Victims of online, right-wing terrorism may finally be able to sue the people who perpetrate it

One of the more disturbing— but increasingly common— behaviors of the political right is its practice of cleverly goading and inciting violence towards other Americans. I say “cleverly” because they do this in full awareness of the potential consequences, but believe themselves to be untouchable, because they are online and usually anonymous.

These implicit, “winking” appeals to violence have recently been employed by the right in public settings — such as campaign speeches — where a speaker demonizes certain groups or individuals without ever explicitly urging that they be harmed or killed. Donald Trump himself elevated this type of malevolent rhetoric to an art form when he deliberately demonized individuals and ethnic groups, often resulting in harassment and death threats against those same individuals (and often their families). His son, Donald Trump Jr. recently staged a video of himself at a shooting range with Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens in which the two of them fired automatic weapons at targets while voicing threats against “liberals.”

With these public models to inspire them and the anonymity afforded by the internet, it’s hardly surprising that purveyors of online hate speech have metastasized to the point where the encouragement of violence in rightwing online forums is now normalized. Up to this point, few people have suffered any consequences for the harm their “ free speech” might inflict on others.

That may be changing. One of the time-tested axioms in law is that there should be “no wrong without a remedy.” And legal practitioners fed up with the reckless disregard now exhibited (mostly) by the right, routinely putting other peoples’ lives at risk through this spew of untrammeled hate speech, are beginning to respond to this threat by laying the groundwork for new legal causes of action to hold such terrorists (for that is exactly what they are) accountable to those they harm through their exhortations to violence.

Jane Bambauer is a professor of law at the University of Arizona. In an article written for Lawfare, she explains why a variation on current common law jurisprudence should be adapted to the necessities of hate speech as it exists in the modern digital age. That article dovetails with a law review article she co-wrote which will be published in the influential Harvard Journal of Law and Technology.

The abstract of that article, titled Reckless Associations, explains why such an adaptation of the law is necessary in light of what we have witnessed developing over the last five years:

This Article provides a theoretical foundation and practical guide for a new form of liability that has proven necessary in the Internet era: the tort of Reckless Association. This tort would hold de facto leaders of informal networks responsible when radicalized members of the network cause physical harm to others. Recent prosecutions of the leaders of the Oath Keepers and other white supremacists who organized the Charlottesville protest, and rumblings of a similar prosecution against Donald Trump, demonstrate that there is a public appetite for this form of legal responsibility. To date, these prosecutions proceed on theories of incitement or conspiracy, but those doctrines are poor fits for cultural leaders, like Trump, whose media habits have created a drumbeat for increasingly paranoid thinking and action while also studiously avoiding making discrete statements that fit the heightened requirements of incitement.

In her Lawfare article, Bambauer notes that current criminal law does not provide an effective remedy for the type of “at-a-distance” terrorism practiced on the internet by the Alex Jones’s, Trumps and Greitens, for example. To hold such perpetrators accountable to the people harmed by their online digital discourse, it’s necessary to adapt common law liability to encompass the “ringleaders,” as she describes them: “[T]he central figures who are the most active, trusted and influential nodes in a radicalized network should be held civilly responsible for the physical harm foreseeably caused by other individuals in their social group.”

From the law review article, Bambauer describes how this type of liability would work in practice:

As an illustration: Alex Jones could be held civilly liable for the physical harm caused by the shooting at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria if the victim, through discovery of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking data, could show that Jones was (one of) the most influential node(s) in the shooter’s network that persistently trafficked in Pizzagate pedophile conspiracy theories. Jones would have a defense based on lack of sufficient mental state (reckless indifference) if he could show that he had made even a modest attempt to correct the record or dampen the hostility—a defense we believe he would not actually be able to muster.

As Bambauer notes, the discovery process would provide the victim of such right-wing terrorism appropriate legal tools to determine, through the perpetrators’ online metadata, a graph network identifying those radicalized individuals “who are the most connected and the most frequent contributors to the swarm of crazy-making content.” Measuring the network’s centrality could (and likely would) narrow this down to specific individuals.

The difficulty, of course, is establishing causation between these ringleaders’ conduct and the subsequent attack on the victim of violence. In Bambauer’s formulation, “liability should pass to the de facto leader only if the plaintiff can prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that the leader’s communications and activities in the social network had a true causal connection to the attack.” Bambauer suggests a Restatement (commonly used by lawyers and judges to summarize and define a specific point of law) be adopted as follows:

A defendant is subject to liability for a plaintiff if the defendant assumed a position of leadership within an association that recklessly caused a member of the association to intentionally harm the person of the plaintiff.

The legal evolution of these terms of art would be left to the common law (the bulk of Professor Bambauer’s Law Review article is devoted to the explication of these terms). Significantly, this is largely a function of state — not federal — courts, so its essential evolution would not be subject to corrupt Trump ideologues ensconced in the federal judiciary (They and their cohorts would, however, be the primary gatekeepers to its constitutionality).

Which brings us to the most difficult task: to reconcile this type of action against the activities of the perpetrators with their rights under the First Amendment, specifically their rights of free speech and association. Bambauer recognizes that her proposed framework “must exist entirely within the constraints of constitutional scrutiny, like the tort of defamation or the tort of public disclosure of private facts.”

Bambauer believes that this can be done,with an appropriate legal standard derived from existing restrictions on so-called “free speech” to protect others from harm caused by that speech:

[T]he First Amendment allows the law to penalize expression when the penalty is narrowly tailored to harm. As long as liability puts the burden on a plaintiff (who, by supposition, has already suffered physical injury) to prove causation and a reckless mental state, a new law of this sort can be reconciled with free speech precedent.

She suggests one way to overcome the “First Amendment” objection to this type of legal remedy is to analogize its elements to the “imminence” standard for restricting/penalizing potentially violence-inducing free speech already established under First Amendment jurisprudence (speech which will likely result in “imminent harm” to someone is unprotected, for example). She also makes the shrewd point that the current efforts to “censor” harmful web content by imposing legal or regulatory obligations to do so is even more “censorious” than what she proposes.

Bambauer also recognizes there are also risks of over-reaction that could chill beneficial, non-injurious speech, and that the creation of this new tort would be an invitation to intentionally frivolous (and expensive) litigious harassment, leading to self-censorship by many internet platforms out of sheer fear. To combat this, she suggests, “The tort needs to be demanding enough in terms of elements and proof so that an awareness that somebody in the network might do something violent is not enough for liability.” She uses the example of a civil rights leader whose rhetoric sparks an act of violence, even if unintended.

But it’s possible for courts to construct a tort that would be strong and clear enough to avoid negative chilling effects and First Amendment conflict. First, the elements of the tort will ensure that it is not sufficient for a plaintiff to show that a defendant has a lot of followers or creates incendiary content that gets circulated a lot. The causation and mental state requirements would reach only individuals who are persistent—who are in the ear, so to speak, of the members of their informal groups on a daily or hourly basis. This is the behavior that keeps members of a loosely affiliated group in a cycle of grievance, and it is a phenomenon unique to, or at least uniquely trackable in, networked communications..[.]

I want to emphasize that Bambauer’s Lawfare article is only a summary of her points. She and her co-writers address the potential practical and constitutional objections to their proposal at considerable length in the law review article (which I trust you will all read :). I would also suggest that despite the relative novelty of its subject matter, her analysis is quite thorough and because of that fact alone it will be well-received by a judiciary grappling with these issues.

But the bottom line is this: Every indication is that Republicans and their enablers will continue ratcheting up the violent rhetoric until someone --or more likely, several people — are killed as a clear-cut, direct consequence of the hatred they now spew with such casual impunity. We now have elected or would-be elected officials airing advertisements which tacitly or explicitly encourage the murder of their political opponents. We have organizations whose sole mission relies on the provocation of an armed, violent overthrow of our government. And in the shadows, we have a set of well-heeled provocateurs who find themselves able to gleefully skate away from their responsibility for promoting violence against people they happen to disagree with.

None of this is a joke. There’s no “privacy” or “First Amendment” interest in soliciting murder. If Republicans and their enablers want to continue down this path of advocating violence while trying to hide behind a cloak of “plausible deniability,” these types of claims will be brought. A victim of this type of “stochastic” incitement to violence— or perhaps a relative of a victim — will sue in order to ferret out those responsible and hold them liable. Another basic maxim of the law is that if there’s any possible cause of action, some enterprising lawyer will use it. Eventually, a state court judge will allow that claim to go forward.

Bambauer’s law review article concludes as follows:

It is clear enough that the radical freedom of online associations predictably causes individuals to associate in likeminded groups where peer effects and feedback loops lead to increasingly deluded beliefs. Society needs law and social norms to place responsibility for these dynamics on the set of people who can most easily monitor and avoid the problems. Contrary to popular belief, that set of people is not the executives and employees of major tech platforms. It is the users themselves—particularly the informal leaders who benefit from the fame and financial rewards of the radicalization process without shouldering any of the risk.

Anyone who continues target their fellow citizens with this type of noxious rhetoric -- and thinks they’ll just “get away with it” when someone takes their words seriously -- might want to keep that in mind.

The New York Times just discovered that Fox News has a Russia problem

You have to credit the Gray Lady: this is really quite the scoop. And I hesitate even to point it out, lest my mild criticism that follows be misinterpreted. So let me be clear, I’m all for American media outlets policing each other. I think it’s perfectly OK for one media outlet to call out another for bias or dissimulation. That’s what makes journalism such an integral part of our democracy, so much that its inherent value is literally enshrined in the Constitution. “Keeping them honest” should be the watchword governing all journalism.

That being said, you may wish to remain seated, because this is guaranteed to make you faint with shock. Hold onto your hats — here it comes.

As reported by the New York Times’ Stuart A. Thompson:

The narratives advanced by the Kremlin and by parts of conservative American media have converged in recent months, reinforcing and feeding each other. Along the way, Russian media has increasingly seized on Fox News’s prime-time segments, its opinion pieces and even the network’s active online comments section — all of which often find fault with the Biden administration — to paint a critical portrait of the United States and depict America’s foreign policy as a threat to Russia’s interests.

When I read that I was stone-cold flummoxed. Who could have possibly imagined? Oh, wait!

And it seems that Tucker Carlson is a Kremlin favorite. Can you believe that? They even cite examples!

“The U.S. baselessly accused Russia of spreading disinformation about biolabs in Ukraine because they later actually confirmed their existence, TV presenter Tucker Carlson told Fox News,” Radio Sputnik wrote in an article summarizing Mr. Tucker’s lengthy segment for a Russian audience.

But there’s more!

Mentions of Fox News in Russian-language media grew 217 percent during the first quarter of this year compared with the final quarter of last year, as news coverage of Ukraine increased, according to an analysis by Zignal Labs, a media tracking company that reviewed social media posts, broadcast media and online websites. CNN, which has about three times the global viewership of Fox News, according to the tracking company Similarweb, was mentioned more often but grew less, by 71 percent.

And the Times really put their nose to the grindstone to break this, having “reviewed nearly 500 Russian-language articles mentioning Fox News between July and late March, sourced from the two largest state news agencies in the country — RIA Novosti and TASS — along with dozens of articles from other Russian-language media.” Talk about due diligence!

The Times has even broken it down by category! They’ve determined that Russia now highlights Fox News stories that tend to “Blame NATO expansion,” “Buttress Conspiracy Theories” (can you imagine???) “Question the West’s goals,” and — get this — “Criticize President Biden.”

I am shocked, shocked, I tell you.

In all seriousness, we didn’t have to wait nearly two months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to be told they were making use of Fox News for propaganda purposes. That fact has been a staple in the media for well over a month, if not longer. More importantly, as this article, one of literally dozens from Media Matters, gamely points out, the relationship between Fox and Vladimir Putin has long been a two-way street, going back well into the Trump administration, with Fox echoing Putin’s policy on a fairly repeated basis.

But you won’t find a single word about that in the Times article. No, it’s as if Russia just suddenly discovered it had its own propaganda outlet all along.

And probably even more importantly, Mr. Thompson, for all his analytical skill, doesn’t devote a single sentence to asking why that is. Why did Fox News spend the last five years amplifying Putin talking points?

Exploring that question would be serious journalism. Exploring the uncomfortable question of why the Times ignored something this important, and obvious, for so long, letting relatively small, niche outlets like Media Matters do all the heavy lifting, would be even more serious journalism.

But simply reporting the data without context -- which is all the Times article really does — is not.

WI brewery sues school boards for indulging 'Tucker Carlson-watching zombies' and ignoring science

WI brewery sues school boards for indulging 'Tucker Carlson-watching zombies' and ignoring science Fox News // Tucker Carlson

Why we should thank Donald Trump Jr. for showing us the truth about white evangelical Christianity

As the year-end holidays slowly tick towards their inevitable conclusion; as families gather (however possible) to enjoy the warmth of the many shared experiences and trials of the past year; and as we eagerly await yet again the inexorable descent of that familiar iridescent ball in Times Square at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, it’s a special time. It’s a time to reflect on what truly matters to each of us as individuals, and, even more importantly, as a nation sharing a common purpose. I’d like to use this opportunity to thank a very special individual for whom we should all hold a place in our hearts for the great service he did for each and every one of us last week.

I speak of none other than Donald Trump Jr., eldest child of the former occupant of the White House. Out of all of those who could have stepped where others have refused to tread, it took this young(ish) man, now shorn, perhaps permanently, of life in the limelight—after finding himself so often blocked by his father’s shadow—to articulate a simple, basic truth about what’s shaped tens of millions of Republican voters who cast their vote in 2016, again in 2020, and who will do so in the future: that mass of ignorance and intolerance known as white evangelical Christianity.

It fell to the younger Donald to spell out what everyone should have realized about 80% of these people from the get-go, ever since they sold their souls so willingly to his father. The white evangelicals—who once claimed such special status among God’s elect that they described themselves as “born again”—have now wholly divorced themselves from any pretense of devotion to Jesus Christ’s teachings. They now simply exist to wield, like true fanatics, a new, updated gospel: a gospel of seething anger, violence, and revenge, now fully revealed to them by their savior, Donald Trump.

The revelation Junior delivered to his father’s flock came at the Turning Point USA conference on Dec. 19. As described by a horrified Peter Wehner, an evangelical Christian who writes for The Atlantic, the young Trump effectively drew a line in the sand, setting forth an edict proclaiming a new and improved Christian dogma for his father’s supporters. Speaking to a rapturous crowd, Trump elaborated on his new “Good News.”

“If we get together, they cannot cancel us all. Okay? They won’t. And this will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because—I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game. Okay? We’ve been playing T-ball for half a century while they’re playing hardball and cheating. Right? We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand, sort of, the biblical reference—I understand the mentality—but it’s gotten us nothing. Okay? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution in our country.”

As Wehner explains, the speech was designed to push all of the buttons that have been cultivated by the religious right as they justify their grievances against an American culture they feel has turned its back on them.

Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

As his father’s heir apparent, only the former first son could unveil this scripture that none before him dared to disclose: The only true Christians are ones who come prepared to project their intolerance, looking past bigotry and violence if necessary to get what they want. Further, to the extent Jesus Christ himself may have said or implied something in the distant past that might conceivably contradict this, he should be ignored (or better yet, reviled as “fake news”).

As Tyler Huckabee writing for Relevant explains, beyond the familiar Christian teaching of “turning the other cheek,” the dominant tone of Christ’s teachings is rooted in personal humility and self-restraint.

Nearly every page of the Gospels has stories of Jesus refusing earthly power and exhorting his followers to do the same. In fact, there are few things Jesus talked as much about as the upside down Kingdom of God where “the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek.” Moreover, he cautioned against seeking earthly influence, going so far as to proclaim “woe to you who are rich.” The most cursory reading of Scripture would leave anyone with the sense that this is not a manual for getting stuff.

The abandonment by the majority of the white evangelical community of such “traditional” Christian principles, such as humbly accepting the differences of others and extolling the virtues of compassion and generosity, should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention over the past three decades. Even still, the Trump administration has effected by far the most dramatic, public transformation of the white evangelical movement.

As The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin writes, the embrace of intolerance and exclusion by many of these purported “Christians”—as part and parcel of their political identity—is now a necessary and integral requirement to joining their ranks.

The demographic — which remains in the throes of White grievance and an apocalyptic vision that postulates America (indeed “Western civilization”) is under attack from socialists, foreigners and secularists — forms the core of the MAGA movement. Many have rejected the sanctity of elections, the principle of inclusion and even objective reality.
Understanding this phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar, misogynistic cult leader. If you wonder how so many “people of faith” can behave in such ways, understand that their “faith” has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.

In order for this “faith” to endure, however, it’s become necessary to refashion Jesus Christ from his previously understood role as a humble teacher into a vicious fanatic exhorting his followers to hatred, revenge for imagined slights, and even murder of others as exemplifying the “essence” of Christianity. Racism, bigotry, and intolerance have to become “Christian” virtues in order for this warped version of “faith” to sustain itself.

Rubin quotes Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute. Jones describes this “new” Christian ethic among most white evangelicals in which “the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others—even amid a global pandemic—has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture.”

As self-identified evangelicals reject small inconveniences and show disdain for others’ lives, Jones observes, “there is no hint of awareness that their actions are a mockery of the central biblical injunction to care for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the vulnerable among us.”

None of this should come as a surprise. After all, even the violent, Trump-supporting thugs who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 demonstrated a revealing moment of this “muscular Christianity” when they briefly paused their looting, smashing, and defecating in order to say a mutual prayer professing their divine sensibilities. As this video taken in the Senate chamber shows, it was a tender moment of piety for all of them.

Yet before Trump Jr.’s speech, no single voice—not even that of the elder Trump—dared to so boldly and directly repudiate the teachings of Christ himself. None but Don Jr. has so directly dared to rend the tattered fabric of morality that white evangelicals long wore, however much it annoyed or inconvenienced them. Never before had anyone so directly crumpled up the pages of the New Testament, wadded them into a ball, and proudly wiped his ass with it.

But Donald Trump Jr. was willing to show us all exactly what type of people the majority of these white evangelical Christians are, what they aspire to be, and what they are willing to do to create the world they believe we all they deserve.

We don’t often see the curtain ripped down in quite that way. It couldn’t have been easy for him. And for that, Americans should be forever thankful.

Peter Jackson's new 8-hour opus on the Beatles is a revelation — but not one for the faint of heart

The reviews are in: “[S]o aimless it threatens your sanity” declares The Guardian. “A mesmerizing feast for the eyes,” reports Salon; ”Isn’t something we needed;” pronounces NBC news; “An addictive look at who the Beatles were,”according to Variety. Depending on your perspective, Get Back, the new 8-hour opus of director Peter Jackson (released this weekend in three consecutive segments on Disney+), chronicling what ultimately became known as the “Let it Be” sessions that preceded the break-up of what is widely regarded as the most influential band of all time, may be the most fascinating portrait of the Beatles you’ve ever seen. Or, it may be a dreadfully tedious experience leaving you wondering how you could possibly have better spent one half of a waking day.

As a lifelong fan of the Beatles I opt for the former interpretation, but I can relate to those left numb and flummoxed by this mammoth project, which essentially boils down to a microscopic examination of the Beatles’ creative process. Your attention to this sprawling, repetitive and comprehensive exploration depends on how much you have invested in the Beatles themselves as personalities. When we talk about how much we disdain the unpolished and labyrinthine process of “how the sausage is made” in a piece of legislation, for example, that’s in part because the sausage-makers themselves aren’t the most mesmerizing of people. Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer — however enthralled we are of their various accomplishments — aren’t imbued with quite the charisma of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Nor have they (at least to date) left such a broad and deep cultural legacy for the human race to ponder. Consequently practically no one — at least no one I know — really craves a front row seat to the mind-numbing complexity of creating a budget reconciliation bill before its passed into law; what we really care about is the finished product.

But in the world of art and music, sometimes you can learn something that isn’t revealed in that final product, something that gives you a better insight into the mind of the artist that helps you put that creation into context. That’s what Jackson’s epic effort here strives for, and whether he succeeds in the end ultimately depends upon all of us, as audience and arbiter, who take on the task of watching it.

Those familiar with the 1969 “Let it Be” film remember it as a tense portrait of the Beatles’ seemingly desperate effort to recapture their former glory. We remember scenes of Paul McCartney hectoring his fellow band members, the omnipresence of Yoko Ono sitting at John’s side and the moody presence of Harrison and pained expressions of Ringo Starr as they gamely play through what seems like a fraught experience for all of them. At this point in time they’ve each discovered their individual personalities and interests don’t always mesh with the collective the way they did in, say, 1964. Each has developed a wholly distinct set of interests and are intent on following their own muses.

But while reaffirming parts of this narrative, what Jackson’s portrayal — culled from the 60 or so hours of film shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the 1969 documentary, plus 150 hours of audio — does is far more than providing an “extended cut” of Let it Be. What it succeeds in doing — remarkably and originally, in my view — is to reveal the extraordinary capacity of these four disparate personalities to create some of the most enduring musical art of all time. And while you do have to be a Beatles fan to appreciate most of the nuances in what Jackson portrays here, you don’t need to know everything about the context to be rather awestruck by the act of creation itself.

