Jon Skolnik

'Is that legal?': New analysis explores Republicans' push for Supreme Court demonstrators to be arrested

Hundreds of pro-choice demonstrators have gathered outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts since a draft decision reversing Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision affirming America's constitutional right to abortion, leaked. The protests – featuring signs, chants, and candle-lit vigils – have remained peaceful demonstrations. But while no threats or acts of violence have been reported in connection to these demonstrations, Republicans are already tarring them as immoral, illegal, and even terroristic, going so far as to call on the Justice Department to prosecute individuals.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said that the protesters "should be arrested for protesting in the homes of judges, jurors, and prosecutors."

"There is a federal law that prohibits the protesting of judges' homes," Cotton told NBC News. "Anybody protesting a judge's home should be arrested on the spot by federal law enforcement. If [protesters] want to raise a First Amendment defense, they are free to do so."

"The President may choose to characterize protests, riots, and incitements of violence as mere passion," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, echoed in a Wednesday letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. "But these attempts to influence and intimidate members of the federal judiciary are an affront to judicial independence."

The Republican governors of both Virginia and Maryland, where the three justices' homes are located, have also joined the chorus, urging Garland to "provide appropriate resources to safeguard the justices and enforce the law as it is written."

Even some Democrats came forward to condemn the demonstrations, including most notably Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who this week went so far as to call the protests "reprehensible."

"Stay away from the homes and families of elected officials and members of the court," Durbin told CNN. "You can express yourself, exercise your First Amendment rights, but to go after them at their homes, to do anything of a threatening nature, certainly anything violent, is absolutely reprehensible."

To make their case, Republican pundits and politicians have for the most part hung their hat on an esoteric legal statute, first enacted in 1950, that makes it illegal to picket or parade "in or near a building or residence occupied or used by [a] judge, juror, witness, or court officer" with "the intent of influencing [that] judge." The statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1507, is seemingly designed to protect members of the judiciary from protests that might obstruct justice through fear or intimidation and was first enacted as part of the "Internal Security Act of 1950," a McCarthy-era law that sought to address fears that communism was creeping into the judiciary.

Historically, the courts have hewed closely to laws that protect juries and justices from any outside political influences, as Law & Crime noted. Still, the legality of the protests remains something of an open question.

Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, told Salon that it's unlikely this week's demonstrations would be ruled illegal under 18 U.S. Code § 1507.

"I always have read [that statute] as 'impeding the officers ability to get to the court, or from the court to take part in proceedings' ... or terrorizing them with loudspeakers in front of their houses," he explained in an interview. "There's really no interpretation by which one could say that [the protests are] untoward or illegal in my understanding of the law and the Constitution and the history of protest in our country."

Anuj C. Desai, a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin, expressed a little more doubt, arguing that the statute could be applied. But still, he added, very little case law in the U.S. has actually ventured into the territory of the situation at hand.

"I think if [the protesters] did get prosecuted, there would be reasonable arguments about the interpretation of the statute that have not played out in the courts."

One pertinent legal case, Desai said, is Cox v. Louisiana, a 1965 case in which the Supreme Court affirmed a state law that made picketing before a courthouse illegal. The case specifically centered on Benjamin Elton Cox, a civil rights activist who was convicted of disturbing the peace after organizing a thousands-strong march outside of a Baton Rouge courthouse. The facts around Cox v. Louisiana "were relatively sympathetic" for the protestors, DeSai said, "and the Supreme Court still said [Louisiana's statute] is carefully drawn."

Another past case that stands out, as The Washington Post notes, is Frisby v. Schultz, which stems from a 1988 picket organized in Brookfield, Wisconsin by two anti-abortion activists outside the home of an abortion doctor. Both activists claimed that a town ordinance banning the demonstration violated their First Amendment rights. Citing "a special benefit of the privacy all citizens enjoy within their own walls," the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the ordinance, arguing goals of the protests could be achieved through other means of communication.

"I do not believe that picketing for the sole purpose of imposing psychological harm on a family in the shelter of their home is constitutionally protected," wrote then-Justice John Paul Stevens, adding that there is "little justification for allowing them to remain in front of his home and repeat it over and over again simply to harm the doctor and his family."

Apart from local ordinances, like Wisconsin's, a judge might also consider state codes. This strategy could prove especially successful in Virginia and Maryland, both of whose criminal statutes put a strong emphasis on the preservation of the home as a place of tranquility.

"The practice of picketing before or about residences and dwelling places causes emotional disturbance and distress to the occupants," states the Maryland criminal code. "The purpose of this practice is to harass the occupants of the residences and dwelling places."

Virginia statutory law imposes a similar restriction: "Any person who shall engage in picketing before or about the residence or dwelling place of any individual, or who shall assemble with another person or persons in a manner which disrupts or threatens to disrupt any individual's right to tranquility in his home, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor."

All a prosecutor would need to do, then, under Virginia or Maryland law is establish that the demonstrations disrupted the tranquility within Alito, Kavanaugh, or Roberts' homes.

But if prosecutors were to argue that the demonstrations violated 18 U.S. Code § 1507, they would have to establish that the protesters intended to distress these three justices – a task which would likely require a lot of heavy lifting, suggested Sheila Bedi, a clinical professor of law at Northwestern University.

"A prosecutor could look at things like notices of the protest, if there's any social media posts, but again, I think it's highly unlikely that anybody out there protesting really believes that Justice Alito is going to change his opinion as a result of the protests. And because of that, I think anybody who was charged under the statute would have a strong defense," Bedi said. "I think the reality is that the movement has known that this was a possibility for a long time because of the organizing that happened on the right. And this is about harnessing the political moment far more than it is about trying to influence the judges."

Desai likewise said that prosecutors would be bedeviled with "proof problems" relating to mens rea, or the state of mind protesters were in during the demonstrations. "This one just looks like it would be that aspect of it that would be hard to prove," Desai said.

Thus far, the Justice Department has not signaled that it will be pursuing legal action against any of the demonstrators, and there have been no arrests at this point. Department spokesperson Anthony Coley on Wednesday said that the agency "continues to be briefed on security matters related to the Supreme Court and Supreme Court justices.

How the GOP’s rush to block Biden from forgiving student debt backfired

Over the last two years, Republicans argued that President Biden, who made a campaign promise to cancel student debt, does not have legal authority to fulfill that pledge, insisting that the tens of millions of Americans currently crushed by student loans should be forced to pay them down. But now, amid new reports that Biden is considering a partial jubilee, Republicans are backing a bill that would prevent the president from pulling the trigger – a tacit acknowledgment Biden appears to have the power to finally make good on his promise.

On Wednesday, five Senate Republicans introduced the "Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act," a measure that would end Biden's ability to continue suspending debt payments (for debtholders of a certain income) and prohibit the president from canceling the debt altogether in the case of a national emergency.

The bill's sponsors – Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas – have attempted to frame the measure as a bulwark for American taxpayers.

"As Americans continue to return to the workforce more than two years since the pandemic began, it is time for borrowers to resume repayment of student debt obligations," Thune said in a statement. "Taxpayers and working families should not be responsible for continuing to bear the costs associated with this suspension of repayment. This common-sense legislation would protect taxpayers and prevent President Biden from suspending federal student loan repayments in perpetuity."

Braun has meanwhile claimed that a jubilee would force people without college degrees to "pick up the tab" for graduates.

"This transfer of wealth is not a move to 'advance equity,' but rather a taxpayer handout to appease far-left activists," he said.

The Republican-led measure comes just weeks after Biden extended his student loan repayment pause for the sixth time over the course of his administration. According to the Federal Reserve, Biden has saved borrowers, who hold roughly $1.7 trillion debt, about $5 billion in interest a month. Those savings have been a lifeline for over 40 million student debtholders, 11.1% of whose loans prior to the pandemic were in default or delinquent by at least 90 days.

Toward the beginning of Biden's presidency, many Republicans and establishment Democrats were adamant that the president could not forgive student debt by executive order. Some experts suggested that only Congress could rubber-stamp such a move, in part because it was the legislature – not the president – that appropriated the funds loaned out to borrowers.

But now, with the GOP waging a pre-emptive counteroffensive amid reports that Biden might relieve the debt, there's more reason to believe that the president has that very authority, as The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote this week.

"There would be no need for such [the GOP's] bill if there was not already authority granted by Congress to the executive branch to suspend, defer, or cancel student loan payments," Dayen argued. "The bill represents an effort to claw that authority back, or at the very least clarify the statute to remove all doubt."

Republicans appear to be targeting provisions contained within the HEROES Act of 2003, an amendment to the Higher Education Act that "allows the secretary of education to waive or modify any requirement or regulation applicable to the student financial assistance programs" in a time of national emergency.

The Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act would prohibit the president from using the HEROES Act to pause repayments for any longer than 90 days. It would also means-test these pauses and make them subject to the Congressional Review Act, an esoteric law that allows the legislature to overturn actions taken by federal agencies, like the Department of Education.

To be sure, it's unlikely that the Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act will be approved by a Democratic-majority Senate, paving the way for Biden to leverage the HEROES act without opposition. But even then, Biden will undoubtedly face a deluge of legal challenges, which could stop a jubilee in its tracks.

At present, very little legal precedent exists on whether Biden has the unilateral power to forgive student debt. No president before him has attempted the move, and "no court has considered where the outer boundaries of the Secretary's HEROES Act authorities lie," as the Congressional Research Services wrote last year.

Luke Herrine, Yale Law Ph.D. who has studied the legality around a potential jubilee, describes the predicament as "a vague terrain."

"Who would sue? I mean, that's the real question," Herrine said. "The [debt] servicers are probably the most plausible, but there are a number of problems with them having standing [...] They are not guaranteed any amounts of payments under their contracts with the Department of Education, so it's not really clear what their claim is."

There's also the question of whether sweeping debt relief would qualify as a mere "modification" or "waiver," as the Congressional Research Services noted. In the 1992 case MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. AT&T, the Supreme Court declined to defer to the Federal Communications Commission's interpretation of what the company felt was a modification to its tariff policies.

"If a court deemed the HEROES Act sufficiently analogous to the statute in MCI, it might conclude that the power to 'modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the' Title IV programs likewise does not authorize the Secretary to make fundamental changes to statutes or regulations," the Congressional Research Services wrote.

And all of this legal analysis, Herrin said, will have to be weighed against the "political calculus" of issuing a jubilee whose economic implications are still ill-defined.

"First of all, do we think this is good policy? Is it regressive or is it progressive? Is it good politically?" Herrine explained. "I think that's the calculus that's really changed over the past few months."

Biden's pause on student debt repayments is set to expire on May 1. On Monday, Biden indicated to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he is open to both extending the repayment suspension and wiping away a portion of the debt, according to The Washington Post.

"I feel very confident that he is pushing on his team to do something, and to do something significant," Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., a member of the caucus, told the Post. "That's my feeling.t

Far-right Michigan candidate for Senate: 'Family should be a white mom, a white dad and white kids'

A far-right radio host running for the Michigan state senate is claiming that he's "not racist" after complaining about how the nuclear family is no longer portrayed as "a white mom, a white dad, and white kids."

The host, Randy Bishop, who is running as a Democrat, lamented the racial makeup of America on his radio show "Your Defending Fathers" last month, according to The Detroit News. In the episode, Bishop argued that the mainstream media is attempting to "destroy the nuclear family."

"Can't even watch a college basketball tournament without commercials telling me I have to feel guilty because I think a family should be a white mom, a white dad and white kids," Bishop said. "They want us to die and go away and they're going to try and do it through politics this year. Well, we have got to be just as smart."

Media outlets immediately jumped on his comments, leading Bishop to claim that his remarks were taken out of context.

"I don't have a racist bone in my body," Bishop told MLive.

During the episode, Bishop also made a number of other inflammatory remarks.

At one point, he said that the "LGBTQXYZ" community is "confused" about "what's between their legs." And in another comment, he baselessly claimed that Vice President Kamala Harris is "not Black," saying that she doesn't belong to the same group as "real African African-heritage Black people."

This week, the Michigan Democratic Party firmly rebuked Bishop's comments, saying that his views "have no place in the Democratic Party."

"He is a dishonest minor social media personality that enjoys getting attention from making outrageous statements," the party tweeted. "He shows nothing but disrespect to our system of government by using a run for office to promote his personal agenda, entirely based on lies, hate and fear."

