Mark Sumner

SAG President Fran Drescher’s speech is a must-watch for workers everywhere

On Thursday, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists officially approved a strike vote for the first time since 1980. The union, which represents approximately 150,000 actors, announcers, dancers, stunt performers, and other artists, has now joined the Writers Guild of America in an effort to force television and film production studios to negotiate seriously toward contracts that address issues that are already threatening to destroy the lives and careers of many in the industry.

As the leadership of SAG-AFTRA put it:

… negotiations with studios over a new contract collapsed, with streaming services and artificial intelligence at the center of the standoff. On Friday, the actors will join screenwriters, who walked off the job in May, on picket lines in New York, Los Angeles and the dozens of other American cities where scripted shows and movies are made.

In addition to that short statement, SAG President Fran Drescher made an impassioned speech about the future of the entertainment industry and the people who work there. It’s a speech that really needs to be heard because not only does Drescher point out the importance of these events for the members of her union, she correctly and powerfully identifies this as a labor issue affecting everyone.

Drescher: “The eyes of the world, and particularly the eyes of labor, are upon us. What happens here is important. Because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor.”

What’s happening with entertainment media is twofold: First, the traditional means of transmitting entertainment by films shown in theaters and television shown on broadcast channels and cable are breaking down.

That means residuals that were once paid out when a film or show was re-aired or released to home media have all but disappeared. Production companies, operating with the near-monopoly powers of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, have used this opportunity to restructure the contracts for writers, actors, and others in a way that channels much more money back to studio executives. In the past, being part of a hit show like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” could mean those involved would enjoy a revenue stream that continued over years, but studios have used the streaming pivot to turn most productions into something closer to “work for hire”: They get a single payment with little or no residuals, no matter how popular the resulting work may prove to be.

Both actors and writers are also facing a threat from AI tools that is not just looming over the future, but deeply affecting the income of many right now. Contrary to the impression generated by reports of big paydays for well-known actors in major films, most actors—including actors you know and enjoy in major productions—have a very hard time making even a minimal living in the industry. Many never get there.

Not only are the stories of actors who spent their time waiting tables while hurrying out for increasingly desperate auditions absolutely true, for many the auditions they are chasing are for small parts, with little or no dialogue. Those smaller roles have helped many actors break into the industry or provided critical bursts of cash that sustained them as they waited for a breakthrough opportunity.

And that’s the second big problem. Those jobs, the jobs that make the life of an actor possible, are going away thanks to AI.

Actors in these kinds of roles are finding that studios want their one day on set to include some time being scanned, along with sometimes having their voices recorded. There are stories of actors in Disney series who have had their likenesses recorded and licensed “in perpetuity” for as little as $100. Those actors are never going to get another call to audition for a small role. Why should they? The studio can always put them in the background of any production, running them like a puppet over and over again. For comparison, Disney chief Bob Iger’s reported net worth is $690 million, earning $65 million in 2018 alone.

Industry reports show that the studios already have their strategy in this strike. That strategy is based on knowing that writers and actors already live on the edge. That’s why the studios are unwilling to negotiate realistically about the concerns of actors and writers. They think they can simply starve them out.

In short:

  • Where actors and writers used to see a paycheck—generally a very small paycheck—whenever a show they acted in or scripted reappeared on the air, now they’re getting a one-time payment. That one-time payment is often smaller than it was two decades ago.
  • Actors who do manage to get a small role in the background or as a minor character in a production are being pressured to accept having their images scanned so that studios can use them again in other works.
  • The whole restructuring of the industry around streaming services is resulting in huge paydays for investors and executives even as actors, writers, and all the workers involved in making entertainment media possible see their paychecks eroding by the day.

What’s happening now isn’t just another strike. It’s an existential fight to maintain an industry where most workers have never been anything close to wealthy and most were already struggling.

The members of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA deserve the support of everyone. Not just those who enjoy their work, but everyone who is concerned about how the constant streamlining of processes made possible by technology will affect their job.

That’s why you should consider being part of an entertainment viewer’s strike. Starting on Aug. 1, pick one of the streaming services or cable services you currently pay for and drop it. If the studios haven’t reached an equitable agreement with writers and actors by Oct. 1, do it again.

If you don’t subscribe to any of these services … good for you, you’re already doing what you can. But for those who do, now is the time to show which side in this existential fight has your loyalty.

Drescher: “It is sad that it came to this crossroads, but we have no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right, while giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history.”

Here are all the crimes Trump confessed to in his Fox News interview

On Monday, Donald Trump sat down for a face-to-face interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier. Perched on a familiar stool in front of cameras that have spent so much time pointed his way that his face must be burned into their core, and fresh off his prime time CNN promo in front of a hand-selected audience told to cheer his every utterance, Trump must have anticipated some easy sledding.

Only Baier did the surprising thing: He asked actual questions, ones that didn’t just tee up Trump to repeat some part of his long-established rant. Questions like why Trump held onto the classified documents in the face of multiple requests from the National Archives and Department of Justice, and why he continues to refuse to admit he lost the 2020 election. But nothing may be funnier than when Baier asked Trump about why everyone he ever worked with, all those “best people” he hired in 2016, absolutely came to loathe him.

Baier’s list of people who were appointed by Trump to the most important positions in government, but who wouldn’t now support his run for street cleaner, is a reference that should be returned to again and again. A chief of staff. Another chief of staff. Defense secretary. Attorney general. Press secretary. Secretary of state. Secretary of transportation. UN ambassador. And Mike Pence.

If that’s not enough of Trump slamming Bill Barr, don’t worry. There’s plenty more.

In response to why he hired people who had “very small brains,” were “dumb as rocks,” or were “gutless pigs,” Trump’s response was that he hired “10 good people” for every one of these very bad people. And then Trump can’t name a single one. The best he can do is say that he had very good people in charge of the economy. That would be this economy.


Trump's “best” accomplishment was exactly like his best people: a disaster. He crashed the economy in a way that hasn’t been seen … since the last time a Republican was in the White House. That economy sprang back under Biden, but still hasn’t stabilized from the mismanagement of Trump’s nameless people.

During his interview with Baier, Trump mostly allowed the Fox anchor to finish his questions, something he did not allow CNN host Kaitlin Collins or any other woman who dared direct a query his way. However, there was one point at which Trump seemed determined to get out his gallop and trot right over Baier.

Trump’s insistence on throwing out one debunked conspiracy and one proven false narrative after another on this point is illuminating both because it’s clear he doesn’t want to give Baier time to confront any of these claims one at a time, and because it’s all just a litany of names and gibberish that’s unidentifiable to anyone not part of the MAGA horde. It’s all “the 51 agents” and “real recounts”—phrases that wouldn’t mean a thing to someone who had not been neck-deep in conspiracy land. Even Baier seems exhausted by the effort to get Trump to deal with the facts.

But the part of the interview already making the news outside Fox is the part where Trump confesses to withholding the documents. Again. And the part where he claims that the Bedminster document, the one he was caught talking about on tape and waving around to visitors, doesn’t exist.

Confronted about the documents, Trump gives what might be his best reason so far when it comes to withholding highly classified national defense documents: Trump didn’t hand over the boxes because he was concerned about running short of golf shirts. And he had apparently filed away some pants. As one does.

If you’re keeping track of Trump excuses, there are three Trump has repeated numerous times.

  1. The documents were planted.
  2. The documents were declassified by telepathy.
  3. The Presidential Records Act lets me keep whatever I want.

To these, America can now add “I was too busy” and “because there were shoes.” And shirts. And pants. Boxes of pants. Trump also repeats the “everything was declassified” lie at the end of this ramble, along with another claim that the National Archives might be “stuffing” other documents in.

But even the pants aren’t the most ludicrous part of this statement. There’s also the part where Trump proclaims that the Bedminster document—the document that Trump was caught on tape declaring “like, highly confidential”—isn’t real. On the recording, Trump can be heard describing the document, explaining how it was prepared for him, and warning about its sensitivity. “As president, I could have declassified it,” said Trump. “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

But now Trump says the document doesn’t exist.

Trump: “There’s no document there. Those were newspaper articles. They were copies of articles and magazines. There was no document there.”

