Dartagnan

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.

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