Veteran journalist: GOP tries to use government power to cancel the First Amendment

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Delta CEO Ed Bastian. Photo: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Last month, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian took the bold step of daring to criticize the actions of the Georgia General Assembly. As Bastian put it in a memo to Delta employees, Georgia had just enacted legislation “that could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and brown communities, to exercise their right to vote,” and he considered that unacceptable.

“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Bastian wrote. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”

Set aside, for a moment, your thoughts about the merits of that legislation and consider what happened next. The 2021 General Assembly was by then in its final hours, yet the Georgia House still found time to hastily draft and approve legislation that would raise jet-fuel taxes on Delta by an estimated $40 million a year. The tax hike didn’t become law, largely because the Senate didn’t have time to take it up before adjournment. But House Republican leaders were quite clear that they intended the bill as punishment for Bastian’s statement.

“As all of you know, I can’t resist a country boy line or two: You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand,” House Speaker David Ralston said of Delta. “You’ve got to keep that in mind.”

We hear a lot of complaining these days about a supposed “cancel culture,” most of it coming from conservatives who believe they’re being censored or punished for unpopular opinions. They seem to believe that under the First Amendment, they have the right to say racist things, sexist things and blatantly false and dangerous things without suffering any consequence. That’s not true and it has never been true. Expressing unpopular opinions has always come with a price, and the First Amendment guarantees only that government won’t be the one exacting that price.

However, when state political leaders threaten to use the power of taxation to try to silence people or corporations who criticize them, as legislators have done with Delta, then we’ve got a real First Amendment problem. That’s direct government suppression of political speech, and it’s a lot more widespread than just Georgia. Read more

Veteran journalist: Extremism the new norm as GOP aims to purge moderates

It is extremist to claim, in the complete absence of evidence, that the election was stolen.

It is extremist to demand that millions of legal, valid ballots be tossed out by the courts, by state legislators, by Congress or the vice president. It is extremist to claim that those who upheld the election, who abided by the word, letter and spirit of the Constitution, are somehow enemies of the Constitution.

It is extremist to make common cause with people who would take the law into their own hands, who would inflict vigilante mob violence on our elected officials and government. And it is downright obscene to do so in the name of preserving that same Constitution.

It is extremist to acquit the man who set all that in motion, who tried to interfere directly in the peaceful transfer of power, to transform democracy into dictatorship.

It is extremist to then attack those seven Republican senators and ten Republican House members who dared to buck their party, who chose truth and the Constitution over blind loyalty to the man whom I hope will always be the most terrible president in American history, because if we get one worse than Donald Trump the republic may not survive it.

The GOP is not a moderate party attempting to purge its extremist elements and return to the mainstream. For the foreseeable future, it is an extremist party that even now is attempting to hunt down and purge its moderate elements, and by doing so become even more extreme.

In fact, we should face the fact that extremism has become central to the identity of what by habit we incorrectly call “conservatism.” They now define themselves by the chasm that separates them from the mainstream, and extremism is the lever that they use to create that chasm. They don’t fear being “canceled;” they court it, they demand it, and will do and say whatever it takes to earn that status.

Within the party, it is moderation, not extremism, that is viewed with suspicion. It is moderation that must be hunted down and forced to either recant or be evicted, and to even acknowledge extremism as a danger is to side with the media, to admit that yes, we may have gone too far and that the liberals might have a point.

How can you get to “yes” with a movement whose entire identity is wrapped up in the joy of screaming “no?” Read more

How insane have things gotten in Georgia? This insane

At a September GOP campaign event U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler appeared side by side with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Loeffler says she “fully supports” a new Texas lawsuit that aims to overturn Georgia’s presidential election, while Carr says it’s “constitutionally, legally and factually wrong.” Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

The state of Texas has filed a disrespectful, insulting and legally ludicrous lawsuit against the state of Georgia, telling the U.S. Supreme Court that we’re too corrupt and incompetent to be trusted to run our own elections.

So … that’s crazy, right? It’s even more insane that our two U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, have publicly taken the side of Texas against the state that they represent, the state in which they’re trying to win an election. Loeffler and Perdue are asking the people of Georgia – the people whose presidential votes they’re trying to throw away – to go to the polls again on Jan. 5 and invest faith and credibility in the very same election system, run by the same laws and the same people, that they claim cannot be trusted to produce a fair and honest outcome.

So let’s say this again, plain and simple:

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, not here in Georgia and not in any other state. We’ve heard that from Brad Raffensperger, the Trump-endorsed, Republican secretary of state responsible for running elections here in Georgia. We’ve heard it from Chris Carr, Georgia’s Republican attorney general, and from Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, also Republicans.

Yet many of their fellow Republicans insist on believing otherwise.

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, a Republican and a staunch ally of Donald Trump, a man who has proved himself quite willing to bend and twist the law to Trump’s benefit, says he too has seen no evidence of voter fraud that could have altered the outcome of the 2020 election.

Yet still, many believe otherwise.

Judges from all over the country – judges in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Arizona and here in Georgia, Republican judges as well as Democratic judges, trial court judges, appellate court judges and state supreme court judges, judges appointed by Obama and judges appointed by Trump and Bush I and Bush II – have dismissed some 50 lawsuits alleging fraud because the complaints lacked evidence, the parties lacked standing, and the lawyers lacked a believable argument.

“They want this court to substitute its judgment for that of two and a half million Georgia voters who voted for Joe Biden, and this I am unwilling to do,” as U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten, a Bush II appointee, said last week in tossing one of those cases.