So Trump is saying he told people that a collection of newspaper articles and magazine clippings were “secret” and that he could have declassified them?

Despite having described the documents as having been prepared by General Mark Milley, Trump insists to Baier that he “has never seen a document from Milley,” and that “Miley was just incompetent.” Making him a perfect fit with every other person Trump appointed.

To top off the theme of the evening, after Trump insists there was nothing but a collection of newspaper clips and magazines, not a classified document, Baier makes one more stab.

Baier: “According to the people in the room who testified ...”
Trump: “These people are very dishonest people. They’re thugs.”

Of course they are. The television show “Everyone Hates Chris” was canceled back in 2009, but it seems like there’s plenty of material for several seasons of “Donald Trump Hates Everyone.”

By any measure, Trump’s interview was a laughable disaster. However, don’t get the idea this means Fox is shutting the door on Trump. Those who tuned in live may have seen Trump get confronted over several issues. Those who are following Fox’s coverage today are getting none of that, because this is what Fox News’ front page coverage of their Trump interview looks like on Tuesday morning.

Even when Trump lies to Fox News face to face, it’s not as if they’re going to report it. Instead, they’re digging deep to find a way to put a positive spin on the results. For those who are interested, the inspirational words that kept Putin from invading Ukraine, according to Trump, were “don’t do it.”

It’s not much of a story. But then, Fox isn’t much of a news organization. Notice that while they included clips of Trump making statements of his relationship with Xi and giving his rants about the dangers of the left, they failed to include any clips when editing his “boxes of pants” defense into something more reasonable.

Trump may hate everyone. Fox News may know he’s awful. But they both know they are dependent on the same awful audience for their financial survival.

Elon Musk has a new hostage

For weeks, Elon Musk applied his top-notch middle-school bully tactics to NPR on his failing social media network, Twitter. First Musk tagged NPR as “state-affiliated media,” which is not, and never was true. This resulted in NPR having the same label as actual state-owned propaganda sites such as China’s Xinhua News Agency or Russia’s RT. When it was pointed out that Twitter’s own rules used NPR as an example of public media companies that were not state owned, he took the obvious step of ordering someone to rewrite the rules, removing the reference to NPR. Then, under a flood of complaints, Musk changed the tag on NPR to "Government Funded Media," which is also a lie. Less than 1% of NPR’s funding comes from the federal government.

All of this appears to be just Musk causing trouble to justify what he wanted to do in the first place—remove all the warning labels that previously pointed out genuine propaganda that justified Russia’s wars and China’s human rights abuses. And following this debacle, NPR announced that it, along with all its programs, would no longer be using Twitter to spread news stories or update the public. So Musk not only managed to make the world safer for the worst propaganda outlets, he also diminished the ways in which people can access genuine news. For Musk, that’s got to be a very good day.

Following NPR’s departure, other news organizations, including PBS and the Canadian Broadcasting System, have also stopped using Twitter. The fact that journalists don’t like being mislabeled, or put on par with organizations designed to create and spread disinformation, seems to have frustrated Musk.

In an unsolicited email to Allyn, Musk asked, "So is NPR going to start posting on Twitter again, or should we reassign @NPR to another company?"

Twitter’s terms of service don’t require that an account post to be active. It only requires that someone log into the account every thirty days. That didn’t stop Musk from following up with a second email saying, “Our policy is to recycle handles that are definitively dormant. Same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR.”

Musk refused to say whether he was changing the terms of service—though it certainly would not be the first time. In addition to his flurry of changes to justify his attacks on public media outlets, Musk has previously altered the terms to make it permissible to attack trans individuals. Previously, Twitter’s terms of service included a sentence noting that their definition of unacceptable conduct, “includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals." Musk ordered that sentence removed. In addition, Musk has ordered the reinstatement of accounts for individuals and organizations previously banned for racism, misogyny, and encouraging violence.

As Bloomberg reported in March, Musk’s “antics” have driven away advertisers by the score, leaving Twitter dependent on the kind of low-rent commercials that used to decorate the Tucker Carlson show.

From September to October of last year, the top 10 advertisers on Twitter spent $71 million on ads, according to estimates from Sensor Tower. In the past two months, that figure dropped to just $7.6 million, a decline of 89%, the research firm said. Twitter’s top ad customers historically have included marquee names like HBO, Amazon, IBM and Coca-Cola.

That would be “historically.” As in B.M.—Before Musk.

The new threats against NPR are likely to speed the departure of other news outlets, further diminishing the already shrinking value of Musk’s vanity purchase. Emily Bell, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, noted to NPR news that Musk’s email represents an “extraordinary threat” and predicted it could lead to an “even more of a rapid retreat by media organizations and other brands that don't think it's worth the risk.”

Over the last month, Musk has repeatedly given credence to right-wing conspiracy theories, used his personal account to attack President Joe Biden and other Democratic lawmakers, and changed his screen name to “Harry Bolz.” All of which is pretty extraordinary behavior for someone who claims he’s trying to recover some value from his $44 billion investment. Meanwhile the platform is experiencing an increase in technical issues, some of which are likely related to drastic changes Musk has ordered to support his disastrous “Twitter blue” paid checkmarks, or his closing down of Twitter’s previously free API, which caused many services that people depended on to fail overnight.

The API changes not only cut-off data for researchers, it left many sites cut off from their ability to post. That included even emergency warnings from the National Weather Service and service updates from local utilities. Musk was eventually forced to backtrack on charging government agencies, but not before some agencies and organizations simply bailed out. That includes New York’s Metro Transit Authority, who will no longer post train delays and bus route changes on Twitter because “reliability of the platform can no longer be guaranteed.”

In April, Musk ordered Wiredreporter Dell Cameron’s account permanently blocked for reporting on a hacker who had targeted far-right commentator Matt Walsh. Twitter’s terms forbid using information that is gained through hacking, but explicitly carve out an exception stating they will “defer to the editorial judgment” of news outlets sourcing stories from hacked materials, and that a story that includes information from these materials “would result in a label or warning message, not removal of the Tweet(s) from Twitter.”

Cameron’s account remains suspended over a month later. Wired posted a statement seeking clarification. That clarification did not arrive. As many sites have pointed out, Musk likes to call himself a “free speech absolutist” unless it’s speech he doesn’t like.

At the same time that he’s supposedly trying to woo advertisers back, Musk is taking actions that are causing Twitter to lose the accounts that made users come to Twitter in the first place. But then, Musk has never seen the site as anything other than a place to bully others and show off his gross, third-grade humor. For him, it’s a $44 billion version of the fart mode he had engineers add to Tesla cars.

On Monday, Musk cut Twitter’s parental leave policy from 20 weeks to just 14 days. It’s just one of what was described as “a slew of cost-cutting measures to offset a plunge in revenue.” Somehow, the fact that Twitter employees used to get time at home with a newborn doesn’t seem like the problem.

That people might want a site that gathers together breaking news baffles him, because he doesn’t care about the news. That others might be interested in a flight update, or a warning that their train is going to be late is even more puzzling to Musk. His plane goes where he tells it to whenever he wants. For him, Twitter only exists as a place to own the libs and commensurate with racists complaining about the “woke mind virus.” And he either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, that other people don’t want to support such a site.

If every action Musk takes signals that he’s trying to kill Twitter, not save it, it seems to be because he never understood what was valuable about the site in the first place.

DOJ gathered evidence of conspiracy involving Nick Fuentes and Baked Alaska but never charged them

When text messages from FBI agents involved in looking into connections between Donald Trump and Russia revealed that some of those agents made comments very similar to what Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, or Marco Rubio were saying at the same time, Republicans went into full “lock ‘em up” mode, insisting that not liking Trump was sure evidence of an FBI conspiracy.

Strangely enough, none of those Republicans seem to be upset about FBI texts and emails showing that some agents expressed sympathy for those who smashed their way into the Capitol on January 6. Or how some even suggested they might join in. That’s not a conspiracy, as far as Republicans are concerned. It’s just proof that those poor folks who wanted to overturn the government and string up Mike Pence were in the right.

