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CONVICTIONS: Criminal plea entered by Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill author

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The author of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill just pled guilty to a host of serious federal crimes.

Disgraced former Florida state Rep. Joe Harding (R-Ocala) pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements in a scheme on Tuesday for scamming more than $150,000 in Covid-19 relief funds.

Harding is the author of the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill . He falsified documents when applying for federally funded loans wrote the Department of Justice in a press release:

“Court documents reflect Harding devised a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and obtained coronavirus-related small business loans by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and while executing such scheme, caused wire communications to be transmitted in interstate commerce,”

Harding secured the ill-gotten gains after first applying for relief via an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL).

The ex-GOP representative reportedly used the money to pay off a credit card and deposited more than $10,000 each into a joint and a third-party bank account.

The hard-line conservative initially pled not guilty.

Nonetheless, the first-term Republican legislator from Ocala resigned from his political post in December. The Tampa Bay Times reports that this plea deal admits the government’s case is overwhelming:

“In pleading guilty, defendant acknowledges that were this case to go to trial, the government would present evidence to support the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In the 2020 application, former Rep. Harding lied when he said his company Vak Shak, Inc., had revenue of over $420,000 and four employees.

Records show there was no activity for the reported business since 2019 – a fact that the former politician allegedly was well aware of when making the claims.

Harding has been a controversial figure, to say the least.

In addition to authoring the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, seen as discriminatory by LGBTQ advocates. The Marion County Republican also has been vocal about banning sex education and discussions about gender identity in lower grade levels.

And he is a favorite of Ron DeSantis’ favorite far-right school activist group.

Today, the former GOP state representative is facing a combined 35 years in prison for his actions. A single count of wire fraud itself carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

This Republican’s sentencing is scheduled for July 25, 2023.

Original reporting by News Service of Florida in The Tampa Bay Times.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

The post CONVICTIONS: Criminal plea entered by Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill author appeared first on Occupy Democrats.

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The Superlative Bias

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There comes a time when it’s hard to know the difference between a banana republic and the greatest system of government devised in human history. Sometimes it’s just a Thursday. defines a banana republic as “any exploitative government that functions poorly for its citizenry while disproportionately benefitting a corrupt elite group or individual.” Gee, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are any number of biases we have to sift through on a daily basis. The worst one is what I would lovingly call the superlative bias. In short, it is the concept that whatever event we are currently going through is the best or worst event of its type in history.

In some sense it makes perfect sense. Sensationalism sells and nothing kills the sensationalism like the admission that we have been through this before. Just this week we saw reporting that pointed to what most people would call treason during the Iran hostages scandal of the late 1970s and 1980. Americans back then would have been flummoxed to hear that news if it had immediately come out. Fortunately or unfortunately we did not hear about those events until long after they actually happened. If American voters had known Richard Nixon was conspiring with North Vietnam then maybe he doesn’t become president.

The job of the media is becoming increasingly more difficult as these stories become news instantaneously. We learned about Russian interference in the 2016 election almost virtually as it was happening. We learned about various Trump scandals almost immediately. We had all of the evidence we needed. Hell, it was all on tape. It has to be difficult when things are that simple. In a nation where conspiracy theories reign (and rain), it seems impossible to believe something so simple. We keep getting told that arrests and indictments are imminent. We saw that in 2017 and 2018 with the Russia scandal. We saw that with the first impeachment following Ukraine. We saw that with the second impeachment and January 6th. We have seen it since the bloviating moron left the White House.

Every time an arrest or indictment doesn’t happen it makes you doubt the story itself. The press is just crying wolf again. Maybe this is another “trumped” up charge. It’s really not that serious. Someone that is such an accomplished businessman would never do something so blatantly obvious like that. Except he did at every turn.

The current and former jackass in chief is even leaning into it. He is releasing his own rumors that he will be indicted. Why? It leans into the narrative. If he gets indicted for Stormy Daniels then it is proof in his mind that he is being persecuted. He did all this other stuff and it is a one night stand with a porn star that gets him? He must not have done any of those other things.

Political prosecutions are tricky business. If you overplay your hand then you guarantee the other side will do the same when they get the opportunity. There was talk from day one about impeaching Joe Biden. What’s the charge? They don’t know and couldn’t explain it if they did. They just know that it’s not fair that you busted our guy when he obviously broke every law in the book. Just rest assured that this latest scandal will be the worst of all. At least it will be until the next one.

