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August 14, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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It has been a day full of news, not all of which I will have the space to put into this letter. But before I get to the extraordinary news of tonight’s indictment of former president Trump and 18 others on 41 criminal counts, including racketeering, for their attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, there are two other landmarks to record today.

First, a major legal victory for those combating climate change:

In 1972, after a century of mining, ranching, and farming had taken a toll on Montana, voters in that state added to their constitution an amendment saying that “[t]he state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” and that the state legislature must make rules to prevent the degradation of the environment. 

In March 2020 the nonprofit public interest law firm Our Children’s Trust filed a lawsuit on behalf of sixteen young Montana residents, arguing that the state’s support for coal, oil, and gas violated their constitutional rights because it created the pollution fueling climate change, thus depriving them of their right to a healthy environment. They pointed to a Montana law forbidding the state and its agents from taking the impact of greenhouse gas emissions or climate change into consideration in their environmental reviews, as well as the state’s fossil fuel–based state energy policy. 

That lawsuit is named Held v. Montana after the oldest plaintiff, Rikki Held, whose family’s 7,000-acre ranch was threatened by a dwindling water supply, and both the state and a number of officers of Montana. The state of Montana contested the lawsuit by denying that the burning of fossil fuels causes climate change—despite the scientific consensus that it does—and denied that Montana has experienced changing weather patterns. Through a spokesperson, the governor said: “We must focus on American innovation and ingenuity, not costly, expansive government mandates, to address our changing climate.”

Today, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley* found for the young Montana residents, agreeing that they have “experienced past and ongoing injuries resulting from the State’s failure to consider [greenhouse gas emissions] and climate change, including injuries to their physical and mental health, homes and property, recreational, spiritual, and aesthetic interests, tribal and cultural traditions, economic security, and happiness.” She found that their “injuries will grow increasingly severe and irreversible without science-based actions to address climate change.”  

The plaintiffs sought an acknowledgement of the relationship of fossil fuels to climate change and a declaration that the state’s support for fossil fuel industries is unconstitutional. Such a declaration would create a foundation for other lawsuits in other states. 

Second, an unprecedented and dangerous situation in the U.S. military: Thanks to the hold by Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL, although the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler pointed out a few days ago that Tuberville actually lives in Florida) on Senate-confirmed military promotions, the U.S. Navy today became the third branch of the U.S. armed forces, after the Army and the Marine Corps, without a confirmed leader. Tuberville Is holding more than 300 senior military positions empty, including the top posts in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. He claims he is doing this in opposition to the military’s abortion policy.

And finally, third: tonight, just before midnight, the state of Georgia indicted former president Donald J. Trump and 18 others for multiple crimes committed in that state as they tried to steal the 2020 presidential election. A special-purpose grand jury made up of citizens in Fulton County, Georgia, examined evidence and heard from 75 witnesses in the case, and issued a report in January that recommended indictments. A regular grand jury took the final report of the special grand jury into consideration and brought an indictment.  

“Trump and the other Defendants charged in this Indictment refused to accept that Trump lost” the 2020 presidential election, the indictment reads, ”and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in the State of Georgia, and in other states.” 

The indictment alleges that those involved in the “criminal enterprise” “constituted a criminal organization whose members and associates engaged in various related criminal activities including, but not limited to, false statements and writings, impersonating a public officer, forgery, filing false documents, influencing witnesses, computer theft, computer trespass, computer invasion of privacy, conspiracy to defraud the state, acts involving theft, and perjury.” 

That is, while claiming to investigate voter fraud, they allegedly committed election fraud. 

And that effort has run them afoul of a number of laws, including the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is broader than federal anti-racketeering laws and carries a mandatory five-year prison term. 

Those charged fall into several categories. Trump allies who operated out of the White House include lawyers Rudy Giuliani (who recently conceded in a lawsuit that he lied about Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss having stuffed ballot boxes),  John Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, Jeffrey Clark, Jenna Ellis, and Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. 

Those operating in Georgia to push the scheme to manufacture a false slate of Trump electors to challenge the real Biden electors include lawyer Ray Stallings Smith III, who tried to sell the idea to legislators; Philadelphia political operative Michael Roman; former Georgia Republican chair David James Shafer, who led the fake elector meeting; and Shawn Micah Tresher Still, currently a state senator, who was the secretary of the fake elector meeting. 

Those trying to intimidate election worker and witness Ruby Freeman include Stephen Cliffgard Lee, a police chaplain from Illinois; Harrison William Prescott Floyd, executive director of Black Voices for Trump; and Trevian C. Kutti, a publicist for the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. 

Those allegedly stealing data from the voting systems in Coffee County, Georgia, and spreading it across the country in an attempt to find weaknesses in the systems that might have opened the way to fraud include Trump lawyer Sidney Powell; former Coffee County Republican Committee chair Cathleen Alston Latham; businessman Scott Graham Hall; and Coffee County election director Misty Hampton, also known as Emily Misty Hayes.  

The document also referred to 30 unindicted co-conspirators.

Trump has called the case against him in Georgia partisan and launched a series of attacks on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Today, Willis told a reporter who asked about Trump’s accusations of partisanship: “I make decisions in this office based on the facts and the law. The law is completely nonpartisan. That’s how decisions are made in every case. To date, this office has indicted, since I’ve been sitting as the district attorney, over 12,000 cases. This is the eleventh RICO indictment. We follow the same process. We look at the facts. We look at the law. And we bring charges.”

The defendants have until noon on August 25 to surrender themselves to authorities.


*EDIT at 10:45 am August 15: I incorrectly identified Seeley as a federal judge last night. She is a state judge.

Notes:

https://www.umt.edu/montana-constitution/articles/article-ix/ix.1.php

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/24/climate/montana-youth-climate-lawsuit.html

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571d109b04426270152febe0/t/64da53511de19d2889830a2c/1692029780262/08%3A14%3A23+Findings+of+Fact%2C+Conclusions+of+Law+and+Order.pdf

https://www.cnn.com/2023/08/14/politics/navy-cno-relinquishment-tuberville-holds/index.html

https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-atlanta-georgia-presidential-elections-elections-a702f2ff710ef59dfa7f3215b233102b

https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2022/10/28/coffee-county-election-voting-machines/

https://www.11alive.com/article/news/special-reports/ga-trump-investigation/georgia-trump-indictment-who-is-charged/85-9ea270ae-a82f-4c5f-917c-7a2ca7adf7b1

https://www.cnn.com/2023/07/26/politics/rudy-giuliani-georgia-election-workers/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/08/10/tommy-tuberville-floridas-third-senator/

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23909543-23sc188947-criminal-indictment

https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-rico-georgia-charges-fani-willis-1818509

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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