For those not quite so enamored or obsessed with the Beatles, then, the significance of Paul McCartney singing “I’m So Tired,” a quintessential Lennon tune off the White Album, from behind a drum set; or Lennon and McCartney practicing “Gimme Some Truth,” a Lennon song appearing much later on his solo album, Imagine; or Harrison arriving one morning to play a demo of a song he wrote “last night” called “I Me Mine” (another night produces “For You Blue,” which also appears on the Let it Be album) may not evoke a sense of wonder at the vast trove of raw talent percolating in each band member’s mind at this time. But for those who know the history, all of these moments are little revelations to be savored.

There are telling moments from the very start. As the film shows, the band first come together in a large, imposing, Twickenham film studio set, accompanied by the often-present but never obtrusive George Martin, the Beatles’ sound engineer Glyn Johns, assistant and road manager Mal Evans, a film crew and a few onlookers. They are put in this place, we understand, to come up rather quickly (within two-three weeks) with material for an album that all appear to acknowledge may be their swan song, punctuated by a TV special and live concert (the latter which they haven’t done in three years). The discussions about where the concert is to be performed occupy some of their time (for a brief time an ancient amphitheater in Libya is considered, but someone points out that they’ll need an audience to be brought in by boat to accomplish this, and as George laconically observes, “Who’ll foot the bill for that?”). Paul gamely introduces new material (the first strains of the song “Get Back”) but Lennon is strangely absent from the creative process, at least initially. Not his usual gregarious self (he appears to be quietly stoned for some length of Part 1), we soon realize that he’s completely smitten with Yoko and his mind is elsewhere. Paul asks his if he’s written new material, and Lennon responds with joking banter that Paul accepts, but we see that he’s a little worried.

Harrison, meanwhile, is bursting with new material, much of it extraordinary, but the group’s internal hierarchy doesn’t allow him quite the freedom or rapport that exists between Lennon and McCartney. Ringo does what he does best, which is being warmly Ringo, and in so doing emphasizes his importance as the focus of everyone’s affection. Marijuana use is alluded to as the band steps away for “tea time,” but its involvement is muted (even though some of the band members appear clearly high on camera at various intervals).

The band’s own origins and influences are seen peppering through the early going, with Lennon doing a version of Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” and the band running through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” as they try to decide whether they should opt for all new material or look back to old classics for the live concert. But the real show-stopping moments come when, for example, over a clip of Harrison and Lennon talking you hear McCartney practicing the chords to what everyone watching the film knows will become the anthemic “Let It Be.” Gradually we see raw, tentative snippets of music becoming what we all know is the ultimate, finished product, as the songs develop, propelled forward by a seemingly unconscious flow of creative genius, however casually and randomly articulated by all four of the band.

Along the way we see the outlines appear for what eventually became Abbey Road (the final album the group recorded but released before “‘Let It Be”), as McCartney pounds out early versions of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Golden Slumbers,” and “Carry that Weight” (with a completely alternative verse intermixed), “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” (McCartney drily observing that this is something that has happened to him quite frequently) and a seemingly impromptu tune mocking anti-immigrant sentiment called “Commonwealth” culled from a newspaper article about race-baiting M.P. Enoch Powell, but never making its way into a final Beatles track.

The band really begins to gel and enjoy themselves by the end of Part 1 of Jackson’s opus, with McCartney clearly motivated by the presence of his future wife, Linda, who snaps photographs of the band as they rehearse, and Lennon seemingly out of his funk (When McCartney suggests they do some covers of other bands’ songs, Lennon quips back, “I can barely stand doing [y?]ours.”). While Yoko and Linda engage in animated conversation (about what, we have no idea), the band turns out a giggling-filled performance of “Let it Be,” with Lennon hilariously miming the words for the camera in mock seriousness. It’s at this point when we begin to understand how important their sense of humor is to greasing their creativity. We also realize that contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, this was not the caricature of a band being torn apart by acrimony, but one fully capable of exercising an awesome degree of mutual creative prowess.

And then there’s a shock. Out of nowhere, with Lennon and McCartney gleefully rehearsing “Two of Us,” Harrison abruptly announces he’s leaving the band and walks out. Predictably the rest don’t take him seriously (which is really the problem from his point of view to begin with), but the next morning he’s not there. Lennon and McCartney trade quips exhorting his empty microphone: (“Come on George!”) (“If he doesn’t come back by Tuesday, we get Clapton.”). Meanwhile Yoko steps up to the microphone to take his place, vocalizing tunelessly while McCartney and Lennon play riffs frantically bouncing off one another. It’s a weird, weird moment. Comments are exchanged, illuminating the fact that while Lennon and McCartney have always been the band’s songwriting team, Harrison is “his own team,” and thus must have to put up with the constant presence of the other two overshadowing his own efforts.

Harrison’s departure ends Part I of Jackson’s opus, with the band not really knowing what to do with itself (Lindsay-Hogg hovers in the background as a somewhat awkward presence; it seems clear he belatedly realized he bit off more than he could chew here and views his directorial aspirations going nowhere fast) but Lennon, McCartney and Starr press on,with little to show for themselves until finally Harrison is cajoled back into the fold. The scene in Part II (which clocks in at nearly three hours) shifts from the Twickenham soundstage to the Beatles’ own hastily conceived studio at Apple Records, where the four pick up where they left off before Harrison’s hiatus. In one revealing scene McCartney mockingly reads a newspaper account of the band’s travails while Lennon sings in the background; what we learn from that vignette (and in fact the entire movie) is that all four of the Beatles were frankly aware of and honest about the forces that were splitting them up. Paul, for example, talks about Yoko’s continual presence at John’s side and acknowledges his own reaction to it (In a lengthy segment never revealed before, a hidden microphone captures both the symbiotic and competitive character of the Lennon-McCartney relationship as they privately discuss how to accommodate Harrison’s desire for more exposure). What I also found interesting is that Lennon, famed for his later political activism, doesn’t utter anything resembling a political opinion during the entire eight hours of Jackson’s film.

On multiple occasions the four acknowledge the effect of the passing of Brian Epstein, their former manager who died of an accidental drug overdose in 1967. Epstein had exerted a commanding and fatherly presence during the band’s rise to stardom and they candidly attribute their lack of cohesiveness and squabbling largely to his absence. For the most part, the second three hour segment of Jackson’s film is free of the conflicts that churn through part 1. By the time the exhausting experience has ended, but before Part 3 begins, we’ve seen various cuts in final or near final form, intermixed with throwaways that never made it onto vinyl at any time (As the Guardian’s Alexis Petridis wryly puts it, “There is a point, about five hours in, when the prospect of hearing another ramshackle version of Don’t Let Me Down becomes an active threat to the viewer’s sanity”). The arrival of Billy Preston to play keyboards seems to solidify the serious nature of the project in the rest of the band’s mind; perhaps they felt his presence as a check on their impulse to nitpick with one another, but from that point on the group functions smoothly as a unit. The second segment ends with looming deadlines prompting the band to take it up a notch to make up for lost time, as well as the momentous decision (doubtlessly well-known to everyone who watches this film) to perform the long-planned live concert on the roof of Apple records, in heart of London’s Savile Row.

The third two-hour installment of Jackson’s film is one continuous joy for Beatles fans (it’s the segment fans uninterested in the drudgery of the creative process will want to watch). Linda Eastman’s six-year old daughter steals the show for a few minutes at the outset, emulating Yoko Ono’s vocalizing, but there are a number of heart-stopping sequences that follow such as George unveiling the first verses to “Something,” after helping Ringo find a bridge to “Octopus’ Garden.” Lennon is peppy and sardonic (He announces that Yoko’s divorce has been finalized about halfway into Part 3). There’s no longer even the hint of acrimony as the band run through final and close-to-final versions of songs most of us are familiar with from the Let It Be album. If Jackson’s sole intent were to rewrite established Beatles history he has succeeded; the film convincingly portrays the four as working as tightly and collaboratively as might be imagined, at least for the latter days leading up to the rooftop concert. They are able to produce in a brief period of time an album of quality songs that have by now withstood the critical test of multiple generations, though many may not rank among the group’s best. He has dispelled the myth of Yoko Ono as a baleful, destabilizing force intent on dragging her husband out of the band, while also softening history’s trenchant verdict on McCartney’s purported overbearing temperament, long blamed for antagonizing the others.

The final 40 minutes document the legendary rooftop concert, depicted partly in split-screen with cameras placed on the roof as well as in the street to capture the reaction of the townfolk. A hidden camera in the reception area at Apple captures the entry of two exasperated British police officers, attempting to shut down the concert due to noise complaints. They eventually make it to the rooftop but end up standing silently while the Beatles continue to perform, lording above London and the whole world for a brief moment in time (there’s a metaphor in that somewhere). As the four wind up their last public performance, it feels like an ending, although we know they go back into the studio to make Abbey Road.

Jackson’s tribute should and probably will be the definitive account for future generations when they pause to reflect on the last days of the Beatles. As for me, well I’m far older now, long past the days where I would focus my obsessive and undivided attention on the Beatles or any other musical group, Sitting through this film’s marathon scope, I admit I was among the ones who afterwards felt that I couldn’t possibly bear hearing “I Dig a Pony” or even “Let It Be” ever again. But that feeling lasted … only about an hour. I reminded myself that yes, it was a bit long, but these were the Beatles, the likes of which this world will never see again. As Lennon said about the turbulent decade that gave birth to his band, “The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility.” Jackson’s film serves as a reminder of a fleeting period in time when everything was new, and anything seemed possible.

The trailer for Get Back is below:

The Beatles: Get Back | Official Trailer | Disney+ www.youtube.com

The Washington Post's opinion page hits rock bottom

News outlets under the First Amendment have a tremendous amount of leeway, and, of course, they should. They should be entitled to print diverse, conflicting, even vehemently oppositional views, and they shouldn't be concerned about how many people might disagree with any given viewpoint they choose to print. Hell, that's why we're all here on Daily Kos.

But there's also an issue of responsibility and decorum that we've learned to expect from those hallowed, established news outlets we consider as trustworthy. And this, by right-wing columnist Marc Thiessen, is just intolerable, coming from The Washington Post. It's beyond the pale of what anyone is entitled to expect from a publication with The Post's history. Go ahead and read it, and if it doesn't give you a queasy feeling inside, then you probably don't understand journalism.

Because this isn't journalism. It's trolling. Worse than that, it's blatant, insouciant trolling. Thiessen used to work for Roger Stone, and it shows. He tries to make some bald-assed excuses and justifications for it, but they're specious and transparent. They're a thinly-veiled front for trollery itself, pure and simple.

For those of you barred by the paywall, Thiessen wrote a defense—actually, a celebration—of the "Let's go, Brandon" chant.

These two paragraphs are about all anyone needs to get the flavor of Thiessen's piece.

Count me among those in favor of the new chant.
First, it replaces a vulgar epithet with a sarcastic commentary on Biden's disastrous presidency. The focus shifts from insulting Biden the person, to well justified mockery of Biden's catastrophic actions in office. Worst inflation in 30 years? Let's go Brandon! Gas prices up $1.31 a gallon since his election? Let's go Brandon! Home heating prices skyrocketing? Let's go Brandon! Self-inflicted crisis at the southern border? Let's go Brandon! Left hundreds of Americans behind in Afghanistan? Let's go Brandon! Can't find a Thanksgiving turkey or the Christmas gifts your kids want because store shelves are bare? Let's go Brandon! Approval rating dropped to 36 percent? Let's go Brandon!
People are using it in hilarious ways. In Virginia, someone broke into the control cabinets for two electronic road signs and changed the messaging to read "Let's go Brandon!" When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a signing ceremony for a legislation barring vaccine mandates in his state, he held it in Brandon, Fla.. In Brandon, Minn., someone put the words "Let's go" in front of six signs welcoming visitors to the city.

There are plenty of venues online for trolls, but they shouldn't include The Washington Post. There's something seriously awry, something seriously wrong with the outlet's editorial decision-making.

I admit I rarely encounter anything quite so off-putting in journalism that I can't find a rationalization for it, so this is a rarity, and I think a lot of my reaction has to do with the source itself. I can't fathom this kind of writing passing muster under any prior formulation or ownership of The Post, so I have to wonder if that is the reason we're seeing it here.

My feeling is that Thiessen's column should never have been allowed to go to print. Perhaps The Post feels this is the best representation of a "conservative" viewpoint available. But I have to wonder whether a supposedly mainstream, authoritative, and scrupulous news outlet that permits something that purports to defend trolling, even on its opinion pages, is really worth my time. If it's that bad, that empty-headed and trollish, why publish it? This goes well beyond "differences in opinion." It's just a matter of class, reputation, and ultimately, trustworthiness.

I guess your mileage may vary.

The states where the most people are quitting their jobs have these 2 things in common

The business owners whose blood, sweat, and tears—or at least their fancy, high-priced educations, family connections and access to venture capital—built this country, dammit were hellbent and determined to show American workers who was boss. This COVID-19 nonsense was not going to interfere with their profits any longer. It was time to take a stand.

So they all had their administrative assistants conference in their favorite state legislators, the same ones who helpfully passed legislation a few years back, keeping pesky unions out of their states. They called in their chits for all those campaign contributions to the governor. They called their Republican House reps and senators. Damn that Fauci, they complained. My business is hurting. No more lockdowns, no more of this "social distancing "crap. This state is going to open for business and I don't want to hear another word about body counts or stressed hospitals. I need workers and I need them now. I paid for your damn campaigns, so do something!

And those state representatives and senators leapt into action. In a matter of a few weeks we saw state after state brimming with self-appointed medical experts in their legislatures, railing about the tyrannical mask mandates and business lockdowns. CEOs and white-collar professionals cracked their whips—many still from the comfort of their fine second homes and pools. And thus the support staff, the retail clerks and the service workers, many of whom who had once been adoringly lionized as "essential" at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, were told it was time to return to work. And for added good measure, Republican governors in those states cut off their unemployment aid. That'll show them, they thought ...

But strangely enough, not all of those workers heeded the call. In fact, a good many of them quit.

As reported by Alyssa Fowers and Eli Rosenberg, writing for The Washington Post:

Kentucky, Idaho, South Dakota and Iowa reported the highest increases in the rates of workers who quit their jobs in August, according to a new glimpse of quit rates in the labor market released Friday.

The largest increase in the number of quitters happened in Georgia, with 35,000 more people leaving their jobs. Overall, the states with the highest rates of workers quitting their jobs were Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho.

As The Post points out, the interesting thing about this data is that service-sector jobs are most highly concentrated in urban areas. So why would people be quitting their jobs at such astronomical rates in such relatively rural states as Kentucky, South Dakota, Iowa and Idaho?

Fowers and Rosenberg offer a clue:

Employees quit or were hired at rates matching or exceeding the national average in the ten states with the highest rates of new infections that month: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

So the highest rate of turnover in August—employees quitting or getting hired—was found in the states which had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection for that month. Logically, that seems to make sense. Workers who live in one of those states were also likely to have a governor or, in the case of Kentucky, a Republican-dominated legislature who opposed business closures, even while the delta variant ravaged the state's population. Such workers were essentially forced by these states policies to return to work if they could not work from home.

Those people forced back to work in an unsafe environment simply decided to quit—many of them likely before ever venturing back into their workspace. After all, they saw a job the other day that was offering more money. Or their next-door neighbor's cousin got a job that pays more and allows them to work from home. The Post article quotes Nick Bunker, an economist for the job search portal Indeed, who notes that the high quit rate in these red and rural states "may be a sign there's more competition in those parts of the country than other parts."

The other interesting point about all of the states having both the highest level of turnover and the highest infection rates? They are all so-called "right to work" states, where legislatures passed legislation to disincentivize and discourage unions. So these workers have essentially no protection, no one to turn to for help remedying unsafe conditions, and no collective bargaining power; they can, for the most part, be terminated at will. That's what "right-to work" has always been about.

As one commenter to The Post story points out:

So, when you have a crappy job, for crappy wages, and a crappy employer who doesn't value you at all, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a labor market situation that actually encourages you to look for work elsewhere--what do you think is going to happen? The 'Great Resignation' is largely about working class people attempting to use what little leverage they have in order to make a moderately better wage for themselves in a mostly hostile, oppressive national work environment.

For employers, the downside of "right to work"— one they never saw coming—was the fact that workers in those states had little, if any, incentive to stay, especially when once-in-a lifetime opportunities arose for them to leave, while competition for higher wages and better working conditions further drove that exodus.

Some employers are responding by antagonizing would-be applicants.

In Missouri, a group of businesses, still frustrated by labor shortages more than three months after the state cut off the $300-a-week federal jobless checks, paid for billboards in Springfield that said: "Get Off Your Butt!" and "Get. To. Work."

The state has seen no growth in its workforce since ending emergency benefits.
"We don't know where people are," said Brad Parke, general manager of Greek Corner Screen Printing and Embroidery, who helped pay for the billboards. "Obviously, they're not at work. Apparently, they're at home."

The attempt to force workers back to dangerous, unsafe pandemic working conditions—brought on by short-sighted Republican policymakers for political ends—has collided with a culture where workplace protections and the ability to bargain have been completely devalued (also by Republican politicians), leaving workers as essentially dispensable commodities.

No wonder they're quitting for greener pastures in those states. Republican elected officials and their business donors in those same states have no one to blame but themselves. They created this environment, and now they're going to have to cope and adjust with workers who want more out of their jobs … and know they can get it. They have to keep up and do better, or see their businesses go under.

Funny how that worked out.

GOP national fundraising arm goes full cult — calls nondonors 'traitors' and 'deserters' to Trump

You only have to look at Republican fundraising tactics to gain a real appreciation for the sheer contempt Donald Trump and the GOP establishment feel toward their run-of-the-mill, nonbillionaire supporters. Trump's perpetual grift-at-all-costs technique for money-grubbing went into overdrive as the 2020 election approached, when his campaign adopted a tactic called "dark pattern design," tricking unsuspecting small-scale donors into committing to recurring donations through a prechecked box on his campaign website. This underhanded practice locked unsuspecting constituents into making regular payments through automatic deductions from their bank accounts or credit cards, a scam intended to bilk them for as much as possible until they discovered it. Ultimately, Trump and the Republican Party were forced to return over $77 million in such "donations," a figure that accounted for approximately 20% of Trump's total fundraising for the year.

Trump's dirty methods weren't limited to his voting base. From the very start of his campaign in 2016, the supposed multimillionaire business mogul built a well-earned reputation for stiffing the venues—most often cash-strapped municipalities—that he selected for his rallies. The Trump family skipped out of the White House in January this year owing nearly $2 million in unpaid debts to cities across the country. From Spokane to Albuquerque to Wildwood, New Jersey, these debts were incurred by credulous local officials who provided the police protection and security those rallies required in the full expectation they'd be reimbursed. To date there is no indication that any of those debts were ever paid. The Trump organization has told these cities to try to seek reimbursement through the Secret Service, effectively thumbing their nose at them.

On a national level, the fundraising arm of Republican Party has apparently adopted this mentality after four years of watching and learning from Trump. Their latest tactic, as shared by Forbes reporter Andrew Solender, involves cajoling and intimidating individual donors with personal threats and insults.

The following is taken directly from a text ad recently released by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC):

You're a traitor… You abandoned Trump. We were told you were a tried & true, lifelong patriot. But when Trump said he'd run for President if we took back the House from Nancy Pelosi … You did nothing. Was Trump wrong about you? This is your final chance to prove your loyalty or be branded a deserter. We're giving you one final chance to stand with Trump. You only have 17 minutes."

The ad itself appears below:

From an outsider's perspective, it's difficult to fathom why anyone receiving this text would feel anything but annoyance and disgust. It's next to impossible to conceive of any Democratic fundraising entity, for example, employing this blatant of an approach. To understand why the NRCC feels this tactic might be successful, some insight into the nature of what the Republican Party has now become is necessary. In the context of this particular ad, there is actually more going on than meets the eye.

First, the recipient is provided with a fait accompli: "You're a traitor." Not, "You will be a traitor (if you fail to do this)," nor even an exhortation to "not" be a traitor. The bare fact is that the recipient's betrayal is a given, something already accomplished, because he or she "abandoned Trump." Note that the betrayal here is not towards the Republican Party, certainly not the NRCC, but to the individual persona of Donald Trump. Does anyone want to be a traitor? Of course not: The intent here is to immediately put the reader on the defensive.

Next, the recipient is informed of the reasons for and depth of their betrayal. They're told that by breaking faith with Trump, they have let others down, specifically those who wrongly mistook them as a "tried & true, lifelong patriot." This belief in their patriotism was also shared by Trump; the reader has grievously broken that faith by doing "nothing," which actually means not contributing to the NRCC.

Lastly, a "final" warning is presented—an opportunity to make amends—and the reader is informed that failure to do will result in their being branded as a "deserter," forever ostracized and vilified by the Republican Party, and, implicitly, of course, by Donald Trump.

