02:38 - Source: CNN
The rise, fall, and return of Steve Bannon

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Steve Bannon has had his hand in a lot of things. He served in the US Navy for seven years before he went on to join the investment bank Goldman Sachs, the right-wing media outlet Breitbart, the 2016 Trump campaign and the White House – until former President Donald Trump fired him in 2017.

In the 1990s, as part of a new investment bank named after him, Bannon even wound up with an ownership stake in “Seinfeld,” gaining a sliver of the show’s gargantuan royalties.

Following his stint as a White House strategist, Bannon ran into legal trouble when he joined an organization that raised millions for the stated purpose of building a wall along the southern US border; federal prosecutors charged him and three others with defrauding the donors. But Trump ended up pardoning Bannon in his last hours as president.

Now the Justice Department has another chance to consider Bannon’s fate. Attorney General Merrick Garland will decide whether to prosecute Bannon after the House voted Thursday to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress.

Bannon has refused to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, citing Trump’s controversial claim of “executive privilege.”

As Frida Ghitis noted, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney asked why Trump and Bannon are hiding behind such a dubious shield. “In Cheney’s analysis, the executive privilege claim by Bannon and Trump, seems ‘to reveal one thing: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th.’ Cheney’s piercing words…are a reminder that it’s crucial to find out what exactly Trump’s role was during the events of that day. And Bannon very likely knows a lot about that.” Ghitis observed that Bannon said on his “War Room” podcast January 5: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”

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As Democrats look back at the events of January, they’re also looking ahead to the midterm elections next year – and the 2024 presidential race, in which Trump, at this very early stage, is the apparent frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

“Want to save our democracy from Trumpism? One approach is to follow the blueprint that led to last week’s surprising defeat of Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who’s also known as the Czech Donald Trump,” wrote Dean Obeidallah.

“How did the people of the Czech Republic edge out Babis? Through various political parties putting their ideological differences aside to form an alliance with one goal: getting him out of office. That meant a more conservative party had to team up with an anti-establishment party that supported gay marriage and other progressive causes they actually opposed.”

Power trio: Two Joes – and a Kyrsten

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One man lives on “Almost Heaven,” a 65-foot boat docked on the Potomac, the other in a 132-room mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. They both go by the very generic name of Joe, the often-used placeholder – think of Joe Six-Pack, Joe Schmoe, Joe Blow and Joe College.

But neither is a Joe Average. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is a “friend” to the other, Joe Biden, the President said during a CNN town hall Thursday.

Yet it is Manchin – and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema – who are virtually dictating the shape of Biden’s central domestic policy, determining which social programs and tax increases will live or die. As the most powerful man in the world observed, when your party controls only half of the 100 seats in the US Senate, “and you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president.”

Manchin and Sinema “are using their leverage to force huge concessions from the Biden administration,” wrote Julian Zelizer. Proposals for free community college, expansive child tax credits, paid leave and broader Medicare benefits are on the chopping block. Sinema is singlehandedly blocking Biden’s plan for higher tax rates on high earners and corporations.

And there’s another way the two senators are wielding power – their support for the Senate filibuster means there’s no way Democrats can pass their high-priority voting rights bill.

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“Manchin and Sinema will soon face a choice of historic consequences,” wrote Fred Wertheimer and Norman Eisen. “They can decide to protect the right to vote by supporting a change to the filibuster rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act to pass by a majority vote. Or they can join with Senate Republicans to block voting rights legislation by a filibuster, potentially denying millions of Americans the ability to vote and take our democracy to the brink and beyond.”

It’s Sinema’s moment, wrote Elaine Godfrey in the Atlantic. “The wig-wearing triathlete senator from Arizona has quickly become one of the most hated figures in present-day American politics. She’s blocking her own party’s agenda; she’s shutting down questions from reporters; she’s schmoozing with lobbyists and jetting off to Europe.” Progressives in her state are enraged, but “Sinema does not seem rattled by any of it – and it’s not clear that she should be. Unseating her would be difficult.

A lot of the coverage of Biden’s social spending bill has focused on its $3.5 trillion price tag, noted Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, but “one factor is too often left out of the ongoing negotiations and press coverage: its impact on the American people… We must address the plight of everyday Americans and commit to righting the historical wrongs that continue to plague our cities today.”

Negotiating in public

After Biden’s town hall, Republican strategist Scott Jennings called it “odd” that Biden “was sort of negotiating his budget reconciliation package on live TV. Did he say anything about any aspect of it that would have convinced Senators Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema to change their opinion and vote in favor of the bill?”

