Thursday ReadsPosted: December 8, 2022
There is some very good news this morning. Brittany Griner has been released from prison in Russia. Paul Whelan is still waiting.
Griner was released in a prisoner swap that involved Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The exchange, however, did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.
“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said at the White House Thursday morning alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under untolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
Biden acknowledged that Griner’s release was occurring while Whelan remained imprisoned, saying that Whelan’s family “have to have such mixed emotions today.”
“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.” [….]
Biden said efforts to bring Griner home took “painstaking and intense negotiations” as he thanked members of his administration who were involved.
“This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release,” he said.
The prisoner swap occurred in Abu Dhabi Thursday, according to senior Biden administration officials. A joint statement from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia said the Gulf countries played a role mediating the exchange between the US and Russia.
More good news from Sahil Kapur at NBC: House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage, sending it to Biden’s desk.
The House passed legislation Thursday that enshrines federal protections for marriages of same-sex and interracial couples.
The vote of 258-169 sends the Respect for Marriage Act to President Joe Biden, who has championed the bill and is expected to sign it into law. It comes after the Senate passed the same bill last week by a vote of 61-36.
Democrats were unified in favor of the bill, while most Republicans in both chambers voted against it. Thirty-nine House Republicans supported the legislation Thursday and one voted present.
“Your love is your choice,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on the floor Thursday, saying there is “no reason” to believe that Republican appointees on the Supreme Court won’t want to revisit precedents on LGBTQ rights after overturning Roe v. Wade. “The pursuit of happiness means you can love whom you choose.”
“I am shocked that conservatives that have a libertarian bent believe that somehow we ought to get involved in this,” he said. “It’s not the government’s business.”
The legislation — led by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person elected to the Senate — would assure that the federal government recognizes marriages that were validly performed and guarantee full benefits “regardless of the couple’s sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.” It would not, however, require states to issue marriage licenses contrary to state law.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was present to gavel down the vote and announce the bill’s passage. Loud applause broke out on the Democratic side of the chamber, while a few Republicans joined in clapping.
I’m not posting any New York Times stories today, in support of Journalists who are protesting with a 24-hour walkout. This may just be the last straw that makes me cancel my subscription. I was already thinking about it after they raised my rate to $17 per month recently.
Oliver Darcy at CNN Business: New York Times journalists stage historic 24-hour strike after management and union fail to reach deal.
A 24-hour strike at The New York Times, a historic demonstration in which more than 1,100 employees are expected to participate, began Thursday at midnight, after management and the union representing staffers failed to reach an agreement for a new contract after more than a year and a half of negotiating.
“It’s disappointing that they’re taking such drastic action, given the clear commitment we’ve shown to negotiate our way to a contract that provides Times journalists with substantial pay increases, market-leading benefits, and flexible working conditions,” Meredith Kopit Levien, president and chief executive of The Times, said in an email to the company Wednesday night.
The NewsGuild of New York, which represents journalists and other staffers at The Times, said in a statement that the walkout was “due to the company’s failure to bargain in good faith, reach a fair contract agreement with the workers, and meet their demands.”
The act of protest, which has not been staged by employees at the newspaper of record in decades, will leave many of its major desks depleted of their staff, creating a challenge for the news organization that millions of readers rely on.
An executive at The Times, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, acknowledged to CNN on Wednesday that the work stoppage would certainly create difficulties. But, the executive said, management has readied for the moment and could rely on the newspaper’s other resources, such as its international staff which largely are not part of the union, to fill the voids….
…[S]ome staffers at The Times went as far on Wednesday as to urge readers not to consume the outlet’s content during the walkout.
“We’re asking readers to not engage in any [New York Times] platforms tomorrow and stand with us on the digital picket line!,” Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large for the newspaper, wrote on Twitter. “Read local news. Listen to public radio. Make something from a cookbook. Break your Wordle streak.”
The strike comes as the Gray Lady and the NewsGuild of New York remain at odds over a number of issues, particularly wages, amid a backdrop of layoffs and cuts across the media industry.
Two NYT journalists have chosen not to participate in the walkout. In other words, they are scabs. Why am I not surprised that one is Peter Baker?
Max Tani at Semafor: Two top Times reporters are skipping the walkout.
Two of The New York Times’s top White House reporters are opting out of a labor action Thursday as tensions continue to grow over contract negotiations at the news organization.
Chief White House reporter Peter Baker and Pulitzer Prize-winning White House correspondent Michael Shear told colleagues before the walkout that they would not be participating in the one day work stoppage, three people told Semafor.
The rift in the powerful Washington bureau reflects a lingering generational and ideological divide between many in the newsroom and a group of older unionized staff in the D.C bureau.
