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September 29, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson

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“What a day we are having…. As a former director of emergency management, I know a disaster when I see one,” Representative Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) said yesterday in the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, overseen by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee chaired by James Comer (R-KY). 

Moskowitz wasn’t wrong. After a hearing that lasted more than six hours, highlights of which Aaron Rupar of Public Notice reposted on social media, Neil Cavuto of the Fox News Channel was unimpressed. He said that although Comer had promised to present “a mountain of evidence” against President Biden, “none of the expert witnesses today presented…any proof for impeachment…. The way this was built up, ‘where there’s smoke there would be fire,’… but where’s there’s smoke today, we just got a lot more smoke.”   

The Republicans on the committee repeatedly talked about the volume of evidence they have uncovered, but they were never able to link their piles of evidence to the president. Under questioning, their own witnesses said there was not enough evidence to impeach President Biden.

It seemed as if Republicans have become so accustomed to being able to say anything they want to on right-wing media without being challenged they thought a congressional committee would operate the same way. When the Democrats pushed back, they seemed flummoxed. 

Comer lost control of the hearing as Democrats on the committee, thoroughly prepared, came out swinging. Representative Shontel Brown (D-OH) noted that “[t]he DOJ and FBI under former President Trump spent 5 long years looking into these Republican conspiracy theories, and debunked them. Repeatedly.” Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said, “The majority sits completely empty handed with no evidence of any presidential wrongdoing, no smoking gun, no gun, no smoke.” 

Representative Summer Lee (D-PA) called out the Republicans by name for holding a sham impeachment hearing instead of funding the government and working for their constituents. She noted that 217,583 people living in the districts of the Republicans on the committee would lose their paychecks because of the Republican shutdown.

Most notably, the Democrats called out the places where witnesses or committee members had deleted words in quotations that changed their meanings. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) emphasized that the four Republican witnesses said they had not presented any first-hand witness accounts of crimes committed by President Biden, while the committee was blocking the testimony of witnesses who could testify to actual facts. She also noted that members of Congress could say anything they wanted because they are covered by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause protecting them, 

Democrats also called out the many ways in which the Republicans were trying to discredit President Biden with speculation during an impeachment hearing to distract from the very real legal troubles of former president Trump. Representatives Mike Garcia (D-CA) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) called out the Republicans for focusing on allegations about Hunter Biden and ignoring the very real issues involving Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who could not get a security clearance until Trump demanded he be given one, worked on Middle East issues in the White House, and then received a $2 billion investment from the Saudis shortly after Trump left office.

Most dramatically, Representative Greg Cesar (D-TX) asked the members of the Oversight Committee to raise their hands if they believe that both Hunter and Trump should be held accountable if they are found guilty on any of their indictments. The Democrats all raised their hands. The Republicans did not. 

One senior republican aide told CNN’s Melanie Zanona: “This is an unmitigated disaster.”

It did not get better after the hearing ended. A fact-check by CNN’s Daniel Dale, Marshall Cohen and Annie Grayer tore apart the committee’s “evidence.” Although Comer said in his opening remarks that the committee has uncovered how “the Bidens and their associates…raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019,” all but about $7 million went to Hunter Biden’s business associates, who according to the Washington Post had “legitimate business interests,” and there is no evidence that President Biden himself received any of this money. 

Comer’s accusation that money was wired to Joe Biden’s Delaware address did not note that the money was a loan, and it went to Hunter Biden’s bank account. Hunter Biden’s lawyers say that he used the Bidens’ Delaware home as his address at the time. 

Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) claimed that documents released Wednesday from 2020 showed that the Department of Justice was protecting President Biden. But in 2020 Trump, not Biden, was president, and the official who urged Biden senior’s name be kept off a search warrant did so because there was no legal basis to include him in a search warrant concerning a business involving his adult son. 

And on it went. 

Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark wrote: “The charitable view is that the first hearing was a dumpster fire inside a clown car wrapped in a fiasco. To put it mildly, the GOP did not bring their best.” 

At the end of the day, it seemed as if Democrats had flipped the script that has worked so well for so long on right-wing media. Rather than being on the defensive themselves, they put Republicans on the defensive. And because their hits were based in reality, rather than a false narrative, they left the Republican committee members with few options today other than to take to social media, once again, to boast of all the evidence they have accumulated against President Biden. 

The hearing was designed to give the extremists of the Freedom Caucus one of their demands, likely in the hope that they would agree to pass a stopgap funding bill that would at least make it look like the House Republicans were trying to fund the government. But today, when House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) brought to the floor an extreme bill that would have made 30% cuts to food assistance, housing, education, funding for border agents, and so on, and insisted on closing the border while funding the government for only another 30 days, 21 extremists voted with the Democrats to kill it by a vote of 198 to 232.

This was a harsh blow not only to McCarthy but to all the Republicans in swing districts. House leaders forced them all to vote for a measure chock full of enormously unpopular cuts and then snatched away the prize of funding the government. Such a political disaster speaks very poorly of McCarthy, who should have never put members of his conference in such a position. Losing 21 of his members in this vote is an embarrassment. The loss weakens the party for 2024: the Democratic ads will pretty much write themselves.

And the members refusing to fund the government simply don’t appear to care, either about their colleagues or their constituents.

At any point, McCarthy could bring up before the House the bipartisan measure already passed by the Senate. Democrats would then likely make up the votes he would lose in his own conference. But the extremists would then challenge his speakership, and that is apparently a challenge he is unwilling to brave.

Notes:

https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/biden-impeachment-hearing-house-oversight-09-28-23/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/28/politics/fact-check-house-impeachment-hearing-biden/index.html

Morning Shots
Comer’s Fiasco
“Republicans are the party that says that government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.” — P.J. O’Rourke As we roll into the weekend: Dysfunction squared: Hardliners plot to replace McCarthy as government shutdown looms – The Washington Post…
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https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/conservative-rebels-threaten-tank-mccarthys-funding-bill-raising-odds-rcna118078

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Letters to the Editor: America Doesn’t Respect Teachers The Free Press

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“Society holds the teaching profession in such low esteem, which has led to a massive teacher shortage,” writes one reader. (Photo by Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“How can public schools at once be hotbeds of radicalism, yet produce students who are so poorly informed about radical causes?” 

This was the central question of Robert Pondiscio’s piece, published June 12: “How Public Schools Became Ideological Boot Camps.”

His answer is that every day, material that hasn’t been officially approved is put in front of children. Here, the founder and president of the Academy for Teachers, Sam Swope, offers an alternative theory, and argues that Robert’s solution—greater oversight—would only make things worse:

Robert Pondiscio argues that because there’s so little oversight of what teachers teach, teachers do whatever they want, and what they want is always bad. 

There’s more than a grain of truth to that, but his call for stricter oversight and less autonomy for teachers isn’t going to solve the problem. It will make things worse.

Our core problem is that society holds the teaching profession in such low esteem, which has led to a massive teacher shortage, meaning principals are scraping the bottom of the barrel, desperate for any warm body to stand in front of a classroom. Not surprisingly, most new hires don’t last. For kids, this is a disaster: school is a parade of one inexperienced teacher after another. 

Schools are looking for smart, creative, empathic teachers, who can be trusted—indeed, expected—to bring their personal passion and intelligence to the work. Of course the schools provide oversight, but they want to be able to respect their teachers as professionals. (Sure, there will be teachers who are bad actors, but you deal with them.)

And yet, given an increasingly weak teaching force, I understand the urge for stringent, distrustful oversight. I can also understand, even as I cringe at the thought, the urge to mandate curricula. At least then some learning might happen!

But a stringent, distrustful, mandated approach is intolerable for the best teachers, and it will make a teaching career repellent to smart, young, idealistic people eager for a profession where they can shine.

