Alex Henderson

CDC director warns of a 'very concerning shift' in the COVID-19  data

With may millions of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 every week and infection rates decreasing in recent weeks, medical experts have been expressing some optimism about the future course of the pandemic. But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on Friday that the declines are now "stalling."

In a briefing on Friday, the CDC director explained, "Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January — and deaths had been declining in the past week. But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory."

President Joe Biden has been pushing for an aggressive increase in COVID-19 vaccinations, and owners of brick-and-mortar businesses in the United States are hoping that it will be safe to ease restrictions in the months ahead. But Walensky warned against easing those restrictions prematurely — especially in light of highly infectious new COVID-19 variants that have emerged.

"It's important to remember where we are in the pandemic," Walensky cautioned during the briefing. "Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions."

Aggressive new COVID-19 variants have emerged in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere. And according to Walensky, the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7., now accounts for 10% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

"We may be done with the virus," the CDC director warned, "but clearly, the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give into a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us."

The U.S. recently reached a grim milestone when, according to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, the number of deaths from COVID-19 passed 500,000 in the U.S. Worldwide, Hopkins reports, the COVID-19 death toll has passed 2.5 million.

Columnist explains how Republicans' mistake gives Democrats a 'big opening'

Supporters of a $15-per-hour federal minimum wage suffered a disappointment this week when the U.S. Senate's parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that the policy cannot remain in the Democratic coronavirus relief package as it is currently written. Washington Post opinion writer Paul Waldman discusses the ramifications of this development in his Thursday column, warning that if Democrats don't find a way to be as bold and aggressive as possible with their agenda, it could hurt them in the 2022 midterms.

"Right now," Waldman explains, "Democrats are tying themselves in knots trying to figure out how to increase the minimum wage — something President Biden ran on, their entire party believes in, and which is overwhelmingly popular with the public…. Yet the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that a straight minimum wage increase can't pass via the reconciliation process — the only way to pass a bill with a simple majority vote — the details of which are incomprehensible, or endlessly maddening, or both."

The real problem, though, isn't the parliamentarian herself so much. Democrats can work around her if they want. The problem is that a few key Democrats — most notably, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have explicitly prioritized preserving arcane Senate procedure over action. And he's reluctant to raise the minimum wage to $15, anyway.

Waldman continues, "So, Democrats have to find some kind of fiscal somersault to try to get the minimum wage increase into the COVID relief bill. Maybe they could impose a tax on companies that don't increase their wages, or do something else to satisfy the parliamentarian by cloaking a non-budgetary provision in budgetary clothing."

Expressing his frustration, Waldman points out that Democrats have run into this hurdle in the Senate at a time when Republicans "have seldom looked more feckless." And ideally, he says, Democrats should be showing U.S. voters that they are a party of substantial ideas while Republicans are short on them.

"When we're caught in a pandemic and an economic crisis, only so many people will get worked up about whether a transgender girl is allowed to play softball," Waldman explains.

By focusing on the culture war, he argues, Republicans give Democrats a big opportunity to enact a popular economic agenda — if they're all willing to take it.

"That gives Democrats the chance to move forward confidently with their agenda, an agenda that is enormously popular," he said. "Yet some in the party are still in the grip of the insane belief that it's more important to retain a Senate procedure whose purpose is to thwart progress than to pass laws that solve problems."

The Senate procedure that Waldman is referring to is the filibuster, which the columnist fears could hurt Democrats' legislative agenda and cost them control of the U.S. Houses of Representatives and/or the U.S. Senate next year.

"The first weeks of the Biden presidency show the path Democrats can take: Push forward with the popular and consequential parts of your agenda, don't be distracted by bleating from Republicans, act as though the public is behind you — because it is — and you might find that the Republican opposition machine isn't as potent as it used to be," Waldman writes. "But none of that will be possible unless Democrats can deliver on their promises. If they let themselves be handcuffed by the filibuster, the Biden presidency will fail — and Republicans will take control of Congress."