Of course, this is cult mentality at its finest. Two near-universal hallmarks of cults are the elevation of an authority figure to near-deity status, and the threat of "shunning" and ostracism for those who try to leave. Claims of "special" knowledge that only cult members possess—such as Trump's promotion of the Big Lie—and an overriding "us versus them" mentality are also common characteristics of such groups. Nor should we ignore the distinct possibility that, as disciples of authoritarianism, many Republicans actually crave being addressed and debased by such terminology; it's worth noting that when asked his opinion about these texts, Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger acknowledged their effectiveness.

The fact that this text boils down to a mere solicitation for money shouldn't obscure the more profound and troubling fact that one of this country's two major political parties has become so beholden to a single personality that all significant decisions it now makes, including how to raise funds, are inextricably tied to that person's fortunes.

The fact that this individual has a proven, lethal track record of treachery, deceit, and complete indifference to basic principles of good faith—let alone the welfare of the country and all norms of human decency—makes that solicitation all the more remarkable. There has never been a state of affairs quite like this in our country's history; the closest analogue was McCarthyism nearly 70 years ago, but even Joe McCarthy's sordid, demagogic personality didn't permeate the Republican Party the way Trump has.

Yet when McCarthy finally fell from grace, his name became a curse practically overnight. All of his power to control, intimidate, and bully others simply vanished into thin air. Republicans so eager to emulate Donald Trump, now clinging so desperately to his coattails out of cowardice and opportunism, would probably do well to remember that.

Neocon Robert Kagan offers a terrifying treatise on Trump and the future of the nation

Some of the most intelligent and penetrating criticism of what has become of the Republican Party in the wake of Donald Trump has come from disaffected, former Republicans. From The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin to The Atlantic's David Frum, to the newer breed of "never-Trumpers" such as The Lincoln Project's Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson, the harshest, most biting—and often the most spot-on—condemnations of the GOP's descent into a fascist cult of Trump, and of Trump himself, have come from these folks.

Some may be inclined to discount such criticism as merely pique or grievance by those who now find themselves exiled from a political party that they literally spent their lives respecting. But for those inclined to believe that, I suggest that before dismissing their motivations, you try to put yourselves in their place. Imagine witnessing your political party, probably the source of most of your personal and social identity, utterly despoiled by a crude, criminal-minded sociopath who has managed to channel the worst, most un-American impulses from the same people you once considered your closest and most like-minded allies. The realization that one has more or less permanently consigned as an outsider simply by refusing to bow to this new cult mentality must be more than unpleasant, it must be mortifying. For these (apparently few) people in the GOP, two plus two still equals four; it can never, and must never be five, despite what the sycophants think.

Robert Kagan was one of the original neocons, a co-founder of the ill-fated Project for the New American Century, which provided Republicans the intellectual rationale (to the extent that one could possibly exist) for the American foreign policy debacle known as the Iraq War. For this, his views and opinions are understandably held at arm's length by most Democrats. However, he was one of the few people early on who took the threat posed by Donald Trump quite seriously. In a May 2016 opinion piece for The Washington Post, titled "This is How Fascism Comes to America," written before Trump had actually secured the GOP presidential nomination, Kagan wasn't simply prescient; it now seems as if he had traveled back in time from 2021 with a warning of exactly what was to come.

Kagan foresaw exactly why the Trump phenomenon was different and far more sinister than anything the American republic had ever before witnessed, by virtue of Trump's hold on his followers. In a new piece for The Washington Post, Kagan updates his original assessment with analysis that, if anything, paints an even more sobering and dire picture of the threat Trump poses not just to Republicans, but to the future of this nation.

In 2016, Kagan wrote:

[T]he entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone.
What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger.

Kagan recognized well before Trump was elected that the aura of mass resentment and hatred that he cultivated was a larger and far more dangerous thing than Trump himself: "[W]hat he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the 'mobocracy.'"

And Kagan knew exactly what to call it:

This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called "fascism."

In that column Kagan predicted—with astonishing accuracy—exactly how his fellow Republicans would react to a Trump presidency: Some would leap to jump on the bandwagon simply because of their ambition, exhorting the leader's virtues with their full-throated support with the expectation that their behavior would be rewarded. These are the Matt Gaetzes, the Ted Cruzes, and the Paul Gosars, along with well over a hundred members of the House Sedition Caucus who voted to overturn the the 2020 election.

Others would merely toe Trump's line out of pure expediency. As Kagan put it then: "Their consciences won't let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin's show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway." These were the Paul Ryans and Bob Corkers of the party at that time. We know what happened to them: They got out quickly, and are now all but forgotten.

Others would simply go along to get along, secretly confident that Trump was merely a brief phenomenon that would burn itself out. Meanwhile they'd enjoy the opportunities provided by his ascendance. Those are the Marco Rubios, the Ben Sasses, and the Mitt Romneys, confident they will weather the storm unscathed by Trump's putrefaction, some doubtlessly believing that the Trump stench now sanctified by their party will somehow, one day, allow itself to be scrubbed away.

As Kagan explained in 2016, those who believed this comforting, illusory fairy tale would be proven wrong as well.

What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically.

Four and a half years later, Kagan doesn't bother to reference his 2016 article in his new piece. He doesn't need to. His subject now is the immediate future of the American republic. In Friday's lengthy, detailed and damning piece for The Washington Post, he spells out in where we are most likely heading.

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.

Kagan, like many others, has absolutely no doubt that Trump will run again in 2024. Nor does he doubt that his former Republican allies will conspire to do whatever is necessary to ensure Trump's victory, including overthrowing elections wherever states' official vote counts suggest otherwise. To emphasize his point, Kagan recounts what most of us are already aware of: the systematic Trumpification of state and local election officials who will eagerly jump at the chance to negate and falsify any election that does not turn out the way Trump wants in 2024.

Meanwhile, Kagan notes, Democrats respond with essentially futile attempts to respond within the parameters of law, passing what are essentially symbolic measures like the John Lewis Voting Rights bill and the abortion rights bill, both of which are doomed to fail, thanks to wholesale Republican opposition as well as the GOP's apologists and useful fools within the Democratic Party who refuse to abolish the filibuster.

As Kagan sees it, this is the reality of our future about three years from now.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn't have.

According to Kagan, this is the path we're on, while Democrats continue to pretend that "laws" and "procedure" and "polity" have any meaning. In this Kagan reiterates, without directly mentioning it, exactly what he said in 2016.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

Kagan also makes some salient points that have not been raised before, particularly about what our country is likely to look like after 2022, once, as he predicts, "the Republican zombie party wins control of the House," and an entire branch of our government becomes hostage to the likes of Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. He believes Trump will announce his candidacy at that time, and will soon be allowed back on Twitter, on Facebook, and everywhere else that Americans go to to get their information. "With his megaphone back, Trump would once again dominate news coverage, as outlets prove unable to resist covering him around the clock if only for financial reasons." Kagan believes that there is no way that these social media outlets will be able to justify restricting Trump's lies once he becomes an official candidate with a following in the tens of millions.

There is a lot to unpack in Kagan's piece, far more than can be excerpted here in compliance with fair use doctrine. But he ends with an oblique plea to "anti-Trump" Republicans to stand up and denounce Trump's fascist destruction of our republic, and to work with Democrats on issues limited to the preservation of our elections; however he does not explain what could possibly motivate anyone within the GOP—a party that is now wholly under Trump's control—to do so.

Kagan also admonishes Democrats to avoid painting all GOP policies over the past 30 years merely as "precursors to Trumpism," in order to make space for Republicans to take that opportunity. But he offers no real reason why we should expect Republicans to respond to such an overture if it were made. Republicans didn't listen in 2016, and there's frankly no reason to expect them to pay attention now. Additionally, as Kagan himself points out, the reason that saving our elections cannot be accomplished right now—thanks to the filibuster—owes itself to the timidity of such Republicans as much as it does to Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

If there is a fault in Kagan's analysis, it is the implicit assumption that a sufficient number of Republicans still exist who actually care about the continuation of the American experiment, so much so that they would be willing to withstand the wrath of Trump and his rabidly insensate base. What Trump has shown us is that there simply aren't very many of those Republicans left.

If the republic is to be saved, it appears all but certain that Democrats alone will be ones to save it.

Indiana county rejects $3 million health grant after COVID-19 conspiracy theories sway council vote

If ever there was a clear-cut demonstration of why the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been such a catastrophic failure in so many U.S. states, the county council of Elkhart County, Indiana just provided a good example. This week the northern Indiana county voted to reject $3 million in federal funds that were requested by its own health department, after local residents deluged the council with conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the federal government's supposedly sinister role in combating and containing it.

As reported by the Associated Press:

The Elkhart County health department had sought the grant to hire staff members to provide education on chronic diseases to Black, Hispanic and Amish residents over a three-year period. The county council's 6-0 vote on Sept. 11 against accepting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, however, had some health leaders saying the council was swayed by what they view as false information and conspiracy theories.

The money sought by the health department was intended to pay for the the hiring of six badly-needed new health care staff, and was solicited in direct response to a health needs survey of the county's two major hospitals which had found the county's Black, Hispanic and Amish residents weren't getting enough information relating to preventable health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. The survey determined that due to this lack of outreach the county's hospitals were filling up with patients unnecessarily, so the new staffers were sought to reach out into local communities to provide more education.

As explained by Roger Schneider, reporting for the Goshen News, in addition to paying for these new hires, the grant funding would have encompassed "mental health [treatment] with a need for a mobile response unit, co-morbidities and treatment of chronic disease" within these communities. The grant request also had the strong backing of local mayors within the county. All in all, it seemed like a smart move to improve the health of the county's citizens and relieve overstressed local hospitals.

But the health of their own community was the last thing on the minds of several residents who showed up at the county's council meeting on September 11th. Instead, the focus of these residents was on conspiracy theories, expressed in paranoiac rants about the federal government's role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The catalyst for this bizarre performance was apparently a single line in the federal grant application that stipulated local health officials agree to work in tandem with the CDC to track the number of local COVID-19 infections, and assisting their efforts to contact trace and quarantine infected residents.

This boilerplate contractual provision apparently smacked of sheer "government tyranny" and overreach to many of these folks, who had obviously absorbed all of their knowledge about COVID-19 from Fox News and inflammatory right-wing social media postings.

One local resident, Alison Gingerich was typical, weighing in with her deeply-felt "concerns:"

"I have to believe this grant has a lot to do with COVID," she said. "We are tired of being educated on COVID. We have had two years of education on COVID. Two years of contract tracing with COVID. Any more education stands for threat, coercion, bullying and virtue signaling. And we are done with it. If we have $3 million to throw around let's throw it around somewhere else. We are tired of masking our children.
"We are tired of being forced to get vaccines. And quite frankly, yesterday or the day before President Biden declared civil war on the country. And that is why we are here. We are very concerned. We are concerned our freedoms are being taken way and by perpetuating this crisis that is not a crisis, you can look at the numbers, we are not tripping over dead bodies in the streets. So, we are tired of the fear and tired of it being continued."

As noted above, the grant itself had nothing to do with COVID-19, and nothing to do with vaccines, despite Ms. Gingerich's rambling speech. It was intended to bolster the local health department's dwindling resources to improve the overall health of the community. According to Dr. Daniel Nafziger, a former county health official interviewed for the Goshen News article, the county's hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed due to the influx of COVID-19 patients. He compared the county's situation to that of the state Idaho (which recently implemented a policy of rationing care), saying that the county's health system is close to "breaking." But as this council meeting showed, once this right-wing, paranoid framing of everything COVID-related becomes entrenched in people's minds it's next to impossible to talk any sense to them.

This is particularly the case when elected community leaders opt to grandstand rather than do the harder work of explaining issues to an ignorant, uninformed public. Explaining why he would vote against the grant request, a council member named Adam Bujalski cited that single sentence in the grant application and flatly declared "That one sentence is my no … I refuse to say that whatever the federal government tells me I have to do I have to do. I will never say that." All told, over 20 people spoke out against receiving this free money from the federal government, many wearing "Vote NO" stickers and sporting T-shirts with American flags and words like "JESUS" emblazoned on them.

In the end the vote was not close, and there was no dissent: the county voted unanimously to reject the grant request sought by its own health department.

Of course, since some of this grant money would have gone towards improving the health and lives of people of color there was probably an element of racism underlying this strange disregard of free federal funds. Photos of the meeting show a nearly all-white audience in attendance, and the council itself is made up almost entirely of white men. The county is strongly Republican and many of the constituents who would have benefited directly from the grant were ostensibly within its Democratic demographic. Had the express purpose of this grant been something other than shoring up the health of the county's minority populations the result may have been different.

But the county's willingness to forego money their own federal taxes had paid for in the face of these ranting, deluded constituents spouting conspiracy nonsense speaks volumes about just how dysfunctional the response to this pandemic has become, particularly in staunchly "red" areas of the country such as this. According to the AP article, Elkhart County, just east of South Bend, "saw severe COVID-19 outbreaks earlier in the year and was under a county health department-issued mask mandate for months until county commissioners refused in May to extend it under a new Republican-backed state law that required elected officials to approve such requirements."

Which means that these residents' so-called concerns about federal overreach are completely meritless. The CDC has no power in Elkhart county to "enforce" the kind of mandates these people were ranting about, nor do they have the power to "force" the vaccines on anyone or "quarantine" anyone. The provision requiring that local health departments cooperate with the federal government is simply a reiteration of what the CDC's position has been since the pandemic started. The coordination of COVID-19 infection data with the federal government simply provides the means for the CDC to determine where the virus is progressing and where it is on the wane, so federal resources can be properly allocated.

That's simply how the government goes about combating the pandemic to save as many lives as possible. At the risk of stating the obvious, all those efforts are intended to keep people like Alison Gingerich and her ilk alive and out of the county's few remaining ICU's. They're not part of some government conspiracy to take away anyone's "freedoms." Interviewed for the Associated Press article, former Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman was left shaking his head in dismay after the council's vote rejecting the grant:

"Never have I seen something like this before, ever. And I never thought I ever would. It's craziness," Kauffman said. "What news do these people read, for God's sakes? ... They want to believe these conspiracy theories."

The brainwashing and manipulation of entire regions of this country by Fox News and right-wing media has now reached its apotheosis in scenarios like the one just displayed in Elkhart county, where local governments are now willing to cut off their own noses to spite their face, rather than support the national effort to contain the virus' spread. The irony is that many of the attendees at that Elkhart county council meeting will be the same ones who end up in the hospital, loudly demanding their "freedoms," right up to the point when the ventilator tubes are pushed down their throats.

Your religion doesn't allow the COVID-19 vaccine? Here are some other medications you can't take

t's well understood that Facebook and other social media sites have transformed millions of ordinary Americans into newly minted internet virologists and microbiologists, furiously digging through memes and videos—most of highly dubious origin—to find any justification for their preexisting, often politically inspired rationales for refusing the COVID-19 vaccines. Now that thousands of employers are imposing strict workplace policies requiring employees to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing for the virus, one of the more common excuses they see is the so-called religious exemption, which typically involves an attempt to equate the vaccines with aborted fetuses.

Although such moral arbiters as the Vatican, for example, have debunked attempts to associate the vaccines with cells of human fetuses, vaccine refuseniks have seized upon the developmental phase of the current vaccines, which relied in part on the use of fetal cell lines descended from such cells (originally obtained in the 1970s and '80s) and regenerated in laboratories over hundreds of cellular generations for continued use in medical and scientific research. As explained by Nebraska Medicine, for example, "[u]sing fetal cell lines to test the effectiveness and safety of medications is common practice, because they provide a consistent and well-documented standard." In other words, they are often the best way to test and ensure that vaccines are safe and reliable, or, as in the case of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, to create an adenovirus vector that makes them effective against COVID-19. They don't become "part" of the actual vaccine itself. As pointed out by Reuters, such fetal cell lines "have been used since the 1960s to develop vaccines such as chickenpox, hepatitis A, shingles and rubella, as well as drugs for diseases like cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and rheumatoid arthritis."

Still, for many Americans informed solely by their social media research, the attenuated relationship between vaccines and these derivative cell lines used in their developmental and production phases is beside the point: having heard the magic words "fetal cell," their thirst for knowledge suddenly dries up, and their resolve to refuse the vaccine hardens into a pseudo-religious conviction, creating a dilemma for their employers who want to maintain a safe workplace. Faced with such tactics among some members of its staff refusing to be vaccinated, one hospital system has decided to simply embrace these vaccine refusers' arguments by taking them a step further to their logical conclusion, Beth Mole reports for ArsTechnica:

A hospital system in Arkansas is making it a bit more difficult for staff to receive a religious exemption from its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The hospital is now requiring staff to also swear off extremely common medicines, such as Tylenol, Tums, and even Preparation H, to get the exemption.
The move was prompted when Conway Regional Health System noted an unusual uptick in vaccine exemption requests that cited the use of fetal cell lines in the development and testing of the vaccines.

The list of common over-the-counter medications (as well as commonly prescribed drugs) which were developed, produced, or tested in manners similar to the developmental COVID-19 vaccines, using descendant lines from old fetal cells encompasses just about anything you would commonly turn to for headache, allergy, or indigestion relief:

The list includes Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, ibuprofen, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, albuterol, Preparation H, MMR vaccine, Claritin, Zoloft, Prilosec OTC, and azithromycin.

Under Conway Regional's procedure, an employee seeking a "religious exemption" must also swear off these medicines, whose historical development, pre- and post-production testing or production processes involved using fetal cell lines in the same manner as that of the COVID-19 vaccines. As Mole reports, if the employee refuses to sign an attestation swearing that they will not consume these common medicines "and any others like them," they are granted only a temporary exemption from the vaccination policy, presumably to give them enough time to find another job. The attestation itself notes that they will again be asked to either sign it or get vaccinated under potential penalty of termination or other disciplinary action.

As Conway Regional CEO Matt Troup puts it in an interview for Becker's Hospital Review, the intent of this attestation is twofold:

"The intent of the religious attestation form is twofold: to ensure staff requesting exemption are sincere in their beliefs and to educate staff who might have requested an exemption without understanding the full scope of how fetal cells are used in testing and development in common medicines."

According to Troup, only about 5% of its approximately 1,830 employees have requested such a "religious exemption." As reported by KARK 4 News, the attestation required by Conway has made its way onto social media, where it has been criticized as "condescending:"

Troup noted that he is aware the form has started making the rounds on social media put pushed back on the idea held by critics that it took a condescending tone, saying he did not think that to be the case and noting that talking down to staffers was not what they are trying to do.
"We really have no interest in, no intent of being disrespectful here," he said. "That's not what this is about. This is a lightning rod issue, and we have no interest in trying to incite more anger and frustration."

In other words, anti-vaxxers shouldn't take any of this personally. It's strictly business.

How Steve Bannon's daily podcast is running the entire GOP agenda

On Wednesday evening Rachel Maddow made an excellent point: While Democrats and the Biden administration focus on the mundane aspects of trying to do what's best for the American people—passing infrastructure legislation, preserving and protecting the right to vote against GOP measures to suppress it, combating the causes and effects of climate change, and trying to ensure that women retain autonomy over their own bodies, for example—for Republicans, even addressing or staking out a position on these issues has become, at most, a peripheral concern.

You would expect a party that professes some legitimate relationship to the American people to at least set forth its policy views on these matters. But, as Maddow noted on Wednesday, that is not what Republicans are talking about. In reality, the Republicans have only one focus now: the negation of fair and lawful elections that don't go their way. That has been the crux of their entire collective effort since Trump lost the election last November. It is the focus in California, where the racist Fox News crackpot Larry Elder apparently received unpleasant news from his internal polling and is now playing the "fraud" card, in the apparent expectation that he will lose that state's recall election against Gavin Newsom. It is happening in Nevada, where Trump-endorsed candidate Adam Laxalt has preemptively suggested that if he fails to unseat Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto in 2022, it will only be due to some unspecified "fraud."

The "stolen election/voter fraud" theme is now the official GOP talking point. As Maddow observed, Republicans everywhere are now using it and will continue to use it in 2022 and beyond. The tactic is being chiefly promoted and driven by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief of staff, and reinforced through his daily podcasts, which, like NBC News, ProPublica and others have pointed out, are now virtually required listening for most Republican officials, whether elected or intent on being elected. This is where their marching orders are coming from.

While Bannon's podcasts touch obliquely on current events (the latest fixation of their contrived outrage is Afghanistan, for example), the overwhelming emphasis is on conjuring up and amplifying the phony threat of "election fraud," urging on the nationwide bogus, partisan audits and investigations, and providing preordained conclusions to those investigations. As Pro Publica reported in their analysis of Bannon's efforts, this nationalization of Trump's Big Lie has been extraordinarily successful up to this point, prompting a massive surge in local election precinct membership among Trump's most delusional, violent, and white nationalist base of support:

The new movement is built entirely around Trump's insistence that the electoral system failed in 2020 and that Republicans can't let it happen again. The result is a nationwide groundswell of party activists whose central goal is not merely to win elections but to reshape their machinery.

