Saturday, July 29, 2023

Trump's Higher Impunity Revisited

Introduction - the New York Times Notes Trump's History of Impunity

In today's New York Times, and article entitled "New Trump Charges Highlight Long-Running Questions About Obstruction" touched on former President Donald Trump's long history

of gamesmanship on his part with prosecutors, regulators and others who have the ability to impose penalties on his conduct.

in the context of the recent charges of obstruction of justice after the Department of Justice found he had absconded to Mar-a-Lago with multiple confidential government documents, then tried to cover this up.  

The article further stated that "over many decades" Trump

 engaged in gamesmanship with prosecutors, regulators and officials who had authority in aspects of the industries in which he operated. He lived in a New York City where corruption touched aspects of the political and government establishments and the real-estate construction businesses, and he came to believe that everything could be worked out through some kind of deal

However, it provided no detail about how he had maintained his impunity over his long career prior to winning the presidency in 2016.

Yet, by early in that presidency, there was substantial documentation of this impunity.  In fact, in 2018, our post "A Higher Impunity - How Can we Reduce Health Care Leadership's Impunity When the President Claims His Own Impunity? summarized the best documented cases.  So to supplement the NYT article, I have re-upped the relevant content of that post below.

Examples of Donald Trump and Family's Apparent Impunity Before He Became President

As a wealthy businessman, Donald Trump and his family were often linked to apparently illegal activities, but seemed to avoid any intensive investigation, much less negative consequences.

A 2016 Politico article cataloged Trump's ties to organized crime, and found "Some of Trump’s unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven’t." Also,

Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.
We have found numerous examples, which are below listed chronologically according to the time of occurrence of relevant events.

Trump Accused of Lying to Federal Investigators about his Mafia Connections in the 1980s

A WNYC piece from October, 2016, was based on an interview with a federal prosecutor who had investigated organized crime in the 1980s,

Attorney Kenneth McCallion was one of the federal prosecutors involved in that investigation. He says there appeared to be a sweetheart deal between the Teamsters Local 282 and Trump, where Trump would get a promise of cooperation from organized labor—including breaking up any strikes by minority workers—in exchange for no-show jobs, a lucrative concrete contract and a luxury apartment for the union president's girlfriend.

'After we indicted them, the Teamster leaders called a citywide strike, but there were two job sites they exempted from that. One was Trump Tower and the other was Trump Plaza,' McCallion said.

Yet despite this, Trump was never prosecuted.

'Even though Donald Trump lied to law enforcement about his relationship and lying to federal agents is a federal crime, he basically got a pass at that point,' he said.
Trump Accused in Legal Papers of Accepting Kickbacks, but the Charges were not Investigated

The 2016 Politico article also noted:

[An associate of a convicted racketeer] in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could 'be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation' into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars.
No further investigation ensued.

After a Judge Found that he Conspired to Violate Fiduciary Duty and Committed Fraud, Trump was able to Settle with Details Sealed

Again in Politico,

In 1991, a federal judge, Charles E. Stewart Jr., ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty, or duty of loyalty, to the workers and their union and that the 'breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in his breach.' The judge did not find Trump’s testimony to be sufficiently credible and set damages at $325,000. The case was later settled by negotiation, and the agreement was sealed.
It is not clear that Trump was personally responsible for paying whatever the settlement entailed.  No criminal charges apparently followed.  

Applying for a Casino License, Trump Failed to Disclose he was Under Grand Jury Investigation, but Later Kept his License

As also reported by Politico, when Trump was trying to obtain a license for a New Jersey gambling casino,
Trump was required to disclose any investigations in which he might have been involved in the past, even if they never resulted in charges. Trump didn’t disclose a federal grand jury inquiry into how he obtained an option to buy the Penn Central railroad yards on the West Side of Manhattan. The failure to disclose either that inquiry or the Cody inquiry probably should have disqualified Trump from receiving a license under the standards set by the gaming authorities.
But it didn't. And despite the fact that
Once Trump was licensed in 1982, critical facts that should have resulted in license denial began emerging in Trump’s own books and in reports by Barrett—an embarrassment for the licensing commission and state investigators, who were supposed to have turned these stones over. Forced after the fact to look into Trump’s connections, the two federal investigations he failed to reveal and other matters, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement investigators circled the wagons to defend their work. First they dismissed as unreliable what mobsters, corrupt union bosses and Trump’s biggest customer, among others, had said to Barrett, to me and other journalists and filmmakers about their dealings with Trump. The investigators’ reports showed that they then put Trump under oath. Trump denied any misconduct or testified that he could not remember. They took him at his word. That meant his casino license was secure even though others in the gambling industry, including low-level licensees like card dealers, had been thrown out for far less.
Trump's Casino Company Paid Multiple Fines for Violating Regulations, but Trump was not Personally Sanctioned 

An Atlantic article from January, 2017, stated,
Trump has been repeatedly fined for breaking rules related to his operation of casinos. In 1990, with Trump Taj Mahal in trouble, Trump’s father Fred strolled in and bought 700 chips worth a total of $3.5 million. The purchase helped the casino pay debt that was due, but because Fred Trump had no plans to gamble, the New Jersey gaming commission ruled that it was a loan that violated operating rules. Trump paid a $30,000 fine; in the end, the loan didn’t prevent a bankruptcy the following year. As noted above, New Jersey also fined Trump $200,000 for arranging to keep black employees away from mafioso Robert LiButti’s gambling table. In 1991, the Casino Control Commission fined Trump’s company another $450,000 for buying LiButti nine luxury cars. And in 2000, Trump was fined $250,000 for breaking New York state law in lobbying to prevent an Indian casino from opening in the Catskills, for fear it would compete against his Atlantic City casinos.
Also, while Trump was attempting a hostile take-over of a rival casino,
the Federal Trade Commission fined him $750,000 for failing to disclose his purchases of stock in the two companies, which exceeded minimum disclosure levels.
Trump and Family were Accused of Self-Dealing and Accepting Illegal Donations while Operating the Trump Foundation, but were not Individually Penalized

Also reported by the Atlantic,
The [Trump] foundation appears to have broken IRS rules on 'self-dealing” by paying to resolve the legal disputes as well as buying a portrait of Trump and a Tim Tebow helmet that went back to the Trump family. In November, in tax filings posted online, the Trump Foundation said it had violated self-dealing rules in 2015 and in previous, indeterminate, years. On the donation, Trump and Bondi both say there was no quid-pro-quo, but the donation was an illegal one for a charitable nonprofit, and the foundation had to pay a $2,500 fine. Liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington charges other laws may have been broken as well. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reportedly launched an investigation into the foundation. Schneiderman has also informed the foundation that it is in violation of rules on fundraising and ordered it to quit. Trump has announced plans to shutter his foundation, but reportedly cannot do so while it is under investigation.
Yet so far no person has been charged with any related violations. Note that it appears that Trump may have had leverage on Mr Schneiderman, who has now resigned (see below).  Although there were reports in 2017 that the Foundation was going to shut down, as of March, 2018, according to an article in The Hill, the ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was still trying to get records related to the self-dealing described above from the leadership of the apparently still existing foundation (look here). 

