For Your Society

Open thread for night owls: Survivor recalls ’81 massacre that Trump’s Venezuelan envoy downplayed

Nelson Rauda at the Daily Beast writes—Her Family Survived the El Mozote Massacre. Now She’s Fleeing El Salvador’s Gangs:

Marta Maritza Amaya was seated at the back of the bus, gazing through the window at the sunset over the green mountains of Morazán, in northern El Salvador. It was March 2017. Back in the 1980s this poor area was a war zone, ruled by the Revolutionary People’s Army (ERP in Spanish).

Marta’s bus stopped at the detour to Arambala village. It was here, in December 1981, that Salvadoran troops—trained and funded by the U.S., which backed the ruling junta—headed down that very detour in the direction of El Mozote, Marta’s hometown.

Back then, leftist guerrilla troops roamed clandestinely in almost of all the towns in northern Morazán. An army operation—allegedly to capture the guerrilla radio station, Radio Venceremos, and other military targets—turned into the worst massacre of the Salvadoran civil war. At El Mozote and other nearby villages, 988 civilians were killed; at least 553 of the dead were minors and at least 433 were children no older than 12. Four of those kids were Marta’s older brother and sisters.

The cover-up of the massacre at El Mozote still reverberates decades later. This past week, Representative Ilhan Omar reminded the U.S. Congress of the role that Elliot Abrams played in the aftermath of the slaughter, when he called early claims of the killing “communist propaganda.” To this day, Abrams, President Donald Trump’s new special envoy for Venezuela, hasn’t recanted his claims. To be fair, Abrams was just one more gear in a U.S. government machine that chose to overlook human-rights violations in El Salvador as part of its Cold War ideological crusade.

All these years after the massacre, there are still people looking for their family members. On Feb. 14, judge Jorge Guzmán and Dr. Silvana Turner conducted an exhumation to seek the remains of María de la Paz Pereira, 32, her husband, and her five children. The expedition was prompted by the discovery by farmers of old clothes and some bones. Mrs. Turner, a member of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, concluded that the bones were of animal, not human, origin, and that there was no point in digging them up, despite the presence of the clothes and shoes.[...]

One of the first two reporters of the massacre was Raymond Bonner, a former marine who had become a journalist. Less than a month after the slayings, he wrote about them for The New York Times in an article that would rile Abrams, then Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, and other thugs in the Reagan administration and spur them to howl and push to get Bonner booted. He was exiled from the Central American beat to the financial desk and he soon quit. From the Chicago Reader in 1993:

Bonner's most incendiary report described a "massacre of major proportions" in the hamlet of El Mozote: "In some 20 mud brick huts here, this reporter saw the charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies buried under burned-out roofs, beams and shattered tiles. There were more along the trail leading through the hills into the village, and at the edge of a nearby cornfield were the remains of 14 young men, women and children. . . . The villagers have compiled a list of the names, ages and villages of 733 peasants, mostly children, women and old people, who they say were murdered by the Government soldiers. The Human Rights Commission of El Salvador . . . puts the number at 926."

Two days ago, this time in The Atlantic, Bonner, now 77, again wrote about the massacre, Abrams and others in the administration who had downplayed with vehemence the possibility that the Salvadoran army—partially funded and some of its officers specially trained by the United States—had committed this atrocity. Their stance was not too surprising given their vile policies throughout Central America. Almost exactly a year after the Mozote massacre, Reagan himself dropped into Honduras to meet the genocidal general who was then president of Guatemala, Efraín Rios Montt. He called him  “a man of great integrity'' and "totally dedicated to democracy” even though U.S. intelligence services knew full well that the man was overseeing the slaughter of thousands of Maya Indians at the time while receiving U.S. military equipment that Reagan had relabeled as civilian to get around a congressional ban. 

Bonner notes at the end of his piece: 

Inadvertently, Omar revealed that Trump may have picked the right man to implement his policy in Venezuela. As his record in El Salvador suggests, Abrams will say whatever is necessary to accomplish the administration’s will.