According to MLive, Bishop has filed to run in Michigan's 37th Senate District, which covers certain areas of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula. The district is 88% white and 2% Black.

Although Bishop is running as a Democrat, his politics broadly align with those of the Republican Party. He is currently the chair of the Antrim County Conservative Union and is reportedly sponsored by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of Donald Trump's most vocal election conspiracists.

Corporate America steps up to fight for abortion access —⁠ after backing anti-abortion Republicans

Just after the Texas GOP's near-total abortion ban (S.B.8) officially took effect last September, companies like Uber, Lyft, Bumble, and Match parachuted into the political fray by providing their Texas-based employees with benefits packages designed to dampen the impact of the bill. Uber and Lyft, for instance, created legal defense funds for drivers who might be sued for providing rides to abortion doctors. And Match, which owns Tinder, created a relief fund for staffers and their dependents seeking to get an abortion outside the Lone Star State. This week, Citigroup and Yelp vowed to cover similar out-of-state care for their employees, a move that no doubt reinforces Corporate America's veneer of progressivism as more Republican-led states – like Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, South Dakota – join the race to pass draconian restrictions.

But campaign finance records reveal that at least four out of the six named companies donated heavily to anti-abortion Republicans over the past three decades, underscoring the ongoing disconnect between Corporate America's professed principles and its pocketbook.

Over the past three decades, Citigroup has donated over $6.2 million to the Republican Party, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In Texas, for instance, Citigroup has given at least $452,370 to various GOP candidates, including the state's vehemently anti-abortion governor, Greg Abbott ($258,370), as well as many of the S.B.8's legislative sponsors. Most notably, the company has directed at least $2,000 toward the bill's chief architect, state Sen. Bryan Hughes.

In Oklahoma, which made abortion provision a felony by up to ten years in prison, Citigroup has lined up the campaign coffers of state Rep. Frank D. Lucas ($27,500), who has consistently voted to undermine abortion access, as well as U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. ($7,000), who just this year described himself as "the leading voice in Congress for the protection of life."

Citigroup declined to respond to Salon's request for comment.

Yelp's political contributions similarly fly in the face of its recent stance on abortion, despite the company's reported "progressive" workplace.

Since 2014, Yelp has contributed at least $71,600 to both state and federal Republicans across the country, donating thousands to anti-abortion lawmakers like U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah ($5,400), Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry ($5,000), Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes ($8,000), and former U.S. Rep. Randolph Farenthold, R-Texas ($5,500). The company has also donated to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose current chair, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., rolled back abortion protections as the governor of Florida in 2016, imposing heightened requirements on abortion clinics and prohibiting them from collecting taxpayer dollars.

Asked about these donations, a Yelp spokesperson told Salon that the company's "limited and bipartisan government relations effort is focused on advocating for antitrust policies that rein in Big Tech."

"We take action against abortion bans that violate women's individual freedoms in a number of ways, including evaluating our employee benefits, using our voice to call out these inequities, making sure that when people visit our platform they can find the trusted information they need about the services they are looking for, and donating to organizations that are fighting the legal battle against abortion bans, as well as those that provide reproductive health services and financial support to underserved women," they said.

Needless to say, none of this is untrue – at least on paper. In 2019, for example, Yelp signed the "Don't Ban Equality" letter condemning S.B. 8. And last year, it began double-matching employee donations to organizations that are pushing back against the measure. But still, these kinds of gestures are incredibly misaligned with the company's political contributions, said Jennifer Stark, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy at the Tara Health Foundation.

"Companies need to align their political giving with [their rhetoric and benefits policies] so that women and people of color and LGBTQ+ community are no longer the collateral damage of corporate political giving," Stark told Salon in an interview. "You can't really 'op-ed' or 'statement' your way out of where we're at. It takes structural reform on multiple levels."

Even ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which profit disproportionately from users in Democratic-led cities, bear responsibility in fueling the GOP's war on reproductive rights.

Uber has spent at least $78,000 on state and federal Republicans over the span of eight years, including anti-abortion advocates such as Illinois state Rep. Jim Durkin ($7,500), former Illinois state Sen. Bill Brady ($7,500), Georgia state Sen. Steve Gooch ($5,000), and California state Rep. Janet Nguyen ($4,900). The company has also given $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senate Campaign Committee, whose beneficiaries in the legislature recently passed a ban on abortion after fifteen weeks into pregnancy.

Uber did not respond to Salon's request for comment.

Lyft has followed a similar pattern, donating at least $175,614 to state and federal Republicans over the past eight years. Among its most notable beneficiaries are Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ($3,000), who signed a "fetal heartbeat" bill in 2019, former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens ($2,500), who in 2017 signficantly curtailed the state's access to abortion options; Gerogia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller ($2,000), who is angling to pass a state measure along the lines of S.B.8; and Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada ($2,000), who has consistently fought for a total ban on the abortion.

Likewise, Lyft has donated $101,100 to various GOP groups, like the Florida Republican Party ($30,000), the Texas Republican Legislative Caucus ($20,000), and the Senate Republican Caucus of Tennessee ($5,500).

Asked about these donations, a Lyft spokesperson told Salon that the company "could not be clearer about our stance on this issue."

"We believe women should be able to exercise their right to choose and have access to the healthcare they want and need," they added. "We are committed to providing support for the drivers on our platform which is why we created a Driver Legal Defense Fund to cover 100% of legal fees for drivers sued while driving on our platform."

While abortion may be the latest issue in which Corporate America has found itself torn between good business and bad politics, it's certainly not the only one.

Last year, Popular Information reported that 25 major U.S. corporations who advertised their support of Pride month donated over $10 million to lawmakers who have fought to curtail LGBTQ+ rights.

And while big companies like Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft issued commitments to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, many continue to sit on and donate to police foundations, which allow police departments secretly green-light off-the-books expenditures for initiatives that disproportionately harm people of color.

Most notably, after the Capitol riot, much of big business announced that it would halt donations to any lawmakers who objected to the 2020 presidential election. Two years later, dozens of companies have completely reneged on this pledge, donating nearly $5 million to insurrectionist political groups and members of the Sedition Caucus, according to the government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

"We've only seen a handful of companies stick to their commitments to quit giving to folks that wouldn't certify the election," Stark said. "We want corporate America, who will continue to give to both sides for as long as it's in their interest … to demand candidates that are less extreme, to demand a better quality of moderate. I think that is what we can and should hope for.

Paul Gosar blames staff for his appearance at white nationalist conference after attending same event last year

After weeks of avoiding the subject, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is now blaming his own staff over his appearance at a white nationalist conference, claiming that "there was a miscommunication."

Gosar's comments, originally reported by Politico, stem from his controversial virtual appearance at the America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC), held in Washington back in March by white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

"It wasn't supposed to go to Nick's group," Gosar claimed, alleging that his staff sent a pre-recorded "welcome video" to AFPAC.

"We're kind of short-handed," the conservative said. "And there was miscommunication."

Gosar added that he's "given up … on dealing with Nick. Nick's got a problem with his mouth."

It remains unclear why Gosar apparently waited five weeks to address the matter.

Gosar's remarks are also dubious considering his attendance at AFPAC last year, which led to him missing a House vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

"There is a group of young people that are becoming part of the election process and becoming a bigger force," Gosar said to a crowd of white nationalist youths at the time. "So why not take that energy and listen to what they've got to say?"

After that year's event, Fuentes posted a photo of the two men sharing drinks.

"Great meeting today with Congressman Gosar!" Fuentes wrote. "America is truly uncancelled."

After Gosar's AFPAC appearance this year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy condemned the Arizona lawmaker, calling his conduct "unacceptable."

"For me it was appalling and wrong. And there's no place in our party for any of this," McCarthy said at the time. "The party should not be associated any time any place with somebody who is anti-Semitic.

'I'm always going to be perceived as an outsider': Rick Scott equates himself with Ulysses S. Grant

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on Thursday compared himself to the union general and former President Ulysses S. Grant in defense of his much-reviled "11-point plan to rescue America," calling himself an "outsider" who will do whatever it takes to push his agenda forward.

"I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that, I'm always going to be perceived as an outsider," Scott told the Associated Press. "I'm going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not."

Despite receiving considerable pushback from his GOP colleagues, Scott has continued to advocate for a right-wing agenda that clarifies what Republicans stand for. His plan includes provisions like completing Trump's now-abandoned border wall; limiting federal workers to twelve years of service; providing foreign aid to "countries that are willing to defend themselves, like Israel"; requiring that all children to say the Pledge of Allegiance and stand for the National Anthem; and ending the practice of racial and ethic disclosures on government forms.

"Hopefully, by doing this, we'll have more of a conversation about what Republicans are going to get done. Because when we get the majority, I want to get something done," Scott said in a February interview with Politico. "There's things that people would rather not talk about. I'm willing to say exactly what I'm going to do. I think it's fair to the voter."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., by contrast, has insisted that the GOP refrain from spelling out a concrete agenda ahead of this year's midterms, instead opting to pick apart any action items the Democrats have and will put forward. McConnell made this clear during a private function with Republican donors and lawmakers back in December, according to Axios.

Most notably, the Senate minority leader has criticized the sweeping tax hikes laid out in Scott's plan, claiming that they would impact a large swath of the GOP's voting block. "We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets social security and Medicare within five years," McConnell has explained.

According to the non-partisan Institution on Taxation and Economic Policy (Itep) Scott's plan "would increase taxes by more than $1,000 on average for the poorest 40% of Americans."

Still, Scott has seen praise from a small contingent of Beltway Republicans who stand in support of a more forthright messaging strategy.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., who recently suggested the Supreme Court was wrong to legalize same-sex marriage, defended Scott's platform in an interview with the Associated Press, arguing that Republican voters need to know what they're voting for – not just against.

Republicans should "stake a little ground out that gives independents who elect swing-state senators and the president something other than the party of 'No,'" Braun said.

Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, also gave Scott plaudits, saying that the GOP's current debate about taxes is "not an honest conversation."

"It's about the establishment self-appointed ruling elites – I mean that generally – inside and outside the Capitol telling a great member of the Senate who's working on behalf of his constituents that he just needs to stop talking about this because it's not the plan they've decided," Roberts told the Associated Press.

'Actual Russian propaganda': Conservatives pile on as Tulsi Gabbard named 'most influential' spreader of disinformation

Republicans are attacking former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for spreading "Russian propaganda" after she posted a video claiming that the U.S. is funding and operating bioweapons labs in Ukraine.

On Sunday, the Hawaii Democrat published a two-minute video laying out the completely unproven conspiracy theory that the U.S. is funding between 25 and 30 biolabs in Ukraine to develop "dangerous pathogens".

"Like COVID, these pathogens know no borders," Gabbard said. "If they are inadvertently or purposely breached or compromised, they will quickly spread all throughout Europe, the United States and the rest of the world, causing untold suffering and death."

Those comments did not sit well with many Republicans, some of whom accused the former lawmaker of playing into the hands of Kremlin-backed disinformation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., called Gabbard's remarks "actual Russian propaganda." "Traitorous. Russia also said the Luger center in Georgia was making zombies," he said on Sunday. "Tulsi should go to Russia."

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, expressed similar thoughts, accusing Gabbard of "parroting false Russian propaganda."

"Her treasonous lies may well cost lives," he wrote on Sunday over Twitter.

On Monday, Alyssa Farah, the former director of strategic communications under Donald Trump, said that Romney was "absolutely right."

"What this is, is the Russians are spreading propaganda to try to create a pretext for potentially using chemical weapons against the Ukranians," Farah said during a segment of ABC's "The View."

"What Tulsi Gabbard is spreading is actually helping Putin get away with criminal acts against innocent Ukrainian civilians," she added.

The U.S. has repeatedly dismissed claims that it is holding or developing bioweapons in Ukraine. However, there are a number of biological labs in Ukraine, which the U.S. funds, to prevent the deployment of bioweapons, according to The New York Times. The funding of those labs stems from the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), founded in 1998. In 2005, the U.S. and Ukraine signed an explicit agreement ensuring that the labs would not be used to develop bioweapons.

Back in 2018, Filippa Lentzos, a Norwegian scientist researching threats posed by biological agents, called the Kremlin's claims "unfounded" after visiting a number of Ukrainian biolabs herself.