Bannon's podcast is a disinformation megaphone the likes of which Josef Goebbels could have only dreamed of, and it is incredibly corrosive to this country's democratic institutions. It is the cynical product of a man who has exercised (or attempted to exercise) an insidious influence not only on far-right, proto-fascist movements and political parties in Europe but now apparently in Brazil as well, on behalf of would-be dictator Jair Bolsonaro. And the fact that the entire GOP is currently operating in lockstep with—and at the bidding of—such a person tells you everything you need to know about how the 2022 election will be framed: Every contest in which a Republican loses will now be susceptible to an ongoing, malicious attack on that election's integrity, bar none.

And Democrats have every reason to be appalled by this Bannon takeover of the Republican party. (In reality, all Americans should be appalled, but as the listless reaction by the GOP faithful to the terrorist assault of Jan. 6 showed, we cannot expect any fealty to democracy from the vast majority of Republicans.) But there is a silver lining to this seditious perfidy by Bannon and others: it serves to make all forthcoming elections a referendum on Donald Trump, to the exclusion of all else.

Bannon himself has created this effect by tying his entire effort to the 2020 election. (In his podcasts, rather than refer to it directly, he calls it "3 November," as if the bare mention of the date has a mobilizing resonance similar to Jan. 6 or Sept. 11.) All of the invented, phony, and racially tinged rhetoric about voter fraud hawked in his podcasts stem from the given assumption that Trump was wrongfully denied reelection. And Trump himself has been more than eager to support it, as he showed this week by injecting his assessment of the California recall election as tainted, even before any votes were tallied. Trump's anointed candidates, such as Laxalt and the countless others who will follow him, have all irrevocably signed onto this playbook. That is their sole roadmap.

So be it. Just a few weeks ago, plenty of political prognosticators were gleefully downplaying Democrats' chances in California (and, by implication, the 2022 midterms), touting the fact that Trump was no longer on the ballot. Republicans, by leaping onto the Bannon bandwagon, have now made it essential that he be implicitly on the ballot, even as they resolve to delegitimize any Democratic wins as the product of fraud. Seen in this perspective, every election from this point forward is a referendum on Trump and Trump-ism. Fascist-admirers like Bannon believe that this is a winning strategy, but to an electorate that has already rendered a decidedly negative verdict on Joe Biden's predecessor—a judgment which was amply reinforced by the horrific attacks by Trump supporters on Jan. 6—he may have inadvertently provided the single strongest motivation for Democrats to vote.

When Georgia held its special election on Jan. 5, pitting Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff against two GOP incumbents, it was in the wake of weeks of rhetoric from Trump attempting to delegitimize the electoral process. At that time, Trump's mob of white supremacist terrorists had yet to demonstrate their violent and utter contempt for our institutions by assaulting the Capitol. Many political observers concluded that Trump's efforts sabotaged the GOP's chances by depressing and demotivating the vote. But the converse effect, the concerted mobilization of the Black vote by Stacey Abrams and others, was perhaps less remarked upon. Far from having its desired effect, the tactic of falsely crying voter fraud hurt GOP turnout.

The entire underlying premise of Bannon's podcast is the illegitimacy of the Democratic voter. But as the elections of Sens. Warnock and Ossoff showed, people react very negatively to attempts to delegitimize them. For many, it simply increases their resolve to vote. While every district is certainly different, if Republicans expect the tactic to work as a national strategy, they have to resign themselves to the fact that the election thereby becomes all about Trump, everything that Trump did in office and has done in the wake of his defeat. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, for example, is doing just that in Virginia right now.

Trump is the most polarizing figure in American politics, and by and large, all Democrats viscerally despise him. By overtly basing their entire strategy on the petulant lies of a failed president, Republicans who choose to follow down the primrose path Bannon has laid for them may well be giving the Democrats a midterm opportunity of a lifetime.

Democrats should embrace that opportunity: make every election a referendum on Donald Trump, tying every Republican to his attempts to overturn the election. And pull out all the stops to get our voters to the polls.

'Legend': Texas dad drops his pants at school board meeting to make a point about wearing masks

So many times my kids will say to me, "Dad did you hear about ____?" or "Did you see the video about ___?," and so many times I've said, "Oh yeah I saw that" (most commonly because someone here has mentioned it or posted it) that I am now to the point where I simply interrupt with, "Yeah I saw it" right after I hear the words "Dad did you see—?"

And I'm usually right—I have already seen many of the things my kids rush to tell me about. But not always. Lest we forget, there is a whole parallel universe of social media out there for which Daily Kos is but a tiny, miniscule particle drifting in space, one where most young people between the age of 10 and 20 or so get their information. I am speaking, of course, of the mega-omniverse of TikTok.

The following video has been making the rounds of both TikTok (and also Facebook-- for the sake of the dwindling dinosaur population). It depicts a parent by the name of James Akers who attended a school board meeting in Dripping Springs, Texas on August 23rd. Now, August 23rd is an eon ago in social media time, so I apologize if anyone has seen this, but it does not appear to have been posted as a stand-alone piece in this forum, yet.

The subject of the school board meeting was the same subject now being discussed and debated --sometimes loudly, rudely or profanely — in practically every school board across the country right now: namely, the requirement that children wear masks during school to protect themselves (and each other) from COVID-19. Mr. Akers, like all concerned residents, was allotted 90 seconds to voice his concerns. As reported by ABC7, an affiliate in the Chicago area that like many others carried the story, he used his time to maximum advantage.

First, he declared his general antipathy to any efforts by government to tell him what he can or cannot do:

"I'm here to say I do not like government, or any other entity telling me what to do," Akers began. "But, sometimes I've got to push the envelope a little bit, and I've just decided that I'm going to not just talk about it, but I'm going to walk the walk."

At that point, Mr. Akers began to physically disrobe for added emphasis.

"At work, they make me wear this jacket. I hate it. They make me wear this shirt and tie. I hate it," he said. "On the way over here I ran three stop signs and four red lights. I almost killed somebody out there. But, by God, it's my roads too. So I have every right to drive as fast as I want to."

Here Akers also emphasized that he'd parked in a handicapped spot prior to the board meeting, because he considered it his right to do so. At this point, many in the audience at the meeting had begun to appreciate the intended sarcasm of Mr. Akers' antics. But the room finally erupted with hoots and laughter when he pulled down his pants and stood before the Board in only a "Speedo-jammer" swimsuit. While pandemonium ensued, the Board president politely requested that Akers put his pants back on, which he did.

Afterwards, Akers elaborated on his reasons for the stunt:

"There are too many voices out there that I think are digging in for political reasons, and absolutely just not thinking about the common-sense decisions we make every day to comply with everything from driving down the road and being safe and courteous to other drivers, to not parking in handicapped spots," he told the station. "All these rules that we're given every day that we follow because they make sense, and we know ourselves that it makes sense for the community."

The video of Mr. Akers, which has gone viral, is below.

As described by my son, Akers is now a "legend" on TikTok, and apparently just about everywhere else. As my wife said to me:

"Oh you mean that guy? I saw it last week!"

Enjoy your Labor Day holiday, all those of you who are off.

The thoughtless privilege of America's vaccine refusers

So we sit, month after month, patiently waiting for the 90 million or so unvaccinated, COVID vaccine-eligible people in this country to get off their pampered American asses and drive a meager mile or so to the CVS or Walgreen's to get a safe and simple shot that would prevent a long, painful hospital stay (or at worst, a dismal end-of-life experience on a ventilator) for them. We wait, and wait again, as we read article after article proposing new, clever ways to get the so-called "vaccine hesitant" to come around (Whatever you do, don't criticize them, we're told).

But while we're busy waiting for these people to somehow see the light, we shouldn't lose sight of just how incredibly lucky we all are to live in a country that actually has the wealth and public health infrastructure to provide these vaccines in the first place.

Only 16% of the entire world population has been fully vaccinated at this point, which means 84% of the folks on the planet have not. 83% of all those precious vaccines have gone to people in high and upper-middle income countries, while only 0.3% have gone to low-income countries. As every map depicting vaccine distribution will show, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of all. Many countries on that continent haven't even started providing the vaccine to their populations.

Just stop and think about that—the vaccines have been administered in the US since December, 2020. It's now mid-August, 2021 and many countries haven't even begun to inoculate their citizens, because they can't. Either they don't have access to the vaccines or they don't have the ability to administer them. All that time, in those countries, the pandemic has raged on as virulently as did beginning in February, 2020. Now the delta variant, far more contagious than the original strain, is infecting people in those same countries. And they have no vaccine to ward it off.

Nor will many in these poorer countries be getting the vaccines anytime soon. Most people in the poorest countries will not receive a vaccine until as late as 2023. While we sit and try to cajole our well-educated, well-fed citizens to decide to get the vaccine, these folks continue to get sick and die.

These countries don't have the public health system we enjoy. Most don't have the luxury of many modern hospitals with ICU beds. Many don't have any type of health insurance system at all. As crappy and frustrating as our own health system is, most people in this country still won't be socked with astronomical, life-ending medical bills from COVID-19, but that is what happens like Uganda and Zambia, for example. Most of the working class people in those countries can't even afford to get tested. For many, "social distancing" is next to impossible, living in multi-generational households with poor sanitation and water availability, and certainly no ability to "telecommute" to wherever it is they work.

The situation on the African continent is hardly any better in large swaths of South America, Southern Asia and Southeast Asia. In India, the world's second most populous country, where only 11% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, they've resorted to mass crematoriums just to try to dispose of all the dead bodies piling up.

Most people in those countries really, really would like to be in the position we are in, with vaccines freely available to just about anyone. Many millions of them are simply going to get sick and die, because they happen to have been born in the wrong place. Millions and millions of children in these countries are going to lose one or both of their parents or grandparents. Their lives are going to be forever wrecked by this pandemic.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of people in this country (supposedly one of the most educated in the world) continue to find nonsensical excuses not to get vaccinated. "I wanted to wait and see," "I wasn't sure they were tested enough," "I read on Facebook that they don't do any good," "They're a plot to benefit drug companies," or my favorite, "It's all a liberal hoax; it's nothing worse than the flu."

WTF? Talk about privilege. Talk about entitlement. The fact that these anti-vaccination dipshits even have the leisure time to research their nonsense on Facebook or peddle their foolishness online or in school board meetings is a testament in itself to that privilege. How nice that they have the luxury of making a political statement about their non-vaccinated status!

Junaid Nabi, a health systems researcher and an Emerging Leaders Fellow with UNA-USA, describes the "peculiar privilege" afforded to Americans who refuse to get vaccinated:

As an immigrant in the U.S., I am in the uniquely painful position of witnessing two sides of this story: friends and family here who are unwilling to get vaccines and loved ones in other countries who are unable to get vaccines. Whenever I discuss the refusal of getting vaccinated in the U.S. with people in other countries, they are often baffled that American policymakers need to provide monetary incentives to convince people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, while in their countries, people are desperately seeking any way to get out of this pandemic.

And Kristen Mae, writing for Scary Mommy, describes the reaction of two of her overseas friends to anti-vaccination sentiment in the US:

It is astonishing to both of my friends that so many Americans are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Their foreheads wrinkle in disbelief. Don't Americans realize how good they have it? I cringe in embarrassment. No, I tell them. No, Americans don't realize how good they have it. In fact, it's often the ones who consider themselves the most proud to be an American who are most resistant to getting the vaccine. I can't make sense of it either, I tell my friends.

Most Americans have absolutely no clue how unbelievably fortunate they are to have these vaccines available. The fact that so many are willing to blithely and casually risk the lives and health of others, to say nothing of their own lives, is a sorry testament to American hubris, ignorance and entitlement.

Fox News viewership is directly tied to lower vaccination rates: study

The truly unprecedented refusal of ninety million Americans to accept a safe, available vaccine proven to prevent their own infection, sickness or death from the COVID-19 virus (or its more recent, more transmissible delta variant) has itself spawned a substantial amount of scientific research. Of the various factors conributing to this trend among a huge swath of the U.S. population, political affiliation has generally been deemed the most important, as the stark disparities in vaccination rates between Democratic and Republican-leaning states tend to show. And on the surface, that proposition seems inarguable: 86% of adult Democrats have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to just 52% of Republicans. While some mostly-Democratic constituencies remain unvaccinated (for various reasons), as the highly virulent delta variant progresses, that singular disparity has become more and more evident.

The sheer number of Americans willfully embracing the risks (to themselves and others) from COVID-19 has also provided an unique opportunity for researchers to examine that conclusion, drilling down into the data to determine the specific factors driving this extraordinary behavior. In order to accurately identify those factors it's necessary for researchers to first eliminate political affiliation from the equation — to "control" for it, in other words — in order to isolate other, separate reasons that explain it. Fortunately for science, the ubiquity of vaccine refusers and other available data about them has equipped researchers with the raw tools (in terms of sample size) they need to accomplish this. The lethal nature of the pandemic itself has helped that effort, as many otherwise shy and reticent unvaccinated Republicans have boldly and often publicly revealed their status to medical professionals even as they lay gasping for their last, tortured breaths in ICU units throughout the country, often expressing sorrow or regret for their decisions. But as their remaining time on this earth is often truncated or otherwise occupied by visits from their grieving families it's often difficult to explore all of the factors that led to their fateful choices.

As Olga Khazan, writing for the Atlantic, explains, in February, for example, one peer-reviewed study determined that viewers of Fox News were statistically more likely to say they would refuse the COVID-19 vaccines than viewers of CNN or MSNBC. This appeared to confirm two prior (non peer-reviewed) studies which showed a measurable correlation between Fox News viewership and refusal to comply with stay-at home orders issued by governmental agencies to contain the spread of the virus. A Pew survey also conducted last year confirmed that Fox News viewers were also more likely than their CNN/MSNBC watching peers to believe that the media had "greatly exaggerated" the pandemic; others showed that viewers of conservative news outlets felt that CDC reports were being deliberately slanted to undermine the Trump administration.

These are all useful indicators of potential vaccine refusal, but researchers have been hampered by the lack of actual data to confirm that yes, watching Fox News does in fact cause people to forego getting vaccinated. Now that more data are coming into focus. a new study appears to confirm what many surmised for themselves long ago: Fox News is a major contributing factor for people refusing the COVID-19 vaccines. Put more succinctly, this research suggests that the conservative media outlet has quite literally convinced millions of Americans to risk their health and even their lives.

In a working paper entitled, "Cable News and Covid-19 Vaccine Compliance," researchers at the ETHZurich Center for Law and Economics not only observed an association between lower vaccination rates among Fox News viewers since May, 2021, but established a causal connection as well. As the authors explain, the specific association between Fox and vaccine refusal is driven by the population of viewers under the age of 65, those the least likely to feel threatened by COVID-19.

From the abstract:

We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect, indicating that messaging matters and that the observed effect on vaccinations is not due the consumption of cable news in general. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

Their research paper (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) bases its causal determination on the "exogenous" factor of Fox's position in the local channel lineup, a tool that has been firmly validated in economic and political studies to determine causation.

The networks' channel position in the lineup provides an exogenous instrument for viewership, as widely used in economics and political science...Leveraging the exogenous variation in viewership, we estimate a local average treatment effect and find qualitatively coherent results. Exogenously higher FNC viewership due to channel position causes lower vaccine compliance.
Overall, the results support the interpretation that FNC promulgated a uniquely skeptical narrative about vaccines. That narrative caught on and reduced compliance among the marginal vaccine recipient.

The researchers note that their results are not only attributable to Fox's conservative and anti-science coverage, but also its skeptical treatment of the actual COVID-19 vaccines. As Khazan points out, Fox does not simply advise its viewers to avoid vaccination; what it actually does is more insidious and calculated. By casting aspersions and doubts about the motives of those who promote vaccination (such as Anthony Fauci or President Biden) Fox's media personalitiesy foster a skepticism towards the vaccines themselves:

The power of shows like [Tucker] Carlson's is less in the information they offer than in the assumptions they perpetuate, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you hear the word lie tied to Anthony Fauci, and Anthony Fauci now comes on in a completely different venue, the assumption is, you can't trust Anthony Fauci," she says.

The implications of these findings (which are pretty self-evident to those of us attuned to politics) are profound. For the past year and a half, our country has essentially allowed a political propaganda outlet to negatively influence the collective health decisions of millions of American citizens, decisions which have and will continue to have a potentially devastating impact on nearly every fabric of our public life, from peoples' personal health, to economic decision-making, planning and expenditures. This harmful impact is being allowed to occur at both the state and national level. And all of it is being done in service of profit to a single, monolithic media outlet to satisfy a political agenda.

Of course the impact on individual lives by the influence of this media behemoth is incalculable, as the outcome of its propagandizing effect follows its natural course. Entire states have now become zones of unchecked infection among the unvaccinated population, leaving small children — who have no power to decide whether to get the vaccine even when it becomes available to them — vulnerable and susceptible to the virus due to some Fox-twisted health decisions made by both their parents and by complete strangers. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington posits at least another 76,000 deaths by November 1, but the truth is that no one really knows. The reason that nobody knows is because we have no similar country (in terms of an unvaccinated population) to compare ourselves to.

Former CDC director Tom Friedan:

Fox's symbiotic relationship to the Republican Party, effectively acting as its unofficial mouthpiece, has amplified the effectiveness of its anti-vaccine propaganda exponentially. During the Trump administration, for example, it was virtually impossible to separate Fox News from the pronouncements of administration officials (including, of course, Trump himself). With political figures such as Florida's Ron DeSantis taking their cues directly from Fox to preserve their own viability and ambitions, an epidemic of the unvaccinated was a foregone conclusion in this country.

The sheer human damage and suffering in lives lost and families destroyed or ruined by this media conglomerate and its cynical purveyors is absolutely incalculable. For decades the remaining media in this country have tended to be reticent in their depictions and assessment of Fox News' coverage, presumably out of fear of appearing too "political." But those fears are academic at this point: It's no longer a debate between freedom of speech and political propaganda. It's deliberate, calculated endangerment of human lives, driven solely by profit.

Antivax, anti-mask Maine legislator has COVID — and he doesn't sound too good

Another one bites the dust. From the Bangor Daily News:

Rep. Chris Johansen, a Republican legislator from Monticello who has been an outspoken opponent of coronavirus restrictions, has reportedly contracted COVID-19.

In a recording shared by Mainer News contributor Crash Barry, a man alleged to be Johansen said, "Listen up, I've got COVID and I'm really, really sick and I just don't have time to talk to you today."

Strange. He had plenty of time to talk last year:

Chris Johansen has been an outspoken opponent of state-mandated coronavirus restrictions and has organized multiple protests. In April 2020, he organized a protest in front of the Blaine House asking Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to reopen the state's economy, as well as downplaying the damage that the spread of COVID-19 would have on communities across the country.
Johansen's wife has also reportedly been infected and as of July 21 was spending her third day in the hospital, according to the report. Neither she nor her husband have been vaccinated. Both had reportedly shared posts on Facebook mocking the vaccine and downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.
The GOP lawmaker's wife, Cindy Johansen, confirmed her COVID-19 diagnosis separately in a Facebook post. In the post, she claims to have passed out in her garage and that her "legs were like rubber" at one point. She is considered to be at higher risk for hospitalization with COVID due to her asthma.

Johansen was a particularly vehement opponent of masking. Not only was he one of seven Republicans in the Maine House who refused to wear a mask, he even suggested he might try to sue to prevent Maine's Democratic House speaker from enforcing the mask rule.

As reported in May by the Bangor Daily News:

Johansen said he would not be wearing a mask and was exploring whether legal action could be taken against [House Speaker] Fecteau to prevent him from forcing the mask mandate...[.]
"This is not a private business, this is the state's Legislature," Johansen said.

In the interests of journalistic accuracy it should be noted that thus far the only confirmation that Johansen himself has COVID is limited to the report by Mr. Barry of the Mainer, who Tweeted the following snippet of a phone call that purportedly features Johansen's voice:

Johansen was apparently less forthcoming when contacted for confirmation of his diagnosis by the Portland Press Herald. According to their report, "he wasn't feeling well and didn't stay on the phone long enough to be asked whether he has the virus." Crooks and Liars also reached out to Johansen; according to their report, he replied "I'm uh... I'm not talking right now."

Damn those pesky reporters!

The New York Times profiles 'most influential' purveyor of online COVID vaccine misinformation

Many of us who maintain a social media presence have at least one acquaintance, "Facebook friend" or real-life, actual friend who has in the past year shared some type of official-sounding, medical jargon-laden post questioning the value of the COVID-19 vaccines — or worse, directly asserting or implying that such vaccines are ineffective, harmful, deadly, or will lead to untold health problems.

According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a U.S./UK non-profit dedicated to fighting online disinformation and hate, nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine propaganda peddled in online forums and social media can be traced to exactly twelve individuals, colloquially labelled the "Disinformation Dozen." If you are someone who spends a significant time in social media forums, the chances are high that you have seen, scrolled through or otherwise had some awareness of their activity online, be it in your local school board's Facebook feed or other community sounding boards where supposedly informed individuals trade opinions and information.

According to the New York Times, and as confirmed in the CCDH's comprehensive report profiling these individuals, the number one purveyor of this vaccine misinformation is a gentleman named Joseph Mercola, described by the Times as an osteopathic physician. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he currently headquarters his company in the state of Florida, which, as USA Today's Nada Hassanein illustrates, is rapidly emerging as the nation's predominant "hotspot" for spiking COVID-19 infections, almost entirely among those who have refused to be vaccinated against the virus.