Now an article in The New York Times shows that not only were some of the FBI agents involved empathetic with the people they were supposed to be investigating, the Department of Justice never acted on some of the evidence those investigations produced. That included the DOJ apparently dropping a case of conspiracy involving white supremacist Nick Fuentes and racist conspiracy livestreamer “Baked Alaska.”

The agent involved, Nicole Miller, was one of those who expressed empathy for the Jan. 6 suspects she was investigating. She texted another agent, “Is it bad i almost kind of feel bad for [New York Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola]” and said she felt bad about his kids. However, this expression of empathy didn’t stop Agent Miller from collecting evidence that showed how a whole host of Proud Boys had been involved in planning events on Jan. 6.

[Note: If you haven’t been following along, Brandi Buchman has continued her coverage of the Proud Boys’ trial over at emptywheel.]

At the same time she was digging through this web of connections, Miller put together evidence of another conspiracy:

In a separate matter, she was also working on a never-filed conspiracy indictment against the white nationalist Nick Fuentes and one of his allies, the far-right troll Anthime Gionet, better known by his nickname Baked Alaska.

While Miller’s work on the Proud Boys, and the grueling pace she put in to handle everything involved with these sprawling operations, dominates the article, this is the only mention of Fuentes and Gionet. That’s because, as the article notes, the case Miller investigated was never charged.

It’s not that both got clean away. Gionet foolishly blew up his own plea deal involving his actions on Jan. 6, but he still ended up with just a 60 day sentence. On the other hand, Fuentes, who among other things stood before the crowd on Jan. 6 and gave a speech that included “It is the American people, and our leader, Donald Trump, against everybody else in this country and this world” and “Our Founding Fathers would get in the streets, and they would take this country back by force if necessary. And that is what we must be prepared to do,” was never charged. He would go on to an infamous meeting with Donald Trump and Kayne West at Mar-a-Lago in November, 2022.

If Miller actually collected evidence that would have supported conspiracy charges against Gionet and Fuentes, what was that evidence? Why were they never charged? A conspiracy charge would have certainly generated a more lengthy sentence for Gionet, and might have seen violent white supremacist Fuentes finally facing a day in court.

It’s common practice for the Justice Department not to reveal people who are under investigation, in order to minimize the impact if they turn out to be innocent. But in this case we know who was under investigation, we know why they were under investigation, we know who carried out the investigation.

What did Miller find? And why was it never charged?

The climate crisis is behind more and more deadly tornadoes like those on Friday night

In 2019, a study from Towson University made some pretty explicit predictions about how climate change was affecting the distribution of tornadoes across the United States. Things were changing both in how tornadoes are distributed across the nation, and how they are distributed across the calendar.

Tornado activity is increasing throughout the Southeast and in the southern portion of the Midwest and is decreasing throughout the southern and northwestern portions of the Great Plains and in the northern Midwest. Days with few tornadoes are becoming less common whereas days with many tornadoes are becoming more common. The seasonality of these big tornado days also appears to be changing, as their increase in frequency is greatest in the fall and winter.

That classic Wizard of Oz tornado — striking on a summer day in the plains — is actually becoming less common. What’s becoming more common are clusters of tornadoes hitting further south and further east, and striking in seasons that used to be relatively free of such storms.

But there's more than just a shift to new areas that are making these tornadoes more deadly. These southern tornadoes are more likely to occur at night, more likely to be shrouded in rain, and are simply more difficult for people to spot before it’s too late.

In 2022, CNN put it this way, the traditional "tornado alley" stretched across Kansas and Nebraska down to central Texas, but in more recent years, more tornadoes "are appearing in the Southeast, in eastern Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia."

As those tornadoes move east, they’re not just becoming more deadly in part because they're entering areas of high population. Mississippi and Arkansas may have populations only slightly higher than Kansas, but Alabama and Georgia are much larger. Even states like Texas, part of both the old and new zones where tornadoes are most likely to appear, are seeing the storms move from the less populated north central areas of the state, to heavily populated areas in the east and south.

There's also a different kind of geography at work that makes these storms more difficult.

Unlike the Plains, where a tornado can be seen coming from miles away, the Southeast has more rugged terrain and more trees, making it more difficult to spot a tornado. Many tornadoes occurring in the area are "rain-wrapped," so they are less visible to the naked eye, CNN meteorologists said.

It's nice to think that everyone has their weather radio on all the time, or that every small town is covered by tornado sirens audible to everyone. But that’s not the case. Most people take caution concerning tornadoes only when severe weather is already in the area, or when predictions of coming storms have been well publicized. Tornadoes arriving at night, on the leading edge of series of squalls, are much more likely to find people waiting in bed — especially if these are rain-wrapped storms whose presence isn’t confirmed until the tornado is on the ground, carving a path through the landscape.

Many people in the area also have mistaken ideas built up over decades of folk wisdom and luck. Ideas like “tornadoes don’t hit cities,” often backed up with claims that it’s because the asphalt and buildings create a "heat bubble" that deflects tornadoes. Such ideas linger, even after the tornadoes like the one that ripped through Tulsa in 2017.

Even more common is the belief that hills and other terrain features provide protection. The presence of all those tornadoes on the plains for so long left many with an impression that plains were the only place where tornadoes represent a real threat. Forests, hills, and rivers are all cited as supposed "barriers" for tornadoes. They are not.

Compounding all this is that homes in the southeast are much less likely to have basements than they are in some areas of the country. Also, because they have not been part of the traditional "Tornado Alley," storm shelters are very uncommon.

The death toll for the storms on Friday night currently stands at 24. Most of those were in Mississippi where the town of Rolling Fork (population 1,776) was reportedly “erased” by the storm.

Tornado Destroys a 'Great Deal' of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, Former Mayor

That 2019 study was just one of many warnings that with rising global temperatures will come more severe storms in the U.S. This is a pattern that is expected to get worse.

We're getting nighttime, rain-wrapped tornadoes that are harder to see, arriving at unexpected times of the year, in more highly populated areas, endangering people for whom such storms were previously far more rare and more constrained to summer months. That’s not an issue that’s going to be solved by improving weather radios.

Donald Trump has reason to be afraid of indictment in Georgia case; his lies were bigger than anyone knew

Donald Trump's infamous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger included a whole series of false claims, threats, and obvious efforts to drag him into a conspiracy. A second call to Raffensperger's office, heard by members of a Fulton County grand jury, added still more lies. Among the claims that Trump made was one in which he insisted "dead people voted." Trump told Raffensperger that his team had done the research and produced the evidence to support this claim.

"They went to all sorts of methods to come up with an accurate number," said Trump, "and a minimum is close to about 5,000 voters."

As The Washington Post reports, Trump really did have a study in hand from researchers he had hired to look at the results in Georgia and deliver an analysis. However, what that report found was not what Trump claimed. The number his researchers had uncovered suggested that the maximum number of votes that might have been cast using the identity of dead Georgians was “23 such votes across the Peach State.” That’s roughly 5,000 short of the 5,000 Trump claimed.

This is only one of the bald-faced lies Trump told in that conversation, and it's just one of several equally egregious falsehoods Trump and his team have tried to pass off in state after state. It’s also one of the reasons Trump’s legal team is now sweating the obvious: that grand jury in Georgia is likely to deliver an indictment.

As a number of grand jury cases connected with Donald Trump push toward possible time in court, more and more evidence is leaking to the public that shows just how much effort Trump put into finding some evidence of voter fraud, and just how much lying he was willing to do when that evidence failed to appear.

Last September, it became clear that an internal report prepared at Donald Trump's order had failed to support claims of any issue with voting machines even as Trump’s attorneys were in court claiming that Dominion and Smartmatic were secretly using the same software, that Dominion had been founded to serve former Venezuela dictator Hugo Chávez, that the machines were funded by George Soros, and that Dominion’s leadership had connections to antifa activists.

However, all of these claims had already been debunked by that internal report prepared expressly for Trump. As The New York Times reported then, it's not as if the people making statements in court were unaware of the findings. They just hid them.

The documents also suggest that the campaign sat on its findings about Dominion even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers attacked the company in the conservative media and ultimately filed four federal lawsuits accusing it of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.

