Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sunday Reading

Exploding Dummies — Charles P. Pierce on the newest gift from Congressional Republicans.

At the end of January, a new Republican member of the House of Representatives named Cory Mills wanted to share his joy at being named to both the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees with all of his new colleagues at work. What better way to do that, Mills figured, than to give them all...a dummy hand grenade. From Business Insider:

Mills on January 20 sent a letter welcoming his colleagues “to a mission-oriented 118th Congress,” along with a dummy grenade. Mills said he was “eager to get to work for the American people” and was honored to serve on the committees. “In that spirit, it is my pleasure to give you a 40mm grenade, made for an MK19 grenade launcher,” Mills wrote. “These are manufactured in the Sunshine State and first developed in the Vietnam War.” The letter to his colleagues assured them in a postscript that “these Florida manufactured 40mm grenades are inert.”

Good of him to note that. (Henceforth, we will refer to these grenades as “Grassleys.”)

Welcome to the 118th Congress. It could have been much, much worse.

Mills is MAGA, through and through. He worked in the Department of Defense under the previous president*. Before that, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and once he came home, Mills got into the riot control business, manufacturing various warrior-cop munitions. In one of his campaign videos, Mills bragged about how good his business had become during the summer of 2020.

In a campaign video posted to Twitter, Mills introduces himself as a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, before explaining he then “came home” and “started a company making riot control munitions for law enforcement.” “You may know some of our work,” Mills says, smiling as the ad begins showing violent footage of tear gas being deployed at various protests nationwide. According to the campaign ad, the tear gas had been deployed against the following groups: “Hillary Clinton protesters” in Charlotte, North Carolina; “Left wing protesters” in Phoenix; “Antifa rioters” in Washington, DC; “Black Lives Matter protesters” in Denver, Colorado; and “radical left protesters” in Philadelphia. “And now the liberal media is crying about it,” Mills says after the series of videos. “I’m Cory Mills and I approve this message, because if the media wants to shed some real tears, I can help them out with that.”

For its part, Politico discovered that Mills’ firm, PACEM, not only sold tear gas to police departments in this country but also rubber bullets to authorities in Hong Kong, who used them on pro-democracy protestors.

PACEM Solutions is registered to work in Washington, D.C., as well as in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia and Kuwait, according to Mills’ former LinkedIn profile, which was recently taken down. It has also provided what it calls “support and advisory” services to authorities in Iraq, Ukraine, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kurdish region, Malaysia and other countries.

In short, Mills was an arms dealer for law enforcement around the world.

In a written response to questions from POLITICO, Mills said that PACEM was “proud” to sell tear gas to law enforcement agencies in 2020, citing looting and vandalism that followed some demonstrations. “Products like tear gas are sanctioned and utilized by the Department of Defense and state and federal health departments,” Mills said in his response. “They are used on a daily basis to train our military personnel and [law enforcement officers]. Each officer or military member, who utilizes these irritants, must experience these irritants prior to certification. I for one, am thankful that our officers have less lethal options available to ensure order and preserve lives. He said PACEM has stopped selling munitions to Hong Kong. “PACEM has never supplied the Chinese government,” Mills wrote. “ALS sold less-lethal munitions to the independent government of Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ process before PACEM acquired it. We have discontinued any and all sales to Hong Kong since China eradicated ‘one country, two systems.’”

Mills’ conscience has a gift for alibis, and those have proven quite lucrative. PACEM was successful enough that Mills was able to self-finance his campaign in Florida’s redrawn 7th Congressional District. He campaigned on the whole MAGA platform: election denial, anti-vaxx propaganda, performative outrage over critical race theory, and deriding the Biden administration’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “woke.” In November, Mills was elected with 58 percent of the vote. This gave him the opportunity to gift his new colleagues with his lovely welcoming gifts.

As I said, it could have been very, very much worse.

Let us return now to those thrilling days of yesteryear—specifically, the opening of the 104th Congress in the first week of January in the year 1995. For the first time since 1955, the Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. More specifically, under the leadership of their new speaker, one Newton Leroy Gingrich, the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952. (They even defeated the incumbent speaker of the House, Democrat Tom Foley—the first time that had happened since the middle of the Civil War.) Gingrich had nurtured a new, young breed of Republican, angry and recalcitrant. He schooled them in the political utility of sarcasm and invective. He turned them against the legislative ideals of cooperation to the point where some of them turned completely against the idea of actually governing.

This new attitude led to the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, in which President Bill Clinton completely outmaneuvered Gingrich, boosted his re-election chances in 1996, and began the process that ultimately led to Gingrich’s destruction as a viable national political leader. It is of considerable historical note that Gingrich’s strategy in 1995 was to hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to blackjack spending cuts out of Clinton. Gingrich undermined his own credibility by complaining that Clinton had stuck him in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. Those two failed power plays caused Gingrich to lean into the impeachment circus in 1998, which cost him most of his majority in 1998 and, eventually, his congressional seat, after his own personal peccadilloes became public knowledge and because his fellow Republicans got tired of being whipped into hopeless power plays that came to nothing. But Gingrich had changed the basic psychology of both conservatism and Republicanism. And the new members of Congress who’d followed him into the House in 1995 were the best evidence of that.

The GOP picked up 54 seats in the 1994 midterms, an astonishing sweep that brought into Congress a number of people who would dominate the Republican congressional caucuses for decades. These included future senators Sam Brownback, Saxby Chambliss, Roger Wicker, John Ensign, Tom Coburn, and Richard Burr. Current MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was another rookie that year. The class also featured top-flight nuts like J.D. Hayworth from Arizona, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, and Bob Barr of Georgia. Chenoweth was the darling of the militia crowd in and around the Pacific Northwest (she once actually cited “black helicopters” as the shock troops of the EPA). Hayworth advocated a solution to the immigration problem that was first posited in 1914 by…Henry Ford. They were quite a bunch. And they never truly went away, as Lindsey Graham’s continued presence at the top of the occasional news cycle would indicate.

The precedents set by the class of 1994 are not promising for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy. After all, the caucus didn’t truly rebel against Speaker Gingrich until after he’d lost on two shutdowns and an impeachment. The class of 2022 rebelled against Speaker McCarthy before he even became Speaker McCarthy. In fact, it came within a hairs’ breadth of rejecting the notion of Speaker McCarthy completely. Gingrich rode to the speakership on a nearly unprecedented wave election. McCarthy staggered into the speaker’s chair after a midterm performance so wretched that he needs the presence of serial prevaricator George Santos (if that is his real name) to cement his majority. And even for all the advantages he had over McCarthy, Gingrich destroyed himself by overreaching. McCarthy’s entire caucus is built on overreaching. Gingrich created his majority; McCarthy was created by his majority.

I hope he has a nice place in his office for his new dummy hand grenade. It symbolizes so much more than Rep. Cory Mills meant it to. The whole Republican caucus is a dummy explosion.

Doonesbury — Back to more important issues…


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