On Saturday the Times' Sheera Frankel profiled Dr. Mercola and cited multiple examples of his work, beginning with an article he published that appeared on Facebook in February. As Frankel reports, that article, clocking in at 3400 words, "declared coronavirus vaccines were "a medical fraud" and said the injections did not prevent infections, provide immunity or stop transmission of the disease." The article (now deleted by Facebook) purportedly claimed that COVID-19 vaccines "alter[ed] your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off-switch." Spread by other anti-vaccine activists and translated into multiple languages, these assertions eventually reached 400,000 Facebook viewers.

Mercola, described as an "internet-savvy entrepreneur who employs dozens," has, according to Frankel's reporting, published approximately 600 articles on Facebook since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Mercola is the pioneer of the anti-vaccine movement," said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. "He's a master of capitalizing on periods of uncertainty, like the pandemic, to grow his movement."

As the vaccination effort in this country approaches what can charitably be described as peak acceptance, the focus of many in the media has justifiably been on such political propaganda outlets such as Fox News, whose motivation for disseminating such lies can be attributed to political ends. It has become increasingly obvious, however, that many of those who refuse to be vaccinated (and thus contribute to the spread of COVID-19 through mutations such as the current delta variant) are having their political preconceptions against vaccinations reinforced through pseudo-medical misinformation they read online.

Several of the individuals profiled in the USA Today article (linked above via Yahoo News) illustrate the huge role social media has taken in fueling and perpetuating the COVID-19 pandemic in this country. As one physician in Florida's Calhoun county -- one of the epicenters of the recent surge in the state's COVID cases, with a current vaccination rate of only 23% -- observes, it is virtually impossible to dissuade people from believing something they read on social media about these vaccines, particularly when it carries the imprimatur of medical expertise.

"We're a small community. We all know people who passed away from COVID. When someone passes away, it's people we know," Davis said. "But I still don't feel like that overrides what people have seen on social media."
Davis has heard it all – from the myths that the vaccine will turn people magnetic to the virus being a hoax. She tries to quell fears, countering the false claims with research and data but patients often shut the conversation down.

The responses she and other medical providers in Florida hear from people who refuse the vaccine typically include assertions that the vaccines are untested, "experimental", and that there is too much contradictory information about them online. Significantly, some of these opinions are being influenced by medical providers themselves; one gentleman quoted in the USA Today article was told by his wife, a registered nurse, that "the vaccines hadn't been studied enough."

As Frankel's article points out, the general scientific and medical illiteracy most of the US population provides the perfect breeding ground for purveyors and profiteers of unreliable information. Mercola is a case in point:

[R]ather than directly stating online that vaccines don't work, Dr. Mercola's posts often ask pointed questions about their safety and discuss studies that other doctors have refuted. Facebook and Twitter have allowed some of his posts to remain up with caution labels, and the companies have struggled to create rules to pull down posts that have nuance.

According to Frankel's article, Mercola, who originally practiced in Illinois, began in the 1990's to shift his practice towards alternative medicine and promoting natural health cures and treatments. A prolific author, he has even had a book on the New York Times' bestseller list. As his fame (and wealth) have increased, he has developed a multinational presence through various consulting companies and offices. His selling tactics, bolstered by a Facebook following of over 1.7 million (he has a Spanish language page with one million followers as well), resort to a routine pattern, according to Frankel:

It starts with making unproven and sometimes far-fetched health claims, such as that spring mattresses amplify harmful radiation, and then selling products online — from vitamin supplements to organic yogurt — that he promotes as alternative treatments.

As Frankel reports, both Twitter and Facebook have taken down and issued cautions about several of Mercola's postings, He has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission for purveying disinformation regarding the cancer-reducing qualities of tanning beds, and he has received a warning from the FDA regarding his claims of about the efficacy of vitamin treatments in treating COVID-19 infection, and for selling unapproved health products. None of these actions appear to have dissuaded him from continuing to post misinformation. Frankel cites a recent example of Mercola continuing to raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccines through his social media feed.

As noted above, Mercola is hardly the only one responsible for vaccine denialism; he is simply has the biggest audience. It's clear though, from what is happening on the ground in Florida, for example, with the widespread refusal among a susceptible, medically ignorant population to accept these vaccines (even in the face of increased infections and deaths), that this country faces an almost perfect storm of disinformation.

Fear is indeed the "mind-killer." By cynically downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic over the past year and a half, Republicans like Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and their allies in the US. Congress and state legislatures have fostered an environment where people's fears and doubts take precedence over science. Those fears and doubts are then exponentially amplified and reinforced by what they read on social media. The anti-vaccine movement has taken full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to sow doubt and regurgitate false or misleading information.

What we are witnessing right now in this country is the predictable outcome of these two insidious, destructive, and wholly complementary narratives, almost in real time.

Almost all COVID-19 deaths now are among the unvaccinated: analysis

In a testament to the incredible effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines developed to combat COVID-19, an analysis by the Associated Press shows that nearly all U.S. deaths attributable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus at this point in time are happening to individuals who have not been fully vaccinated.

As reported by Carla K. Johnson and Mike Stobbe for the Associated Press:

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren't vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

The AP analysis found that the rate of "breakthrough" infections (infections to people fully vaccinated) accounted for only .1% of all COVID-related hospitalizations, based on CDC-supplied data for May 2021, while the number of deaths to fully vaccinated people was less than one percent.

It should be noted that the CDC itself did not conduct such an analysis, citing limitations in the data. For example, as the AP reports, only about 45 states report so-called "breakthrough" infections, and the degree to which such infections are identified varies from state to state depending on the extent and quality of their investigations. Still, the overwhelming effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospitalizations and deaths appears clear from the AP analysis. While this news is not particularly startling—after all, that's the reason the vaccines were developed in the first place—it may give serious pause to those who for whatever reason have intentionally declined the vaccine despite being eligible for it.

As the AP article notes:

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the vaccine is so effective that "nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable." She called such deaths "particularly tragic."

One tragic example cited in Johnson and Stobbe's article is the case of Ross Bagne, a 68-year old resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eligible for the vaccine in February and planning to retire, he declined to get it, feeling that he did not venture out enough to be infected.

He was wrong. Bagne died on June 4, after spending three weeks in the hospital, his lungs filled with fluid. His sister blames the state of Wyoming for failing to emphasize the danger.

"Why was the messaging in his state so unclear that he didn't understand the importance of the vaccine? He was a very bright guy," his sister said. "I wish he'd gotten the vaccine, and I'm sad he didn't understand how it could prevent him from getting COVID."

But what exactly was happening in Wyoming during the time when Bagne's sister felt the state's messaging could have been better in informing and protecting its citizens?

In February of this year, while Bagne eagerly planned for his retired life, Wyoming's Republican governor, Mark Gordon, fully reopened barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, and other "personal care" services throughout the state. In March of this year when Bagne was still very much alive, Gordon (who himself had contracted a mild case of COVID-19 in November) lifted the state's mask mandate. In May, with Bagne still living, Gordon issued an edict banning "vaccine passports" (a thing that doesn't exist).

In January, when the state's Republican-dominated legislature opened its legislative session, most members celebrated by openly defying the state's mask mandate. State police present during that session, under the governor's jurisdiction, did not try to enforce the mandate. Several of the legislators cavorting maskless that day had previously characterized Gordon as a "tyrant" for imposing the mandate in the first place. Democrats, for the most part, stayed away.

One newly elected Wyoming state senator, Troy McKeown, reportedly claimed that the death rate from vaccinations was almost as high as the death rate from COVID-19 itself. As late as May of this year, McKeown was still claiming that the effectiveness of the vaccines was "unknown."

These attitudes may explain why the most vaccine-hesitant counties in the entire country are all in Wyoming, and why Wyoming currently has one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates (28% fully vaccinated at the end of May). As Kim Deti, the spokesperson for the state's health department explains in this article from Wyofile.com:

One of the most difficult obstacles, Deti said, is the politicization of COVID-19.

"It's unfortunate, but it's a reality that we do face," Deti said.

As such, any efforts to increase the vaccination rate also raise political questions. Even taking the position that people should get vaccinated has political consequences, Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said.

Wyoming has no shortage of "anti-vaxxers," but as Deti obliquely confirms, most of this vaccine "hesitancy," in Wyoming and elsewhere, is ultimately traceable to the mismanaged response to the pandemic by the Trump administration. The minimization and belittling of protective measures, the reckless, premature reopening of businesses, and the actions of Republican state legislators eager to demonstrate their pro-Trump bona fides all contributed in some way to the reluctance and refusal of people to be vaccinated. As a result, it is in these states and other areas where the unvaccinated rate remains high that most COVID-19 deaths will now be occurring, according to the AP:

The preventable deaths will continue, experts predict, with unvaccinated pockets of the nation experiencing outbreaks in the fall and winter. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modeling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths per day again next year.

The bottom line? For those who remain unvaccinated, the pandemic is just as bad as it ever was.

American business owners discover a novel solution to the worker shortage problem

Disgruntled business owners around the country have been complaining loudly about the lack of hired help available to them as the nation slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these folks have gotten positively churlish about it, declaring "No one wants to work anymore," and blame the worker shortage on the additional $300 per week some are receiving to bolster their normal unemployment benefits, an effort instigated by Democrats to try to compensate Americans for the economic calamity left in the wake of hundreds of thousands of business closures.

But an investigation by Eli Rosenberg for the Washington Post, based on interviews of several business owners throughout the country, suggests that the hiring problem facing employers has less to do with extended unemployment benefits and more to do with the the fact that American workers simply don't want to go back to jobs that won't pay a decent wage. As Rosenberg found, businesses that increase their pay scales are actually being deluged with applications from willing workers.

As Rosenberg notes, many of the complaints about "unwilling workers" are coming from businesses long-accustomed (in the era before COVID-19) to paying their employees the minimum allowable wage:

Across the country, businesses in sectors such as food service and manufacturing that are trying to staff up have been reporting an obstacle to their success — a scarcity of workers interested in applying for low-wage positions.

These people assumed that once the pandemic started to wane, the American economy could simply be flipped on like a light switch after its year-long hibernation, with Americans marching dutifully back to work for these same companies as if COVID-19 had never happened. Encouraged by Republican governors and Fox News, many are now blaming their inability to attract workers on the extra unemployment benefits afforded by the COVID relief legislation passed by Democrats and signed into law in March. In this blinkered view, the prospect of giving unemployed individuals and families an additional $300 per week through September 2021 was nothing but an an extravagant windfall for tens of millions of Americans, one that prompted able-bodied workers to sit at home watching TV and playing video games rather than rushing back to work for these companies that pay a paltry $7.25 an hour in wages.

The idea that an additional $300 per week could possibly substitute for holding a regular job in order to pay their mortgages, rent, health insurance, food, car payments, transportation, utilities and the multitude of intractable expenses most Americans face in any given month, was always a myth. It conveniently ignored the fact that if people were actually shirking work for such a paltry sum, then the wages they were forsaking were just as paltry. As one unemployed worker, interviewed for Business Insider put it, "These guys are just dumbasses if they actually think that the UI is the problem and not the wage."

Nevertheless, this myth has been a useful cudgel wielded by Republicans against the unemployed, prompting GOP governors in 25 states to cut off extended aid in hopes of forcing workers to return to these dismal, low-paying jobs. The very fact that these governors acted in such unison and in such a wholly partisan fashion—based on no hard economic evidence whatsoever—suggests that something far more fundamental is at stake here for the Republican party than simply trying to force people back into low-paying jobs. What we may be seeing in the refusal of workers to fill these types of jobs are the early signs of a labor force that is collectively rethinking its relationship to work.

As explained in Rosenberg's article, the data is anecdotal, but the trend is unmistakable: once businesses start treating employees as an asset to be maximized rather than a necessity to be exploited, their hiring woes immediately vanish. Rosenberg profiles several business owners, including Patrick Whalen who owns five restaurants in North and South Carolina, all of which had enjoyed success before the pandemic. As people finally began to venture out to eat, his restaurants filled up again. Suddenly he couldn't find enough people to staff them, and was soon facing a wave of negative reviews.

But he didn't whine about it. He didn't try to blame anyone. He simply increased his wages from $12 to $15, and added a tip line for the kitchen workers who (unlike the wait staff) wouldn't normally have received tips, a move that pushed their total hourly wages to over $23 an hour.

As reported by Rosenberg, Whalen's staffing problems vanished within three weeks:

Applicants began pouring in nearly overnight, Whalen said. A manager at one of his restaurants, Tempest, told him that 10 people walked in to drop off résumés over the course of one week after the policy change, compared with just 15 people over the four previous months.

The owner of Punch Pizza, a chain of pizza shops with a dozen locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, had similar results when its owner raised wages from $11 to $15 an hour: as Rosenberg observes, "Job applications increased fivefold on its website and were 10 to 15 times higher on the jobs portal Indeed." Rosenberg cites similar examples for restaurant chains in Buffalo, Detroit, Oakland and Philadelphia, all of which elected to increase their starting wages.

The routine objection to increasing workers' salaries is that doing so will raise the cost of doing business to the point where the business itself cannot survive. That too is debunked by Rosenberg's investigation. Yes, some businesses compensated for their increased labor costs by slightly raising their prices, but the increases needed to do that turned out to be minimal, for the most part:

Three of the 12 businesses interviewed said that they had raised prices for consumers to help offset the wage increase. White Castle increased menu prices in the Detroit area after increasing its minimum wage there to $15 an hour, as did another restaurant that raised wages, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. The Midwest-based clothing and design store Raygun increased prices by about 1 percent after raising wages to an average of $15 last year, owner Mike Draper said.

Rosenberg's research acknowledges that every business's situation will be different; in Philadelphia, HipCityVeg, a vegan restaurant, estimated that its veggie-burger prices might increase by 25 cents, but they didn't expect an all-out customer revolt because of this. Another had to trim hours and staff, mainly for seasonal workers. Others acknowledged that they might have to operate at a loss for a limited time but that the higher quality of their services (thanks to happier, more dedicated workers) was expected to balance that factor out over time. The improved staffing situation at Whalen's restaurants, for example, has markedly increased its overall sales numbers, as reviews have improved and satisfied customers return.

Rosenberg's article notes that in addition to increasing worker pay, employers are introducing other measures to improve working conditions, such as guaranteeing sick leave and paid time off. And some, including an owner of a hardware store chain in the Washington, D.C., area who has raised her employees' wages, have frankly acknowledged that raw material shortages due to the pandemic rather than increased wages are driving whatever price increases she has to pass on to her customers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged last year, several voices pointed out that such a drastic, unprecedented employment catastrophe also provided a rare opportunity to rethink the relationship between labor and capital, and specifically between workers and management. Although Rosenberg's interviews are anecdotal, it does appear that many businesses are re-evaluating their past policies, not necessarily out of some sense of altruism, but for their own economic benefit and continued survival. Rosenberg concludes his investigation with a quote from Gina Schaeffer, owner of that chain of hardware stores in and around Washington, D.C.:

"There's a shaming that's happening to working-class people," said Schaefer, the owner of the D.C.-area hardware stores. "Nobody talks about the fact that the economy is going to fall apart when a tech guy gets a $195,000-a-year salary with a 5 percent raise every year, or when lawyers are making $300,000. This conversation only happens when you're talking about the people who make the lowest wages. And I think as a society, that's just really insulting."

What Rosenberg's article ultimately shows us is that from a labor perspective the America that emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic does not have to be the same America that entered into it. Many businesses are finding out the hard way that they can no longer count on a workforce willing to accept substandard wages, and have decided that the best course is to convince Republican governors to declare a five-alarm fire, trying to force people back to work for the same, dismally low pay. Other, more forward-thinking businesses are embracing a more generous and fairer ethic that elevates both the pay and dignity of their employees, discovering that such an approach works in everyone's interests.

It's impossible at this early stage to say which approach will ultimately win out, but as more workers find alternative, higher paying opportunities available to them, history and human nature suggest they will naturally be far less willing to settle for anything they consider substandard, unfair, or inferior.

Here is the one freedom the Constitution doesn't ever allow

Over the past year and a half, we've learned an awful lot from Republicans about "freedom." We learned, for instance, that refusing to wear a mask in public places to protect others from a deadly virus was a symbol of such "freedom." We learned that carrying automatic weapons into state capitals to intimidate lawmakers (and by extension, ordinary citizens) into doing whatever a small, gun-toting group of people demanded was also an expression of "freedom." We learned from many vocal parents that shutting down schools and transitioning to online learning to protect children from coming home and infecting their parents and grandparents was a gross infringement on their "freedom."

And finally, we learned from many folks that carrying out a violent assault on our nation's capitol in order to try to nullify a lawful election was another example of "freedom."

In a sense, I agree that all of these things are valid expressions—or critiques—of our freedom. The Constitution that forms the entire basis for this country's existence allows all types of freedoms, no matter how self-destructive or ill-used those freedoms might be. You even have the freedom to commit acts of sedition or treason, as long as you're prepared to face the framework of serious legal consequences for exercising that freedom as provided by that same Constitution.

But there's one freedom the Constitution doesn't allow, because it can't. If this freedom is allowed, the whole rationale for the Constitution—and for this country itself—goes up in a puff of smoke. Jonathan Schell, writing forThe New Yorker as the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1973, put it very simply: "In a democracy, we are not free to ignore the truth."

At the time, Schell was referring to the fact that, while the majority of Americans had concluded that President Richard Nixon had committed a grave and serous offense in authorizing what ultimately became known as the Watergate break-in, 10 months after the incident itself, the general public remained unmoved to do something about it … almost to the point of willfully ignoring it.

But Schell pointed out that was simply not a viable option.

The public had not ruled out the possibility that high Administration officials were involved in planning and then in covering up the incident. Rather, a large portion of the public believed these things to be true, but, in a striking reversal of its traditional response to governmental corruption, it did not care to pursue the matter any further. This was, one hopes, the nadir of public opinion as an institution in our national life. When public opinion has lost the will to compel a thorough investigation into the apparent subversion of a Presidential election by officials of the Administration in power, it has been neutralized as a voice in the basic affairs of the Republic.

Schell argued that in a democracy, public opinion cannot be allowed to dictate whether truth itself can be ignored. If public opinion, whether informed or misinformed, tries to do that, it must immediately be disregarded if the country is to continue to exist. In 1973, the irrefutable truth of the matter at hand—in that case, Nixon's perfidy and involvement—had become non-negotiable.

In effect, the public was dragged from willful ignorance by the truth. In Hannah Arendt's words, "truth has a despotic character." The truth is that which compels our minds' assent. And in a democracy certain forms of truth do more than compel our minds' assent; they compel us to act. In a democracy, we are not permitted to seek out the truth about our affairs and then to ignore what we learn. When evidence of murder comes to light, indictments must be brought and a trial held. Our system is arranged to make such action reflexive. We must hold the trial whether we want to or not.

Schell distinguished between voluntary, desirable ideals—such as the idea of decency or compassion—from adherence to this principle of truth.

Decency and compassion belong to the large category of ideals which float above our heads as a reproach to our actual behavior. Truth and justice, on the other hand, are rooted as powerful forces in the heart of our political system. They have shaped and determined the fundamental structures of our institutions. Thus, the system of justice is the mechanism whereby certain forms of truth compel us to act. In a democracy, we are free to do many things, but we are not free to ignore the truth. It holds the system itself, and our individual liberty, hostage. In the end, it is by virtue of this power of truth that our nation consents to march to the tune of a piece of paper—the Constitution.

(emphasis supplied)

As explained by author and professor of foreign affairs Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, with the insurrection of Jan. 6, the two principles that establish legitimacy to our democracy—a government allowed by elections rather than violence, and respect for and honoring the outcome of those elections by the losing party—are now held in disfavor by a substantial percentage of the American electorate. As Danner points out, the last time in history that these principles were abandoned on this scale led directly to the carnage of the Civil War, and they were not re-established for a bitter decade in its aftermath. Even their re-establishment came at a terrible cost, with the defeated southern states instituting nearly a century of racist oppression on their Black citizens in spiteful revenge for their defeat.

Danner's point is that when the country behaves the way it is now, history suggests that the country will not endure in its present form. What Schell wrote about in 1973 was witnessing our system self-correct, as Democrats and Republican agreed that however uncomfortable the facts of Nixon's criminality were, the truth of them could not be ignored. As a result, the nation survived.

But that is not the situation the country faces today, in the wake of Jan. 6. Not at all, in fact.

Danner writes:

In the case of the Capitol coup we have thus far ignored the truth. The coup was a crime against the state, and because it unfolded live on television as a grand public spectacle, Americans believe they know the truth about it. But we do not. We do not know what kind of planning preceded the assault and who was involved. We do not know why Pentagon officials for several hours refused to send troops to the Capitol. We do not know what the president was doing as the violence he unleashed was unfolding on Americans' television screens. And much more. We do not know because there has been no thorough public investigation of what happened. Supporters of the former president within the political system have thus far worked hard to block such an investigation.
The result is a metastasizing corruption at the heart of the polity. About the Capitol coup there is no shared reality. Nor is there a shared reality about the integrity of the election or of the legitimacy of the president it produced. To millions of Americans the legitimate president remains Donald Trump. A quarter-millennium of American history offers no precedent for this.