Trump's Taj Mahal Casino Was Fined for Breaking Rules about Money Laundering, but Trump Paid no Penalties

A May, 2017, CNN story stated,

The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement.

It's a bit of forgotten history that's buried in federal records held by an investigative unit of the Treasury Department, records that congressional committees investigating Trump's ties to Russia have obtained access to, CNN has learned.

The casino repeatedly failed to properly report gamblers who cashed out $10,000 or more in a single day, the government said.

Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000 fine in 1998 without admitting any liability under the Bank Secrecy Act.
There is no record suggesting anyone looked into Trump's involvement with these violations. Note that
The 1998 settlement was publicly reported at the time, and the Associated Press noted it was the largest fine the federal government ever slapped on a casino for violating the Bank Secrecy Act.
But key details of the casino's cash reporting violations are missing from the publicly released documents, including the identities of the gamblers and casino employees involved in the transactions.
Then, in 2015, FINCEN publicly announced:
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today imposed a $10 million civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (Trump Taj Mahal), for willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). In addition to the civil money penalty, the casino is required to conduct periodic external audits to examine its anti-money laundering (AML) BSA compliance program and provide those audit reports to FinCEN and the casino’s Board of Directors.

Trump Taj Mahal, a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, admitted to several willful BSA violations, including violations of AML program requirements, reporting obligations, and recordkeeping requirements. Trump Taj Mahal has a long history of prior, repeated BSA violations cited by examiners dating back to 2003. Additionally, in 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil money penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.

'Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,' said FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. 'Like all casinos in this country, Trump Taj Mahal has a duty to help protect our financial system from being exploited by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors. Far from meeting these expectations, poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.'

Trump Taj Mahal admitted that it failed to implement and maintain an effective AML program; failed to report suspicious transactions; failed to properly file required currency transaction reports; and failed to keep appropriate records as required by the BSA. Notably, Trump Taj Mahal had ample notice of these deficiencies as many of the violations from 2012 and 2010 were discovered in previous examinations.
Again, there is no record of any negative consequences for Mr Trump

Trump Made False Statements Under Oath, but was not Charged with Perjury

A Mother Jones article published February, 2016, recounted that in connection with a libel suit Mr Trump filed against journalist Timothy O'Brien alleging O'Brien under-reported Mr Trump's wealth,
In 2007—two years before a New Jersey judge tossed out the case—Trump was questioned during a deposition. Over the course of the two-day-long interrogation, Trump was forced repeatedly to acknowledge having made false statements. And at one point, a lawyer for O’Brien and his publisher asked Trump a straightforward question: Have you ever before associated with individuals you knew were associated with organized crime?'

Trump, who was testifying under oath, answered, 'Not that I know of.'

That was a clear and unequivocal response. But it was not true. Two years earlier, O’Brien had interviewed Trump and specifically asked him about Sullivan and Shapiro. O’Brien, now an editor and writer at Bloomberg, has provided Mother Jones with a transcript of the interview, and it conclusively shows that Trump believed that these two men were associated with organized crime....

Trump: They were tough guys. In fact, they say that Dan Sullivan was the guy that killed Jimmy Hoffa. I don’t know if you ever heard that.

O’Brien: I have heard that. And that he was, you know…
Trump: I just was able to handle them. And I, really, I was able to handle them. I found Sullivan to be the tougher of the two. I started hearing reports about Sullivan, that he killed Jimmy Hoffa….
O’Brien: What was Shapiro like?

Trump: He was like a third-rate, local, real estate mob guy. Nothing spectacular. And I, you know, I got lucky. I heard a rumor that Sullivan, because Sullivan was a great con man, I heard a rumor that Sullivan killed Jimmy Hoffa. And because I heard that rumor I kept my guard up. You know, I said, 'Hey, I don’t want to be friends with this guy.'

So here was Trump connecting Sullivan to the Hoffa murder and calling Shapiro a 'mob guy.'
The same article also asserted that Trump lied in a deposition about knowing and working with Felix Sater, who who "had once been involved in a Mafia-linked stock swindle," and who "had worked with the Trump Organization."

Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr Escaped Indictment for Fraud

As reported by the New Yorker in October, 2017, despite considerable evidence that the two children of Donald Trump had misled potential buyers of Trump SoHo condominiums, Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney overruled his staff by halting an investigation of them in 2010.  Later, the Trumps' attorney, Marc Kasowitz, made a large donation to Mr Vance's campaign.   

Trump University Settled Fraud Allegations, Trump Not Charged

As reported by the New York Times in 2017, "the final settlement of allegations that 'Trump University students had been cheated out of thousands of dollars in tuition through high-pressure sales techniques and false claims about what they would learn" was approved by a judge. Litigation about these allegations had gone on for years, but after his election in November, Mr. Trump reversed course and agreed to pay $25 million to resolve the litigation. He did not admit fault, and he maintained in posts on Twitter after the settlement announcement that he "did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U."

The settlement resolved lawsuits brought by the Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, among others.  However, Mr Trump was never charged with a crime by Mr Schneiderman among others.  There is some reason to think Mr Trump took actions to ensure his impunity.

According to Bloomberg on May 11, 2018,
Back in 2013, Donald Trump was exploring a presidential run. His Trump University was in the crosshairs of New York’s crusading attorney general. Around the same time, Trump and his personal lawyer got an interesting piece of information: Eric Schneiderman, the AG, was accused of sexually abusing two women.
The details of the accusations were not made public at that time, but later,
Trump took aim at Schneiderman in a tweet on Sept. 11, 2013, that also referred to New York politicians who’d resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.

'Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone -- next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner,' Trump tweeted.

Mr Schneiderman never brought criminal charges against Mr Trump.  Could it be that he was made aware that Trump had information about Schneiderman's sexual behavior that he could use against him? This month, the allegations of his sexual misconduct were finally made public and he then resigned.  The settlement, again absent any charges against Mr Trump, was approved in March, 2017.

Summary of Trump's Pre-Presidency Impunity

While Trump's firms have had to pay multiple fines for breaking rules and laws, and Trump and the immediate family members who work with him in the Trump Organization were credibly accused of multiple types of wrong-doing, including various apparent crimes, neither Trump nor his family members were ever indicted, or apparently investigated for crimes.


We concluded our 2018 post by summarizing how Trump's record of impunity made it much more difficult to push to address health care corruption and related issues.  But since 2018, we have become more aware of the multitudinous effects that Trump's corruption has degraded our society and representative democracy.  Lately, some have suggested that Trump would drag us into authoritarianism if not fascism simply to keep his sorry self out of jail.  See, for example,  Netanyahu and Trump: two desperate men exploiting power to save themselves.

 There were examples going back decades showing how Trump eluded accountability and justice by manipulating the system.  They were reported at the times they occurred, recalled by journalists before and soon after Trump's 2016 election victory, and largely ignored.

Maybe if we as a society had been paying better attention, we would all be in a better place today. 