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The current and former jackass in chief is even leaning into it. He is releasing his own rumors that he will be indicted. Why? It leans into the narrative. If he gets indicted for Stormy Daniels then it is proof in his mind that he is being persecuted. 
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AT LAST! Trump’s Manhattan grand jury to reconvene today

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It looks like “Indictment Day” may still be on the table after reports that the Manhattan grand jury deciding whether former President Donald Trump should be indicted for trying to cover up a tryst with adult film star Stormy Daniels will reconvene on Thursday.

Several sources close to the matter confirmed to reporters that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg told the jurors not to come in on Wednesday – raising questions, and sounding the alarm that the prosecutor had gotten cold feet.

Apparently, that’s not the case.

After taking over the investigation from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg was accused of not wanting to move forward with the investigation into Trump.

Bragg’s reluctance to prosecute didn’t sit well with top attorneys in the office who subsequently resigned in protest.

Stormy Daniels met with the District Attorney’s office last week – along with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen – in what seemed like a sealed deal on the much-anticipated indictment.

But when news spread that Wednesday’s meeting of the grand jury had been postponed, it was another disappointing moment for those eagerly awaiting justice to be served.

According to NBC News, Bragg’s team told the jury “they should be on standby for tomorrow.”

Despite Trump’s repeated denial of the affair and resulting payoff, the evidence against him is reportedly strong.

Cohen spent three years in prison on behalf of his former boss, lending credibility to his and Daniels’ statement.

It’s been widely reported that the former President’s ex-attorney acted as an intermediary between Trump and Stormy – something proven by receipts that Cohen still possesses.

The Daily Beast reported that the jury is likely to indict the MAGA-inciting ex-President, and is reportedly wrapping up.

Accused of violating campaign finance laws, Trump allegedly approved the six-figure payment to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.

Republican attorney Robert Costello attempted to disparage Michael Cohen when speaking to the grand jury unexpectedly on Monday.

But tomorrow’s a new day, and the fresh smell of indictments in the morning is still possible.

Original reporting by Matt Young and Victor Swezey at The Daily Beast

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

The post AT LAST! Trump’s Manhattan grand jury to reconvene today appeared first on Occupy Democrats.

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11 hours ago
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Neocon Iraq war supporter Bret Stephens has no regrets

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101st Airborne Division challenge coin given to me

As I slogged my way through the turgid prose of Bret Stephens’ New York Times column entitled “20 Years On, I Don’t Regret Supporting the Iraq War,” I waited for the mention of just one death caused by our invasion of Iraq.  Whose death didn’t matter to me – an American soldier, an Iraqi insurgent, an innocent civilian, an Iraqi child. I should have been able to predict from the column title that my wait would be in vain.  Not one reference to anyone wounded, severely or not.  No mention of American soldiers scarred for life by PTSD, or emotionally scarred Iraqi civilians, either.  American soldiers rotated through Iraq on one-year tours.  Iraqis have been there the whole time, through the American invasion, the insurgency, the sectarian warfare amongst Iraqis, and the rise and fall of ISIS, whose brutal war against practically everyone left Mosul in ruins before their reign of terror was through.

According to the authoritative Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, which has studied the tragic results of the Iraq war since its inception in 2003, “between 280,771 and 315,190 Iraqi civilians were killed by direct violence since the U.S. invasion. The violent deaths of Iraqi civilians have occurred through aerial bombing, shelling, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by bombing. Many civilians have also been injured.” 

I don’t know how the Watson Institute came up with those figures, but they are astounding.  No matter how the deaths occurred, were reported, or accounted for, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi human beings and more than 4,500 American soldiers died because we invaded Iraq 20 years ago.  Washington Post columnist Max Boot, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the war even before we invaded, wrote a 4,500 word article in Foreign Affairs a couple of weeks ago on the occasion of the war’s 20th anniversary.  He didn’t mention the number of deaths caused by the war, either, but did acknowledge that the war had “a high price in both blood and treasure,” apparently assuming that in the absence of dead bodies, the “blood” must have fallen from the sky.  But at least his article was called “What the Neocons Got Wrong” and amounted to a wordy mea culpa of sorts.

I’m not going to bore you with the fallacious reasoning and geo-political excuse-making in Stephens’ column…well, just this one.  Stephens lets the Bush administration off the hook for its grossly incorrect and cherry-picked intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction by telling us that at least the Bush Administration “sincerely believed” it.  Wow.  That’s going to make a lot of people feel much better about themselves after all these years, among them Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, who ran the Iraq Study Group in the Pentagon that got everything about Iraq massively wrong, from Saddam’s nonexistent connections to the 9/11 terrorists, to the pile of lies Colin Powell told during his big speech at the U.N. before the invasion.