Danner also quotes former CIA analyst Martin Gurri, who emphasizes that all of our focus on Trump himself ignores the weaknesses of our institutions which allowed his destabilizing influence to fester and propagate throughout the American population. As Gurri wrote in his 2018 book, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium , "The right level of analysis on Trump isn't Trump at all, but the public that endowed him with a radical direction and temper, and the decadent institutions that proved too weak to stand in his way." In Trump, we witnessed what Danner characterizes as not necessarily the emergence of a traditional autocrat, but rather the triumph and "embodiment-as-leader" of the online troll, the ones who, by perpetually railing against "elites" and stoking regional prejudices have eroded the institutions of former democracies such as Hungary, effectively transforming them into breeding grounds for autocracies.

In the U.S., a country that has never shaken off its strongest cultural impulse, racism, Trump has accomplished this erosion by harnessing the fears and antipathy of millions of Americans towards their fellow Americans of a darker shade of skin, and by exploiting their fears of "replacement" by immigrants. That's why Lachlan Murdoch's Fox News finds such a perfect target in Vice President Kamala Harris, who represents for its audience an amalgamation of everything they've been taught to fear. Fox News' relentless focus on Harris isn't simply an effort to thwart her chances at future election; it's to consolidate and intensify the xenophobic hatred necessary to keep Trump's Big Lie in circulation. Meanwhile, Murdoch is limited, by Biden's unbearable whiteness, to merely mocking his age and implying a decline in mental acuity.

In closing his essay, aptly titled "Reality Rebellion," Danner observes that the road-show aspect of the fraudulent "audit" of votes currently underway in Arizona, as well as similar efforts to sow distrust of valid electoral processes around the country, are all of a piece: namely, a strategy to tie that distrust to a concrete, physical event, no matter how fictitious or fanciful that event is. Danner quotes Special FBI Agent Clinton Watts, who explained on MSNBC how this "alternative reality" is being created for the purpose of stoking potential violence. Watts calls it a "Reality Rebellion," and describes it as: "[E]ssentially trying to create an entire atmosphere, a complete show ... Because if you create an action in the physical world it makes it seem all the more legitimate to use violence and to strike out."

According to Danner, the manifestation of violence is now all but assured as the formerly winking-embrace by the Republican Party of such domestic terrorists organizations as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters has given way to a more fulsome acceptance; these groups are now coalescing as the necessary paramilitary wing that's characteristic of all fascist movements. With the groundwork for contesting all elections that do not end in their favor being laid, all that is necessary to galvanize the support of millions of Republican voters may be a single spark of violence.

Whatever they might do—kidnapping or assassinating public figures, staging bombings or mass shootings—it would take the efforts of only a handful of determined violent actors to overturn the politics of the country. Such actions would be intended to provoke the security organs of the "deep state" to overreact and make widespread arrests, thereby revealing its repressive character and encouraging more sympathy for the terrorists' cause. This dynamic would further radicalize those whose anger has already been stoked by the delegitimizing rhetoric of the Republican Party. Potential terrorists, perhaps for the first time in this country, have what is vital to make violent actions politically successful: a pool of millions of willing sympathizers.

When such violent acts occur, Danner believes they "will feed the radicalization of Republican policy in a fervid feedback loop."

Danner's point is that the consequences of ignoring the truth, of failing to move forward to fully address and condemn what occurred on Jan. 6, and failing to prosecute and condemn those who funded, planned and inspired it, have already begun to manifest themselves. The strategy evinced by President Biden, which seems to hope to quell such passions simply by demonstrating the virtues and competence of government, cannot possibly make up for that failure.

Our country is facing an unprecedented time, and it it is getting late in the game to stop what Trump and the Republican parties have set into motion. We continue to ignore the truth about these people at our own peril.

No Republican is going to save the Republican party from itself

The media have focused a lot of attention on those few Republicans -- Liz Cheney, for example — who have spoken out publicly as the GOP transformed itself before our eyes into an authoritarian Trump cult, committed to overturning fair elections while disenfranchising as many Americans as possible in the process. You can appreciate this effort in the coverage on MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times and others surrounding the supposedly noble attempts by these dissident Republicans to save their party. And the attention is understandable; just seeing Republicans grant interviews to any other media outlet than Fox News has been quite a novelty in itself.

But if the traditional media are hoping such isolated voices as Cheney's, Adam Kinzinger's and a few others will somehow shift the course of the rest of the GOP — the 98% or so Republicans who have embraced this new ethic of sedition, voter disenfranchisement and outright violence --they're going to be disappointed. While the outsized coverage afforded to these outlier voices make for compelling political drama, the reality is that they do not represent the now-overwhelming consensus of the GOP at both the state and national levels: namely, that the party's future course is now inextricably tied to its obeisance to Donald Trump, and specifically Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow nefariously snatched from his grasp. While most in the media will acknowledge this transformation and the danger it represents, only a few appear to be willing to explore the reasons why that transformation has occurred.

Elie Mystal, writing for the Nation, points out that what we are seeing in the GOP's stunningly rapid descent into something indistinguishable from nascent fascism is an inevitable byproduct of where that party has been headed since at least the 1950's. He uses former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most recent example of Republicans now expressing their indignation at their party's current trajectory, as an example.

Given that the Republican Party has now mainstreamed infection and insurrection, I get why mainstream media makers might think it's newsworthy when any erstwhile Republican leader is willing to speak out against the party orthodoxy of lies and deceit. But let's not make any mistakes about who Ryan still is and what his "principles" are. Before he debased himself into retirement, Ryan was an Ayn Rand sock puppet on a personal crusade to starve the government of resources so it could not deliver services. And the glory days he's hoping to resurrect are nothing more than that: a return to the days where Republicans expressed their cruelty through charts and graphs instead of tweets and slurs. Ryan just wants the cult of tax cuts to reassert its dominance over the cult of Trump.

Mystal's central point is that neither Cheney or Ryan are speaking any language that actual Republican voters understand anymore.That what Trump successfully tapped into— the bigotry, resentment, and grievance now looming so brightly in everything we see spewed from the pie-holes of new GOP luminaries like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene— is the only thing that Republican voters have ever cared about in the first place. People like Ryan and Cheney, who tout the supposed virtues of conservative free-market ideology and tax policy, are pretending to ignore the fact that these things never, ever attracted many people to the GOP. As Mystal puts it, "The natural constituency for 'tax cuts for the rich, crumbling roads and bridges for everybody else' is so small you can fit them all into a moderately sized marina." Those may be the end goals of Republicans like Cheney and Ryan, but no one should separate those goals from the means used to achieve them.

In fact from the 1930's onward there was never a reliable majority of Americans who bought in to Republican warped and self-serving theories of social engineering. That is why the GOP had to resort from the very start to scaring Americans into voting for them through a drumbeat of fearmongering, first in the 1950's about Communists and then, in the 1960's, about Blacks.

Mystal notes that as the bogeyman of Communism fell by the wayside and the Civil Rights era passed into history, the GOP suddenly discovered themselves without anything compelling enough to sell their politics of resentment. So through Ronald Reagan they created the specter of the "welfare queen" and all the other myths of lazy, undeserving minorities allegedly poaching from the entitled white American's trough. Seizing the electoral opportunity afforded to them by the hapless response of Jimmy Carter to the Iranian hostage crisis, in the 1980's they again turned on the spigot of white resentment, the appeal to bigotry (as Mystal points out) that Reagan deliberately channeled when he symbolically opened up his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three Freedom Riders were murdered for trying to help register Black Americans to vote.

Bigotry and fearmongering alone, not any conservative philosophical principles, provided the glue that kept the Republican coalition viable for nearly a century. It is the same glue that binds Republican voters and their party together today.

As Mystal summarizes it:

Republican policies are broadly unpopular and empirically ineffectual, so the people peddling them realized long ago that they must be tethered to some hysterical lie or cultural threat to keep just enough white people voting against their own economic interests.
So when Paul Ryan tells his fellow Republicans to abandon the "cultural battles," he's telling them to abandon the only parts of their platform that their voters actually like. If Ryan were right about the appeal of "conservative principles," he'd still have a job. Instead, Majorie Taylor Greene does.

Thus, we see the likes of Cheney, Ryan and others claiming that what really concerns them is the cult-like influence Donald Trump has imposed on their voters, as if Trump's appeal to racist grievance were something they hadn't already signed onto decades ago when they attended their first homespun Republican gatherings. As Mystal observes, that implicit bargain with their voting base is common to all Republicans who pledge their allegiance to the party's so-called principles: "Every one has, at some point, decided to throw their hat in with the MAGA forces before those forces were unified under Trump's banner, and either explicitly or tacitly given aid and comfort to hate and grievance politics to achieve their otherwise unpopular agenda."

The traditional media is loathe to acknowledge this basic truth about Republicans, in part because it tends to nullify literally decades of time they spent tortuously skating around that fact, as they continued to credit the GOP with an actual agenda that could be expressed in more genteel economic terms than simple greed fueled by equally simple bigotry.

But probably their worst dereliction was their failure to admit the true nature of the people who put these Republicans into power in the first place. That's what's coming to the fore now: the sheer ignorance, fearfulness and littleness of a vast number of ordinary Americans. It's the key piece of the puzzle they've never wanted to acknowledge, but it's been right there in plain sight, from every Tea Party protest to what we saw unfold Jan. 6 on the steps of the U.S. capitol.

As Mystal writes, the existence and motivation of a huge segment of Americans has been clear for decades. But few in the media have ever mustered the courage to admit it.

Now that Trump has said the quiet part out loud, there's no stuffing the message back into a box. This is the Republican Party now. It's the same one it's always been, just with their bigoted voters empowered to say what they've always believed.

The focus on erstwhile GOP heretics like Cheney and Ryan only obscures the fact that the rest of the GOP, including roughly half of the entire House and Senate, are perfectly content and supportive of throwing out the entire American experiment if it means they can hold onto power. Part of the reason they feel safe in doing so is that they are all, for the most part securely ensconced behind a powerful right-wing media apparatus designed to nurture them, keeping their true aims and motivation under wraps, seldom seen or heard. The other part is that they've learned that there are more than enough voters susceptible to their message of resentment and grievance to keep them in power under this country's existing institutions, as long as a complacent media continues to find reasons to avoid calling them — and their supporters--out for what they are.

Confronting the truth about the Republican Party has always meant confronting the truth about those who support them, and specifically the reasons for that support. The media have been content to avoid that uncomfortable discussion, quite literally for as long as humanly possible. In its place, after Trump's election we got slews of vignettes about the "economic insecurities" of voters in the so-called heartland, all of which carefully tiptoed around the big elephant in the room — the constant stoking of racism — that has sustained the Republican party from the very start.

The idea of writing off a huge segment of the American population as irredeemably racist has always been a bridge too far for many in the media. And, for the most part, that's the reason we find ourselves where we are today.

Why there was never going to be a bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 attacks

By now the basic contours are visible to anyone who cares to look. The idea that Republicans would actually sign on to an investigation into their own party's deliberate embrace of fascism—which is precisely what any legitimate investigation into the events of Jan. 6 would reveal—was doomed to fail from the start.

Nowhere was this outcome more preordained than in the reaction of Republican House members whose votes could have authorized a commission to conduct such an investigation in the first place. Of the 210 GOP House members who voted this week, only 35 agreed to create such a commission. Of the 147 Republican House members who objected to the vote count certifying the 2020 presidential election, only five voted in support of the commission. The Senate has not yet voted on the House bill creating the commission, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has given his membership sufficient cover to oppose it in numbers that will make its passage effectively impossible, thanks to the filibuster.

So there will be no bipartisan commission to examine the events of Jan. 6. There will be no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in uncovering the reasons those attacks occurred, or their support and coordination by specific members of the Republican Party and the Trump administration.

Max Boot, writing for The Washington Post, thinks this was all to be expected. In fact, it may well be a blessing in disguise. As Boot points out, the bipartisan commission, as agreed to by Reps. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and Republican John Katko, would have permitted Republicans to hamstring its effectiveness by requiring a majority vote of its 10 commissioners to issue subpoenas. On the Republican side, the five GOP commissioners would be appointed by the very people whose political futures could be implicated by the findings of the investigation: Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and McConnell, both of whom have now gone on record as opposing any investigation.

The GOP commissioners would simply be people approved and vetted by Donald Trump—the person responsible for the Jan. 6 attacks in the first place.

Boot writes:

Even if this bill were passed — which now appears unlikely — it would have still allowed considerable room for Republican obstructionism if all of the GOP-appointed commissioners voted in lockstep. There would have been nothing to stop McCarthy and McConnell from appointing rabid Trumpkins for precisely this purpose. (Imagine if, say, former Trump White House aide Stephen Miller were the vice chair.)
That McConnell and McCarthy are opposing even this balanced approach suggests they are intent on simply covering up what was arguably the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

Put simply, you cannot put a thoroughly corrupt political party in charge of investigating its own corruption. The nature of the Jan. 6 attacks itself is inextricably tied to the lie of election fraud, a lie that is at this very moment being perpetuated and furthered by the GOP, at both the national and state level. Since Republicans are wedded to this lie, they cannot be expected to willingly participate in any good faith effort to uncover its origins, its blatant falsity, or its relationship to the Jan. 6 insurrection. As Boot points out, "the Republican leaders have become Trump's collaborators in a coverup." To expect them to willingly cooperate, while their ties and affinities to violent white supremacists and other assorted domestic terrorists are revealed and dissected for public consumption is, putting it mildly, preposterous.

So there can never be any bipartisan accounting of Jan. 6, by definition. It was a wholly partisan attack, condoned and even encouraged with the near-universal complicity of Republican members of Congress, at the explicit direction of their leader, Donald Trump. This is why McCarthy's first reaction to the commission has been a tortuous but classic exercise in whataboutism: What about antifa? What about Black Lives Matter?

And if Democrats had agreed to this framing, the GOP would have moved the goalposts yet again: What about Hunter Biden? And so on.

Republicans cannot allow a legitimate investigation into Jan. 6 because Republicans were responsible for Jan. 6. It's really that simple.

Boot believes the best course—in fact the only course, moving forward—is for Democratic House leadership to appoint a select committee.

The Republican refusal to agree to the bipartisan 1/6 Commission bill could actually be a blessing in disguise. It will free Pelosi to set up a January 6 Select Committee in which Democrats will be more firmly in charge — as Republicans were on the Benghazi committee. The Benghazi investigation was a political stunt, but this investigation is deadly serious. We must get a full accounting of the events of Jan. 6 despite Republican attempts to bury the truth. If we do, Republicans may come to regret their opposition to the bipartisan 1/6 Commission.

President Joe Biden describes the Jan. 6 insurrection as the "worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War." That attack was perpetrated by one party, and one party alone. There's no room for bipartisanship here, and there never was.

Democrats and Republicans alike have to face that fact.

'You're a communist': Florida parents hurl racist epithets at Chinese-American school board member

Wei Ueberschaer is the chairperson for the District 5 school board in Santa Rosa county, Florida. On May 3 the school board met to discuss lifting mask restrictions currently in place in that county's school system. Aware of the contentious nature of the topic, Ms. Ueberschaer began to read a statement she'd prepared, acknowledging the disparity of opinions on the issue but urging attendees at the public meeting to respect the decisions of those parents who wished their children to continue wearing masks at school.

But respect was apparently an unfamiliar concept for several of the attendees, who immediately began yelling pointed racial and political slurs at Ueberschaer, who is Chinese-American and has resided in the county for over twenty years.

As reported by the Washington Post:

The uproar from parents objecting to a mask requirement was so loud that Santa Rosa County school board member Wei Ueberschaer, who is Chinese American, did not hear it when she was called a communist and a man in the audience ridiculed the country her family is from.

"This is Santa Rosa County, not China," he taunted.

The bigot that uttered these slurs has not been identified, but can be heard in the clip of the incident, below, along with others shouting "Democrats," "Communists" and "RINO's."

This verbal barrage of Republican hate was particularly ironic since the school board had already decided to lift the mask restrictions and replace them with a recommendation.

The gentleman was partially correct, however. This is most definitely not China. China actually has had the pandemic under relative control since last November. That is due to various measures and cultural differences including a strong, centralized governmental response to the pandemic. Also China is not a democracy, unlike the U.S. which permits ignorant assholes like these the opportunity to vote in such a manner that can actually influence national policy; in this case, the people shouting racial and other slurs from the back of the room likely voted for Matt Gaetz, since this is the district Gaetz represents.

Although outnumbered by the loud and nasty Republicans present at the meeting, several parents had written to the board requesting that the mask mandate not be lifted. Rebekah Castor, a reporter for the local ABC affiliate 3WEAR-TV spoke to one of them.

She says she's not surprised no one spoke out in favor of masking during public comment because of the hostility in the meetings from those on the other side.

"Many of us knew the decision was already made because of the state," Colon said. "And just looking at how the board was treated, I can't imagine how I would've felt sitting there being attacked by these people."

The Santa Rosa school board meeting occurred before Florida governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday invalidating local emergency orders, but the state's department of education later clarified that DeSantis' order did not apply to school districts. However, the state's department of health last week rescinded its COVID-19 health advisories, including the requirement for masking in situations where social distancing is not possible. According to the WEAR-TV report, many of the school board members cited this as the reason for their decision.

The county currently has 14 students testing positive for COVID-19, while the state's number of cases involving variants to the virus has soared to over 10,000.

Republicans' strategy now relies entirely on stoking the eternal 'victimhood' of their voters

The myth of the elusive "white working class" Trump voter continues to haunt Democratic dreams of holding on to its slim House and Senate majorities. But a closer analysis suggests that what unified millions of Americans to support Trump, and what continues to constitute the biggest threat to Democrats has little to do with economic disparity or any "bread and butter" issues. Rather, it has more to do with the deliberate, calculated efforts by Trump—and now by all Republican elected legislators—to maintain and stoke a perpetual sense of "victimhood" among their constituents.

Trump's supposed appeal to "white working class" Americans has been interpreted as a phenomenon unique to Trump himself, as if his arrival on the political scene suddenly galvanized entire swaths of a previously dormant voter demographic. The reality, though, is considerably more nuanced, as reported in The Washington Post in 2017: "If being working class means being in the bottom half of the income distribution, the vast majority of Trump supporters during the primaries were not working class." The great majority of those who supported Trump during the 2016 primaries—the truest measure of a "Trump voter"—earned livings well above the national median income level:

Nor was lack of a college education peculiar to Trump supporters. Although 70% of his votes came from people without a college degree, there was nothing unique about that in terms of Republican voters overall, as The Post's Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu noted.

[D]uring the primaries, about 70 percent of all Republicans didn't have college degrees, close to the national average (71 percent according to the 2013 Census). Far from being a magnet for the less educated, Trump seemed to have about as many people without college degrees in his camp as we would expect any successful Republican candidate to have.

(emphasis original)

Thomas Edsall, writing for The New York Times convincingly suggests that the glue that bound Republicans together in 2016 and 2020 owes far more to simple psychology than any real sense of economic deprivation, lost economic status, or lack of educational attainment. It is a psychology of injured pride and fear of lost status, an unending sense of victimhood, carefully prodded and cultivated—most visibly by Trump himself since taking office, and now adopted by the rest of the Republican Party as their sole political strategy going forward.

This formula is hardly unique to Trump or the GOP. As pointed out by Alexandra Homolar and Georg Lofflmann, two authors quoted by Edsall, the "humiliation" narrative of victimhood is one commonly employed by so-called populist demagogues thoughout Europe and elsewhere.

From the abstract of their research paper, Populism and the Affective Politics of Humiliation Narratives:

As we show, within the populist security imaginary, humiliation is the key discursive mechanism that helps turn abstract notions of enmity into politically consequential affective narratives of loss, betrayal, and oppression. Humiliation binds together an ostensibly conflicting sense of national greatness and victimhood to achieve an emotive response that enables a radical departure from established domestic and international policy norms and problematizes policy choices centered on collaboration, dialogue, and peaceful conflict resolution.

In more simpler terms, by constantly stoking this over-arching narrative of perpetual victimhood, a demagogue such as Trump (or anyone else) can motivate his followers to reject the very tools of democratic governance that a country such as the U.S. relies on to resolve political differences. This is why millions of Trump voters were so primed and ready to believe that the election was somehow "stolen" from them by some murky, nefarious means. This is the psychology that prompted thousands of conspiracy-addled insurrectionists to attack the U.S. Capitol. It's why despite being the very targets of that mob of rioters, the vast majority of Republican legislators have refused and will continue to refuse to acknowledge the truth about what prompted those attacks.

These legislators are duplicitous—and in most cases, knowingly so. But as things currently stand, they know that any departure from the victimhood narrative will be met with howls of outrage by their constituents. So they will continue to parrot it, because as Trump amply demonstrated, the tactic works. As astounding as it is, white Republican voters, who by many objective measures are some of the most privileged, pampered people in the world, now consider themselves as victims.

