Archives for category: Hoax

Trump is obsessed with the U.S. Postal Service. He is certain that the U.S. mail is his enemy. One of his aides told him that he lost the 2016 popular vote because of mail fraud, and he’s ranted about the USPS ever since. He openly admitted in a recent news conference that he wants to block mail-in voting in hopes of cutting Democratic votes. Trump forced out the career professional who was running USPS and replaced with a donor to his campaign, Louis DeJoy. In the name of “efficiency,” USPS has been removing hundreds of high-speed sorting machines and thousands of mailboxes. At a time when millions of people count on the mails for their prescriptions and Social Security checks, the slowdowns are wreaking havoc. Even Republicans from heavily rural states whose constituents rely on the local post office have remained silent, as Trump orders the dismantling of USPS.

Democrats scheduled a hearing with Trump’s Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, who gave $2 million to the Trump coffers, but decided to move up the date to August 24. Trump and his wife voted by mail in Florida.


The House Oversight Committee will hold an emergency hearing on mail delays and concerns about potential White House interference in the U.S. Postal Service, inviting Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Postal Service board of governors Chairman Robert M. Duncan to testify Aug. 24, top Democrats announced on Sunday.

Democrats have alleged that DeJoy, a former Republican National Committee chairman, is taking steps that are causing dysfunction in the mail system and could wreak havoc in the presidential election. The House had earlier not planned a hearing until September.

“The postmaster general and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Oversight Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said in a statement announcing the hearing.

The Postal Service is beset with delays because of policy changes implemented by DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump. DeJoy banned postal workers from making extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery and cracked down on overtime hours. Localities across the country have struggled with USPS backlogs of up to a week, hamstringing local businesses and delaying the arrival of crucial mail items, including prescription medications, Social Security checks and bills.

The Postal Service is in the process of removing 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide this month, a process that will eliminate 21.4 million items per hour’s worth of processing capability from the agency’s inventory.

On Thursday and Friday, it began removing public collection boxes in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Montana. The agency said Friday that it would stop mailbox removals, which it said were routine, until after the election.

And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that it would also halt sorting-machine removals.

Meadows also said the White House is open to Congress passing a stand-alone measure to ensure the U.S. Postal Service is adequately funded to manage a surge in mail voting in November.

“The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their votes in a legitimate way whether it’s the post office or anything else,” he said.

Both statements would appear to step back from the president’s comments Thursday when he said he opposed Postal Service funding because he wanted to restrict expanding voting by mail.

Meadows insisted the president is only opposed to states sending ballots directly to all registered voters — not to a more common practice in which states send mail ballots only to registered voters who request them. Trump, however, attacked all forms of mail voting for months before recently dialing back his criticism in particular states, including Florida, where he voted by mail himself this year.

“The president doesn’t have a problem with anybody voting by mail if you would look at it in terms of a no-excuse absentee ballot,” Meadows said. “What he opposes is universal mail-in ballots.”

There are five states that voted nearly entirely by mail before the pandemic and four more that have announced plans to do so since the pandemic hit. Meadows suggested more states will attempt to shift to sending ballots directly to all registered voters between now and the election.

“This is more about states trying to re-create how they get their ballots and they’re trying to do it on a compressed timeline that won’t work,” he said.

Fred Klonsky is a retired teacher in Illinois. Retired teachers in that state, like many others, don’t collect Social Security. Politicians of both parties have tried to cut teachers’ retirement benefits. Should he care that Trump wants to defund Social Security?

He concludes that teachers in Illinois are in the same fight with those who face Trump’s stealth effort to defund Social Security.

Trump’s claim is that his executive order would put more money now into workers paychecks.

Put aside for a moment that due to Trump’s leadership there are nearly 40 million newly unemployed workers who no longer receive a paycheck.

And put aside for a moment that the payments to Social Security will have to be made up at a later date.

The payroll tax essentially funds Social Security and Medicare.

Trump’s order will stop nearly $350 billion in payments to Social Security.

If Trump is reelected and a Republican Congress eliminates the payroll tax permanently, as is the plan, it is estimated that the system will be broke by the end of Trump’s second term.

No more Social Security or Medicare.

David Dayen writes the blog “Unsanitized” for the American Prospect. In this post, he explains what Trump’s executive orders really do. Please open the links to see the many embedded links.

After weeks of unproductive talks with Democrats bending but the White House unyielding, over the weekend Donald Trump issued three memoranda and an executive order that, at this moment, reflect the only additional relief to the American people at a time when fiscal policy was the only thing preventing the economy from ruin.