In recent weeks, its become increasingly clear that Trump is terrified. He's been using his social media accounts to attack investigations into his lies about the election, investigations into his connection to Jan. 6, investigations into tax fraud, and investigations into crimes associated with his payoff to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The increasing frequency and vehemence of these posts shows just how certainly Trump seems to believe papers are coming to his door. And soon.

The report viewed by the Post shows that Trump knew his actions in almost every state where his "elite legal team" was clogging the courts were based on outright lies. In Nevada, Trump's lawyers went to court claiming that 1,506 ballots were "cast in the names of dead people." Trump's own investigators actually indicated a number of around 20. And this number is likely too high.

Even the small number of potentially ineligible ballots that the Trump report claims were cast by dead people may be an overestimation. It is not uncommon for a small number of voters to cast ballots early or by mail and then die before Election Day. Those ballots are typically counted, and considered legally cast, because of the difficulty of tracking and retrieving the votes in such a short time frame.

The fact that Trump didn't just lie to state officials, but did so intentionally and in absolute contradiction to the evidence that had been given to him, is another reason why the case in Fulton County, Georgia, is expected to end with charges. In every state, the researchers that Trump hired found no evidence of widespread fraud, and no reason not to support the numbers that the state reported.

Trump knew he was lying from the outset. So did his legal team. But they lied anyway—to the public, to Congress, to state officials, and in court.

On Friday, Trump pumped out a 90-second rant warning his supporters that Democrats are aiming to "steal" the 2024. In addition to repeating all the elements of the Big Lie, Trump warns that "the DOJ should stop" and that "Republicans in Congress are watching closely."

If watching this is hard to tolerate, just imagine he’s wearing an orange jumpsuit. Trump is certainly thinking about it.

Ukraine's 'supertank' is still on the prowl. But the country needs more of them

As with most days this week, it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s happening in Bakhmut. So take everything that follows about the situation in that area with a full cup of salt.

Bakhmut area. Open image in another tab for a larger look.

According to pro-Russian sources, Wagner Group mercenaries have moved up from the Optyne area into streets along the south end of Bakhmut proper. Videos have been posted that appear to confirm the presence of Wagner forces in this area.

On the east side of Bakhmut, there doesn’t seem to have been any real change in position with Russian forces still noted along the road to the east and moving toward “the winery.” For all the fighting that took place in this area, it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant to the outcome in Bakhmut.

Russian forces are also reported to have moved into portions in parts of both Pidhorodne and Paraskoiivka, though neither area has been overrun. Repelling the Russian movement in this area is critical to Ukraine’s hold on Bakhmut. Should Paraskoiivka be occupied, it would give Russia control of the highway junction north of the city, which is now the only major supply route for troops and equipment moving into or out of Bakhmut. What Ukraine does now, it heavily affected by how well it’s able to hang onto that location.

Meanwhile up the road at Kreminna, Ukraine is reporting Russian attacks repelled near Nevske and Makiivka. The fact that both attacks were repelled is certainly a good thing, but that they happened at all generates a lot of questions.

Kreminna area. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

For better than a month now, Ukraine has controlled the crossroads east of Ploshchanka and the highway down to Chervonopopivka. At times, Ukraine has challenged Russian positions at Holykove, as well as attacking south into Zhytlivka.

This northern axis of the battle for Kreminna represents an important tactical position, not just because it gives Ukraine another angle from which to assault Russian positions in the occupied city, but because it prevents Russian forces from moving materiel and troops along the highway between Kreminna and Svatove.

Does the report of attacks on Nevske and Makiivka mean that Ukraine has lost its positions on the P66 highway? It would seem that way. However, Russia has long held a position in the wooded area northwest of Kreminna, using that location in the past to strike to the south at Ukrainian positions in Dibrova. It’s possible that, rather than moving up the highway, Russian forces moved out of that little “red nose” northwest of Kreminna to make their assaults near Nevske and Makiivka.

However, the most reasonable assumption would seem to be that Russia’s “big push” out of Kreminna has succeeded in regaining control over the highway area, even if it hasn’t apparently displaced Ukrainian forces in the woods south of Kreminna. An earlier attempt by Russian forces to move directly west was apparently dampened (literally) by the same mud that has made this such a difficult approach for Ukrainian troops over the last month.

Pro-Russian bloggers are spending this Saturday engaging in the count of a lot of unhatched chickens. Right now, the plot goes like this: Russia displaces Ukraine from Bakhmut, forcing Ukraine to move to defensive positions to the west. That leaves a line of Ukrainian positions on the current front line — including Spirne and Bilohorivka — hanging in the wind. Ukraine then drops back to at least Siversk, if not another ten kilometers to the west. This means that the forces on the south side of Kreminna can no longer be supported and … bing, bang, boom, Russia is back in Lyman.

They’re already celebrating as if this has happened, but at the moment … none of it has happened. The sheer number of Russian forces on the front lines, and the relatively better equipment and training of those forces as reported over the last few weeks, is certainly not encouraging. But there seems to be no reason to assume that Ukraine is about to surrender larger areas, even if Russia does finally manage to reach Bakhmut a year into their invasion.

CNN has more on the amazing life, and tragic loss, of volunteer Pete Reed.

Reed started his humanitarian career working after Superstorm Sandy hit his home state of New Jersey, according to the biography pages on the Global Response Medicine and Global Outreach Doctors websites. Reed led medical teams during the Battle for Mosul in Iraq, treating over 10,000 trauma patients, according to the websites.

Reed died helping to evacuate civilians from Bakhmut. He was just 33.

A couple of assistance packages back, the U.S. included a line item for “8 patrol boats” for Ukraine. It’s one of those easy things to scan past, and the use of the term “boat” rather than “ship” could give the impression of something with an outboard and just enough room to paint “harbor patrol” across the bow. But this feature from KING 5 television in Bremerton, WA shows these boats under construction, and they’re a long way from what you might think. It’s worth getting past the ad to see what these things are like. To begin with, they are 85’ long, sleek, and fast.

These boats seem ideal for not just racing along the Black Sea coast, but cutting among the islands on the Dnipro River to deliver special forces, escort barges, or take out attempted crossings by Russian forces.

We’ve had a few notes in the past about Ukraine’s homegrown T-84 tank. Ukraine made this tank based on the Soviet T-80, but it’s more than just an updated version of the old tank like the many versions of the T-64 or T-72. It’s the result of plans that were in the works at the end of the Cold War, and which included a new welded turret to replace the old cast turrets still used on the T-80. It has a new, more powerful diesel engine and a new transmission that’s designed to make it faster and more agile forward, in reverse, and when spinning in place. It also has much more modern electronics giving it a better view range. On paper at least, it’s a much-improved tank.

Ukraine began cranking them out in 1994, and has actually exported the tanks to militaries in several nations. At one point, the tank was even marketed as the “T-84 Supertank” to highlight its improvements over the T-80.

T-84U Oplot. Ukrainian-made main battle tank review. Why tanks still matter?

But even though it sold the tank to others (including selling four examples to the United States), Ukraine’s fiscal issues made it hard to build a significant number of T-84 tanks for its own use. There may have been as few as six of the tanks in Ukrainian service when Russia invaded. Ukraine was also working on a version of the T-84 that used NATO standard ammo, and at least one of these tanks—called the T-84-120—was demonstrated near the factory in Kharkiv. Several may have been built. However, many parts of the tank were manufactured at facilities in Crimea, so after 2014 it became impossible to produce more.

If Ukraine had a full compliment of T-84-120 tanks, it’s entirely possible that Western tanks would not have even been on their shopping list. It’s worth watching the video to see how good this tank looks when compared to a T-80.

Right now, Oryx has not confirmed the loss of a single T-84, and there have definitely been videos of the tank in service. How many T-84s are out there, and how effective is it really when facing off with its Soviet-era relatives? We don’t know.

It’s possible I’m including this mostly because of the soundtrack. However, the ineffectiveness of the supposedly elite Russian forces at Vuhledar is somewhat reassuring when compared to all those claims of a big Russian offensive on the way.

Bidding farewell to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

On Tuesday, the biggest show in Washington, D.C., is the Kevin McCarthy roast. It may not have a cavalcade of D-list comedy stars wearing rental tuxes, but it absolutely contains a lot of jokes—most of them preceded by the words “Representative” and followed by an “(R).” But even as we’re all enjoying this showcase of weakness, disorganization, and self-inflicted political wounds, today is absolutely a sad day for what we’re losing.