As Edsall carefully emphasizes, this does not mean that Trump voters are actual victims. He quotes Clark University psychology professor Johanna Ray Vollhardt, who distinguishes groups who have actually experienced oppression from this altogether different idea of "dominant victimhood."

The psychology of collective victimhood among groups that were objectively targeted and harmed by collective violence and historical oppression is quite different from the psychology of grievance or imagined victimhood among dominant group members, who are driven by a sense of status loss and entitlement as well as resentment of minority groups that are viewed as a threat.

This is why Trump-voting COVID-19 deniers feel justified whining about their supposed loss of "freedoms" when asked to wear a mask when shopping or visiting a restaurant, without ever considering how silly these appeals sound to those groups who have truly been victimized by, say, systemic racism throughout this country's history. It's why Fox News and other right-wing media organs continually diminish and dismiss the concerns of genuinely marginalized communities. The brand of "victimhood" hawked by Fox News and its ilk is rooted in social status, and tied to a sense of entitlement, not actual rights.

The fact that many of us consider these attitudes pathetic and selfish doesn't prevent them from being dangerous. As noted by Holmar and Lofflemann, when a group is taught to feel victimized and humiliated, it turns off any impulse towards collaboration or cooperation, and reacts viscerally and emotionally instead, with the inevitable result of gravitating towards those leaders who continue to feed its sense of grievance.

Edsall quotes Scottish researchers Stephen Reicher and Yasemin Ulusahin, who note in their book, The Social Psychology of Collective Victimhood, that this kind of indoctrination fosters a moral dimension in their mentality that further stokes the "juices" of revenge and redemption towards their "oppressors."

It is ultimately about the toxicity of a particular construction of victimhood: One which transforms eliminationist violence into the restitution of a rightful moral order. For it is when we believe ourselves to be acting for the moral good that the most appalling acts can be committed.

As Edsall points out (with several illustrations), nearly every word spoken by Trump on the 2016 campaign trail, and most of the tweets issued from his fingertips while occupying the Oval Office were couched in some form of grievance or resentment, constantly portraying himself and the people who supported him as victims. His attacks on Hillary Clinton as an elitist, his demonization of immigrants, and his winking appeals to violence were all of a piece creating a shared sense of victimhood between himself and his followers.

And once that sense was established with his base, it didn't matter that his actual policies didn't follow through to address their real-life problems. It didn't even matter to them that he grossly fumbled the COVID-19 crisis, or that their fellow Americans were dying in the hundreds of thousands as a result. All that mattered was the sense that they were the victims, their "freedoms" were being threatened and the country had to reopen, even in the face of all medical and rational scientific fact suggesting exactly the opposite course. It was, as Miles Armaly and Adam Enders, two researchers from the University of Mississippi and University of Louisville also quoted by Edsall, describe, "an "egocentric victimhood," among Trump supporters, one which is almost wholly, internally focused.

A systemic victim looks externally to understand her individual victimhood. Egocentric victimhood, on the other hand, is less outwardly focused. Egocentric victims feel that they never get what they deserve in life, never get an extra break, and are always settling for less. Neither the 'oppressor,' nor the attribution of blame, are very specific. Both expressions of victimhood require some level of entitlement, but egocentric victims feel particularly strongly that they, personally, have a harder go at life than others.

By its very nature, this cloud of self-focused victimhood tends to preclude any acknowledgement of personal responsibility by these folks, either for creating their own problems or for failing to cooperate with their fellow Americans to resolve their differences. Like an addict constantly thinking about his/her next fix, they simply crave more fuel to feed their grievances. That explains why Republicans are more or less united in opposing Democratic efforts to provide COVID-19 relief, and feel compelled even to oppose any efforts to improve the nation's infrastructure. They don't want things to improve, because if things improve they will have to find something else for their constituents to feel victimized about. That's the only glue holding Republicans together.

President Biden has, thus far, managed to convey that what he has done thus far will benefit all Americans. If the economy rebounds as most expect it to, the endless litany of race-based grievances from Republicans and Fox News will loom less brightly than they did in 2020, with an economy still adrift from the pandemic. If Biden continues to highlight the favorable impact of these pieces of progressive legislation on people's lives, then that may relegate these fever dreams of victimhood to the ridiculous status where they belong.

But Edsall's analysis also suggests that if Joe Biden or any Democrat wants to make inroads with Republican voters, it will probably take more than simply passing policies that benefit them. It's an oft-overlooked fact that Donald Trump was elected in the midst of a fairly booming economy, one that owed itself almost entirely to Barack Obama. That didn't stop Trump from being elected, and it won't stop Trump or any Republicans—in 2022 or 2024—from employing the same time-tested "victimhood" mantra.

Edsall doesn't offer any specific solutions on how Democrats can combat this strategy, which essentially requires Democrats to convince these people that their grievances are imaginary and being cynically manipulated for political purposes. In an environment where Republicans have convinced more than half of their own electorate that the election was stolen, that seems like a manifestly difficult and probably futile task.

Which is why the focus for Democrats, going forward, should prioritize—above all else—protecting voter rights and access, mobilizing and inspiring our own voters, and doing everything within the realm of the possible to ensure that they turn out.

Pro-Trump website 'TheDonald' confirms detailed plans to storm Capitol and kill members of Congress

If there were any lingering doubts as to the violent intentions and motives of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, those doubts may now be put to rest. From minute details, such as the most effective type of zip ties to restrain elected officials to the most effective methods of killing police officers, the rioters left a chilling and irrefutable electronic trail on a website dedicated to overturning the 2020 election on Donald Trump's behalf. Prior to Jan. 6, that website, "TheDonald.win," had generated over 1 million visits per day.

A research group called Advance Democracy, formed by former FBI analyst and Senate investigator Daniel Jones, collected thousands of messages posted by pseudonymous users of the now-defunct website in the days leading up to the insurrection. The posts were distilled into a report and provided to The Washington Post. Jones' group had previously focused on the online effort to mobilize the riot, and it soon became evident that this particular website served as one of the rioters' primary organizational hubs.

As reported by the Post's Craig Timberg:

"The website, TheDonald, played a far more central role in the January 6th Capitol insurrection than was previously known," he said. "There are thousands of posts — with tens of thousands of comments — detailing plans to travel to Washington and engage in violence against the U.S. Capitol. The ultimate end goal of this violence was, on behalf of Trump, disrupt the Congress and overturn the presidential election."

Because the posters on this site used pseudonyms, Advance Democracy could not identify them; the logical assumption is that the website and its contents are now being analyzed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to track the former users through more forensic means. As the Post explains, the website itself grew out of a Reddit forum that served for some time as a "safe space" for racists and conspiracy theorists. Eventually, chafing at Reddit's moderation rules, the forum became a standalone site, with its web address owned by an Army Veteran named Jody Williams. Williams disbanded the site after the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.

The Post article cites a treasure trove of intensely violent comments and discussions on the site in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 assault. Many of those comments clearly go well beyond the aspirational fever dreams of "keyboard commandos," and involve meticulous and well-coordinated plans, including "shared diagrams of the tunnel systems beneath the Capitol complex," discussion of travel and funding resources, and most notably, proposed methods to inflict violence, some of which were then employed by the rioters.

Users of TheDonald.win also shared advice on bringing firearms into Washington as well as how much ammunition to carry in case the protest turned into a gun battle, and they discussed the legality of carrying other weapons, such as stun guns and small knives, that might not violate the city's strict gun-control laws.
Other subjects of discussion were the proper length and brand of zip ties for detaining members of Congress and how to use a flagpole and other objects to attack police officers.

The question of how to overcome the presence of armed police officers on the Capitol steps dominated several of these online conversations. "Cops don't have 'standing' if they are laying on the ground in a pool of their own blood," wrote one user. Another posited creating a "wall of death" by pushing their fellow Trump supporters from behind. This user theorized—probably correctly—that police would be reluctant to shoot into the crowd if those in the surging mob appeared as if they were physically compelled by others in fomenting the assault.

In addition to detailed preparatory instructions, users of the site—self-described as a "never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,"—routinely encouraged each others' participation in what they unmistakably viewed as a Trump-inspired insurrection. Statements like "If they 'certify' (B)iden, we storm (C)apitol (H)ill. Executions on the steps" and "Arrest the worst traitors … Let them try to hurt us as civilians. Their support will collapse overnight." Other posts directly responded to Trump's encouragement to attend the "wild" event: "I'LL BE THERE, AND I'LL BE WILD, SIR!!!"

Additional posts ruminated as to whether the presence of a gallows or a guillotine outside the Capitol building would be preferable; ultimately, it appears it was decided that the blade of a guillotine would be too large to transport. There were also several posts providing helpful advice on ammunition should the rioters decide to bring arms to the event.

Taken collectively, the posts on this website confirm what the innumerable videos and photographs posted online by the participants themselves make obvious: The riot was carefully planned, it was wholly prompted by the exhortations and incitement of Donald Trump, and its intent was to inflict violence on both elected officials and any law enforcement officers who dared defend them.

In short, it was anything but a spontaneous event. It was a deliberate revolt against this country, planned weeks in advance, for the sole purpose of overthrowing a lawful election and preventing the Joe Biden presidency.

An admission of Republican failure hovers beneath every racist coronavirus slur

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Republicans, encouraged by the twice-impeached, former one-term president, have persisted in using the phrase "China virus" or "Wuhan virus" to describe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these same Republicans have insisted, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as opposed to originating in an animal host. Last April, as the pandemic spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S., the GOP sent a detailed, 57-page internal memo to its 2020 election candidates, specifically urging them to blame China at every turn when faced with questions about the administration's efforts to combat the pandemic.

Of course, the predictable result from repeating this theme was a marked upsurge in violence directed towards Asian Americans. The link between Trump and the GOP's anti-China rhetoric and such violence prompted President Joe Biden, in one of his first official acts upon taking office, to ban such pejorative terminology from our federal agencies and their public documents. Still, despite the well-documented consequences to Asian Americans, elected Republican officials—such as Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted only last week—continue to trot out the racist slur.

While the connection between this rhetoric and acts of violence is obvious, it's important for Americans to remember why Trump and the GOP made this conscious, collective decision in the first place. Blaming China was more than a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the pandemic itself,; as employed almost exclusively by Republicans, it was a deliberate attempt to distract from the administration's wholly botched response.

From the very start the "Chinese virus" appellation was intentionally amplified by American right-wing media. It's a slur which almost revels in its senselessness. To be clear, even if the virus actually had man-made origins—even if the virus been created in Xi Jinping's basement with a vintage Gilbert chemistry set—from a practical standpoint, the precise origin of the virus, be it bat, bald eagle or Beijing lab, is essentially irrelevant. Whether the virus originated in China, Kenya, or Wyoming is distinct from the question of how the global community has responded to it, which is what ultimately matters.

That distinction is what Trump's favorite slur tries to obfuscate. The tragic reality is that the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was atrocious compared to nearly every other developed nation in the world. It was so bad it turned this country into a pariah nation, a cautionary tale of what not to do in a public health crisis.

And that abysmal response, whose ineptitude and human cost will doubtlessly fill the history books for the next hundred years as an example of what failed, indifferent government policies can lead to, was due almost entirely to an abdication of responsibility towards the American public by one of this country's two major political parties. Republicans were the ones responsible for electing, abetting and encouraging an Executive uniquely and pathologically unsuited to addressing the catastrophic implications of a global pandemic. Republicans were the ones who stood by silently, while our public health infrastructure and pandemic response capabilities were being gleefully dismantled by the the Trump administration. And Republicans of every stripe must bear the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of that failure, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Only recently, as the nation finally begins to extricate itself from this calamity, is a reckoning of sorts coming forth. The most up-to-date estimates place direct blame on Donald Trump for approximately 400,000 of the deaths that have occurred to date due to COVID-19. There is literally no president in American history whose malfeasance resulted in so many deaths of U.S. citizens.

But Trump didn't act alone. The death toll was increased exponentially due to the sycophancy of a Republican establishment lined up behind him, adopting his cues as the pandemic's impact continued to worsen. Every Republican at the state and federal level who acquiesced to the former administration's malfeasance either by parroting lethal anti-masking propaganda, forcefully advocating reopening businesses in the name of "personal freedom," or hawking phony cures and ridiculous conspiracy theories is complicit.

So the appeal of the slur to Republicans, however irrelevant to the actual harm caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is easy enough to understand, because it serves as an ready distraction from the blame they so richly deserve for allowing a public health crisis to become a calamity. The entire approach by the Trump administration was intended to abandon any leadership role of the federal government, and thereby escape blame for any failure to stop it. As pointed out by Josh Marshall, writing for Talking Points Memo, this exercise in blame avoidance was intentional, a key to the administration's overall strategy when faced with its own ineptitude.

From the very start of the Pandemic in the first weeks of 2020 the Trump administration consistently sought to disclaim responsibility for things that would be genuinely difficult and could have challenging or bad outcomes. Push the tough tasks on to others and if it goes badly blame them. This frequently went to absurd lengths as when the White House insisted that states short on ventilators at the peak of the spring surge should have known to purchase them in advance of the pandemic. Over the course of the year Trump spun up an alternative reality in which the US was somehow still operating under the Articles of Confederation in which individual states were responsible for things that have been viewed as inherently federal responsibilities for decades or centuries.

But the impetus wasn't ideological. It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad. Nowhere was this more clear than in the months' long crisis over testing capacity. Since the administration was actually hostile to testing in general and couldn't solve the problem in any case they simply claimed it was a state responsibility.

As Marshall points out, the one constant during Trump's entire botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—from the first warnings of an incipient health crisis through and including Trump's final day in office—was "to put it off on someone else so the White House didn't get the blame."

Attributing the pandemic to China or Wuhan, or the rally staple "Kung flu?" That was always a calculated part of Trump's attempt to avoid blame, one which immediately filtered down to the state level and was adopted by Republican officials equally eager to dodge blame. Even following a year of racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans that resulted from this distraction campaign, most House Republicans still refused to condemn Trump's rhetoric.

As detailed by Alex Samuels, writing for FiveThirtyEight, the vilification of China had its desired effect among the Republican constituency.

Ultimately, blaming China for the pandemic didn't help Trump win reelection in 2020, but unfavorable views of China are at a record high among Americans.1 And there are signs that Americans, especially Republicans, blame China for the spread of the coronavirus. A November Economist/YouGov poll found, for instance, that 64 percent of all registered voters and 86 percent of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that China was responsible for the pandemic.

The key word for Republicans here was "responsible." Republicans recognize that Donald Trump and those GOP officials that adopted his strategy throughout this crisis were ultimately responsible for the U.S. sustaining a higher death toll from this virus than any other country in the world. As Samuels notes, that fact practically compels them to find a scapegoat for their own failure, with any blowback inflicted on Asian-Americans a secondary consideration at best.

[T]he experts I've talked to think that if people uphold a specific worldview by delegitimizing another group, the framing of diseases will always be political — no matter how apolitical we think diseases are. That's because racism itself is a disease, and as Roger Keil, a political scientist at York University, told me, "[I]t seems to spread sometimes like a virus." Keil compared it to watching a video online: "For every video that links the disease to Chinese people, there will be 10 or 1,000 people watching, so it's normalized," he said. "It's terrible, but that's how racism spreads."

The Trump administration knew the implications of COVID-19,from the outset and that it presented his prospects and those of his minions with a truly daunting, existential crisis. The China scapegoating began immediately and continued throughout the rest of Trump's tenure, heedless of whatever harm such scapegoating would have on millions of Asian-Americans. Republican leaders willingly followed his lead and have continued to do so up to this day. But every time one of them utters the words "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus," what they're really doing is dodging their own responsibility for the worst response to a major public health crisis in this nation's history.

'Owning the libs' isn't really funny — but it is a hallmark of fascism

When Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert decided it would be a good political move to issue a histrionic email declaring "I told Beto 'HELL NO' to taking our guns. Now we need to tell Joe Biden" only hours after the news broke about the latest horrific mass shooting in a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store, many people took her to task for the callousness she demonstrated in self-promoting and fundraising off a tragedy.

And that criticism was valid, but it misses a more relevant point. Boebert did this intentionally, calculating that the blowback she received would be proportionately less than the credit and acclaim she'd get from her own constituents for her insouciant disregard of human life. In fact the blowback is what she counted on. After all, the desired effect was accomplished — she'd provoked the "liberal media " into a wholly predictable response. In other words, she "owned the libs," at least in the eyes of the people who will continue to vote for her noxious self.

She knew she'd be criticized, and that the criticism would be deserved. But by intentionally baiting her own excoriation she was reaching for what has now become the sole arrow remaining in the entire Republican quiver. As expressed cogently by Derek Robertson, writing for Politico, the purpose of "owning the libs" is not victory over them, but "so much as a commitment to infuriating, flummoxing or otherwise distressing liberals with one's awesomely uncompromising conservatism."

Robertson's worthwhile take on the subject, which promises to be a kind of dissection of the psychology underlying the "own the libs" phenomenon now ubiquitous within Republican Party ranks, still suffers from a facile sugar-coating of the concept by his Republican sources. He quotes Helen Andrews, editor of the American Conservative, who ennobles the process of "owning the libs" by elevating it to a virtue: "Owning the libs' is a way of asserting dignity," she says. "'The libs,' as currently constituted, spend a lot of time denigrating and devaluing the dignity of Middle America and conservatives, so fighting back against that is healthy self-assertion; any self-respecting human being would … Stunts, TikTok videos, they energize people, that's what they're intended to do."

That's not really true, though. Whatever outrage liberals direct towards "conservatives" is usually based on plain old empirical evidence. If we tend to categorize Trump supporters as racist, for example, it's because they either affirmatively endorsed or turned a blind eye to racism by voting for Trump who clearly demonstrated his own embrace of racism, over and over. We don't seek to "devalue" their dignity because we don't recognize any "dignity" there to begin with; their actions are reprehensible, they hurt other people and they should know better. If "dignity" is even implicated it's cognizance of their own lack of it — their anger at their sorry-assed selves being revealed--that compels them to respond with a defensive, mocking nihilism.

Still, to his credit Robertson traces the origins of this phenomenon back to the McCarthy era where conservatives would justify Sen. Joe McCarthy's worst excesses by intoning that he "at least he stood for something," whereas his opponents allegedly had no similar certitude of purpose. But while McCarthyism may have been the historical precedent to what we see spewed ad nauseum in virtually all conservative media content today (particularly since Trump, who elevated the heinous and offensive to an art form) it now seems that that "owning the libs" has become the entire rationale for a Republican Party singularly bereft of any ability to perform its supposed intended function of governing on behalf of the American people.

Robertson also quotes Marshall Kosloff, who comes closer to the truth:

"It basically offers the party a way of resolving the contradictions within a realigning party, that increasingly is appealing to down-market white voters and certain working-class Black and Hispanic voters, but that also has a pretty plutocratic agenda at the policy level." In other words: Owning the libs offers bread and circuses for the pro-Trump right while Republicans quietly pursue a traditional program of deregulation and tax cuts at the policy level.

So 'owning the libs' is at the very least, a scam, a feint, a mask for the Republican Party's utter indifference to the real-life concerns of their constituents, for whom elected Republicans have had absolutely nothing to offer. It's distracting entertainment, substituted as policy. But is it more than that?

As the Biden administration enters its third full month, it's useful to recount exactly what Republicans have done in the interim. Thus far the only reaction from the right to the progressive measures being instituted on an almost-daily basis by the new administration has been an exercise in outrage politics: From the truly ridiculous, such as the saga of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, to anti-immigrant racism, with Fox News ginning up outrage towards an over-hyped "border crisis," to amplifying the simplistic hatred of anti-transgender bias.

All of these tactics have something in common: they're performative exaggerations of social and cultural shifts that in reality have little or no tangible impact upon the daily lives of Republican constituents. Show me a Republican whose lives have actually been affected by an undocumented immigrant (few Republicans know any, and fewer still aspire to the "jobs" they fill), by a children's book few if any Republicans have ever read, or by a transgender child playing sports (few Republicans have ever encountered one). These are all red herrings — shiny objects for the right to hold up and point to with one hand, while the other hand is busy with more substantive goals, such as impeding people from voting.

But they're also symptomatic of a party that has completely abandoned "policy" as a governing principle. Instead, what we see is a Republican Party that has committed itself to one goal only — maintaining its grip on power by totally committing itself to inflammatory cultural issues such as immigration. In its drive to maintain power the GOP has adopted the same tactics of far-right parties in Europe, stoking grievances with apocalyptic, xenophobic rhetoric against immigrants and so-called "social deviants" such as LGBTQ people whom it attempts to marginalize as a threat to the "purity" of the population.

As was observed by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein last year, the modern Republican Party now closely resembles the neo-Nazi and white nationalist parties now emergent in Europe, such as Germany's AfD and Hungary's Fidesz, both in its ideological makeup and tactics, as it relentlessly tacks rightward.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

What we see in the behavior of these proto-fascist European parties is another, peculiarly European version of the "own the libs" approach, by mocking the Holocaust, for example, as reported by the BBC:

The party's leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, Björn Höcke, once described Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a "monument of shame" and called for a "180-degree turnaround" in Germany's handling of its Nazi past. Picking up the same theme, Alexander Gauland trivialised the Nazi era as "just a speck of bird's muck in more than 1,000 years of successful Germany history".

