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No matter how often they are disappointed, Republicans perennially repose their political hope in baroque scandals and conspiracies. The further to the right they lean, the more fascinated they are by the most absurd and lurid narratives — a tendency that spawned the full-blown destructive cult known as QAnon, which blends authoritarian politics with gory fantasies of pedophilia and cannibalism among the elite, usually topped with a smudge of antisemitism.
Not every self-styled "conservative" shares the perverse imagination of QAnon cultists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and more than a few may have noticed just how many child pornographers and sex offenders have turned up among QAnon's top influencers.
But as America approaches another presidential election, we must expect top Republicans to declare ever more noisily that the scandal of the century has engulfed President Joe Biden, who is a Democrat and therefore guilty before any charges are specified, let alone proved. The project of smearing Biden began during the last election, in a still murky operation involving a laptop computer owned by his surviving son Hunter. Honest news outlets have openly questioned whether anything on that machine can be taken at face value, after it has passed through the hands of almost-disbarred Rudy Giuliani, grifter Steve Bannon, fraudster Guo Wengui and other discredited figures.
So, while far-right outlets still market "salacious" images from the Hunter Biden laptop, Congressional Republicans are out there pushing other supposedly incriminating themes and memes.
The latest is a document in the possession of the FBI, which is said to reveal a "tip" from a foreign figure about alleged influence peddling by Joe Biden back when he was vice president. Both Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who chairs the House Oversight Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose specific role is obscure, have threatened to find FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt for withholding this document, although both now admit that they have seen it already.
Asked by reporters what the FBI document shows, Comer and Grassley have refused to divulge its allegedly explosive contents. Then Grassley exposed the hollowness of their "investigation" during a Fox News interview on June 1, when he said, "We are not interested in whether the allegations against Vice President Biden (sic) are accurate or not." He and Comer were only concerned, the Iowan declared, to make sure the FBI "is doing its job."
Evidently the FBI finished that particular job some time ago, when former President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr still controlled the Justice Department. According to CNN, Barr distrusted the document's validity and its origins among Giuliani's sources in Ukraine (who are notorious for providing voluminous amounts of fabricated information). And neither the FBI nor prosecutors could find any corroboration of its claims about Biden.
In short, the new improved scandal is going down the same soiled chute as so many others that have targeted Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and nearly every Democrat who has run for president since 1980.
For instance, Americans recently learned that when Trump left the White House, the federal investigation of the Clinton Foundation finally ended, with no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing. Not only did the nonprofit that former President Bill Clinton founded more than two decades ago save and improve millions of people's lives across the world, but it has also achieved those objectives with transparency and integrity. Yet Republicans spent millions of public dollars on endless investigations, aiming to degrade its reputation for partisan advantage.
The smear attacks on the foundation began with a 2015 book called "Clinton Cash," sponsored by Bannon, promoted by The New York Times, and cited by Trump to justify the FBI probe during his presidency. Its litany of false accusations damaged Hillary Clinton badly during her presidential campaign, just as they were concocted to do.
Proof has since emerged, ironically enough, that it was Bannon who profited from a fraudulent nonprofit, swindling rubes who wanted to "build the wall" on the Mexican border — and that it was Trump who operated a family foundation to evade taxes and glom large sums for his own benefit. Indicted for those financial crimes, Bannon accepted a pardon from Trump, who had already been forced by New York authorities to dissolve his own phony foundation. By then the political damage to the Clintons, and the nation, had been done.
When Grassley confessed that he doesn't care whether the accusations his party publicizes are true, he blundered into a profound truth. The Republican Party's leaders are no more interested in uncovering corruption than they are in reducing deficits or preventing child abuse. They care about power and its rewards, and nothing else.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
Yellowhammer Files: Inside Alabama's Crumbling, Inhumane Prison System
Lice so severe that even kerosene couldn’t kill them. Shoeless feet padding aimlessly. Gross malnourishment.
That’s how people described the Yellow Hammers, a semi-isolated colony of the ostracized and downtrodden in Illinois that developed during the Reconstruction Era.
The history of the Yellow Hammers is murky. As the legend goes, a Colonel Brodie of the Civil War — it doesn’t include a first name — came home to Alabama, the Yellowhammer State, and relocated to Wilmington, Illinois where he purchased several acres of wooded land and invited anyone from his home state to come live on it, creating essentially an encampment people called “Brodie’s Woods.” Those people who relocated to Wilmington from Alabama were impoverished, almost permanently, and made pariahs in the community as they huddled on Brodie’s land.
