Posts Tagged ‘jane mayer’

In this week’s New Yorker

August 8, 2021

The most important story in the issue comes from Jane Mayer, The New Yorker‘s intrepid Washington reporter. As with her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Mayer collects all the receipts to tell a crucial story for right this minute: “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie.”

“Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote,” Mayer writes.

One of the movement’s leaders is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. It has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (alec)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions. Among those deep in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February, 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group tied to Leo, quietly rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project, which subsequently filed briefs at the Supreme Court, and in numerous states, opposing mail-in ballots and other reforms that have made it easier for people to vote.

Another newcomer to the cause is the Election Integrity Project California. And a group called FreedomWorks, which once concentrated on opposing government regulation, is now demanding expanded government regulation of voters, with a project called the National Election Protection Initiative.

These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

It might seem improbable that a low-profile family foundation in Wisconsin has assumed a central role in current struggles over American democracy. But the modern conservative movement has depended on leveraging the fortunes of wealthy reactionaries. In 1903, Lynde Bradley, a high-school dropout in Milwaukee, founded what would become the Allen-Bradley company. He was soon joined by his brother Harry, and they got rich by selling electronic instruments such as rheostats. Harry, a John Birch Society founding member, started a small family foundation that initially devoted much of its giving to needy employees and to civic causes in Milwaukee. In 1985, after the brothers’ death, their heirs sold the company to the defense contractor Rockwell International, for $1.65 billion, generating an enormous windfall for the foundation. The Bradley Foundation remains small in comparison with such liberal behemoths as the Ford Foundation, but it has become singularly preoccupied with wielding national political influence.

Mayer’s article builds a case for these people as the real “enemies of the people.” She focuses at length on Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer; J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky, “who are members of what [has been] termed the Voter Fraud Brain Trust; John Eastman, co-director of The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group funded by the Bradley Foundation; and Tyler Bowyer, CEO of Turning Point, “which has received small grants from the Bradley Foundation, is headquartered in Arizona, and it has played a significant role in the radicalization of the state, in part by amplifying fear and anger about voter fraud.”

Every accusation of substantial voter fraud has been solidly debunked.

“What explains, then, the hardening conviction among Republicans that the 2020 race was stolen?” Mayer asks.

“Michael Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which invested deeply in expanding Democratic turnout in 2020, suggests that the two parties now have irreconcilable beliefs about whose votes are legitimate. “What blue-state people don’t understand about why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn’t actually require proof of fraud. “What animates it is the belief that Biden won because votes were cast by some people in this country who others think are not ‘real’ Americans.” This anti-democratic belief has been bolstered by a constellation of established institutions on the right: “white evangelical churches, legislators, media companies, nonprofits, and even now paramilitary groups.” Podhorzer noted, “Trump won white America by eight points. He won non-urban areas by over twenty points. He is the democratically elected President of white America. It’s almost like he represents a nation within a nation.”

Mayer explains a somewhat arcane point of constitutional law that clearly drives this movement for voter suppression: “for conservative state legislators to reëngineer the way the Electoral College has worked for more than a hundred years, in essence by invoking the Independent Legislature Doctrine. The Constitution gives states the authority to choose their Presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late nineteenth century, states have delegated that authority to the popular vote. But, arguably, the Constitution permits state legislatures to take this authority back. Legislators could argue that an election had been compromised by irregularities or fraud, forcing them to intervene.”

I hope my summary encourages you to read the whole story or at the very least listen to Jane Mayer interviewed about the story by Terry Gross for “Fresh Air.”

Some other excellent stuff in the magazine this week:

  • it feels a little weird to refer to David Sedaris’s writing as “sweet,” but “Happy-Go-Lucky,” his remembrance of the last chapter in the life of his father, who died recently, is remarkably affectionate and, we could say, forgiving;
  • “Manufacturing Nature,” Eric Klinenberg’s article about Kate Orff, a landscape architect who has made a tremendous impact on New York’s aquatic ecosystem, including using oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges; and
  • “On an Epic Scale,” a profile of epochal painter Kerry James Marshall (see his “Past Times,” below) by the great chronicler of artists, Calvin Tomkins.