Report finds the owner of a truck with a Three Percenter logo at the Capitol riot is married to a lawmaker

The Three Percenters are among the far-right militia groups that were present in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 and have been investigated by the FBI in connection with the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol Building that day. And according to Daily Beast reporters Adam Rawnsley, Kelly Weill and Jackie Kucinich, Republican Chris Miller — a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and the husband of GOP U.S. Rep. Mary E. Miller — had a Three Percenter sticker on his Ford pickup truck the day of the Capitol insurrection.

The 66-year-old Chris Miller acknowledged that the truck belonged to him, although he told the Beast that he "never was (a) member" of the Three Percenters and "didn't know anything about 3% till fake news started this fake story and read about them."

In an e-mail to the Daily Beast, Chris Miller wrote, "Army friend gave me decal. Thought it was a cool decal. Took it off because of negative pub."

Because of his use of the term "fake news," one might assume that Chris Miller is a supporter of former President Donald Trump — and in fact, Chris Miller and his wife, 61-year-old Mary Miller, are both strong Trump supporters. He serves in Illinois' state government, while his wife was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives via Illinois in 2020 and has served on the House Education Committee as well as the House Agriculture Committee.

In Washington, D.C. on Jan. 5, the day before the Capitol riot, Mary Miller spoke at the pro-Trump "Moms for America" rally — where she told the crowd, "Hitler was right on one thing: whoever has the youth has the future." She has since apologized for that remark, saying that she wasn't trying to praise Hitler.

Rawnsley, Weill and Jackie Kucinich note that militia groups "have garnered new attention from law enforcement given the number of members arrested and charged with riot-related crimes since Jan. 6" — and that includes the Three Percenters.

According to an FBI affidavit, Colorado resident Robert Gieswein — one of the people who is facing criminal charges in connection with the Capitol insurrection — "appears to be affiliated with the radical militia group known as the Three Percenters."

Rawnsley, Weill and Jackie Kucinich say of the Three Percenters, "The group, which first formed in 2008, is part of a loose network of 'anti-government extremists' who liken their crusade against the U.S. government to that of Revolutionary War-era patriots, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Their name comes from the false claim that only 3% of U.S. colonists fought in that war."

The Beast reporters note that the Three Percenters decal on Chris Miller's truck on Jan. 6 "may have been a relatively new addition" because it "was not visible in images" of the vehicle "from this summer."

Right-wing outlet cuts off CPAC broadcast to disown conspiracy theories about the 2020 election

The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, underway on Thursday, is being covered by Right Side Broadcasting — a conservative media outlet founded in 2015. During a panel discussion that Right Side was covering, speakers promoted the debunked claim that former President Donald Trump really won the 2020 election — inspiring Right Side to cut away with an emphatic disclaimer.

Obviously hoping to shield Right Side from legal liability, a host jumped in and told viewers, "There's a lot of sensitive topics being talked about right now. We want everyone to do their own research in regards to what they're talking about in this discussion right now —anything with the election, anything like that. It's important to do your own research."

The reporter's colleague seconded that, saying, "Absolutely….. Although we are broadcasting these speakers — we want to provide you with that — it does not that mean we necessarily believe or support all of their beliefs."

Recently, voting technology companies have filed major lawsuits against people on the right who pushed debunked conspiracy theories and falsely accused them of helping President Joe Biden steal the election. Dominion Voting Systems, for example, has filed a $1.3 billion lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.

Progressives are targeting the Democratic establishment in ‘deep blue House districts’: report

Although the Democratic Party still has plenty of centrists — from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia to President Joe Biden — and hasn't moved "far left" as Fox News pundits claim, at least liberals and progressives are getting a larger seat at the table than they did during the 1990s and 2000s. And some progressive Democrats, Philadelphia-based journalist Holly Otterbein reports in an article published by Politico this week, have a plan for advancing their agenda: making sure deep blue districts in the U.S. House of Representatives are decidedly progressive.