Today is the end of an era when the House was skillfully operated by someone who was indefatigable in working through issues, consummately skilled in finding the votes necessary to secure support for a bill, and absolutely historic in the role she has played in Congress. Today is the real end of the era of Nancy Pelosi.

She may still be around, but her hand at the wheel—patient, persuasive, and powerful—will definitely be missed.

As The New York Times reports, the first woman to ever lead either chamber of the U.S. Congress will long be remembered, not just for breaking through a giant glass ceiling, but for her ability to organize the House and deliver votes:

Her presence will be felt for years in the climate, health care, public works and social legislation she ushered through to signatures by two Democratic presidents, as well as the big moments of her tenure capped off by the electrifying invitation to Volodymyr Zelensky to address Congress just days before she lost the gavel.

What’s easy to miss, as we watch McCarthy stumble through what may be the opening moments of a “leadership position” for which he has surrendered every ounce of leadership, as well as common decency, is that Pelosi has led a Democratic House that is far more diverse than anything Republicans have dealt with in decades. McCarthy is already failing to hold together a slim majority where everyone is in stark agreement on every major point. Pelosi handled much greater challenges regularly, and did it so easily that it was rarely noticed.

Republicans have a tent that goes all the way from hard-line conservatives to ridiculously hard-line conservatives. Pelosi has been faced with a House where the members of her own party span the whole gamut of the left, the middle, and even a bit of the right. She’s driven through climate change legislation even when members of her party were from states where fossil fuels play a huge role. She’s lifted up health care even when it meant going against both insurance and pharmaceutical industries that funded critical campaigns.

Most of all, she has demonstrated an unmatched organizational skill that persuaded individual members to soften, delay, or even surrender their individual demands in order to build legislation that met the challenge of the day. Nancy Pelosi is the champion of not allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. That’s often left people in her own party angry or disappointed. It’s also left America much better off for her efforts.

“The fact of the matter is no other speaker in the modern era, Republican or Democrat, has wielded the gavel with such authority or such consistent results,” said former Republican speaker John Boehner. “Let me just say you are one tough cookie.”

It is a rare thing to see a politician who can wed their moral compass and willingness to seek compromise; someone capable of setting aside personal goals in service to the party and nation; a person so willing to suffer public outrage to obtain benefits for the same people screaming for her defeat. With Pelosi, all of this was so obvious, that it was often simply ignored. She wasn’t just ready to risk everything to get what America needed, she did it reflexively.

Nancy Pelosi was never a great speaker, but she may be the greatest Speaker the nation has ever seen. And it is going to be some time before we see her like again.

If you have some time to spare, give this a watch.

Pelosi's Power (full documentary) |

Could 'toxic masculinity' be caused by a contagious brain-eating parasite?

When you look around America these days, it’s hard to feel like there hasn’t been some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers event. So many people seem not just anxious, but genuinely militant in their desire to bend back the arc of history. So many seem to be willing to work against their own best interests only because it brings other people pain.

People have looked for explanations, from prolonged exposure to Fox News to frustration over the slow decline of rural America, to a whole swath of isms: racism, sexism, etc. Watching people frothing at a Donald Trump rally, or beating police on the steps of the Capitol, or carrying an assault rifle to the grocery store, or screaming at their local school board, it all seems so … irrational. And, has long been noted, no amount of facts or reasoning seems to work in getting someone back once they have boarded the Q-train or decided that vaccines are the work of interstellar lizard people.

But what if the problem behind these seemingly irrational actions isn’t just caused by listening to AM radio and feeling resentful about that girl who turn you down in high school? What if it’s a disease caused by a genuine brain-eating parasite?

In November,Communications Biology included a paper from researchers looking at the behavior of grey wolves in Yellowstone National Park. They identified a series of “risk-taking” behaviors in these wolves, including leaving their pack, fighting to achieve dominance in the pack, and approaching people or cars. These behaviors all came with the risk of increased death, either at the teeth of other wolves or from the vehicles and guns of humans in and around the park.

What they found was simply amazing.

While male wolves who were infected with a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii were no more likely to approach humans than uninfected wolves, they were 3.5 times more likely to leave their pack than uninfected wolves, and an absolutely astounding 46 times more likely to become pack leaders than uninfected wolves. In general, these wolves were more dominant, more aggressive, and less predictable.

At the conclusion of the study the researchers noted that T. gondii infections are possible in almost all mammals, and: “Infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii has been linked to increased risk-taking in rodents, chimpanzees, hyenas, and now gray wolves.”

That leads directly to the question … what about people?

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, toxoplasmosis is common in the United States and is “considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness.” However, the relative number of those considered to show serious effects of T. gondii is quite low, generally less than 200 in any given year. According to the CDC, that’s because even though large numbers are infected with the parasite, “very few have symptoms because the immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.”

But does it? Just because it doesn’t get reported as generating symptoms, that doesn’t mean the parasite isn’t having some effect. In fact, back in 2007, the National Institutes of Health published a paper compiling several studies looking into how toxoplasmosis affects human behavior.

Until recently, latent infections in humans were assumed to be asymptomatic. Results of animal studies and recent studies of personality profiles, behavior, and psychomotor performance, however, have led to a reconsideration of this assumption.

As in other mammals, the effects of infection by T. gondii are very different between males and females. But here’s what happens to men infected by this tiny, single-celled organism:

… the personality of infected men showed lower superego strength and higher vigilance. Thus, the men were more likely to disregard rules and were more expedient, suspicious, jealous, and dogmatic.

Suspicious. Jealous. Quicker to make an immediate judgment. Less willing to listen to others. Guys who were ready to break the rules if it helped them personally. Sound familiar? Other factors, such as self-control and even “clothes tidiness” were found to be decreased by infection. Here’s another one: Infected men scored significantly lower than uninfected men when it came to establishing relationships with women.

It is very hard not to draw a line between these results and guys like Nick Fuentes screaming about “replacement theory” and fretting over declining sperm counts while claiming that relationships between men and women “are gay.”

If you think this behavior only manifests at the polls, or in the desire to throw on a white hood, think again. One study showed that “Toxoplasma-infected subjects have a 2.65 times higher risk of traffic accidents than Toxoplasma-free subjects.” It would be extremely interesting to have results of these tests on people involved in mass shootings. While they’re at it, they could test corporate CEOs.

What did T. gondii infection do to women? Almost the opposite.

The personality of infected women, by contrast, showed higher warmth and higher superego strength, suggesting that they were more warm hearted, outgoing, conscientious, persistent, and moralistic.

The “gender gap” in recent elections has been fairly extreme, but in trying to test against the current voting season, it’s difficult to disentangle gender-related results from concern over immediate issues, such as access to abortion. However, here are a few few polls from Civiqs on more general topics. When asked about Black Lives Matter, 53% of men were opposed compared to 36% of women. When asked about how the United States should deal with immigrants living in the country without documentation, 47% of men wanted those immigrants deported, while only 33% of women agreed. When asked about whether the government should do more to protect the environment, 46% of men said no. Only 32% of women agreed.

Sadly, both men and women infected by T. gondii showed decreased levels of curiosity and “low levels of novelty seeking.” So the disease could make everyone effected just … duller than they might otherwise have been. And while it’s easy to read the effects listed for women and conclude they’re mostly positive, that doesn’t mean they have a welcome or beneficial effect on their lives.

Unlike many diseases, toxoplasmosis isn’t spread person to person. Instead, it comes from consuming food infected by the parasite—generally undercooked meat—or from contact with animal waste. In this case, animal waste translates almost entirely into “cat poop.” The threat of miscarriage represented by toxoplasmosis is why women are advised to not clean the litter box while pregnant. Cats get this disease by eating infected rodents and birds. If your cat is an outdoor cat, infection is almost certain (infection of the cat, not necessarily the people). A cat that stays indoors is much less likely to be infected. People can also be infected by other means, such working in a garden and failing to wash infected dirt from their hands before eating.

