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Rush Limbaugh dies at 70; Turned Talk Radio into a right-wing attack machine

Unlike Howard Stern, Don Imus and other big names in shock radio, Mr. Limbaugh had no on-air sidekicks, though he had conversations with the unheard-of voice of someone he called “Bo Snerdly”. He also didn’t have any writers, scripts, or plans, just notes and newspaper clippings that he scanned daily.

Alone with his multitude in his studio, he joked, declaimed, tweeted, and broke into song, mimicry or hoo-hoos as “The Rush Limbaugh Show” broadcast over 650 stations from Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of iHeartMedia ( formerly Clear Channel Communications). In his on-air alternate universe, he was “El Rushbo” and “America’s Anchorman” in the “Southern Command” bunker of an “Excellence in Broadcasting” network.

To the loyal Dittoheads, his self-mocking followers, he was an indomitable patriot, an icon of wit and wisdom. Its political influence, they said, lies in the reactions it elicited – avalanches of calls, emails and rage on the website, numerous headlines and the occasional praise or anger from the White House and from the Capitol.

To detractors, he was a moralizing charlatan, America’s most dangerous man, a label he co-opted. And some critics have insisted that he has no real political power, only an intimidating and self-expanding presence that has influenced an aging and ultralight bangs whose numbers, while impressive, were not considered high enough to affect the outcome of national elections.

Married four times and divorced three times childless, Mr Limbaugh lived on his Palm Beach estate surrounded by oriental rugs, chandeliers and a two-story mahogany-paneled bookcase with leather-bound collections. He had half a dozen cars, one of which cost $ 450,000, and a $ 54 million Gulfstream G550 jet. He was known for his tips of $ 5,000 at restaurants.

Mr. Limbaugh himself was easily caricatured: overweight his entire life, sometimes over 300 pounds, a cigar smoker with a mischievous smile and sly eyes. He moved with surprising grace showing how an environmentalist delicately jumps into a forest. But her voice was her brass ring – a casual, swift staccato, breaking into squeaky dolphin lyrics or falsetto sobs to expose benefactors with her inventive and murderous vocabulary.

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Rush Limbaugh’s Venom Legacy: As Trump Rose, ‘Everything Seemed Familiar’

Rush Limbaugh was a unique and ruthless media voice whose influence frightened and impressed presidents for three decades – often at times of trauma to the nation and political upheaval they could trace back to something spoken over the microphone from the radio host.

In 1992, as President George HW Bush faced a right-wing revolt led by Patrick J. Buchanan, a rival Mr. Limbaugh had promoted, Mr. Bush extended an olive branch by inviting the host to spend the night in the Lincoln room. Mr. Limbaugh returned the favor by revealing that the President had been so courteous, he carried his guest’s bag upstairs.

In 1995, after Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people with a fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma City, President Bill Clinton called out the “promoters of paranoia” on the air in a reprimand widely seen as directed against Mr. Limbaugh.

And minutes after Mr. Limbaugh’s death was announced on Wednesday, former President Donald J. Trump called Fox News to offer his condolences on live television. He praised his friend, a golf buddy in Palm Beach, Florida, for supporting his false claims that he was cheated of victory in last year’s presidential election.

Mr. Limbaugh was not the first conservative media star to endorse Mr. Trump for the presidency. But he was among the first to popularize – and normalize, for many Republican politicians and voters – the style of politics that would become synonymous with Trump’s name.

There was no person or subject that was off limits to Mr. Limbaugh’s anger. Blacks, gays and lesbians, feminists, people with AIDS, the 12-year-old daughter of a president, an advocate for victims of domestic violence: all have found themselves the object of disparagement of Mr Limbaugh’s slurs over the years .

He invented conspiracy theories about the alleged involvement of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, in the death of former Deputy White House attorney Vince Foster, and spread lies about the birthplace of former President Barack Obama. He insisted in 2009, for example, that Mr. Obama “had yet to prove that he was a citizen” and almost always referred to him on air using the former’s middle name. president, Hussein, a trope that right-wing commentators used to evoke the false impression that he was not an American and perhaps was a Muslim.

Few media stars have played such a crucial role in making disinformation, false rumors and fringe ideas the new reality of the right. And towards the end of the Trump presidency, Mr. Limbaugh’s willingness to indulge in paranoia among Mr. Trump’s staunchest supporters was especially powerful in misleading people into believing that bad news about their president – like his loss in November or his mismanagement of the coronavirus response – was simply invented by his enemies or the result of a nefarious plot. (In the case of the virus, Mr. Limbaugh referred to it simply as a “cold”.)

In turn, Mr Limbaugh rarely apologized for his comments and often attacked those who called him, arguing that they took him too seriously or distorted his words out of context. Often Mr. Limbaugh has denied saying what his critics claim.

Mr. Trump’s widespread appeal to voters initially confused many in politics. But anyone who regularly listened to Mr. Limbaugh’s three-hour weekday radio show, which reached about 15 million listeners each week, would have been less surprised.

“To conservatives, this all sounded familiar,” said Nicole Hemmer, media scholar at Columbia University and author of a book on Mr. Limbaugh and other conservative media figures, “Messengers of the Right “.

“The insults, the nicknames, the really outrageous statements – they had enjoyed this as a form of political entertainment for a quarter of a century before Donald Trump,” added Dr Hemmer.

Mr. Limbaugh attacked black athletes like quarterback Donovan McNabb, whose success he attributed to a news outlet that was “very keen on a black quarterback to succeed.” He described a preteen Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog.” He denigrated Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to be a serious presidential candidate, as “a 37-year-old gay kissing his husband on stage.”

Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Trump made fun of people with disabilities. Mr Limbaugh once shook his body on a show to emulate actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease. Mr. Trump, in a surprisingly similar display, once flapped his arms in a cruel impersonation of a New York Times reporter who has limited use of his upper body.

But it was more than their behavior. The manner in which their fans were also eager to defend the more indefensible conduct of the two men was a sign that the political divide in the country was hardening into something more personal and tribal. Mr. Limbaugh’s most loyal listeners developed an ability to excuse almost anything he did and deflect, saying the Liberals were just hysterical or hateful. And many loved him even more for it.

Conservative writer and podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey responded to news of her death on Wednesday via saying, “Rush was hated by all good people.”

Mr. Limbaugh’s recklessness with the truth and the obvious lack of concern for the danger posed by feeding paranoia on the Right served him well once Mr. Trump became the Republican nominee in 2016 and later. President. Mr. Limbaugh, who worked with his producers to carefully comb through his fan’s calls and emails, listened to his audience but rarely stepped out on a branch where he couldn’t be sure it would follow. And he wasn’t initially all-in on Mr. Trump.

But that changed after Mr. Trump won the nomination. Mr. Limbaugh’s loyalty to the president, whose Mar-a-Lago club in Florida is not far from his own seaside estate, has only grown stronger as Mr. Trump’s conduct during the 2016 and ruling campaign has been the subject of multiple investigations, one lawyer investigation and two indictments.

Last year, Mr Trump awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address and asked Melania Trump, the first lady, to hang it around the sick host’s neck .

And Mr. Limbaugh stood behind the former president until the end, stoking the political flames. He compared the rioters who stormed the Capitol last month, furious because they believed the lies about the election of Mr. Trump and media figures like him, to the patriots of the Revolutionary War. And on President Biden’s inauguration day, Mr Limbaugh still claimed it was all a fraud. “I think they know this is something that has been arranged rather than legitimately researched and earned,” he said, referring to Democrats.

Mr. Limbaugh’s rise to prominence as a guardian of conservatism and kingmaker in the Republican Party has helped accelerate the trend of GOP politics away from serious and substantial thought leaders and politicians, and towards prominent figures. provocative, entertaining and anti-intellectual. Mr. Limbaugh – like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and other right-wing hosts who later broke – did not graduate from college. He started his radio career as a disc jockey, not as a political commentator.

“Without Rush Limbaugh, there is no way to go from George HW Bush’s party to Donald Trump,” said Brian Rosenwald, a Harvard scholar who follows disinformation on talk radio. “For 32 years, he conditioned his audience to what they wanted to hear and what they wanted. And it delighted them to hear from someone who said what they might have thought, but felt uncomfortable saying it. And Trump applied that to politics.

Prior to the establishment of Fox News in 1996 – the brainchild of Roger Ailes, who was Mr. Limbaugh’s friend and former executive producer and who negotiated the peace attempt with Mr. Bush in 1992 – Mr. Limbaugh was the undisputed king of the conservative media. He forged a personal bond with his audience that was unlike what vanguards of right-wing opinion like National Review had.

“I remember it was the first time that there was this universal feeling that everyone was listening to, and people were asking, ‘Did you hear what Rush said today? Said Russ Schriefer, a veteran Republican media consultant.

“The conservative media market has become so fragmented now,” he added. “But it was in a pre-Fox world. And at the time, he was the singular voice of conservative politics in America.

Mr. Limbaugh was barely modest or did not know how he could elicit a response from the President of the United States. In 2013, after Mr. Obama criticized Republicans for being “concerned about what Rush Limbaugh might say about them,” Mr. Limbaugh said with more pride than annoyance: “He just can’t tell me. to forget. I live without rent in his head.

Isabella Grullón Paz and Elaina plott contribution to reports.

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Democrats rush to eliminate black voters in Georgia beyond Atlanta

Democrats were quick to criticize the president and Republican senators who took great pains to present themselves as his champions. “This is a direct attack on our democracy, and if David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had a single piece of steel in their spine, an ounce of integrity, they would be here to defend Georgian voters against this kind of aggression. Said Mr. Ossoff. at the afternoon rally near Savannah.

Ms Harris, who spoke afterward, said: ‘Have you all heard of that taped conversation?’ adding that “it was certainly the voice of desperation” and calling it a “daring abuse of power by the President of the United States”.

The call also raised new questions about Mr Trump’s focus at his Monday rally in Dalton, Georgia over his unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, to the detriment of the message that Republicans have yet to come forward for the second round.

Mr Ossoff, the head of a video production company, challenges Mr Perdue, a former company executive who is in quarantine due to possible exposure to the coronavirus. Mr. Warnock, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, is running against Mrs. Loeffler, a wealthy businesswoman.

Mr Warnock and Mr Ossoff joined Ms Harris at the rally on Sunday outside Savannah, where Mr Warnock was born and raised.

Savannah, founded in 1733, is Georgia’s oldest city and arguably the most beautiful and alluring. In statewide races, this can sometimes seem like a political afterthought, given its relatively small size compared to metropolitan Atlanta.

But there are good reasons Savannah saw a turn in the spotlight two days before Election Day. Chatham County, a population of 290,000, has long been a reliable democratic stronghold, anchored by Savannah and its African-American majority. Enthusiasm among County Democrats increased dramatically in November, when Mr Biden’s vote tally surpassed Hillary Clinton’s in 2016 by nearly 16,000 votes.

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As Biden prepares to take office, another border rush

After the brutal 2018 “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their parents, the Trump administration last year introduced the Migrant Protection Protocols, or “return to Mexico,” forcing some 67,000 applicants to asylum to await their immigration hearings south of the border.

Politics have locked people into squalid makeshift camps controlled by gangs. But it has had the effect of drastically reducing flows and forcing thousands of migrants already at the border to turn around and return home.

Since the “return to Mexico” policy is not codified by regulation, it could be immediately canceled by the president-elect.

But the prospect of large numbers of migrants being suddenly taken to the United States, or detained in border facilities, would create a public relations nightmare for the new administration and almost certainly elicit fierce condemnation from restrictions on immigration and pro-immigrant activists. , for different reasons.

“The new administration is going to have to find a way to push back unrestricted and unauthorized migration with humane application while treating people seeking asylum in a speedy way that recognizes their legitimate claims,” ​​said Michael Chertoff, secretary to Homeland Security during the Bush administration.

“It’s not going to be 10 minutes after the grand opening, everyone comes in,” Chertoff said.

Any misstep would threaten a rerun of 2014 and 2016, when the Obama administration scrambled to stem a chaotic influx of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Human rights groups were outraged when families and children were locked up and evictions were speeded up. Immigration extremists have attacked Mr. Obama for allowing tens of thousands of people to enter and remain in the United States while their asylum cases go to court, which can take years.

And while Mr Biden has said he will stop building a wall, Mr Trump’s flagship project, there is no indication his administration will refrain from deploying boots on the ground and sophisticated technology to capture border workers.

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As hospitals fill up, traveling nurses rush to virus hotspots

“I’m taking care of this man and he said, ‘I can’t wait until the election is over for all of this to go away,” she said. “And I’m like,’ This is not happening. ‘is real, I promise you, it is real. “

Others almost shrug their shoulders when they test positive for the coronavirus.

“A lot of people tend to get the answer, when you tell them they have it, they say, ‘Oh, I have the Covid,'” said Heather Ozmun, 46, a travel nurse in Green Bay. . “They treat it like a rite of passage, like it’s their turn to have it.

John Deaton, 27, has spent most of his nursing career so far as a traveler, as they are commonly referred to.

Throughout the pandemic, he has treated Covid-19 patients and even caught a mild case of the virus himself, working in El Centro, Calif., Near the border with Mexico; Sacramento; and now Green Bay.

Places to stay in Northeastern Wisconsin were hard to find. He was content to rent out the basement of a house while the owner lives upstairs, negotiating for shared use of the kitchen so that he had more than a microwave to use for cooking.

Mr Deaton, who is from Akron, Ohio, was drawn to travel nursing because it pays so well – he estimated he would earn four times what he would earn if he accepted a position somewhere. There is a range of pay for such work, but a weekly paycheck could be over $ 5,000 during the pandemic, some nurses estimate, in addition to benefits.

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EPA’s latest rush to deregulate turns into open resistance from staff

WASHINGTON – President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency was rushing to complete one of its latest regulatory priorities, aimed at blocking the creation of air and water pollution controls in the future, when a career senior scientist decided to hinder it.

Thomas Sinks ran the EPA’s science advisory office and then managed the agency’s rules and data around research involving people. Ahead of his retirement in September, he decided to issue a dazzling official notice that the pending rule – which would force the agency to ignore or downgrade any medical research that did not expose its raw data – would jeopardize U.S. public health. .

“If this rule were to be finalized, it would create chaos,” said Dr Sinks in an interview in which he admitted to writing the opinion which had been obtained by The New York Times. “I thought this was going to lead to a train accident and I had to speak up.”

Two months away from the Trump administration, career EPA employees find themselves where they started, in a bureaucratic battle with the agency’s political leaders. But now, with the Biden administration on the horizon, they are encouraged to thwart Mr. Trump’s goals and do so more openly.

Filing a “dissenting scientific opinion” is an unusual decision; this signals that Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the EPA, and his politically appointed deputies did not listen to the objections of career scientists when developing the regulations. Even more critically, by bringing the criticism within the framework of the Trump administration’s official record on the new rule, Dr. Sink’s dissent will offer Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s EPA administrator a powerful weapon to repeal the so-called policy. of “secret science”.

This month, career EPA employees also quietly emailed the results of a new study that found owners of half a million diesel pickup trucks had illegally removed their emissions control technology, resulting in a considerable increase in air pollution. And some EPA staff have engaged in side-to-side conversations with the president-elect’s transition team as they waited for Mr. Trump to formally approve the official start of the presidential transition, two employees of the President-elect admitted. ‘agency.

Current and former EPA staff and advisers close to the transition said Mr Biden’s team had focused on preparing for a swift assault on the Trump administration’s deregulatory legacy and the re-establishment of air and water protection and methane emission controls.

“They are laser-focused on what I call the ‘Humpty Dumpty approach’, which puts the agency back on its feet,” said Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator who served in administration. Obama.

The transition team is particularly focused on renewing efforts to tackle climate change, which had been crushed by the Trump administration and ridiculed by Mr. Wheeler as a mere “signal of virtue” to foreign countries. There are also plans to reorganize the science advisory boards which Mr Wheeler and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, had stacked with allies in private industry and had purged many university scientists.

“They seem hyper-focused on what it will take to get things back on track,” said Chris Zarba, former director of the EPA’s science advisory board, adding, “I think they’re going to do a full reset. “

Racing against those efforts is Mr Wheeler, who has a long list of priorities that aides and confidants have said he is determined to complete before inauguration day on January 20. He has also legally maneuvered to erect time-consuming obstacles that Mr. Biden will have to clear to untie certain policies of the Trump administration.

At the top of Mr. Wheeler’s to-do list is finalizing the science rule, officially called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”.

By virtue of this, the agency should reject or give less weight to scientific studies that fail to disclose all of their raw data to the public. Mr Wheeler says opponents of the rule prefer regulatory decisions to be made in “a back room, a proverbial smoke-filled room.”

But thousands of medical and scientific organizations say the plan would cripple the EPA’s ability to create new air and water protections, as people who participate in epidemiological or long-term studies on the health workers who review exposure to toxins generally only participate if their personal health information is kept. private.

The EPA under Mr. Wheeler has argued that it can create data protections to secure personal information such as personal addresses and medical records. But Dr Sinks, who was the agency’s only scientist to work to establish this data security, said the agency lacks the technical expertise and funding to be successful.

“Research involving human subjects is the most predictive data for establishing the impact on human health of environmental exposures,” wrote Dr. Sinks, adding, “Any rule or guideline that diminishes or eliminates high-quality research from the taking into account in the development of the rules results in poorly developed rules. “

Thomas A. Burke, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who served as EPA science adviser in the Obama administration, expressed amazement at Dr Sinks’ dissent.

“It says a lot about the failure of the process and the failure of the administration to listen to not only that one person, but also the broader scientific leadership in the United States,” he said. Mr Burke called the rule a “thinly veiled dream rule for polluters”

James Hewitt, a spokesperson for the EPA, said in a statement that Dr Sinks’ objections were “irrelevant.” He accused Dr Sinks, without presenting any evidence, of failing to follow the agency’s “communication of concerns protocol” and also said that Dr Sinks did not read the most recent version of the rule. before filing his dissent. Mr Hewitt also did not explain why such a senior scientist in career had not received the final version of the regulations.

“The purpose of the Scientific Transparency Rule is to codify internal procedural requirements on how the EPA will take into account the availability of data upon which it relies in developing its important final regulatory actions and influential scientific information,” Mr Hewitt said.

In recent months, Wheeler has also sidestepped his promise to the EPA Inspector General to respond to accusations by more than 250 employees of political interference in science under the administration. Trump.

Mr Wheeler had agreed to determine the reasons for concerns about a culture of disregard for scientific integrity and the agency’s “tone at the top” by September 30.

Instead, he released a memo in November affirming the agency’s support for its 2012 scientific integrity policy. But even that document has been watered down. The final version removed language that guaranteed science would occur “without political interference, without coercion from scientists, or without regard to the implications of risk management,” according to a change tracking document reviewed by The New York Times.

In a statement, Hewitt said the note did not affect the underlying scientific integrity policy.

