Lucian K. Truscott IV

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 lies President 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.

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