Frida Ghitis observed that the Biden we saw in Baltimore “was the man who won the presidential election, a skilled politician, experienced at facing the voters, humane, caring, advocating plans that most Americans support.”

“Still, if he expected the performance to boost his sagging fortunes, it’s unlikely that it will. That’s not just because right-wing media will disparage his performance mercilessly, but because Americans will wait to see if he can produce results. Biden’s approval ratings are unlikely to reverse course before his big legislative proposals become law.”

For more:

Arick Wierson: The Minneapolis ‘Defund the Police’ ballot question should alarm Democrats nationwide

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RIP Colin Powell

When President Barack Obama was trying to decide what to do about the US troops in Afghanistan in 2009, and some in the Pentagon were calling for a military surge, his chief strategist David Axelrod got a call from “one of America’s most celebrated military leaders.” Colin Powell, who had broken ranks with his party and given a vital endorsement to Obama’s presidential candidacy, wanted to make sure the president controlled the decision-making process.

‘Just remember that he’s the commander in chief, and they ain’t,’ Powell told me. ‘They want more troops. They’ll always want more troops. History has shown that this is not always the right answer. My advice is that you take your time,’” Axelrod recalled.

The retired four-star general died Monday, of complications from Covid-19.

Powell “was one of the most fascinating figures in America’s contemporary political history,” wrote Julian Zelizer. “Representing a kind of voice which has faded from his party, Powell described himself as ‘a Republican of a more moderate mold,’ one of the voices who urged the Party of Lincoln not to become the Party of Trump.” Powell was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a hero of the first Gulf War and the first Black person to become secretary of state.

But he will also be remembered for something Powell himself called a “blot” on his record: his 2003 United Nations testimony in support of war against Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein, wrote Peter Bergen. “The case fell apart following the American occupation of Iraq, which revealed that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn’t have an active weapons of destruction program, nor was Hussein allied to al Qaeda – as Powell had asserted at the UN.”

Behind the scenes, Powell was a skeptic about going to war against Saddam. But nearly two thirds of Americans trusted Powell on the issue, compared to less than a quarter who trusted President George W. Bush. So Bush asked Powell to argue for war at the UN, Bergen noted.

“Powell rebounded from this low point by emerging as the GOP conscience on matters of race and democracy,” wrote Peniel Joseph. “As the former party of Abraham Lincoln lurched ever rightward in the 21st century, Powell endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden last year… The Harlem-born, Bronx-raised son of Jamaican immigrants and a self-described ‘problem solver,’ Powell turned 35 years of service in the United States military into his own version of the American Dream.”

In the face of serious health challenges, Powell remained upbeat. In 2003, he announced he was being treated for prostate cancer, and in 2019, he revealed his diagnosis of multiple myeloma at an event benefitting the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, recalled Kathy Giusti, herself a cancer survivor and founder of the organization. Cancer patients, she noted, “may have a weak response to the Covid-19 vaccine, or no response at all.”

“As our nation reflects on his legacy as a civil servant and military leader,” Giusti wrote, “…we also understand how cancer can put even the strongest among us at the highest of risk.”

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What ifs

In the mid-1990s, Powell was considered a top candidate for the GOP presidential nomination. This week, columnists David Von Drehle and Bret Stephens speculated about what might have been had Powell run for president and denied Bill Clinton a second term.

“If Clinton had had no second term, there would have been no partisan impeachment,” Von Drehle wrote in the Washington Post. “The Republican Robespierre, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, would have been neutered as party leader with the pacifying Powell in his place… And if the last years of the 1990s and first years of this century were less bitterly divisive and dispiriting, would the United States have rolled the dice in 2016 on a reality TV star wielding a social media wedge?”

Bret Stephens ended his column in the New York Times this way: “General Powell, you should’ve run in ’96. Rest in peace.”

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    Trump’s farewell to Powell was of a piece with his response to the death of another war hero, Sen. John McCain.

    As SE Cupp noted, Trump trashed the general for “big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction.” He also took the opportunity to complain that the media was treating Powell “so beautifully” and accused him of “always being the first to attack other Republicans.” And then incongruously, Trump said, “but anyway, may he rest in peace!”

    Trump has teamed up with a special purpose acquisition company to raise funds for a new media venture, now that he has been banned by Twitter and Facebook. Cupp noted that Trump’s last media foray, a blog on his website, didn’t last long. “The blog lived a mere 29 days, attracting fewer visitors than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish, according to the Washington Post. It was, in a word, pathetic. But anyway, may it rest in peace!”