Some staff in the D.C bureau believe the union should focus more on compensation and other concrete worker protections, and less on broader cultural and social issues that have also been part of rhe union’s bargaining proposals. Union leaders have tried to keep the focus largely on economic issues which unite a larger part of the union.
Shear was among dozens of staff at the paper who previously signed a letter protesting an increase in union dues for individuals making more than $140,000 per year.
But the contract fight has largely united the Times’s feuding tribes, as members of the union who have at times differed over the Times’s coverage of race, sex, and other cultural issues share frustrations over the economic ones. Some sources have also cautioned against reading too much into the divide, noting that the vast majority of unionized D.C. staff participated in the walkout.
The dispute between the paper and the Times union that led to Thursday’s strike largely centers around economic proposals including wages and health and retirement benefits. Unionized staff are seeking greater salary increases, which they hope will offset what they see as cuts in employee healthcare benefits.
There was reportedly a right wing coup plot in Germany.
German officials arrested 22 suspected members and three suspected supporters of a far-right terrorist organization across the country on Wednesday on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government.
Alleged members of the plot include a descendant of German royalty and a former far-right member of the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, according to German prosecutors and local media reports.
In a statement, the German federal prosecutor’s office said an estimated 50 people were suspected to have been part of the group called Reich Citizens (Reichsbürger)movement, founded no later than November 2021, who were plotting to overthrow the government and replace it with their own order.
“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany, which over time has led to their decision to participate in their violent elimination and to engage in concrete preparatory actions for this purpose,” the statement said.
“The members of the group follow a conglomerate of conspiracy myths consisting of narratives of the so-called Reichsbürger as well as QAnon ideology,” said the statement, which added that the suspected members of the organization were German nationals, while two of the suspected supporters were German and one was Russian.
The Wall Street Journal article on the coup plot suggests that Russia was involved: Germany Arrests Extremists in Plot to Overthrow Government.
Twenty-five people who were partly inspired by the QAnon conspiracy theory were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday, 22 of whom are suspected of conspiring to foment a coup, the federal prosecutor said. Their alleged plans included an armed storming of the federal parliament. The other three, including a Russian citizen living in Germany, are suspected of supporting the group, the prosecutor said.
More than 3,000 police officers including special forces conducted raids at 150 properties across Germany, Italy and Austria, in one of the largest operations of its kind in recent history, officials said.
“This organization has, according to our knowledge, set the goal of using violence and military means to overthrow the existing liberal democratic order in Germany,” federal prosecutor Peter Frank told reporters Wednesday. Its members thought Germany was governed by a so-called deep state and would soon be freed by an alleged secret society of officials and military officers from the U.S., Russia and elsewhere, he said.
After years focused on countering the threat posed by Islamist terrorists, German authorities have widened their focus to far-right militants following a spate of attacks. These included the 2019 killing of a local politician in western Germany and an attack by a gunman on a synagogue in Halle, eastern Germany, that left two people dead later that year.
At the same time, concern has grown among German officials about the radicalization of members of the military and security services. Several police officers and members of the armed forces have in the past been arrested in raids connected to extremist groups. In 2020, the government said it would disband part of its elite special-forces unit and rebuild the rest under new leadership after it was infiltrated by far-right extremists.
While members of extremist groups in the armed forces and security and law-enforcement agencies constitute a small minority, the presence of rogue networks within the security establishment is an acutely sensitive matter because of Germany’s Nazi past.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? QAnon is becoming a global security threat. But Germany doesn’t fool around when it comes to dealing with Neo-Nazis.
Zeeshan Aleem at MSNBC: How QAnon helped inspire a plot to overthrow the German government.
German authorities arrested 25 people suspected of a right-wing extremist plot to overthrow the country’s government on Wednesday. According to NBC News, the unnamed group, which includes veterans and a German descendant of a royal family, was inspired by “the so-called Reichsbürger, or Reich Citizens, movement which is motivated by conspiracy theories about the role and legitimacy of the modern German state.” But German authorities also named a key foreign influence on the group’s thinking: QAnon.
Reports about the suspected seditious group’s belief system suggest strong parallels with QAnon-type thinking. German prosecutors said the group allegedly believes the country is governed by a secret “deep state” and that, among other things, they were allegedly planning to storm the Reichstag parliament building to install a new government. The members of the group also apparently believe the U.S. would at some point be part of a secret coalition of governments to assault the German deep state, which they saw as a path to liberation.
That connection might seem a bit odd. QAnon is the American far-right conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is on a secret mission to expose and execute a ring of Satan-worshipping liberal elite child traffickers. Why would Germans care about a preposterous myth about American politics?