When Trump tried to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, with its 6-3 advantage in conservative justices, they too shut him down in an apparently unanimous decision. Even Fox News has told its audience that there is no evidence of voter fraud on anything close to the scale required to overturn that result, and thus it treats Joe Biden as president-elect of the United States.

At a September GOP campaign event U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler appeared side by side with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Loeffler says she “fully supports” a new Texas lawsuit that aims to overturn Georgia’s presidential election, while Carr says it’s “constitutionally, legally and factually wrong.” Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

Yet still, they insist on believing.

Here in the real world, in the universe where math exists and facts matter and the rule of law still clings to life – in that world Joe Biden got 7 million more votes than Trump did and carried enough states to earn 306 electoral votes, more than enough to win the White House.

Let me repeat: In this world, the one that exists, there is no evidence of widespread vote fraud, and Biden is the legally, honestly elected winner of the presidential election. In some other world, some world that does not exist yet somehow is home to tens of millions of our fellow Americans, Trump is the victor. And what we’re testing right now is whether those who choose to live in that other world, in a fantasy world created for them by grifters and charlatans, will be able to bend this world, the real world, to conform to their will.

We are spiraling into insanity, and any hope of reversing course begins right here. What our senators advocate, what the Texas lawsuit and lawsuits filed by the state and national Republican parties advocate, is the cancellation of the 2020 presidential election to allow Republican legislatures to appoint Trump. They are doing all this because Loeffler, Perdue and others have come to believe that the incentives to behave like crazy people far outweigh any punishment, and for that at least they have substantial evidence.

That has to change; we have to change it.

Veteran journalist Jay Bookman is a commentator for the Georgia Recorder, which first published this essay.

Georgia journalist explains why arrests in horrific Ahmaud Arbery murder shouldn’t have taken so long

[Editor’s note: It’s being reported this morning that police have finally arrested two men for the February murder of a Black jogger named Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Glynn County, Georgia. As veteran Georgia journalist and commentator Jay Bookman explains in the essay below that ran yesterday in our sibling publication, the Georgia Recorder, it’s an outrage that it took this long.]

Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death as he was running down this road through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in February. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is now taking on the case after local law enforcement stalled an inquiry. Wes Wolfe/Georgia Recorder

Waycross DA’s judgment of Brunswick shooting video ‘insane’

Somebody thought the video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery had to be made public if Arbery and his family were to get a chance at justice.

That unknown somebody was right.

The 36-second video of Arbery’s death is a brutal, difficult thing to watch. It looks for all the world like a modern lynching. 

Even more damning, it makes the government response to Arbery’s death look exactly like a modern coverup of a lynching. It makes it look as if a brutal case of unprovoked racist vigilante violence has been sanctioned by a racist government, as if it’s 1920 not 2020.

The facts, briefly, are these:

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late February, Arbery, 25, was jogging down the middle of a quiet suburban street near Brunswick on the Georgia coast. He was wearing jogging clothes – shorts, T-shirt, Nikes — as he always did on his regular runs. 

Arbery was Black. Two white men decided that the Black man jogging through their neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon was a burglar. They armed themselves and began to pursue him in a vehicle. They cornered Arbery, cut him off from all means of escape, and ended up shooting him three times. He died at the scene. He didn’t have a gun, he didn’t have a TV set smuggled in his running shorts.

More than two months later, no charges have been filed; no arrests had been made.

The first few times I watched the graphic video of Arbery’s killing, which surfaced Tuesday, I was trying to hope that it was new evidence, that the decision made weeks ago by local prosecutors not to file charges had come before the video came to light, before they had the benefit of seeing for themselves what had happened.

That hope was in vain. It turns out that local prosecutors have had the damning video from the beginning, and had made the decision not to prosecute despite having seen it. They also refused to release the video to the public, until someone, someone with access to it, decided it had to be seen. Read more

If Trump is innocent, why lock up the evidence?

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump has placed a heavy shroud of silence over the executive branch.

Under his orders, no witnesses from the State Department, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, the Department of Justice, the White House or any other executive agency will be allowed to testify under oath to Congress. It’s all shut down.

Likewise, no documents, no memos, no email or text-message exchanges will be made available to Congress as it considers impeachment.

That’s an odd thing to do if you’re innocent.

If you’re innocent, why would you keep all the copious evidence of your innocence locked away from Congress and the world? Why would you tell eyewitnesses to your innocence that they can’t utter a word about it? Why would federal judges feel it necessary to order you not to destroy evidence of this innocence?

The most obvious explanation is that you in fact are not innocent. The most obvious explanation is that you realize that your only hope of retaining office and any degree of public support is to hide as much evidence of your wrongdoing as possible, for as long as possible, using every desperate measure at your command.

In a letter to Congress this week, White House lawyers did just that.

“There is no basis for your inquiry,” those lawyers told Congress, condemning the investigation as “partisan and unconstitutional,” “constitutionally invalid,” “an unconstitutional exercise in political theater” and “illegitimate.”

Writing about a controversial phone call with the Ukrainian president, they claim that a rough transcript of that call proves it “was completely appropriate, that the President did nothing wrong, and that there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry.”

This would be the phone call in which the Ukrainian president begs Trump for permission to buy U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, which he needs to protect his country from Russian invasion. The very next words out of Trump’s mouth are fateful:

“I would like you to do us a favor though….”

As Trump explains, that favor involves two investigations. Read more