We’ll get to what’s in these in a minute, but it’s worth noting what’s not there. The Heroes Act, House Democrats’ kitchen sink policy, added up to $3.4 trillion. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, who get the vapors at the sight of a deficit so they ought to know, the Trump orders would provide at best $225 billion in near-term funds, and on net, just $13 billion, tops, in new budgetary outlays. Everything in the orders either shuffles existing money around or kicks payments down the road; the new spending just assumes some missed collections.

I’ve read all four documents (here, here, here, and here) and I’d say CRFB is being amazingly generous assuming that anything close to even the meager funding it outlines will actually materialize. Let’s dive in.

Unemployment: the Trump action, if it actually worked, would give unemployed Americans an $400 extra per week retroactive to August 1, down from the $600 that expired in July. Of that sum, $300 would come from a FEMA disaster relief fund, and another $100 would have to be supplied by the states, using relief funds appropriated in the CARES Act. However most of that CARES Act money is already spoken for, and cash-strapped states don’t have a lot of extra money available to contribute. So I’d say it’s unlikely the state share will be included in a majority of states. Unemployed workers themselves will get half of what they previously got.

In addition, there’s only $44 billion available from the FEMA fund for the federal share. About $50 billion was spent on the $600 enhancement in the first two weeks of July, with nearly 30 million people receiving benefits. This is half that and maybe fewer recipients as hiring increases. But at most, this gets you another 5 weeks of support; by the end of August it’ll be done, even though it’s supposed to last until December.

When recipients will actually get anything is unclear; states would have to create an entirely new program through their antiquated unemployment insurance systems. It’s first-come first-served, so early states might get a little more for their residents while states that take months to figure things out could be shut out at the window entirely. And while the unemployed endure the wait, rent and other bills are still due.

Besides all that, it’s plainly unconstitutional, as David Super explains. The Disaster Relief Program being used isn’t intended for this purpose and its ability to deliver unemployment benefits is severely limited. Violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, which this does, carries criminal penalties. But while many will grumble, who exactly will sue to block the unemployed from getting even meager benefits? Treasury Secretary Mnuchin taunted Democrats with exactly this rationale on Sunday.

Payroll taxes: Set aside that people working need far less support than those who don’t. The president cannot change tax law to cancel taxes; he can defer payments. That’s what’s being done here. Any worker making less than $104,000 per year would have payroll taxes deferred from September 1 to the end of the year. They’ll still owe the taxes; they just won’t have to pay them until January.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare for employers, many of whom will likely opt to either keep paying them, or put them in an escrow account. Otherwise, they’d have to garnish a worker’s entire paycheck in January to cover back payroll taxes. My expectation is that this has next to no stimulative effect at all.

Trump says he wants to “terminate” these taxes if re-elected; he would need Congress to agree. It’s a political ploy to bribe the electorate, but if businesses just hang onto the money to avoid future fallout it won’t even work as a bribe. And Democrats are screaming that these taxes fund Social Security and Medicare and cancelling them would hasten a crisis (of course Congress could just, you know, fund Social Security and Medicare, and crisis solved.)

Evictions: This is just vaporware, the order just says that health officials should consider an eviction ban and that the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury Department should see what they can do about helping renters and mortgage borrowers with funds to stay in their homes. That’s it. The federal moratorium only covered a handful of cases anyway; this is more useless than that.

Student loans: Of the four orders this is the most useful, as it extends an existing forbearance for federal student loans. Again, borrowers would still owe the money eventually, but it’s somewhat useful to be relieved of the burden now. What this shows is that the Education Department has a lot of discretion to let these loans go uncollected indefinitely, if they choose, to say nothing of the authority to cancel student loans. Trump is proving the concept.

It was a grave error to hold off on critical priorities until “the next bill,” after all the leverage was squandered. These Pelosi hagiographies are embarrassing in the context of her blowing the chance to secure ongoing relief throughout the pandemic. Whoever replaces Pelosi when she leaves doesn’t have to repeat these mistakes, as long as they learn from them.

I was on Democracy Now today talking about these orders as well as the war on the postal service, and you can watch that at their website.

Peter Goodman is a long-time observer of education politics in New York State and New York City.

In this post, he asks a reasonable question: Why, at a time of fiscal stringency and uncertainty, is the Board of Regents of New York State rubber-stamping the expansion of charter schools?

Charter schools, as he shows, cherry-pick their students to inflate their test scores. Despite state law, their doors are not open to all.

He writes:

If you look at charter school data virtually every charter school enrolls fewer than the “comparable” percentages required in the law. The reason is abundantly clear, students with disabilities and English language learners frequently have lower standardized test scores, impact the charter renewal process and are more costly to educate, i.e., lower class size = more teachers.