But QAnon has had significant currency abroad for years. QAnon-affiliated groups have surfaced across Europe, including in Britain, the Netherlands and the Balkans, and data indicates they have their biggest following outside America in Germany.
That’s because QAnon serves as a useful tool for right-wing movements around the world to promote bigoted conspiracy theories and authoritarianism in thinly veiled terms. Social scientists and intelligence officials say that QAnon is a valuable technology for spreading ideas that naturally get traction on the German far right. As a New York Times report from 2020 explained, “the mythology and language QAnon uses — from claims of ritual child murder to revenge fantasies against liberal elites — conjure ancient anti-Semitic tropes and putsch fantasies that have long animated Germany’s far-right fringe.” As Stephan Kramer, head of domestic intelligence in the eastern German state of Thuringia, told the Times, “QAnon doesn’t openly fly the colors of fascism, it sells it as secret code.” It’s likely helpful for the far right that QAnon mythology can hint at antisemitic conspiracies (such as blood libel claims) without explicitly invoking Jews, avoiding the legal restrictions on hate speech in Germany.
What makes QAnon so worrisome is that it also has the capacity to gain purchase among people who we think of as far from fringe extremists. A great deal of polling in the U.S. shows that a huge proportion of Republicans, regardless of educational background, believe in QAnon tenets. How is this possible? One explanation is that if one doesn’t take the theory literally, it’s at its essence a story of the powerful conspiring against the innocent.
Two more stories on the German plot if you are interested:
The Washington Post: Heinrich XIII, Germany’s ‘Putsch Prince,’ lamented monarchy’s demise.
Back in the USA, Trump is now actively defending the January 6 insurrectionists.
Amanda Carpenter at The Bulwark: How Trump and MAGA Allies Are Defending Violent Jan. 6th Rioters.
Two days after a pair of Oath Keepers were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and three others were convicted of related felony charges, former President Donald Trump celebrated a group that gives aid to January 6th defendants, including some of the Oath Keepers who just received guilty verdicts.
In a bland conference room at the Capitol Hill Hilton, steps away from the site of the Jan. 6th insurrection, Trump, Steve Bannon, and Rep. Marjorie Tayor Greene provided Jan. 6th rioters and their families with messages of hope and good cheer. They came bearing a gift: The trio promised that the incoming Republican-controlled House would use its investigative powers to target the Department of Justice and the D.C. jail where several Jan. 6th defendants are being held.
“People have been treated unconstitutionally, in my opinion, and very, very unfairly, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said in a video message played during the event put on by the Patriot Freedom Project (PFP). Although jailed rioters were not in attendance, a few dialed in to the event by phone; Trump’s message was presumably relayed to them. His latest remarks on the subject follow a pledge he made to a conservative radio host earlier this fall that if he becomes president again, he will issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters.
In his video for the December 1 event, Trump emphasized that the Jan. 6th–related prosecutions were part of “the weaponization of the Department of Justice, and we can’t let this happen in our country.” Bannon was patched in through a live video call and said, “The politics of all this are going to change pretty dramatically with the new Congress . . . and, of course, President Trump’s backing.”
Marjory Taylor Greene plans to advance this cause next year in the Republican controlled House.
Greene addressed the group in person, and, befitting her status as the only event speaker currently in office—and therefore potentially able to take action to benefit the rioters—she got down to the specifics. She told the group she had just come from a meeting “about being on [the] Oversight Committee” and that “I specifically asked about the D.C. jail, okay? . . . There’s going to be an investigation into the D.C. jail, I want you to know that, and that’s how we look forward.”
PFP members were undoubtedly already familiar with Greene’s work on the matter. Last year, Greene and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) toured the D.C. jail where Jan. 6th rioters are held. She then posted to her congressional website a report titled “Unusually Cruel,” which claimed the Jan. 6th prisoners are being unfairly treated because of their politics.
An actual congressional investigation, however, would mark Greene’s return to committee work after being stripped of her committee assignments by Democrats and eleven Republicans following the discovery of myriad contemptible statements she made before running for Congress.
Greene seems to have learned to censor herself and found more appealing ways to make her arguments. During her presentation to the rioters’ families, she focused on due process rights and concerns about the conditions of the D.C. jail—reasonable-sounding topics, especially when compared to the rank conspiracism she has given voice to in the past. She also told the Jan. 6th families: “Now, I won’t defend what any of them did that day, because I wasn’t happy that day, either.”
This an odd statement, considering that defending the rioters is exactly what the Patriot Freedom Project was created to do. But maybe even Marjorie Taylor Greene understands that vocally supporting violent insurrectionists is too politically toxic to do out loud, especially now that some of them are being convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Read more at The Bulwark.
That’s it for me today. What do you think? What stories are you following?