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America is bringing shock and awe to the home front, using dollars instead of bombs.
It’s the military doctrine of lightning force — fast and brute, or as brute as the shaken country can manage — applied to the campaign for economic recovery.
With a record-busting stimulus plan, the U.S. is marshaling resources against economic catastrophe in ways not seen since Franklin Roosevelt put the New Deal in motion.
President Barack Obama is going with the best deal he could get. The stimulus bill is a landmark legislative achievement for a new president who inherited economic spoilage along with the spoils of power. Now the nation anxiously waits to see if it works.
Undermining federal balance sheets that were already deeply in the red, Obama and Congress settled on a nearly $800 billion plan that aims to spend more on the crisis at hand than the government has spent waging the Iraq war for six years.
The idea: fast cash, and lots of it, but with a strategic view to the future.
Some dollars will flow quickly into wallets — and right out again.
The stimulus plan will mean thousands of dollars in tax breaks for first-time home buyers and people buying new cars. Lower- and middle-income taxpayers will get an extra $13 a week in their paychecks this year, and about $8 a week next year. Unemployment checks will go up $25 a week, and keep coming longer. Food stamp benefits for 30 million Americans will rise. Short-term health insurance will become more affordable for many losing their jobs.
The success of the stimulus package may be measured less by visible achievements than by what does not happen — the home that is not foreclosed, the family that doesn’t slip into poverty, the disease that does not go undiagnosed.
“The one thing we’ll never know is what would have happened if we didn’t do it,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight.
It’s not FDR’s deal and these aren’t his times.
No federally subsidized artists will paint murals glorifying the muscle of American workers or the progress belching from smokestacks, as they did in Roosevelt’s day.
No grand compact is to be formed between generations like the one that promised everyone a federal pension. No institutions will rise to try something brand new.
“We’re not reinventing government,” said historian Kenneth C. Davis, author of the best-selling “Don’t Know Much About” series. “We’re modifying things that exist.”
Yet as the share of the economy taken up by federal spending rises to an anticipated 30 percent, the nation is grappling again with big questions about Washington’s place in people’s lives.
“The stakes are so high now, this is such a big bill, average Americans are following it,” says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. “It’s become a bill that is an argument about what government can or can’t do.
“If there is no effect and in six months we are talking about the same economy or a worse economy, I think it would be a devastating blow to the president, Democrats, and to liberal claims about what government can do.”
To critics such as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the package is the “Europeanization of America.” Others call it “Rooseveltian” or “generational theft” in reference to the debt passed on to the future.
They might envision murals glorifying little more than filled potholes, insulated windows, depreciated computers.
Obama said it’s about more than that, and drew parallels with FDR in speaking Friday to the Business Council, formed by corporate leaders in the 1930s to advise Roosevelt’s administration.
“We adapted, we changed,” he said about those days — and these. “President Roosevelt understood the new role of government in this new world, that while extraordinary actions on its part might be the source of recovery, no action on the part of government, no matter how extraordinary, would alone be the source of our prosperity.”
Democrats and just enough Republicans in Congress — three — saw the package as the best chance to tamp down the economic wildfires breaking out across the landscape.
Obama came into office saying he wished to be judged on his first 1,000 days instead of the usual benchmark of 100. In some ways he will be judged on his first 10 or 20.
Not even Roosevelt, fast off the mark to deal with a bank crisis, was as fast as this in achieving something so sweeping, so early.
The enormity of the package left politicians grasping for concrete ways to convey its size.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., spoke of a stack of hundred-dollar bills 689 miles high, and of bills wrapped side-by-side that would encircle the Earth nearly 39 times. House Republicans predicted that the package’s costs — with interest on the necessary borrowing — could total more than a trillion dollars, enough money to buy about 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for every American.
It was enough to prompt comic Jon Stewart to riff that if you sewed the $100 bills together, “you would make a blanket for Jupiter.”
The stimulus wasn’t just about throwing cash at the economy, though.