"We were given access to all areas of the site, examined relevant documentation, and interviewed staff, and concluded that the Center demonstrates significant transparency," Lentzos said. "Our group observed nothing out of the ordinary, or that we wouldn't expect to see in a legitimate facility of this sort."

Gabbard has since scrambled to explain her tweet and called on Romney to resign.

Suggesting that there might have been some "miscommunication and misunderstanding" about the terms bio labs and bio weapons labs, Gabbard tweeted: "'Biolabs' are facilities which contain and experiment with dangerous pathogens, ostensibly for the purpose of serving the public good (i.e. vaccines, etc.). 'Biological weapons labs' are facilities which exist for the purpose of turning pathogens into weapons so they can be used against an enemy (i.e. 'bioweapons')," Gabbard tweeted.

On Wednesday, Gabbard was listed alongside GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA and Fox News' Carlson as the "most influential" in spreading anti-Ukraine disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation and digital authoritarianism researcher Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies and digital humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University, featured Gabbard's tweets about Ukraine and "biolabs" as the latest Russia conspiracy theory propagated by right-wing media in the U.S.

Trump judge strikes down challenge against Cawthorn’s election eligibility

A federal judge on Friday struck down a legal challenge against Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., who a group of North Carolina voters argued was ineligible for re-election due to his apparent role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riot.

The decision was handed down by Judge Richard Myers, a Trump-appointee in the eastern district of North Carolina, who rubber stamped Cawthorn's request for a preliminary injunction against the petitioners.

Myers is a member of two conservative advocacy groups, including the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association. He also serves as a faculty advisor for the Christian Legal Society, whose members profess to be "dedicated to serving Jesus Christ through the practice and study of law."

The case originally stems from a lawsuit filed by a group of voters and advocacy groups back in January, alleging that Cawthorn should be disqualified from re-election over his conduct before and during the Capitol insurrection

In the leadup to the insurrection, Cawthorn encouraged his followers to "lightly threaten" their representatives if they didn't validate Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. The conservative firebrand also made an appearance at the "Stop the Steal" rally, held just hours before the riot, where he blasted Republicans for "not fighting" hard enough. When the rioters had finally made their way inside the House chamber, Cawthorn appeared to be brimming with pride over Twitter, writing gleefully that "the battle is on the house floor."

The lawsuit, now all but dead, hangs its hat on the 14th Amendment's "disqualification clause," which prohibits any officeholders who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same" from holding a seat in government.

But in a countersuit filed in February, Cawthorn's lawyers argued that the Amnesty Act of 1872 – which allowed ex-Confederates to serve in office after the Civil War – effectively validates Cawthorn's re-election bid. In fact, that law only applied to ex-Confederates – not future insurrectionists, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern noted.

Still, Myers sided with Cawthorn's abstruse logic, claiming that "we are at a moment in which interest in free and fair elections is at its peak." The judge added that he felt too responsible for protecting "the soapbox … the ballot box … and the jury box … And when those fail, that's when people proceed to the ammunition box."

Rob Fein, the legal director of Free Speech For People, which is representing the voters who filed the suit against Cawthorn, has called for the decision to be appealed.

"This ruling, by Chief Judge Richard Myers II, a Trump appointee, is wrong on the law and would block the State Board of Elections from determining whether Cawthorn is ineligible under the Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause of the US Constitution," he said in a statement. "The ruling must be reversed on appeal, and the right of voters to bring this challenge to Cawthorn's eligibility must be preserved.

The Trump probes: What the hell is going on?

State and federal investigators across the country are still working to untangle Donald Trump's web of improprieties, pursuing a multitude of investigations that offer differing levels of promise in the legal arena. Currently, Trump faces nineteen active inquiries, although much of his focus has been devoted to just four. Let's take a deeper look at the four cases he has strenuously worked to extinguish at every turn.

In Manhattan, one probe is showing signs of letting up, all but dashing hopes that the president and many of his business associates will face criminal charges for their work in the Trump Organization. Still, the president is struggling to fend off a civil suit led by New York's attorney general. He also remains under state and federal scrutiny over his role in fomenting the January 6 Capitol riot and attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Last month, Salon provided a status update on all of these probes, but since then, many have developed in ways that bring greater clarity to the possible extent of Trump's corruption.

Washington, D.C.

Let's start with the January 6 select committee, which on Wednesday publicly declared, for the first time ever, that it has enough evidence to believe that Trump violated multiple election laws in his crusade to reverse in the 2020 election.

"The Select Committee also has a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States," the panel wrote in Wednesday court filing.

The declaration is by far the closest that the committee has come to laying out potential charges against the former president, putting all the more pressure on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is actually defending Trump in several lawsuits, to take up the case.

The committee's court filing is largely a product of evidence gathered around ex-Trump legal advisor John Eastman, now notorious for concocting a specious scheme to have former Vice President Mike Pence reject certain electoral votes on the basis of Trump's election fraud claims. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence in the filing, according to CNN, is a January 2021 email exchange between Eastman and Greg Jacob, then a top lawyer for Pence, who aggressively pushed back on Eastman's plan, arguing that it had no basis in constitutional law.

"I have run down every legal trail placed before me to its conclusion, and I respectfully conclude that as a legal framework, it is a results-oriented position that you would never support if attempted by the opposition, and essentially entirely made up," Jacob wrote to Eastman at the time. "And thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege."

Eastman responded: "The 'siege' is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so the American people can see for themselves what happened."

While the committee did recommend any charges, Norm Eisen, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told Salon that he believes the panel's recent filing portends poorly for Trump.

"I have taken the view – and I think this filing reinforces that view … that there's an adequate basis here for charging," Einstein said in an interview. "The evidence seems to be evolving in that direction. And this is another step in that direction."

Apart from Eastman, the committee also homed in a new coterie of Trump associates this week, subpoenaing six conservative lawyers who played key roles in Trump's failed campaign to reinstall himself as the president. Among them are Cleta Mitchell, a former Oklahoma state representative; former Kansas Attorney General Phillip Kline; Christina Bobb, a host on the pro-Trump One America News network; and three low-profile attorneys: Kenneth Chesebrom, Katherine Friess, and Kurt Olsen.

"The six individuals we've subpoenaed today all have knowledge related to those matters and will help the Select Committee better understand all the various strategies employed to potentially affect the outcome of the election," select committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mo, said on Tuesday. "We expect these witnesses to join the hundreds who have cooperated with the Select Committee as we work to provide the American people with answers about the violence of January 6th and its causes."

According to the panel's findings, Mitchell was on a call with Trump when he pressured the Georgia secretary of state to "find" just enough votes in Fulton County to tip the election in his favor. Kline, meanwhile, helped convene a meeting between the former president and 300 state legislators "in an attempt to disseminate purported evidence of election fraud," according to The New York Times. Friess, Chesebro, and Olsen allegedly liaised in similar capacities, drafting directives to have federal agencies seize voting machines and ginning up spurious legal theories about how the Electoral College could be reshuffled in Trump's favor.

Just this past quarter, the select panel reportedly spent $1.6 million dollars on its sweeping investigation, according to ABC News, indicating that the probe's activities are ramping up, with nearly 600 interviews and over 75 subpoenas. Still, the panel remains bedeviled by Trump's most uncooperative associates.

Last week, former Trump advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle abruptly ended a deposition with the committee midway through due to alleged ambiguity around the meeting's ground rules, as CBS News reported.

"Kim balked and said this isn't my understanding," one person familiar with the exchange told the outlet. Another person described Guilfoyle as "outraged" since she apparently thought the meeting would not amount to a formal deposition.

And this week, Roger Stone, Trump's former campaign advisor, filed a lawsuit against the panel in a move to block them from gaining access to his text and phone call logs. Stone is one of at least nineteen potential witnesses using the courts to stonewall the select committee's subpoenas, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, the former president's daughter, is reportedly in talks with the committee, which has yet to issue her a subpoena, over the possibility of sitting down to provide testimony, according to the Times. Ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who may be verging on bankruptcy, is reportedly in a similar position, weighing whether to participate in an informal interview or a deposition.

Albany, New York

As Trump and his associates remain embroiled in an escalating probe on Capitol Hill, they are also facing an aggressive civil inquiry in Albany, New York, where the state's attorney general, Letitia James, is uncovering more evidence around possible fraud that ran rampant within the Trump Organization.

Last month, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump must agree to answer James' questions under oath, a significant victory for James' office, which had issued subpoenas to all three of them back in December and January. James' probe is specifically interested in the family business' accounting practices, which may have allowed the former president to overvalue and undervalue certain assets for tax, insurance, and lending reasons.

During Engoron's virtual hearing, the Times reported, Trump's lawyers reportedly grew so furious with the proceeding that the judge and his clerk had to call time-outs on several occasions, often "raising their hands in the shape of a T."

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly tarred James' probe as being politically biased. But Engoron said that the former president's claims "completely misses the mark," noting that the attorney general has found "copious evidence of possible financial fraud."

On Friday, Trump, who has appealed the ruling, successfully delayed the case by several months, pushing his appeals hearing to May.

Engoron's ruling came about a week after Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, claimed that ten years' worth of the Trump Organization's financial statements could not be relied upon.

"While we have not concluded that the various financial statements, as a whole, contain material discrepancies, based upon the totality of the circumstances, we believe our advice to you to no longer rely upon those financial statements is appropriate," the company wrote.

Further, Mazars has dropped the former president as a client, citing a "conflict of interest."

Manhattan, New York

Though James' probe is no doubt ramping up, Trump appears to be weaseling his way out of a parallel criminal probe led by newly-elected Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Bragg, who is also looking into the Trump Organization's finances, recently replaced former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who last July formally indicted the Trump Organization as well Allen Weisselberg, the company's ex-chief financial officer, for allegedly running a 15-year employee tax evasion scheme.

Many saw that indictment as an indication that the case was progressing swiftly. But last week, two of Bragg's prosecutors abruptly resigned from their roles in the investigation, casting an unexpected pall over the case's general outlook.

According to the Times, their resignation came on the heels of a month-long pause in presenting evidence to a grand jury, the second one to be impaneled in the case. The prosecutors, Carey R. Dunne and Mark F. Pomerantz, reportedly held strong doubts about the case under Bragg, who allegedly took weeks to read their memos and often delayed meetings with both prosecutors despite the jury's looming expiration date in April, according to the Post. Bragg also reportedly raised doubts about pursuing Trump himself.

Last month, a spokesperson for Bragg disputed any speculation that the district attorney is not interested in the case, but has declined to provide any more details.

"We are grateful for their service," Bragg's spokeswoman, Danielle Filson, said of Dunne and Pomerantz. She added that the probe remains "ongoing."

Atlanta, Georgia

Trump's civil and criminal probes in New York will likely be a long shot. But the former president is also facing another election probe in Atlanta, Georgia, which some commentators have said is the dark horse amongst all of the investigations.

The probe, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, stems from a call made by Donald Trump in January 2021 to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the call, first leaked by the Post, the former president asked the state official to "find" just enough votes cast in Fulton County to tip the 2020 election in his favor. That request was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Raffensperger into breaking multiple federal laws by depriving his own state of a free and fair election. (In the end, Raffensperbger refused to take Trumps' request.)

Last February, Willis opened a formal inquiry into the call, calling it a matter of "high priority."

In her letter at the time, she wrote that the probe "includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election's administration."

Since then, Willis has convened a special grand jury, and has said that the investigation will heat up over the summer.

"There's a possibility that after two months we'll have all the information we need to press forward," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month. "There's a possibility that, after week one, that some appellate issue will come and there's a halt," Willis told the Georgia newspaper."

Willis added: "But what I do think is within a year we will have all the information that we need."

The District attorney has also said that Trump will not be protected by presidential immunity, even if the call was made during his presidency.

It remains unclear whether Willis will ultimately charge Trump, though Eisen, the senior fellow at Brookings, said that hers is a "powerful potential case."

"We already have the most compelling evidence there, which is the tape of the Raffensperger call," he said, referring to his October analysis on the matter. "Georgia law…does not allow a candidate who has lost an election to say, 'Can you just find 11,780 votes that do not exist?' Nor does it permit you to use the weight of office and the kinds of veiled and not-so-veiled threats of coercion that can be heard on that tape to attempt to eliminate the legitimate outcome of an election."