The Buffalo charter was out of compliance with state law. Why did the Board of Regents approve a five-year renewal of a charter in Buffalo when the Regent from Buffalo proposed a three-year renewal? Buffalo schools face a large deficit, but its charters are on track to take $108 million out of the city’s public budget.

Why did the Board of Regents approve the renewal of a low-performing charter school in the Bronx?

Goodman writes:

Later in the [Regents’] meeting three New York City charter schools were on the agenda, one of the schools wanted to add high school grades; although there is a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools State Ed staff interpreted the law as allowing grade expansion, in my opinion, an attempt to circumvent the law and should have not been allowed by the state.

The math scores in the school were in the “far below standard” category, ninety percent of teachers were “teaching out of their certification area,” the state average is eleven percent and the register in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade, was sharply reduced, from 71 (6th grade), to 46 (7th grade) and 29 (8th grade): what happened to the kids? In addition the school SWD and ELL students are far below the district averages.

Why did the NYC Department of Education approve the application? Why did the SED approve the application?

The school has a lobbyist who was a college roommate of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. I’m sure that’s only a coincidence. btw, who paid the lobbyist?

In spite of objections from some Regents members the SED lawyer bundled all three schools together instead of decoupling and voting separately.

Regent Cashin made a motion: a moratorium on approval of new charters and the grade expansion of existing charter schools for the remainder of the COVID emergency. She explained that with sharp cuts in district budgets, with districts facing layoffs and disruptions, to transfer money from public schools budgets to charter school budgets was unconscionable. The SED lawyer ruled her motion was “out of order.”

Any member of the Board can make a motion at any time. The Board should vote on whether to place the motion on the agenda. The Board “owns” the motion, not the lawyer, who is not a Board member.

If the lawyer meant the motion was not “germane” he was still wrong. If he was serving as a parliamentarian he gives advice to the chair, he does not participate in the debate, or make determinate decisions.

The whole business had what Goodman called “a noxious aroma,” a polite way of saying that the Regents’ rush to approve charters of dubious quality in the midst of a fiscal crisis stinks to high heaven.

Why incentivize privately run charters to divert funding and the students of their choice from the public schools.

Why are the Regents betraying the state’s public schools?

That noxious aroma is the smell that is released when politics seeps into decisions about school funding. Someone’s friends are being taken care of, at the expense of the public schools.

Our reader Laura Chapman read the Supreme Court decision in the Espinoza case, both the majority decision and the dissents. The majority decision said that if a state offers a scholarship program for private schools, it must include religious schools. The dissenters, Chapman noted, pointed out that the Montana Supreme Court had already invalidated the private scholarship program. So the case was already moot because Montana no longer has a scholarship program for private schools! The Espinoza family will not get $150 (the amount that used to be paid to families that sought help in paying private school tuition) because Montana no longer offers scholarships to private schools, and thus will not be affected by today’s decision!

She wrote:

I downloaded the text of ESPINOZA ET AL. v. MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE ET AL and read the dissents. Here are a few gems, all noting that the scholarship in question had already been made invalid by Montana’s Supreme Court !!

BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KAGAN, J., joined as to Part I.

I shall assume, for purposes of this opinion, that petitioners’ free exercise claim survived the Montana Supreme Court’s wholesale invalidation of the tax credit program. (This is a feature in all of the dissents. Essentially, the dissenters claim there is no case because the program was made vaporware by the Montana Supreme Court.)
Breyer then begins an extended discussion of “entanglements” of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause: and concludes that “The majority’s approach and its conclusion in this case, I fear, risk the kind of entanglement and conflict that the Religion Clauses are intended to prevent. I consequently dissent.

Well, that is the summary, but it is followed by at least 6000 words, as if prepared to show his colleagues that he had considered a lot of precedents that had no direct bearing on the case, these dating back to Madison and Jefferson’s Wall of Separation in Antebellum Virginia, along with hypothetical questions about state funding for charter schools (with a 2003 citation).

GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KAGAN, J., joined.

Recall that the Montana court remedied the state constitutional violation by striking the scholarship program in its entirety. Under that decree, secular and sectarian schools alike are ineligible for benefits, so the decision cannot be said to entail differential treatment based on petitioners’ religion.

Put somewhat differently, petitioners argue that the Free Exercise Clause requires a State to treat institutions and people neutrally when doling out a benefit—and neutrally is how Montana treats them in the wake of the state court’s decision. Accordingly, the Montana Supreme Court’s decision does not place a burden on petitioners’ religious exercise. Petitioners may still send their children to a religious school. And the Montana Supreme Court’s decision does not pressure them to do otherwise.

SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

The majority holds that a Montana scholarship program unlawfully discriminated against religious schools by excluding them from a tax benefit. The threshold problem, however, is that such tax benefits no longer exist for anyone in the State. The Montana Supreme Court invalidated the program on state-law grounds, thereby foreclosing the as-applied challenge petitioners raise here.

