trust in the agency, State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis held a press conference last week to highlight some police reforms.
But James said he has zero confidence in the agency.
“I'm very disappointed that the governor doesn't see this as a cover-up," James said. “Ray Charles could have seen this is a cover-up. It's glaring."
Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: email@example.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.
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