Toxoplasmosis can be treated, but except for those regarded as at high risk from the more visible effects of the disease—chiefly pregnant women, newborns, and those with damaged immune systems—prescribed treatment is rare.

Is “toxic masculinity” really “toxo masculinity?” Without more testing and treatment, it’s difficult to tell. Certainly all these traits seem to exist in uninfected men. It’s just the infection simply makes things worse.

Why do videos keep emerging of Russian soldiers acting like zombies in Ukraine?

When people hear the term “hypothermia,” they tend to picture travelers trapped in endless snowdrifts, or huddling on some high ridge of a mountain whipped by raging gales. But it doesn’t take extreme conditions to put people into extreme duress.

Last Tuesday, what should have been a relatively simple hike at Zion National Park by a healthy couple in their early 30’s, turned into tragedy when temperatures dropped and both were incapacitated by hypothermia. One of them died.

A few years ago, three hikers—a father and his two young sons—died within a few miles of my home when they took a wrong turn hiking in the Ozarks and got caught out in a cold rain. It was 65°F (18°C) when they started out, before falling into the 40s. Hypothermia can set in at temperatures well above freezing when conditions are bad. Add wind. Add rain. Add prolonged exposure. Many cases of hypothermia occur at temperatures where people might not even think to reach for a jacket.

But death is only the final act of hypothermia. Well before that last act there is a classic suite of symptoms: exhaustion, confusion, loss of coordination, loss of memory, slurred speech, extreme drowsiness. Put all this together, and it could explain what’s happening with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

One of the subjects we’ve returned to over and over since Vladimir Putin launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine is how Russia’s culture of thievery and corruption has left their army short at every point. Whether it’s supposedly amphibious vehicles sinking into rivers because their seals haven’t been serviced, or rows of trucks left idle by rotting tires, funds that were supposed to go to maintaining Russian equipment went into the pocket of some colonel, general, or oligarch. Electronics, and even engines, have been stripped out of tanks.

Many of Russia’s supposed wonder weapons including the Su-57 jet, have been barely present in the fight because Russia has so few operational systems that it doesn’t dare risk them. The T-14 Armata tank, which first rolled out for a Victory Day Parade in 2014, has yet to take the field. Only a handful of T-90 tanks, which started production in 1992, have been seen in Ukraine. T-62 tanks dating from the 1960s, and even T-55 tanks from the 1950s, have been far more common.

That’s all just the big equipment. But the more obvious shortfall of the Russian supply chain isn’t the seen in the aging hardware rolling slowly down the roads. It’s the people standing in the mud.

It’s not just outdated helmets and summer-weight uniforms that are the issue. Russian forces have been told they need to bring their own sleeping bags. They’ve been making tents out of plastic wrap.

There’s absolutely no doubt that both Russian and Ukrainian forces are existing in miserable conditions, especially on the long established front lines where trench warfare has become unspeakable during the fall mud season. As temperatures in Ukraine drift ever lower, forces on both sides are left dealing with a half-frozen muddy slush, saturated clothing, and days of spitting snow and icy rain.

However, Ukrainian forces seem to be doing an infinitely better job at obtaining what they need to fight under these conditions, as well as creating conditions where people can at least temporarily get out of the freezing mud, to warm up and have a hot meal.

On the other hand, Russia seems to be doing little to assure decent conditions for its troops on the front lines, especially in the area around Bakhmut, where Russia has resorting to throwing a near constant set of human waves at the entrenched Ukrainian positions. (Which is why the Ukrainian military continues to report over 500 Russian deaths a day.)

But in the last couple of weeks, there has been something just … weird. Video after video in which Russian forces barely seem to react to imminent threats. In general, Daily Kos avoids posting images or videos in which people are clearly being killed or severely injured. This is an exception, because it’s not just genuinely odd, it’s an example of a whole class of similar videos.

Ukraine correspondent Tom Warner has the same conclusion after showing this video that we’ve been walking through here—these men are freezing to death. Their body temperatures have lowered to the point where they are so incapable of motion that even a bomb landing in their midst isn’t a reason to stir.

And it’s still November.

Russia keeps making statements about how armies have always made the mistake of attacking Russia in winter as if, somehow, this is a portable defense. But now it’s Russia that is away from home, trying to occupy an area in bitter conditions at the end of overstrained supply lines. They are going to lose so, so many men this winter.

This doesn’t mean that every foolish action by Russians in Ukraine at this point is fueled by hypothermia. They are not. Russia took plenty of boneheaded actions when the weather was warm, and there have even been videos of Russians behaving not too dissimilar to the group above over many months. But there does seem to be a special cluster of WTF going on along the eastern front at the moment, and a bad case of chilled down brains seems as good an explanation as any.


As of late November, Russia seems even more fixed on destroying Ukrainian infrastructure. Those attacks, waged with both missiles and drones, have done billions of dollars in damage and left cities from Kyiv to Lviv in the dark for many hours of the day. However, Ukraine’s other army — the one composed of electricians, carpenters, and construction crews, remains on the job. Many of the damaged substations around Kyiv have now been repaired and the government is expecting increased hours of power over the next week.

Electricity has even been restored to Kherson, where on Saturday the lights went back on in some hospitals and other critical infrastructure. Crews are now working on restoring power to individual homes. Ukraine is even getting assistance from what may be an unexpected source — a member of Russia’s crumbling CSTO alliance.

Destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure for the express purpose of attempting to freeze the populace into accepting Russian occupation is a war crime. However, that’s not Russia’s biggest problem with this strategy. The biggest problem is that it’s becoming increasingly ineffective.

Even as Russia releases more and more drones / missiles at a time, Ukraine is getting better at shooting them down. Some of that is made possible by new air defense systems that have appeared in Ukrainian cities. Some of it is simply more experience in using existing weapons against the ubiquitous Shahed-136 drone. All of which is leading Russia into what seems like an incredibly desperate measure. That measure can be found in this update from the British MOD.

Go read that again. Russia is taking AS-15 missiles, removing the nuclear warhead, and sticking on a block of something to act as a counterweight to keep the missile flying as designed. Then its throwing this dead weight at Ukraine. It would definitely be unpleasant to be in a house or apartment building hit by one of these things, as that weight on the end is about 410kg (900lbs).

But the biggest reason Russia is launching these is just to put something else in the air. They’re just decoys sent in the hopes that they’ll allow another missile to get through against Ukraine’s constantly improving rate of shoot-downs.

Russia is cannibalizing it’s nuclear arsenal to provide decoys in hopes of taking out electrical substations in Ukraine. That’s pretty amazing.


This video of a column of roughly 40 Russian T-80U tanks has been posted multiple times in the last few days with claims that it is moving “in the direction of Svatove.” However, there’s no reason to think this image is from that area, or even from this year. None of the tanks seems to be marked with a “Z” or any of the other identifying symbols that have been used in this war. The cars that are mingled in the mix either have no plate, or the very wide plate characteristic of the Russian federation. In any case, Russia has already lost at least 89 documented T-80U and another 176 T-80BV tanks since the invasion began.

Ukraine update: 'Organized withdrawal of troops of the first line is impossible' in Kherson

Those days when a Russian position is clearly crumbling? Those are the best days.

On Saturday evening in Ukraine, Russia has once again targeted electrical production and transmission facilities with missile and drone attacks, causing blackouts that involve a large percentage of the population, including the majority of Kyiv. However, this appears to be about the only “good news” on Russian state media and Telegram channels. Because the situation in Kherson appears to be coming to a head sooner than expected.

On Saturday morning, Russian officials called for “immediate evacuation” of the city of Kherson. Officials seem to have followed this order by swiftly hopping on a boat and departing. There have also been reports that over the last two weeks Russia has been subbing in freshly mobilized troops for experienced fighters, while getting the forces who know which end of a rifle to hold across the river. There are also efforts reportedly underway to evacuate Russian personnel from the filtration camp at Beryslav.

Over the course of the day, these withdrawals appear to have become evident on the front lines. There are multiple reports of abandoned Russian positions, some of which have even been confirmed by the Ukrainian general staff (which is usually reluctant to report anything happening near the actual front line). It’s possible that the front line in Kherson is simply collapsing. That may be particularly true if those reports that the line has been replaced by inexperienced and recently mobilized troops. As soon as those guys no longer had someone holding a gun to their back, running away likely seemed like a Real Good Thing.