Indeed, nothing required the state court to uphold the program or the state legislature to maintain it. The Court nevertheless reframes the case and appears to ask whether a longstanding Montana constitutional provision is facially invalid under the Free Exercise Clause, even though petitioners disavowed bringing such a claim. But by resolving a constitutional question not presented, the Court fails to heed Article III principles older than the Religion Clause it expounds.

Laura Chapman added: I am not a lawyer, but I cannot understand why this case even got on the docket of the US. Supreme Court. It was settled in the Montana Supreme Court, made invalid, struck entirely.

Dana Milbank has become my favorite columnist.

I hope you can open this column from the Washington Post, because he has added links to everything, too many for me to copy by hand. Since the Washington Post, like the New York Times, is making coverage of the pandemic open access, you might be able to open it.

The title: “This Cure for the Pandemic Is the Work of a Very Stable Genius.”

Forget vaccines and treatments. The very stable genius has a foolproof cure for the pandemic.

“If we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any,” President Trump said at the White House Monday.

Precisely! And if I stop weighing myself right now, I will gain very few pounds, if any. What we don’t know cannot possibly hurt us. This is very much a part of Trump’s governing philosophy.

If he stops John Bolton’s book from being published, there will be very few damaging revelations, if any.

If his Office of Management and Budget stops releasing economic forecasts in its midyear review, the economy will have very few problems, if any.

If Trump’s Labor Department asks states to stop the release of their unemployment claims until later, there will be very few jobless people, if any.

If the administration stops the public disclosure of recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program, there will be very few cases, if any, of waste, fraud and abuse.

President George W. Bush famously advocated for testing so we could know if our children is learning. Trump takes the opposite view: If sunlight is the best disinfectant, Trump’s administration is festering. The administration literally shut down the transparency website “open.gov” and another one called “open.whitehouse.gov.” As The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reported, it removed some 40,000 data sets from data.gov in its first few months.

The head-in-sand strategy has become endemic during the pandemic. Florida fired the manager of its virus-data website after she objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced. Georgia reorganized its data in ways that made things look better than they were. Arizona attempted to stop the running of models showing the virus spreading. And the Trump administration for several weeks blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from issuing its guidelines for reopening.

Trump has evidently decided that if enough Americans are willing to suspend disbelief, there are few problems, if any, that can’t be solved by averting the public gaze. The thinking seems to go:

If we stop government reports and websites from mentioning climate change, Earth’s temperature will increase by few degrees, if any.

If we stop releasing certain information about illegal immigrants held by police, few will be denied due process, if any.

If we stop releasing records of visitors to the White House, we will have few unsavory visitors, if any.

If we stop disclosing violations of the Animal Welfare Act, few animals will be harmed, if any.

If we stop publicizing fines for workplace-safety violations, few workers will be harmed, if any.

If we stop collecting data on pay discrimination by race and gender, few employers will discriminate, if any.

If we stop the disclosure of administration officials’ ethics waivers, we will have few conflicts of interest, if any.

The administration has likewise stopped collecting various data on energy efficiency, police weaponry, labor-law violations, lending discrimination and discrimination in school discipline.

When Trump’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico came under scrutiny, the administration attempted to remove data showing the number of people without electricity and drinking water. Now that the administration is trying to implement a peace agreement in Afghanistan, it has stopped releasing data about insurgent attacks.

During impeachment, the White House withheld documents and witnesses from Congress, then claimed Trump couldn’t be convicted on the basis of secondhand information. The administration is still fighting, at the Supreme Court, to stop Congress from getting the grand jury material from Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The potential seems boundless. If the Trump administration stops measuring the federal debt, might it shrink? If Trump ignores the North Korean nuclear threat, might it go away? If he can stop enough people from believing the media, might the truth itself disappear?

He has, so far, gotten away with refusing to release his tax returns and refusing to provide a full accounting of his health. If he can stop Congress from seeing documents or talking to his advisers, stop inspectors general from investigating his administration and stop whistleblowers from blowing their whistles, there will be very few things Trump can’t get away with, if any.

And then comes the biggest test: If his voter-suppression efforts stop enough people from voting, there will be very few elections, if any, that he could lose.

Sam Wineburg, an education professor at Stanford, and Nadav Ziv, his student, delved into the .org domain and explain here why it is deceptive.

Readers assume that .org implies a trustworthy site. It does not.