The package is filled with billions for some of the same goals that Obama preached about on the presidential campaign trail — renewable energy and green jobs, computerized medical records, broadband Internet service for underserved areas.
“There are seeds in this bill for long-term change,” says Zelizer. “There are things that can develop out of the research that can change our lives.”
Obama sounded a drumbeat of warnings about the consequences of failing to act. But Americans didn’t need their president to tell them how grim the economic situation was — and could become.
Forty percent of Americans already have been affected by some sort of job problem in the past year, be it unemployment, underemployment, layoffs, reductions in pay or hours, or job losses by members of their households, according to a poll released Friday by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-six percent expect things to be worse or about the same a year from now — and they’ve got solid grounds for their pessimism.
The country could well suffer a net loss of 2 million to 3 million or more jobs this year, economists believe. And the unemployment rate, now 7.6 percent, could top 9 percent by spring of 2010.
The stimulus pull-together was a colossal game of winners and losers shaped and reshaped by the latest set of hands on the package. The fortunes of people, schools, towns and other varied interests rose and fell in blinks of time.
Ready to buy another home?
Poof — you just lost $15,000 that legislators had considered providing.
Buying a first home? You’re still in luck — the government plans to give you an $8,000 credit if you buy by the end of November.
A new car? You’ll be able to deduct the thousands in sales taxes from your income tax but not — as was initially proposed — your loan interest as well.
One day, the government proposed to pay 65 percent of the cost of health coverage for a year for jobless people who lose their workplace insurance. Days later, it was down to half. Ultimately, the subsidy zigzagged back up to 65 percent, but it expires before the end of the year.
Obama declared an end to pork-barrel politics, but legislators still managed to look out for favorite projects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was quick to point out that a big chunk of the $8 billion set aside to construct high-speed rail lines could go to a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas route. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., helped make sure $10 billion was set aside for the National Institutes of Health, a priority of his.
Long after the dust has settled from the horse trading, the government will be seen to have moved with unaccustomed speed on policies normally subjected to years of deliberation and gridlock.
Deficit hawks found their wings clipped as both parties reached for the treasury. Democrats mainly wished to spend; Republicans, mainly to cut taxes.
After last November, guess who got their way?
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said flatly: “We won the election; we wrote the bill.”
The debate was both large and small. Negotiators considered the proper role of government — and how fast a business can depreciate its equipment.
Entering the 1930s, Americans mainly saw the national government as the entity that fought wars, ran post offices and enforced a ban on liquor. Federal spending was only 3.4 percent of the economy.
That more than tripled during the New Deal, topping 10 percent, because of the explosion of public works and other labor programs, rural modernization, bank support, and farm and industrial aid.
“It was a transformation of society in a way that hadn’t been done since the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery,” Davis said.
The government became the entity that guaranteed a minimum wage, controlled farm production, supported artists, set workplace standards, insured deposits in regulated banks and cast the first national safety net for the elderly and handicapped under Social Security.
“The whole scope of what Roosevelt was trying to do is different but the intent is clearly the same: relief and recovery during a time of economic stress,” said John Halpin, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The package won by Obama offers “very important but more subterranean changes in the way the economy works,” he said.
Federal spending as a share of the economy shot above 40 percent during World War II and has hovered around 20 percent most of the years since. That share was already projected to approach 25 percent before Obama’s stimulus plan.
To be sure, there’s still considerable disagreement about how much the New Deal helped to end a depression finally crushed by the humming factories of World War II.
Even FDR’s transformation of the federal government was not universally recognized at the time for what it was. It may be years before the full measure of Obama’s efforts are taken, too.
In 1936, The Economist magazine pronounced the New Deal a “striking success” in improving conditions that existed when FDR took office three years earlier.
But what of the legacy?
What legacy?
“If the criterion be Utopian, the achievements of the New Deal appear to be small,” the editors sniffed. “The great problems of the country are hardly touched.”