Ferries are reportedly doing frequent and rapid trips across the river on Saturday night in Ukraine, with Russians hoping to get as much across they can, while keeping an eye out for incoming HIMARS fire.

As Wagner Group Telegram channel GrayZone puts it: “The situation is even worse than in the Kharkiv region after the breakthrough to Balakliya. In fact, the implementation of an organized withdrawal of troops of the first line is impossible.”

GrayZone worked this into a lengthy post that included such stirring phrases as “a tale of the city of the Scythian sun has not yet sounded in our ears, but the air has already been saturated with a familiar unpleasant aftertaste that leaves a lump in the throat.” That could be Google Translate straining at the seams. Or a lot of vodka. In any case, they also took this opportunity to complain about Russian leadership wasting drones on civilian targets, and to metaphorically roll their eyes at the scheme to blow the Nova Kakhovka dam then blame it on Ukraine. Because nobody, not even pro-Russian military bloggers, would buy that story.

Every single source now seems to expect that the end of Russian occupation in Kherson isn’t going to be measured in weeks or months. It’s a matter of days. How many days is the only question. And it’s not going to be an orderly withdrawal with Russian tanks all neatly ferried across the Dnipro. It’s going to end with Russian forces clawing, or maybe shooting, to get that last spot on board.

What’s especially interesting, is that these Russian sources can see where things are going next, and understand well enough what caused them to lose the largest city they had managed to occupy in this invasion.

The enemy has absolutely no motive to blow up the hydroelectric power station. The Armed Forces of Ukraine plan to take Melitopol in the spring. It plans to open a battlefront in the Zaporizhzhia region, and also to attack from Kherson. So I subjectively believe that the enemy has no goals to destroy the already abandoned city [Kherson], which we simply do not have the opportunity to defend, not so much due to the smallness of forces and means, but in broken logistics.

Right now, there are a lot of reports of Russian positions being abandoned, but little visual confirmation that Ukraine has moved into these locations. In part, that may be because it’s currently 11PM in Kyiv. When the sun comes up, expect to see some images and videos from locations that have been on the red side of the line for months.

Reports that Russia’s front line in the north is collapsing. (open in another tab for a closer look)

Right now, there are reports that Chkalove and Charivne have been abandoned. The Chkalove claim has been supported by the Ukrainian general staff. It seems unlikely that these locations would be reported unless this also means that Ukrainian forces were currently there on the ground, but that still needs confirmation. Those locations cut deep into the formerly Russian-occupied area and make it possible for Ukraine to encircle any Russian forces that may remain in the area of Bruskynske. But there may be no one, as there were unconfirmed reports on Friday that this town was back on the Ukraine side of the divide. On Saturday, there are unconfirmed reports that Ukrainian forces have entered Mylove on the east, and have moved as far down as Chervomnyi Yar near the center of the line, several kilometers behind what has been the front over the last three weeks.

If all of this is confirmed, it seems that Russia’s northern line in Kherson is gone, and it’s not clear where, of if, Russian forces will form up again.

At Snihurivka, local sources report a large explosion at midday. Reports are that this was not a matter of Ukraine hitting the location with artillery or HIMARS, but Russian forces in the town blowing up remaining ammo as they prepare to withdraw. Departing Russian troops reportedly didn’t have time to take ammunition, because they were busy loading up TVs, refrigerators, and (of course) washing machines. Again, let’s hope these reports are accurate.

Honestly, while everyone on the front lines over the last months deserves praise, the real heroes of Kherson could be the guys in the backroom; the intelligence officers who (with help from the U.S. and others) correctly identified the weakness of the Russian’s supply situation in the west and what steps could be taken to exploit that weakness. Ukraine has been fighting to liberate Kherson since just days after the city was taken. In April, Ukraine’s dilemma in the area became clear—how to retake the city without resorting to the kind of tactics that Russia had used in taking Mariupol or would use at Severodonetsk. Ukraine wanted to liberate Kherson and, as much as possible, preserve the city and protect its people. How could it do that if Russia set up artillery in the middle of town and shelled Ukrainian positions with a quarter million human shields all around them? And how could they get there at all with Russia creating a set of nested fortresses along each highway?

Dammit if Ukraine didn’t find a way.

It’s still a long way to Kherson. In fact, Ukrainian forces have been closer to the city at least three times over the last nine eight months. But this time it’s not just momentum and hope that are propelling Ukraine forward.

Meanwhile, near Bakhmut…

There are reports that Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the area is extensive enough that it can’t be measured by looking at what specific stores are held. Ukraine may have taken back the town of Zaitseve, thought this is still awaiting confirmation.

How is Buhkmut going? Not well if you’re Russian.

Lindsey Graham explains the difference between Republicans and Democrats in just two sentences

There are few reasons to admire Sen. Lindsey Graham. Actually, that’s not quite right. There are no reasons to admire Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Still, every now and then, just by accident, Graham gets something exactly right, and at the “Faith and Freedom Coalition” meeting held this week in Nashville, Graham managed to do something that might even seem amazing. In just two sentences, Graham deftly defined the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

He did it without mentioning a single policy. He did it without talking about the price of gas, or attacking LGBTQ people, or suggesting there should be a law allowing officials to peek under the skirts of teenage girls. He didn’t even mention “faith” or “freedom,” which was supposed to be the theme of the day. But he did it very effectively, and in a way that everyone can understand.

At the podium, Graham made it clear what he really missed about Trump — the bullying. “You know what I like about Trump?” Graham asks the audience, before providing the answer. “Everybody was afraid of him.” He then waits for — and collects — applause for this insight before jumping in to express how terrified he was of his own leader.

It’s true. Everyone was afraid of Trump. I woke up every morning concerned that he might launch a military attack to distract from his latest scandal, or destroy a diplomatic alliance to fit some twisted narrative, or finger some group of Americans as the source of all the nation’s ills, or ruin he environment just because he could. There were good reasons to fear all those things. Because they all happened.

Trump was, and is, an erratic, logic-free id storm whose tantrums often call for his followers to rain down abuse on anyone he deems a critic. He’s a guy who thinks his ability to hate powerfully, is his best quality. He may even be right.

The difference is … Republicans like it. They like being afraid. They want that bully at the bully pulpit. They want a “strong man” to tell them what to do, to yell at anyone who strays from the course, and to threaten everyone who refuses to go along with the fascistic flow. They don’t want to have to deal with facts and reason, much less justice and fairness.

Republicans like being afraid of Trump. It’s no wonder that they are always making paintings and posters in which Trump is some muscle-bound action hero. Because admitting they enjoy being bullied by the actual Trump … is simply pathetic.

The New York Times finally understands that Trump is attempting to end democracy — and they blame you

Waking up The New York Times to get them to notice how Republicans are attempting to end democracy has been a difficult task. Especially when they’re so busy continuing the investigation of Hunter Biden that began entirely because they were drinking Rudy Giuliani’s dirty bathwater. Or when they’re scratching their heads over how the U.S. lags other nations in vaccinations, but don’t say a single word about the forces that have spent two years politicizing vaccines and pushing anti-science claims that have led directly to hundreds of thousands of deaths. They also don’t seem to notice the nearly 2 to 1 disparity in death rates between counties that voted for Joe Biden and counties that voted for Donald Trump. Nope. It’s all a mystery to them.

Still, every now and then, something is blunt enough, and obvious enough, that the Times must take notice. And the weeks of revelations about Trump’s coup appear to have finally crossed that threshold.

On Tuesday evening, The New York Timesanalysis hits the target: The revelations of the last few weeks, and specifically Trump’s own statements, have made it clear that there never was any actual concern about election fraud. Trump wasn’t out to correct some perceived issue with voting. He was out to overturn the legitimate results of that voting so that he could remain in power. All of it points out just how fragile democracy was. And is.

Even so, the Times has found a new villain. Someone to blame for failing to sound the alarm over the danger facing America. That someone? Americans.

There is absolutely no doubt at this point about Trump’s intention to remain in power, the steps he took to make that happen, and how close his actions came to success.