Jim Jordan vows to 'investigate' Anthony Fauci if GOP retakes Congress

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Tuesday said that investigating Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious disease, will be one of his top priorities if the GOP retakes the House in this year's midterm elections.

The probe, Jordan told Just the News, will aim to untangle "all the lies [and] the misinformation, the disinformation" that he claims Fauci has spread about the origins of the COVID-19 virus.

"That is because they knew from the get-go [coronavirus] came from the lab, likely came from a lab, gain-of-function likely done, and our tax dollars were used," the lawmaker added.

Jordan, an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, has been one of the leading Republican proponents of the "lab leak" theory, the unproven and dubious notion that the coronavirus was leaked, accidentally or otherwise, from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

At the center of this theory is the allegation that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at one point provided a grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for "gain-of-function" research, a process in which a virus is genetically altered in order to anticipate ways it may mutate in the future. Supporters of the lab leak theory contend, by that logic, that the coronavirus which causes COVID-19 is a man-made "supervirus," generated in a lab, whose origins have been covered up by leading health officials, including Fauci.

According to the Washington Post, there is no clear evidence that the NIH funded any such research. Furthermore, most scientists have concluded that the lab leak theory is unlikely, although it cannot entirely be ruled out. The dearth of evidence for the claim hasn't stopped conservatives from repeatedly accusing Fauci of masterminding the pandemic.

During a Senate hearing just last month, Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., got into a heated exchange over the matter, with Fauci accusing Paul of promoting the theory for political reasons.

"You are making a catastrophic epidemic for your political gain," Fauci told the senator at the time. "What happens when [Paul] gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden that kindles the crazies out there, and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children, with obscene phone calls because people are lying about me."

On Sunday, the New York Times cited two extensive new studies backing the idea that COVID-19 originated from a live animal market in Wuhan, China. This was largely the consensus earlier into the pandemic.

Jordan appeared unconvinced, writing of the report this week: "These aren't new facts or new studies. This 'new' info is from the same crew that told Fauci it came from a lab but suspiciously changed their tune and were rewarded with a 9 million dollar grant."

According to the Times, the two novel studies have been verified by multiple independent experts, which renders the lab leak increasingly unlikely.

"When you look at all of the evidence together, it's an extraordinarily clear picture that the pandemic started at the Huanan market," said Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona.

Texas GOP governor seeks to erase transgender kids from existence

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the state's agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender children, arguing that such services constitute a form of "child abuse."

"I hereby direct [the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services] to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas," Abbott wrote in a letter to the agency on Tuesday.

The letter cited an opinion written on Monday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argued that a new interpretation of state law makes gender-affirming care – including sexual reassignment surgery, puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapy – outright illegal.

"There is no doubt that these procedures are 'abuse' under Texas law, and thus must be halted," Paxton said earlier this week. "The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has a responsibility to act accordingly. I'll do everything I can to protect those who take advantage of and harm young Texans."

On top of criminalizing the practice of gender-affirming care, Abbott's letter also notes that state law "provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse," suggesting that any doctors, teachers, or nurses who fail to report a "reasonable cause" to believe a child is getting gender-care will be prosecuted.

The precise implications of Abbott's directive remain unclear at this point. But a spokesperson for the state's Department of Family and Protective Services told The Dallas Morning News that the agency "will follow Texas law as explained [by Paxton's opinion]," adding: "At this time, there are no pending investigations of child abuse involving the procedures described in that opinion."

Randall Erben, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told the outlet that the now-illegal use of gender-affirming might be adjudicated by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

"It's up to the judge. You could find a judge that may interpret that provision of the family code the same way that Paxton does," Erben said. "It could play out in any number of ways … It certainly sets up an uncertain future for things of this nature."

Paxton's missive marks the second legal attack waged against the state's trans youth in recent months, as the Washington Post noted. Back in October, Abbott signed a bill prohibiting trans girls from participating in female sports teams in public schools.

In general, gender-affirming care has been shown to vastly improve the mental health of trans youth, a point Dr. Juanita Kay Hodax, Interim Clinical Director at Seattle Children's Hospital, affirmed with Salon back in October.

Most of the time, she said, "the patient has been talking to family members about gender for at least several months, if not, a year," Hodax said. "During the clinic appointments, we spend a lot of time discussing the benefits and risks of the medications that we're using. We talk a lot with patients about their goals."

According to the Dallas Morning News, both the Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Medical Association urged Paxton not to criminalize gender-affirming care.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, told the outlet that the Abbott and Paxton's moves are "campaign stunts disguised as legal opinions," largely because the governor and attorney general face primary challengers in 2022.

The troubling role of Clarence Thomas’ wife in Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election

For decades, Ginni Thomas, a top brass conservative activist, has devoted her life to advocating for right-wing causes, aligning herself with donor networks and advocacy groups that have and continue to play a key role in maintaining Republican authority. But Ginni Thomas is no ordinary Republican operative; she is also the wife of Supreme Court Clarence Thomas. And as her political activities extreme, critics fear that, given the recent rash of partisan Supreme Court rulings, she may have concerning sway over her husband's jurisprudence.

On Tuesday, The New York Times Magazine reported that the couple has "defied" the ethical "norms" of the Supreme Court, particularly when it comes to Ginni Thomas' political projects, whose goals almost always align with her husband's professed ideological leanings.

"She's an operator; she stays behind the scenes," ex-Trump advisor Steve Bannon told the Times. "Unlike a lot of people who just talk, she gets shit done."

For one, Ginni Thomas reportedly serves in a prominent role in the Council for National Policy, a shadowy umbrella organization that brings together a number of leaders from groups like the Federalist Society, the National Rifle Association and the Family Research Council. According to the Times, Thomas specifically serves on the C.N.P. Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of the organization, which "allows for direct political advocacy."

Following Donald Trump's election loss in November 2020, C.N.P. Action reportedly circulated "action steps" aimed at pressuring state officials in Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania to go along with the former president's campaign to reinstall himself as president.

"There is historical, legal precedent for Congress to count a slate of electors different from that certified by the Governor of the state," the group reportedly wrote in a December memo.

In the aftermath of the January 6 Capitol riot, fomented by the very election fraud claims C.N.P. Action espoused, the group reportedly sought to "drive the narrative that it was mostly peaceful protests" and "amplify the concerns of the protestors and give them legitimacy," according to documents obtained by the Times.

By February, a coalition of Pennsylvania Republicans brought Trump's election fraud claims to the Supreme Court, arguing that the ballots had been systematically compromised. While their allegations were ultimately shut down by the court, Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, writing that his own colleagues' reasoning was "inexplicable."

Ginni Thomas has also advocated on several other issues that recently made their way to the Supreme Court. In particular, the Council for National Policy campaigned aggressively against abortion and lockdowns during COVID-19. Incidentally, in January, the Supreme Court in insulated a near-total ban on abortions. And the next month, it prohibited a ban on indoor church services despite the spread of the coronavirus.

Though much of her work is reserved to the world of advocacy, Ginni Thomas also reportedly meddled in the Trump administration's staffing, a habit that at times irked White House aides.

"In the White House, she was out of bounds many times," one of Trump's senior aides told the Times. "It was always: 'We need more MAGA people in government. We're trying to get these résumés through, and we're being blocked.' I appreciated her energy, but a lot of these people couldn't pass background checks."

Another aide, more tersely, called her a "wrecking ball."

According to the Times, Trump told Ginni Thomas that she was welcome to drop in for visits to the White House. Numerous aides said that "she was also reportedly known to pass "notes" to the president "on her priorities through intermediaries."

In one alleged meeting with the president, held back in 2019, Ginni Thomas brought in members of Groundswell, a conservative group that, according to Mother Jones, is planning "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation."

"It was the craziest meeting I've ever been to," a Trump aide told the Times. "She started by leading the prayer." The aide also recalled talk of "the transsexual agenda" and of parents "chopping off their children's breasts."

The following year, the Times noted, Justice Thomas joined his conservative colleagues in a dissent arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

​Republican Senate hopeful Josh Mandel makes debate audience 'groan' after clueless remark about slavery

Ohio Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel on Monday claimed that Israel was "the only country" in which "Africans were not brought as slaves," neglecting to mention that the Jewish state was formed in 1948, over a century after the Atlantic slave trade ended.

Mandel's dizzying remarks came in a Cleveland debate against his Democratic opponent Morgan Harper, who had just answered a question about whether she'd give unconditional support to defend Israel if Iran attacks the Jewish state.

"Morgan, do you know the only country on the whole planet where Africans were not brought as slaves?" Mandel asked Harper. "The Jewish state of Israel."

Throughout the debate, Mandel and Harper engaged in several heated exchanges, with Mandel, in typical fashion, waging an array of personal attacks.

In one back-and-forth, Mandel told Harper that he expected her to be "like [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], only smarter." But after hearing her debate him, Mandel added, "I actually think she's like AOC, only dumber." The audience immediately let out a wave of groans.

In another exchange, Harper called Mandel a career politician, who is "funded by corporate interests" and spouts "whatever Big Lie Donald Trump is forcing [him] to talk about." (Mandel has whole-heartedly endorsed Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.)

In response, Mandel tarred Harper as an "angry radical leftist" who is "all about political gameship."

"You get up here and you call me names, call others names," he told her. "But the reality is you sound like you've been in Washington for thirty years."

Monday marked the two candidates' second debate along the campaign trail, with both of them seeking to replace Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who has promised to bow out of re-election bid.

Along the campaign trail, Mandel, the former treasurer of Ohio, has openly acknowledged his desire for an endorsement from Donald Trump. However, the former president has apparently been reluctant to give the candidate his imprimatur. According to the Daily Beast, Trump reportedly thinks of Mandel as being "f**king weird."

Meanwhile, Mandel and Harper both face a crowded field of primary opponents, including J.D. Vance, the conservative venture capitalist and author of "Hillbilly Elegy"; Jane Timken, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party; Ohio state Senator Matt Dolan; and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Why Joe Biden is afraid to blame Big Business for inflation

The White House is reportedly split on why American consumers are facing record inflation, with numerous officials apparently reticent to blame corporate greed despite remarks made by executives indicating that Corporate America is raising prices higher than it needs to.

According to The Washington Post, congressional testimony of a senior administration official was reportedly altered in recent weeks to omit claims linking inflation to monopoly power. The subtle move underscores the apparent tensions between officials in the White House around how to balance sound political messaging with what some see as hard economic realities.

"It's been the war of the 'track changes' inside the administration over how much the White House can lean in on the extent to which competition and greed are driving inflation," one official told the Post. ("Track changes" refers to a feature built into Microsoft Word that allows users to see who made what edits to a shareable document.)

In recent weeks, Democratic politicians and progressive groups have condemned Corporate America's role in driving inflation, which reached 7% by the end of 2021 – the largest 12-month increase since 1982.

"Giant corporations are making record profits by increasing prices, and CEOs are saying the quiet part out loud: they're happy to help drive inflation," Warren tweeted on Monday. "American families pay higher prices and corporate executives get fatter bonuses."

Warren highlighted remarks made by several executives at food and grocery companies like Kroger, Tyson, Procter & Gamble, who have openly crowed about inflation being good for business despite consumers feeling squeezed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the prices of meat, poultry, fish and eggs collectively shot up by 12.5% throughout last year. Meanwhile, meatpackers' profit margins skyrocketed by 300% during the pandemic, according to Reuters.

In recent months, the White House has made commitments to cracking down on meat producers, particularly when it comes to price-fixing. Back in September, Biden announced a broad vowed to heighten enforcement of antitrust laws and improve transparency in labeling.

Still, the administration has come short of blaming Big Business as the chief culprit for inflation on the whole.

"I think they've tried to be honest about the economic situation, and I, for one, appreciate that," liberal economist Dean Baker told the Post. "They have to make a political call about whether that's the right decision, but I think it's best for them to be honest and I think they've done that."

Officials in the Council of Economic Advisers have reportedly advised that financial opportunism only accounts for one component of the recent price increase, the Post reported. But according to a joint missive penned by American Economic Liberties Project and the Groundwork Collaborative, corporate consolidation costs the average American household $5,000 annually.

"There is now overwhelming evidence that large corporations with significant market power are exploiting the broader supply chain crisis to raise prices," the letter stated, "even when no bottleneck or shortage seems to exist."