    Facebook changing the wrong name

    Facebook, the embattled social network, has “a new public relations strategy: changing its name,” wrote Kara Alaimo, citing a report by The Verge. The reason? “The public has lost faith in Facebook. And rightly so. For all the family photos shared or funny videos consumed that the company has made possible, ‘Facebook’ is now also a name associated in recent years with misinformation, privacy violations, the spread of hate and autocracy.”

    To really overcome its problems, Alaimo argued, the company needs to change a different name – that of its CEO. “The fact that the company continues to deny that it has let us down is a big part of the problem here. And the person in charge of Facebook through all of this has been, of course, founder Mark Zuckerberg.”

    It’s clear that he lacks the moral inclination or the capacity to solve these problems. Either way, he’s got to go. The company should announce a new chief executive with all possible haste.”

    Tucker Carlson on parenting

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    Fox News host Tucker Carlson lashed out at Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for taking paternity leave to spend time with his newborn twins.

    “Carlson was perhaps the most insulting of the right-wing commentators who taunted Buttigieg for taking time off with his husband and new children,” wrote Holly Thomas, “but he was far from alone. In addition to the obvious homophobia in some of these attacks, their toxic perpetuation of the antiquated idea that time to bond with and care for one’s children is something ‘only’ women should do only amplifies how right Buttigieg is that the United States remains pitifully out of step with the rest of the world on this issue.”

    The court and the Texas abortion law

    On Friday, the US Supreme Court declined for the second time to block the controversial Texas law that bans abortions beyond about six weeks, but scheduled accelerated oral arguments on it. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying women who need care “are entitled to relief now.”

    “I cannot capture the totality of this harm in these pages,” said Sotomayor. “The impact is catastrophic.”

    Dr. Amna Dermish, an OB-GYN who provides abortions in Texas, wrote for CNN Opinion, “Every day working under this cruel law has been heartbreaking and unjust. One of my patients – who I had to turn away because she was more than six weeks pregnant – curled up and started to cry uncontrollably. All I could do was hold her hand.

    Don’t miss

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    Jennifer Tucker: Now that guns can kill hundreds in minutes, Supreme Court should rethink the rights question

    Jill Filipovic: A woman is raped and onlookers record it: the story beyond the outrage

    Kara Alaimo: Justice Sonia Sotomayor deals with ‘manterruptions,’ too. Here’s how we can stop them

    Robert Klitzman: How the Covid-19 booster shots could make the vaccination gap worse

    Jorge Contreras: Don’t let gene patents make a comeback


    From ‘Succession’ to ‘Squid Game’

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    “Succession,” the HBO drama series focusing on fear and loathing in a family that controls a worldwide media empire, returned for a third season to much critical acclaim. No one in it is particularly likable and some are particularly awful, though their conniving can be very entertaining to watch.

    As Nicole Hemmer wrote, the show is “part of the waning age of antiheroes, those fundamentally amoral, craven and power-hungry protagonists who have been at the center of prestige television for at least two decades now. And while antiheroes have dominated some of 21st-century television’s best shows thus far, from ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Sopranos’ to ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad,’ that era is giving way to shows whose protagonists are flawed and complicated – but still fundamentally good.” Think “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Place” and “Ted Lasso.”

    Kendall Roy’s rebellion against his media-mogul father Logan Roy had potential to give “Succession” uplift, Hemmer observed, but “rather than transforming into a heroic whistleblower, Kendall remains the same preening, power-hungry, PR-obsessed character he always was, eager to seize control of his father’s company with little concern for the people around him.”

    Speaking of conflict, the top show on Netflix worldwide and. until recently, in the US is “Squid Game,” a Korean drama. “Squid Game” is violent, emotional, and even comedic at times, but there are reasons beyond its shock value that make this drama so compelling, and for American viewers in particular,” wrote Airielle Lowe, a senior at Howard University, editor-in-chief of the student publication The Liberato and an intern for CNN Opinion.

    “Though the plot comes across as a gross exaggeration of some dystopian future, ‘Squid Game’ reminds us of the unfair and unpredictable nature of life …Most viewers of ‘Squid Game’ likely can’t picture themselves actually participating in the drama’s deadly scenarios, and I can’t either. But we empathize with the debt, loneliness and poverty that await these characters, and how their desperation to improve their conditions leaves them feeling like they have nothing to lose.”