There are two urgent problems in education to solve: how to retain our best teachers, and how to encourage inspired young people to join the profession. 

—Sam Swope

Last month, we gave over an episode of Honestly to one of the most contentious debates of the moment: Is Israel’s War Just? Free Pressers Eli Lake and Michael Moynihan argued yes; arguing otherwise were former Bernie Sanders press secretary Briahna Joy Gray and Jake Klein, editor of The Black Sheep. (The debate originally took place at Dissident Dialogues, in partnership with UnHerd.)

Recently, Rabbi Hayim Leiter was listening to this episode in his car while driving to work. There’s something he wants Gray and Klein to know.

I’m based in Efrat, in the West Bank, but I recently traveled to Tel Aviv for a meeting. As is my practice on long drives, I was listening to an Honestly episode, a recording of a live debate entitled, “Is Israel’s War Just?” Right up my alley.

The panelists were all over each other, passionately debating the issue, when Briahna Joy Gray said Israel should not be a Jewish state. She said all of the Arabs should have the right of return and Israel should become a democracy devoid of religious identity. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Then, suddenly: “CRITICAL—Rocket and missile fire.” A Home Front Command notification appeared on my phone. This meant I had less than a minute to get out of my car and lie down with my hands over my head. Now, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Rockets in Tel Aviv? The middle of the country had been quiet for months. 

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM: the explosions were instantaneous and directly overhead. I hadn’t even had time to pull over. I suppose sometimes the Home Front Command warnings are delayed. Thank God the Iron Dome response wasn’t. No one was killed, but later I heard there was a woman injured by shrapnel not far from where I was.

As the dust settled, my focus returned to the podcast. “The right of return is what will ultimately lead to peace,” Gray reiterated. I wanted to yank her out of the radio and sit her next to me. “Do you see that?” I’d ask her, pointing at the smoke trails in the sky. “That’s a rocket.” 

It’s so easy to argue about this war from the safety of America, where the problem is almost always Israel: if only we’d done more of this or less of that. But very few people spend time thinking about what’s happening here, right now. They have no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a Qassam rocket.

I managed to pull myself together and head to my meeting and then to officiate a wedding an hour north of Tel Aviv, in Zichron Yaakov. As we prepared to sign the Ketubah, my phone continued to ring with additional rocket warnings across the country. It’s unnerving knowing that the Huppah could be interrupted at any moment by air-raid sirens. But somehow you press on, praying you won’t have to face that reality.

—Rabbi Hayim Leiter

On Saturday, we ran a piece by Larissa Phillips about what city kids learn at her “farm camp” in upstate New York—important lessons like “Cuts, scrapes, and stings aren’t really a big deal.”

Beneath it, we asked you: How did you spend your childhood vacations? What are the lessons school simply can’t teach you?

Here’s what you said:

My family moved from our prairie home in Saskatchewan to the east coast when I was 5. But every summer we popped on a flight from Saint John, via Toronto or Winnipeg, to Saskatoon. From there it was another five-hour drive north, to where the pavement turned to dirt. In our hometown, we literally lived at the end of the road. 

My grandparents had a cabin, a solitary lease lot in a provincial park, with no neighbors save for the reservation across the lake and a campground five kilometers up the shore. My summers were spent at that cabin with nothing but a canoe, and the odd cousin or friend if I was lucky. There were no cell phones, just loons, leeches, and occasional lightning strikes.

Here, I learned about the forces of nature. I canoed to the middle of the lake, the size of a small sea, during a thunderstorm, and had to make it back against three-foot whitecaps. I discovered that you should not cross the path of a protective mommy beaver, unless you want the bow of your canoe attacked. Most importantly, I learned self-reliance and the value of boredom—to take in the gift of hours alone.

The nights of powwow drumming across the lake while we sat with the campfire will never leave me. Nor the chipmunk that stole my sunflower seeds.

—Jarod Farn-Guillette, Brewer, Maine

I spent seven amazing summers as a camper in Northern Ontario. My family wasn’t rich. My father, an immigrant tailor, only got two weeks of vacation. But my parents knew it was important for me to experience a place different from my home; they sacrificed to send me to summer camp. It was almost six decades ago, but I still remember my mother begging the director for financial assistance.

I learned everything there: how to build a fire, how to swim, how to get along in a cabin with 14 other boys and no bathroom. Peeing off the cabin porch in the middle of the night without waking the counselors was another acquired skill. I not only grew; I grew up. That brief time away from my parents was enough to change me, and they commented on that change every year when I returned home. When I was too old to be a camper, I became a waiter at the camp, my first paying job.

I met my wife at that camp when I was a teenager, and 56 years later we are still together and still talk about our experiences. Looking back, I am amazed at how random choices have such a huge impact on one’s life. Who and where would I be without those summers? When I visit my parents’ graves, I thank them for the opportunities they gave me. I like to think that I raised my sons with the same degree of independence, and that they, in their own time, will pass it on to my grandchildren.

—Sheldon Meingarten, Toronto, Canada

Do you have a unique perspective on a Free Press story? Can you bring your personal experience or expertise to bear on an issue we cover? We want to hear from you. Send us a letter to the editor: letters@thefp.com.

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June 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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My First Job, at the Stanford Internet Observatory Julia Steinberg

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Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised I’d “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time,” writes Julia Steinberg. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)

The Stanford Internet Observatory—a research center tasked with rooting out “misinformation” on social media—is shutting its doors. Chances are if you’ve heard of the SIO it was in a scathing piece from Michael Shellenberger or Matt Taibbi, who have accused the center of being a key node in the censorship-industrial complex.

It was also my first employer. Like a zillion other bright-eyed Stanford undergrads, I was drawn to work at a place that promised to “learn about the abuse of the internet in real time, to develop a novel curriculum on trust and safety that is a first in computer science, and to translate our research discoveries into training and policy innovations for the public good.” To me, that meant ending internet abuse like the glamorization of anorexia on social media or financial scams that steal billions every year. But mostly I worked on the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which SIO ran during the 2020 and 2022 elections. The purpose of that project was to identify so-called “fake news” spreading on social media. 

In actuality, SIO hired a load of interns to scan social media for posts deemed to be mis- and disinformation. It turns out that the posts we students flagged were often sent along to moderators at Twitter (now X), Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, which took them down in order to quash dissenting viewpoints—viewpoints that sometimes ended up being right, as in the case of Covid likely being the result of a lab leak, or Hunter Biden’s hard drive being his actual hard drive—not Russian disinformation. 

Thanks to the work of independent journalists, the SIO’s work has come under a lot of scrutiny, including in Washington. A recent House Judiciary Committee report alleges that, by cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security, the SIO’s Election Integrity Partnership “provided a way for the federal government to launder its censorship activities in hopes of bypassing both the First Amendment and public scrutiny.” 

The SIO has stated that “Stanford has not shut down or dismantled SIO as a result of outside pressure. SIO does, however, face funding challenges as its founding grants will soon be exhausted.” But on June 13, Platformer reported that much of SIO’s staff was on the way out: “Its founding director, Alex Stamos, left his position in November. Renee DiResta, its research director, left last week after her contract was not renewed. One other staff member’s contract expired this month, while others have been told to look for jobs elsewhere, sources say.”

The Supreme Court will soon rule on a case, Murthy v. Missouri, that addresses whether the U.S. government should be able to collaborate with social media companies to censor commentary. The plaintiffs, in their brief, lambast SIO for its role in abetting government censorship. We’ll be watching that case closely.

Julia Steinberg is an intern at The Free Press. Read her piece on the college dropout who unlocked the secrets of ancient Rome using AI. And follow her on X @Juliaonatroika.

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