Republican senators berate, get schooled by judicial nominee

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., along with fellow Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, on Wednesday attacked a judicial nominee who works to free wrongfully jailed people for advising "radical district attorneys who let violent criminals go," which he said results in "skyrocketing homicide rates."

"Do you care about the innocent people being killed because of the policies you're implementing?" Cruz asked Nina Morrison, a senior litigation counsel with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate individuals who have been wrongly convicted.

Morrison, who was tapped by President Biden for a lifetime seat in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, faced a series of acrimonious questions from Senate Republicans, who were determined to blame her progressive record for unrelated crime rates.

In the hearing, Hawley reportedly barraged Morrison with an array of scare-mongering snarl words like "murders" ,"throwing rocks", "gasoline", "assault", "looters," and "rioting," according to HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery.

"I cannot support your nomination," Hawley apparently said, citing her "soft-on-crime" policies – which he alleged were a "pattern with [the Biden] administration."

The record shows, however, that the federal prison population and police funding has expanded under President Biden despite progressive calls to limit both.

Cotton, notorious for his call to set the military on George Floyd protesters, also threw out fighting words during the hearing.

"Are you proud that you encouraged such defiance in convicted murderers?" the Republican senator asked Morrison, whose work has led to the exonerations of at least 30 people who were wrongfully convicted. In one exchange, Cotton challenged Morrison over the execution of Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was convicted for the murder of his neighbor in 1993. Back in 2017, Morrison casted strong doubt over Lee's prosecution, which she said overlooked "significant" DNA evidence suggesting that Lee was innocent.

"[Lee] was convicted based on eyewitness testimony," Cotton fumed during the hearing.

"Eyewitness identification, which you referenced, is actually the single leading proven cause of wrongful convictions," Morrison responded.

Watch the exchange below:

How Kyrsten Sinema became an insurmountable roadblock to Joe Manchin’s BBB revival

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is attempting to revisit conversations about a corporate tax hike with Democrats – but he's likely to face steep opposition from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has fashioned herself as a stalwart guardian of corporate interests.

Last year, Manchin proved an insurmountable roadblock in negotiations over President Biden's $2.2 trillion social spending plan, also known as "Build Back Better." The House-passed bill, arguably the centerpiece of Biden's agenda, was officially torpedoed by Manchin back in December after Manchin and Biden met privately to hash out their differences but could not come to any agreement.

Now, Manchin is attempting to revive the issue of raising the corporate rate – a move that was designed to finance the provisions contained in Build Back Better.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Manchin suggested that the Democrats should discuss a revised version of the bill, hiking corporate taxes to combat inflation, reduce the national deficit, and pay for its own provisions.

"Why can't we just get a good solid tax plan that works?" Mr. Manchin told the Journal last week. "That's the first thing to do."

Specifically, Manchin has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 25% and raising the top capital-gains rate to 23.8% to 28%.

But last year, Sinema, along with a number of conservative and corporate-funded Democrats, dashed any hopes of imposing such hikes, opposing progressive proposals to pare back Donald Trump's corporate tax cuts from 2017.

"I respect [Sinema] and what her concerns may be, but I think basically our financial situation is getting worse, not better, so maybe we can take another look at it," Manchin told the Journal. "I would hope so."

It remains unclear whether Sinema shares Manchin's newfound willingness to come to the table. A spokesperson for her office told the Journal that "there are many ways to pay for [social spending plans] that do not include tax-rate increases that hurt small businesses and our economic competitiveness while we continue to emerge from a pandemic and economic downturn."

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said in October that negotiating with Sinema is like playing a "guessing game."

"We're all supposed to be on the same team. And that means transparency, communication and collaboration," she told Politico. "I don't know what the red lines are for one U.S. senator who has an amazing amount of power."

Who's actually investigating Donald Trump, and will they nail him? A starter guide for the perplexed news consumer

Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election — which involved pressuring countless officials to do all sorts of dubious things, as well fomenting a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol — has come into greater focus this past week as state and federal officials continue to investigate the former president and his allies on numerous different legal fronts.

But investigations of the ex-president's conduct around the Jan. 6 uprising don't represent all the potential legal trouble Trump faces. At the very least, there are also both civil and criminal investigations in New York into his company's business practices — mostly or entirely unrelated to his presidency — along with a criminal probe in Atlanta that might be the sleeper in this panoply of potential jeopardy

Washington, D.C.

Let's start with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which this week opened a formal probe into the 15 boxes of official documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida — which he reportedly took with him, in apparent violation of federal law, after leaving office last January.

Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said this week that she was "deeply concerned" that the documents, now back in the hands of the National Archives and Records Administration, had not been officially turned over by Trump during the transition period. The former president's conduct, she added, "[appears] to have been … in violation of the Presidential Records Act."

The committee's inquiry comes on the same day that Maggie Haberman, the New York Times reporter known for her suspiciously close rapport with the former president, alleged that White House staff repeatedly found "wads of printed paper" clogging Trump's toilet in his own residence.

"I learned that staff in the White House residence would periodically find the toilet clogged," Haberman told CNN on Thursday. "It could be Post-Its, it could be notes he wrote to himself, it could be other things, we don't know," she added. "But it certainly does add … another dimension to what we know about how he handled material in the White House."

Last week, the National Archives acknowledged that some of the documents it had preserved from the Trump administration were literally torn up and taped back together. Numerous officials likewise confirmed with The Washington Post that Trump habitually destroyed official documents himself, often leaving aides to salvage the scraps.

"He didn't want a record of anything," a former senior Trump official told the Post. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the Records Act? Come on."

The House Oversight panel's findings are likely to overlap with those of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which this past week received some of the compromised documents. More broadly, the Jan. 6 panel remains laser-focused on Trump and his affiliates' communications before and during the insurrection.

This week, the committee uncovered large and unexplained gaps in White House call logs during the insurrection, according to The New York Times — a report that appears to contravene claims made by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy who acknowledged last year that they had spoken with Trump as the riot was underway. Trump was widely known to take calls on his personal cell phone — or those of aides — circumventing more secure channels of communication.

This week, the Jan. 6 committee also subpoenaed former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has in the past proudly divulged his failed (and distinctly illegal-sounding) plan to reinstall Trump as president after the 2020 election.

Navarro is just the latest in a list of Trump associates to be subpoenaed, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, since indicted for contempt of Congress; former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; and ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, a central player in Trump's election-unskewing conspiracy. According to CNN, the committee has thus far invited 80 people of interest to testify.

Navarro, for his part, played a key role in encouraging former Vice President Mike Pence (whose "team" has reportedly been cooperative with the Jan. 6 panel) to delay the election certification process — a maneuver intended, in Navarro's account, to throw the election into the House. As we know, Pence concluded what was already obvious: His role in the vote count was purely ceremonial.

Atlanta

Now we move on to the criminal investigation in Georgia led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is exploring Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked to "find" enough votes to tilt the Peach State in his favor. (Raffensperger works in Atlanta, the state capital, which is Willis' jurisdiction.) Last Friday, Willis told CNN that she expects to impanel a grand jury probe and start serving subpoenas this summer. She also said this week that Trump won't be able to delay the case or invoke any form of executive privilege or immunity. "This is a criminal investigation. We're not here playing a game," Willis said. "I plan to use the power of the law. We are all citizens."

Willis' probe may go beyond Trump to a number of his associates, including Meadows, Giuliani, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who called Raffensperger last November, reportedly to ask whether he could find a way to exclude a large proportion of absentee ballots from Georgia's final vote count.

New York City and Albany

Moving north several hundred miles, Trump faces two investigations, one civil and one criminal, into the Trump Organization's finances and business dealings. (Whether either of these probes is focused on Trump personally remains unclear.) In the civil probe being led by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, the central question is whether Trump's company inflated and deflated certain assets for tax and lending reasons, which is a form of fraud.

James recently subpoenaed the federal government's General Services Administration to gather information about how the agency selected the Trump Organization to lease the historic post office building in Washington that became the Trump International Hotel. Last month, James' office said it had found "significant evidence" of financial fraud that "permeated" the Trump Organization — an indication that the state is edging closer to filing a formal lawsuit. Trump has already sued James' office in an effort to stonewall the proceeding, calling her investigation a politically-motivated "witch hunt."

Downriver in New York City, the criminal probe of the Trump Organization launched by former Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and now led by his successor, Alvin Bragg, has been quiet since mid-December, when one of Trump's accountants appeared before a grand jury to answer questions about the company's business practices. Last summer, that probe produced an actual indictment, when Vance charged Allen Weisselberg, longtime CFO of the Trump Organization, with 15 felony counts for evading $344,745 in taxes over more than a decade. Bragg has only been in office about six weeks, and so far has said nothing about whether he intends to push the investigation further or pursue criminal charges against the Trump empire. Stay tuned!

Republican lawmaker introduces resolution to "reprimand" the Associated Press for racism report

A Tennessee state legislator introduced a joint resolution to "reprimand" the Associated Press (AP) for publishing an article highlighting racism within the military's ranks, saying the outlet "engaged in the lowest form of yellow journalism."

The bill, reported by a CBS/ABC-affiliate, was proposed by Republican state Rep. Bud Hulsey, who objected to an AP story that ran back in May, entitled "Deep-rooted racism, discrimination permeate US military."

In the article, AP reporters Kat Stafford, James Laporta, Aaron Morrison and Helen Wieffering interviewed "current and former enlistees and officers in nearly every branch of the armed services" who "described a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it."

Additionally, the AP found that the military "processed more than 750 complaints of discrimination by race or ethnicity from service members in the fiscal year 2020 alone."

Hulsey's resolution contends that because the AP found 750 complaints – when there are 425,000 members of the active-duty military – racism in the ranks, by his accounting, is "uncommon and not a largescale problem."

The "allegations that members of the U.S. military are racist and that the military itself accepts a culture of discrimination are not only blatantly false," the resolution reads, "but an insult to the brave men and women who combat racism and discrimination at home and around the globe."

It also adds that "the AP has engaged in the lowest form of yellow journalism and should be held accountable by the American public and their elected officials."

The publication, for its part, has firmly stood by the article in question. Kat Stafford, one of its authors, tweeted weeks ago that she and her colleagues "spent nearly a year interviewing dozens of service members and experts – some of whom could not speak publicly out of fear of retribution. We poured over copious documents & FOIAs. We did our homework. No matter how much one tries [to] deny it, racism does exist."

AP spokesperson Lauren Easton likewise said that "the Associated Press stands by its reporting."

The Tennessee resolution does not make clear precisely what a "reprimand" would entail from a legal perspective. As the CBS/ABC-affiliate noted, the state legislature has only reprimanded judges, lawmakers, and doctors. In 2020, the legislature considered a bill that would have legally recognized CNN and The Washington Post as "fake news," but the measure ultimately failed to see enough support.

Ron DeSantis accuses Democrats of trying to 'smear' neo-Nazi rallies on him

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has accused his opponents of attempting to "smear" him after being called upon to condemn a neo-Nazi demonstration in Orlando this past weekend.

On Saturday, videos surfaced online of a small group of neo-Nazis chanting antisemitic slurs and holding up Nazi flags outside an Orlando shopping plaza. At one point, demonstrators reportedly engaged in a physical altercation with someone, though no arrests were made, according to deputies.

Though it's been a full day since then, DeSantis has refused to condemn the demonstration as of this writing, despite calls from other lawmakers to do so.

"It should be easy, Ron," tweeted Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democratic Florida gubernatorial candidate. "Condemn the Nazis."

During a Monday press conference, DeSantis alleged that Democrats" were attempting "smear me as if I had something to do with [the demonstration]."

"We're not playing their game," the governor added.

DeSantis' remarks came just day after his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, apparently downplayed the possibility that the demonstrators were neo-Nazis.

"Do we even know if they are Nazis? Or is this a stunt like the 'white nationalists' who crashed the Youngkin rally in Charlottesville pretending to be Dem staffers?" Pushaw said in a since-deleted tweet.

The press secretary was referring to a stunt staged by the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump GOP group, during a campaign event for then-Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. The group had sent five people to pose a white supremacists holding tiki torches in front of a campaign bus – an apparent reference to the white nationalist "Unite the Right" rally organized in Charlottesville, Virginia back in 2017.

After deleting the tweet, Pushaw said that she regretted "flippant" tone, arguing that the governor's opponents were attempting to paint him as a "Nazi sympathizer."