The pariahs’ poverty prevented those among them who were employed from purchasing their own equipment so they used company tools — when they were able to work — whose handles were painted yellow.
These stories, reported by a high school student, can’t be confirmed. First, the only nineteenth century colonel named Brodie was about 12 years old when the Civil War started. One William Brodie from Alabama fought in the Civil War but there’s no record of his being a colonel. A now defunct local Chicago newspaper, the Surburbanite Economist, reported in 1970 that an area of Wilmington, Illinois was known as Brodie’s Woods, but that’s one of very few verifiable mentions of the area.
The more likely story of the root of Yellowhammer is that a cavalry of soldiers from Huntsville went to Kentucky during the Civil War to aid Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s — history will call him both a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and an innovative warrior — Company A of the Confederate Army. They wore new sharp gray uniforms adorned with brilliant yellow trim. A Confederate soldier in tatters said they looked like the bird the yellowhammer, a type of woodpecker, which was made Alabama’s state bird in 1927. The Yellowhammers ended up becoming valuable team members; they supported several of Gen. Forrest’s victories, one of which frustrated Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.
That the history of the Yellow Hammers is so hard to pin down says quite a bit about the state today; tracing what really happens proves difficult. Even though Alabama media tries to cover events inside the prisons, the state of news in 2023 dictates that coverage isn’t as complete as anyone would like.
Just as the history of the Yellowhammers is unclear, the view into Alabama’s prisons is muddied by the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and its commitment to opacity. The officials who run that system do not like looksies. Early this year, ADOC stopped releasing the number of in-custody deaths on a monthly basis, ostensibly because there were so many that they either couldn’t keep up or didn’t want to be embarrassed by their inability to protect the state's wards.
Nevertheless, the reports of carnage that keep dripping out — two men were murdered on May 15, 2023, an additional pair added to a list of over 60 since January 1, 2023 — have contributed to a narrative that men and women in Alabama prison are incorrigible, even feral, when all they’re doing is adapting to the environment that the state has established for them.
The truth is that a good number of them are quite high-minded. When they staged a strike last fall, they didn’t even protest the squalid conditions they live in, which happen to be deplorable. Instead they sought policy reform on sentencing and parole which will ultimately benefit people beyond them.
Their strike demands were imminently reasonable, despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s disagreement. But the demands were really only part of the story of the strike. My sources tell me that — under the guidance of some dedicated leaders who I won’t name now — rival gangs and sworn enemies convened in good faith to hammer out what they needed to ask for. In that respect, they’re behaving better than many of us on the outside if they can display that type of comity. They came together despite the fact that they worry every day — along with family and friends — that they’ll be killed or starved. They’re fighting back non-violently. Bravely.
And even effectively. Because of the strike demands, lawmakers introduced two bills poised to pass the Alabama legislature. First is a bill that would mandate the right to attend one’s own parole hearings by video (they can’t attend these crucial proceedings now) and second is a bill that would allow people serving life sentences to petition to have their punishment reduced. Most prison work stoppages achieve nothing. This group of men and women convinced people to listen and act. Do not count these people out.
That doesn’t mean the wind is under their yellowhammer wings. Gov. Ivey just signed a bill into law that reforms the so-called “good time” statute by making it harder to earn time off one’s sentence because ADOC failed to take the good time of someone who attempted escape. Their resilience doesn’t mean they’re safe now or being treated justly. It’s just the opposite.
Alabama’s prison population reflects a lot of their yellowhammer history. Like woodpeckers, they’re tenacious fighters. Much like the Yellowhammer Cavalry in 1862, they're nimble, capable of putting up a few wins, but then ultimately forgotten.
And they aren't living much differently than Brodie’s Yellow Hammers. Some aren’t supplied shoes and therefore aren’t allowed in the chow hall. As I have reported before, the ADOC intentionally starves them when they assert their rights. They wander, often squatting in dorms where they’re not assigned because they want to avoid being raped. The violence doesn’t cease; I hear reports of outright beatings that all too often result in lost “good time” but no medical treatment. And they huddle, displaced and ostracized, in one of Alabama’s 15 state-sanctioned colonies of fear and panic.
But unlike the legend of Brodie’s Woods, these tales are true and verifiable. There’s no fiction here. It’s traceable. It tracks, all too well.
That’s why today The National Memo announces an unflinching series that goes inside Alabama’s criminal legal crisis: the Yellowhammer Files. We’re going to trace and track data and stories until something changes. Check these files as they are published and you will be stunned by what you read.
Chandra Bozelko served more than six years in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent. Her work has earned several professional awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, The National Federation of Press Women and more.Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.
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