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Threats to Democracy Round Up - Selected Topics, Early June, 2023

Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers

Think about the implications of having hostile, authoritarian foreign powers trying to disrupt democracy by means overt and covert. Think about the accumulating evidence that this has been and is happening.

Also, see our discussion last month about the importance of this topic.

Trump/Russia Alignment

[No collusion? - How many who helped Trump will turn out to be mainly friends of Russia?] Tara Reade, who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, defects to Russia- appears on Russian media alongside convicted Russian agent in US Maria Butina

"Trump built the 'Russia, Russia, Russia' case against himself....wanted  to build a tower there.... trusted Vladimir Putin more  than his own government....  made Paul Manafort his campaign chairman"...  
"had longstanding ties to people affiliated with Russian intelligence services.... Manafort  would remove a plank supporting Ukraine from the 2016 GOP platform...."
"Don Jr....Kushner, and Manafort met with a Russian lawyer promising  dirt on Hillary....   Trump’s plea 'Russia... please help me find the 30,000 emails that are missing'"

Striking evidence of Trump/Russia coordination: Russia sanctioned some Trump perceived enemies who pose no obvious threat to Russia: NY AG James, GA Secretary of State Raffensperger, Capitol Police Lt Byrd (who shot Jan 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt)

Alignment of Far-Right Politicians and Russia

Yet another connection between US far-right politics and  Russia: FL Gov DeSantis worked closely with businessman Lev Parnas "arrested in 2019, accused by the U.S. government of funneling a Russian oligarch’s money into American political campaigns"

"head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned Monday of a  rise in anti-government extremism - fueled by authoritarian states such as Russia - that seeks to divide society and topple the government" and outlined how Russia does it in Germany  
How Russia undermines democracy: "use wedge issues to stoke fear and gain new followers....  migration...[using] the myth of a 'great replacement' ...government measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic and combat climate change"
"The more complex an issue is, the more intensively one has to deal with  a topic, the more there is a tendency to seek simple answers and run after people who offer an easy solution for problems....Often...people from the extremist circles"
"disinformation  [is] being spread by Russian state media and internet platforms...key  influencers are also targeted by Russia’s agents.... there are attempts to get close to certain politicians on the right or left fringes"
Note that this story of a top intelligence agency leader warning about the techniques used by Russia and other hostile foreign powers to undermine democracy has so far gotten little coverage: the anechoic effect

Conflicts of Interest, Crime, Corruption

Since 2015, we have asked (here) how the US (and the world) can possibly reduce health care corruption, a major cause of global health care dysfunction, under a thoroughly conflicted and corrupt Trump administration. Since Trump left office, evidence of this corruption has been accumulating.  And now, he is the currently leading Republican contender for the presidency in 2024.

Trump's Conflicts of Interest, Corruption

This is so obvious that he should not have to argue this explicitly, but Manhattan DA Bragg "argued that hush money paid in 2016 to... allegedly on Donald Trump’s behalf was not part  of an official presidential act"

Why aren’t we talking more about Trump’s business with the Saudis? [or, for that matter, Trump's other foreign business interests, including those in authoritarian or even openly hostile countries?]

Looking into foreign entanglements: Special Counsel Jack Smith sought "Trump Organization’s real estate licensing and development dealings in  seven countries: China, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United  Arab Emirates and Oman"

Trump Absconded to Mar-a-Lago with Classified Documents

His lawyer told him: "Donald Trump was put on notice that he could not  retain any classified documents after he was subpoenaed for their return  last year.... The previously unreported warning conveyed to Trump by his lawyer Evan Corcoran"

[More evidence of obstruction of justice?] Trump lawyer said to have been waved off searching office for secret records

New evidence that Trump knew he absconded with classified documents, an apparently illegal act "Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a  potential attack on Iran... undercutting his  argument that he declassified everything"

[Did they all obstruct justice?] Trump workers moved Mar-a-Lago boxes a day before FBI came for documents [showing] "greater breadth and specificity to the instances of possible obstruction  found by the FBI and DOJ than have been previously  reported"

Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception

Propaganda and disinformation, often deploying techniques borrowed from the Russians, have become potent weapons against democracy from within. 

See our earlier discussion of this topic here.

[More deceptive propaganda] DeSantis PAC adds fake fighter jets to launch video "the latest instance of political ads including digitally altered videos to promote or attack candidates, making it difficult for viewers to discern what’s real"

After Columbine, the NRA fomented propaganda:"they literally said, are we going to be part of the solution...? maybe we can use these things to drum up hate and fear in our  members... to use them to drive membership...they  chose the latter"

Boebert dismisses antisemitism push as effort to target conservatives  [so @laurenboebert admits that most right-wing extremists, now erroneously labeled "conservative," are antisemitic?]

Far right has been praising whistle blowers lately.  What will they think of whistle blowings suggesting that their hero @elonmusk may be marketing a dangerous product: "thousands of reports of problems with Tesla's advanced driving assistance systems"

Wealthy Sen Kennedy (R-LA) went to top schools, spoke with a minimal accent, was a Democrat.  Now he's a folksy far-right Republican. "After he got to the Senate and realized that Fox News...viewers enjoyed his shtick, he went all in on this new persona"

A clearly politicized investigation: Republican chair of House Oversight Committee shows why he is investigating Biden's family finance - to make Biden less popular: "the American people  are keeping up with our investigation"

SCOTUS Justice Gorsuch's view of the US: "With one notable exception... the history of Native Americans — he is willing to ignore or doesn’t even see our  long, peacetime history of repression and internal tyranny"  Did he hear of slavery, Jim Crow etc?

Remember that "tale of homeless military veterans’ being expelled from their  temporary hotel rooms north of New York City so that people coming from  the Mexican border could stay there"? It was a sham, apparently useful for far-right and pro-Trump crowd

@elonmusk's Twitter is "following the playbook of platforms like Rumble, which used to be the go-tos for canceled and deplatformed right-wingers seeking a soft landing and the promise of revenue" Can the remaining non far-right tweeters resist?

Understanding the Propagandists'/Disinformationists' Toolbox, and One New Attempt to Counter It

A cognitive infection: "an anti-woke mind virus — a contagion that spreads not across people but across issues....a faction...hates anything it considers woke...any acknowledgment of social  injustice and...that people should make sacrifices...[for] the public good"

[OK] Republican [state] senator says ‘I don’t want reality’ in hearing on race and education [Redoing the old liar's  paradox: I am telling the truth: everything I say is a lie]

[Basically using the appeal to ridicule logical fallacy] DeSantis responds to NAACP advising against travel to ‘openly hostile’ Florida: ‘Nothing more than a stunt’ [he failed to cite any facts or make any logical arguments]

[Do as we say, not as we do: remember it's all performance art.  They don't believe anything they are saying] @RepMTG’s boyfriend caught in drag video

They're here... "Dozens of fringe news websites, content  farms and fake reviewers are using AI to create  inauthentic content online.... The misleading A.I. content included fabricated events, medical advice and celebrity death hoaxes"

With Climate Panel as a Beacon, Global Group Takes On Misinformation [focused on researching better ways to challenge disinformation]
Fascism, Nazism, White Supremacy, Neo-Confederacy, Theocracy/Christian Nationalism

Again, Trump is currently the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.  Trump and his supporters have shown again and again how they plan to dismantle democracy if given half a chance.  And some of those contending for the nomination are cut from the same cloth.