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There’s no way to avoid seeing this DHS move as a treacherous betrayal of American democracy by President Trump. He’s inviting hostile foreign powers to invade our elections, the heart of our sovereignty. His oath of office meant nothing to him.

— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) February 17, 2019


On this date at Daily Kos in 2006—Cheney drank before shooting his pal:

In an exclusive interview with Fox News' Brit Hume this afternoon, Vice President Dick Cheney took full responsibility for shooting his hunting companion, who has until now been pictured as the guilty party. The interview will not aired in full until 6 p.m. but according to Hume, in summarizing the contents, the vice president remained "totally unapologetic" about the long lag in reporting the shooting to the public—and also said that he had consumed one beer at lunch that day.

Cheney must consume a virtual cocktail of drugs every day because of his heart condition. I wonder what kind of reaction throwing alcohol into the mix might have.

Any doctors in the house?

Update: Here's video of Hume talking about his interview with Cheney. You see, according to Cheney, they drank beer but no one drank beer:

HUME: He said he had a beer at lunch and that had been many hours earlier. And it was dusk, around 5:00 p.m., when this incident happened. And he said that, you know, they had lunch out in the field, a barbecue, and he had a beer. But you said you don’t hunt with people who have been drinking. He said no one was drinking. He said they went back to the ranch afterwards, took a break after that, and went out about 3:00 and so you’re four or five hours distanced from the last alcohol that he consumed. And he said no one was drinking, not he nor anyone else.

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at, and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio.”



Team Trump begins opposition research on his likely Democratic challengers

As of this moment, those surrounding Donald Trump are still presuming there will be a Donald Trump re-election campaign. This requires staffing up a new campaign operation, which will be a bit more of a challenge this time around, now that the majority of his previous top lieutenants are either in jail, under indictment, or otherwise caught up in the probe of Russian election hacking and related (and unrelated!) crimes.

It also requires doing a bit of research on who their likely Democratic opponent will be, presuming Donald does run again rather than holing up in a Russian embassy somewhere with his adult children and his tweetin' phone. According to Politico's sources, Trump's current advisers are now "compiling opposition research" on Democrats Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, the trio that Team Trump believes to be the current frontrunners.

Not exactly going out on a limb with that one, so ... noted.

The strategy Team Trump is coalescing around is an unsubtle one, one in which any and all Democratic contenders will be declared "socialists" for proposing that the United States do a single damn thing for any of its citizens, regardless of specific plans or details. "Socialism" will be the bugaboo by which Trump's Republican defenders defend imprisoning refugee children, regularly obstructing justice, promoting white supremacist concepts and theories, and leading the nation's dumbest organized-crime ring. It will be "socialism" to not build a turgid monument to Trump's ego in the southern desert; it will be "socialism" to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions rather than leaving them in the woods as our ancestors intended; it will be "socialism" to propose that we save the state of Florida from going underwater, build transportation systems to match those of other top industrial nations, return to the same tax rates that the wealthy had to pay back when the first Star Wars movie came out, or suggest that it was improper for Trump's campaign manager to hand over internal polling data to Russian spies during an espionage campaign against the United States.

Donald Trump supporters are a simple people. They don't like nuance. They do like being absolutely terrified of secret conspiracies, scary immigrants, and Europe, so expect the next Trump campaign, like the last one and like every Fox News program on any evening after new indictments or Russia-related revelations have surfaced, to consist primarily of high-pitched shrieking noises.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez swiftly debunks newest conspiracy theory that her partner is on her payroll

If there’s one thing that unifies conservatives, it’s their endless quest to harass Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The freshman Congresswoman has a lot going for her: policies that actually make sense, a great social media presence, and a personality that people actually, well, like. For these reasons, it seems, people on the right can’t wait to bring her down. “Nude” pictures (allegedly) of her feet? Dancing in college? Having a nickname in high school? Scandal attempts she was, luckily, able to stomp out.

The latest attempt happened on Valentine’s Day. Like most of these faux scandals, it took off on Twitter, and that’s also where Rep. Ocasio-Cortez put it to rest. 

Here’s how it shook out.

A user identified as Luke Thompson on Twitter posted this tweet, along with a screenshot:


While you were having a nice Valentine's Day, @AOC decided to put her boyfriend on staff - drawing a salary on the taxpayer's dime. Nice to see her adapting to the swamp so quickly.

— Luke Thompson (@ltthompso) February 15, 2019


Trump administration tells taxpayers: Don’t worry, be happy about lower tax refunds

Tax refunds are down by 8.7 percent from this time one year ago, and people are not happy. No wonder—a lot of people count on their refund. Don’t worry, says the Trump Treasury Department. “Most people are seeing the benefits of the tax cut in larger paychecks throughout the year, instead of tax refunds that are the result of people overpaying the government.” It’s a good thing! “Smaller refunds mean that people are withholding appropriately based on their tax liability, which is positive news for taxpayers.”

Taxpayers … don’t seem to agree.

And one reason taxpayers don’t agree that this is such a great thing is that those larger paychecks throughout the year were consistently oversold by Republicans. Remember that school secretary whose paycheck bump amounted to about the cost of a Costco membership, which then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan saw as something to brag about?

The wealthiest people, on the other hand, have lots to celebrate.


McConnell plans to attack Dems’ 2020 candidates over Green New Deal support. His alternative? Coal!!

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are hoping they can box Democratic presidential candidates in by forcing an early vote in the Senate on the Green New Deal resolution. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julián Castro, and Kirsten Gillibrand, all of who have declared their presidential candidacies, have pledged their support for the GND concept. McConnell clearly thinks a Republican attack will play well with the voters and make these candidates vulnerable to defeat in the election two years from now. 

It would certainly play well with the 60 percent of Republicans in the Senate and House who are climate science deniers. McConnell, of course, is one of them: "For everybody who thinks it's warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn't," he has said. Actual meaning: “For every climate scientist who thinks it’s warming, I can find a pundit or blogger who thinks otherwise.”

What’s his energy plan? Killer coal. In this vein, he’s supported demolishing greenhouse gas emissions. And last week, he urged the federal Tennessee Valley Authority not to shut down one of its aged coal power plants—Paradise #3— because it has become uneconomic. TVA ignored him:

“Kentuckians strongly oppose moving away from coal,” McConnell said in a video address to the utility that rejected his pitch Thursday, saying it wasn’t economically feasible to keep operating the final burner at the Paradise plant in Muhlenberg County.

“Coal has helped fuel our country’s greatness and it needs to be part of our energy future,” McConnell said. [...]

The loss of jobs, along with coal’s history in the state, leaves many lawmakers wary of what they see as overly aggressive efforts to combat climate change. They’re eager to shield the coal industry from further decline and to aid miners and their families.


Another week brings yet another gargantuan lie from Trump’s den of liars

Paul Manafort, the former chair of Donald Trump's campaign and now convicted felon, is poised to spend the rest of his life in jail, exactly as a federal judge originally predicted last year. Manafort, 69, had a shot at escaping that fate if he had remained faithful to his cooperating agreement with the special counsel's office conducting the Russia probe. But telling the truth was just a little too much to ask of, well, anyone with deep ties to Trump, which means Manafort's most realistic chance of not dying in jail rests in the hope of a presidential pardon.

The federal judge in the Manafort case found the special counsel's office had proven three of its five claims against the defendant and that, indeed, he had "intentionally" lied to federal prosecutors. The most intriguing of those lies were about Manafort's meetings both during and after the campaign with Russian-Ukrainian Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the special counsel has tied to Russian intelligence. 