The whole time I was wading through Stephens’ pile of steaming horseshit, I was thinking about a soldier who was in the company I was attached to as a journalist in Mosul back in 2003.  I met him when I was living in Nashville in 2008 through my then-wife, who worked with him at Gibson Guitars.  She had figured out that he had been in the company I spent a week with in Iraq, and from talking with him at work, she came to believe he was going to commit suicide.  Believing he needed an intervention, she asked him if he would talk to me.

He came to visit the house one afternoon, and we sat in my study and talked for several hours.  He was clearly suffering from PTSD from serving in Iraq from 2003 to 2004.  He had been carrying terrible guilt ever since the early days of the invasion when he was in a vehicle that shot up a house from which their convoy was taking fire.  He had manned the .50 caliber machine gun on the Humvee and fired at the building with other soldiers in his squad shooting their M-16’s.  When the firing stopped and they inspected the house, he found the body of a unarmed little boy who had been hiding in one of the rooms upstairs. He was convinced that he had killed the child. He told me he could see the bloody, torn-up body of the boy every night when he went to bed, in his dreams, when he woke up in the morning, and all day at work.  He couldn’t concentrate. He was in danger of losing his job.  His memories were ruining his marriage.

This young man from Tennessee was just 19 when he served in the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.  Now he was 24 or 25, and he couldn’t see an end to his nightmares, his daymares, any of it. And yes, he had thought of committing suicide.  He just couldn’t see a way out.

I knew in 2008 that suicide among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan was a real problem.  It has stayed that way.  The Veterans Administration estimated in 2022 that as many as 17 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars commit suicide every day.

There were more than 100 soldiers in his company in Mosul in 2003.  I had not run into him while I was with his company in the former Iraqi Social Security office building they had seized and were using as a base camp.  But I remembered the soldiers’ faces and their bravado that camouflaged the abject fear that at any moment, their building could come under fire from insurgents – it had happened a dozen times before I got there – or they could be killed by an IED while they were walking on a patrol through the narrow streets of the old city where their base was located.  All wars are terrible, and that war, because of the uncertainty and terror of the soldiers’ lives, was terrible in its own way.

We talked about some of the experiences he had during his time over there, and I told a story about meeting with the commander of the brigade his company was a part of.  I told the brigade commander about the lousy food his company was receiving, including rotten fruit and one particular meal that had given half the company dysentery.  The colonel had promised to see to it that the situation with the food was corrected.  “I always wondered why the food got better right after Thanksgiving,” the young veteran said.  “It was you!”

We laughed.  I don’t remember what else I said to him that day.  I’m sure I told him suicide wasn’t an answer, that kind of thing.  I’m sure I told him how unfair his suicide would be to his wife.  They had been married just over a year.  What would she do when he was gone?  He was nodding, saying, “Yeah, I know, sir.  I know,” and looking down at his shoes.  Then suddenly he looked up and told me that I was the first person he had talked to about his experiences in Iraq, especially about the killing of the boy early in the war.  He said it was good to talk to somebody who had been there and understood.  I told him I didn’t really understand; I was a reporter; I didn’t carry an M-16; I wasn’t involved in the fighting.  “But you were a soldier once,” he said. 

Then he got up and told me he wanted to get something from his car.  When he returned, he was carrying a little olive drab canvas sack.  He took out a Purple Heart he had gotten for being wounded, his Iraq war service medal, a 101st shoulder patch, and a challenge coin that proved he had served in the 101st.  He laid them on my desk and told me he wanted me to have them.  I demurred, but he insisted I take them.  I ended up telling him I would accept them only if he promised me he would call me anytime he felt really depressed and was thinking about suicide.  He said, okay, and I walked him out to his car, and he was gone. 

Shortly after that, the economy fell apart, there were layoffs at Gibson, and both he and my wife lost their jobs.  Several months later, I got an email from him.  He had enrolled in junior college, and things were looking up.  Sometime in 2010 or 2011, I got another email that he had graduated.  I lost track of him after that, but I’ve often thought of him.

All you have to do is read Bret Stephens’ column in today’s New York Times to know that he has not spent even a moment thinking of the young men and women in the U.S. military, who gave their lives or were irrevocably damaged by that war.  The war was a tragedy.  It’s another sort of tragedy that there are so many still in positions of influence or political leadership who are just as cold and calculating as Stephens and who still defend the war, even while veterans like the guy from Tennessee are left to live with the consequences.