They write:

Dot-org symbolizes neither quality nor trustworthiness. It’s a marketing tool that relies on a widespread but false association with credibility….The dot-org domain is controlled by the Public Interest Registry, which was sold last month to Ethos Capital, a private equity firm. The three letters are marketed as “a powerful signal that your site serves a greater good — rather than just a bottom line.” It’s a claim that leads people to make errors about whom and what to trust.

Unlike dot-gov or dot-edu, which are closed to the general public, dot-org is an “open” domain. Anyone can register a dot-org without passing a character test. Even commercial sites can be dot-orgs. Craigslist — among the world’s largest ad sites — is craigslist.org. There are over 10 million dot-orgs, each of which pays roughly $10 per year to register. All you have to do to get one is fill out an online form and provide payment.

Registration fees generated $92 million in revenue for the Public Interest Registry in 2018 alone. In theory these revenues could grow much larger soon — in June, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the supervisory body that regulates the internet’s domain name system, agreed to lift price caps on dot-orgs. Still, Andy Shea, a spokesperson for the Public Interest Registry, says it plans to keep the pricing for dot-orgs low, with increases of no more than 10 percent on average a year.

In the Public Interest Registry’s latest marketing blitz, they unveiled a logo painted in “deep royal blue,” a shade they say evokes “feelings of trust, security and reliability.” They tell new customers to expect an increase in “donations, and trust for donors” when they become part of the “domain of trust.”

Noteworthy nonprofits, civic organizations and religious groups have embraced the domain — and so have a host of bad actors. All reaped the benefits of dot-org’s association with credibility.

Educational institutions unwittingly shape misperceptions around dot-orgs. Many colleges and universities, including Harvard and Northwestern, steer students in the wrong direction. They equate dot-orgs with nonprofit groups and issue no warning of the dangers lurking beneath the domain’s positive aura.

Dot-org is the favored designation of “astroturf” sites, groups that masquerade as grass roots efforts but are backed by corporate and political interests. One of these is the Employment Policies Institute, which claims to sponsor “nonpartisan research.” It was actually founded and run by the head of a public relations firm that represents the restaurant industry. Another dot-org, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, says it addresses major social problems through “broad-based grass roots outreach.” In reality, it was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers and many of its “grass roots” activists are paid.

There’s an even bigger risk to equating dot-org sites with do-gooders. Dozens of neo-Nazi, anti-L.G.B.T., anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant groups bear the dot-org seal. A random sample of a hundred organizations designated as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 49 percent carry the dot-org domain.

Reader, beware!

Forget about the fact that we are in the dst of a global pandemic. Forget about the fact that Trump refuses to wear a protective face mask. Forget about the national and international protests against racism and police brutality.

What are Senate Republicans investigating?

Wait for this: Lindsay Graham wants to know who in the FBI and CIA started the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, because Trump said it was a hoax. Senator Graham is Trump’s Lapdog, and whatever Trump says must be true.

What about her emails?

Dana Milbank has the story about the Senate Republicans’ farce.

American justice is in crisis: Civil rights demonstrators fill the streets, most Americans say law enforcement is discriminatory, and, in front of the White House, the attorney general orders federal police to trample the constitutional rights of peaceful demonstrators.

This would be a good time for the august members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect the Constitution they swore to uphold.

Instead, committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) convened his panel this week to launch yet another investigation into the Obama administration.

Who cares about the virus, economic collapse and unrest? President Trump has said he wants Graham to investigate the investigation into Russian election interference, and Graham complied. With party-line votes, he circumvented decades-old rules to give himself unilateral power to issue subpoenas to Trump’s favorite villains: John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Nellie and Bruce Ohr, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, John Podesta, Susan Rice and more.

Graham made perfectly clear his motive: vengeance. “Comey and McCabe and that whole crowd — their day is coming,” he vowed at the hearing Thursday. He declared Robert Mueller “off script” and he proposed alternatives for Russia-probe investigators: Either people “need to be fired, they need to be disciplined,” or “they are good candidates to go to jail.”
“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” he decreed. In fact, getting to the bottom of the FBI’s actions four years ago is what Graham called his “promise [to] the American people.”

That’s his promise?

That very day, markets plunged 6 percent after the Federal Reserve said millions have lost jobs permanently. While the pandemic resurges and racial unrest roils the country, Trump speaks up for Confederate symbolism and floats bizarre conspiracy theories. The defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disavow the White House’s crackdown on the First Amendment.

But by all means, let’s talk about Hillary’s emails.

“The committee has never received any emails from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign even though we repeatedly asked for them,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) complained at Thursday’s session. He then traveled memory lane, from Fusion GPS to the Steele dossier, to alleged “Russian collusion” by the Clinton campaign. “What did Hillary Clinton know about the dossier and when did she know it?” Grassley demanded.

Let’s do the time warp again.