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News

Trump’s Scheme for Absolute Immunity From State Prosecutions Forever: Report

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Having successfully obtained delays in his federal trials and his state trial in Georgia, possibly until after the November election, Donald Trump is now seeking an “insurance policy” to protect him from any future state prosecutions if he again becomes president.

The indicted ex-president who turns 78 next month “seems convinced that if he wins another four years in the White House, state prosecutors will still be waiting for him on the other side of his term — ready to put him on trial, or even in prison, just as they are now,” Rolling Stone reports.

“To avoid such risks, the former and perhaps future president of the United States wants Congress to create a very specific insurance policy that would help keep him out of prison forever, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. Trump vaguely alluded to this idea last week outside his New York criminal hush money trial, when he said he has urged Republican lawmakers to pass ‘laws to stop things like this.'”

Trump “has pressured” Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill to do so, describing it as imperative that he signs such a bill into law, if he again ascends to the Oval Office.”

READ MORE: Pence Defense of Alito’s Insurrectionist Flag Highlights Its Ties to Violent Government Overthrow

Rolling Stone also notes, “Trump appears fixated on the idea of passing a law to give former American presidents the option of moving state or local prosecutions into a federal court instead, the two sources add.”

Trump “has hinted at a legislative push to limit his exposure to such criminal charges. In an improvised press conference outside the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, Trump said he’s been telling the Republican lawmakers who want to attend his trial and show solidarity to focus on legislation instead.”

“We have a lot of ’em. They want to come. I say, ‘Just stay back and pass lots of laws to stop things like this.’”

In 1973, while still President but under the cloud of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon said, “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook.”

If Trump is elected in November, he can have his Attorney General drop any federal prosecutions he is currently facing. That may call into question, for some legal experts, the actions of the far-right justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who have delayed ruling on his immunity claim, and U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon.

On May 7, Judge Cannon indefinitely suspended the Espionage Act case, also known as the classified documents case, against Donald Trump.

READ MORE: ‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

Foreign policy, national security, and political affairs analyst and commentator David Rothkopf this week blasted the judge:

“Judge Cannon is not, as commentators and cartoonists would have it, just working on behalf of Trump. She is actively working on behalf of the enemies of the US who have and would benefit from the national security breaches she is effectively defending and making more likely.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) earlier this month declared, “The courts are deliberately delaying justice — and effectively denying it.”

This coming week Americans may get a verdict in the New York criminal case against the ex-president. If it comes, it may be “guilty” or “not guilty,” but it could also be a hung jury, forcing another trial which also would not likely come before the election.

If Trump is elected in November, and can get his “insurance policy” legislation passed, he could possibly avoid all criminal trials for the rest of his life.

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OPINION

Pence Defense of Alito’s Insurrectionist Flag Highlights Its Ties to Violent Government Overthrow

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Mike Pence is defending far-right U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, whose ethics and ability to serve on the nation’s highest court are being questioned after The New York Times revealed he had been flying a highly-controversial flag used by the January 6 insurrectionists, neo-Nazis, and a far-right neo-fascist hate group. Democrats are demanding the justice recuse himself from all cases involving Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election, and some are also demanding his resignation or impeachment.

The former Trump Vice President, in defending Alito, may have made the situation even worse for the 74-year old jurist by highlighting the flag’s ties to revolution and the overthrow of government. In his defense Pence also encourages all Americans to fly the flag: “The ‘Appeal to Heaven’ flag is part or our proud heritage of Faith and Freedom and every American should be proud to fly it,” he writes.

“The Appeal to Heaven Flag” dates back centuries, to the American Revolution, but in recent years was very clearly co-opted by the radical religious right and was seen being carried by the insurrectionists during the assault on the U.S. Capitol, some of whom who chanted, “hang Mike Pence,” as he and his family were being whisked away by Secret Service on January 6:

MSNBC columnist Sarah Posner, who for years has been writing about religion and politics, on Thursday noted, “the more one knows about the background of the flag, the more chilling its presence at [Alito’s] house becomes.”

READ MORE: ‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

Posner says the flag is “an unmistakable emblem for an influential segment of Christian nationalists who claim the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, contrary to God’s will, and that believers’ spiritual warfare is essential to restoring God’s anointed leader to his rightful office.”

“It was one of numerous Christian nationalist flags and other iconography carried by Trump supporters Jan. 6 and at the Jericho March, a series of prayer rallies that were like jet fuel for the insurrection,” Posner explains. “The Jericho March featured right-wing evangelical and Catholic speakers alongside militants such as conspiracist Alex Jones, Trump’s disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Oathkeepers founder Stewart Rhodes, now serving an 18-year prison sentence for seditious conspiracy and other crimes.”

Posner adds the flag “originated in Revolutionary times as a call to take up arms against unjust rulers who ignored the pleas of their citizens.”

Pence also refers to the Revolutionary War in his defense of Justice Alito, ignoring that the Revolutionary War was won several hundred years ago, and ignoring that a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice promoting the very concept of taking up arms against rulers, unjust or otherwise, is, as constitutional scholar and University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, Laurence Tribe wrote, “close to treason.”

Pence calls the “controversy” of Justice Alito’s flag-flying “absurd and anti-historical.” He quotes English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, promoting his idea of the right to revolution, to replace a government.

In its Bombshell report Wednesday announcing the existence of a second Alito flag tied to the insurrectionists, The New York Times explains the Locke tie to the “Appeal to Heaven” flag.

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

“Since its creation during the American Revolution, the flag has carried a message of defiance: The phrase ‘appeal to heaven’ comes from the 17th-century philosopher John Locke, who wrote of a responsibility to rebel, even use violence, to overthrow unjust rule. ‘It’s a paraphrase for trial by arms,’ Anthony Grafton, a historian at Princeton University, said in an interview. ‘The main point is that there’s no appeal, there’s no one else you can ask for help or a judgment.'”