This is another of my columns about the military and war. To support my writing about these important topics, please consider buying a subscription.

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11 hours ago
One young soldier told his story.
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Arrrrghhh Follow Up

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Do you think I’m mad about John Connally and Ben Barnes making a deal to trade arms for hostages to keep Jimmy Carter from being elected?

Oh, Honey, no.

I ain’t even steamed compared to the former hostages.

The Dallas Morning News article is behind a paywall, but I’ll give you as much as I can.


The former hostages did the math and figured out it was five freekin’ months they had to wait to be released. And they weren’t staying in a fancy hotel.

To survivors, the revelation was more appalling than stunning. Democrats and hostages suspected the Reagan camp had a hand in prolonging the ordeal, given the obvious political benefits.

“It’s just typical. Politicians do all sorts of things to achieve whatever political agenda they have in mind,” said William Royer Jr., now 91 and a resident of Katy in suburban Houston.

On Nov. 4, 1979, when militant college students overran the embassy after the fall of the U.S-backed shah, Royer was an English teacher at the U.S. Information Agency.

Over the years he’s recounted the torture – being stripped naked and forced against a wall in front of a firing squad, testing his faith that he was more valuable alive than dead.

Connally died in 1993, which in my mind, gives a pretty plausible explanation of global warming what with the fires of hell surging and all.  I say we dig the sumbitch up to drive a stake through his heart just to make sure.

In the last four to six months as captives, many “deteriorated physically and mentally,” he said. “You don’t want to add even a day to that kind of treatment.”

The first 30 days, Sickmann was tied to a chair and forbidden to speak outside of interrogations. He spent more than a year in a room with two others, often subjected to physical and mental abuse. Until his release, he only went outside seven times.

“It was traumatic for a hostage, but it was traumatic for my poor family and everybody else involved,” he said.

Connally is dead and Barnes is not returning phone calls.



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I am mad enough to chew nails and spit barbed wire.

Come to find out, 40 damn years after it happened, former Texas Lt. Governor Benny Frank Barnes, who bought a slick suit and started calling himself Ben Barnes, has sat silent carrying the earth-shattering story of deceit and cahooting that changed history.

Ben Barnes

I have never liked Ben Barnes and I always will. That boy was slicker than snot on a doorknob.

Ben Barnes was a bag man for Texas Governor John B. Connally. You remember Connally – he was in the front seat in Dealey Plaza when John Kennedy was killed. Connally was winged and wore a sling for his arm for about two years. Seriously, people told him it was unbecoming a grown man to pump sympathy like that. It ain’t like he was at the Alamo.

Anyway, I could tell you creepy John Connally stories all day but here’s what is important – Kennedy came to Texas to patch up things between Connally and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough, who achieved genuine Texas hero status by punching out Strom Thurmond on the senate floor.

Both were Democrats because Texas was a solid blue state but Yarborough was a liberal and Connally was a conservative and racist sumbitch.

Connally ran for president but got slaughtered in the primaries. He was Texas oilman cocky and that just didn’t go over big in foreign states. Then Connally got behind Ronald Reagan and figured he could be Secretary of State if Reagan owed him for something. You couldn’t slide a greased knife between Reagan and Connally for the whole campaign.

And now —

WASHINGTON — It has been more than four decades, but Ben Barnes said he remembers it vividly. His longtime political mentor invited him on a mission to the Middle East. What Mr. Barnes said he did not realize until later was the real purpose of the mission: to sabotage the re-election campaign of the president of the United States.

Yep, Connally was the middle man for guns-for-hostages.

Barnes says he’s telling the secret now because Jimmy Carter is fixing to die and “History needs to know that this happened.” No way, Jose. Ben Barnes is 85 and knows that God knows what he did and that there’s no way he did it “unwittingly.” Barnes ain’t that dumb and he and Connally were tighter than skin on a sausage. There’s not a soul in Texas who lived during those times who thinks that Ben Barnes ever did anything unwittingly.

And it’s also interesting to note that John Connally did not get to be Secretary of State. You remember who did? Alexander Haig.

In 1986, Connally filed for bankruptcy and ended up auctioning off his personal possessions – including  furniture, his wife’s jewelry and china place settings – to cover his debts. Two years later, Ben Barnes filed for bankruptcy.

So here we are. Ben Barnes trying to get right with Jesus at 85 years old. By the way, Barnes was the one who got George Dubya in the National Guard so he didn’t have to go to ‘Nam.  So Barnes gave us both Reagan and Baby Bush, so it’s gonna take more than a confession to get right with God.


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3 days ago
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