Never mind that the Justice Department’s inspector general has already issued a 478-page report on the matter. Never mind that the Senate passed a bipartisan bill adding more safeguards to future investigations, but Trump has blocked it. Never mind that Attorney General William Barr assigned a friendly prosecutor for an election-season investigation of the investigators.

Graham is so singularly focused on delivering for Trump that he blocked Democrats from adding to the subpoena list past or current Trump advisers Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone and anybody else whose testimony might shift the focus from Obama. Republicans even shot down a request for the unredacted Mueller report.

Senate Democrats want to know whether Attorney General Bill Barr ordered peaceful protesters to be teargassed. No way, say the Republicans. Let’s talk about Obama and her emails.

These spineless sycophants deserve to go down to defeat in November.

A reader posted this article, which was published a year ago, and wondered whether Erik Prince and his right wing militia may have infiltrated peaceful demonstrations in order to create violence and discredit them. I have no idea. If the FBI had not been captured and controlled by Trump, it would have kept a close watch but its safe to assume it is not surveilling Betsy DeVos’ brother and his clandestine activities.

WASHINGTON — Erik Prince, the security contractor with close ties to the Trump administration, has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda, according to interviews and documents.

One of the former spies, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, helped run a 2017 operation to copy files and record conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation. Mr. Seddon directed an undercover operative to secretly tape the union’s local leaders and try to gather information that could be made public to damage the organization, documents show.

Using a different alias the next year, the same undercover operative infiltrated the congressional campaign of Abigail Spanberger, then a former C.I.A. officer who went on to win an important House seat in Virginia as a Democrat. The campaign discovered the operative and fired her.

Both operations were run by Project Veritas, a conservative group that has gained attention using hidden cameras and microphones for sting operations on news organizations, Democratic politicians and liberal advocacy groups. Mr. Seddon’s role in the teachers’ union operation — detailed in internal Project Veritas emails that have emerged from the discovery process of a court battle between the group and the union — has not previously been reported, nor has Mr. Prince’s role in recruiting Mr. Seddon for the group’s activities.

Both Project Veritas and Mr. Prince have ties to President Trump’s aides and family. Whether any Trump administration officials or advisers to the president were involved in the operations, even tacitly, is unclear. But the effort is a glimpse of a vigorous private campaign to try to undermine political groups or individuals perceived to be in opposition to Mr. Trump’s agenda.

Mr. Prince, the former head of Blackwater Worldwide and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has at times served as an informal adviser to Trump administration officials. He worked with the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn during the presidential transition. In 2017, he met with White House and Pentagon officials to pitch a plan to privatize the Afghan war using contractors in lieu of American troops. Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, rejected the idea.

Mr. Prince appears to have become interested in using former spies to train Project Veritas operatives in espionage tactics sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign. Reaching out to several intelligence veterans — and occasionally using Mr. Seddon to make the pitch — Mr. Prince said he wanted the Project Veritas employees to learn skills like how to recruit sources and how to conduct clandestine recordings, among other surveillance techniques.

James O’Keefe, the head of Project Veritas, declined to answer detailed questions about Mr. Prince, Mr. Seddon and other topics, but he called his group a “proud independent news organization” that is involved in dozens of investigations. He said that numerous sources were coming to the group “providing confidential documents, insights into internal processes and wearing hidden cameras to expose corruption and misconduct.”

“No one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince declined to comment. Emails sent to Mr. Seddon went unanswered.

Mr. Prince is under investigation by the Justice Department over whether he lied to a congressional committee examining Russian interference in the 2016 election, and for possible violations of American export laws. Last year, the House Intelligence Committee made a criminal referral to the Justice Department about Mr. Prince, saying he lied about the circumstances of his meeting with a Russian banker in the Seychelles in January 2017.

Once a small operation running on a shoestring budget, Project Veritas in recent years has had a surge in donations from both private donors and conservative foundations. According to its latest publicly available tax filing, Project Veritas received $8.6 million in contributions and grants in 2018. Mr. O’Keefe earned about $387,000.

Last year, the group received a $1 million contribution made through the law firm Alston & Bird, a financial document obtained by The New York Times showed. A spokesman for the firm said that Alston & Bird “has never contributed to Project Veritas on its own behalf, nor is it a client of ours.” The spokesman declined to say on whose behalf the contribution was made.

The financial document also listed the names of others who gave much smaller amounts to Project Veritas last year. Several of them confirmed their donations.

The group has also become intertwined with the political activities of Mr. Trump and his family. The Trump Foundation gave $20,000 to Project Veritas in 2015, the year that Mr. Trump began his bid for the presidency. The next year, during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump claimed without substantiation that videos released by Mr. O’Keefe showed that Mrs. Clinton and President Barack Obama had paid people to incite violence at rallies for Mr. Trump.