"Washington hasn't paid much attention to the handful of upcoming special elections in deep-blue House districts," Otterbein reports. "There's little reason to: it's a near-certainty that the seats will elect Democrats. But progressives are keeping close tabs. And they are aggressively contesting the races in an effort to stop establishment-oriented Democrats from claiming the offices."

Running as a staunch progressive is much easier in some House districts than it is in others. Threatening a centrist Democrat with a left-wing primary challenge in House swing districts that can easily go Republican is quite risky — and a good way to lose in a general election. But in House districts that are safely Democratic, pushing a strong progressive agenda makes perfect sense. All four members of The Squad — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — were reelected in 2020. And progressive Rep. Cori Bush was elected via her district in Missouri.

One of the organizations that has been pushing to increase the presence of strong progressives in House districts is Justice Democrats. Waleed Shahid, communications director for the Justice Democrats, told Politico, "The progressive movement is largely judged by the number of seats it holds in Congress. So, whenever you can add more seats, that gives you more power. Since the election of the Squad, we've seen a more aggressive and assertive bloc of Congress form."

One of the progressive candidates discussed in Otterbein's article is Nina Turner, former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign. In Ohio, Otterbein notes, Turner is competing with Ohio Cuyahoga County Democratic Party leader Shontel Brown for the nomination in a special election.

Turner told Politico, "It will be a huge test of the strength of the progressive movement. (The pandemic) makes it very clear that we have to do better and that when we have the power to do better — and I mean we the Democrats. We should not hesitate to be bold and visionary. It is very clear that we need health care as a human right in this country. We can't capitulate."

Fellow senators mock Ted Cruz’s infamous Cancun trip with a biting prank

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been bombarded with criticism for heading to Cancún, Mexico during Texas' recent energy nightmare, which found millions of Texans without electricity, heat or running water during freezing temperatures and snowy, icy weather. And this week, when the far-right Republican went to a Washington, D.C. gym that is used by fellow U.S. senators, his colleagues had some laughs at his expense.

Printouts at the gym read, "Bienvenido de nuevo, Ted!," which in Spanish, means, "Welcome back, Ted!"

NBC News reporters Carol E. Lee and Leigh Ann Caldwell explain, "When senators arrived at the Senate gym on Wednesday morning, they found that one of them had taped memes on the lockers welcoming Cruz home and showing him in the short-sleeve polo shirt, jeans and Texas-flag mask that he had at the airport, according to two people familiar with the prank….. The rendering featured a manipulated photo of Cruz from his well-documented trip to Mexico, dragging his luggage across an arctic landscape while holding a tropical cocktail garnished with a slice of fruit in his other hand."

The reporters add, "He is shown walking toward an image of a masked Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. with his arms crossed and wearing striped, knitted gloves — a pose famously captured during January's inauguration."

According to Lee and Caldwell, sources told NBC News that the memes were removed from the gym on February 24.

The GOP is now the Soviet Communist Party circa 1979 — and headed for a similar fate: conservative

Many Never Trump conservatives were hoping that after former President Donald Trump left the White House on January 20 and President Joe Biden entered the White House, the Republican Party would abandon Trumpism and return to a more traditional conservatism. Instead, the GOP has doubled down on its extremism; even Rep. Liz Cheney — arch-conservative daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — is being slammed as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) by Trumpistas. Never Trumper Tom Nichols examines the state of the Republican Party in an article published by The Atlantic on February 25, arguing that the 2021 GOP is — like the Soviet Communist Party circa 1978/1979 — destined for collapse.

"The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s," the conservative Nichols laments. "I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes."

In the late 1970s, Nichols explains, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union — under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev — was "a spent force" run by "party ideologues" who stubbornly clung to Marxist-Leninist dogma. Brezhnev's cronies, Nichols recalls, considered him a "heroic genius."

"Members of the Communist Party who questioned anything, or expressed any sign of unorthodoxy, could be denounced by name, or more likely, simply fired," Nichols notes. "They would not be executed — this was not Stalinism, after all — but some were left to rot in obscurity in some make-work exile job, eventually retiring as a forgotten 'comrade pensioner.' The deal was clear: pump the party's nonsense and enjoy the good life, or squawk and be sent to manage a library in Kazakhstan. This should all sound familiar."

Just as the Marxist-Leninist ideologues of the late 1970s rallied around Brezhnev, Nichols argues, the Republican Party of 2021 is rallying around Trump.

"Falling in line, just as in the old Communist Party, is rewarded, and independence is punished," Nichols observes. "The anger directed at Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger makes the stilted ideological criticisms of last century's Soviet propagandists seem almost genteel by comparison. At least Soviet families under Brezhnev didn't add three-page handwritten denouncements to official party reprimands."

The Soviet Communist Party didn't collapse in 1978 or 1979, but it did collapse in the early 1990s — even Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost reforms of the 1980s couldn't save the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. Modern-day Russia is now ruled by a right-wing authoritarian, President Vladimir Putin, and embraces crony capitalism and corporate oligarchs rather than communism. And according to Nichols, the Republican Party of the United States is, like the old Soviet Communist Party, terminally ill.

But the more marginal the GOP becomes in the months ahead, Nichols predicts, the more dangerously authoritarian it will become.

"A dying party can still be a dangerous party," Nichols warns. "The Communist leaders in those last years of political sclerosis arrayed a new generation of nuclear missiles against NATO, invaded Afghanistan, tightened the screws on Jews and other dissidents, lied about why they shot down a civilian 747 airliner, and, near the end, came close to starting World War III out of sheer paranoia. The Republican Party is, for now, more of a danger to the United States than to the world. But like the last Soviet-era holdouts in the Kremlin, its cadres are growing more aggressive and paranoid."

In 2021, Nichols laments, the GOP has passed the point of no return and can only sink deeper and deeper into the abyss.

"Another lesson from all this history is that the Republicans have no path to reform," Nichols writes. "Like their Soviet counterparts, their party is too far gone. Gorbachev tried to reform the Soviet Communist Party, and he remains reviled among the Soviet faithful to this day. Similar efforts by the remaining handful of reasonable Republicans are unlikely to fare any better. The Republican Party, to take a phrase from the early Soviet leader Leon Trotsky, should now be deposited where it belongs: in the 'dustbin of history.'"

The state GOP once 'defined' by Gerald Ford and George Romney has been overtaken by far-right extremists

The Michigan GOP was once synonymous with old-school, non-extremist conservatism — the type of Republicans who didn't attract a lot of liberal or progressive Democrats, but could encourage centrist Democratic voters to split their tickets. But in recent years, the Michigan GOP has been hijacked by the Trumpian far right. And an article by Associated Press reporters Thomas Beaumont and David Eggert examines the ways in which far-right extremists have taken over the Republican Party in that midwestern state.

"While the state has swung back to Democrats since Trump's narrow 2016 win, choosing President Joe Biden by more than 150,000 votes, Michigan's Republican Party has taken a hard-right turn," Beaumont and Eggert explain. "Its own capitol in Lansing was the rallying point in April for armed Michigan Liberty Militia protesting pandemic restrictions, including some members who were later charged with plotting to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The rightward lurch has altered the GOP's image to one unrecognizable to its pragmatic 20th Century standard-bearers."

Michigan-based GOP strategist Josh Venable told AP that in the past, Michigan's Republican Party was "defined by" President Gerald R. Ford and Gov. Mitt Romney — the late father of Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah. Now, according to Venable, it is "defined by" Mike Shirkey (the majority leader in the Michigan State Senate) and Meshawn Maddock (now co-chair of the Michigan GOP).

Shirkey and Maddock are both far-right Trumpistas who promoted the debunked conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump because of widespread voter fraud. Shirkey even described the violent January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building as a "hoax" — and although Maddock spoke out against that attack, she wholeheartedly supported Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally of January 6.

According to Beaumont and Eggert, "The move to more hardline, extreme views in Michigan came into clearer view Wednesday when it became known that Trump devotees, no longer content with the GOP as their political home, had filed a petition with the state elections board to form a new Patriot Party. Decades in the making and punctuated loudly by Trump's 2016 win, Michigan's drift from the GOP's center has prompted departures from traditional conservatives and retribution against moderates."

Rep. Fred Upton and Rep. Peter Meijer, both Michigan Republicans, have been censured by GOP county committees in their state for voting to impeach Trump. And Meijer believes that Trumpian purity tests will make his party increasingly marginal in Michigan and other states.

"If we're strictly a litmus test party," Meijer told AP, "we're going to drum out some of the people we need to be able to win competitive elections."

Democrat wins cheers with a passionate rebuke to opponents of LGBTQ rights bill: 'You used God to enslave'

If passed by Congress, the Equality Act would amend and expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas gave a passionate speech in favor of the bill during a U.S. House of Representatives session on Thursday, noting some of the ways in which religion was deceptively used to justify segregation and racist Jim Crow laws in the past.

The African-American congressman (not be confused with R&B/gospel singer, the Rev. Al Green) told members of the House, "You used God to enslave my foreparents. You used God to segregate me in schools. You used God to put me in the back of the bus. Have you no shame?"

President Joe Biden has been an outspoken supporter of the Equality Act, but its Republican opponents have claimed that it would discriminate against religion if passed. Green alluded to the fact that the same type of argument was used in defense of segregationist laws during the 1950s and 1960s.

Green declared, "God created every person in this room. Are you saying that God made a mistake? This is not about God — it's about men who choose to discriminate against other people because they have the power to do so."

Why a former Republican congressman wants a third party

Many Never Trump conservatives hoped that after President Joe Biden was sworn in and Donald Trump vacated the White House, right-wing Trump critics such as Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah would point the Republican Party in a new direction. But right-wing radio host and former Rep. Joe Walsh, in an article published by The Bulwark on February 25, laments that the GOP is as pro-Trump as ever — stressing that anti-Trump conservatives like himself need to weigh their options and decide where to go from here.

"The Republican Party is what it is," Walsh explains. "It's the Trump/Trumpy party. It's the party of nationalism, protectionism, authoritarianism, wall-building, intolerance, fear, resentments, grievances, middle fingers to the rest of the world, lying, and utter disdain for democracy and the rule of law. In other words, it's Donald Trump's party. All this talk about a GOP 'civil war' is just wrong. There is no war. There is no great divide. The party is pretty darn unified. Republican voters, by really solid majorities, want Trumpism."

Accepting the fact that the GOP is the "Trump party," according to Walsh, is "the easy part." The more challenging task for Never Trumpers, he writes, is figuring out what their next move should be.

"What about all the rest of us?," Walsh writes. "What about all the conservatives, former Republicans, moderate Republicans, independents, and even moderate Democrats who want absolutely nothing to do with this new Trumpy Republican Party? What do we do? The options are actually pretty straight-forward — stay and try to reform the Republican Party; hang out in the land of independents; join the Democratic Party; or, start a new political party."

Walsh continues, "The chief objections to each of these options are pretty straight-forward as well. The Republican Party isn't changing; so, it's not reforming. If you hang out in the land of independents, you'll probably be hanging out there for the rest of your natural life. Though many have enormous respect for the Democratic Party, issues and policies matter — and the vast majority of conservatives, when it comes to issues and policies, just have a fundamentally different world view than today's Democratic Party. And finally, it's really, really, really hard in our two-party dominated politics, to start and sustain a viable third political party."

But Walsh goes on to say that even though it's "really, really, really hard," the best and "most obvious" option for Never Trumpers is to "launch a new political party" — which he envisions as a "radically centrist, common sense, let's-get-shit-done party."

Walsh wraps up his article by stressing that the Trumpified version of the GOP cannot survive in the long run.

"I don't think most Americans realize it yet, but the Republican Party, as a national party, is dying," Walsh writes. "The 166-year-old Republican-Democratic two-party duopoly is coming to an end. This is the perfect time to take this leap. The audience is there for it, the outside money is there for it, and young people would rally around it."

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