All of this makes Manafort an extraordinarily gifted liar. After being convicted of both bank and tax fraud, and pleading guilty to money laundering and attempted witnesses tampering, Manafort just went right ahead and lied to federal prosecutors about his contacts with a Russian spy. Impressive! No wonder special counsel Robert Mueller deemed a prison sentence of some 20-plus years appropriate. 

But once again, we are left to wonder, why? What exactly was so important about his contacts with Kilimnik—indeed, so damning—that Manafort concluded it was better to lie to agents of the U.S. government and risk taking his last breath from the confines of a jail cell than to tell the truth. 

It's a conundrum reminiscent of the head-scratching lies Michael Flynn told FBI agents all the way back in early 2017 when he was still Trump's national security adviser. Why—when Flynn was well aware the FBI likely knew about his phone calls with Russian Ambassador Surgey Kislyak—did he proceed to lie to them anyway? What exactly was the calculation that went through his head when the FBI officials interviewing him were telegraphing that they totally knew about his Kislyak calls?


Ocasio-Cortez on lobbyists paying for seats in committee hearings: ‘Shock doesn’t begin to cover it’

Political newcomers arriving in Washington only to be shocked by the extent to which lobbyists have inserted themselves in every crevice of the woodwork seems to be a semi-regular story. It repeats itself with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's first encounter with the lines of semi-professional line standers paid to wait outside hearing rooms so that high-paid lobbyists can secure premium spots in the audience without having to themselves wait up to 24 hours in the outside hallway. From her tweet:

Today I left a hearing on homelessness & saw tons of people camped outside committee. I turned to my staff and asked if it was a demonstration. “No,” they said. “Lobbyists pay the homeless + others to hold their place so they can get in 1st.”

Ocasio-Cortez's staff is a bit inaccurate in suggesting line-standers are mostly homeless. Some are and some aren't, but it's become a more orchestrated, managed affair than it was when individual lobbyists would scrounge someone up to hold their spot so that they could continue to work congressional offices instead of being hallway-bound for hours at a time. The Washington Post has a rundown of the history of line-standers, noting that the current rate is about $48 per hour—but no word of how much of that goes to the human placeholders, and how much goes to the, sigh, dispatching company.

As for the larger question of why such a weird thing is done: Again, it is all about access and influence. Audience members in a congressional hearing have no role in committee process, and (short of outbursts) no influence on the proceedings. Lobbyists whose careers are dedicated to being as influential with lawmakers as possible want to be seen, by those they are lobbying, in the audience. They find it important to remind lawmakers that they are there, during deliberations. That they are listening.

Which is not at all creepy or dystopian, of course. Not a bit.


Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: The national emergency is Donald Trump

National fake emergency is for Trump’s base and Trump’s base alone. I sound like a broken record on this “Trump’s base, so what? Not enough to win with” stuff, but there’s reason.


Trump's 'base-only' strategy can't win him MI, PA, WI again. D's now equally (or more) energized. Key swing demo in 2020 are the "ambivalent" voters who hated both Trump & Clinton in 2016.

— amy walter (@amyewalter) February 15, 2019

Nate Silver/FiveThirtyEight (from 11/18):

Trump’s Base Isn’t Enough

This year’s results do serve as a warning to Trump in one important sense, however: His base alone will not be enough to win a second term. Throughout the stretch run of the 2018 midterm campaign, Trump and Republicans highlighted highly charged partisan issues, from the Central American migrant caravan to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. And Republican voters did indeed turn out in very high numbers: GOP candidates for the House received more than 50 million votes, more than the roughly 45 million they got in 2010.

But it wasn’t enough, or even close to enough. Problem No. 1 is that Republicans lost among swing voters: Independent voters went for Democrats by a 12-point margin, and voters who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 went to Democrats by 13 points.