In a book published in 2018, Mr. O’Keefe wrote that Mr. Trump years earlier had encouraged him to infiltrate Columbia University and obtain Mr. Obama’s records.

Last month, Project Veritas made public secretly recorded video of a longtime ABC News correspondent who was critical of the network’s political coverage and its emphasis on business considerations over journalism. Many conservatives have gleefully pounced on Project Veritas’s disclosures, including one particularly influential voice: Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son.

The website for Mr. O’Keefe’s coming wedding listed Donald Trump Jr. as an invited guest.

Mr. Prince invited Project Veritas operatives — including Mr. O’Keefe — to his family’s Wyoming ranch for training in 2017, The Intercept reported last year. Mr. O’Keefe and others shared social media photos of taking target practice with guns at the ranch, including one post from Mr. O’Keefe saying that with the training, Project Veritas will be “the next great intelligence agency.” Mr. Prince had hired a former MI6 officer to help train the Project Veritas operatives, The Intercept wrote, but it did not identify the officer.

Mr. Seddon regularly updated Mr. O’Keefe about the operation against the Michigan teachers’ union, according to internal Project Veritas emails, where the language of the group’s leaders is marbled with spy jargon.

They used a code name — LibertyU — for their operative inside the organization, Marisa Jorge, who graduated from Liberty University in Virginia, one of the nation’s largest Christian colleges. Mr. Seddon wrote that Ms. Jorge “copied a great many documents from the file room,” and Mr. O’Keefe bragged that the group would be able to get “a ton more access agents inside the educational establishment.”

The emails refer to other operations, including weekly case updates, along with training activities that involved “operational targeting.” Project Veritas redacted specifics about those operations from the messages.

In August 2017, Ms. Jorge wrote to Mr. Seddon that she had managed to record a local union leader talking about Ms. DeVos and other topics.

“Good stuff,” Mr. Seddon wrote back. “Did you receive the spare camera yet?”

As education secretary, Ms. DeVos has been a vocal critic of teachers’ unions, saying in 2018 that they have a “stranglehold” over politicians at the federal and state levels. She and Mr. Prince grew up in Michigan, where their father made a fortune in the auto parts business.

AFT Michigan sued Project Veritas in federal court, alleging trespassing, eavesdropping and other offenses. The teachers’ union is asking for more than $3 million in damages, accusing the group of being a “vigilante organization which claims to be dedicated to exposing corruption. It is, instead, an entity dedicated to a specific political agenda.”

Project Veritas has said its activities are legal and protected by the First Amendment, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in the fall.

Other Project Veritas employees on the emails include Joe Halderman, an award-winning former television producer who in 2010 pleaded guilty to trying to extort $2 million from the comedian David Letterman. Mr. Halderman was copied on several messages providing updates about the Michigan operation, and in one message, he gave instructions to Ms. Jorge. Project Veritas tax filings list Mr. Halderman as a “project manager.”

Two other employees, Gaz Thomas and Samuel Chamberlain, were also identified in emails and appeared to play important roles in the Michigan operation. Efforts to locate Mr. Thomas were unsuccessful. A man named Samuel Chamberlain who matched the description of the one employed by Mr. O’Keefe denied he worked for Project Veritas. He did not respond to follow-up phone messages or an email.

Last year, Project Veritas submitted a proposed list of witnesses for the trial over the lawsuit. Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Thomas were on the list. Mr. Seddon was not.

Ms. Jorge, 25, did not respond to email addresses associated with her Liberty University account. In an archived version of her LinkedIn page, Ms. Jorge wrote she had a deep interest in the conservative movement and hoped one day to serve on the Supreme Court after attending law school.

In a YouTube video, Mr. O’Keefe described the lawsuit as “frivolous” and pointed to a portion of the deposition in which David Hecker, the president of AFT Michigan, said that one of the goals of the lawsuit was to “stop Project Veritas from doing the kind of work that it does.”

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement: “Let’s be clear who the wrongdoer is here: Project Veritas used a fake intern to lie her way into our Michigan office, to steal documents and to spy — and they got caught. We’re just trying to hold them accountable for this industrial espionage.”

In 2018, Ms. Jorge infiltrated the congressional campaign of Ms. Spanberger, posing as a campaign volunteer. At the time, Ms. Spanberger was running to unseat a sitting Republican congressman in a race both parties considered important for control of the House. Ms. Jorge was eventually exposed and kicked out of the campaign office.

It was unclear whether Mr. Seddon was involved in planning that operation.

Mr. Seddon was a longtime British intelligence officer who served around the world, including in Washington in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He is married to an American diplomat, Alice Seddon, who is serving in the American consulate in Lagos, Nigeria.