Trump's 2025 [fascist] vision [pardon insurrectionists, require personal loyalty of government workers, turn law enforcement into political police]   "What Trump is proposing for 2025 ... is the trappings of a democracy. ... But it's a Potemkin village"

"Trump’s efforts to politicize the Justice Department apparently weren’t fascist enough for DeSantis....   what he’s really proposing is a level of executive control...much closer to a dictatorship than anything America has experienced"

Word of continuing investigation is a reminder of one of many of Trump's abuses of power: he fired a national cybersecurity leader who had declared that the 2020 election was secure

[Trump don't need no stinkin' Constitution] Donald Trump reiterates pledge to scrap birthright US citizenship- promises executive order revoking right enshrined in 14th amendment

Jeff Sharlet: "when Trump came down the golden  escalator, that was the fascist aesthetic. Because until then... we didn’t quite have the cult of personality.  We had the founders...myth... violence.... But we believed in... A peaceful city upon a  hill"  

[From promoting free markets to tearing down church-state separation] Charlie Kirk’s ‘Turning Point’ Pivots to Christian Nationalism

Straight out of the authoritarian playbook, far-right  agitator @MattWalshBlog: "Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it. We can’t  boycott every woke company or even most.... But we can pick one, it  hardly matters which, and target it"

[Remember @RepGosar?  Another extremist politician's "vile rhetoric" breaks up his family] Alabama senator [Tuberville (R-AL)] condemned by his own brother for ‘ignorant, hateful rants’

Like Hitler, Trump demanded personal loyalty: "Within the Presidential Personnel Office... Trump  loyalists... were  on a mission to find and fire people perceived as disloyal to Mr. Trump within the federal bureaucracy" Next time, a new Fuhrer Oath?

The Roberts Court "seized for themselves an active role in doing so, they have repeatedly described other political institutions in overwhelmingly derogatory terms while... positioning [SCOTUS] it as simply a  conduit of disembodied law"

"The to ...degrade the...notion of national citizenship and to leave us... at the  total mercy of the fundamental questions of  political freedom and bodily autonomy into the hands of our local  bullies and petty tyrants"

How Republican states are eroding local democracy "pursuing efforts to diminish local control over policing, elections, and the courts in liberal and racially diverse areas.... 'This is a thing of, ‘Black folks can’t govern. Black leaders can’t govern’'"

[Putting the culture wars and sectarian beliefs ahead of national security]  How GOP attacks on ‘wokeism’ helped lead the Pentagon to abandon its effort to combat extremism in the military

Trying to make their church into the state: Christian nationalist would impose their extreme sectarian beliefs on people of other faiths who believe no such things "people in power who want to assert a version of Christian dominance"

Not conservatives, but nihilists and anarchists: Republicans "would rather watch the American Experiment go up in flames — and smile with a devilish grin... than follow the example of their alleged hero Ronald Reagan, who raised the debt limit 18 times"

[Authoritarians tend to turn on one another in the end] G.O.P. Split in Texas Breaks Wide Open With Drunkenness Accusation

[Selectively targeting local government in areas with large populations of disadvantage minorities and/or their political opponents] Texas Republicans target state’s largest city with voting restrictions

Investigation of abuses of power by Trump appointed leader of Voice of America: "Michael Pack met with a career employee to discuss which senior leaders  at the agency and the Voice of America should be forced out due to their  perceived political beliefs"

"Christian nationalists have hijacked both my Republican Party and my faith community....The result is bad church and bad law.... Christian nationalism has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with control"

Goodbye to separation of church and state: Public school board in MS denies trans student wearing a dress access to graduation: because it offended some beliefs of fringe sectarian groups?

Goodbye, separation of church and state- Local government run by "Constitutional Republicans" explicitly proclaim government according to religious values: "importantly reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the nation’s founding"

Gov Ron DeSantis' Fascist Florida

The state of Florida seems to be a laboratory for the development of a new American fascism.  The latest examples are:

[From opposing policies to vowing to destroy enemies - from disagreement in a democracy to fascism] Ron DeSantis says he will ‘destroy leftism’ in US if elected president

DeSantis sells himself as spiritual [Christian nationalist/ theocratic] warrior in bid to win over pastors

[Dispatch from DeSantis' fascist Florida] Struggles continue for thousands in Florida 8 months after Hurricane Ian as new storm season looms [reminds us that authoritarians are really bad at governing]

Do you really want that Florida vacation "The powerful tourism lobby left the LQBTQ community, Blacks, Hispanics and one of the state’s largest employers out there fighting DeSantis alone....  el que calla otorga? The one who remains quiet, concedes"

[Florida's road to autocracy] Amassing Power, DeSantis Maximized Might of Governor’s Office

It's come to this, again: NAACP "issued a formal advisory warning travelers to Florida that the state is 'openly hostile' towards Black people, people of colour and LGBT+ people" You really want that vacation in Florida?

What me worry? In Ron DeSantis’s 2011 book, now somehow almost impossible to find, he dismissed slavery as "a fact of life throughout human history"

Robert F Kennedy Jr as a Trump Stalking Horse

His name is Kennedy. His campaign is pure Trump. "What makes Kennedy most like Trump, though, is the overlay of conspiracy  and contempt that tinges nearly everything he says, the destructive  distrust in the electorate he seeks to channel"

Candidate for President Robert F Kennedy Jr defends Roger Waters after he performed in "clothing evocative of Nazi attire" a Bannon supported candidate with neo-Nazi shading

Targeting Free Expression, Especially in Education

Needless to say, free expression is a fundamental right in a democracy but also necessary for the practice of patient-centered, evidence-based medicine. Note how many examples come from Florida

Challenging the far right Moms for Liberty "We  treat Moms for Liberty like the KKK,.... If you knew that a  KKK meeting was happening in a church down the street from your house,  everyone would be alarmed, we would be picketing, we would be  protesting"

History: "The first time parental rights emerged as a rallying cry was in response to the Progressive Era effort to ban child labor....the crusade came to be seen as a stalking horse for a larger, far less popular project: dismantling public education"

[After DeSantis' far-right takeover] New College of Florida faculty votes to censure university's board of trustees

[Homage to Niemoller: First they came for the librarians, but I was not a librarian, so... this time, act as if we are all librarians] Librarians sue Arkansas state over law banning them from giving ‘obscene’ books to children

 First they went after the librarians, but I was not a librarian, and I said nothing... but to its credit, FIRE threatens lawsuit "officials in Orem, Utah, forbade library employees from  criticizing government restrictions of book displays for Pride Month"

[A new indirect way to ban books] ‘Mass confusion.’ Rule threatening MO library funding over ‘obscene’ books takes effect [Would be authoritarians still trying to prevent you from reading what they don't like]

[The people who support democracy and individual rights strike back] In a deep red Florida county, a student-teacher revolt shames the right