Of Mr. Wheeler’s broader agenda over the next two months, he said, “The EPA continues to advance this administration’s commitment to meaningful environmental progress while moving forward with our regulatory reform agenda. “

The EPA is also expected to finalize a rule on industrial soot pollution, which is linked to respiratory illnesses, including those caused by the coronavirus, in the coming weeks. The rule is expected to leave in place a 2012 standard for fine soot from smoke stacks and tailpipes, known as PM 2.5, ignoring EPA’s own scientists, who wrote the year Last that the existing rule contributes about 45,000 deaths a year from respiratory illnesses, and this tightening could save about 10,000 of those lives.

In April, a study published by Harvard researchers linked long-term soot exposure to Covid-19 death rates. The study found that a person living for decades in a county with high levels of fine particulate matter is 15% more likely to die from the coronavirus than a person living in an area with one unit less fine particulate pollution .

And last month, the agency finalized a rule that creates a lengthy new legal process to override or withdraw certain policy directives known as “guidance documents,” which give federal agencies direction on how to law enforcement.

Such policy documents can give an administration some authority to interpret laws in a way that advances their political agenda. For example, the EPA, under the Trump administration, released a guidance document that allows oil and gas companies to release flares from their wells up to 15 minutes at a time before regulations apply. – a process that releases methane, a powerful greenhouse that warms the planet. gas.

Another guidance document allows polluting entities with multiple adjacent polluting buildings on the same site, such as power plants and factories, to report separate buildings as smaller individual pollution sources, rather than reporting pollution levels. site-wide totals. This could allow polluters to avoid pollution control requirements that would be triggered by reporting the greatest amount of pollution attributed to the larger site.

These types of documents are not legally binding, but they are the official policy of a government agency until they are formally withdrawn or amended. Under the new guidance document rule, the EPA is expected to formally issue new regulations to withdraw guidance – a lengthy legal process that can take months or even years, meaning that until ‘it is complete, these Trump guidance documents will remain unchanged. official policies of the Biden administration.

Jody Freeman, professor of environmental law at Harvard and former adviser to the Obama administration, called the rule a “small IED”, referring to an improvised explosive device, or roadside bomb, aimed at slow down a Biden administration’s plans to overthrow Mr. Trump’s rules.

“Shenanigans like this are what awaits Biden’s team,” she said.

Coral Davenport contributed reporting.

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Americans rush to polls: ‘I’m going to vote as my life depends on it’

“The problems this country faces are generational,” said Michael McDonald, professor of political science at the University of Florida. He said the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, coupled with increased political engagement since Mr. Trump was elected, had produced a very energetic electorate.

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“We wish we could care about other things in our lives, but right now politics matters so much and people are engaged,” he said. generate such interest from voters, and early participation can sometimes be delayed for reasons ranging from different start dates to hurricane disruption.

But amid the rising turnout, concern grows about the yawning gap between the mail-in ballots that have been requested and those that have been returned. Within days of the end, 36 million ballots that were requested have not been returned or have been rejected. Many of these ballots could still be mailed or being processed or have been sent to people who now plan to vote in person.

Any problem with early voting is also likely to affect Democrats more than Republicans. In almost every state, Democrats have requested mail-in votes at a higher rate than Republicans. In Pennsylvania, nearly two million registered Democrats have requested postal votes, compared to less than 790,000 Republicans. And while 70% of those Democratic voters have returned their ballots, approximately 590,000 ballots sent to registered Democratic voters have yet to be returned, along with 360,000 ballots sent to registered Republicans.

Voters in Pennsylvania, one of the most important battleground states, have been increasingly baffled by the wave of disputes over the deadline for accepting ballots. The Supreme Court has left open the possibility of a future ruling on ballots that are postmarked on election day but arrive late, and the secretary of state has told all county election officials to separate those ballots. .

Concerns about the US Postal Service added to the anxiety. The agency said in a file that staffing issues resulting from the pandemic were causing problems at some facilities, including some in central Pennsylvania. Only 78 percent of employees are available, according to the filing.