Coincidentally or not, Grafton’s “trial by arms” seems to echo Trump acolyte Rudy Giuliani’s January 6 speech in which he specifically called for “trial by combat.”

Religious studies scholar Matthew Taylor, quoted in The New York Times’ report on Alito’s “Appeal to Heaven” flag, told CBS News (video below) Christian nationalist leader Dutch Sheets “was given one of these flags and he believed that he received a prophecy when he received this flag, that it was a symbol of a revolution that would take place in America, a spiritual revolution that would reconstitute the United States as a truly Christian nation.”

He adds the “Appeal to Heaven” flag has become a “very potent symbol of Christian nationalism, Christian Trumpism, opposition to abortion, opposition to gay marriage, and the desire for a more Christian America.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: Trump’s Bronx Rally Attendance Claim Fuels Mockery as Aerial Images Show a Different Story

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OPINION

‘You Just Don’t Do It’: Federal Judge Denounces Alito’s Flags as ‘Stop the Steal’ Stickers

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A senior U.S. district judge is denouncing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito‘s flying of two insurrection-related flags at his homes in Virginia and New Jersey, declaring the actions “improper. And dumb.”

Judge Michael Ponsor, 77, who has served on the federal bench since 1984, writes in a Friday New York Times op-ed that he has “known scores, possibly hundreds, of federal trial and appellate judges pretty well,” and “can’t think of a single one, no matter who appointed her or him, who has engaged or would engage in conduct like that.”

“You just don’t do that sort of thing, whether it may be considered over the line, or just edging up to the margin. Flying those flags was tantamount to sticking a ‘Stop the steal’ bumper sticker on your car. You just don’t do it.”

Justice Alito’s first flag scandal came late last week, when The New York Times reported an upside down U.S. flag had flown at his Virginia home jut days before Joe Biden was sworn in as President. That flag is associated with the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. As of January, more than 1200 who were there that day have been arrested and charged with crimes.

Alito blamed his wife, claiming she made the decision to fly the flag upside down, which according to the U.S. flag code should only be done to signal distress. Martha-Ann Alito, her husband claimed, had gotten into an argument with a neighbor and manifested her anger by flying the “Stop the Steal” flag.

READ MORE: ‘Investigate Now’: As Alito Scandal Grows Pressure Mounts on ‘MIA’ and ‘AWOL’ Judiciary Chair

The second flag scandal came on Wednesday, when The Times again revealed an Alito insurrection-related flag, this time at his New Jersey home, where the Alitos were flying the “Appeal to Heaven” flag which has ties both to the insurrectionists, and to extreme right Christian nationalists.

Justice Alito has not made any public comment defending his second flag.

Judge Ponsor offered up a hypothetical to counter Justice Alito’s claim his wife was to blame, in this case, an example of him presiding over a death penalty case.

“Let’s say my wife was strongly opposed to the death penalty and wished to speak out publicly against it. I’m not saying this is true, but let’s imagine it. The primary emotional current in our marriage is, of course, deep and passionate love, but right next to that is equally deep and passionate respect. We would have had a problem, and we would have needed to talk,” Ponsor explained.

“In this hypothetical situation, I hope that my wife would have held off making any public statements about capital punishment, and restrained herself from talking about the issue with me, while the trial unfolded. On the other hand, if my wife had felt strongly that she needed to espouse her viewpoint publicly, I would have had to recuse myself from presiding over the case, based on the appearance of partiality.”

READ MORE: ‘Going for the Jugular’: Legal Scholar Warns ‘Trumpers’ Want to End Major Civil Right

Note he mentions as a sitting federal judge he would have applied the same standards that jurors are expected to observe: to not discuss the case with anyone, including their spouses.

And should there have been a discussion, or if she were to air her views publicly, he would be forced to recuse himself from the case.

Justice Alito has not recused from any 2020 presidential election cases, any Trump-related cases, any insurrection-related cases.

That includes the Trump “absolute immunity” case the Supreme Court heard in April, for which they have yet to rule.

The Supreme Court “recently adopted an ethics code to ‘guide the conduct’ of the justices,” Ponsor observes. “One of its canons states that a justice should ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.’ That’s all very well. But basic ethical behavior should not rely on laws or regulations. It should be folded into a judge’s DNA. That didn’t happen here.”

READ MORE: Trump Adviser Scanned and Saved Contents of Box That Had Classified Docs: Report

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