Similarly, those who resist or object to these tactics are drummed out of the party apparatus altogether:

The AfD has managed to attract voters from the centre right and even the centre left but in the words of Verena Hartmann, a moderate MP who left the party in January 2020 because it was becoming to extreme: "Those who resist this extreme right-wing movement are mercilessly pushed out of the party."

Sounds strangely familiar, doesn't it?

Heather Digby Parton shrewdly documented this phenomenon at the conservative CPAC convention this year, in which Republicans hoping to take up the coveted mantle of Donald Trump spent nearly all their energies playing up to the crowd's laundry list of hot-button grievances. Seldom if ever venturing into policy matters, the tone and tenor of those speaking reflected the prevailing sentiment of the attendees: "They don't care if these people are right or wrong, it's their unwillingness to back down no matter what that they admire."

Parton cites Soviet-born author Masha Gessen who shows how the "own the libs" phenomenon has its counterpart among the far-right parties that have arisen in former Communist states such as Hungary, as well as Western European countries now under siege by right-wing "populism." In particular, Gessen quotes Balint Magyar, who characterized the appeal of such parties as "an ideological instrument for the political program of morally unconstrained collective egoism:"

Magyar suggested reading the definition backward to better understand it: "The egoistic voter who wants to disregard other people and help solely himself can express this in a collective more easily than alone." The collective form helps frame the selfishness in loftier terms, deploying "homeland," "America first," or ideas about keeping people safe from alien criminals. In the end, Magyar writes, such populism "delegitimizes moral constraints and legitimizes moral nihilism."

The whole point of "owning the libs" is to project an in-your-face disregard to norms of decency and morality that most people have grown to expect from our civil society. In this mindset, "Fuck your Feelings" becomes a litmus test of moral nihilism towards others, a requirement to confirm one's party loyalty and be part of the "club."

The difference between the Unites States and Europe, however, is that unlike Europe the U.S. political landscape is essentially limited to a two-party system. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the American public are now left with a choice between a relatively moderate Democratic Party and an extreme, far-right Republican Party, with nothing at all in between. Because our American electoral system unduly favors low-population "conservative" states, providing them equal representation in the U.S. Senate, and because of partisan gerrymandering ensuring that the GOP maintains rough parity with if not domination of Democratic voters who tend to be clustered in metropolitan and suburban areas, these two parties are afforded equal time and attention by the traditional media and the political process.

But they are not equal, either in numbers or in motivation. One party represents far more voters, as shown in the national popular vote in election after election for the past twenty years, while the other represents a dwindling and aging voter base. One party represents inclusion and social progress, the other openly embraces xenophobia, racism, and suppressing the vote. With its new penchant for denying the legitimacy of elections and its now-open embrace of paramilitary organizations and white supremacy, the Republican Party is rapidly moving towards the textbook definition of fascism, if it has not already arrived there.

"Owning the libs" may seem funny and even harmless to those who practice it or profit by it, but the reality is that a party whose messaging now relies solely and exclusively on establishing a "litmus test" that deliberately and intentionally abandons moral constraints and human decency as a unifying principle is hardly breaking new ground. In fact, it's following a tired and familiar path, conditioning its followers to dehumanize those who oppose them politically, while instead embracing autocracy and, ultimately, fascism.

Former Trump officials' 'COVID-19 wasn't my fault' tour begins in earnest

The "It wasn't my fault" tour is in full swing.

We heard from Robert Redfield, former director of the CDC and one of Trump's prime stooges during the COVID-19 pandemic, venturing that that if only China had been a little more forthcoming, the U.S. response under Trump would have been so, so drastically different.

Speaking Saturday to CNN, and rather than trying to justify his own abysmal performance during the worst public health crisis the country has experienced in over a century, he instead chose to repeat the discredited and debunked "lab myth:"

Without citing any evidence to back up his claim, Redfield also told Gupta he believes the pandemic originated in a lab in China that was already studying the virus, a controversial theory that the World Health Organization called "extremely unlikely" and for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, Redfield filled up the Internets up with words, and maybe, just maybe, he will be able to salvage his career, working quietly cleaning bedpans in some nondescript medical hell-hole somewhere in the American "heartland." Which would be far more than he deserves.

But this is really, really just too much for any words:

Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under the Trump administration, reveals her chilling conclusion in a new CNN documentary that the number of coronavirus deaths could have been "decreased substantially" if cities and states across the country had aggressively applied the lessons of the first surge toward mitigation last spring, potentially preventing the surges that followed

In other words, mistakes were made "last spring." If some mysterious and unnamed "others" in those "cities and states" had just not been complicit in those mistakes, so many people would be alive right now!

"I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse," Birx says. "There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."

In "her mind" the number of deaths could have been "mitigated or decreased substantially."

Well, what exactly was in her "mind," last spring? How hard would it have been for a 64 year-old physician and diplomat, with a career fully established, well ensconced and secure in her position, to speak out against what amounted to a politically-motivated, contrived agenda that she knew full well would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans?

I guess that prospect was just too daunting to contemplate at the time. As the New York Times reported, during that exact time — "over a critical period beginning in mid-April" — where she could have made any difference, Birx was little more than a cheerleader for Trump's malfeasance:

For scientific affirmation, they turned to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the sole public health professional in the Meadows group. A highly regarded infectious diseases expert, she was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing. The country, she insisted, was likely to resemble Italy, where virus cases declined steadily from frightening heights.

"[F]ully embracing her role as a member of the president's team," as the Times reported back in July of last year, she positively reveled in her newfound status, even providing some useful buzzwords for Trump to try to explain away the virus' mounting death toll, as he intentionally and deliberately discouraged the states — with her full knowledge, over and over -- from doing anything to mitigate it:

Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. "We've hit our peak," she would say, and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.
Dr. Birx began using versions of the phrase "putting out the embers," wording that was later picked up by the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and by Mr. Trump himself.

So during the time that she now says deaths from COVID-19 "could have been mitigated or reduced substantially," Birx was doing essentially nothing to achieve that end. In fact, based on the reporting of record, she knowingly acquiesced in making the pandemic even more lethal.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, comes to the same conclusion:

"The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers," the congressman tweeted. "And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him."

There's nothing more sickening than watching people desperately trying to redeem their reputations in the wake of a catastrophe they themselves helped to create.

But, I suppose they can always say they were "just following orders."

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EPA to conduct unprecedented 'public accounting' of Trump's political attacks on science

A newly transformed Environmental Protection Agency under the leadership of Michael Regan will conduct an unprecedented, public accounting of the Trump administration's four years of politically-motivated attacks on scientific inquiry, attacks that were used as a basis for dozens of regulatory changes calculated to benefit corporate polluters at the expense of the public health.

As reported by the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration's political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.
The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staff battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Biden's political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.

In preparation for this inquiry, Mr. Regan has requested all EPA employees to bring any and all examples of political interference to the attention of the agency's inspector general and other officials responsible for maintaining scientific integrity at the agency, without fear of retaliation or retribution of any kind.

In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had "compromised the integrity" of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a herbicide in popular weedkillers like Roundup that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.

As noted in the Times' report, former Trump officials involved in the deliberate distortion of scientific evidence and studies in order to justify their political motives have reacted to the announcement with varying degrees of concern, some characterizing the efforts to uncover their work as simply another exercise in "politicization" of the agency. They emphasize that their decisions were aided with the advice and concurrence from (presumably non-political) career employees. And while acknowledging that in many circumstances those employees did not agree with their decisions, they stress that their efforts were just "differences in scientific opinion" and the typical give-and-take of any "team."

It will be interesting to see how many of those career employees truly felt themselves as part of a "team" with these Trump political hacks. As reported in 2021 by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the EPA lost 672 scientists during the Trump administration, many of whom felt they were forced out of their positions. A comprehensive report on the administration sidelining of scientific research conducted in December, 2019, by the New York Times, found that Trump's political appointees had "diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide:"

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

So corrupted from its intended purpose had the agency become under Trump that Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler even went so far as to release an official pre-election memo in August, 2020, touting the agency's "removal" of environmental regulations that he characterized as "hamstringing" American businesses. Some of these actions are addressed in the Times article linked above, including the refusal to ban asbestos products; "declaring the health effects of chlorpyrifos, a widely-used pesticide, 'unresolved' despite years of agency research proving its danger to infants;" and attempting to limit the type of scientific studies which could be used to justify the imposition of any new regulations affecting corporate profits.

Wheeler's self-congratulatory memo bragged about such efforts as "rescind[ing] the Obama Administration's inadequately justified regulation of methane" and eliminating regulations on potentially cancerous emissions for suffering "small oil and gas operators." His tenure at EPA, like that of his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was, as the Times report notes, "the epicenter of some of the administration's most questionable decisions."

So yes, it's understandable why certain people might be concerned about a report publicly revealing what they did, at the U.S. taxpayer's expense, in the guise of "protecting" the environment.

145 House Republicans refuse to say whether they've been vaccinated against COVID-19

You couldn't find a better example of just how little Republican House members think of their constituents than this. CNN conducted a survey of all members of the House of Representatives to determine how many had received at least the first dose of one of the three available vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has killed approximately 540,000 Americans.

CNN confirmed that 189 Democrats out of 219 in the House have been vaccinated. One Democrat confirmed he had not been vaccinated but planned to be and there were 29 Democrats for whom CNN did not receive responses.
CNN also confirmed that 53 House Republicans out of 211 have been vaccinated. Thirteen Republicans told CNN they have not been vaccinated even as many said they planned to be. CNN did not receive a response from 145 House Republicans.

(emphasis added)

For the record, I think we can assume that the true number of vaccinations between Republicans and Democratic representatives is actually quite similar, since the number of those (including senators and House representatives) publicly reported to have been infected skews heavily (nearly triple the number) toward Republicans, almost wholly due to their insistence on refusing to social distance or use masks. If for some reason that is not the case, it would suggest that most Republicans as a group are either a.) completely honest, delusional, or cognitively impaired, b.) mindlessly obstinate, or c.) afraid to reveal their status because of what their constituents would think.

If they were completely honest, delusional, or cognitively impaired, they would be likely to tell the truth about their status (either yes or no, or "planning" to be vaccinated), rather than refuse to answer, because either they would want their constituents to be vaccinated, not vaccinated, or it would make no difference to them. So they're not "completely honest," delusional, or cognitively impaired.

If they were just mindlessly obstinate, dyed-in-the-wool deniers and truly believed the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing but a "hoax," they would likely respond that they had not been vaccinated, since they would not want to encourage their constituents to be vaccinated. This might be a reprehensible response, but at least it would be truthful. But those 145 chose instead not to say whether they'd been vaccinated—or not.

Finally, if they were simply afraid to reveal their status, they would refuse to respond, which is what 145 of them have done.

So we can fairly assume that most if not all of these 145 Republicans are afraid to reveal their vaccinated or non-vaccinated status. But by succumbing to this fear and refusing to reveal their status, they're implicitly and deliberately placing their own political interests above the lives of their constituents. Because otherwise they would fall into category a.) above.

This is the uniform excuse being employed by those Republicans who refuse to respond:

"Isn't that a HIPAA violation?" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said when asked about her vaccine status. "I don't know if should tell you," Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said. "I am not going to answer that." "That's not appropriate," Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Missouri, chimed in as he overheard the question. Later when Smith was asked about his vaccination status, he shot back, "The fact that you are asking them their health information, I think that is really unacceptable."

Of course HIPAA has nothing to do with this. As the CNN article points out, it's neither a violation of HIPAA nor an infringement on their "privacy" to disclose whether you've been vaccinated or not: "HIPAA applies to health care providers, who are barred from sharing personal health information about their patients without consent, not to individuals who willingly share their information."

These Republicans know this full well. As public figures allegedly hired to represent their constituents, in the face of a massive and deadly public health crisis they have a civic duty, if not an obligation, out of basic human decency to respond "yes" or "no."

But clearly that is too much to ask of them.

Former top DOJ official: Capitol riot evidence 'trending towards' sedition charges

The wheels of Justice turn slowly, but they do turn.

As reported in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Evidence the government obtained in the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol most likely meets the bar necessary to charge some of the suspects with sedition, Michael R. Sherwin, the federal prosecutor who had been leading the Justice Department's inquiry, said in an interview that aired on Sunday.

The last time the Department of Justice brought sedition charges against anyone was nearly a decade ago.

"I personally believe the evidence is trending toward that, and probably meets those elements," Mr. Sherwin said. "I believe the facts do support those charges. And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that."

A long time ago someone wrote a cryptic little song:

And you just can't escape from the sound
Don't worry too much, it'll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys

Sherwin was the prosecutor originally leading the Justice Department's inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He is in the unusual position (for a prosecutor) of having personally witnessed the attack on the Capitol, dressed in running clothes and standing among the crowd at the time Trump beckoned his supporters to attack.

"Where it was initially pro-Trump, it digressed to anti-government, anti-Congress, anti-institutional," Mr. Sherwin said. "And then I eventually saw people climbing the scaffolding. The scaffolding was being set up for the inauguration. When I saw people climbing up the scaffolding, hanging from it, hanging flags, I was like, 'This is going bad fast.'"

And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he's made on your dreams

"It's unequivocal that Trump was the magnet that brought the people to D.C. on the 6th. Now the question is, is he criminally culpable for everything that happened during the siege, during the breach?" Mr. Sherwin said.

It must be quite an eye-opening experience for some of these folks to have the full implications of what they've done brought home to them. Very easy to play Nazi pretend games on a keyboard with your maladjusted and irascible friends, quite another thing to be looking at up to twenty years in a federal prison.

If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?

For some of these folks, it's far, far too late to ask that question.

Charting the Democratic Party's future through the nation's cities and suburbs

Last week 21 Republican attorneys-general, all hailing from "red" states, signed onto a letter complaining about a provision contained within the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which effectively prohibits them from diverting funds, intended to shore up local budgets and services, in order to instead finance tax cuts. Irate that they were being denied the opportunity to use this federal largesse for their own ideological purposes, they condemned what they called the federal government's "coercive" and "micromanaging" tactics.

Sadly for these Republican-led states, the prohibition is likely to remain in effect. But by their very antagonism to being sidelined by provisions for direct, targeted aid (much of which will necessarily be dedicated towards those state's largest municipalities), these attorneys general again highlighted the glaring divide that exists between "blue" America (broadly speaking, the country's more populated metropolitan areas and their inner suburbs) and "red" America, the vast, but lesser populated, areas in between.

This divide is emphatically presented to us in every election as we watch the nation's votes being tallied on the electoral map. Within most states, we inevitably see a confluence of blue, urban and suburban, contrasting with a sea of deep red in the rural hinterlands, as people make their political preferences known. Despite the hopeful aspirations of many (mostly Democratic) politicians, this divergence is now a simple fact of American life that is unlikely to change as this nation becomes more and more polarized — at least in the near term.

Ronald Brownstein, writing for The Atlantic, believes it's well past time for Democrats to face reality. While we may wish, in the spirit of national unity, to chip away at the Republicans' solid white, predominantly rural and semi-rural base, the fact is that, for all his wretchedness, Donald Trump knew where his center of power resided. It wasn't in the cities or their suburbs. From Donald Trump's anti-urban policies, race-baiting dog whistle politics and out-and-out insults directed at the major cities in those swing states he'd lost in the 2020 election, to the racist voter suppression measures now being obsessively instituted in Republican-led statehouses throughout the country, it's patently clear who Republicans consider as the "enemy."

In particular, the actions displayed by "red" state governments, in comparison to the metropolitan areas within them, provides a case study in differing priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just look at the stark contrast between the response of Democratically-governed cities like Houston, Texas, or Philadelphia, and the attitudes of Republican-dominated state legislatures towards protective measures and aid. As Brownstein points out, "the states controlled by Republican governors or legislators—currently slightly more than half of all the states—are hostile to almost everything a Democratic president wants to do."

Brownstein argues that with their new, fragile majorities in Congress, now is the time for Democrats to go beyond reimagining the political landscape, and deal with the reality of this nation as it actually is. We must furiously and relentlessly consolidate Democratic power and policies in Democratic strongholds: the cities, and even more importantly, the suburban areas immediately surrounding them. As he observes, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided President Joe Biden with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do just that.

Cities and their inner suburbs need an immediate lifeline from Washington to stabilize their finances after the devastation of the pandemic. But once those communities regain their balance, they could become crucial allies for Biden. By working with big metros, the president would be aligning federal policy with powerful economic, social, and electoral trends—and empowering local officials overwhelmingly sympathetic to his core objectives. If Biden can forge such partnerships, he could both ignite a new wave of local innovation and solidify the Democratic Party's advantage in the fast-growing, diverse, and well-educated metro areas that have become the bedrock of its electoral coalition.

Despite the prevailing tendency of today's Republicans to rely on lies they call "alternative facts," some facts are unassailable. Brownstein points out that the 100 most populous counties in the U.S. now account for half the nation's economic output. As a result, more people are gravitating towards—rather than away from—metropolitan areas, including both inner cities and their suburban surroundings, increasing their racial diversification. The suburbs, once a bastion of Republican-leaning white flight, have become paramount to Democratic electoral prospects as economic ties between the cities and their suburbs have strengthened over the past decade.

This phenomenon argues for what Brownstein calls a "regional" political approach, one which Republicans have ceded through their hostility to the urban populations they continue to demonize in order to inflame their own racist constituencies. Such an approach to federal governance, from a Democratic standpoint, can rely on a ready power base made up of elected major metropolitan and suburban-metropolitan officials whose goals and attitudes already align with the Democratic Party. Brownstein cites the cooperation of the nation's largest urban municipal governments with the Biden administration's goals to combat climate change as just one example of how this approach can work in practice. For instance, by initiating green-based energy innovations such as conversion to electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting, or by matching or directly funding energy-efficient mass transit capabilities, the administration can partner directly with urban regions without resorting to the traditional allotment of federal funding directly to state governments.

Possibly the most immediate impact of a federal-local (rather than a federal-state) mechanism of cooperation could be felt in the area of healthcare, with emphasis on covering the uninsured through Medicaid expansion, a measure that would normally be resisted by red-state governors and statehouses. While Democrats hold both chambers, this is possible by simply revising language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to allow it.

In most, if not all, red states, Republican governors would likely block such federal-local partnerships, but a Democratic-controlled Congress could change the ACA to allow local governments to bypass those governors—and even to make such partnerships more financially feasible for the locales by providing them with enhanced federal funding. Authorizing local governments to expand coverage directly would make a big dent in access to health care, since most of the uninsured in those red states live in urban areas—the five biggest Texas counties, for instance, account for nearly half of the state's uninsured. And a law empowering local governments to expand Medicaid might be easier to pass through Congress than an alternative Biden has already floated: automatically enrolling eligible Americans in the non-expansion states into a new "public option."

Brownstein follows with several proposals that would effectively re-orient the way federal funds are disbursed towards a more regional, metro-centric approach. While some of the measures he offers would require the elimination of the filibuster, others—such as inducements for metropolitan developmental and economic expenditures included in federal budgeting—may be possible through the reconciliation process, as long as the Democratic Party continues to retain majorities in Congress.

From a political standpoint, Brownstein points out these measures are grounded in an unfortunate reality. The needs of rural America are important and shouldn't be discounted or disregarded, but no matter how much effort and resources the administration extends towards revitalizing these "red" areas—expanding access to broadband, improving their infrastructure and health care, encouraging rural economic development—Biden is unlikely to receive much, if any, political benefit from it. The Republican Party has a perverse, existential interest in ensuring that such efforts do not succeed, if only for the goal of maintaining their grip on power. They GOP will continue their efforts to stoke race resentment and cultural grievance, pitting the more rural citizens who comprise the vast bulk of their voting base against the larger, more economically vibrant urban and suburban areas. As Brownstein observes, "so long as the GOP continues to stoke those voters' racial and cultural resentments—and as Democrats more unreservedly embrace racial and cultural liberalism—Biden is likely to have only limited success, at most."

In the end, in Brownstein's view, it comes down to the cold calculation of political expediency. While he doesn't advocate abandoning Democratic efforts in more rural areas, his focus is grounded on the more immediate accomplishments possible in this, the Biden presidency.

That reality leaves Biden facing what, in the end, may be a straightforward equation. In an era of intense political polarization and widening social division, Biden's best chance at enlarging his political support—and recording gains on the issues he cares most about—may come from finding new ways to work with the places that most want to work with him.

Former President Barack Obama famously declared that there should be no division between "red" or "blue" Americas—that there should be just one United States of America. But the unrelenting, racially-motivated efforts of the Republican Party have had their desired effect: they have made that worthy aspiration impossible from a practical and political standpoint. The economic, social and cultural future of this nation rests, for the foreseeable future, in its largest population centers, the major cities and their surrounding suburban areas. There is no longer any reason for Democrats to pretend that its political future should be anything otherwise.

Note: Judeling in the comments points up an excellent contra argument to Brownstein's thesis, here.

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