Mr. O’Keefe and his group have taken aim at targets over the years including Planned Parenthood, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Democracy Partners, a group that consults with liberal and progressive electoral causes. In 2016, a Project Veritas operative infiltrated Democracy Partners using a fake name and fabricated résumé and made secret recordings of the staff. The year after the sting, Democracy Partners sued Project Veritas, and its lawyers have since deposed Mr. O’Keefe.

In that deposition, Mr. O’Keefe defended the group’s undercover tactics, saying they were part of a long tradition of investigative journalism going back to muckraking reporters like Upton Sinclair. “I’m not ashamed of the methods that we use or the recordings that we use,” he said.

He was asked whether he had provided any of the group’s secret recordings of Democracy Partners to the Republican National Committee or any member of the Trump family. He said that he did not think so.

In 2010, Mr. O’ Keefe and three others pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor after admitting they entered a government building in New Orleans under false pretenses as part of a sting.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Evan Osnos wrote in the New Yorker about Trump’s phony strongman speech to the nation, followed up by a stroll to a historic church, where he brandished a Bible. Meanwhile, the military cleared a large path for him and his entourage by assaulting peaceful protesters and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at them. The age of fascism nears.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

As the afternoon wore on, and the shadows lengthened, a cascade of political theatrics was beginning to unfold. New clusters of police filtered into Lafayette Park; some wore olive-green uniforms and swat-team-style helmets and carried tear-gas launchers. The President was going to speak, and the stage management was getting underway. At 6:40, twenty minutes before a curfew was to go into effect, police with riot shields on their arms pressed toward the crowd, driving it back, as some people held their hands in the air. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as men and women scattered. Officers swung batons at reporters holding cameras and microphones.

In the Rose Garden, reporters could hear flash grenades detonating on the streets outside. Trump, looking tense and reading from a teleprompter, started by nodding to the cause of the unrest—he said that Americans were “rightly sickened and revolted” by Floyd’s death—but then he made a play for an image of strength. Declaring himself a “President of law and order,” he called the looting and violent demonstrations “acts of domestic terror.” He vowed to “dominate the streets” and promised an “overwhelming law-enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled.” He added, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

Intended or not, the juxtaposition with the scene outside was damning and ludicrous. CNN carried the President’s remarks on a split screen with images of police advancing through the crowds. A moment later, a chyron noted, “Trump says he’s an ‘ally of peaceful protesters’ as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protesters near WH.”

The production, it turned out, had only just begun. After the streets around Lafayette Park had been cleared and the tear gas had wafted away, Trump set out from the White House on foot. He was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and a coterie of attendants. They headed toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, the small yellow sanctuary known as the Church of Presidents, because it has welcomed the nation’s leaders since the days of James Madison. The night before, St. John’s had been vandalized with graffiti, and a fire had burned the basement. And yet, throughout Monday afternoon, members of the clergy had been out front, offering water and aid to protesters.

Trump stalked across the park, weaving past the monuments, with his security detail skittering around him. When he reached the sanctuary, he did not go inside. Instead, he turned toward the camera, and members of his entourage assembled into a tableau so bizarre that it took a moment to understand what was unfolding. He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC. He did not offer a prayer or read from scripture. On either side of him, his aides fidgeted awkwardly; there was the droopy, basset-hound visage of his enabling Attorney General, William Barr; his unrelenting cheerleader Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, who grinned madly. Apart from Ivanka Trump, none wore masks.

When at last it was over and the President’s expedition had returned to the White House, the church rebelled. In a seething call with CNN, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, said that she was “outraged” by Trump’s use of St. John’s as a prop. “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing tonight,” she said. “What on earth did we just witness?” Driving away a peaceful crowd with tear gas and weapons in order to stage a photo op was an “abuse of sacred symbols,” she said. A visiting pastor was tear-gassed in the charade. “The President just used a Bible . . . and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for.”

Even now, after all that the country has endured in the past three and a half years, there are moments when it can feel as if we are wandering through a farce so bleak and implausible that it tests the mind. In the days ahead, the country will be left to sift the President’s offenses from his fantasies: Will the military actually open fire on its people? Will some state governors act on Trump’s ravings about “dominating” the streets? Will the virus that has, briefly, been eclipsed in the headlines by the protests come roaring back? All of these questions remain unaddressed by an Administration that lacks the knowledge or the sophistication to contend with them.

For now, as his people pleaded for leadership, a President with no personal understanding of strength or spirit offered a crude simulation of them. He assembled a pageant of symbols that he knows have power over others—the Bible, the gun, and the shield. And he tossed them together in a cruel jumble of nonsense.