In this week’s New Yorker

March 26, 2017

The excellent reporting routinely published in the New Yorker has the simultaneously invigorating and depressing impact of adding to my pantheon of political villains. Latest addition: Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, among the most profitable hedge funds in the country, and his daughter Rebekah. Apparently, we have these people and their wealth to thank for putting the current president and two of his key advisors — Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway — in the positions of power they currently occupy.

Jane Mayer, one of the New Yorker’s best veteran reporters, last year published Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She continues her mission of exposing the hidden influence of wealthy right-wing political ideologues with “Trump’s Money Man,” her long article on Mercer, whom I — and I suspect you — have never heard of. With a doggedness similar to that with which Rachel Maddow is exposing the Trump administration’s financial ties to Putin and his Russian cronies, Mayer connects the dots between Patrick Caddell, the former Democratic pollster, Citizens United, Breitbart News, the Council for National Policy, the Koch Brothers, the Club for Growth, Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, and Mercer (without whom, one source opines, “Trump wouldn’t be President”).

It’s a long wonky read that most people won’t finish, so I’ll cull several passages that induced mounting horror in me as I made my way through the piece.

That tweet calling the news media “the enemy of the American people”? Mayer writes: “The President is known for tweeting impulsively, but in this case his words weren’t spontaneous: they clearly echoed the thinking of Caddell, Bannon, and Mercer. In 2012, Caddell gave a speech at a conference sponsored by Accuracy in Media, a conservative watchdog group, in which he called the media ‘the enemy of the American people.’ That declaration was promoted by Breitbart News, a platform for the pro-Trump alt-right, of which Bannon was the executive chairman, before joining the Trump Administration. One of the main stakeholders in Breitbart News is Mercer.”

Mayer relies heavily on two sources currently or formerly employed by Renaissance Technologies,  Nick Patterson and David Magerman. Patterson, who recruited Mercer from IBM,

doesn’t share Mercer’s libertarian views, or what he regards as his susceptibility to conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton. During Bill Clinton’s Presidency, Patterson recalled, Mercer insisted at a staff luncheon that Clinton had participated in a secret drug-running scheme with the C.I.A. The plot supposedly operated out of an airport in Mena, Arkansas. “Bob told me he believed that the Clintons were involved in murders connected to it,” Patterson said. Two other sources told me that, in recent years, they had heard Mercer claim that the Clintons have had opponents murdered.

Mercer strongly supported Jeff Sessions as Trump’s candidate for Attorney General and has argued that the Civil Rights Act was a major mistake. He subsidizes the research of climate-change skeptic Arthur Robinson’s Oregon Institute of Science and medicine. He is a gun enthusiast with his own private pistol range, and he’s part owner of a company that claims to have the largest private cache of machine guns in the US.

In the 2016 campaign, Mercer gave $22.5 million in disclosed donations to Republican candidates and to political-cation committees, Mayer reports.

Adopting the strategy of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians, Mercer enlarged his impact exponentially by combining short-term campaign spending with long-term ideological investments. He poured millions of dollars into Breitbart News, and—in what David Magerman has called “an extreme example of modern entrepreneurial philanthropy”—made donations to dozens of politically tinged organizations.

Mayer describes Breitbart News, in which Mercer has invested $10 million, thusly: “The Web site freely mixes right-wing political commentary with juvenile rants and racist innuendo; under Bannon’s direction, the editors introduced a rubric called Black Crime.” Under the supervision of Rebekah Mercer, the family’s private foundation gave millions of dollars to interconnected nonprofit groups, several of which played crucial roles in propagating attacks on Hillary Clinton, $24.5 million in 2015 alone.