It isn't the first time Pushaw has come under scrutiny over concerns around antisemitism. In November, Pushaw criticized the rollout of Georgia's vaccine passport program, the "Green Pass," by invoking an antisemitic trope about the Rothchild family, a European banking dynasty dating back to the 18th century that has been scapegoated in a number of baseless right-wing conspiracies.

"Georgia decided to enact a 'Green Pass' system (biomedical security state)," Pushaw tweeted. "Immediately after that, the Rothschilds show up to discuss the attractive investment environment in Georgia (lol). No weird conspiracy theory stuff here!"

The Anti-Defamation League wrote on Monday that it was "alarmed" that the press secretary "would first give cover to antisemites rather than immediately and forcefully condemning their revolting, hate-filled rally and assault."

GOP rep attacks Dr. Fauci — by quoting neo-Nazi convicted for child porn

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., on Sunday tweeted out an inspirational quotation he attributed to Voltaire, the 18th-century French writer and philosopher. In fact, its original source was likely an American neo-Nazi and accused pedophile, who pled guilty to child pornography charges in 2008.

Massie's remarks, reported by Insider, came in a tweet targeting Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who over the past several years has repeatedly been scapegoated by conservatives over the government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

"You mustn't question Fauci, for he is science," tweeted Massie, alongside a cartoon illustration of weary workers holding up a large hand attempting to squash them.

"To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize," Massie captioned the photo, attributing it to Voltaire.

According to a USA Today fact-check, the quote, which regained popularity last May, has no apparent connection to Voltaire, a major figure of the 18th-century Enlightenment regarded as one of the greatest French writers. In fact, Etymologist Barry Popik has concluded that the maxim likely stems from a 1993 radio broadcast by neo-Nazi Holocaust denier Kevin Alfred Strom, the founder of a white nationalist group called National Vanguard. In 2008, Strom pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography in after being charged, among other things, with attempting to coerce a 10-year-old into a sexual relationship. National Vanguard disintegrated shortly after Strom's conviction.

In an online post from 2017, Strom confirmed that the quote was his, writing that "it's pretty clear, even to my critics, that I came up with the idea and the quote — and Voltaire never did."

One Twitter user, Kendall Brown, also pointed out that the illustration Massie shared originated as an anti-child labor cartoon from the early 1900s, "which is ironic, given Massie's vote in Dec. to protect importers who use forced labor."

Indeed, in December, Massie voted against a House bill to blocks the importation of products made through forced labor in China's Xinjiang region. The measure was passed 428-1, with Massie as the sole member of Congress to vote no.

Despite Massie's misattribution and strange choice of visual imagery, at this writing the congressman has not yet taken the Twitter post down.

This isn't the first time Massie has apparently invoked Nazism in debates around COVID-19. Back in August, one of Massie's interns quit after the congressman compared vaccine cards to the policies of Nazi Germany. At the time, Massie tweeted a photo with an image of a weathered wrist tattooed with a concentration camp identification number, captioning it: "If you have to carry a card on you to gain access to a restaurant, venue or an event in your own country … that's no longer a free country." He later deleted that post.

Republicans are barring medical boards from punishing doctors who prescribe ivermectin: report

GOP state lawmakers throughout the nation are backing bills that would bar medical boards from disciplining doctors who promote and prescribe hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin – anti-parasitic drugs that are falsely being touted by far-right pundits as a COVID-19 wonder drug, according to BuzzFeed News.

Hydroxychloroquine first started to gain ground as a COVID-19 treatment back in the Spring of 2021, when Donald Trump heaped praise on the drug over repeated pushback from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. By May, Trump had announced that he was on a steady regimen of Hydroxychloroquine, even though there was no substantial scientific evidence of its efficacy in treating COVID-19. Ivermectin, by contrast, began making headlines shortly after Trump left office, when numerous right-wing advocacy groups – like America's Frontline Doctors and the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance – began hawking it to the public.

The FDA has firmly advised against the use of hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as treatments for COVID. Nevertheless, hundreds of doctors across the country are being sued for refusing to treat patients for the drug, as Salon reported in October.

According to BuzzFeed News, at least eleven states have proposed measures that would strip medical licensing boards of their powers to reprimand doctors who write prescriptions for the two drugs. Among them are Colorado, Florida, Idaho, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Indiana, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Two states, North Dakota and Tennessee have already signed such bills into law. Republicans control the legislatures in every state named, with the exception of Virginia and Colorado.

Many of the state bills differ by a matter of degree. Some bills, BuzFeed noted, "limit medical boards' authority to reprimand a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist publicly discussing COVID treatments," while others "[allow] doctors to prescribe drugs that aren't approved by the FDA to treat COVID."

A BuzzFeed News investigation from September found that medical boards have "so far taken few steps to remove the credentials" of doctors who baselessly promote hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

Still, some of the measures have been met with significant pushback from medical associations, pharmacies, and other lawmakers throughout various states. Last month, a Maine medical board suspended the license of physician Meryl Nass over her promotion of COVID-10 falsehoods.

Even politicians aren't immune to the backlash: U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., an anesthesiologist by trade, is under investigation for pushing the unproven treatment. A medical board in Kansas is likewise investigating a doctor, Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen, who prescribed ivermectin to treat COVID.

Conservative book banning fever heats up in red states

Amid the GOP's national campaign to purge "leftist ideology" from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves.

On Thursday, a Missouri school board voted 4-3 to formally pull Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" from high school libraries in the district. The book, which tells the story of a young Black girl growing up in the Great Depression, includes passages that describe incest and child molestation. Central to the book's premise is the narrator's struggle with society's white standards of beauty, which cause her to develop an inferiority complex around the color of her skin.

Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that she voted against the book to shield her children from obscenity. "By all means, go buy the book for your child," Garber said. "I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see."

The decision comes despite pushback from district staff and residents, who after a committee review advised the board that banning the novel would "infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature."

Kris Kleindienst, owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, told a Fox affiliate that the board's vote sweeps important discussions of race and sexual abuse under the rug.

"Kids are growing and developing and should have access to as much material as is out there," Kleindienst said. "It shouldn't be the decision of a few parents what kids should read."

The book banning fever has reached a pitch in Mississippi this week as well.

Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee is currently engaged in a budgetary standoff with Madison County Library System. McGee is attempting to deprive the school board of $100,000 in funding because the Republican wants to see a spate of LGBTQ-themed books banned from school libraries.

Tonja Johnson, executive director for the Madison County Library System, told The Mississippi Free Press that McGee is withholding the money due to his own personal beliefs. "He explained his opposition to what he called 'homosexual materials' in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there," Johnson said. "He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above."

According to the Free Press, McGee specifically demanded the immediate removal of the "The Queer Bible," an essay collection featuring the voices of queer figures like Elton John, Munroe Bergdorf, Tan France, George Michael and Susan Sontag.

And in Tennessee, the Williamson County Schools committee has also joined the censorship fold, imposing restrictions on several different books in light of conservative backlash.

After a review of 31 different texts, the committee on Tuesday "removed one book" from the school shelves and "restricted seven others," according to The Tennessean. The committee specifically removed "Walk Two Moons," a 1994 fiction novel written by Sharon Creech. The book centers on the story of a 13-year-old girl with Native American heritage who is reckoning with the disappearance of her mother while traveling from Ohio to Idaho.

The books were reportedly first called into question by the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a right-wing advocacy group that advocates for "parents' rights" in education. The committee concluded that the text contained "objectionable content," which according to Moms for Liberty, included "stick figures hanging, cursing and miscarriage, hysterectomy/stillborn and screaming during labor."

The bans in Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee are part of a larger right-wing movement to crack down on books with "objectionable" works often featuring Black and LGTBQ+ themes. According to the American Library Association (ALA), between June and September of last year, the U.S. saw "155 unique censorship incidents" in cities and districts across the nation.

"We're seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, last year. "In my twenty years with ALA, I can't recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.

Republicans, having dashed Biden's agenda, find themselves having to come up with one of their own

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who recently bowed out of a much-anticipated U.S. Senate bid, revealed that he was "bothered" after conversations with dozens of Republican Senators, who apparently wanted him to be a "roadblock" until the GOP retakes the White House. Sununu told The Washington Examiner this month that he was initially "pretty close" to running, explaining: "I wasn't ready to make an announcement, but I was like, 'OK, this makes sense. I think I could be a voice nationally.'" But after chatting with "most" of the GOP Senate caucus, Sununu reportedly soured on the role once it became apparent that they wanted him to be a legislative mule.

"They were all, for the most part, content with the speed at which they weren't doing anything. It was very clear that we just have to hold the line for two years," he told the Examiner. "OK, so I'm just going to be a roadblock for two years. That's not what I do."

"It bothered me that they were OK with that," the governor added.

Sununu's comments come in the wake of an intense legislative standoff between Democrats and Republicans over voting rights, an issue which became the focus of President Biden's agenda after negotiations on the "Build Back Better Act" – the president's $2.2 trillion social safety net plan – fell apart.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered Biden's sweeping voting rights overhaul – known as the "Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act" – which would standardize voting laws across all 50 states and clamp down on voter suppression. Not a single Republican backed the measure, even though the bill is supported by nearly 70% of Americans, according to a Navigator poll from November.

With Republicans having dashed Biden's hopes of passing the party's two signature pieces of legislation – the "Build Back Better Act" and the "Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act" – Democrats now question whether their colleagues believe in anything other than mindless obstructionism.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Biden echoed the spirit of Sununu's remarks, asking reporters, "What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they're for."

That same day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sidestepped questioning when asked to lay out GOP's official agenda. "That's a very good question," McConnell said. "And I'll let you know when we take it back."

According to a recent Axios report, the Kentucky Republican has privately told colleagues and donors that the Republicans have no legislative agenda and are more interested in picking apart Democrats'.

Meanwhile, the House GOP caucus appears to be adopting the opposite strategy, according to The Washington Post, with its leadership drumming up a "list of policy pledges" designed to buoy support for the party in 2022.

Among those helming this effort are House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., both of whom ardently supported Donald Trump's election fraud conspiracy and voted to overturn the 2020 election.

Playing an advisory role to McCarthy is former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who crafted the "Contract with America," a legislative platform widely linked to the GOP's successful campaign to flip both chambers in 1994.

Gingrich told the Post that McCarthy doesn't believe an anti-Biden agenda is sufficient for 2022, saying, "We need a positive message."

"I think that's clearly what McCarthy wants to do and I've offered to look at stuff and offer advice," Gingrich added. "There's lots of people in the House working on it. It will be a widespread commitment."

While the exact details of McCarthy's agenda remain hazy, the broad contours of the plan are clear.

So-called "parental rights" are expected to be front and center as Republican state officials continue to decry the alleged instruction of "critical race theory" – whose prevalence appears to be vastly overstated. For remedy, McCarthy has already released an informal "Parents Bill of Rights," which includes such provisions as the "right to be heard" and the "right to know what's being taught in schools and see reading material."

The House Speaker is also expected to assemble seven "issue-specific task forces" that will tackle a variety of other policy objectives, such as countering China's economic prowess, combating the recent crime wave, securing the nation's borders, regulating Big Tech, cutting corporate taxes, bulldozing environmental regulations, and curtailing inflation.

The soaring cost of consumer goods has proven an evergreen source of whataboutism for Republicans, even as the year-end jobs numbers indicate that Biden has steered the economy through an unprecedented economic recovery since he took office. Fox News called inflation a "top weapon" for the GOP to wield against Democrats in the upcoming midterms.

Throughout 2021, the consumer prices index rose 6.8% – the highest increase it has seen since 1982.

But when it comes to actually tackling inflation, lawmakers have historically had to walk a tightrope, said Brian Riedl, who served as an aide to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

"There is nothing that messages well, significantly reduces inflation and is painless," Riedl told the Post. "It's easier to criticize inflation than to map out an actual solution going forward, and that's the box Republicans are currently in."

Texas court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

A Trump-appointed federal judge blocked President Biden's federal vaccine mandate on Friday.

Judge Jeffrey Brown of the District Court for the Southern District of Texas said his ruling was about "whether the President can, with the stroke of a pen and without the input of Congress, require millions of federal employees to undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment."

The decision comes months after Biden first applied the mandate back in September, directing 3.5 million federal workers to get vaccinated unless they qualify for medical or religious exemptions. Biden also mandated that private companies of over 100 employers require their staff to get vaccinated or undergo routine testing – a policy that was blocked by the Supreme Court last week.

The Justice Department has already filed to appeal Brown's decision. White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki said on Friday that "we are confident in our legal authority here," noting that 98% of all federal workers are vaccinated.

According to the Federal News Network, Brown suggested that the overwhelmingly high rate of vaccination is a reason to lift Biden's mandate because it would target only the remaining 2% of federal employees who have not been vaccinated,

"While vaccines are undoubtedly the best way to avoid serious illness from COVID–19, there is no reason to believe that the public interest cannot be served via less restrictive measures than the mandate, such as masking, social distancing, or part– or full–time remote work," Brown wrote.

"The plaintiffs note, interestingly, that even full-time remote federal workers are not exempt from the mandate," he added. "Stopping the spread of COVID–19 will not be achieved by overbroad policies like the federal–worker mandate."

The decision comes as the nation continues to struggle with the rise in coronavirus cases as a result of the omicron variant. Over the last week, new daily cases have dropped by 47% from a record of 1.4 million.

Joe Manchin pushes a revisionist history in his fight to preserve the filibuster

On Wednesday, just months out from the midterm elections, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., blocked their own party's effort to pass a sweeping voting rights overhaul by refusing to exempt the measure from a Republican filibuster. The conservative Democratic explained his reasoning during a floor speech that day, addressing the upper chamber just as President Joe Biden prepared to address the nation ahead of his one-year anniversary in office. As Biden continued to push his stalled agenda, Manchin erected a big poster with one sentence to encapsulate his defense of the filibuster: "The United States Senate has NEVER been able to end debate with a SIMPLE MAJORITY."

Manchin's logic rests on the claim that no party has ever ended debate with a simple majority, largely because a filibuster requires 60 votes for a cloture (i.e., the official procedure used to end the filibuster). By creating a voting rights carveout in the filibuster that would allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority, Democrats would be breaking legislative tradition, Manchin argues. His central assumption, however, is untrue.

The last three Supreme Court nominees – Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch – were all confirmed with a simple majority, noted political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen. In fact, Manchin himself was the 51st senator to back Kavanaugh, single-handedly ending debate on the scandal-plagued judge's confirmation.

And during Gorsuch's 2017 nomination, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lowered the cloture threshold for a Supreme Court nomination from 60 to 51 votes – or a simple majority.

Manchin's opposition to a filibuster carveout also flies in the face of his past comments around changing the Senate rules.

Back in 2011, when Manchin was just a freshman senator, Senate Democrats failed to circumvent a Republican filibuster of then-President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs plan. At the time, Manchin expressed frustration over the GOP's maneuver, suggesting that a bipartisan compromise may have been reached if not for the filibuster.

"We have become paralyzed by the filibuster and an unwillingness to work together at all, just because it's an election cycle," Manchin told the Charleston Daily Mail. "We couldn't even get the horse in the start gate, let alone to run the race. That's the problem here. It's political and it's being played absolutely unmercifully at the highest level."

Later that year, Manchin issued a press release expressly calling the Senate to "fix the filibuster."

"If senators want to halt action on a bill, they must take to the floor and hold it through sustained debate; end filibusters on motions to proceed to debate," the Democrat said.

On Wednesday, emotions ran high amongst Democrats, who have endured months of slow-walking by both Manchin and Sinema on President Biden's Build Back Better Act, the president's signature $2.2 trillion social spending plan.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was clear on this point, saying that "it's not just this [filibuster] vote" that's frustrating.

"These are people who I think have undermined the President of the United States," he told reporters after Wednesday's failed vote. "They have forced us to go through five months of discussions which have gotten absolutely nowhere."

Back in December, Manchin effectively ended negotiations with both Biden and Senate Democrats on Build Back Better, saying that he could not support the measure due to fears around inflation and the national debt.

GOP senator introduces FAUCI Act after viral hot-mic exchange with top COVID doctor

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., announced on Thursday that he plans to introduce the "Fauci Act" following a tense exchange with Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci earlier this week.

The bill – dubbed the Financial Accountability for Uniquely Compensated Individuals (FAUCI) Act – reportedly seeks expand public knowledge around Fauci's compensation as a government official. While Marshall hasn't released the text of the legislation, his announcement comes just days after he pressed Fauci about his financial records.

"As the highest-paid employee in the entire federal government, yes or no, would you be willing to submit to Congress and the public a financial disclosure that includes your past and current investments?" Marshall asked Fauci on Tuesday.

"I don't understand why you're asking me that question," Fauci responded. "My financial disclosure is public knowledge and has been so for the last 37 years or so, 35 years."

"What a moron, Jesus Christ!" Fauci later muttered after their exchange ended.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, Fauci's finances "are already public," but "they could be easier to find." The center also noted that Marshall himself was 17 months months late in filing his own public disclosures.

In an interview on MSNBC later that day, Fauci called it "stunning…that a United States senator doesn't realize that my financial statement is public knowledge."

But Marshall told The Daily Mail that he saw the exchange very differently.

"Dr. Fauci was clearly shaken by my simple line of questioning," the Republican said. "Instead of agreeing to publicly provide his financial disclosures, he chose to spin the truth and once again mislead the American people."

During the hearing, Fauci also got into an acrimonious exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has in the past accused the doctor of "juicing up" the COVID-19 virus by directing money to the Wuhan Virology Institute's "gain of function research" through the National Institute of Health.

Fauci had vehemently denied this claim and said on Tuesday that Paul's personal attacks have resulted in many threats against him and his family.

"What happens when he [Paul] gets out and accuses me of things that are completely untrue is that all of a sudden, that kindles the crazies out there and I have threats upon my life, harassment of my family and my children, because people are lying about me," Fauci said.

Walmart and Kroger hike price of COVID tests after federal agreement to sell them 'at cost' expires

Walmart and Kroger are raising the prices of at-home COVID-19 tests following the expiration of a temporary deal with the White House to sell the kits "at cost." Meanwhile, the Biden administration said Monday, private insurers will be required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home coronavirus rapid tests per person per month.

The low-cost deal, first established back in September, officially came to an end last month, allowing mega-retailers, including Amazon, to set their own prices. The tests were originally priced at $24 with Amazon and $14 with Walmart and Kroger. But on Tuesday, reported NBC News, the BinaxNOW test kit – one of the first at-home rapid antigen tests to be authorized for use – was priced at $19.88. Kroger's, meanwhile, was listed at $23.99.

According to The Wall Street Journal, pharmacies chains like CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots-Alliance Inc. have been selling the tests for $23.99.

A Kroger spokesperson said that the company had "fulfilled [its] commitment to the Biden administration to sell" the tests "at cost for 100 days."

The expiration of the White House agreement comes amid an unprecedented upsurge in U.S. coronavirus cases stemming from recent emergence of the omicron variant, first identified in the U.S. on December 1. Last week, the U.S. saw a record single-day number of new COVID cases, totaling one million, according to John Hopkins University. On Saturday, the New York Times reported that nearly 120,000 Americans are currently hospitalized as a result of the virus.

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki eschewed questioning around whether the expired agreement would be reinstated.

"I'm not going to get into details of our private conversations with these providers," Psaki said. "Our focus is, of course, ensuring that we are increasing access and access to free tests to people across the country."

Still, aside from pricing, millions of Americans continue to struggle finding tests to begin with. Last week, test sellers told NBC News that they are facing a "tsunami of demand" that as cases continue to skyrocket.

Abbott, which manufactures BinaxNOW kits, echoed that the company is similarly reckoning with "unprecedented demand."

"We're sending them out as fast as we can make them," said company spokesman John Koval. "This includes running our U.S. manufacturing facilities 24/7, hiring more workers and investing in automation."

The White House has said that it plans to ship 500 million free at-home COVID tests to Americans via the Postal Service and has reportedly finalized contracts for their production. "We are actively finalizing the details of the distribution mechanism, including a website as we've talked about," deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Journal that if prices climb too high, Americans will disincentivize people from using them.

"When the prices are that high, people will rationalize not using a kit. They'll wait until they're sick or need it for school or something," he said. "The problem with this pricing, besides creating a lack of access, is that it creates a perverse incentive for people not to use them."

Anti-trans bills introduced in at least 7 states in the first week of 2022

During the first week of 2022, at least seven states introduced measures that would curtail the rights of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to NBC News, Republican state legislators in Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota have all proposed bills that would restrict trans and non-binary youths from accessing gender-affirming healthcare, participating in school sports, and using restrooms that correspond with their genders.

Last year saw an unprecedented wave of GOP-backed anti-trans measures in various states throughout the country. Back in May, the Human Rights Campaign called 2021 "the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ+ state legislative attacks," reporting that seventeen anti-trans laws had been enacted in states like Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Montana, and West Virginia. Many of these measures prohibited trans youth from using restrooms or participating in sports teams that aligned with their gender. Other measures carved out religious exemptions that grant a license for people to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

This year, Republicans have shown no indication of slowing down in this effort.

Within the first week of 2022, legislatures in seven states proposed at least nine bills that institute anti-trans restrictions – a development that is sounding alarms for LGBTQ+ advocates.

"Unfortunately, I think we're getting ready to watch a race to the bottom among legislators who are in a competition to see who can do the most harm to trans kids," Gillian Branstetter, of the National Women's Law Center, told NBC News. "It is a hostile and dangerous trend that I'm sure we'll see continue through the year."

Among the states leading this year's charge are Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota.

In South Dakota, reported NBC News, Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that leverages a bounty system deputizing other students to report instances in which a trans student uses certain school facilities. The bill largely mirrors that of Texas' near-total abortion ban passed last year, which established a private cause of action for any Texans who witness someone aiding or abetting in an abortion past six weeks into pregnancy.

Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, told NBC News that he expects similar bounty-type systems to be used in 2022.

"One concern that people have moving forward is, 'How are lawmakers going to try and avoid accountability and judicial review?'" Strangio said. "I think one way is to limit government enforcement of their laws and sort of deputize private individuals to act as government officials to essentially be the people enforcing the law through private lawsuits."

The sustained anti-trans push is likely to have devastating impacts on trans youth, both physically and mentally. According to the Trevor Project poll released Monday, "two-thirds of LGBTQ youth report that the recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people has impacted their mental health negatively."

Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, said that "these results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society."

Trump's former spokesperson says that he was 'gleefully' rewinding Capitol riot footage on Jan. 6

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said on Thursday that Donald Trump watched the Capitol riot unfold "gleefully" on January 6, proudly rewinding footage of the insurrection on his television.

"All I know about that day was that he was in the dining room, gleefully watching on his TV as he often did, 'look at all of the people fighting for me,' hitting rewind, watching it again — that's what I know," Grisham told CNN's "New Day."

Her remarks, made on the anniversary of the riot, align with past reports about Trump apparently glued to the TV screen as the riot played out. Last year, Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig said in a CNN interview that the president was in the dining room of the Oval Office" during the insurrection, "watching it and almost giddy."

But Trump's glee was reportedly not unanimous amongst his inner circle, according to recent findings by the House committee charged with investigating the insurrection. Over the past several weeks, the panel unearthed a trove of text messages from numerous Trump allies – including Fox News hosts and members of his own family – pleading with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to have the president call off the insurgency.

"He's got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough," Trump's son, Don Jr., texted Meadows at the time. "We need an Oval Office address. He has to leave now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."

On Wednesday, Grisham, who resigned immediately after the riot, met with the January 6 panel to discuss Trump's complicity in the riot, telling reporters that she "fully cooperated" with the panel's questioning. The meeting was in large part set up by select committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who reportedly privately called Grisham and encouraged her to meet with the committee, according to CNN. Grisham said that the committee was especially interested in the White House's internal activities during the insurrection.

On Thursday, Grisham said that more than a dozen ex-Trump confidantes are planning to stage an intervention with the former president.

"Next week, a group of former Trump staff are going to come together, administration officials are going to come together and we're going to talk about how we can formally do some things to try and stop him and also, the extremism, that that kind of violence, rhetoric that has been talked about and continues to divide our country," Grisham told CNN's "New Day."

Grisham said that "about fifteen" of her former colleagues are involved in the scheme, some of whom have already had "informal chats" about it, according to CNN. Among them include White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci; Miles Taylor, a former top DHS official; and Olivia Troye, an ex-adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump's Texas 'audit' falls apart

Texas Republicans have failed to find any substantial evidence of outcome-altering fraud in the 2020 presidential election after leading a months-long recount at Donald Trump's behest.

The findings, reported by the secretary of state's office on New Year's Eve, are part of the first phase of the audit, which targets the four largest counties in the Lone Star State: Collin, Dallas, Harris, and Tarrant. According to The Texas Tribune, the initial findings bore "few discrepancies between electronic and hand counts of ballots in a sample of voting precincts."

Specifically, the audit unearthed only 509 possible duplicate votes – less than 0.005% of the approximate 11.3 million ballots cast in the state. Further, only 67 votes were cast under the names of voters who were deceased.

Remi Garza, president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said that the results aren't "too far out of the ordinary."

"I hope nobody draws any strong conclusions one way or the other with respect to the information that's been provided," Garza told the Tribune. "I think it's just very straightforward, very factual and will ultimately play a part in the final conclusions that are drawn once the second phase is completed."

The secretary of state report found that several voting discrepancies could be explained by procedural errors. For instance, in Collin County, some voters were given the option to cast a curbside ballot, allowing them to vote from their cars. County officials said that this option did not produce a paper trail, leading to slight difference between the manual vote count and electronic one.

The second phase of the recount is set to be conducted this Spring. According to an outline of the process provided by the state, phase two involves "a comprehensive election records examination" to "ensure election administration procedures were properly followed." The process will, among other things, address signature verification, the provision of early voting materials, voting machine accuracy.

The "forensic audit" was originally launched back in September, hours after the former president pressured Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate the state's handling of the general election, even though Trump won handily in Texas.

"Despite my big win in Texas, I hear Texans want an election audit!" Trump wrote in a letter to Abbott at the time. "You know your fellow Texans have big questions about the November 2020 Election."

Since then, Trump and his allies have pushed for a number of audits in various battleground states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona. None of them have produced any evidence of widespread fraud. One of them in Arizona found that President Biden held an even larger margin of victory over Trump than was originally reported.

Corporate America's top 10 blunders of 2021

Much was made of the "death" of political comedy during the Trump years. Satire and parody, many argued, need foils of real-world respectability. And Donald Trump, the GOP's new lodestar, has pretty much dispensed with the conventions of political decorum. But while postured propriety may have lost its luster in the political realm, it remains alive and well in the private sector, making Corporate America's blunders all the more visible.

2021 saw endless gaffes and gaucheries from powerful American corporations. Some were caught red-handed in embarrassing and nefarious schemes never meant for the public eye. Others waged embarrassing public relations offensives that earned unintended blowback. To critical onlookers, all of the failed contrivances stand together as one big comedy of terrors.

Here are the private sector's top ten fuck-ups of 2021:

10. Ozy Media's co-founder impersonates YouTube executive in meeting with Goldman Sachs

In February, executives from Ozy, a digital media company whose financial practices have been widely scrutinized, were closing in on a $40 billion cash injection from Goldman Sachs when they held a videoconference to hammer out the details of the deal. As The New York Times' Ben Smith would later go on to describe, the Feb. 2 meeting was a bizarre mix of technical difficulties and deception.

During the meeting, Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming for YouTube Originals, was supposedly having technical difficulties on Zoom, so all parties switched over to teleconference. Once the switch was made, Goldman's executives heard from a man, apparently impersonating Piper, who gave a rapturous review of Ozy's management. After circling back with YouTube, Goldman quickly realized that the man they'd heard from was Samir Rao, the co-founder and chief operating officer of Ozy itself.

After Ozy's CEO admitted to the incident, multiple board members reportedly pushed Rao to take a leave of absence. Ozy also lost its seed funding and saw resignations from former chairman Marc Lasry and co-founder Carlos Watson.

9. Basecamp bans employees' political discussions

Tech bros are notorious for their professed love of "free speech" – but the managers at Basecamp didn't even bother to pretend.

In April, the web software company's leadership formally prohibited any and all "societal and political discussions" in internal company chat rooms, calling such communications "a major distraction" from productivity in the workplace. CEO Jason Fried and co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson reportedly announced the policy in a blog post, according to The Verge, and later held an hours-long all-hands meeting that left several employees "in tears" over the company's decision.

The conflict reportedly arose in part from a "long-standing company practice of maintaining a list of 'funny' customer names," some of which include those of Asian and African descent. Additionally, the company's longtime head of strategy reportedly questioned the existence of white supremacy.

Hours after the company's ban was announced at least 20 employees – over a third of Basecamp's entire workforce – resigned in protest.

8. Citizen places $30,000 bounty on wrongfully accused arson suspect

In May, as Los Angeles was struggling to contain a 1,200-acre fire in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, Citizen, the "public safety" app that gives users real-time crime alerts, thought it might help out. Early into the containment effort, investigators had ruled the fire an arson. So Citizen put out a $30,000 bounty to help locate the suspect, offering cash payments to any user with information about who might've started the fire.

According to VICE, Citizen CEO Andrew Frame led a "citywide, app-fueled manhunt," directing his employees to continue upping the ante on the bounty as users struggled to identify the arsonist. "FIND THIS F*CK," Frame told his employees over Slack. "LETS GET THIS GUY BEFORE MIDNIGHT HES GOING DOWN."

After Citizen identified Devin Hilton, a homeless man, as the suspected arsonist, circulating Hilton's photo to roughly 861,000 users, law enforcement authorities shortly arrested Hilton, and later found they had scant evidence to charge him with anything.

The sheriff who questioned Hilton said Citizen's manhunt was "potentially disastrous."

After Hilton was eventually released, Citizen apologized: "Once we realized this error, we immediately retracted the photo and reward offer. We are actively working to improve our internal processes to ensure this does not occur again. This was a mistake we are taking very seriously."

7. Better.com CEO fires 900 employees over Zoom before Christmas

Earlier this year, things at online mortgage originator Better.com seemed to be going well – at least on paper. The company had significantly raised its profile after announcing back in May that it would go public via an SPAC merger. And last month, Better revealed that it would be receiving a $750 million cash injection from investment management company SoftBank.

But on December 8, CEO Vishal Garg did something that, according to reports, few employees expected. Citing issues with "the market" and "productivity," Garg laid off 9% of his entire workforce just before the holidays, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, over Zoom.

Facing a maelstrom of criticism from employees, who were given a month's pay and three months of benefits, the executive only felt inclined to apologize for the way he handled things.

"I failed to show the appropriate amount of respect and appreciation for the individuals who were affected and for their contributions to Better," Garg said.

"I blundered the execution."

6. AT&T bankrolls far-right One America News Network (OANN)

AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications company, has apparently been central to the success of one of the most corrosive news channels in America.

In October, a Reuters investigation found that AT&T has been the financial life force of One America News Network (OANN), a far-right news channel known for peddling baseless – and downright dangerous – conspiracies theories about the pandemic and the 2020 election.

According to OANN founder Robert Herring Sr., the far-right network was originally inspired by AT&T executives, who wanted to monetize a conservative news network. AT&T has also reportedly disbursed roughly $57 million in monthly fees to OANN since 2013 and at one point sought to buy the channel for $250 million.

Shortly after the report, AT&T said it's "never had a financial interest in OAN's success and does not 'fund' OAN." (And we should probably trust AT&T on this point since the company is squeaky clean otherwise.)

5. Howard Schultz uses Holocaust analogy to describe Starbucks' mission

In November, as Starbucks employees in Buffalo, New York were organizing to hold a historic union vote, management threw out a series of Hail Marys in a bid to squash the effort. One of these counter-offensives came in the form of an appearance from billionaire Howard Schultz, Starbucks' former chairman, who sallied over to Buffalo to vaguely dissuade pro-union workers from unionizing.

In front of hundreds of baristas, Shultz expressed that Starbucks is "not a perfect company," saying: "We listen. We learn. We get better together." Schultz, a Jew, then thought it wise to invoke a Holocaust metaphor by recounting a story once told to him by a rabbi.

Referencing blankets shared by prisoners at Nazi concentration camps, Schultz said, "So much of that story is threaded into what we've tried to do at Starbucks – is share our blanket."

4. Amazon executive claims company is "the Bernie Sanders of employers"

Starbucks isn't the only company that sufficiently embarrassed itself during a union effort. Back in March, Amazon was also in the midst of waging a comprehensive – and ultimately successful – campaign to defang a union effort led by warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama.

At the time, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, long a crusader of labor rights, announced that he'd be speaking in Birmingham to offer support for the union drive. But Dave Clark, the CEO of the company's worldwide consumer vertical, found Sanders' impending presence a tweetable offense.

"I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers," Clark tweeted, but that's not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace."

The very next day, stories of Amazon workers having to pee in bottles to meet efficiency demands began making the rounds online. Amazon immediately denied any reports of this happening, and later apologized for denying them.

3. ExxonMobil lobbyist caught in Greenpeace "sting" operation

It isn't often that you get to see a corporate lobbyist caught with their pants down. But this year, thanks to Greenpeace, we saw just that.

Back in July, Unearthed, an environmental news team run by Greenpeace UK, led an undercover "sting" operation against two Exxon lobbyists to gain better insight into the dark art of oil lobbying. Posing as corporate headhunters, Unearthed ensnared Keith McCoy (a senior director for federal relations at Exxon) and Dan Easley (a former Exxon White House lobbyist), asking them questions about their experiences laundering the company's interests through the federal government.

McCoy and Easley soberly remarked on the many ways in which Exxon has effectively shut down meaningful climate action, even describing oil industry trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute as the company's "whipping boys."

"Did we join some of these 'shadow groups' to work against some of the early efforts [at regulation]? Yes, that's true," McCoy said during his interview. "But there's nothing illegal about that. You know, we were looking out for our shareholders."

After the report, Exxon CEO Darren Woods claimed that McCoy and Easley's remarks were "entirely inconsistent with the way we expect our people to conduct themselves." (And he's not entirely wrong; if you're trying to hide the fact that your business depends on the earth's destruction, you'd want your lobbyists to be a bit more discreet about it.)

2. Reddit comes to GameStop's rescue

Back in January of this year, GameStop – a video game retailer that had been struggling financially years before the pandemic – was facing certain death. Major institutional investors on Wall Street, like Melvin Capital, had put down massive short positions on the stock, and so the company's downfall seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is until a brigade of Reddit investors entered the picture.

Seeing that Wall Street was shorting the company, Reddit users from an amateur retail investing forum known as "r/wallstreetbets" led an offensive against the institutional bigwigs, collectively pouring millions of dollars into GameStop. The effort caused GameStop's stock to skyrocket by over 2,000%, trapping Melvin in a shortsqueeze. (This means that Melvin was forced to buy GameStop's stock to cover its losses – a move that caused the stock to rise even more.)

Things got so chaotic that billionaire investor Leon Cooperman went on CNBC to deliver an unhinged screed about Reddit's "attack" on wealthy people, saying that "fair share is a bullshit concept. It's just a way of attacking wealthy people. It's inappropriate and we all gotta work together and pull together."

In the end, Melvin lost around 53% of its assets ($4.5 billion) as a result of the affair and had to be bailed out by another asset manager.

1. Facebook changes its name amid a devastating whistleblower scandal

This year, Yahoo Finance selected Facebook as the "Worst Company of the Year" – and for good reason.

In September, with help of The Wall Street Journal, ex-Facebook employee Frances Haugen began leaking a trove of damning internal documents, which reveal that Facebook is both aware of its harmful impacts on Americans and has done next to nothing to mitigate them.

Thousands of documents leaked by Haugen show that the company systematically prioritizes profit over combating hate and misinformation, a lapse that directly fomented the Capitol riot, according to The Washington Post and has led to genocidal violence abroad. In an interview with "60 Minutes," Haugen claimed that Facebook established a program known as Civic Integrity, designed to combat misinformation. However, this program was dissolved ahead of the 2020 election, which she said was a "betrayal of democracy."

By the end of October, Facebook, facing perhaps more public scrutiny than any company in modern history, changed its name to "Meta" to reflect its sudden interest in developing the Metaverse, a hypothetical 3-D version of the Internet. Coincidence? I think not.

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