Florida has launched an “unparalleled” assault on higher education- Ron DeSantis is threatening academic freedom everywhere

[Majority of seniors at Florida's New College attend "alternative" graduation after DeSantis' take over] 'We are incredibly resilient': Students vow to make DeSantis' takeover of their school miserable

["Parental rights" measure may give the most power to the most extreme parents] Florida mother behind ban on Amanda Gorman poem has Proud Boys links [and history of antisemitic posts]

[Condoning extremism, insurrection, fascism] DeSantis appears to back woman who led Amanda Gorman poem school ban [who was linked to Proud Boys and antisemitism]

"DeSantis’s obvious relish of this moment shows he believes having an  army of lone parents [maybe with ties to extremism, fascism, antisemitism] out there stirring up cultural controversies...can only help him in the 2024 GOP presidential  primaries"

In this small Illinois town, beware the book police- School district places teacher on leave and police seize books after  parents complain about reading assignment that included LGBTQ-themed  book

"The retrenchment that teachers are facing over the teaching of our  shared history is nearly identical to a proslavery rationale in that  both stymie open discussion of slavery and its impact on society"

Only 1 person has been jailed after instances ProPublica investigated of disruption of a school board meeting, a "a college support of transgender rights." No right-wing disruption about race or gender issues resulted in any major punishment

“Vague and overbroad laws like Montana’s drag statute give unfettered power to government officials to enforce laws in inconsistent ways, favoring one viewpoint or certain types of expression over others”

Targeting Medicine and Public Health

In the 1980s, the first major modern Soviet disinformation campaign aimed to disrupt the West using disinformation about HIV/AIDS.  During the Trump campaign and administration we showed how he and his supporters leveraged disinformation about diseases such as Ebola virus infections and measles. (See discussion here)  And then medicine and health care became even more central to democracy targeted disinformation campaigns as Trump tried to deflect attention from his mismanagement of the COVID pandemic.
Now the rise of Christian nationalism has injected some ancient superstitions into propaganda and disinformation about medicine and health care

[Republican AG didn't need no stinkin' laws] Schmitt had no authority to end school mask mandates as MO AG, judge rules “There exists no Missouri law allowing the AG to involve himself in a School District’s efforts to manage COVID"

[Far-right legislators don't need no stinkin' medical opinions] Texas wants to wean trans youth off meds in a ‘safe and medically appropriate’ way. Doctors say that’s impossible "it’s medically necessary treatment"

A Tennessee woman has been left infertile after being forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy when doctors refused her an abortion [for an ectopic pregnancy]" Blanket anti-abortion laws hurt patients and  cause the moral injury of health care professionals

Abortion bans harm patients: She was forced to stay in the hospital until her condition was bad enough for treatment. If she left she was warned it could be used as evidence she was trying to kill the baby

In TX medical care is becoming illegal. Republican AG Paxton now investigating a 2nd hospital for caring for transgender patients. First they came for the medical professionals caring for transgender patients, but I was not one of them but I did nothing...

Many transgender health bills came from a handful of far-right interest groups [particularly Do No Harm and the Family Research Council, not state legislators who introduce them. But who leads these groups, funds them, and benefits from their work?]

"Public health and medical policy-making is a messy mix of science and  politics. However, this mix cannot be a deterrent for physician  involvement. Speaking for patient equity, wellness, safety, and our duty"

Demonizing Enemies and Preaching Violence

Demonizing enemies and advocating violence are major parts of the authoritarian playbook.

"Faith that requires coercive political power to realize its own goals is  faith built on violence. Following Jesus, who put away Peter’s sword...imagining violence as an acceptable way of cooperating with God’s kingdom leads to evils"

Christian nationalists' have long been demonizing  enemies: "raised to believe that public schools were tools of a  demonic social order, government 'indoctrination camps' devoted to the  propagation of lies and the subversion of Christian families"

[More threats of violence from Trump world] Kimberly Guilfoyle threatens DeSantis: ‘You’re going to get hurt, and damaged’

"White supremacy itself is not just about membership, about who is and  isn’t white... It comes with a politics  and ideology of division … It’s also their beliefs about the nation and  of the role of violence in enforcing that hierarchy"

[Declaring an unlimited religious war on the rest of us: Their political opponents are now viewed as Satanic] Franklin Graham at Christian media convention: Every 'demon from hell' has been 'turned loose' in society

[The extreme right keeps talking about a revolution or civil war: people are starting to hear this as a call to arms] Truck driver charged with threatening president after crash near White House [He had a Nazi flag in the truck]

[The culture war - actually a verbal war on those who offend extreme sectarians -  threatens real violence]  ‘Threats’ prompt US Target stores to remove some Pride Collection products

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Threats to Democracy Round Up - Selected Topics, Late May, 2023

Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers

We have previously posted lots of words about the anechoic effect: the lack of echoes produced by seemingly important stories about health care dysfunction.  It seemed as if such stories were taboo, presumably because even discussing them was seen as a threat to the rich and powerful who increasingly run health care.  Those involved in the leadership and governance of health care organizations and their cronies also have considerable power to damp down any public discussion that might cause them displeasure. In particular, we have seen how those who attempt to blow the whistle on what really causes health care dysfunction may be persecuted.   

 But as we discussed here, the major issues we discussed prior to 2015 gave way to a new normal with the advent of Trump as a presidential candidate and the MAGA movement as a major force in US politics.  In that 2020 discussion, we noted how the Trump administration acted to squelch discussion of scientific topics that did not fit in with its ideology, despite constitutional guarantees of speech and press free from government control (look here).

Now it appears that the most striking example of the anechoic effect involves discussion of the underlying causes of the anti-democratic turn in the US that threatens the system that permits public discussion, and the possibility of reforming health care dysfunction among other issues.  We continue to see bits of evidence made public about how democracy is threatened by the influence of hostile foreign powers, especially Russia, on US politics, especially elections.  Yet the evidence produces few echoes.

Here are some of the more striking bits of evidence that appeared in just the last two weeks about Russia's malign influence on US democracy.

Russia's Malign Strategy and Tactics

-The April 2023 Indictment for Russian Election Interference and Threats to U.S. Democracy "The Kremlin’s Strategy: Exploiting far left and far right fringes; Exploiting the racial divide; Going local"

Racism as a National Security Threat "the one big thru-line from the Cold War to today in terms of the  most exploitable vulnerability Russia can weaponize against us:  America’s racial divisions"

Evidence of widespread Russian election meddling in other countries: "Kemal Kilicdaroglu, main challenger of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan,  said ... his party has concrete evidence of Russia's  responsibility for the release of 'deep fake' online content"

Linkages of Trump and Supporters to Russia

 US Trumpists are increasingly part of a new global fascist axis: "far-right populism of Hungary’s prime minister is helping to inspire  U.S. Republicans' agenda for 2024, a game plan that targets  immigration, LGBTQ rights and... the war in Ukraine"

Reminder that Trump "is Putin's puppet": He was "repeatedly asked by CNN host Kaitlan Collins if he backed Ukraine in its 15-month conflict with Vladimir Putin’s forces, and repeatedly dodged the question"

Follow the money: Trump Media got financing from Paxum Bank, which "promoted a way for video streamers of adult content  to coordinate financial transactions across international borders" and is owned by a sketchy Russian businessman

[Another Trump-Russia connection?] FBI agents raid condo unit owned by Russians at Trump Towers in Sunny Isles

The FBI raided a condo in Trump Tower III in Sunny Isles Beach, FL because its "owner was being arrested... on  charges of illegally selling airplane parts to Russian airline  companies"

Putting another Russian asset in the WH: In call to ReAwaken America rally, Trump said he would give Michael Flynn a WH position.  Flynn "entered, then withdrew, a guilty plea of making false statements to the F.B.I" and hung out with Putin in Russia

Reminder: "next to Putin at the head table, in the seat of honor, was an American.  Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who would later become Donald Trump's  national security adviser"

Trump and Supporters' Techniques to Downplay their Connections to Russia: The Durham Investigation 

It was supposed to show how the investigation of Trump/Russia was a witch hunt.  It didn't

Not with a bang.... Trump fans hyped the Durham investigation. Trump fans will likely keep spinning it, but it "delivered underwhelming results... securing a guilty plea from a little-known FBI employee [and] ...losing ...2 criminal cases"

"Durham’ revealed little substantial new information  about the inquiry...failed to  produce the kinds of blockbuster revelations... that...Trump  and his allies suggested Mr. Durham would uncover"

"Durham...scolded the F.B.I. but failed to... uncover a politically motivated 'deep state' conspiracy.... charged no  high-level F.B.I. or intelligence official with a crime and acknowledged...Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign did  nothing prosecutable"

Despite the failure of the Durham investigation to find any important misconduct much less "deep state" politicization of the Trump-Russia investigation, to Trump fans it  "was Watergate times 10, or 100"

Russia, Trump and the 2016 election "Russia tried to swing the 2016 election to Trump; FBI had reason to investigate a tip suggesting Trump campaign involvement; Trump campaign welcomed help from Russia:  ‘Steele dossier’ proved to be a red herring"

Russian Propaganda and Disinformation

"hate crimes in America are often influenced by online chatter that's  increasingly linked to Russian sites or pro-Russian narratives on more  obscure parts of the internet. The Kremlin doesn't seem to mind"

Conflicts of Interest, Corruption, Crime

Since 2015, we have asked (here) how the US (and the world) can possibly reduce health care corruption, a major cause of global health care dysfunction, under a thoroughly conflicted and corrupt Trump administration.  Since the end of that administration, Trump has campaigned to be president again.  Meanwhile, the evidence of his and his supporters' conflicts of interest, corruption, and criminality continue to grow.  Recent examples include:

Trump's Conflicts, Crimes, and Corruption

Jury finds Trump liable for sexual abuse, awards accuser $5M [When real, reasonable people get to review Trump's conduct while free of his intimidation and bluster they may tend to do so harshly]

"Trump admitted more directly than before on Wednesday that he knowingly  removed government records from the White House and claimed that he was  allowed to take anything he wanted with him as personal records" Confessing to a crime?

He just can't help himself: in his CNN Town Hall appearance, Trump appeared to defame E Jean Carroll again, just days after she won a lawsuit against him for his previous defamation

[Even more accusations of sexual misconduct by Trump, even involving his own White House staff] Top aides reveal Trump’s alleged inappropriate conduct towards female staffers

Attacking the rule of law, eve obstruction of justice? - Trump fan politicians go after prosecutors who are investigating or otherwise legally pursuing Trump, including Manhattan DA Bragg, Special Counsel Smith, Fulton County GA DA Willis

There is apparently evidence that Trump knew he was committing a crime by walking off with classified presidential records despite his later claims that doing so was legal

The Conflicts, Crimes and Corruption of Trumpist and/or Far Right Politicians

[Noticing this glaring conflict of interest] Judge to order Wisconsin Elections Commission to reconsider fake elector complaint without the commissioner who joined the scheme

Are they all sleazy or criminal? Republican "Rep. Bryan Slaton resigned from the Texas House on Monday after an investigation determined that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 19-year-old woman on his staff"

TX rep Slaton "proposed banning children from attending drag shows to supposedly shield them from being groomed... resigned after he was found to have engaged in inappopriate sexual  conduct with a 19-year-old intern" Fake morality of the culture warriors

[Again, are they all crooks?] Rep Santos [(R-NY) is accused of using illicit campaign contributions for personal expenses "indictment accusing him of wire fraud, money laundering,  stealing public funds and lying in federal disclosure forms"

Rep George Santos confesses to theft in Brazil to avoid prosecution

Follow the money: "conservative operatives using sophisticated robocalls raised  millions of dollars from donors using pro-police and pro-veteran  messages....  nearly all the  money went to pay the firms making the calls and the operatives  themselves"

[And now reports of sexual misconduct by Trump's lawyer Giuliani] Rudy Giuliani accused of sexual harassment by ex-employee

[Are they all thugs, if not crooks?- Louisiana] GOP Rep Clay Higgins filmed shoving activist who questioned Lauren Boebert’s divorce

Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception

We used to write about propaganda and disinformation used to promote health care goods and services (stealth marketing campaigns), and advocate for policies favorable to private health care organizations (stealth health policy advocacy and stealth lobbying).  Some stealth marketing, lobbying and policy advocacy campaigns encompass not just propaganda, but disinformation.  For example, consider the health insurance company campaign to derail the Clinton administration's attempt at health reform as described by Wendell Potter in Deadly Spin (look here).  The tactics employed in that campaign included: use of front groups and third parties (useful idiots?); use of spies; distractions to make important issues anechoic; message discipline; and entrapment (double-think).

But back in the day, the notion of propaganda and disinformation as a real threat to health care, much less our democratic process and society as a whole, was pretty radical.  That was then.  By 2019 we were writing about a  a new (ab)normal that includes propaganda and disinformation in the service of hostile authoritarian foreign states meant to disrupt more democratic governments, whatever the cost in human health and lives.

 It is important to better understand the techniques of the propagandists and disinformationists, so:

Propagandists' and Disinformationists' Toolbox

Reflexive control "Using the name scholars have given to this area of research to  frame the debate baits Rufo’s opponents into arguing about what CRT is and isn’t, which... keeps the exact three words he wants (and  their attendant connotations) in circulation"

"How can we really engage in these conversations, when the tension is  there before you even pick up the book and open the topic?" [It's hard to  have a rational argument when fanatics are screaming at you]

The Flood the Zone with BS Technique:
[The old-time fast talking snake oil salesman in the internet age] Donald Trump steamrolls CNN’s town hall [It's easier to lie than to rebut a lie.  If someone lies very quickly, you can't respond in real time]

'"You can’t keep saying that all night long'....[so one]  can rebut him, correct him, interrupt him and otherwise battle with him  over every point, but that’s no match for ceaseless mendacity....'We don’t have time to fact-check every lie'"

It's the old Steve Bannon (and Russian) tactic: flood the zone with BS. "CNN hasn’t figured this thing out, and it’s a good bet its competitors have no better ideas" It's clear society needs a better solution to the flood the zone tactic.

"fear is weaponized even more than hate by leaders who seek to spark violence. Hate is often part of the equation...but fear is  almost always the key ingredient when people feel they must lash out to  defend themselves.

Ways to Combat Propaganda and Disinformation

Ending false equivalence in choice of editorial voices: "will the  newspaper raise the bar for those local or syndicated [supposedly conservative] voices — i.e.,  requiring the commentary to actually engage in a truthful semblance of a  given issue?

How the media can cover Trump better this time "Focus on 'the stakes' of the 2024 election, not 'the odds'; Explain Trump’s probable agenda;  Don’t make getting access to Republican politicians or projecting 'neutrality and 'objectivity' a main goal"

Christian Nationalism Threatens Health Care Professionals, Medicine, Health Care, and Public Health

Much of the "culture war" is about attacking particular patient groups (eg, transgender patients, women seeking abortions, needing birth control or care for such conditions as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage) and the health care professionals who care for them, or about attacking public health professionals (eg, those involved in pandemic policy) or creating phony public health problems, eg, pornography.

Furthermore, while these attacks are often framed in a biomedical, health care or public health context, the motivation behind them seems to come from extreme sectarianism, particularly Christian nationalism.

Leaked data on right-wing physicians group shows its support of extreme sectarian religious beliefs, recruiting "doctors and medical school students seen as holding Christian views," returning US to a time when "evangelical Christian beliefs" were favored

The state's near-total abortion ban is forcing providers to leave the state "she had to tell a patient that her  pregnancy had a significant fetal abnormality.... her hands were tied. She  couldn’t offer any more care- they had to go elsewhere"

[Attempting intimidation for taking care of patients] Texas AG Ken Paxton probing Austin children’s hospital [but] "It’s not clear what law Paxton believes Dell Children’s has broken;  Texas does not currently have age limits on gender-affirming care"

Fearing legal repercussions, doctors in Texas say they are risking grave patient harm to comply with new abortion restrictions [abortion bans'  adverse effects:  Extreme sectarian based medicine hurts patients]

Reminder that movement against abortion imposes extreme sectarian religious beliefs on those of other faiths: "Jewish law dating back to the Torah has established that abortion is not murder."

Confluence of far-right politics and health care nonsense: After DeSantis' coup, New College will host Dr Scott Atlas as commencement speaker. He was a  member of the Trump administration who promoted herd immunity as solution to COVID

[How sectarianism and superstition creeps into public health] Ladapo's wife who "studied traditional naturopathy, plant and herbal medicine, and shamanism" convinced Ladapo to go to  counseling that that caused him to believe he was following "God’s plan"

[More threats to health care] Abortion Clinics Are Dealing with More Arson, Stalking, and Anthrax Threats Now-  Abortion providers feared they’d see an increase in harassment and threats if Roe v Wade was overturned. They were right.

[Turning sexual hangups into policy? Theocrats go after porn as a public health threat, and...] There’s ‘nothing more timid’ than a man watching porn, Josh Hawley says "There is no risk involved, no exposure to hardship or danger in the least" Promoting sex and relationships that are risky, difficult, dangerous?

KS Republican county chair says LGBTQ friendly pastors "signed a contract with Satan," plans to "make it hostile to that group of people...small sliver of society...have them move elsewhere, that does a huge amount to shut this  down,”

Apparently afraid of prosecution under anti-abortion laws, doctors told patient threatened with a miscarriage "at high risk of life-threatening complications" they could do nothing.  Violating law requiring hospitals to treat patients in emergencies?
So anti-abortion laws make doctors damned if they do (abort pregnancy for patient facing high risk of severe complications) and damned if they don't (by failing to provide emergent care).

[More physicians driven away by bans on caring for patients demonized by sectarian extremists] Austin doctors who treated trans kids leaving Dell Children’s clinic after AG Paxton announces investigation

After quacky COVID herd immunity proponent and former Trump administration staffer Dr Scott Atlas invited to speak at DeSantis transformed New College commencement, students raise money to support alternative event

Doctors forced out by laws restricting treatment of patients with pregnancy complications pushed by extreme sectarians: "Doctors... fleeing the state due to new abortion restrictions....[fearing] 'Being tried as a felon simply for saving someone’s life'"

[Reminder: laws based on extreme sectarian religious views impose them on those of other faiths, and harm doctors and patients] Texas doctors depart as attorney general investigates hospital’s gender-affirming care

Follow the Money: Who Funds Attacks on Democracy

It's not just Russia and hostile foreign powers who threaten democracy behind the scenes.  Domestic greed is still a factor. 

Another example of how big national right-wing dark money came to small town to finance local school board candidates who wanted to ban books. We need to figure out who is paying for this, and what's in it for them

" of supporting the  wealthy and big business behind the scenes... but making it appear...that they're on the side of the little person....going after the wokeness is a good way to do it...that's not  a bread and butter issue"

[One big corporation refuses to bow down to DeSantis' anti-woke threats.  Will others realize pumping money into extremists' political coffers is bad for business?] Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida



Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Threats to Democracy Round Up - Early May, 2023

Influence of Hostile Foreign Powers

Reminders of how the US home-grown anti-democratic movement has been egged on by hostile foreign powers, chiefly Russia:

- How tied to Russia much of the far-right in the US now are: "the most energetic Kremlin propagandist around today" tells Tucker Carlson "We'll happily offer you a job if you wish to carry on as a presenter and host!"

- Russian propaganda broadcaster RT to Tucker Carlson after he was fired- "Hey @TuckerCarlson .... You can always question more with @RT_com"

- [Re coordination of Trumpist and Russian propaganda/disinformation] Russia Is Not Happy About Tucker Carlson Leaving Fox News- Kremlin propagandists are mourning the departure of Carlson from Fox – and offering him jobs on Russian state TV

Trump and Associate's Conflicts of Interest and Corruption

As we have said before, it is very difficult to reduce conflicts of interest and corruption in health care when a good chunk of societal leadership is conflicted and corrupt. A good example is our former President and his cronies:

-Trump, sued for defamation by E Jean Carroll, attacks her on social media during the trial.  Did he just violate a "federal obstruction statute that outlaws efforts to corruptly influence  or intimidate a juror, whether in a criminal or civil trial"

- [Were they always dirty tricksters?] Guiliani admits using ‘dirty trick’ to suppress Hispanic vote in 1993 mayoral race [by telling people in Hispanic areas that they would need to prove immigration status to vote]

- "Trump behaves in predictable patterns and seeing the big picture  helps to illuminate those patterns....  the various  investigations spanning New York, Georgia, and DOJ almost all involve  some combination of financial fraud and election manipulation"

- Judge says Trump "endeavoring, certainly, to speak to his quote-unquote public, but, more troubling, the jury in this case about stuff that has  no business being spoken about" That appears to be jury tampering, a criminal offense

Propaganda, Disinformation, Deception

 Some ideas for challenging rampant propaganda and disinformation


- "look closely at the way that people respond to criticisms of their theories. Do they engage directly...  resort to ad hominem attacks and red herrings... call on 'special pleading'...?"