Last summer  when Paul Manfort was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign manager, writes Mayer,

Rebekah Mercer successfully pushed for a staff shakeup that led to the promotions of three people funded by the family: Bannon became the campaign’s C.E.O., Conway its manager, and [David] Bossie [leader of Citizens United] its deputy manager. William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and an adamant Trump opponent, warned, “It’s the merger of the Trump campaign with the kooky right.”

Are you depressed/infuriated yet? Mayer ends the piece quoting an essay David Magerman wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying Mercer “has surrounded our President with his people, and his people have an outsized influence over the running of our country, simply because Robert Mercer paid for their seats.” He writes, “Everyone has a right to express their views.” But, he adds, “when the government becomes more like a corporation, with the richest 0.001% buying shares and demanding board seats, then we cease to be a representative democracy.” Instead, he warns, “we become an oligarchy.”

 

In this week’s New Yorker

May 25, 2013

new yorker may 27
Some fascinating stuff in the issue, including Jane Mayer’s detailed account of how right-wing conservative zillionaire David Koch has poisoned the independence of public television with his tainted philanthropy, Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of New York City Judge Shira Scheindlin and what part she’s playing in opposing the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy, and George Packer (Silicon Valley native) on how newly rich tech-world giants are dipping their toes into politics.

penicillinBut nothing is more riveting than Tad Friend’s “Crowded House,” which reports one insane individual’s amazing ability to scam almost 100 different people into simultaneously subletting his apartment illegally in Manhattan.

martini

In this week’s New Yorker

October 26, 2012

 

The Politics issue of the New Yorker this week has some very strong good stuff: the long thoughtful endorsement of Obama for re-election; Jane Mayer’s fantastic story about Hans von Spakovsky, the reprehensible villain who is single-handedly responsible for the Republican push for voter-ID laws to disenfranchise populations who don’t favor Republican candidates; and the mesmerizing saga written by George Packer of Jeff Connaughton, someone who has toiled behind the scenes in politics as a speechwriter, lobbyist, and assistant for decades. But the single best story is Dexter Filkins’ “Atonement,” in which the New York Times reporter (pictured below) witnesses the highly emotional meeting in California between severely traumatized Iraq veteran Lu Lobello and the surviving family of three civilians Lobello killed on April 8, 2003, when U.S. forces moved into Baghdad. I wept nonstop reading the story.

In this week’s New Yorker

June 19, 2012


Top stories this week for me start with Ezra Klein’s “Unpopular Mandate,” which traces all the ways that former Republican legislative policies have gotten demonized and trashed as soon as bipartisan support for them showed up, thereby making it entirely likely that Obama’s Affordable Health Care legislation will be reversed by the Supreme Court. Pretty sickening.

I have almost no interest in television or Hollywood movies, yet I often find myself reading every word of New Yorker profiles, such as Tad Friend’s long story about Ben Stiller (or last week’s long report on Seth McFarlane, creator of Family Guy). It shocks me that Stiller is seen as the world’s biggest comedic movie stars simply because he has acted in three billion-dollar “franchises” (movies and their sequels). Madagascar? Night at the Museum? Meet the Parents? This is what sells? Okay….

Among the reviews, James Wood writes about an intriguing young Canadian writer named Sheila Heti and Jill Lepore digests some choice chaotic biographical details David Maraniss unearthed in his book on Barack Obama.  Sasha Frere-Jones makes new albums by Norah Jones and Fiona Apple sound mouth-watering. Plus, you know, Gayle Kabaker’s sweet cover illustration (see above).

Before the moment passes, I want to tag as recommended reading the always-scrupulous Jane Mayer’s terrific “Letter from Tupelo” about Bryan Fischer, a raving lunatic radio preacher from Mississippi who represents the kind of crackpots that Mitt Romney Republicans cater to these days. Fischer was the one whose homophobic railings about Romney hiring an openly gay press secretary, driven by insane 1950s stereotypes about homosexual blackmail, hounded the guy out of his job. One more creep to keep an eye on this electoral season. It will be full-time work to keep calling a creep a creep as the money of the Koch Brothers continues to steamroll the American public with lies and propaganda.

%d bloggers like this: