Lucian K. Truscott IV

The shutdown caucus really wins: The House power grab was always bigger than Kevin McCarthy

They did it two years ago on Jan. 6. They did it this week on Jan. 3. They succeeded in shutting down the government twice in two years. On Friday evening, it was still shut down after a 13th vote to elect a Speaker of the House and get the government going again. [Note: Early Saturday, Kevin McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House on the 15th vote.]

I'm talking here about the part of the government that governs, not the nuts and bolts part that does stuff like enforcing the laws and regulating the airlines and banks and issuing passports and helping people if and when they suffer the ravages of hurricanes or even manmade disasters which can include forest fires. The administrative part of the government has been shut down repeatedly in recent years — in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act, in 2018 over immigration, and again in 2018 over funding the wall. That shutdown lasted 35 days and continued into the new Congress seated on Jan. 3, 2019.

See what I mean about those shutdowns? The Congress caused them, because the Congress was in session for all three of them and had disagreements over the budget and whether it would include money for things either Republicans or Democrats didn't want funded.

But these shutdowns are different. The Capitol was shut down when it was assaulted by a mob of insurrectionists in 2021, halting the business of certifying the election of 2020. This year, the House of Representatives was effectively been put out of the business of governing for as long as it failed to elect a Speaker. This is what is meant by the word "governing." Under the Constitution, it is the job of the Congress to certify elections, and it is the job of the House to hold a vote and elect a Speaker and swear in members so it can proceed to the rest of the business of governing. Under the Constitution, Congress is the only place that can write and pass laws. It is the only place that can declare war. The House of Representatives is the only place that can levy taxes and pass budgets allocating the expenditure of those taxes in order to fund the rest of the government. When one of the houses of Congress is not in existence, governing cannot happen. For the past four days, persons who have been elected to Congress have been there in the Capitol building, but a gaggle of well-dressed persons does not a Congress make, so governing has not been happening.

The President must sign the laws passed by Congress, but unless those laws are passed, he or she has nothing to sign into existence so they can be used or enforced. So, shutting down Congress, by shutting down the House of Representatives, is a very big deal. It could be looked upon as shutting down parts of the Constitution itself. Article One establishes the Congress and gives it certain powers, including the famous "power of the purse" in Section 7: "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."

What good is Article One if there is no House of Representatives? Without the House, that part of the Constitution has been canceled. Do you see what is going on here? The insurrectionists who got themselves elected as representatives to this putative "Congress" have for the past few days been using the Constitution against itself. Words written in that document are negated if they have no meaning. A Congress that is not in existence is not a Congress; it is merely a gathering of people in a big fancy room in a big fancy building.

As I write this on Friday afternoon, we do not have a House of Representatives because the House has not lived up to its commandment under Section 2 of Article One: "The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment." Without a Speaker, there is no House. Without the House, there is no Congress and without the Congress, there is no functioning government.

The fight this week in the House of Representatives is over the Speaker election, but it's much larger than that. What it's really about is who will have the power to shut down the rest of the government, because what these people have done is what they want to be able to do more of in the future. Nearly every member who has opposed McCarthy for Speaker cast voted against certifying the election in the early hours of Jan. 7, 2021, after rioters had shut down the process on the afternoon of Jan. 6. See if any of these names are familiar: Boebert, Gaetz, Biggs, Cloud, Good, Bishop, Gosar, Perry, Rosendale, Miller, Harris, Donalds, Norman. One of the gang opposing McCarthy, up until the 13th ballot, is Eli Crane of Arizona, a freshman just elected who has proudly attended rallies celebrating the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

On Friday, McCarthy was able to switch the votes of 15 members opposing him. It was reported during the four days they voted that he was able to get these members to change their votes by granting certain concessions. At least two of the concessions — allowing only one House member to make a motion to "vacate the chair," effectively firing the Speaker, and giving the insurrection caucus power over seating at least a third of the members of the powerful Rules Committee — would have the effect of making it far easier for these far-right loons to shut down the government in the future. The reasons for this are arcane but mainly involve tying the hands of the Speaker and limiting his ability to negotiate with Democrats to prevent government shutdowns or votes not to lift the debt ceiling, which amounts to the same thing.

This was never about who would become Speaker and lead a Republican caucus that doesn't want to govern anyway. The Republican Party was good enough over the last few days to treat us to speeches that revealed just what they thought the qualifications were to hold the Speakership. "He's a good family man," was one. "He worked hard to get here," was another. "He is living the American dream," was particularly revealing. I mean, with those qualities, who didn't qualify? I guess you could say being a female would be disqualifying, since "he" is the operative pronoun in each qualification.

But you get my meaning. Whether McCarthy would be elected Speaker has been the question, but it's never been the issue, the lack of any Republican alternative being obvious proof. The issue has always been who will hold the power in the Republican-led 118th Congress, and that's not going to be McCarthy under the conditions he has agreed to. At this point, he has sold off so many parts of himself, not to mention his Constitutional powers, that all he amounts to is a torso and a head without its contents — meaning, of course, a brain.

There is a famous quote by Grover Norquist, who has run the right-wing but innocuously named Americans for Tax Reform for decades: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." What we have learned over the last few days is that right-wing Republican plan has outlived its usefulness, which was mostly as rhetoric anyway. This crowd wants to take the government apart, piece by piece, and kill it. They've been using and abusing the Constitution to do it. This time, they didn't even have to employ a mob to shut themselves down, and they're winning.

Is this the end of our national Trump bender? Yeah, we've heard that one before

Think back. We've been here before. In 2016, there was the famous "Access Hollywood" tape, when Trump bragged about his tendency to "grab'em by the pussy." Then WikiLeaks moved in to save him with the first of its dumps of hacked Democratic Party emails, these from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Two days later, during a debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump was asked whether what he had talked about on the tape amounted to sexual assault. He shrugged off the question, calling his statements nothing more than "locker-room talk" and, amazingly, admitting, "I'm not proud of it." It was over. He was elected president a month later.

Then came the revelation by FBI Director James Comey in March of 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee that Trump and his campaign had been the subject of an FBI investigation since the previous July. Half the oxygen immediately got sucked out of the hearing room, and there were reports that nearly a tenth of the air in Washington proper had left, too. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the links between Trump, his campaign and the Russians. Then came leak after leak after leak, all of which Trump seemed to surf like perfect waves. The report by special counsel Robert Mueller was filled with evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump, but found no "collusion" – legally speaking, a meaningless term – between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and the story died right there.

Just four months later, a transcript of a telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was released, revealing in no uncertain terms that Trump had attempted to extort Zelenskyy into helping him with a phony investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. Another Washington lid blew into the skies. Just two months after that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an inquiry into impeaching Trump. A month later, three House committees held hearings about Trump's attempts to get Zelenskyy to aid his re-election campaign. Just over a month after that, on Nov. 13, the House of Representatives began impeachment hearings. On Dec. 10, the House Judiciary Committee voted two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power, the other for obstructing Congress. A week later, the House voted, mostly along party lines, to impeach Trump. In January of 2020, the Senate began the impeachment trial of Trump. On Feb. 5, the Senate acquitted Trump.

Dodged another one, you figured — but it wasn't over. Trump instigated the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and after he had left office, the House again voted to impeach him, this time for "incitement of insurrection against the U.S. Government." The Senate in turn voted 57-43 to convict Trump of inciting insurrection, falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.

Talk about dodging bullets! Donald Trump is the American political tap-dancer of all time. Not only as a political figure, but as a businessman, Trump has had more lives than nine cats.

And now the midterm elections have failed to provide the red wave many pundits had predicted for the Republican Party. At this writing, control of both the House and the Senate is still up for grabs, and you-know-who is being blamed for the poor performance of Republican candidates in almost every state that doesn't start with "Fl" and end with "a." Trump-endorsed candidates went down in battleground contests for the Senate and governorships. Election-denying Trump-endorsed candidates for statewide offices like secretary of state and attorney general lost in multiple states. At least one state house was flipped from Republican to Democratic control, and Democrats held control of several other state governments with many candidates either endorsed by Trump or hewing closely to his election lies losing their races.

I have officially lost count of the number of stories I've seen with titles like "Conservatism Inc. is breaking up with Trump — again," and, in my own state, "It's time for him to retire: Some Pa. Republicans want to push Trump aside after their election losses." Another popular headline, encompassing not just Trump but House Minority Leader (and aspiring House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, has "the knives are out" for its punchline. And then there are the stories trumpeting (intentional pun) stuff like "Trump's midterm meltdown is in full swing" and "Facing GOP blame for midterms, Trump pushes 'stable genius' line." Rupert Murdoch's New York Post broke with Trump with the headline, "Humpty Trumpty." Even the Wall Street Journal (Murdoch's upper-class rag) weighed in, calling him the midterms' "biggest loser."

There are an equivalent number of stories lauding the second coming of Ron "God chose me" DeSantis as the great Florida Man Hope of the Republican Party. DeSantis, educated at Yale and Harvard, is said to be a culture warrior in Trump's image, but smarter. His symbolic war with the Walt Disney Company for being "woke" is somehow considered "courageous." So is his "don't say gay" nonsense and the rest of his culture war pandering.

Trump, blamed for midterm losses by nearly every establishment figure in his party, has flipped the script and placed the blame on his eternal nemesis, Mitch McConnell, along with — get this — that piece of fluffy fleece in a royal blue vest, Glenn Youngkin! The only person who believes Youngkin stands a chance at the Republican nomination in 2024 besides Trump is Youngkin himself … and possibly his kids.

Haven't we been here before? The last time, it was Ted Cruz (Harvard, Princeton) who was the Great Cowboy Hope of the anti-Trumpers in the Republican Party. Or was it Marco Rubio? Rick Santorum? Chris Christie? I forget. It was one of them, or some combination of them, who was going to save the party from Trump, who was, you know, accused of sexual harassment and assault and extramarital affairs and who knows what else.

And now here we go again. This time Trump is damaged goods because he is under investigation in I-don't-know-how-many-jurisdictions, for committing I-don't-know-how-many-crimes. Yes indeed, he is facing likely indictment by the feds on multiple counts of conspiring to interfere with a legitimate government function (certification of electoral ballots) and mishandling of sensitive national security information (the hundreds of secret and top-secret documents he removed from the White House and kept in a basement storage room at Mar-a-Lago.)

And then there is the grand jury in Georgia looking into Trump's phone call with Brad Raffensperger, when he asked the Georgia secretary of state to "find" enough votes for him to be declared winner in the state. Seemingly half the people who knew Trump or worked for him in the White House or served at one time or another as his attorney have testified before the Georgia grand jury, so that investigation can reasonably be assumed to be going somewhere that is not good for the former president.

But what does all this amount to in the end? Looking back at Trump's tap-dancing around, through, over and under previous controversies, I am led to the conclusion that Trump will once again exchange his tap shoes for skates and, yes, skate.

One of the major problems this country has with Donald Trump is that despite how repellent he is, Trump is as riveting as a gruesome car wreck. The amount of trouble he gets himself into is so unbelievable, it's fascinating. How he screws up stuff like blackmailing a foreign president by having White House staffers listening in on the call is jaw-dropping. The legal problems all this stuff causes him are as complex as they are heinous. The court orders he manages to get issued on his behalf, like the appointment of a special master to review the Mar-a-Lago documents, are flabbergasting. The appeals of those orders by the Department of Justice are incredible. Even Trump's tussles with his many, many lawyers are fascinating, as is the way he has managed to get the Republican National Committee and one of his super PACs to pay his legal bills. He is a past master at laying off his debts as well as his moral responsibilities.

His diabolical slipperiness does more than keep him in the news and in the public eye. Nearly everything surrounding the man is grimly hypnotic. I've been covering politics for just over 50 years, and I cannot recall another American politician who has proved more spellbinding in the way he lives his personal and public life, not to mention the way he has sold himself, with his New York accent, multiple ex-wives and mistresses, business scandals and all the rest of it to the American public, or to 74 million members of it, anyway.

Will Trump be able to keep all his balls of grift, grab and go in the air? It's time for me to deliver the old chestnut that only time will tell, but my instinct tells me to add this: He may be on the canvas for the moment, but he'll be up at the eight-count, just like he has so many times before.

They have him surrounded: Trump now faces legal troubles in three states, plus D.C.

If you just count the number of cellphones seized over the past few months from Trump cronies, you would have to conclude he's in deep doo-doo. Trump is known for eschewing emails and texts — and fuhgeddaboudit when it comes to putting his name on actual sheets of paper, unless they're executive orders banning Muslims and ripping immigrant children from the arms of their mothers.

Trump is a phone guy, and his favorite thing to do as president was to get on the phone and swap gossip and plot with his close associates. One of them was My Pillow Guy Mike Lindell, a frequent visitor to the Trump White House and a longtime supporter. Lindell's cellphone was seized by the FBI on Wednesday. Lindell appeared at Trump's Jan. 6, 2021, rally on the Ellipse and has been used regularly this year to warm up crowds at Trump rallies in Illinois, Florida, Arizona and other states. Lindell's phone was taken as part of a DOJ probe into the theft of voting data and voting machines in several states, including Michigan, Georgia and Colorado. Lindell published private voter data stolen from a voting machine in Colorado on his website, Frank Speech.

Another cellphone seized by the FBI as part of its criminal investigation into Trump belonged to former law school professor John Eastman, the author of the infamous memo planning the submission of slates of fake electors to Congress from battleground states lost by Trump. The FBI also took possession of the cellphone of Scott Perry, the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who introduced Jeffrey Clark to Trump. Clark was an acting assistant attorney general whom Trump considered appointing to the top post as part of his plan to overturn the election results in Georgia. Just this week, the FBI took the cellphones of Boris Epshteyn, a former White House aide who now serves as an in-house counsel coordinating the handling of Trump's various legal woes, and Mike Roman, who was the Trump campaign's director of Election Day operations and is now an aide to the former president. Both Epshteyn and Roman are suspected of being part of the scheme to name fake electors from states Trump lost in 2020.

The DOJ has also served subpoenas on what Politico called "a slew of false electors, including at least three state Republican Party chairs," and the FBI searched the home of the aforementioned Jeffrey Clark.

All of this happened before this week, when 40 subpoenas were issued to a brand new slew of Trump associates as part of the DOJ's investigation into attempts to overturn the election of 2020, and their connections to the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Politico reported that the cellphones of two more people were also seized. "Every day feels like something else is piling on," one former Trump official told Politico. Some people close to Trump told Politico that the total number of subpoenas issued by the DOJ may be higher, between 50 and 75. At least some of the subpoenas have been gone to people who have knowledge about Trump's mishandling of classified documents he took from the White House and stored at Mar-a-Lago.

The subpoenas served by the FBI require appearances before one of the two grand juries currently sitting in Washington. One of them is looking into attempts to overturn the 2020 election and the possible conspiracy leading up the events of Jan. 6. The other is focusing on Trump's mishandling of the classified and other government documents that he had stored all over the place at Mar-a-Lago.

A third investigation has been opened by the DOJ into the Save America PAC, a Trump-affiliated entity that has raised more than $115 million and distributed it across several political committees. Three million dollars of the Save America money was reportedly paid this week to Trump's latest save-me-please attorney, Chris Kise, whose name has appeared on all the recent court filings in Florida regarding the appointment of a special master to review the documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago. Kise reportedly demanded to be paid up front for his legal work, including a proviso that he can bill additional hours if need be, because Trump has a long record of refusing to pay his bills, including attorney's fees.

It is not known which of the two Washington grand juries issued the subpoenas concerning the Trump super PAC, but sources told the AP that some of the subpoenas and search warrants issued recently sought information about Trump's fund-raising activities.

So in Washington alone Trump is under investigation for the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, for his mishandling of classified and other government records, for his involvement in the fake elector scheme and for his fund-raising with the Save America PAC.

As if that weren't enough, there is the ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia into Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state, including his infamous phone call with Brad Raffensberger in December 2020, during which Trump asked the Georgia secretary of state to "find 11,780 votes," the number Trump believed he needed to be declared the winner.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has convened a grand jury to look into "attempts to disrupt the lawful administration of the 2020 election in the State of Georgia." Her investigation reportedly includes the Trump campaign's attempts to appoint a slate of fake electors from Georgia. The 16 people who signed fake documents certifying that they were official Georgia electors are targets of the investigation, as are Trump campaign officials and other associates who coordinated the fake elector scheme. One such person is former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has been informed that he's a target. Another Trump crony subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who placed calls to Raffensperger trying to get him to reexamine absentee ballots cast in the 2020 election, citing the possibility that a new count would overturn the Georgia results. Georgia law makes it a crime to "tamper with electors list, voter's certificate, numbered list of voters, ballot box, voting machine, direct recording electronic (DRE) equipment, or tabulating machine," or to conspire "with intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a felony," or to engage in "criminal solicitation to commit election fraud."

That's a lot of exposure for a lot of people in the state of Georgia, including Trump himself, chiefly because of the conversation with Raffensberger (which was recorded by an aide), but also because of his association with people known to be involved with attempting to overthrow election results, including Giuliani.

And there's more! There are two investigations of the Trump Organization, the former president's business incorporated in New York, which is wholly owned by him. State Attorney General Letitia James has been conducting a civil investigation into Trump's company for its inflation of real estate values on property it owns for insurance reasons, and its underestimation of those values for tax purposes. Trump was deposed as part of that investigation and reportedly invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times during a six-hour interview.

James' civil lawsuit closely tracks with the criminal investigation of Trump's company being conducted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who recently convicted the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, on tax fraud and other charges. Weisselberg has agreed to testify in the ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump Organization but not against Trump himself. Either New York investigation of the Trump Organization could result in the "corporate death penalty," whereby a court would be asked to dissolve the entire company and outlaw it from doing further business in the state.

It is not known how many lawyers Trump has working for him on all these legal troubles, but he won't be able to continue paying them with funds from the Save America PAC if and when he announces he is running for president, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why he hasn't done so yet. Trump doesn't give a damn about any Republican other than himself, but he does care a whole lot about money. The prospect of paying his attorneys in Washington, Florida, New York and Georgia out of his own pocket just might put him off announcing for several more months at least. After the midterm elections on Nov. 8, the DOJ will no longer be constrained by its self-imposed "60-day rule" of not initiating criminal proceedings in advance of elections. All bets are off after that, and maybe the DOJ will stop issuing subpoenas and executing search warrants and start making arrests.

If the DOJ follows the methods it has used in previous investigations, it's likely to start small, which means that a lot of little Trumpies had better start jockeying to hire the best lawyers they can find now, rather than later.

As for Trump himself, well, your guess is as good as mine. But right now, he's looking a lot like Custer at Little Bighorn – surrounded on all sides with no way out. He's been there before when he faced two impeachments, but many of the people who defended him then, including his former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, have already testified before grand juries investigating Trump and cannot be counted on to have his back this time.

I don't know about you, but if I were waking up every morning and writing checks to lawyers — even super PAC checks — I wouldn't be a happy camper. At this point, I'm thinking that maybe what they call a global plea deal made by Trump, to wrap up all his federal and state criminal investigations in return for not running for president, might be his best bet. Right now it looks like if he doesn't make such a deal, he might lose his golf, his money and his freedom.

Sam Alito and John Roberts appeal to 'history and tradition' — while dancing around the burning Constitution

Watching Justice Samuel Alito go spelunking in his Dobbs opinion through centuries of so-called history and tradition in search of legal justifications to overturn the right to abortion decided almost 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade was like watching a boy play in a pile of dirt. Where do I dig next, he seemed to be muttering to himself as he shoveled manure from a slave-era law in Virginia onto an 18th-century pile of garbage he quoted from some doofus who believed women were inferior beings. Clarence Thomas was right there behind him in his decision that New York can't prevent people from carrying concealed weapons, plowing through statutes from jolly old England and the American frontier to show that Dodge City didn't really mean it when they told cowboys they had to check their six-guns with the sheriff if they came into town.

And then along came Chief Justice Roberts as clean-up man, swinging the club of something known as the "major questions doctrine" to deny the Environmental Protection Agency its statutory authority to — duh — protect the environment unless Congress spells out exactly how they should do it. According to Roberts, it is Congress, not the EPA, that has to write a rule telling corporations they can't empty industrial waste directly into creeks, rivers or the ocean because it's a "major question" if it costs corporations a lot of money, so let's make it as hard as possible for the government to take a chunk out of our golf buddies' bottom lines.

Throughout the entire year of decisions by a court that for the first time included all three of the Supreme Court's newest and most conservative members, the Republican majority decided to jettison the doctrine of stare decisis, which means to stand by things decided, and employ their own doctrine on how precedents should be treated: Stare quisquilias acervum or "stand by the trash heap," where they proceeded to throw the court's previous decisions and entire articles of the Constitution.

All of this in service to their favorite doctrine of all — rights granted by the Constitution must be "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition" or they aren't really rights at all. Legal scholars have been predicting that the court will use its new jewel of a doctrine to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges,not to mention other recent decisions recognizing rights under the privacy provision of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment … because we have no "history and tradition" of same-sex marriage or gay sex or rubbers or the pill, or anything else they simply don't like.

To justify its abandonment of the court's "history and tradition" of respecting and upholding its previous decisions, the Supreme Court called upon a favorite from an era they apparently revere, states' rights. Speaking for the court's conservative majority, Alito decided to "return" abortion to the control of the states, several of which promptly made performing abortions illegal and effectively established new rules — or re-established old ones — which dictated that women must carry to term babies resulting from rape or incest, and then give birth to them, relying, it would seem, on our deeply rooted history and tradition of slavery.

What can be done about the court's prejudice masquerading as reason? Doesn't the wrongheadedness of the "history and tradition" of the way women were treated at the time the 14th Amendment was written tell us something about all the anti-abortion laws of the past Alito quoted in the world's longest footnote? Women weren't allowed to vote, to sit on juries, to own property separate from husbands or male members of their families, and in some states they did not have the right to sign contracts. Oh, by the way, they weren't allowed to have abortions, either.

It took decades of fighting for women's rights for us to get rid of some forms of prejudice against women. But "history and tradition" demands we go back to banning abortions, according to Alito.

Alito's decision features a gigantic hole not even the dissenters pointed out: To have "history and tradition," it has to start somewhere. Precedents become part of history only after they make history. If the court is going to require that all our rights must be grounded in history and tradition, that's exactly what Obergefell and the other privacy rights decisions do. They establish a baseline of history that can be depended upon in the future rather than reaching back to 1868 in search of one.

I say if they're not going to respect their own decisions, then neither should we, and neither should lower court federal judges and state judges and legislatures.

Legal scholars use the term "vertical stare decisis" to describe the principle that lower courts should follow and respect the decisions of the Supreme Court. But the law is not something handed down from a higher power or engraved on a tablet with a hammer and chisel. It is a living thing, and it has to breathe and move and eat and expel waste in order to stay alive, and some of the waste that must be expelled can be found in the court's most recent decisions.

I'll tell you how I know this.

When my friend and classmate David Vaught was going to NYU Law School in the early 1970s, I used to pick him up late at night from the law library, and we would drive home together in his old pickup truck to the barge where we were living on the Hudson River. One night as we passed through the Lincoln Tunnel on our way to where the dock where the barge was tied up in West New York, New Jersey, David almost exploded with happiness over a discovery he had made.

He had been given a typical first-year law question to answer, and the way NYU taught its students to solve problems was to trace them to their source. He was being taught that laws came not only from legislatures but, over decades, from court cases and the decisions of judges. The lesson was that legal questions such as who is liable for damages in various situations are never resolved once and for all — the solutions change and even mutate over the years as lawyers argue cases and judges make decisions and new laws are born.

"You can almost hear them arguing amongst themselves, like doctors over a patient," he explained to me. "In one case, a judge will say, well, I think it's the liver, so I'm going to fix it by administering this correction. And then, 10 years later, another judge will come along and say, no, it was the spleen, and it can't be repaired. We must take it out." My friend explained that the cases flow like blood through a body's circulatory system. "The arguments are its nervous system. The courts are the place where the law learns. Judges' decisions are its brain, its memories. Because the law is manmade, it has a human form, and it gets sick and can be made well. The law is happy and sad and stupid and smart just like we are. It's alive."

He was right. We are being forced to listen to a cacophony of dunces arguing over our Constitution right now. The New York Times last Sunday published an op-ed called "Is the Right to Same-Sex Marriage Next?"

No. We are louder than they are, and we have all of our minds and ideas and votes in the songbook from which democracy sings.

Supreme Court's legal terrorism: Why appealing to 'tradition' on abortion is obscene

With its Siamese-twin decisions on Thursday and Friday, the Supreme Court didn't just turn back the clock or flip through the pages of the calendar looking for a new decade — or century — to love. Calling themselves textualists and originalists, they simply put the Constitution through a search engine and told it to look for some key words: Abortion? Uh-huh, not there. Gay sex? Not in 1791 or 1868! Same-sex marriage? Are you kidding?

But guns? Well, the founders spelled it "arms," but we know exactly what they had in mind! The right to walk around with your guns on your hip or slung over your shoulder because you need 'em for self-defense!

It's tempting to say that the justices handed down these two decisions because they could, but what they did and how they did it is even worse: Just a month after 19 elementary school children and their two teachers were shot dead with a semiautomatic military weapon of war, they mumbled about life and provided for the mechanics of death and. over a 24-hour period, set forth the new outlines of an obscene legal regimen.

They threw out 50 years of precedent and two of their previous decisions and concluded that since "the Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion," such a right does not exist. But the right to "keep and bear arms" is spelled out clear as a bell by the musket-owning founders in the wonderful Second Amendment.

What the six so-called conservatives are relying on these days are two words not found in the Constitution: history and tradition. Both are suddenly seen as absolutely necessary in determining whether certain rights deserve to be preserved. The decisions are rife with phrases like, "We then canvassed the historical record, and found yet further confirmation," and you know what the "historical record" confirmed, don't you? Exactly what the majority wanted it to. It turns out that in order for a constitutional right to be enjoyed by American citizens, it must be old, and the older the better. If a right existed in the 18th and 19th centuries, well, this court is fine with it. But if that right wasn't enjoyed by the citizens of, say, 1816 — like the right to privacy, under which various other so-called modern rights exist, such as the right to purchase and use contraceptives, the right to have sex in the manner you choose, and the right to marry a person of your own sex — then those rights simply don't exist.

The majority leaves out the inconvenient truth that abortions, legal or otherwise, have been performed since the beginning of history as we know it, and the ownership of guns and other weapons of death and destruction have been restricted by class, income, social standing and political power for just as long.

The Thomas opinion on guns, along with concurrences, is 83 pages long. The Alito opinion on abortion, with concurrences, is 147 pages long. I would encourage you to read both decisions, if only to experience the blissful tsunami of their references to the way things were back in the 1700s and 1800s, but it's actually necessary only to take a look at a very few lines from the appendix to the Alito decision, which lists excerpts of the laws on the books forbidding abortion in the 37 states and 13 territories (!) that eventually became states from the 19th and 20th centuries. They are listed in chronological order by date, and just check out the first few:

  • Missouri (1825)
  • Illinois (1827)
  • New York (1828)
  • Ohio (1834)
  • Indiana (1835)
  • Maine (1840)
  • Alabama (1841)

Citing laws from the 19th and early 20th centuries to justify what the majority is doing in the 21st century isn't just corrupt, it's disgusting, it's insulting, it's condescending, and it amounts to madness. The purpose of this list of horrific and antiquated laws and punishments for women who have abortions and people who perform them is to make the point that ending Roe in some sense returning to normal, because abortion has been illegal for a very long time practically everywhere. But the subtext is just as clear: You should be glad we're not turning the clock back to this.

The language of the statutes is as brutal as the prison terms, running from six months to 10 years, that were prescribed for women who have abortions and anyone assisting them. I'll give you one excerpt just so you get a flavor of the "history and tradition" of abortion laws that the majority cites with obvious glee. This is from the Virginia statute of 1848:

Any free person who shall administer to any pregnant woman, any medicine, drug or substance whatever, or use or employ any instrument or other means with intent thereby to destroy the child with which such woman may be pregnant, or to produce abortion or miscarriage, and shall thereby destroy such child, or produce such abortion or miscarriage, unless the same shall have been done to preserve the life of such woman, shall be punished, if the death of a quick child be thereby produced, by confinement in the penitentiary, for not less than one nor more than five years, or if the death of a child, not quick, be thereby produced, by confinement in the jail for not less than one nor more than twelve months.

That the Virginia law, which applies to "any free person," is racist on its face causes the Supreme Court majority no shame whatsoever. The entire opinion, along with its concurrences, is practically giddy with delight. Comparing their reversal of Roe v. Wade with the Warren court's reversal of Plessy v. Fergusonin its 1954 decision ending segregation in schools, the Republicans on the court tell us that up is down with smiles on their faces. Their reasoning doesn't even amount to intellectual dishonesty. It's legal terrorism.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, how long we'll have to wait until a decision comes down from this court with an appendix approvingly listing Jim Crow laws in support of throwing out, oh, let's take a wild guess and say Brown v. Board of Education. After all, why start with boring stuff like affirmative action when we can go back and take care of this whole race thing at its source, huh?

It took the Civil War to end slavery. All it took to return to enslaving women by forcing them to bear an unwanted child and go through the pain and sometimes life-threatening act of giving birth was the six signatures of the Republican majority. For the likes of Thomas and Alito and the rest of them, if it was good enough for the founders, it's good enough for us.

Oh, by the way: here's another word that's not in the wonderful founding document we call the Constitution: Woman.

Big boys playing dress-up: Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are dangerous — and deeply embarrassing

The hearings of the House Jan. 6 committee that began on Thursday night presented plenty of evidence of plain old-fashioned wrongdoing, infantile fantasizing by people old enough to know better, and hundreds of instances of people committing overt criminally indictable offenses at the behest of a president of the United States. But the evidence showed something else, too: an entire political party that has lost the capacity to be embarrassed.

There is so much evidence of behavior and attitudes that are embarrassing that you hardly know where to begin: with the whiny look on Jared Kushner's face and his whiny tone of voice as he described the White House counsel's threats to resign as "whiny"? The aw-shucks shrug of the shoulders given by former Attorney General William Barr, who was the highest law enforcement official in the land, as he explained — if that is even the word — resigning his office because he had finally had enough of what he called "bullshit"? Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney's lengthy recitation of all the phone calls Donald Trump didn't make and orders he refused to issue while a violent attempt was made to overthrow the government of which he was in charge?

See what I mean?

To me, however, the most embarrassing thing of all is the fact that nine veterans of service in the United States military have been indicted for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government for their roles in the violent assault on the Capitol. Not only that, but they dressed up and play-acted their parts as veterans. Some of them, specifically the Oath Keepers, wore military-style camo outfits complete with bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets, and used a military-style "stack" formation to lead the breach of the Capitol building. Others, the Proud Boys, gave orders to their membership not to wear military-style gear and remain incognito: "come as a patriot" and "do not wear colors!" (referring to their yellow and black Proud Boy uniforms) and "be decentralized and use good judgement" because "we are trying to avoid getting into any shit."

Reading the indictment of five Proud Boys — four of them veterans — that was handed down by a Washington grand jury last Monday is like reading a script for a remake of "Rambo." Using an encrypted social media chat app, the Proud Boys talked about their "Ministry of Self Defense" or MOSD, their "Leaders Group," their "Operations Council" and their "Marketing Council." They even formed a "MOSD Prospect Group" to recruit new members for their paramilitary operations at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Note: All that excited capitalization is from the texts cited verbatim in the indictment.)

The Proud Boys established something called the "Boots on the Ground Group," and exchanged text messages asking, "Are we going to do a commander's briefing before 10 a.m.?"

"Standby," came the response in primo-mil-speak.

All of the above was in preparation for the assault launched by the Proud Boys on the Capitol. Many of the texts were exchanged before the rally on the Ellipse had even begun.

At 12:53 p.m. on Jan. 6, during the time Donald Trump was speaking on the Ellipse, the Proud Boys effected the first breach of the protective barriers established by police around the Capitol, pushing one of the police officers to the ground. Her head struck the pavement hard enough for her to lose consciousness and suffer severe trauma. Moments later, a Proud Boy text announced, "We have just taken the Capitol," as if the seat of the government of the United States was a military objective. At 1:00 p.m., a member of the so-called "MOSD Leader's Group" texted, "They deploy the mace yet?" One of the Proud Boys, who turned out to be an unindicted co-conspirator because of his cooperation with the Department of Justice, replied: "We are trying."

The indictment lays out this embarrassing behavior by military veterans in excruciating, painful detail. It describes the childish delight they took in each other and the pride in the crimes they were committing by citing the selfies they took, to which they attached such grand comments as, "So we stormed the fucking Capitol. Took the motherfucking place back. That was so much fun." Another Proud Boy added, "January 6 will be a day in infamy."

The Proud Boys used the Washington Monument as a rallying point before they began their attack on the Capitol. From the little hill where the Washington Monument stands, the following memorials to other veterans are visible: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial. Constitution Gardens is also visible, and so is the Signers Memorial, commemorating the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Proud Boys used "1776" as a private code for what they called their revolution throughout their text messages to each other. The year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence has also become a key part of the rhetoric of many of Trump's defenders, as if by invoking the founding of the country they can excuse its destruction.

Wearing military garb after you've left the service isn't indictable, neither is using military slang, and neither is singlemindedness to the point of being blind to what you're really doing. But it is embarrassing, in ways none of them will ever understand.

The Supreme Court guards its privacy. Too bad it doesn't care about yours and mine

To use Justice Samuel Alito's criteria in his recently-leaked draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade, where is it written in the Constitution that practically everything that happens at the Supreme Court is secret?

The answer, my worthies, is that it is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Secrecy — or, if you will, privacy — at the court is another one of those invented rights Alito and his pals are so fond of yapping about. The secrecy of that august body is almost absolute: Everything that happens at the Supreme Court, with the exception of its hearings and the publication of its decisions, is secret. The court maintains complete secrecy about how and why it chooses which cases to hear. The conferences held by justices during which they decide cases and record their votes is so secret they don't even allow their clerks inside the doors when they consider the arguments on either side of a case. Most justices demand that their clerks take an oath to keep secret everything they learn while carrying out their jobs.

There are no federal laws which mandate or govern the secrecy enjoyed by the Supreme Court. In fact, whoever leaked the Alito draft opinion cannot even be prosecuted, because he or she broke no law. There is nothing in federal statute or in the Constitution itself, for that matter, which mandates that draft opinions — or any other document produced at the court by the justices or their clerks or anyone else — be kept away from the prying eyes of the press or the public which, by the way, pays the salary of everyone working in that pile of Vermont and Georgia marble located just behind the Capitol.

If you listen to the justices themselves or so-called court-watchers or even members of the bar who practice before the Supreme Court, the reason for all the secrecy is tradition. It's always been that way, and so it should remain. In other words, everything at the Supreme Court is secret because they say so.

The assumption has always been that the court can make its own rules because, well, it's the Supreme Court. It's like saying the court is so supreme, it's the highest law in the land.

Except it isn't. The highest law in the land is the Constitution, and all that document does is establish the existence of the court and mandate that judges be paid a salary and serve lifetime appointments and that they can be removed if they don't maintain "good behavior" and lay out what kinds of cases over which the court has original and appellate jurisdiction. One clause in Article III has been interpreted to say that the Congress has power to regulate the court, such as to write the laws setting the number of justices and of course to pay for the court by using its power to raise taxes and pay for the various parts of the government, of which the court is one.

But the secrecy the court maintains for itself and the way it goes about its business? Nope. Nowhere to be found. What the court keeps to itself and what it makes public is not a matter of law; it's a raw assumption of power it does not statutorily have.

The court does not allow the public to witness its deliberations, which take place within its super-secret conferences of justices, nor does it publish any notes or records of those deliberations. The nine justices could be behind those closed doors trading votes or talking about friends of theirs who have interest in the case before them or doing favors for each other or for powerful interests within the country or even within the political parties or other branches of government, and we would have no way of knowing it. They could be exposing their own prejudices or extolling religious doctrine and beliefs and we wouldn't know about that either.

What little we do know about how the court does its job comes from the papers of a few justices who upon their deaths have donated them to universities or, in the case of Justice Thurgood Marshall, to the Library of Congress. There is no Official Records Act that applies to Supreme Court justices, and because of that gaping hole in the law, they wholly own and control all the records they produce while on the court, and have full freedom to release them or refuse to release them or, as several justices have done, command that their papers are burned upon their deaths. The records of their service on the court are thus private. As citizens, we may pay for those papers with our tax dollars, but they don't belong to us, to the government or even to history. They are the private property of the justices, and by what convention is this so? Because they say so.

Most justices during recent times have donated their personal papers to colleges or universities with restrictions on when they can be released. The most common restriction is that a justice's donated papers may be made public after the retirement or deaths of all the justices who served with him or her, apparently because they don't want their buddies to suffer any embarrassment. The reason for this convention is because of what Justice Marshall did: upon retiring, he donated his personal papers, some 170,000 items in all, to the Library of Congress and allowed them to be released upon his death, which occurred only two years later.

The Washington Post and other news organizations quickly published several series of articles on the inside information about the court revealed in Marshall's papers. His colleagues were sufficiently perturbed by this invasion of their privacy that they prevailed upon the Senate Government Affairs Committee to hold hearings on what should be done to protect judicial papers.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist made it clear that the justices were not pleased by the quick release of Marshall's papers, but the Senate took no action to regulate the personal papers of the justices because, as the committee explained later, "the separation of powers and the traditions that surround the court, it is not clear what, if anything, Congress should do about regulating preservation and access."

We could write this off to typical congressional stasis and inaction if it weren't for the fact that the Congress had no such compunction when, after the Watergate scandal, it passed the Official Records Act, mandating that presidents preserve and keep all their records. It was correctly pointed out at the time that presidential records were the product of work paid for with taxpayer dollars. The same is true of the work papers of Supreme Court justices, of course, but at least until now, the impenetrable mysteries of the court have survived attempts to open up its records and deliberations to more public scrutiny.

The leak of the Alito opinion has changed things a bit, even though it was not technically the first leak of a Supreme Court decision. The original Roe decision, in fact, was leaked to a reporter for Time Magazine in 1972 and appeared in the magazine a few hours before it was publicly announced. That caused a brouhaha that, while now forgotten, created quite a political stir. The Time reporter was roundly attacked from all sides, including the Supreme Court bar and the press corps that regularly covered the court, for his outrageous violation of … well, what did he violate exactly?

Protocol. That's what he violated, and that's what the reporter or reporters for Politico who leaked the Alito draft violated, too. What is protocol? Well, the dictionary defines it as an official set of rules governing affairs of state or other governmental occasions. Protocols can be established by laws, but in the case of the Supreme Court, they aren't. The court's protocols exist because they say so.

The whole thing about the Alito leak is something of a tempest in a teapot containing leaves we're supposed to read about the court. The court has increasingly been seen as politicized in recent years, not least because one of our two political parties, the Republican Party, and the last president did not conceal their intentions to appoint arch-conservative justices who would carry out the will of the party and its adjunct, the Heritage Society, to overturn Roe v. Wade. The hypocritical political machinations gone through by Mitch McConnell to deny Barack Obama his appointment of Merrick Garland to the court — while performing an insta-confirmation on Amy Coney Barrett just a month after she was appointed and eight days before Joe Biden was elected president — have been beaten to death, so I won't go into any of that now. Suffice to say that any claim that the Supreme Court is apolitical (which was always doubtful) has now become ridiculous.

What remains is an uncomfortable truth about the Supreme Court: The justices, the clerks, and everyone who works there are public employees paid with taxpayer dollars. The Supreme Court building itself, constructed with tax funds during the public building surge of the Depression, "is a relatively new addition to its image," having been constructed in 1936, as Politico pointed out in a story following its publication of the leaked Alito opinion. Before that, the court conducted its business out of the Capitol building, where only the chief justice had an office. The other eight justices worked at their homes.

But even back then, the work the Supreme Court did was paid for by the public, and a good argument can be made that the public should have had more access to the court's business, including its hearings, which while technically held in public are almost impossible to attend. It took the COVID pandemic, which forced the court to hold hearings by phone, for the Supreme Court to open itself to live broadcasts. Before that, if a reporter or member of the public wanted to hear the Supreme Court consider one of its cases, they had to stand in line, sometimes for hours or even days, to get one of the prized seats in the court reserved for the public.

The court has consistently resisted calls to televise its hearings, citing bogus reasons, such as fear that lawyers will grandstand for the cameras or that demonstrators may interrupt the court seeking to publicize their opposition to one side or the other in the case being argued. This despite the fact that courts across the nation have opened themselves to televised coverage of trials and other proceedings without any major problems.

In answer to a question in 2018, Chief Justice John Roberts even had the gall to assert, "It's not as if we're doing this in secret. We're the most transparent branch in government in terms of seeing us do our work and us explaining what we're doing." Roberts appeared to be referring to the publication of Supreme Court decisions with their lengthy reasoning. But the court's recent use of the so-called shadow docket to dispose of some of its most controversial decisions — such as an appeal of the recent Texas "heartbeat" anti-abortion law — without publishing opinions or even the individual votes of the justices proves that is just bullshit.

The only law to which Supreme Court justices are subject that even marginally opens them up to scrutiny is the requirement that senior government employees file an annual financial disclosure form. But even that document, while revealing outside income and stocks and bonds held by justices, does not require them to list the amount of money they receive as gifts from corporations or overtly political organizations (such as the Heritage Society) in the form of free flights on corporate jets or stays at luxury resorts in the Caribbean or luxury hotels in Zurich and Rome while they give speeches or receive awards. And Supreme Court justices, like members of Congress and the president, are free to trade stocks and bonds based on information gleaned from the cases they decide. Justices don't have to tell anyone what they're doing because they say so.

Justice Antonin Scalia was notorious for accepting the largess of wealthy individuals, corporations and political organizations. Between 2004 and 2014, he took 258 subsidized trips to places like Hawaii, Ireland and Switzerland, according to the New York Times, without having to list the amounts of money involved in the payments made for his travel, accommodations, meals or anything else. In fact, Scalia died while on a hunting trip at a luxury preserve in Texas owned by John Poindexter, a wealthy industrialist from Houston whose firm had had cases before the Supreme Court while Scalia was a justice. Just before he died, according to the Times, Scalia had been on all-expenses-paid jaunts to Singapore and Hong Kong. Neither he or any other justices are required to list the amounts of free stuff they are given, nor are they required to recuse themselves from cases involving the people who have given them gifts of luxury travel and accommodations at resorts like the Texas hunting preserve owned by Poindexter.

Supreme Court justices officially earn just north of $200,000 a year, but they are able to live like millionaires on weekends and during their annual breaks for Christmas and summer holidays. They own all the product of the work they do, and they can use it to write books or give paid speeches and profit from the work we pay them to do. And they don't have to tell us a thing about it.

Last week, the curtain was pulled back just a bit on all the secrecy and privacy enjoyed by the justices of the Supreme Court when Politico got hold of the draft opinion overturning Roe written by Alito, a longtime abortion foe. Chaos ensued. How can the court be expected to do its job when its right to privacy is invaded in such an outrageous manner? That was the chorus heard from the conservative commentariat and sold-out congresscritters seeking to curry favor with their favorite justices.

What right to privacy? The same right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment they're about to throw in the trash when they throw out the right to abortion in Roe? It's hard to keep a straight face as I type these words: Like everything else in the Constitution, the right to privacy is a right afforded to the following people, first among them Supreme Court justices. Supreme Court justices enjoy the right to the privacy of their chambers, the privacy of the conferences during which they decide the fates of others on a weekly basis, and the privacy of their personal papers, which they can do with as they please, because they say so.

Everybody else, get in line over there with your hands out, and we'll see what privacy rights you're entitled to. For the time being, you can marry whomever you want, you can practice sodomy in the privacy of your bedroom, you can use contraception to prevent pregnancy, and you can marry or have a relationship with a person of a race different from your own. All of those privacy rights are yours because they say so.

For now.

Meanwhile, stop peeking under our robes. What we're wearing under there is private, don't you understand?

Is the U.S. in a proxy war with Russia? Sergey Lavrov and Lloyd Austin seem to think so

With heavy weapons like first-line tanks, multiple rocket launchers, 155mm howitzers, attack helicopters and updated anti-aircraft systems flooding into Ukraine and beginning to reach the battlefield, the only thing missing from an all-out war between NATO and Russia are allied soldiers.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to the upsurge in weapons shipments this week when he said, "NATO is, in essence, going to war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy." Lavrov accompanied that with some nuclear saber-rattling, and then said that NATO and the U.S. were running the risk of turning the war global and involving nuclear weapons: "The risk is serious, real. It should not be underestimated," he said Monday night on Russian state television. "Under no circumstances should a third world war be allowed to happen. There can be no winners in a nuclear war."

No shit, Sherlock. Sixty-four days after Russia invaded Ukraine, it's finally dawning on the billionaires in charge over there that they might have made the proverbial mistake of biting off more than they can chew. On the same day reality appeared to slap Lavrov in the face in Moscow, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at a meeting with more than 40 NATO and non-NATO defense officials in Germany, announced a new American strategy intended to degrade Russia's military so that it cannot threaten other nations with war in the future. "We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine," Austin told reporters.

President Biden backed up the new strategy by announcing that his administration is seeking $33 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, far more than the U.S. has committed so far in the conflict. "We either back Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities," Biden said at the White House on Thursday. The Washington Post reported that administration sources confided that the new spending package "is meant to not only defend Ukraine but to weaken and deter Russia in a conflict that shows few signs of ending. U.S. leaders are increasingly open about their hopes that the conflict will result not just in Ukraine's survival, but also in a significantly weakened Russia."

The new strategy reflects what has already happened on the ground. Russia's attack on Ukraine has been crippled by clever tactics and counterstrikes by the much less well-equipped and smaller Ukraine military forces. An all-out assault on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv was turned back, sending Russian forces retreating into safe havens on Russian and Belarus soil where they had massed earlier in the year before their late February attack. According to Ukrainian drone footage seen by the Daily Mail, fields that surveillance photos once showed lined with row after row of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and supply vehicles are now littered with burned-out skeletons of the same military hardware.

Ukraine's military reported last week that it had destroyed 839 Russian tanks, more than 2,000 armored personnel carriers, a mix of 393 self-propelled and towed howitzers, 108 multiple rocket launchers and 76 fuel tankers. Ukraine's foreign ministry said on Thursday that 187 Russian military fixed-wing aircraft and 155 combat helicopters had been destroyed, along with 215 drones the Russian military had been using for surveillance and as missile launch platforms. Not to mention the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, now at the bottom of the Black Sea.

Russia has been using older T-72 tanks but has also fielded some newer, more high-tech and expensive T-80s. The T-72 tank, in service since the 1970s, cost about $2 million apiece when new. The T-80 tanks, also in service since the mid-1970s but upgraded since then, cost about $3 million. Russian armored personnel carriers (APCs) cost about $500,000. All those photos you've seen of blown-up and burned-out low-slung tracked vehicles that don't have large-caliber turreted guns are APCs. No matter who's counting, the Russian military appears to have lost thousands of them.

Forbes reported this week that the initial Russian invasion force in February involved 120 battle tactical groups (BTGs), composed of 85 armored vehicles each, about 12,000 armored vehicles total. Forbes assesses that Ukrainian numbers for Russian battlefield losses are "optimistic," and cites the open-source intelligence website Oryx as probably more accurate. Relying entirely on photographic evidence of destroyed, damaged or captured vehicles, Oryx on Tuesday reported that Russia had lost 562 tanks and 1,200 armored personnel carriers for a total of 1,762.

Taking an average of figures reported by Ukraine, Oryx and the Pentagon, Forbes concluded that Russia has lost somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 of its armored fighting vehicles, meaning that 20 to 25 percent of the entire military force Russia initially put on the battlefield in Ukraine has been knocked out. Relying on the same sources, Forbes estimates that Russia has suffered 15,000 battlefield deaths. Every soldier who is killed has to be replaced, and training soldiers costs real money. According to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), it currently costs about $200,000 to recruit and put one U.S. soldier through basic training. All soldiers continue their training in advanced courses, and some take as long as two years to fully qualify certain specialties, making the real cost of taking a citizen from civilian life to being ready for combat much more expensive, no matter which country is spending the money.

No matter whose numbers you accept, Russia is suffering heavy, expensive and potentially unsustainable battlefield losses in Ukraine.

No matter whose figures you accept, Russia is suffering heavy and very expensive battlefield losses in Ukraine. "Some units are much more devastated than others. We've seen indications of some units that are literally, for all intents and purposes, eradicated," a senior U.S. defense official said at a background briefing of reporters earlier this month. "There's just nothing left of the BTG except a handful of troops, and maybe a small number of vehicles, and they're going to have to be reconstituted or reapplied to others."

So the degradation of Russia's military is already happening on the battlefield in Ukraine. With $20 billion of the new Ukraine aid package earmarked for combat equipment, ammunition, resupplies, military rations and other battlefield gear, the U.S. seems to be employing a rope-a-dope strategy with Russia: Lure them into throwing as much of their military forces as they can muster into Ukraine and then spend them into the ground, much as the U.S. did during the Cold War, when our military advances and expenditures ended up bankrupting the Soviet Union by exploding its defense budget.

That strategy also depends on how well Western sanctions work against Russia. Every Russian tank, helicopter, fighter jet, rocket launcher and drone lost in Ukraine has to be replaced. All modern military weapons make heavy use of computers, which need chips, and as we all know, computers break and parts need to be replaced. Technology import restrictions have been imposed on Russia under sanctions approved by the U.S., NATO and other countries. Russia will doubtlessly try to figure out ways around the restrictions, but that will cause delays, shortages and problems repurposing dual-use computer hardware and software imported from countries that have not joined the sanctions. There are no timeouts in war. Enemies on the attack don't wait.

If the U.S. is in a proxy war with Russia, it's a war of attrition that will last a while. "Degrading" Russia's military capability means slowing down its ability to equip and man its forces. Vladimir Putin is learning a truth that has endured through the centuries: If you take too big a bite on the battlefield, you die. There are no Heimlich maneuvers in war.

If what Putin’s army is doing to Ukraine right this minute isn’t terror, what is it?

By fumbling and bumbling and hesitating and stalling and arguing and fiddling and politicking and treating the world like everything was peachy keen, Europe and the U.S. and the NATO alliance missed its chance to include Ukraine as a member, and now they are all alone against the third or fourth biggest military in the world.

Numerous comparisons have been made by historians and experts between Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Hitler's taking of the Sudetenland in 1938. Hitler claimed repeatedly that ethnic Germans in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia were being mistreated and attacked and that the region had to be taken over "to protect Germany." "It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe," he said in September of 1938. The Sudetenland was ceded to Germany less than a month later.

Putin claimed on Monday that "Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood. … It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space." He went on raving that Russian speaking people in Eastern Ukraine were being subjected to "genocide…the killing of civilians … the abuse of people, including children, women and the elderly, continues unabated," he said. "There is no end in sight." He made the case that the Russian speaking people of Donetsk and Luhansk aren't really Ukrainian, they're Russian and they want to be part of Russia.

Hitler had ambitions to take over all of Europe. Within a year, he had taken Poland, and the rest, as they say, is history. Putin has made clear his view that the breakup of the Soviet Union was "the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th Century." He hasn't yet said he wants to restore the Soviet empire, but tell that to the Ukrainian people under bombardment in Kharkiv, the families fleeing west from Kyiv, and tell it to the citizens of the Baltics and Poland who are watching the destruction of Ukraine and its sovereignty with great trepidation that they will be next.

Putin is holding Ukraine hostage and daring the West to intervene. He's looking Europe in the eye and saying, let's play chicken. Just how crazy do you think I am?

Russia has seized most airports in Ukraine, civilian and military — and all of them in the eastern and central regions — and achieved air superiority over the entire country, completely cutting off the air-bridge by which the West could have supplied the Ukraine military with more weapons, ammunition, helmets, combat vests, all the equipment necessary to fight the Russian invaders. What Ukraine has right now is what they will have. If and when they shoot off all their Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, that's it. When they fire their last 105mm and 155 mm artillery rounds, that's it.

Ukraine is now in the same place Afghanistan was when Russia invaded in 1979. Any and all military resupplies the Ukrainian military or resistance receives will have to be smuggled across borders from the West. Whether Poland, Hungary and Slovakia will allow this remains to be seen. I'm sure those countries are calculating that if they allow their territory to be used as a refuge for the Ukrainian military and resistance fighters, it will piss Putin off, and they will be next.

The worst situation we could have imagined is here. Ukraine is fighting Russia all by itself. Putin is blackmailing the West by rattling his nuclear weapons with his statement that "interference" by outsiders will "lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history." By listening to his lies that he had "no intention to invade Ukraine" and just sitting back, the West has allowed Putin to gain the advantage and put himself in the position where he can do whatever he wants in Ukraine while the world must stand back and watch it happen on CNN.

The sanctions Biden announced at a press conference on Thursday won't do any more to change Putin's behavior than the sanctions we and the rest of the West imposed after he seized Crimea and moved his troops into Eastern Ukraine in 2014. The sanctions cover more banks and more oligarchs but were, in a word, disappointing. Biden said his new sanctions will "limit Russia's ability to do business in dollars, euros, pounds and yen to be part of the global economy." That's all well and good, but why just "limit" the banks? Why not totally and completely ban them from operation in the world's banking system? It was announced on Friday that the EU has agreed to freeze the assets of Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the U.S. Treasury followed close on their heels by doing the same thing.

But Biden and NATO and the rest of the civilized shouldn't stop there. We should lock Russia down within its borders. Biden and the West must immediately shut down all landings by Russian aircraft, commercial passenger flights, cargo and otherwise. Russia has seized Ukraine's airports. Close airports everywhere in the West to flights out of Russia. The FAA announced a "no fly" zone over Ukraine and Belarus and the airspace 160 miles into Russia. Why limit our flights over their territory? Why not limit their flights over ours? Why not turn the world into a no-fly zone for all Russian aircraft? Shut down the ability of Russian aircraft to take off by refusing them places to land.

Ban visas to every Russian citizen, not just the billionaires "close to Putin," as the saying goes. (We tried that. It doesn't work.) Declare Russia a terrorist state and issue a "travel ban" to and from Russia. If what Putin's army is doing to Ukraine right this minute isn't terror, what is it? I've already seen footage of Ukrainian office buildings and apartments with their fronts blown off, streets filled with rubble, bridges damaged by airstrikes. What is the difference between buildings brought down by a "terrorist bomb" or an airplane flown by terrorists and what's being done at this very minute by the Russian military?

Biden and Western nations must not allow movement of people, goods, services, money or anything else from Russia to the rest of the world. They must order the seizure of the assets of Russians in the West — all of their assets: apartments, condos, beachfront properties, office buildings, bank offices. Seize all their money and other paper investments. This must not only apply to "oligarchs." There are plenty of Russians who own property in New York, Miami, London, Paris, Monaco and elsewhere. Take what they own outside of Russia from them — not just the billionaires.

Bar imports of any goods from Russia. Bar all exports to Russia of any technology, right down to the hammer and the common nail. Include in the ban "luxury" goods such as European and American automobiles. Bar the export of televisions, laptops, cellphones, everything Russian citizens have gotten used to owning and using. Shut down Russian access to social media sites like YouTube and Instagram and Facebook and to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu and Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. Turn Moscow and the rest of the country into a social media and entertainment wasteland.

Russians have gotten used to being a modern country like Europe and the rest of the developed world. They buy Western goods like Levis and Prada bags and Hermes scarves and Gucci shoes. Ban the lot. Ban travel from Russia to Paris and Rome and London to shop and eat at the great restaurants of the civilized world. Take from them all the privileges of wealth, all the rights of civilized citizens to travel and enjoy themselves and their money by spending it outside of Russia. I understand that it wasn't ordinary Russians who ordered their army into Ukraine, but Putin did it in their name. These kinds of sanctions that will affect Russians who are not wealthy and corrupt will cause pain, but it's nowhere near the kind of pain their army is causing next door in Ukraine, where people are being killed, being turned into refugees fleeing their homes and losing their businesses and incomes. What's worse? Not being able to spend your money, or having your home and your job — your entire country — taken from you by force?

The fall of the Soviet Union allowed Russia to come out from behind the Iron Curtain and join the rest of the world. Drop a new Iron Curtain around Russia and send them back.

Putin is waging old-fashioned warfare against Ukraine. He is rolling his tanks and his cannons and his missile launchers into a country with the aim of seizing its land and installing a "friendly" puppet government that will follow his orders and do what he says.

NATO and the West have closed off the option of responding with force to Putin's invasion of Ukraine, but maybe that's not such a bad thing. This is our opportunity to wage truly modern warfare by locking Russia down within its borders and denying the country and its citizens the things and privileges of modern life they have come to enjoy over the last 30 years.

If we're not going to put NATO troops into Ukraine to help them fight the Russians, then we should cause them to suffer an amount of pain equivalent to what they are wreaking on Ukraine. Already there are shortages of food and gas and other necessities in Ukraine. Why shouldn't Russia be suffering the same shortages of the same goods and services? Why shouldn't Russia feel the same pain they are causing to their neighbor?

One of the major mistakes we made with Vladimir Putin was to assume that he and Russia would go along with post-Cold War norms that started with, but were not limited to, respecting the sovereignty and borders of other nations. Putin has broken those rules, so far without consequence. It's time to make him pay.

We have to learn to treat countries as what they are when they speak with bullets and bombs and missiles. Vladimir Putin has turned Russia into the world's largest terrorist enclave, and we should treat it that way. Russia is now an outlaw country. No civilized nation should allow Russian money, Russian people, Russian businesses, or elements of the Russian government through its borders.

The West has left Ukraine all alone to fight the invasion by Russia. Putin wants to take Ukraine and turn it effectively into part of Russia, and to one degree or another it looks like he will succeed. Well, let's see how Putin and Russia and its people like it when they and their new "republic" are all alone, cast out by the world of civilized nations.

The American Mao: Donald Trump has led the Republican Party into a cultural revolution

There is only one truth: the truth of the party. And the party is Donald Trump.

That's what it's come down to, folks. The Republican Party has been effectively transformed into a doppelgänger of the Chinese Communist Party, with its own version of Chairman Mao Zedong at its head — and the first thing on the Party agenda is a purge.

It started soon after Trump lost the election last November. Who was out? Anyone who refused to help facilitate the Big Lie was pushed out by the Republicans' Maximum Leader. Brad Raffensberger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, who turned down Trump's plea to "find" 11,000-plus votes so he could flip the election in that state. Out. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, another Republican who didn't sign onto the Big Lie with enough enthusiasm to please the Maximum Leader: Out. Trump tweeted on Dec. 30 (when he still had a Twitter account), "@BrianKempGA should resign from office. He is an obstructionist who refuses to admit that we won Georgia, BIG!"

CNN described Trump's purge campaign this way: "Trump has taken his involvement in 2022 Republican primaries to a new level as he works to permanently mold the GOP in his image. Beyond Trump's public efforts to oust Republican incumbents he considers disloyal, he has quietly tried to clear potential GOP threats to his endorsed candidates and encouraged others to run against his enemies."

The Maximum Leader is endorsing candidates running against any Republican who voted to impeach him, most prominently Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who has taken a lead role in the investigation by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. She has already been stripped of her leadership position in the Republican House Caucus and was censured by the Wyoming Republican Party.

Trump has moved on around the country, endorsing people he considers loyalists even when they come laden with baggage, as with his endorsement of former NFL star Herschel Walker in next year's Georgia Senate race, even though Walker was accused during a divorce of "physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior," including threatening his ex-wife with a pistol and knives. In the race for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat, Trump endorsed Sean Parnell despite similar allegations in a divorce filing that Parnell was physically abusive to his wife and children. (Parnell recently suspended his campaign after a judge awarded his ex-wife primary physical custody and sole legal custody of their children.)

Back in Georgia, the Maximum Leader has also endorsed former Sen. David Perdue to run against Kemp in the Republican primary for governor. Perdue lost his race for re-election to the Senate to Democrat Jon Ossoff in a January runoff.

In Alabama, Trump is said to be considering backing a challenger to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, in retaliation for her decision denying his request to hold a 2020 campaign rally at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. He is also backing Rep. Mo Brooks in his campaign for the open Senate seat in Alabama. Brooks has been a fierce backer of Trump and a super-spreader of the Big Lie, and appeared with the Maximum Leader at his Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse, where he helped rile up the crowd before the assault on the Capitol.

Possibly the best thing that ever happened to Fox News was Twitter's permanent suspension of Trump's account two days after the assault on the Capitol. With the Maximum Leader no longer able to address his followers directly, he became dependent on Fox as his chief propaganda arm.

It happened just in time, because after Fox News became the first network to announce that Biden had won the state of Arizona in the November election, many Fox viewers became so angry that they had fled almost immediately to even further-right outlets such as Newsmax and the OAN network. On Dec. 8, 2020, Newsmax achieved a ratings win over Fox News for the first time, when "Greg Kelly Reports" on Newsmax beat "The Story with Martha MacCallum" on Fox in the 7 p.m. news slot. By March of this year, a public opinion poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates showed that Fox had lost viewers to both Newsmax and OAN, although the network remained far ahead of both right-wing rivals in the overall ratings.

Panicked at the prospect of losing the Trump base, Fox News threw itself into the arms of the Maximum Leader and unleashed its dogs, encouraging its star evening hosts to go all-in on spreading the Big Lie that Trump was the "true" winner of the 2020 election. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham took their shows even further to the right than usual. Carlson produced a special called "Patriot Purge," which premiered in early November on the network's new streaming service, Fox Nation. The three-part series attempts to make the case for the entirely concocted premise that the Capitol assault was not carried out by Trump supporters but was a "false flag" operation run by the FBI, antifa and other shadowy forces.

Most recently, there was the release of text messages sent to Mark Meadows by Fox stars Hannity, Ingraham and "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade, asking the then-White House chief of staff to get Trump to call off the insurrection and send his followers home. After that news hit the headlines, the Fox hosts reacted like they'd been bitten by a rabid hedgehog, denying that their texts had said what they said and pledging lifetime fealty to the Maximum Leader.

Two prominent figures in the world of Fox News recently resigned in protest of Carlson's "Patriot Purge" series: Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes. Last Sunday, Fox host Chris Wallace announced he was leaving the network for CNN's new streaming service, CNN+. But none of the three really left of their own accord. They were purged. They weren't sufficiently Trumpian. In a Wednesday column, Goldberg said he was leaving because he couldn't take the lies and hypocrisy, describing a culture within the network where Fox hosts would "say one thing to my face or in my presence and another thing when the cameras and microphones were flipped on." Everyone at Fox News knew what had happened on Jan. 6, Goldberg implied. It was their lies "over the 11 months that followed" that drove him out.

This is what a cultural revolution looks like. First comes a purge of all opponents or even doubters of the Maximum Leader, followed by a purification of the Party in his name. In China, the Cultural Revolution lasted from 1966 until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and was aimed at removing Mao's rivals in the Party, government, schools and workplaces. Mao insisted that those disloyal to the Party should be removed by violent class struggle, symbolized by his call to "bombard the headquarters," including local government buildings, party headquarters, schools and colleges. Books that were determined to run counter to Mao's teachings were burned. Scholars, professors and government bureaucrats were sent into what amounted to in-country exile in re-education and work camps.

All you have to do is subtract the word "camps" to describe what the Republican Party is doing right now around this country. They are banning books in Texas and elsewhere. They are collecting petitions to run recall elections against school board members guilty of teaching what they see as "anti-white" subjects in schools, by which they mean the actual history of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis just proposed an "anti-Woke" law allowing parents to sue local school boards if they feel their children are being taught the mythical subject "critical race theory." That proposal is based on the Texas anti-abortion law that recently went into effect allowing random citizens to sue anyone who facilitates an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. In both Florida and Texas, what amounts to cadres of vigilantes are being established to enforce the Party's will on the populace — in this case, the will of the Republican Party.

Every time a Republican stands up and points out that the emperor has no clothes, the Party destroys him or her. Which makes you wonder, how long will it be before you don't have to be a Republican to be purged and have your career destroyed? When will it come to pass that if you speak anti-Trump thoughts or write anti-Trump articles or attend anti-Trump rallies or even — God help us — cast anti-Trump votes, you will put yourself in danger of losing your job?

Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to destroy naysayers and enemies of the Party. Stalin created the Gulag as an instrument of political repression to accomplish the same thing. More than 18 million supposed opponents of the Communist Party were consigned to the camps between 1930 and 1953, the year of Stalin's death.

Notice that in both cases, the Maximum Leader had to die himself before his campaign of political repression, punishment and death was ended.

Both the Soviet Union and China had to go through a process of self-correction after decades of political repression, thought control, re-education and murder. The Russian self-correction eventually led to the bankruptcy and breakup of the Soviet Union. The self-correction in China led to the abandonment of communism in all but name and the remaking of the country as a capitalist economy under centralized state control. Neither country today looks anything like it looked under the Maximum Leaders who brought them down.

In this country, the Republican Party is "Republican" in name only and seems incapable of self-correction. It would have to throw off the bonds of Donald Trump and his lies in order to even begin to come to its senses. It may be the case that there are doubters in the Party ranks, or people who not only should know better but do know better. But unless they can raise objections without facing political death, the Republican Party's cultural revolution will continue, if past is prologue, until the Maximum Leader dies.

The Republicans have a plan for their judges — and it goes way beyond Roe v. Wade

The entire edifice of Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election — that it was stolen from him through illegal votes cast by Democrats — now seems to rest on the unprepossessing business-suit-clad shoulders of one man: Jeffrey Clark, a former official in the Trump Department of Justice. He has informed the HouseSelect Committee on the Jan. 6 uprising that he is willing to be interviewed by investigators and if called upon, to testify with one condition. He intends to invoke his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

"The Fifth." That's what defense lawyers call it. Donald Trump himself spoke disdainfully of those protections during the 2016 presidential campaign, in reference to Clinton campaign staffers who had taken the Fifth to avoid testifying about Clinton's famed email server. At an Iowa campaign rally he said, "The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

Donald Trump himself provided one answer during his bitter and very public divorce from his first wife, Ivana. According to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett's book, "Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth," he invoked his protections under the famed amendment 97 times to avoid answering questions about his affairs with women who were not his wife. Barrett quoted Trump as saying the Fifth Amendment was his "favorite."

But as Jeffrey Clark is about to learn, the Fifth Amendment may protect you from self-incrimination, but it doesn't protect you from being indicted and possibly convicted for committing a crime. The first crime Clark may be charged with is contempt of Congress, for which former Trump aide Steve Bannon has already been indicted. Both men are seeking to avoid giving testimony to the Jan. 6 committee on their parts in Trump's attempts to overturn the election results on the day Electoral College ballots were to be counted and certified by the Congress.

Attempting to overturn the results of an election is a federal crime. It is defined in the law as fraud against the government of the United States. Donald Trump himself may face indictment for his attempt during a phone call to convince Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to "find" enough votes to reverse the outcome of the presidential election in that state. "Finding" votes that were not cast is fraud, and it is a crime. Conspiring with another person to do that is another crime. Making a phone call in furtherance of that conspiracy is yet another crime: wire fraud.

Trump very possibly committed the same sort of crime when, in November of 2020, he invited Michigan state legislative leaders to the White House and tried to get them to hold a vote in the state legislature to appoint new electors who would overturn the will of the voters in Michigan. In December of 2020, Trump summoned Pennsylvania state legislators to the White House after calling in to a hearing held by Republican legislators in Gettysburg to claim that he "won Pennsylvania by a lot." (Democrat Joe Biden actually won the state by 80,555 votes, giving him Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes.)

The problem with committing crimes is that you may be indicted and tried and convicted and sent to jail. If you are charged with committing a crime such as fraud against the government of the United States, you will find yourself in the hands of a federal judge. This is where the Republican campaign to appoint and confirm federal judges comes in. The Republican Party has spent the last 40 years fixing federal judgeships around the country to their liking. Conservatives even established a non-governmental organization to vet, train, and recommend candidates for judgeships. It is called the Federalist Society. Until now, most legal observers have thought of the Republican effort to dominate the federal judiciary as essentially ideological: The Federalist Society has an avowed purpose of putting "conservative" judges on the federal bench.

But ideology takes you only so far. That was evident in the Supreme Court hearing on the key abortion rights case this past week, Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization. We were treated last Wednesday morning to what amounted to a judicial treasure hunt. Under which rock, behind which bush, in which crack in a wall can we find our justification for overturning Roe v. Wade?

Each justice had a favorite rock to turn over. Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed to think that he could find the Constitution's "neutrality" on the issue of abortion in the absence of the word from the text of the document. Justice Sam Alito espoused the idea that abortion wasn't legal in any state at the time the 14th Amendment was adopted, so that amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law did not apply. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has seven children, two of whom were adopted, seemed fixated on the idea that equality between men and women was not an issue, because women who bore children did not have to face being kept out of the workforce by motherhood because they could always choose to take advantage of "safe haven" laws and put the child they gave birth to up for adoption, thus getting the nettlesome infant out of the way. Justice Clarence Thomas seemed satisfied to rest on his longtime obsession that women should bear the consequences of childbirth because they were the ones who decided to have sex. He had no interest in the fact that rape did not involve a decision on the part of a woman who is raped, and there was no talk whatsoever among the "conservatives" on the court about the role men play in procreation. Chief Justice John Roberts, who presided over the treasure hunt, was left with trying to find a way to save his court from the "stench" of politics that overturning Roe would bring with it, as Justice Sotomayor so bracingly said.

Ideology isn't very good at providing answers for bothersome issues like abortion, and it's of little use in keeping offenders out of jail. For that, you need judges. The events of Jan. 6 have provided us with an example of how prescient the Republicans were in packing the federal bench with their brethren. More than 700 people have been arrested and charged with crimes in connection with the assault on the Capitol. Of that number, only 129 have been convicted, all because they entered guilty pleas, most of those in attempts to get reduced sentences. A lot of leniency has been dished out. The number of those serving time in jail for crimes committed during the assault on the Capitol is not known, but there have been numerous reports of probation, suspended sentences and "slap-on-the-wrist" punishments like a few days or weeks in jail.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has come under criticism for not having brought cases against those known to be involved in the attempts to overturn the election, including such figures as Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and the man who made the phone calls and chaired the White House meetings, Donald Trump. The 2022 midterm election is seen as a kind of political deadline for the investigation and criminal prosecutions of those responsible for the attack on the Capitol, as well as those involved in the greater efforts to overturn the election of 2020.

Waiting in the wings are the judges who are already being accused by Democrats of "slow-walking" the cases brought against the insurrectionists. Any cases brought against the likes of Clark, or others allegedly involved in conspiring to overturn the election, will be assigned to a judiciary packed with more than 220 Trump appointees to the federal bench. As we saw in the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday, those judges can be depended on to be legal experts — or at least, experts at finding justifications for the outcomes that best suit the Federalist Society and the Republican Party.

And then, of course, there is the 2024 presidential election. Trump may or may not run again, but whoever the Republicans run, they will be looking for him to follow Trump's example and act as a pardon machine. If you are a Republican and you are charged with any crime in connection with electing other Republicans, or even with committing violent crimes against the government of the United States, you won't have anything to worry about.

They already own enough judges, and if they get the White House back, it will be ollie-ollie-in-come-free for every Republican conspirator there is.

Trumpism in a fleece vest: GOP’s new gambit scored a big win. Here's how to beat it

The victory of smooth-talkin' Glenn Youngkin over Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday has Democrats wringing their hands and looking under the couch cushions for excuses. After all, the entire Republican Party and anyone running under its banner should have been deeply wounded by now. They remain, after all, the party of Donald Trump, the single most unpopular political figure in our time. They were the party in charge when the pandemic hit and took 400,000 lives. They are the party that has pushed misinformation about COVID for nearly two years, including loud and repeated lies about vaccines and mask-wearing, causing countless additional deaths. They are the party that has persistently countenanced an attempted coup after the last election and spread the corrosive lie that Trump didn't actually lose.

Republicans should be so knocked back on their heels that they still can't manage to get up, and yet this blow-dried "businessman" running on a platform of transparent lies was able to win the governorship of Virginia. Why? Was it the Democrats in Congress and their failure to pass two incredibly popular bills before Election Day? Was it because McAuliffe carried the baggage of reminding Virginia voters of the Clintons and ran a boring, clueless, inept campaign? Or was his loss simply the predictable product of off-year politics and the bad luck of being the party in power in the White House?

Pundits are ganging up all these reasons and coming up with even more, but I think it's easy to get if you consider a political fact of life, for which Democrats have failed to account for decades. Democrats don't get to choose the issues Republicans run on. There may be many reasons Democrats did so poorly in Virginia on Tuesday, voter turnout among them, but there's one reason Youngkin took the win. He did what Republicans have gotten away with for decades. With his harping on critical race theory (CRT), he practiced dog-whistle politics with a wave and a smile.

He was also the beneficiary of Democrats selling Trump short for the umpteenth time. He's a pumpkin-skinned buffoon and a contemptible fascist asshole, but he's a crafty politician. In case you haven't noticed, Trump's new strategy is to continue to feed red meat to his base at his rallies, which may as well be taking place under glass domes as far as non-Fox News America is concerned, while quietly not saying anything bad about other Republicans — other than Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, that is. Those who simply abide by the cardinal rule of not talking trash about Trump get a pass.

Call it the wink-and-a-nod strategy. Trump didn't have to loudly endorse Youngkin because, just as everybody knew that "Let's go Brandon" meant "Fuck Joe Biden," Virginia Republicans knew that Trump's apparent distance from Youngkin meant that they should vote for him.

Youngkin picked up critical race theory and ran with it like a fumbled football. Every time he opened his mouth and those words came out, it was like Richard Nixon's dark warnings about "inner cities" or Ronald Reagan's imagined "welfare queens." Virginia Republicans could hear a dog-whistle like CRT a mile off, and it left independents free to embrace it as a serious issue without bothering to learn what it meant. Republicans knew what Youngkin was saying without him coming out and saying it: I'm going to keep "them" in their place for you.

It was classic modern Republican politics: racism without racist invective, Trumpism with a wink. Democrats are going to run into these smiling-faced Republicans with their shirt sleeves rolled up again and again as we get closer to the 2022 midterms. They're going to camouflage their insurrectionist beliefs with fleece vests and suburban mom-friendly pablum, and Democrats had better be ready for them. But what do you do about the Republican lies about critical race theory?

Democrats have to take away Republican slogans before they can come up with them. Biden's slogan, if he runs in 2024, should be "Joe Biden: President of the Greatest Country in the World." Congressional Democrats and others should run on "Protect Our Children." Democrats have got to learn to play fill-in-the-blanks politics. We can understand that "protect our children" means teach them the truth about racism and slavery, but please! Leave that out of the slogan. Let voters decide what "protect our children" means. Youngkin got away with his bullshit about CRT by lying about it and by letting his voters fill in the blanks. Same with his silence about "stop the steal." He didn't have to praise Trump out loud to let voters know he's on his side. They filled in the blanks for him.

What does "protect our children" really mean? Well, what did "Make America Great Again" mean? Trump let his voters fill in the blanks, and Democrats should let voters fill in the blanks when they say "protect our children." What's there to argue about with that slogan? Don't make the mistake of trying to combat the lies about CRT — for example, by saying that it portrays accurately America's history with slavery and race and besides, it isn't taught in schools anyway. Don't argue it, finesse it.

The Republican Party isn't a political party anymore. It's a safe deposit box filled with grievance and anger and hate. But because the Republican Party is the only other party on the ballot and their candidates — especially when they're blown-dry and fleece-clad — present independent voters with a place to register their frustration and impatience (see the NBC News poll finding that 71 percent think America is "on the wrong track"), and express their annoyance with "divisive" and "negative" politics. Don't bother pointing out who is actually being divisive and negative. Accept that in this political climate, facts like that don't matter. Independents need a place to use their votes to tell the party in power what they think, and Republicans, bless their black little hearts, are it.

Democrats don't have to worry about their own voters, other than turning them out. But Democrats have to become the place where they can vote for something. It's been said again and again that all the separate elements of the Build Back Better bill are very popular with voters. Polling shows overwhelming support for some of it. So take those elements everybody loves and shout them from the rooftops. You want lower middle-class taxes? That's us! You want free universal pre-K (read: child care for many parents)? Here we are! You want good roads and bridges that don't fall down? We've got them right here!

Republicans are going to show their true stripes when the infrastructure bill finally comes up for a vote in the House. It will be a big surprise if more than a dozen vote for it. So clobber them with it. How can they be the party of blue-collar workers — a big talking point for Republicans, when they're not cutting taxes on billionaires — when they're against the biggest blue-collar jobs bill since the Interstate Highway Act?

Democrats have to learn to be for the stuff voters like — and to finesse the rest of it. If Youngkin could run a campaign by finessing his stand on "stop the steal" and Donald Trump's attempted coup, Democrats can finesse CRT.

Don't argue with provable lies — nobody wants to hear your proof. Don't pick at Trump like he's an issue you can run on. He's a scab that won't come off, and he doesn't bleed. Come up with slogans that take a positive stand. Tell voters who you are and what you stand for. They'll fill in the blanks.

Trump has embraced the narrative of the defeated South: Lie — and double down on vicious bigotry

Perhaps the biggest of many imponderables about Donald Trump has always been the question of what playbook was he following? His 2016 campaign didn't have a plan beyond questioning the manhood of his male primary rivals and ceaseless yapping about Hillary Clinton's "emails." His 2020 campaign never found a focus until October, when he seized upon his victory over his own case of COVID-19 as evidence of his manhood. Remember his return from Walter Reed Medical Center to the White House? Trump was ripping off his mask on the Truman balcony! That'll show 'em!

In between campaigns, Trump's presidency seemed aimless, stumbling vaguely forward from one indictment to another until the time came to issue pardons, which we soon learned was his "favorite" presidential power — not being commander in chief, not ordering up Air Force One to fly him off on his many golf weekends, not even being able to pick up his bedside phone in the middle of the night and order a Big Mac and a Diet Coke. The pardon power was it.

Losing the election in November and having to move out of the White House has given him something to focus on, however. He never cared about governing and didn't have much of an ideology to guide him, but he's finally found something he can believe in and a playbook he can follow: his very own Lost Cause. Trump has embraced with gusto the South's strategy after losing the Civil War: Tell your own people that you didn't really lose, and double down on the nobility and honor of what they still believe in. In the case of the Civil War, it was slavery and the inherent superiority of whiteness and inferiority of blackness. The new Lost Cause is of course Trump himself, to whom his followers attach the same kind of gauzy metaphors that came into use after the Civil War: flags (Trump campaign flags, the Confederate flag and the "Don't Tread on Me" banner are in heavy rotation) songs ("I'm Proud to be an American" by Lee Greenwood and — perhaps not so ironically now — "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones are played at all his rallies) and symbols (Mar-a-Lago has become a kind of antebellum shrine to the garish excess Trump represents).

And of course, most important of all are the lies. The lies told to support the South's Lost Cause were as outrageous as they were numerous: Slaves were well treated by their kind and understanding masters and were far better off than they would have been had they remained with their savage tribes in Africa. The war wasn't fought over slavery, it was fought for the cause of "states' rights." Gender roles were preserved in revanchist amber: Men were the protectors of Southern white women's "honor" and "purity," and women returned the favor by forming the Daughters of the Confederacy and charging themselves with erecting the monuments to Confederate war heroes and the Confederate dead which became ubiquitous throughout the South.

It's hardly necessary to delve into Trump's lies about the election: They have been well documented and confirmed by more than 60 losses in his lawsuits contesting the election's outcome in battleground states. Trump has now launched himself into an adjunct of the Big Lie — the lie that the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6 wasn't violent and wasn't an assault, but merely a "tourist visit" by Trump supporters, while outside agitators and antifa infiltrators committed all the violent acts to tarnish the Trump cause. Trump has turned Ashli Babbitt, killed at the head of a mob as she broke through a door into an area of the Capitol where members of Congress were sheltering, into a martyr. And his minions on Capitol Hill have done everything in their power to stymie and tarnish the work of the House committee investigating the assault, including voting en masse against a nonpartisan commission to investigate the Capitol assault and now opposing the move by the House to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for defying a subpoena to provide documents and testify before the House committee.

Bannon is in the process of transforming himself into a latter-day Robert E. Lee, talking about commanding a 20,000-strong army of "shock troops" he plans to use to intimidate "enemy" voters during the 2022 and 2024 elections.

The centerpiece of Trump's personal Lost Cause is nursing his grudge, and the collective grudge of his followers, against the "elites" they blame for bringing down the dream. Which involves, of course, whipping up the festering sore of resentment and hate that is the Trump "base." The South used the KKK and later the so-called Citizens Councils. Trump has the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. I am certain we're going to learn from the House committee that Trump himself was involved in their deployment on Jan. 6 in the violent assault on the Capitol.

Perhaps the most important way the South promoted its Lost Cause after the Civil War was through electoral and legislative means. The rebellion of Southern states against the Reconstruction laws and the 14th and 15th amendments is instructive. Major figures of the Confederacy took prominent roles in the Democratic Party. The Confederate raider and first Grand Wizard of the KKK, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and other Confederate veterans attended the Democratic convention of 1868 in New York where one of Forrest's friends, Frank Blair Jr., was nominated as the party's candidate for vice president on a ticket with a former governor of New York. Their campaign slogan was "Our Ticket, Our Motto, This Is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule." Speeches against emancipation of the slaves given by Blair were said to contribute to Ulysses S. Grant's comfortable electoral victory.

Later, Southern states would virtually nullify the 14th and 15th amendments by passing the Jim Crow laws, stripping Black citizens of the right to vote and consigning them to subservient roles in the Southern economy and society little better than those they had held as slaves. The South separated itself from the rest of the country by its continuing adherence to the doctrines and practices of white supremacy in its legal and social systems.

Something very similar is going on right now in Republican-controlled states, including all of those that comprised the Confederacy, with state laws being passed to suppress the votes of minorities and gerrymander legislative districts to limit representation by minorities and the Democratic Party in general. It's a kind of legalized second secession by Republican states and the Republican Party, which has remade itself as the Trump Party, parroting Trump's racism and lies about the election and following his lead in Jan. 6 denial.

The words constitutional crisis and slow-motion Civil War have entered the lexicon. Former Republican writers like David Frum, Robert Kagan, Charlie Sykes, David Brock and Max Boot are all over the op-ed pages, warning that Trump and his allies are preparing to "ensure victory by any means necessary."

"The stage is thus being set for chaos," Robert Kaplan wrote recently in a widely shared op-ed in the Washington Post. "Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn't have."

Donald Trump had to be handed a loss in 2020 in order to begin championing his new Lost Cause. There won't be another one. If he runs and wins in 2024, we will not recognize the smoking ruins left by a second Trump victory. It won't take them long to begin erecting statues to Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson and renaming public squares after the "Great Replacement." The only question is, what will the Daughters of the New Confederacy call themselves? The Mistresses of Mar-a-Lago?

Empire of chickenhawks: Why America's chaotic departure from Afghanistan was actually perfect

The biggest fallacy about our exit from Afghanistan is that there was a "good" way for us to get out. There is no good way to lose a war. With defeat comes humiliation. We were humiliated in the way we pulled out of Kabul — and we should have been, because we believed the lies we had been told right up to the last moment.

The lies we heard at the end of our war in Afghanistan wereas the same ones we were told, and were only too happy to believe, for 20 long years: that everything was going swimmingly. Remember earlier in the summer when the headlines were about how the Taliban controlled a large percentage of the territory in Afghanistan, but the Afghan government and its supposed army still controlled the provincial capitals and Kabul, and that was where the power was.

What a total crock of shit. Everyone was shocked — shocked — when the headlines started to come. Aug. 9, from the AP: "Taliban press on, take two more provincial capitals." That story was a doozie. "On Monday they [the Taliban] controlled five of the country's 34 provincial capitals." It didn't really matter which two capitals the Taliban had taken. You had to read way down in the story to discover they were Aybak, capital of Samangan province, and Sar-e-Pul, capital of Sar-e-Pul province. Where the hell were they? Who had even heard of them?

That was Monday. By Wednesday, Aug. 11, here was the headline in Al Jazeera: "Timeline: Afghanistan provincial capitals captured by the Taliban." How many, you might ask? In two days, the count had ballooned from five capitals to 18. Eighteen. Later that day, both Al Jazeera and Reuters were reporting that U.S. intelligence sources were saying that Kabul could "fall to Taliban within 90 days."

Surprise! Three days later, the evacuation of Kabul began. On Sept. 1, two weeks later, CBS News headlined: "This is the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan" with an eerie night-vision video capture of Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, headed up the ramp of a C-17 cargo jet wearing full combat gear including bulletproof vest and helmet with night-vision goggles attached, carrying his M-4 automatic rifle.

How did Afghanistan collapse so quickly to Taliban control? Because "we" — the U.S. military and its NATO allies — never controlled it to begin with. Nor did our puppets in the so-called Afghan government. The idea that we ever did, that we ever "controlled" or even had our finger on the pulse of the "graveyard of empires" was a lie.

You know who told us that lie? Every government from George W. Bush on, and every general ever put in charge of that doomed mission. Every single one of them reported that all was well, that the Afghan army was 300,000 strong, that the Taliban was on the run, that the Afghan air force was taking over from the missions flown by American warplanes, that the Afghans had their own helicopters now. And that the Afghan president, whether it was Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai, was firmly in charge back in Kabul.

And you know who went along with that fiction? The United States Congress, which voted for 20 years to spend the $2 trillion we pissed away over there, and each of the presidents — yes, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump — who approved every increase of troops, every troop withdrawal, every "surge" that was advertised as the solution to end all solutions, the thing that would finally put the Taliban on the run. Remember all the Taliban commanders we were told were killed? A drone strike took out this one! Another drone strike took out that one! Wow! We had to be winning if the Taliban was losing so many important leaders!

And then there were the keyboard commandos back in Washington and New York, and the neocons from the Council on Foreign Relations, and the growing chorus of retired generals — among them all of the commanders of our Afghanistan mission — who were all over the op-ed pages and cable news assuring us that All Was Well, as they racked up the megabucks sitting on the boards of defense contractors selling all the military shit that was winning the war for us. "The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards," the Washington Post reported on Sept. 4, three days after we exited from Kabul with our tail between our legs.

There was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the big "surge" of 2009 that was the answer-to-end-all-answers to every problem we were having over there. He has been "a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies since 2010, according to corporate filings and news releases," the Post reported. There was Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commanded allied forces in 2013 and 2014, who went on to serve on the board of Lockheed Martin, the gigantic defense contractor. There was Gen. John R. Allen, commander in Afghanistan before Dunford, who is the president of the Brookings Institution, which has received $1.5 million over three years from Northrop Grumman, according to the Post. And Gen. David Petraeus, who preceded Allen and now sits on the board of KKR, a private equity firm in New York with many investments in the defense industry.

All of these gentlemen — and let's take a moment to note they are all men, not a female commander among them — reported back to us from their command posts in Afghanistan how well things were going over there, how we were all over the Taliban, how the Afghan government was successfully "standing up" its well-equipped, well-trained army to defend the country from the Taliban. And then they went on cable TV and continued their lies when they got back to the U.S. and retired from the Army, because that's what generals today do. They sit on corporate boards, they give incredibly well-paid speeches, they go on TV and they rake in the Big Bucks because they were so successful in Afghanistan … and in Iraq, too. Remember Petraeus and his "surge" in 2007? Boy, were we ever surging, huh? I remember Newsweek published a cover image of Petraeus in 2004 wearing in his combat fatigues, standing on a tarmac with a Blackhawk helicopter behind him, with the headline: "Can this man save Iraq?" The story, believe it or not, was about how Petraeus was taking over the training of the Iraqi army, and that was what was going to "save Iraq." Don't you think we should have concluded, when the "surge" became necessary in 2007, that Petraeus had utterly failed in his mission to train the Iraqi army and "save Iraq" back in 2004?

The words "crock of shit" again come to mind, but they are far, far from adequate. These presidents, and these members of Congress, and these generals, and these war-happy pundits, ran a great big gigantic con on the citizens of this country who were paying the taxes which — someday, perhaps — will pay for the $2 trillion we pissed away over in Afghanistan, and the trillions we pissed away in Iraq, too. They lied over and over and over again that with just another troop surge, or another troop withdrawal (because suddenly everything was hunky-dory) and of course just another infusion of billions and billions of dollars and the lost of a couple thousand more American lives we could "win" in Afghanistan and "win" in Iraq.

Over there, they laughed at us. The Afghans and the Iraqis who took the money, took all the equipment we gave them, took 20 years of our politics and our "prestige" as a nation, and the whole time they were laughing their heads off, because they knew what we didn't know. None of it was working. None of it would ever work. And one day we would be headed out of both countries with our tails between our legs, because that's what you do when you lose.

That's why our frantic, chaotic exit from Kabul was perfect, because it perfectly capped off 20 years of lies about what was really going on over there, 20 years of frantic, chaotic thrashing around and throwing money and the bodies of young American men and women at a problem that could never be solved. It was an enormous delusion that we, the United States of America, could march into those countries thousands of miles away from our shores and — if we spent enough money and invented and fielded enough "mine resistant vehicles" and fired enough missiles from enough drones at enough "Taliban commanders" — could somehow emerge from those quagmires victorious.

We couldn't, and we didn't, and when that American major general, all kitted-out in the combat gear we spent 20 years dressing our soldiers in, scampered up the ramp of that cargo jet to steal away from the Kabul airport in the middle of the night, it was the absolute perfect ending to the perfect disaster the war in Afghanistan had always been. We were humiliated in front of the entire world, as we should have been. The way we left Afghanistan "did damage to our credibility and to our reputation," the famous Gen. Petraeus told CBS when it was all over.

Yeah, it did, Dave, and it should have. Maybe now the geniuses who got us into those godforsaken disastrous wars and kept us there will think twice before they do it again.

Except, wait. That was supposed to have been the great "lesson of Vietnam." Never mind.

The GOP has become the death wish party

"Death Wish" was a hit movie in 1974, starring Charles Bronson as a violent vigilante. Now it's the primary motivation for the Republican Party. As of this week, in 13 states you have a legal right not merely to have a death wish but to inflict it on others by refusing to get vaccinated against COVID. In 21 more states, bills have been introduced that would limit any requirements that individuals produce evidence that they have been vaccinated. In six of those states, the laws specify that schools, including public primary and secondary schools and public colleges, cannot require coronavirus vaccines, even while the same schools continue to require vaccinations against whooping cough, polio, measles and chicken pox.

"It seems to be kind of a mixed bag of all the things going on here — there's the limiting of requiring proof of vaccine, there's the limiting of requiring the vaccination itself, the prohibition of the mandates. So, there's a lot," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.

These bills are being called "vaccine freedom laws," as in, you have a right to be free of the vaccines against COVID. What's not a mixed bag is the political leaning of the states. All the states where such laws are in effect are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

You could call them the death wish states, or the Kevorkian states, after the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who was jailed for eight years after assisting a man to commit suicide who suffered from ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease. So if you want to enjoy your freedom to catch COVID and possibly die, those 13 states are the states for you. In six of them, you are guaranteed the freedom to subject your unvaccinated children to the virus as well.

At the same time the Republican Party is moving to protect your right to refuse the COVID vaccine, rates of infection are on the rise across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, the new case rate is 10 percent higher in 46 states than it was last week. According to CNN, "In 31 states, new cases this past week are at least 50% higher than new cases the previous week."

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN that more than 99 percent of deaths from Covid in June were unvaccinated patients. CNN reports that "the vast majority of new Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths … are among unvaccinated people, doctors say."

The Delta variant of the virus is causing more infections among children and young adults than before. In Missouri, where just 39 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, the situation is so bad that the CDC and FEMA have sent teams of specialists to the state to help stop the spread of the disease. "We've been seeing a much younger population," Dr. Harold Jarvis, an emergency physician in Springfield, Missouri, told CNN. "We're seeing a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, early 50s. We're seeing some teenagers and some pediatric patients as well."

Missouri is one of the states that has passed a law forbidding the requirement of a COVID vaccine or evidence of vaccination such as a so-called vaccine passport.

In Mississippi, where the vaccination rate is only 33 percent, seven children are in intensive care with COVID disease and two are on ventilators, according to the state health officer, Thomas Dobbs. On Monday, Dobbs tweeted "Pretty much ALL cases in MS are Delta variant right now. Vast majority of cases/hospitalizations/deaths UNVACCINATED." By Wednesday, Dobbs was tweeting that the state had suffered a "Big jump," and reported 641 new cases and five deaths in one day, along with 36 new outbreaks of the virus in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

Mississippi has three bills pending before the state legislature that would prohibit issuing a "vaccine passport" and prohibit businesses and state facilities from requiring proof of vaccination.. One bill has passed both houses of the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

But it's in Tennessee that promotion of the Republican death wish has reached its nadir. On Monday, the state fired its top immunization official for her efforts to get teenagers vaccinated against the COVID virus. "This is about a partisan issue around covid vaccines and around people in power in Tennessee not believing in the importance in vaccinating the people, and so they terminated the person in charge of getting it done," Michelle Fiscus told the Washington Post. She was director of all immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health. "The government is sacrificing public health to be in the good graces of our legislators; it's a horrid dereliction of duty," she said on Monday. The Tennessean, the state's largest daily newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the state would stop promoting vaccinations for all teenagers, and would cease sending out reminders for teenagers who had received one vaccination to get their second dose.

That's more than a death wish. With 99 percent of all deaths from Covid among the unvaccinated, that is more like the organized and state-sanctioned killing of children.

I've been reading these stories all week and trying to figure out what's driving this madness. The evidence is out there for everyone to see. There can't be a state legislator or governor in this country who isn't aware that virtually all people who come down with COVID today, and 98 or 99 percent of those who die from the disease, are unvaccinated. They have to be aware of the fact, and it is a fact, that if you want to avoid being hospitalized with this disease and dying from it, a vaccination will not only help, it will absolutely prevent both outcomes.

They're not just standing up and speaking out against the COVID vaccines, they are passing laws with the express purpose of making it easier for people to refuse vaccinations. In some cases, these laws are specifically aimed at school-age children. It's one thing to put your adult neighbors and employees and fellow workers at risk. It's quite another to put not only your children, but all children at greater risk of getting sick with a virus that, with the spread of the Delta Variant, is showing signs of being deadly to children as well as adults.

The only answer I've been able to come up with is the obvious one. It's about politics, and not just any politics. These Republican death wish laws have one purpose: they are designed to make President Biden's push to get all Americans vaccinated fail. Republicans at the CPAC gathering last week in Dallas were laughing at references to Biden's goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by the Fourth of July. One speaker received an ovation when he told the crowd, "The government was hoping they could sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated. And it isn't happening."

"The government," of course, is no longer being run by the man the whole CPAC conference was designed to celebrate, former president Donald Trump. It's run by the man who beat him, Joe Biden, and the Republican Party seems determined to do as much damage to his vaccination program as they can, even if that means enacting laws that will surely cause more people to get sick from the virus and die.

Republicans have become the death wish party. Unsatisfied with passing laws to take away people's right to vote, they have moved on to passing laws that will, without a doubt, take away people's right to life.

Republicans don't want an investigation of Jan. 6 — because they hope it will happen again. With more violence

You want to know what has doomed Nancy Pelosi's attempts to get a bipartisan agreement to investigate the violent assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6? Every time she has talked about why we need a bipartisan commission or the select committee, she said they were necessary "so nothing like this will ever happen again."

Republicans aren't against investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection because they fear it will make them look bad. They're against doing anything to make sure that such an insurrection doesn't happen again.

The assault on the Capitol is already damaging to the Republican Party image, at least to outsiders. The Capitol was attacked by a violent mob of Trump supporters. It's doubtful there were any Democrats among them. The assault took place immediately after a Trump rally on the Ellipse and was incited by the then-president. Several Republican members of Congress joined Trump in addressing the crowd, along with other famous party stalwarts like Rudy Giuliani. It was a Republican rally with a Republican crowd. So was the mob at the Capitol.

Republican members of Congress know it was their supporters out there beating down the doors of the Capitol, ransacking the well of the Senate and looting congressional offices. Republicans don't want to investigate the violence at the Capitol because they want to leave the door open for it to happen again.

Most of them come from safe seats in Republican-majority congressional districts, many of them in Republican-controlled states. Republican senators, not all of them but most, come from Republican states in the South and Midwest. But every one of them can read census numbers, and every one of them understands that their days are numbered, even in states that have been Republican strongholds for decades, like Arizona and Texas. They saw the Election Day returns which showed previously Republican suburbs falling to the Democrats all over the country. They read the depressing voting numbers for millennials and younger voters that show them strongly leaning Democratic. Even a dull, lumbering beast like the Republican Party can tell when a water hole runs dry.

They can read the polls showing how popular Democratic issues are, including improved access to health care, the pandemic rescue bill, the infrastructure bill and the American Family Plan. How many calls have you heard Republicans make lately for repealing Obamacare? How many speeches have you heard them make saying we don't need to spend money on crumbling bridges, obsolete airports and ancient, failing mass transit like the Long Island Railroad or the Chicago Transit Authority or the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority? They don't dare oppose spending that is in any way grounded in reality. All they can come up with is screaming about "socialism" and "Democratic Party wish-lists," because their constituents drive across cracking bridges and commute on failing transit systems and pay a third of their income on rent and a third on child care and way more than they can afford on health care.

Electorally, Republicans are hanging on by their fingernails. In 2020, in the midst of the worst pandemic since 1918, before a single American had received a life-saving vaccination, with 230,000 already dead from the coronavirus and more deaths on the way, voters turned out in record numbers. And Republicans lost. They lost the White House. They lost the House of Representatives. After a runoff election, they lost control of the Senate. They did well locally in Republican-controlled states, maintaining control of state houses and governorships, but they lost ground in the areas where the country is growing. They lost the big cities. They lost the suburbs. They lost in population centers in the South and Midwest and West. They lost in the places where people are moving, where young people are getting jobs when they graduate from college, where many seniors are choosing to retire.

After the 2020 election, Gallup found in a December poll that 31 percent of Americans identified as Democrats, 25 percent as Republicans and 41 percent as independents. When independents were asked whether they were "Democratic leaners" or "Republican leaners," 50 percent said they leaned Democratic, and 39 percent leaned Republican. These were not good numbers for the Republican Party. Nobody knows better than Republicans that there are fewer of them than there are of us.

You've heard chapter and verse from me and others about how Republicans are passing voter suppression laws to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote. They know they don't have the votes. They don't have them now, and they'll have even fewer of them in the future.

That's why they've started to concentrate their efforts at the state level on laws that change how votes are counted and who counts them, moving the center of power from elected officials like secretaries of state and appointed officials like election administrators to state legislatures, inherently political bodies where the counting can be managed and controlled politically.

It's why they're clinging to Trump's lie that the election was stolen from him, and it's why their own efforts to "audit" the 2020 election results in places like Arizona are so shambolic and absurd. They know that if honest assessments are done of how the election turned out in battleground states, they will come to the same conclusions that a 55-page report by the Michigan state Senate did last week: There was no election fraud in the 2020 election. None. Zero. Nada.

They've been downplaying the assault on the Capitol, calling it "a normal tourist visit" as Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia did during a hearing a few weeks ago. He is among a growing number of Republicans in Congress who are making the case that nothing really bad happened on Jan. 6, so there's no need to investigate it. They blocked the creation of a nonpartisan 9/11 style commission to investigate the insurrection, and they're in the process of undercutting Pelosi's select committee by labeling it as a Democratic exercise in blame-laying.

Furthermore, they're absolutely right. When the select committee issues its report, it's going to lay the blame where Republicans want it least: on Trump for inciting the riot, and on their own constituents for committing insurrection against the government. And the select committee will likely produce evidence that Republicans are not interested in seeing in the light of day: detailed accounts of the violence committed by the mob and reports of the preparations some of the mob had taken that we haven't seen yet, such as evidence of weapons caches — and planning by some insurrectionists to use them.

Republicans don't want a report that basically comes out and says, Here's how close we came to a coup against our government, and here is what they are planning next. Laws that put partisan political bodies like legislatures in charge of counting votes make it much more likely that an upcoming election will end up in a political wrangle — not down in the states where the counting takes place, but in Washington.

Think about it: there were no controls whatsoever on that mob in Washington on Jan. 6. Estimates of the size of the crowd at Trump's rally on the Ellipse ran as high as 30,000. More than 800 rioters are estimated to have broken through police barricades and entered the Capitol, with as many as 10,000 outside. They outnumbered police by the thousands.

What if that crowd had been armed? What if instead of carrying iron pipes and bear spray and flag poles they had been carrying AR-15s and pistols? What if some of them were carrying the kinds of bombs that were found outside the Democratic and Republican headquarters? Capitol police couldn't stop them from overwhelming barricades and gaining entrance to the Capitol. Do you think they could have searched that mob for hidden weapons and bombs?

This is why Republicans don't want to see an intensive investigation of the insurrection on Jan. 6. If an investigation proves how bad the insurrection was this time, it might predict what will be possible if a mob of 100,000 or more assault the Capitol or other governmental buildings in Washington, and what that mob might be capable of if they're organized and armed next time.

The Republican Party has reached the point where it does not recognize the legitimacy of elections unless it wins them. Democratic political victories are per se illegitimate in Republican eyes. Republicans are lapping up their own lawlessness and ramping up the insanity. They are turning right-wing lunatics like Kyle Rittenhouse into folk heroes. He is the shooter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who killed two people and wounded a third during Black Lives Matter protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Republican state legislatures in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed laws granting immunity to drivers who hit protesters with their cars during demonstrations on public streets. Multiple states already have laws allowing both open and concealed carry of firearms without a license, with more such laws on the way.

These are the kinds of laws that not only allow insurrection, but encourage it. The Proud Boys and the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers and their ilk aren't the right's political fringe anymore. They are the Republican base — and the Republican future.

Donald Trump and the new Lost Cause

Lies are a denomination of power. The bigger the lie, the more power it represents. Right now in this country, we are being treated daily to the Big Lie that Donald Trump was the true winner of the presidential election of 2020, and the only reason he's not in the White House right now is because the election was stolen from him.

You may have noticed that the people pushing the Big Lie today are very good at it. This is because many of them have been pushing an even bigger Big Lie for most of their lives: the lie of the Lost Cause, that the Civil War wasn't really fought over the disgraceful secession of the Southern states and slavery, it was instead a noble cause fought for the "honor" of the South, and that slavery itself wasn't bad or immoral, because enslaved people were happy workers living much better lives than they would have lived where they came from in Africa.

The Lost Cause was — or still is, because it lives today across a broad swath of America — the foundational ethos of racism and was used to perpetuate the racial crimes of the Jim Crow era, when Black Americans in the South were stripped of the right to vote and segregated from whites and subjected to the pernicious political and social discriminatory practices of white supremacy.

The Civil War was, of course, lost by the Confederacy, but you wouldn't know it if you lived in the South through the disgraceful years of Jim Crow or even today in the states which comprised the Confederacy. One of the truths about wars is that they are often won or lost not in the big battles which become famous and end up celebrated — or lamented — in the history books, but in smaller out-of-the-way battles that get largely forgotten.

The battle of Franklin, Tennessee, was one such battle in the Civil War. Little celebrated in the history books or anywhere except Franklin itself, the battle was fought late in the war, on November 30, 1864, and was part of the campaign by the Army of Tennessee following the Confederate defeat by the Union Army of Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman in the battle of Atlanta. Commanded by Confederate General John Bell Hood, the Army of Tennessee, instead of pursuing Sherman after he left Atlanta and began his famous "March to the Sea," turned westward and began a campaign to take Nashville from the Union forces which occupied this important manufacturing center of the South.

The battle of Franklin and the battle of Nashville, which followed quickly on its heels, were a disaster for the Confederacy. The Army of Tennessee began its campaign with 38,000 men in November of 1864. By January of 1865, the Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, who was in overall command of the Confederate armies in the West, would report to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, that his army was reduced in strength to 15,000, having lost more than 6,000 men on a single day in the battle of Franklin, and 2,500 more in the battle of Nashville. More than 2,000 losses were attributed to desertion in the ranks during both battles.

John Bell Hood was incompetent as a tactician and bloody awful as a combat commander. His campaign after the loss in Atlanta was "unfortunate" in the words of some sympathetic texts about the war. Confederate losses in the battle of Franklin were by some counts the largest in a single day in the war. Fourteen Confederate generals were either killed or wounded, along with 55 regimental commanders, decimating the leadership of the Confederate army in the west.

While living in Franklin a few years back, I visited part of the Franklin battlefield at Carnton Plantation with my son on a Cub Scout troop excursion. The house was transformed into a Confederate hospital during the battle of Franklin, and on the property is a cemetery containing 1,481 Confederate graves. The 48-acre site was the location of a plantation consisting of about 1,000 acres of land owned by Randal McGavock, who had been a state supreme court clerk and mayor of Nashville. The 1850 census showed 28 enslaved people working at the Carnton plantation. The plantation house and all the outbuildings, including a large sawmill, were built with slave labor. Records show that in 1859, McGavock's son John, who had inherited the plantation upon his father's death, "purchased a slave" for $2500 to run his sawmill. Currently owned by the Battle of Franklin Trust, you can visit the "historic" site seven days a week. An adult ticket costs $18, a child's ticket $8. All of the land you walk on was worked by the people enslaved at Carnton plantation. Every structure you walk through on the tour was built by enslaved people. Throughout the time the plantation existed, there were more enslaved people on the property than there were white people who owned them.

During the tour of the house, I was stricken by the way the docent described the battle of Franklin. Facing a group of us from a few steps up on the house's grand staircase, with a lavishly furnished entrance hall behind us, the docent went on at some length about what an "idiot" General Hood was, how he should never have been given command of a Confederate army, how his foolishness had led to so many sad deaths on the day of the battle. All of those now lying in the cemetery less than a hundred yards from the house were killed under Hood's command, due to his malfeasance as a commanding general. The docent's emphasis throughout his talk was on the tragedy of the deaths of so many good Southern boys. He didn't mention once the "cause" they fought for. In fact, the the words "slave" or "slavery" didn't pass his lips. It was as if the fact of slavery and the enslaved people owned by the McGavock family didn't exist.

Outside we had passed reenactors in Confederate army costumes. Inside the house, listening to the docent describe the incompetent General Hood and the incredible losses suffered in the battle, we could hear the reenactors firing blanks, showing the tourists how the Confederate soldiers fired their rifles. Omitted from the reenactor's demonstration was the fact that their rifles were fired in vain in a battle that cost the lives of several thousand Confederate soldiers attired just like them.

It was impossible to miss the implications of the whole scene at the plantation. The life of the distinguished McGavock family within the house was orderly, elegant, refined. The furnishings in the house were beautiful. The battle, as reenacted in a minor way outside and described by the docent inside, was tragic only in that the dastardly Hood had lost it. The Confederate soldiers had fought bravely, nobly for their cause, the Lost Cause that was on display all around us in the structures and land and furnishings. Unstated was the fact that the house itself was built by the enslaved and furnished and cleaned by them, the land was worked by the enslaved, indeed the life of the McGavock family had been made possible by slavery.

Carnton in its day was one of the grandest plantations in the whole Nashville area and had been voted "best farm" at the Williamson County Fair in 1860. For your $18 admission fee, you support the Franklin Battlefield Trust and visit this tribute to the nobility of a time and a way of life that is still celebrated in Tennessee and at similar sites of plantations and other battlefields across the South. Cherished for its "historical" value, the Carnton plantation is all the evidence you need that the Lost Cause was lost in name only.

The Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat at the polls is being celebrated in much the same way every day across the land by his supporters who send money to his political action committee, who buy and wear MAGA gear, who wave huge TRUMP flags alongside Confederate flags at MAGA demonstrations, and of course who wore and waved all of their Trump gear when thousands of them assaulted the Capitol on January 6 in his name.

Some of them are even paying for memberships to his personal plantation at Mar-a-Lago, and to his golf clubs in Sterling, Virginia; Bedminster, New Jersey; and Briarcliff Manor, New York. It has recently been reported that Trump himself has been seen wandering through Mar-a-Lago and his golf clubs, stopping to visit gatherings of members at their weddings and birthdays — in effect acting as his own docent, delivering lengthy descriptions of the Battle of the 2020 Election, which while lost, was nonetheless fought valiantly, nobly by his supporters. The battle is still being fought today in places like Arizona by his own army laboring tirelessly in reenactments in their so-called "audit" as they shove ballots beneath black lights looking for shreds of bamboo fibers which would show their origin in China and give evidence of having been "stuffed" into ballot boxes on election day on behalf of the dastardly Joe Biden.

They're going to keep this up. They've kept up the fiction of the Lost Cause of the South's defeat in the Civil War for more than 150 years, so why shouldn't they keep pushing the Lost Cause of Donald Trump's defeat in the election of 2020? The South has been enslaved by the lies they have told about the Civil War. Look at John Bell Hood! They even managed to get a United States Army base named after the man who lost more Confederate soldiers on a single day than anyone during the entire war! Why give up now? Next thing you know, they'll be pushing to erect monuments to General Michael "Let's have a coup!" Flynn! If they can celebrate the criminally incompetent Hood, why not the criminally pardoned Flynn? Why not rename the FBI building after Rudy "Hunter Biden! Burisma!" Giuliani? Or re-name the building housing the Department of Justice after William "What Mueller report?" Barr? Or erect a grand statue of Mitch "I forgot where I was on January 6" McConnell? Or name a federal courthouse after Sidney "I lost every election lawsuit I filed" Powell?

Just watch what they're going to do with the assault on the Capitol, which is perfect for the Lost Cause of Donald Trump. It's like their very own Battle of Franklin. They failed to stop the certification of the Electoral College ballots. Joe Biden was named president. They lost the battle of the Capitol, 400 have been indicted, and they accomplished exactly nothing. All they need now is a new Lost Cause battle flag. Or maybe they'll just adopt the old one, the Confederate battle flag, because that's what the followers of the new Lost Cause have become: Donald Trump's Confederacy of Dunces.

The Pentagon's disastrous F-35 saga: The military-industrial complex spent $2 trillion on a dud

Somehow the United States has managed to develop a fighter jet for all three services — the Air Force, Navy and Marines — that goes for $100 million apiece, ran up almost a half-trillion dollars in total development costs, will cost almost $2 trillion over the life of the plane, and yet it can't be flown safely.

How did this happen, you ask? Well, it's a long, complicated story, but basically it involves taking something that's supposed to do one thing and do it well, like take off from the ground and fly really fast, and adding stuff like being able to take off and land on an aircraft carrier or hover like a hummingbird.

That's why they call it the "flying Swiss Army knife." Have you ever tried to use one of the things? First of all, you can't find the knife blade, hidden as it is among scissors and screwdrivers and can openers and nose hair tweezers and nail files and pliers. The geniuses at the Pentagon decided they needed to replace the aging F-16 fighter, and everybody wanted in on it.

The F-16 is what you would call the M1A1 airplane of U.S. forces. The Air Force currently has about 1,450 of the planes, with 700 of those in the active duty Air Force, about 700 in the Air National Guard, and 50 in the Reserves. General Dynamics has built about 4,600 of them since the plane became operational in the mid-1970s, and they are used by allied air forces all over the world. You fill them up with jet fuel, push the starter button and take off. It will fly at twice the speed of sound, it will carry 15 different bombs, including two nuclear weapons, it can shoot down enemy aircraft with five different varieties of air-to-air missiles, it can knock out ground targets with four different air-to-ground missiles, and it can carry two kinds of anti-ship missiles. The thing is an all-around killing machine.

The F-35, on the other hand, can't fly at twice the speed of sound. In fact, it comes with what amounts to a warning label on its control panel marking supersonic flight as "for emergency use only." So it's OK to fly the thing like a 737, but if you want to go really fast, you have to ask permission, which promises to work really, really well in a dogfight. What are pilots going to do if they're being pursued by a supersonic enemy jet?

The F-35 will carry four different air-to-air missiles, six air-to-ground missiles and one anti-ship missile, but the problem is, all of them have to be fired from the air, and right now, the F-35 isn't yet "operational," which means, essentially, that it's so unsafe to fly the damn things, they spend most of their time parked.

Take the problem they have with switches. The developers of the F-35 decided to go with touchscreen switches rather than the physical ones used in other fighters, like toggles or rocker switches. That would be nice if they worked, but pilots report that the touchscreen switches don't function 20 percent of the time. So you're flying along, and you want to drop your landing gear to land, but your touchscreen decides "not this time, pal" and refuses to work. How would you like to be driving your car and have your brakes decide not to work 20 percent of the time, like, say, when you're approaching a red light at a major intersection?

But it gets worse. The heat coating on the engine's rotor blades is failing at a rate that leaves 5 to 6 percent of the F-35 fleet parked on the tarmac at any given time, awaiting not just engine repairs, but total replacement. Then there's the canopy. You know what a canopy is, don't you? It's the clear bubble pilots look through so they can see to take off and land, not to mention see other aircraft, such as enemy aircraft. Well, it seems F-35 canopies have decided to "delaminate" at inappropriate times, making flying the things dangerous if not impossible. So many of them have failed that the Pentagon has had to fund an entirely new canopy manufacturer to make replacements.

There's also the problem with the plane's "stealth" capability, which is compromised if you fly the thing too fast, because the coating that makes the plane invisible to radar has a bad habit of peeling off, making the planes completely visible to enemy radar.

But fear not, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. has come up with a solution. He announced last week that henceforth, the Pentagon is going to treat the F-35 as the "Ferrari" of the U.S. combat air fleet. "You don't drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our 'high end' fighter, we want to make sure we don't use it all for the low-end fight," he said in a press conference on Feb. 17.

Got it. If an enemy decides to start a war on a Tuesday or Wednesday, we'll just "drive" our aging F-16's, so our precious F-35s can be left in the garage waiting for good weather on Sunday. I'm sure we can get everyone to sign up for the "we'll only go to war on Sunday" treaty.

The F-35 can be understood best as a na-na-na-na-na problem. Originally developed for the Air Force, the minute the thing was on the drafting table, the Navy and Marines started crying, "Hey, what about us?" To quiet the jealous fit being thrown by the other services, the Pentagon agreed to turn the thing into the "Swiss Army knife" it has become.

A variant capable of taking off from and landing on carriers was promised to the Navy, with bigger wings and a tail hook. Except the tail hook refused to work for the first two years it was tested, meaning that every carrier landing had to take place in sight of land so the Navy F-35 could fly over to the coast and land safely on a runway.

The Marine variety had to be capable of vertical takeoff and landing, because the Navy was jealous of its carriers and would only agree to allow the Marines to have mini-carriers with landing surfaces big enough for vertical use. That meant the Marine version had to be redesigned so it had a big flap under the engine to divert thrust so the thing could land on Marine ships. This meant the Marine version had added weight and space that would otherwise be used to carry weapons.

So you're a Marine, and you're flying along in your F-35 and an enemy comes along and starts shooting at you, and you shoot back and miss, but you don't have another missile, because where that missile should be is where your damn vertical landing flap is.

Maybe they should just issue F-35 pilots a bunch of flags to use when they take to the air, and then they'd be ready for anything. Tail starts coming off because you went supersonic for too long? Fly your NO FAIR flag. Cockpit delaminating? Grab your JUST A MINUTE I can't see you flag. Engine rotor blades burning up? That would be the OOOPS can't dogfight right now, I'm waiting on a replacement engine flag.

Not to worry, pilots, the Pentagon is on the problem and they have a solution. Brown says they're going back to the drawing board for a "fifth generation-minus" fighter jet, meaning they want to come up with something that looks like and flies like and has the combat capabilities of the good old F-16. Only problem is, if you use the F-35 project as a benchmark, it will be two decades before the "minus" jet is operational. Until then, guys, have fun watching your F-35's gather dust on the tarmac while you continue to fly your F-16's, which will be older than the average pilot's grandfather by the time the new plane is ready.

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time in the GOP's new civil war

They didn't bother with writing articles of secession this time. No, Ken Paxton, the disgraced attorney general of the state of Texas, did that for them when he filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the presidential election. On Wednesday, Missouri and 16 other states filed a brief with the court seeking to join the Texas lawsuit, which alleges that the four decisive swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia violated the Constitution by allowing mail-in voting in the November election. On Thursday, a majority of the Republican caucus in the House, 126 members of Congress, signed on to the lawsuit along with the instigator in chief, Donald Trump. Twenty-five states and territories signed a brief opposing the Texas lawsuit. Friday evening, the Supreme Court rejected the suit out of hand.

The 18 states and 126 members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are seceding from democracy. It amounts to nothing less than an act of sedition by the entire Republican Party, 70 percent of whom believe that Joe Biden's election was illegitimate, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday. In contrast, 98 percent of Democrats think Biden's victory was legitimate, along with 62 percent of independents.

The last time anything like this happened was in 1860, when the election of Abraham Lincoln led almost immediately to declarations of secession by seven states between Dec. 20, 1860 and Feb. 1, 1861. Two months later, on April 12, the bombardment of Fort Sumter began, and the Civil War was underway.

It's not a shooting war — yet — but Texas didn't just file a lawsuit this week, it set a match to the Constitution of the United States. It isn't just that these Republicans don't recognize Joe Biden as our next president. They don't want to be part of the democracy that this country was founded on. They don't respect the votes of their fellow citizens. They don't want what more than 80 million people wanted when they cast their votes in this election. They want what Donald Trump wants.

Thankfully, it's not the whole country. The Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of registered voters think that Biden's victory was legitimate. But it wasn't the whole country in 1860, either. It was only after the election of Lincoln that the Southern states seceded from the Union over the issue of slavery.

This time there isn't a single issue, there's a single man: Donald Trump. In this way, what's happening right now in this country is eerily similar to what happened in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s with Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Trump has identified and used the same sort of mass hysteria Hitler did — a sense of resentment among his supporters that somehow they have been left behind and misunderstood and humiliated, and that only he, Trump, understands them and is willing to stand up for them and will bring back their rightful way of life.

So far, Trump has only played around with the kind of violence that Hitler made use of to achieve power and then consolidate it. Trump used implied violence in the chants of "Lock her up" that energized supporters at his rallies in 2016 and throughout the campaign of 2020. By staying silent this year when armed protesters occupied the State Capitol in Michigan, Trump implied his support, and his exhortations to "liberate" states that were mandating lockdowns to fight COVID were taken by many as invitations to violence.

Now armed protesters have gathered outside the home of the Michigan secretary of state, and Georgia election officials report that they are receiving death threats and racist voice mails. The Republican Party of Arizona has retweeted exhortations from those who say, "I'm willing to give up my life for this fight," suggesting it's time to "die for something." The New York Times reported this week that the chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has said that "people on Twitter have posted photographs of my house." Another tweet mentioned her children and threatened "I've heard you'll have quite a crowd of patriots showing up at your door."

The conservative website The Bulwark reported this week that far-right websites have been posting addresses and other personal information about Republican elected officials in Georgia, superimposing target crosshairs over images of their faces. Right-wing Republicans are in full cheerleader mode trying to turn Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of murdering two people and wounding another at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest, into a hero of the Trump cause. A Democratic state representative in Pennsylvania told the New York Times that "we've been getting emails all the time, all hours of the day and night," and that "they're getting more angry, and a lot of calls are saying we won't be forgetting."

This kind of stuff is not a joke. The fantastic lie that has gripped the Republican Party started out with everyone going along with Trump's fantasy and kind of humoring him. But now it's taken a deadly turn. Trump has been calling Republican state representatives on the phone and pressuring them to go along with his demands that they ignore the votes that have taken place in swing states and appoint electors that will vote for him. If they step out of line, they're branded as traitors, cowards, RINOs. He's doing this kind of stuff to his own people, to loyal Republicans who have voted the party line since they were in short pants.

When you add in what's been happening in red states with COVID, it's jaw-dropping. Governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures are so intimidated that they won't pass mask mandates and bar closures, not to mention rules against mass gatherings. COVID cases and hospitalizations in red states are off the charts. They are lining up refrigerated trucks outside hospitals in states like North and South Dakota. Republicans are killing their own people in craven attempts to keep Donald Trump from attacking them on Twitter. God only knows what's going to happen in those states when the COVID vaccines become widely available, although we're getting some idea with reports of people standing up at meetings of county commissioners pledging not only that they won't wear masks, they'll also refuse to be vaccinated.

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time. These people have lost their minds. They have seceded from sanity and reason. This Civil War isn't being fought with rifles and pistols. It's a war fought with lies and delusions. This week it passed the number of Americans killed in World War II, and its victims are just as dead as the bodies buried at Anzio and Normandy. Americans are dying every time Mitch McConnell stands up and blocks a COVID relief bill. They are dying every time a Republican senator like Ron Johnson presents testimony from an anti-vaxxer as if it were a sane person instead of an outright idiot. They're dying by the thousands with their mask-less hubris. They're dying for Donald Trump, but at least for now, our democracy has not died with them.

How Donald Trump's insatiable hunger for more bilked the US government for $2.5 billion

Remember this number: $3.

That's how much Trump charged the federal government for a glass of water in April of 2018 when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. According to the Washington Post, Trump's company also charged the government "$13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements," over the two days he held meetings with Abe at the resort. But one day, Trump was scheduled to meet with Abe without aides and advisers, with no meal service or cocktails or any other celebratory nonsense. Just the two leaders, alone in a room, talking. According to the Post, the bill for that day contained a line item reading, "Bilateral meeting. Water. $3.00 each."

Donald Trump has been paid "at least $2.5 million by the U.S. government," since taking office, according to official documents obtained by the Post. Trump has made more than 280 visits to his own hotels and golf clubs over the last four years, and the payments covered costs for "hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." according to the Post.

And water. A total of six bucks for water, no charge being too small to make it onto a bill to the government for a payment going straight into the pocket of the man who owns the Trump Organization and everything it comprises, including his resort in Palm Beach.

It's apparently a good part of what the Trump base likes about him — his appetites, his pure, unadulterated, money-grubbing-right-down-to-$3-for-water greed. Trump has wanted more his entire life. He wants more money, of course. He has spent a lifetime in pursuit of more money, and then some more, and more and more. He borrowed so much money in pursuit of even more money that it drove him into bankruptcy, several bankruptcies in fact. Today, as president, he is said to be in debt for nearly $1 billion to banks and other lenders, a debt that will come due within the next few years, according to the New York Times and other reports.

Trump wants more fame, a drive that started off with mentions in gossip columns like the New York Post's "Page Six," during the years he was coming into his own as a builder in New York City. He used to call gossip columnists and plant items about himself, posing as a PR person, and then he would call the columnists the next day and comment on their mention of him in order to gain yet another column inch or two in the tabloids. Some said he ran for president back in 2016 to "burnish his brand," to achieve even more fame and use it to make even more money. Since he became president, he has been relentless in his pursuit of attention, tweeting at all hours, criticizing cable networks who don't give him enough coverage, calling in to shows like "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" both to reward them for the coverage they've already given him, and to get more coverage.

He wants more women, from wife No. 1, Ivana, when he was just starting out, to wife No. 2, Marla Maples, after he jettisoned Ivana, and now wife No. 3, Melania, who replaced No. 2 when he determined she had a few too many miles on her. And then there were all the women in between, in and among his marriages, the women he groped on airplanes and at bars and during parties, the women he (allegedly) raped in places like a Bergdorf's dressing room or a hotel room or a bathroom during a party, the women whose mouths he forced his tongue down, the women he pushed up against walls and pressed himself against, the women whose bodies he commented on in offices or across rooms, the women whose skirts he put his hand up at restaurant tables, the women whose breasts he grabbed at tennis tournaments and beauty pageants, the women whose rear ends he grabbed in green rooms before television show tapings, the women he dragged behind curtains at New Year's Eve parties and forcibly kissed and groped. All of those women. Trump wanted their bodies and their mouths and he took them without asking permission because he was Donald Trump, and he took what he wanted.

He wanted more golf, so he played more golf more frequently than any president before him. He wanted so much golf that he went around the world buying and building his own golf courses, and then he played them, because he owned them, and because he owned the golf carts, as president he could charge the government for his own Secret Service agents. He could even charge the government for the hotel rooms the agents stayed in while they protected him. He charged the government $17,000 a month for a cottage at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course, which the Secret Service had to rent month after month just in case he had a mind to play a round of golf.

Trump wants more adulation, more love from the "base," and when he feels he isn't getting enough, he tweets. There aren't enough hours in the day for Donald Trump. He was up at 3 a.m. this week, tweeting about the Supreme Court, the court to which he has appointed three arch-conservative justices, yelling at them for their recent decisions allowing mail-in votes to be counted after Election Day, because of course, he wants more votes. He's been up at 3 a.m. tweeting before, taunting a Miss Universe contestant for a "sex tape," taunting CNN as "low rated," bragging about his debate performance, yelling at polls that show him losing.

And now Trump is making his final campaign swing through the "battleground states," feeding the insatiable need of his base for more of himself. "Four more years" has become "12 more years." Somehow Trump is owed more years of the presidency because "they" took two or three years away from him during the Russia investigation, because "they" spied on his 2016 campaign, because "they" don't deserve to win. The red-hat-wearing mobs of un-masked fans at his rallies want more of the America they think Trump is bringing back to them. It's an America that is more white, has more guns, has more churches, more of "us," less of "them."

That's what they like about him. They want it all, the same way he does. That's what opposition to affirmative action has always been. They don't want some of the college admissions, they want them all. That's what Shelby County v. Holder was about, that's what voter IDs and all the restrictive rules about voting by mail are about. They want all the votes.

For the Trump base, making America great again means making America ours again, but he's going to make sure he puts it on their tab, right there with $3 for water and $546 for rooms and $50 for decorative palm trees for table decorations and $1,005.60 for 26 servings of Patron and Don Julio tequila, 22 Chopin vodkas, and six glasses of Woodford Reserve bourbon consumed by White House staffers at the Mar-a-Lago bar. It's going to cost us more than votes to get our country back. We're going to be paying for Trump's insatiable greed long after he's gone. More than 228,000 of us have already paid with our lives. If the Friday totals keep up — 98,500 new cases and more than 900 dead — a half million of us may perish by the time Trump walks out of the White House for the last time.

Donald Trump's Hunger Games: More power. More money. More golf. More women.

Remember this number: $3.

That's how much Trump charged the federal government for a glass of water in April of 2018 when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. According to the Washington Post, Trump's company also charged the government "$13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements," over the two days he held meetings with Abe at the resort. But one day, Trump was scheduled to meet with Abe without aides and advisers, with no meal service or cocktails or any other celebratory nonsense. Just the two leaders, alone in a room, talking. According to the Post, the bill for that day contained a line item reading, "Bilateral meeting. Water. $3.00 each."

Donald Trump has been paid "at least $2.5 million by the U.S. government," since taking office, according to official documents obtained by the Post. Trump has made more than 280 visits to his own hotels and golf clubs over the last four years, and the payments covered costs for "hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." according to the Post.

And water. A total of six bucks for water, no charge being too small to make it onto a bill to the government for a payment going straight into the pocket of the man who owns the Trump Organization and everything it comprises, including his resort in Palm Beach.

It's apparently a good part of what the Trump base likes about him — his appetites, his pure, unadulterated, money-grubbing-right-down-to-$3-for-water greed. Trump has wanted more his entire life. He wants more money, of course. He has spent a lifetime in pursuit of more money, and then some more, and more and more. He borrowed so much money in pursuit of even more money that it drove him into bankruptcy, several bankruptcies in fact. Today, as president, he is said to be in debt for nearly $1 billion to banks and other lenders, a debt that will come due within the next few years, according to the New York Times and other reports.

Trump wants more fame, a drive that started off with mentions in gossip columns like the New York Post's "Page Six," during the years he was coming into his own as a builder in New York City. He used to call gossip columnists and plant items about himself, posing as a PR person, and then he would call the columnists the next day and comment on their mention of him in order to gain yet another column inch or two in the tabloids. Some said he ran for president back in 2016 to "burnish his brand," to achieve even more fame and use it to make even more money. Since he became president, he has been relentless in his pursuit of attention, tweeting at all hours, criticizing cable networks who don't give him enough coverage, calling in to shows like "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" both to reward them for the coverage they've already given him, and to get more coverage.

He wants more women, from wife No. 1, Ivana, when he was just starting out, to wife No. 2, Marla Maples, after he jettisoned Ivana, and now wife No. 3, Melania, who replaced No. 2 when he determined she had a few too many miles on her. And then there were all the women in between, in and among his marriages, the women he groped on airplanes and at bars and during parties, the women he (allegedly) raped in places like a Bergdorf's dressing room or a hotel room or a bathroom during a party, the women whose mouths he forced his tongue down, the women he pushed up against walls and pressed himself against, the women whose bodies he commented on in offices or across rooms, the women whose skirts he put his hand up at restaurant tables, the women whose breasts he grabbed at tennis tournaments and beauty pageants, the women whose rear ends he grabbed in green rooms before television show tapings, the women he dragged behind curtains at New Year's Eve parties and forcibly kissed and groped. All of those women. Trump wanted their bodies and their mouths and he took them without asking permission because he was Donald Trump, and he took what he wanted.

He wanted more golf, so he played more golf more frequently than any president before him. He wanted so much golf that he went around the world buying and building his own golf courses, and then he played them, because he owned them, and because he owned the golf carts, as president he could charge the government for his own Secret Service agents. He could even charge the government for the hotel rooms the agents stayed in while they protected him. He charged the government $17,000 a month for a cottage at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course, which the Secret Service had to rent month after month just in case he had a mind to play a round of golf.

Trump wants more adulation, more love from the "base," and when he feels he isn't getting enough, he tweets. There aren't enough hours in the day for Donald Trump. He was up at 3 a.m. this week, tweeting about the Supreme Court, the court to which he has appointed three arch-conservative justices, yelling at them for their recent decisions allowing mail-in votes to be counted after Election Day, because of course, he wants more votes. He's been up at 3 a.m. tweeting before, taunting a Miss Universe contestant for a "sex tape," taunting CNN as "low rated," bragging about his debate performance, yelling at polls that show him losing.

And now Trump is making his final campaign swing through the "battleground states," feeding the insatiable need of his base for more of himself. "Four more years" has become "12 more years." Somehow Trump is owed more years of the presidency because "they" took two or three years away from him during the Russia investigation, because "they" spied on his 2016 campaign, because "they" don't deserve to win. The red-hat-wearing mobs of un-masked fans at his rallies want more of the America they think Trump is bringing back to them. It's an America that is more white, has more guns, has more churches, more of "us," less of "them."

That's what they like about him. They want it all, the same way he does. That's what opposition to affirmative action has always been. They don't want some of the college admissions, they want them all. That's what Shelby County v. Holder was about, that's what voter IDs and all the restrictive rules about voting by mail are about. They want all the votes.
For the Trump base, making America great again means making America ours again, but he's going to make sure he puts it on their tab, right there with $3 for water and $546 for rooms and $50 for decorative palm trees for table decorations and $1,005.60 for 26 servings of Patron and Don Julio tequila, 22 Chopin vodkas, and six glasses of Woodford Reserve bourbon consumed by White House staffers at the Mar-a-Lago bar. It's going to cost us more than votes to get our country back. We're going to be paying for Trump's insatiable greed long after he's gone. More than 228,000 of us have already paid with our lives. If the Friday totals keep up — 98,500 new cases and more than 900 dead — a half million of us may perish by the time Trump walks out of the White House for the last time.

After Trump: In a year of worsening pandemic and avoidable tragedy, we must find the strength to rebuild

How many times can you say "I'm so sorry" without the words losing their meaning? How many times can you answer a text or an instant message or an email by typing "I'm so sorry" without becoming inured to the feeling of sorrow? Even if you manage to pause your constant grief, you're hit between the eyes with another statistic, another story. The day the coronavirus death total hit 220,000, we learned that the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border cannot be found. Can you even imagine? Can you imagine being a three-year-old child and not knowing where your mommy and daddy are? Can you imagine being a father or a mother and having no idea if you'll ever see your daughter or your son again?

We are spending so much time simply coping that we don't have the time to express to ourselves the deep sense of loss and sorrow that has been with us every day. Do you remember how you actually felt the day you saw the cell phone footage of George Floyd murdered on a street in Minneapolis by a policeman kneeling on his neck? I'm sure the image is still with you, but do you remember how you actually felt? Anger? Sadness that it had happened again, yet another unarmed Black man killed by police on a street in an American city.

You lose track of the names. Who was the guy who was shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin? Was it Rayshard Brooks? No, he was the guy who fell asleep in his car blocking the drive-through lane at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and was shot twice in the back as he tried to get away. It was Jacob Blake who was shot seven times in the back as he got into the driver's seat of his car in Kenosha.

You lose track of the spread of the COVID virus. Which states are the ones with the highest incidence of new infections this week? Is it Georgia and North Carolina? No, it's South Dakota, with 35 percent testing positive this week, and Idaho, with 33 percent positive. What about Montana and Wisconsin? There was something about both states being really bad, wasn't there? Well, yes, Montana is up 48 percent in new cases from two weeks ago, and Wisconsin is up 43 percent.

But the numbers just keep going up, don't they?

Yes. That's the answer, every single day. The numbers keep going up. We've now got 21 states in what they call the "red zone," which according to NPR indicates "unchecked community spread" of the disease. We've got 21 states in the "orange zone," with "escalating community spread." And we've got 8 states in the "yellow zone," where there is "potential community spread." We have zero states where the disease is "close to containment," which is how they classify the so-called "green zone." There were 81,010 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the highest number since the disease hit. Think of it. This disease has been with us for nine months, and we haven't learned a thing.

But it's not all just statistics, is it? It's sadness, deep, deep sadness at the tragedy of it all, and sadness at the individual losses, one by one as they happen. Every single one of the 223,845 deaths from coronavirus, which is the total tracked as this article was edited on Friday evening, was an unknowably tragic loss to someone, or in most cases, many someones. Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. Brothers. Husbands. Wives. Co-workers. College or high school classmates. Teachers. Neighbors. Friends. Acquaintances from the local supermarket or gas station or hardware store or school. Maybe somebody you regularly sit next to at your son's Friday night football games, or your daughter's cheer competitions. Or somebody you see a couple of times a week waiting for the subway or picking up your mail at the mailroom in the lobby.

Then there are the fires in the West, and the hurricanes along the Gulf, one, two, three of them, Hannah in Texas and Laura in Louisiana and Sally in Alabama. Laura alone caused $14 billion in damage and 77 deaths. Houses incinerated, whole neighborhoods flooded and blown away, people wandering around in the ashes and the soggy remains of fires and winds and rain, people who lost loved ones, homes, cars, businesses, everything. And still they rage, the fires now in Colorado with another month of hurricane season to come, all the destruction and death doubly tragic in the time of COVID.

You turn on the TV and you see the faces of family members of the people shot by the police, the mothers and sisters and brothers of Breonna Taylor or George Floyd or Daniel Prude, who died of asphyxiation, naked in the street, as police restrained him in a "spit hood" with a knee on his neck in the midst of a mental breakdown. You see the faces of the dead men and women in photographs taken during happy times in their lives, and you realize they weren't just statistics, another Black person dead at the hands of the police. They were real people, with real lives, and hopes and dreams and brothers and sisters and wives and lovers who cared for them and loved them deeply, and now they are gone. They won't be there on Saturday to drink beer and watch the game with the guys, they won't be a phone call away when you can't find that recipe for sausage biscuits they gave you, and you can't remember how much baking soda it calls for, or how much salt.

And then there is time, the hours and days and weeks and months we are losing to the coronavirus. Our children are losing a year out of their lives, a year they spent as an eighth-grader or a sophomore in college, a year when they didn't get the chance to stand around with their friends in the hallway of their school gossiping about who's dating who, or who got caught by their parents smoking pot in their bedroom with the window open, or whose exhaust pipes on their beater Camaro are loudest, or who's got the coolest North Face fleece jacket or hottest Lululemon yoga pants with that new cresting wave design up the sides.

We're so busy staying safe ourselves, and wearing our masks and figuring out when the Target has the fewest customers so we can safely pick up more toilet paper and shampoo and see if they've got the spray cleaner with bleach in stock that we're almost unaware of what we've lost.

And then you remember your college classmate who died from the virus, his lungs filled with fluid, struggling on a respirator in an ICU, and you remember hearing how his wife couldn't be there with him because it was too dangerous and the hospital was overrun with cases, and she couldn't see him at the morgue, they just sealed him up and put him in a coffin, and they couldn't even have a real funeral for him. His classmates couldn't come, all the guys he went to college with, and all their friends from the neighborhood, and the people he worked with, none of them could be there to say goodbye. They posted a few pictures online of the family's service at the graveside, and that was it. No celebration of his life. No remembrance of the good times we all had, those nights hanging out at the neighborhood bar, the afternoons playing pick-up touch football in the park, how he could quote Philip Larkin and Anne Sexton, whole poems from memory, how much he meant to us, how much he is missed by everyone.

Can you even imagine what it must be like for his family, for all the families out there, the hundreds of thousands of them, their grief and loss and sadness? And yet as vivid as his loss is, as profoundly as he will be missed, he is just one more death in a year of constant sorrow that is still with us and will be with us for many more months to come, so many tears, so many times you write the words, say the words, dive evermore deeply into the abyss of "I'm so sorry."

We can't be mournful enough in this plague. All we can do is go on and try to make their lives count by remembering them. We will vote and make a better world, because that is our duty, but the world will never be the same after this.

Donald Trump's reign of corruption has left the federal government in ruins

Who remembers Tom Price? Gee, you might say, that name sounds familiar … he had something to do with the Trump administration, didn't he?

This article first appeared in Salon.

You're right! He was one of those guys who resigned from a cabinet position because he was abusing something … let me see … think I've got it … he was the one who took all those flights on private jets, something like a million dollars worth of flights, including on military aircraft during trips to Europe and Africa with his wife. He refunded $51,887 to the federal government, which he said accounted for the cost of his seat on private charter flights he took before he resigned from Trump's cabinet. But that was just the cost of his seat. The total amount spent to fly old Tom Price around the world on private jets was more than $400,000 in taxpayer dollars.

What cabinet position did he hold that made it necessary for so many trips on chartered private jets and other business aircraft? What was he doing that was so important that he was flying back and forth to Europe and Africa and making trips to Aspen and Salt Lake City and Nashville, and basically jetting all over the place on the taxpayers' dime and staying in first-class hotels and eating out at expensive restaurants and taking his wife along with him a lot of the time? Oh, I remember! He was the secretary of Health and Human Services. He was the dude who resigned after only 231 days in office, the shortest term ever served by an HHS secretary. Price had been a right-wing congressman from Georgia who during his term in the House voted multiple times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supported a Republican plan to privatize Medicare, voted to defund Planned Parenthood and sponsored the "Right to Life Act," which would have defined life as beginning at conception and banned all abortions and many forms of contraception.

Busy, busy man, old Tom, with all those flights around the world and fighting to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood and banning abortion. Took up a lot of his time. In fact, it took up the time he could have spent studying the plan to contain pandemics which was left for him at the Department of Health and Human Services by the Obama administration. But old Tom Price didn't study that plan, did he? No, he shelved the Obama pandemic plan, where it stayed as his successor, Alex Azar, was appointed. So it was Azar who was running HHS when COVID hit in February of this year, and it was Azar who left the pandemic plan on the shelf and was first put in charge of the pandemic task force at the White House, until Vice President Pence took over that job. It was Azar who appointed Brian Harrison, a 37-year-old former labradoodle breeder with zero education and zero background in public health as the department's top man in charge of organizing the HHS response to the COVID crisis. Now he has overseen the appointment of two more nonentities with no background in public health or epidemiology to keep Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield "in line," and to control messaging on the coronavirus pandemic coming out of the department. Oh, I almost forgot: Azar also supports ending the Affordable Care Act and defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortion and every other whacked-out right wing idea that ever came down the pike.

Are you beginning to get the picture here? Health and Human Services is just one Trump cabinet department that has been led by not one, but two half-wit hacks and undercut by the White House from Day One. Both HHS and CDC have been hollowed out and weakened under the control of the Trump White House while some 220,000 Americans have lost their lives and 8 million more have been infected by the COVID virus.

Trump's ravaging of the rest of the government has followed the same script. Remember Scott Pruitt, Trump's first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency? He lasted just about a year before he resigned under the cloud of investigations by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the Government Accountability Office, the EPA inspector general and 11 other federal agencies and congressional committees. Pruitt was another Trumpazoid incompetent who flew around on chartered jets and used EPA employees to reserve tables for dinner at exclusive Washington restaurants. He set the EPA on a course to undo nearly every Obama administration environmental accomplishment. He fired all the scientists on the Board of Scientific Counselors and replaced them with representatives of industries regulated by the EPA.

When he left the agency in disgrace, Pruitt was replaced by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, who proceeded apace to continue the fine legacy left to him by his predecessor. Wheeler has weakened regulations on coal fired electrical plants and declined to raise standards for "fine soot pollution" under a mandated review. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Wheeler's EPA announced that it would not enforce regulations for "routine compliance monitoring [of pollution], integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training and reporting or certification obligations." In other words, polluting industries, here's your get-out-of-jail-free COVID card, courtesy of your friendly EPA.

Donald Trump's pillaging of the rest of the federal government is equally astonishing. He's gone through cabinet secretaries like they were an order of Big Macs. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? Gone early on, replaced by Mike Pompeo. Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Out the door in disgrace. In his place, the odious Bill Barr (after a brief appearance by the totally incompetent Matt Whitaker). Secretary of Energy Rick Perry? Bye-bye in a blink. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta? Resigned in disgrace for his connection to a kid-gloves plea arrangement with famed pedophile and presidential friend Jeffrey Epstein. Secretary of Defense James Mattis? Resigned in protest against Trump's haphazard misuse of U.S. military forces. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke? Resigned rather than face federal investigation for using his office for personal gain. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats? Ousted in a Trumpian power play to politicize the intelligence community.

Trump has proceeded to appoint acting secretaries to replace expired acting secretaries. Recently, one of his attempts to get around the rules hit a wall when a federal judge in Montana ordered the removal of the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, who he found had been serving illegally for 400 days without Senate confirmation. Pendley has been an advocate of selling federal lands to the states or private citizens.

There is more, much, much more, but you get the picture. The damage Trump will be leaving to Joe Biden is incalculable. The death toll caused by his mismanagement of the COVID crisis and the numbers of infections increase by the thousands seemingly every day. The only good thing about a hollowed-out federal government will be the thousands of appointments Biden will be able to make upon taking office, and the dozens of executive orders he'll be able to sign reversing Trump's giveaways to polluters, drug companies and corrupt corporations.

All we've got to do is get out and vote to make that happen.

Why fact-checking may be futile against Trump's black hole of lies

Why fact-checking may be futile against Trump's black hole of liesPresident Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence, senior White House advisors and senior military personnel, delivers remarks during a national televised address Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, from the Cross Hall of the White House, responding to the retaliatory missile strikes against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq on Tuesday by the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The week Donald Trump lost the election

After the debate, he couldn't hide what an asshole he is. After he got sick, he couldn't hide how weak he is.

Trump was already down in the polls, both nationally and in many swing states, and after his unhinged performance in the debate with Joe Biden last week, his people knew he would lose more ground. Sure enough, two days later, an NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll had Biden up by 14 points, 53% to 39%, among registered voters. Biden's margin among women was 20 points last month; in the new poll, he led by 27, 60% to 33%.

A CNN poll conducted at the same time, and largely after Trump first tested positive for the COVID virus, had Biden up over Trump by 16 points, 57% to 41%. Women in the CNN poll, who a month ago favored Biden by 20 points, now favored him by 34 points, 66% to 32%.

By last weekend, Trump was tanking in the polls, he was sick with COVID and he was in the hospital. So what did he do? Almost immediately after leaving Walter Reed Medical Center and making his mock-Mussolini triumphant return to the White House, he tweeted an end to any possible new stimulus package for COVID relief, calling off negotiations with Democrats.

There are more than 213,000 dead from the virus, new coronavirus cases are averaging 45,000 a day over the last week, and there were 53,000 new cases on Thursday alone. According to National Geographic, "the virus is spreading uncontrollably" in the Midwest, new cases are up in 15 states, and "deaths are still hovering around 900 to 1000 a day."

Schools are shutting down in some places after reopening in August and September, some cities are closing bars and restaurants, and there were 840,000 new claims for unemployment last week.

This is the COVID election, folks.

But Trump has treated the virus with disdain and "played it down" from the beginning. First, he denied it was a problem at all and tried to wish it away. On Feb. 26, he said, "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done." Thirty-four times, Trump has said the virus was going to "go away" or "disappear." He and members of his administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, outright refused to wear masks to protect themselves and others around them, most recently at the infamous "super-spreader" Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court. His own family flouted the mask rule at the debate with Joe Biden.

Now, with more than 30 people in his own White House testing positive for COVID, including himself, Trump is trying to play down the virus's ability to kill.

In a bizarre video made at the White House just after his release from Walter Reed, Trump told people "don't be afraid" of the virus, and "don't let it dominate you." It was pure, unadulterated macho posturing and angry denialism, an obsession with appearance over reality, a version of "strength" in quotes that he seems to have absorbed from Cold War era dictators and Lone Ranger-style go-your-own-way westerns. You have the feeling that every day he wakes up and sees himself as George C. Scott in "Patton," standing alone in front of a gigantic American flag, growling a bunch of macho nonsense.

But think about it: He had a perfect opportunity to pivot and put himself on a course to win this election going away. Instead of standing on the balcony of the White House and saluting God-only-knows-what, Trump could have used the occasion of his COVID infection to change his tone. and, He could have kept his mask on and made a short video in which he told his fellow Americans, OK. I get it. I caught the virus, and it's a really bad thing, and here's what we can do together to put this thing away for good.

Instead of goading his base to follow him over a cliff, he could have sought out and doubtlessly received their sympathy and support. He could have looked into the eye of the camera and said that getting sick with the virus has made him understand how tough it's been on everyone. I realize that I've had the privilege of the best health care in America at Walter Reed, treatments that are not normally available. And for that reason, from now on, we're going to cover COVID for everyone. All testing for the virus will be free, and the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of treating everyone who comes down with the virus. Vaccines, when available, will be given for free, and every new drug developed to treat the virus will be provided to patients for free.

Then he could have announced that he was going to pick up the phone and make a deal for $3 trillion to help his fellow Americans cope with the fallout from the virus. He could have agreed to restart supplemental unemployment payments, provide help to state and local governments to make up for reduced tax revenues, send out new checks to every taxpayer for another $1,200, include help for the airlines, provide tax relief and send cash to small business owners to get them through the next few months until a vaccine can begin to reopen normal business for everyone. He could even have included a couple hundred billion specifically ear-marked for child care to make a direct appeal to the women whose support he has sand-blasted away from himself every time he opens his mouth.

Sure, it would have blown up the deficit, but it's not his money, and the deficit has already been exploded not once but twice, with his only-for-the zillionaires tax cut and the last stimulus bill. Republicans facing re-election battles at least as tough as Trump's, or worse, would have embraced his Big Giveaway with open arms. It would have been like dropping trillions of dollars into the campaign chest of the Republican Party. Democrats, who have already passed a $2.2 trillion bill in the House, would have been forced to go along with it. Trump could have put his name on the whole thing, and Biden would have been left to endorse a plan he knew would benefit his opponent far more than himself and his fellow Democrats.

That's the way Trump could have turned his illness into his October surprise. Instead of running from reality, he could have embraced it. He could have confronted the virus he has lied about for nine months and transformed a hit on himself into help for everyone else.

Instead, he's troweling on the pancake makeup and telling lies about how long he's had the virus and how many more White House staffers have tested positive, and now he's refusing to debate Joe Biden in front of 80 million voters he absolutely needs to pull himself out of the hole he's dug. With only three weeks to go, this is the one we'll look back on as the week Donald Trump lost the election.

When did Trump get the virus — and when did he know it?

He wanted their money.

That's why Donald Trump got on Air Force One and flew to his Bedminster golf club on Thursday afternoon, not long after he had learned of Hope Hicks' positive diagnosis for the COVID virus. There were millions in campaign contributions waiting for him at his golf club in the person of dozens of VIP Republican contributors who had paid as much as $250,000 to sit down with Trump at a "roundtable" at the reception. A donation of $50,000 got you a photo-op with the president, $35,000 got you a place at a "roundtable" with an unnamed "VIP" from the Trump campaign, and $2,800 got you in the door.

Lots of money sitting around out there in New Jersey at one of Trump's favorite places on the planet. You think he was going to skip that trip and miss out on all those bucks? Not a chance.

People who attended the fundraiser reported that Trump didn't wear a mask on Thursday. Neither did many of those attending the event. Trump was reported to have mingled with dozens of VIP attendees and posed for photographs.

Trump had been told of Hicks' diagnosis on Thursday morning, according to Bloomberg News, yet he "continued on with a full schedule of events. No one knew Trump was positive on Thursday, but some suspected it, people familiar with the matter said."

Hicks, one of Trump's closest aides, had traveled on Air Force One with him to a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday. Then she "was separated from the rest of the White House staff on Air Force One on the trip home Wednesday night after falling ill," according to Bloomberg. Hicks was seen walking across the tarmac with Jared Kushner to Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday when Trump flew to Cleveland for the debate with Joe Biden, and seen again getting on the presidential plane before the flight to Minnesota the next day.

So Trump knew by late Wednesday night that he had been exposed. Hicks often sees Trump a dozen times a day, according to Jonathan Lemire, an AP White House correspondent and MSNBC contributor. Trump probably suspected that he was sick by Thursday morning. Trump looked tired and depressed walking across the White House lawn to Marine One before the flight to New Jersey, and was described as "tired and lethargic" at the Bedminster fundraiser, although he wasn't reported to have shown other symptoms. But you know how you feel with a case of the flu coming on, and the coronavirus is said to hit a lot harder than the common flu. A few hours after the Thursday fundraiser, at 1:00 a.m. on Friday, he sent out a tweet acknowledging that he and his wife Melania had tested positive for the COVID virus.

Why are all these details about the timing of Trump's COVID diagnosis important?

In addition to being contemptuous of the virus itself, Trump has been contemptuous of those who wear masks to protect themselves. Trump belittled Joe Biden at the debate on Tuesday night for wearing a mask. "I don't wear a mask like him," Trump said, gesturing toward Biden. "Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from him and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen."

Now we know that Trump was equally as contemptuous of his fawning fans who follow his example and don't wear masks. He showed up at his Thursday fundraiser knowing he had been exposed to the deadly virus, yet he didn't wear a mask and didn't warn his campaign donors that he had been exposed and they should protect themselves from him by wearing masks and keeping their distance.

This is what the criminal codes call "depraved indifference to human life." In New Jersey, where the Bedminster fundraiser was held, a person can be charged with reckless manslaughter when you "recklessly cause the death of another under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life," according to the criminal code.

Trump's indifference to human life is manifest in everything he has done since the COVID crisis hit. He admitted in interviews with journalist Bob Woodward for his book, "Rage," that he "played down" the threat of the virus in the early days of the pandemic even though he knew the disease could be deadly and that you could become infected just by "breathing the air." He has played down the threat ever since, most recently continuing to tell audiences at his rallies last week that the virus "is going away," and reportedly repeating the claim at the Bedminster fundraiser. Again and again, even after the death toll hit 100,000 and continued to climb, he has praised himself for "doing a fantastic job."

Now that the American death count has hit 200,000, you could certainly make a case that Trump has contributed to the toll by encouraging the reopening of businesses and schools, which has caused coronavirus cases to rise in at least 25 states this week. Nationwide, the country has averaged 43,000 new cases a day for the last two weeks. But now, with Trump's appearance at the fundraiser in Bedminster, it's personal.

We will probably never know for sure when Trump came down with the virus, because we can't trust what comes out of his mouth or what is released on an official basis by his White House. But Trump, at the very least, had to suspect that he was dangerous to the health of others after Hicks got sick on Air Force One Wednesday night, and he knew it for sure when she tested positive on Thursday morning. Still, he went to the fundraiser in New Jersey and posed for photographs with his adoring fans and sat down with the $250,000 donors at the so-called roundtable.

Even now, with his wife quarantined in the White House and Trump himself heading to Walter Reed hospital on Friday evening — and with more positive tests of prominent political figures, so far all Republicans, being announced almost hourly — political insiders are wringing their hands over what it will all mean to Trump's electoral fate, not to mention that of the Republican Party. "It's hard to imagine this doesn't end his hopes of re-election," Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant, told the New York Times on Friday morning, pointing to Trump's "flouting of obvious precautions." One White House political adviser told reporters for the Times that Trump's "recklessness … amounted to a political 'disaster.'"

Trump's failures with COVID have gone from the political to the personal. If only one person who attended that fundraiser with Trump dies from COVID, his "extreme indifference to human life" will make him liable to a manslaughter charge in the state of New Jersey.

That's a reminder, as if we needed one, that it's not political careers that are ending out there, it's human lives. Now Trump is sick and in the hospital. If he dies, all his life will amount to in the end will be one more statistic.

The Supreme Court is finished -- Republicans have killed it

Call it what it already is: Donald Trump's Supreme Court, and it's as corrupt as he is, as cynical as he is, as outright stupid as he is, as racist as he is, as fascist as he is. The Republican Party killed it, and Trump is driving another nail in its coffin with the nomination of arch-conservative Catholic Amy Coney Barrett. RBG is gone, and look at who Barrett will join: Clarence Thomas? A clown. Samuel Alito? A rubber-stamp hack. Neil Gorsuch? A replacement bell-ringer for racism. Brett Kavanaugh? A weepy beer-swilling prep-monster. John Roberts? He wrote the brilliant line, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Tell that to George Floyd, Johnny boy.

This article first appeared in Salon.

But they know the job they've been put there to do. Trump as much as told them this week when he said, "I think it's very important that we have nine justices. It's better if you go before the election, because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it's a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court."

There it is, folks, right out in the open. The "scam" Trump is referring to is voting for Joe Biden. He may look like he's contesting the election on the campaign trail, screeching and hissing and sniffling at his rallies, thumbing out his endless apocalyptic fascist tweets, threatening to jail his opponents and throwing other chunks of red meat to his ravenous racist hordes. But don't be fooled. The Republican Party has been counting on the courts to win their elections for decades. Trump's real "base" is his five, and soon six, voters on the Supreme Court.

These cynical bastards have been playing the long game. They have been looking out there on their golf fairways, and they've seen who's riding the mowers and trimming the bushes and grooming the greens. They have looked at the workers on the floors of their chicken factories, and manning the counters of their fast food empires, and they have walked past their own housekeepers and nannies who are watching over their own children. They are surrounded by brown people and Black people, even in their own homes and in their own businesses. They know what's coming. The Republican Party is out of the closet as the White Party in a country that is inexorably turning browner and blacker and more Asian, peopled with more, not fewer, immigrants. How else do you account for the rise to power of Stephen Miller and Ken Cuccinelli and their ilk? They're in government to do the bidding of their masters, to slow down the brown horde, to throw sand in the gears of a demographic machine that is slowly grinding their political future into electoral hamburger.

They know it's getting harder and harder for them to win at the ballot box. Look at what happened to them in 2018. The last two Republican presidents lost the popular vote and yet attained the White House by way of narrow wins in the Electoral College. Why do you think they established the Federalist Society, the right-wing finishing school for judgeships that has provided the Republicans with virtually every one of its 300 appointments to the federal bench under McConnell and Trump? Why do you think they consciously defenestrated the Voting Rights Act with Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts' gift to his Republican masters? Because they were looking for more fairness in the nation's electoral process? Please. That decision threw the door open to the greatest racist fiddling with the electoral process since Jim Crow. It's the reason we're going into the election of 2020 with such uncertainty about who is eligible to vote and where, what the rules are for voting by mail, which polling places will be open, and whether or not the voting machines will even work. They don't want voting. They want chaos.

They've turned the courts into a kennel for right-wing puppies, willing to sit there with floppy ears and their tongues out, panting and waiting to decide cases in favor of the billionaires who put them there. That's why there is a cottage industry of right-wing legal groups like Judicial Watch, Alliance Defending Freedom, Claremont Institute and the Center for Individual Rights, all of them funded by tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions in right-wing money. They make no bones about the fact that their job is to go out looking for plaintiffs to sue on behalf of big business and right-wing political interests to overturn laws they don't like. They have been behind the challenges to the Affordable Care Act and every anti-abortion lawsuit ever filed, not to mention suits against immigrant rights, civil rights, LGBT rights — you name it. And waiting in federal courthouses all over the country are Trump and Mitch McConnell's judicial poodles.

Trump and McConnell and the rest of them have packed the Supreme Court and every level of federal bench beneath it with unqualified goofs and loons and dominionists and members of religious secret societies and misogynists and drooling, ignorant losers. Hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee over the last three years have been overwhelmed by inexperienced hacks who couldn't answer simple questions from Democratic senators that pointed straight to their lack of qualifications for the federal bench. Every one of them was approved on party-line votes. The amazing thing is that even with all of his goofs on the court, whenever he sees a verdict or judge's sentence he doesn't like, he issues a pardon, commutes a sentence, or sics his chief attack dog, William Barr, on it.

You don't need to hear from me about the travesty of McConnell's treatment of the Merrick Garland nomination, and I'm so tired of typing the word "hypocrisy" I've got carpal-tunnel syndrome. Suffice to say the Republican Party has trashed political norms, broken promises, lied, cheated and stolen to get control of the judicial branch of government. They have turned the federal courts into an outpost of their party, and like their party, they want it all white, or nearly so. Eighty-five percent of Trump's appointments have been white.

We're at a point in our political history as a nation where the only outrage left to commit in pursuit of winning at all costs by the Republican Party is murder. With Trump's outright worship of Putin visible on a daily basis, and his celebration of violence against protesters and journalists at his rallies, we don't have long to wait.

All you have to do is recall any individual 60 seconds of the hearing to confirm their last nominee for the Supreme Court, Squi's best friend Brett Kavanaugh, to know that the Republican Party has engaged in a scorched-earth strategy when it comes to the federal judiciary.

It's time for Democrats to grab a proverbial can of gasoline and a pack of matches. McConnell and Trump want to pack the courts with obedient little Republican replicants? OK, let's put them to work. The Constitution won't allow the Congress to cut the pay of judges, but a Democratic House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House can reduce the pay of everyone else on the federal payroll in a courthouse. Most federal district court judges have one or two clerks. How about this: How about zero money for zero clerks? Let Trump's 300 judges do some work for a change. Same thing for the Supreme Court. Each justice currently has four clerks. How does providing pay for one clerk sound? And how about that Supreme Court gym? Close it. Write some rules constraining the justices' ability to accept gifts like invitations to private golf clubs and lunches at country clubs, invitations to give speeches or to accept rides on private jets. Supreme Court justices make $255,300 a year, but they live the lifestyles of corporate CEOs who make millions. Make them live within their means.

But just because we're nice, let's give them less work to do. Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, enumerating the powers of the judiciary, contains this little gem: "In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make." That gives the Congress the power to limit which laws are subject to judicial review, and "under such regulations," how they are reviewed. I personally see a lot of opportunity for congressional meddling in the powers of the judiciary — as in, stripping away its powers.

Here's the fallacy of the Republican Party's strategy of converting the courts into a political battleground. The legitimacy of the Supreme Court and every other court depends on its decisions being respected by the Congress, the president and the people. Let's try withholding our respect for a change.

Bob Woodward may have identified Donald Trump's worst -- and most fatal -- flaw

According to interviews recorded by Bob Woodward for his book, "Rage," Donald Trump was briefed by national security adviser Robert O'Brien on Jan. 28 of this year that the coronavirus "will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency," that the virus was five times more deadly than ordinary flu, that it was spread when "you just breathe the air," and that it would soon become a worldwide pandemic. At the moment Trump told Woodward these things, on Feb. 7, the president had one job: Persuade the American people to work together to deal effectively with this threat to their health and well-being.

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Slow-motion mass hysteria at the Republican convention as Trump senses doom

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as Donald Trump's dosage-tuning was done by a team of crack drug-doctors in an anteroom of the White House before he gave his Big Speech on Thursday night. Hand me that penlight, Tom. I want to give his pupils another quick check. His anisocoria looked a little pronounced when we hit him with the last dose a while ago … look right, Mr. President … now look left for me … that's good … uuuhhh … just as I thought. We better hit him with another two cc's before we give the OK to push him out there. If we don't get him tuned up just right, he'll never make it down those steps from the back portico…

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Let's remember that along with everything else, Donald Trump's a total pig

Can we put aside for the moment Trump's corruption, ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, racism, stupidity, criminality, greed and buffoonery, and just deal with the fact that he's a pig? You know what I'm talking about. Look at one of the photographs of Trump and his wife Melania alongside their good friends Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and you've got the whole thing in a proverbial nutshell. I mean, do you have any photographs of yourself with a convicted sex offender and someone accused of procurement in a child sex ring?Trump does. You've seen them. They've been all over the place, especially after Trump responded to a question at a White House press conference last month about Maxwell's arrest for allegedly procuring, grooming and abusing teenage girls by saying, "I just wish her well, frankly. I've met her numerous times over the years ... I just wish her well, whatever it is."

Think about that. Trump said he was supportive of an accused sex offender the first day he returned to hosting daily coronavirus briefings in the White House after a three-month absence. It was supposed to be a reset for his campaign, a chance for Trump to seize the spotlight and make a stab at getting his poll numbers up.

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Everything awful we suspected about Donald Trump has come true

There were 65,853,514 of us who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and it didn't take long to prove how right we were. Donald Trump waited less than 24 hours after he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States before he dispatched his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to the White House briefing room — attired in a tent-like garment reminiscent of David Byrne's "Big Suit" in the Talking Heads documentary, "Stop Making Sense" — to lie about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Trump's inaugural ceremony and parade had "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe," Spicer told the White House press corps, which was already showing photographs of the sparse crowd on the National Mall and Trump waving to entire blocks of unoccupied bleachers along the inaugural parade route. Spicer's lie about Trump's crowd size was so blatant, it was shocking.

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Trump's fake federal militia wears mail-order camo — and they're as effective as his campaign against the virus

If the street scenes during protests in Portland, Oregon, looked familiar this week, it's because you've seen them before … in Iraq.Heavily armed troops in camouflage garb with helmets and tactical vests moving through a community like an occupation army? Check.

Hostile civilians gathered together on the street in protest of the occupation army? Check.

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