- "To debunk a false belief, it may be better to target a person’s system  of beliefs rather than trying to change the false belief itself"

- How to cover RFK Jr responsibly "Provide context without pushing a narrative; Explain the history; Call a  lie a lie; Avoid false balance; Take care with the headlines; Only allow debates on policy; Have compassion for his followers"

- The press is in peril. Here’s how to save it- reader-funded journalism is free to hold power to account, and it’s spreading

Political Propaganda and Disinformation Damaging Health and Health Care

Note that the really damaging material often comes from the extreme right, extreme sectarians especially Christian nationalists, and hostile foreign powers, viz:


- Thomas Jefferson hospital president has ‘liked’ tweets critical of COVID-19 vaccines, among other controversial topics [Then pleaded that he did not understand "liking" a Tweet somehow meant liking a tweet. If he was that ignorant of Twitter, why was he using it?]

- There is a "nexus between anti-trans and anti-vaccine ideas... anti-vaccine figures like Sherri Tenpenny... and Stew Peters... share news  articles and posts... stoking hatred and panic about trans issues...LGBT SATANIC Cult"

- Making vaccines for COVID-19 look bad, presumably for political gain: How DeSantis' Florida Surgeon General reported "an increased risk of cardiac-related death among men 18-39" is "a dramatic story of how science should not be done"

- Debunking the latest anti-COVID vaccine disinformation: "Social media posts are misrepresenting what Fauci said about masks and COVID-19 and omitting part of his response"

- Turning the concept on its head: NE Democrat who has transgender child accused of therefore having a conflict of interest - Such reasoning would suggest anyone who has a medical condition, or a relative with one has a conflict of interest.

- The latest in anti-vax disinformation "portrays a striking but false narrative - claiming that swathes of people are suddenly and suspiciously dropping dead in large numbers, and that Covid  vaccines are to blame"

"Culture War" and Theocracy/Christian Nationalism

Much of the "culture war" is about attacking particular patient groups (eg, transgender patients, women seeking abortions, needing birth control or care for such conditions as ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage) and the health care professionals who care for them, or about attacking public health professionals (eg, those involved in pandemic policy) or creating phony public health problems, eg, pornography.

Furthermore, while these attacks are often framed in a biomedical, health care or public health context, the motivation behind them seems to come from extreme sectarianism, particularly Christian nationalism.

- DeSantis' "culture war" on Disney is about religious extremism: "American Family Association, a right-wing religious organization...[against] LGBTQ. rights, rallied...evangelical groups to boycott Disney [when] extended...benefits to gay employees"

- [First the religious fanatics came for the transgender kids, but I didn't have one so I did nothing...] Montana Governor Signs Law Banning Transgender Care for Minors [with apologies to Niemoller]

- Son asked Montana governor to veto anti-trans bill. It didn’t work. [They are so far gone that they won't even listen to your own children.  The family of @RepGosar was an early example]

- [They don't need no stinkin' separation of church and state: TX] Senate OKs bill to allow construction of anti-abortion monument on state Capitol grounds "[other] senators...[said] the statue seems to promote anti-abortion and religious beliefs"

- [Forcing their sectarian beliefs about morality onto those of other faiths] MI Republicans fight...repeal [of] ban on unmarried cohabitation: "This law was not passed to be mean … it was passed for the betterment of society, particularly for children"

- Far-right politics is about pushing extreme religious beliefs on non-believers, eg to far-right NC governor candidate "gay and transgender people are 'filth', homosexuality...abominable sin...transgender movement...'demonic'...'spirit of the antichrist'

- 14-year-olds could serve alcohol under a new Wisconsin bill [sponsored by Republicans.  And they say they are all about the children?]

But these attempts to impose rules based on extreme sectarian beliefs on people who believe otherwise often have adverse effects:

Far-right politicians attacking pornography, ostensibly to protect children, but per the ACLU "requiring adults to verify their ages – and expose their identities –  before accessing...websites will inevitably deter them from going to those sites"

DIY trans care evades barriers in Missouri, other states [Anti-trans laws are generating a black market in health care. Just what the doctor didn't order]

- An attempt to smear a health care institution based on far-right hostility to transgender patients fails "Investigation" of Washington University Transgender Center by a Republican AG whose staff ranted about "far left activists" turns up no major problems

- "researchers have found repeatedly that a gun in the house makes people more likely to be  murdered, not less. 'People living in homes with firearms have higher  risks for dying by homicide,' according to a 2022 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine."

Threats to Free speech, Expression

For health care professionals to use science to improve clinical care, via evidence-based health care, or simply by doing health care related science there must be a context of free speech and free expression.
Likewise, to change policy to reduce health care dysfunction reformers need to operate in a democratic context which protects free speech and expression.

However, the extreme right-wing movement threatens free speech and expression on many levels.

- What the Right-Wing [fascist] Takeover of a Progressive College Looks Like "Twitter under @elonmusk ...looked the same...degraded into a completely different experience.....'turning a top-rated academic institution into a third-rate athletic facility'""

- "citizens...are white, Black, brown, gay, straight, Christian, non-Christian... no...portion of the community  should dictate what the rest...have access to.... because you don’t want to read... or see it, it doesn’t give you the right to deny others"

"1,477[+] attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year... a nearly 30 per cent spike... over the previous year....Overwhelmingly, book ban attempts target stories by and about people of colour and LGBT+"

"fear leads to self-censorship and heightened caution — long before the  laws take effect.... 'That’s how  authoritarianism works'" So in DeSantis' fascist Florida, a college student asks a reporter: "is this conversation we’re having … legal?"

"local officials came to their school library in... Granbury [TX] and started carrying away boxes of books....stories about gender, sexuality and race" If we don't stop them, the sectarian far-right will erase free speech and our religious beliefs

- How to get involved in the fight against book bans "Read banned books; Reach out to your local officials; Donate to organisations; Get vocal; Vote"

The Gravest Threats to Campus Speech Come From States, Not Students "The ironic truth is that laws that prohibit the teaching of 'divisive  concepts' are themselves attempts to indoctrinate students into seeing  the world through one lens"

[He don't need no stinkin' free speech]  DeSantis accidentally handed Disney a potent weapon against him  "pretty clear statements from Governor DeSantis that he is  seeking to punish a corporation for its speech....  prohibited by the First Amendment"

Who Pays for and Benefits from Attacks on Democracy?


It is hard to challenge the wide-ranging attacks on health and health care, and the democratic context needed to promote them, without knowing who is supporting and funding them.

- Another under the radar far-right advocacy group,pushing to ease child labor laws, funded by "broad swath of ultraconservative and Republican donors-eg the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation and 85 Fund, a nonprofit connected to political operative Leonard Leo"

- How big corporations benefit from funding far-right politicians "DeSantis... rightwing Republican governor of Florida...handed favors to his big-money donors in the insurance industry at the expense of cash-strapped residents of his claims"