Trump and Republicans also have Problem No. 2, however: Their base is smaller than the Democratic one. This isn’t quite as much of a disadvantage as it might seem; the Democratic base is less cohesive and therefore harder to govern. Democratic voters are sometimes less likely to turn out, although that wasn’t a problem this year. And because Republican voters are concentrated in rural, agrarian states, the GOP has a big advantage in the Senate.

And see this one, too, from last month:

Rachel Bitecofer/NY Times:

Why Trump Will Lose in 2020

The president is running hard on a strategy of riling up his base. But by doing that, he riles up the Democratic base, too, and that one is bigger.

All of this was validated in 2018. That’s why Nancy Pelosi is speaker.


Open thread for night owls: Excerpts from the March edition of Harper’s Index

Here are a few excerpts from the latest Harper’s Index:

Number of congressional districts that border Mexico: 9 Number that are represented by a Republican: 1 Votes by which that district’s congressman won reelection in November: 926 Ratio of the number of Democratic House seats held by women in 1989 to the number held today: 16:89 Of the number of Republican House seats: 1:1 Percentage of Americans who did not vote in the midterm elections who say they wish they had: 61 Percentage of the global population who say they would move to a different country if given the opportunity: 15 Percentage of Americans who say they would: 16 Chances an American has held off seeking health-care treatment in the past year because of costs: 3 in 10 Percentage change in the number of annual complaints filed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau since 2016: +34 In the number of publicly announced enforcement actions by the CFPB: –74 Percentage decline since 2010 in the number of IRS auditors: 35 Year in which the IRS last had so few auditors: 1953 Percentage of US police departments since 2014 that have reported relaxing hiring standards for prior drug use: 54 Percentage of US parents under 50 who say it’s unlikely they will have more children: 71

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“The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.” ~~Upton Sinclair in 1951 letter to Norman M. Thomas



All Americans who respect the Constitution, get ready for the big, big fight! Trump declares FAKE emergency, stealing previously appropriated funds from DOD, Mil. Con., & Treasury. Let's go, join me! People power can stop him!

— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) February 15, 2019


On this date at Daily Kos in 2012—The death of the Republican dog whistle:

In the idealized version of the GOP primary, establishment Republicans would curry favor with their Wall Street pals while sending coded dog whistles to their foot soldiers—on race, immigration, reproductive freedoms, etc. Those dog whistles would motivate the GOP base without revealing their true radical nature to the American mainstream. It was a genius system while it worked, one that saw no parallel on the progressive side.

But the days of the dog whistle are over. The election of President Barack Obama created an entire cottage industry trying to prove how un-American and Kenyan he supposedly is, while Republicans like Rep. Pete Hoekstra run blatantly anti-Asian ads. Republicans laugh about electrocuting immigrants who will cut off your head in the desert if they're not stopped, while passing laws openly hostile to brown people. Attacks on homosexuals have escalated to new hysterical highs as society becomes more tolerant and open to equality.

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Hey, kids! Stay in school! Or don't. Whatever. YouTubers are making a mint chewing food on camera. A real Harvard law prof has declared the Constitution unconstitutional. And Armando joins us in witnessing the "national emergency" trainwreck.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been interviewed by Mueller’s team

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been barely working recently, with the blessing of her media-combative dictator in chief. CNN reports that Sanders did answer a few questions about whether or not she had been asked to speak with the special counsel’s investigators. She told the news outlet that she “was happy to voluntarily sit down with them.”

According to CNN, the interview came around the same time former White House chief of staff John Kelly was interviewed. Remember him? What Sanders spoke about with the Mueller team is not known. CNN speculates that she was asked about how she receives her marching orders, who tells her what to say, and what Donald Trump’s place is in that process. 

This isn’t a bombshell, but it does show how thorough the Mueller investigation has been in trying to create a detailed understanding of the corrupt hierarchy in the White House. Considering that Sanders has frequently lied on behalf of the Trump administration, either as directed or by her own design, not only might she know a little bit about buried bodies, but she might be liable for other public lies as well.