Trump’s claims about a “rigged” election didn’t start after his loss in 2020. They started in 2015. From not long after he rode awkwardly down that golden escalator to announce his improbable candidacy, Trump set out to undermine faith in American elections.

This is Donald Trump in Aug. 2016, months before the election that he actually won.

“Remember, we are competing in a rigged election. They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is all too common.”

But even earlier than that, Trump called the Republican primaries “rigged” and “boss-controlled.” Then he declared that Democratic primaries were rigged, egging on claims that Bernie Sanders was the “real winner” on the Democratic side.

Trump’s lies about massive voter fraud, of dead people voting, about people voting “hundreds of times,” of ballots being filled out in advance or shipped in by the thousands, and of voting machines “switching votes”—none of that began in 2020. Trump not only made all those claims in 2016, they were standard content of every rally he did from the start of his first campaign right up until his rally last Saturday. And they were a feature of hundreds, if not thousands, of tweets, statements, and Fox News appearances in between.

It wasn’t that Trump launched some kind of last-minute blitz to weaken America’s faith in the democratic system; Trump waged a years-long campaign, using almost every opportunity to chip another flake away from those bedrock principles.

Trump wore down faith in democracy geologically—day after day, year after year, a grain at a time.

In this, he was assisted by two forces. One was a right-wing media that helped him reinforce that message. The other was a mainstream media that echoed his statements without making it clear that his intent was to generate lasting harm.

It is far too late in the game to just be discovering that Trump was only concerned about his own power all along, and way too late for statements like this one, from Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University:

“I actually think the American public is dramatically underplaying how significant and dangerous this is,” he said, “because we cannot process the basic truth of what we are learning about President Trump’s efforts—which is we’ve never had a president before who fundamentally placed his own personal interests above the nation’s.”

The “American public” is not “underplaying” anything, because it’s not the public’s task to pull the cable on the alarm. That responsibility falls entirely to journalists. If the public is not alarmed by a systematic attempt to end democracy that resulted in both an attempted coup and an insurgency on the same day … that’s the news media’s fault.

To The New York Times’ credit, the first part of the article about their shocking discovery that Trump is only in it for himself did appear on the first page. But then, so did a review of a new TV series about Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, along with the requisite reminder about groundhogs.

It should not take Donald Trump sending out a missive that spells out his intent in black and white for the U.S. media to treat an attempted coup as an attempted coup. If American democracy is going to survive, America has to get off the ground and fight, and the organ that carries out that fight isn’t the “American public,” it’s the American news media. It is called the Fourth Estate for a reason.

The whole reason that the First Amendment exists isn’t so that the Times can do cute movie reviews. Or that The Washington Post can bring the nation the latest antics of Punxsutawney Phil. It’s there because it was expected the freedoms it enshrined were necessary to speak out against tyranny.

If the America public is asleep, wake them. If the American public isn’t showing the proper levels of concern, scare them. Stop acting as if your job is simply to report the results of polls rather than drive them. They certainly don’t believe that over at Fox News.

Stop treating the greatest existential threat that the nation is facing right now as if it’s something that can be dealt with by occasionally chastising us from the editorial page. Stop telling us that the American public is blasé in the face of an authoritarian threat. Smack them across the face with that threat until they move.

You have a larger headline type. Use it

Want to save democracy, and maybe journalism in the process? Show people that journalism is relevant. Get agitated. Get breathless. Get angry. And get busy. Stop pretending that ignoring evil is an acceptable position.

Stop blaming the people. Move them.

  • Donald Trump schemed openly to overthrow democracy and install himself as an authoritarian ruler.
  • His party—from bottom to top—is complicit in this scheme which is, without qualification, the greatest threat the United States has ever faced.
  • Why isn’t the media treating it that way?

Yes, Ted Cruz is a joke. But it's a sick joke

There has never been a time when Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas could be held up as admirable. Long before he put himself down as a candidate for president in 2016, Cruz made his name as a serial liar who ran far out on the right wing of social issues, spending his time pandering to the fears of evangelicals, attacking gay marriage, denying the climate crisis, and threatening to invent a new law so he could arrest the producer of Saturday Night Live (and that was before Aidy Bryant began her pitch-perfect imitations).

Still, there was a time when Cruz was taken seriously, at least on the right. In 2014, he made it onto a list of “most admired” Republicans. By that time, Cruz was already engaged in laying the groundwork for his 2016 run, with multiple visits to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. In particular, his anti-LGBTQ stances gave Cruz a strong starting position with evangelical leaders—so strong that Jerry Falwell Jr. required Liberty University students to attend Cruz’s announcement speech or be fined.

When the first contest in Iowa rolled around in 2016, Cruz actually beat Trump. He would go on to win Alaska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Puerto Rico, Idaho, Utah, Wisconsin, Colorado, and his home state of Texas. All of which seems inconceivable now.

Because that Ted Cruz—the Cruz who called Donald Trump a “pathological liar,” “coward,” and “narcissist”; the Cruz who confronted Trump on stage about attacking his wife; the Ted Cruz who seemed to have a legitimate chance of leading the Republican Party … is utterly gone. In his place is a gormless, gutless lump who not only bowed to the man who called his wife ugly, but last week hurried into Fox News for a live humiliation session with Tucker Carlson. It was a session in which Cruz applied lips to Carlson’s butt repeatedly in his effort to make clear that he would never consider having an independent thought.

Watching Cruz wear out his knees before a sneering propagandist who treated him like dirt might provide both amusement and satisfaction, considering Cruz’s statements over the years. But it also is—or should be—frightening.

In the midst of a discussion about the state of democracy on NBC News, historian Ruth Ben-Ghait addressed the willingness of so many Republicans to fall in line behind the Big Lie, despite not only a lack of evidence, but almost unlimited evidence that the claims of election fraud are not true. Ben-Ghait notes that, under Trump, the Republican Party has become a “big tent”—not for diversity, but for extremism. It’s a tent in which extremist ideas are not just welcomed, but built upon and spread, with the authors of those extremist claims becoming the stars of the party. All that’s required is that their lies support Trump.

Trump’s term in office was one in which “through threat and corruption,” and with the assistance of “relentless propagandizing,” he converted the Republican Party into “his personal tool.” That tool could then be leveraged to any purpose Trump desired, including gathering his own personal army on Jan. 6 for an assault on the Capitol.

But the ability to champion any lie, no matter how outrageous, in support of Trump’s cause is just one part of what Ben-Ghait labels “authoritarian leader-cult dynamics” within the Republican Party. Another issue is how those who worry that they might find themselves outside the tent are willing to do anything in order to secure that place next to the throne.

After reviewing some of Cruz’s performance on Carlson’s show, Ben-Ghait had this to say:

“A lot of people laughed at this because they don’t like Cruz, and I don’t like Cruz either. But I view this with dread. Because what this symbolizes is authoritarian party dynamics. Clearly they have a party line, and it’s not just about repeating propaganda, you have to enforce it.
This is what dictators do when someone says something they shouldn’t have said. Gadhafi in Libya … he would have people come on television to recant, to confess their sins. Saddam Hussein did stuff like that. What we’re seeing with Tucker, who made Cruz come on, is the same kind of dynamic.”

As former Cruz assistant Amanda Carpenter wrote for conservative site The Bulwark:

“Every last member of the punditocracy has taken a turn dunking on the Texas senator whom everyone loves to hate.
Hope they enjoyed it. Because once you really understand what Cruz is apologizing for, it’s not all that funny.
The worst part of that interview wasn’t Cruz’s abject humiliation, but his radicalization. And yes, that’s saying something considering that Cruz was one of the leaders of the charge to object to the Electoral College count on January 6, 2021.”

Of particular concern to Carpenter is that in the past year Cruz has thrown away any pretense of supporting law enforcement in order to back the “Patriot Purge” theories promoted by Carlson, theories that insist the Jan. 6 assault was a set-up instigated by the FBI.

To underscore this, Cruz appeared in a Senate hearing on Tuesday in which be pelted Assistant FBI Director Jill Sanborn with questions about “FBI informants” hidden in the ranks of the Jan. 6 insurgents and pressed a conspiracy theory around a man named Ray Epps.

Epps is the 60-year-old owner of The Knotty Barn, a wedding venue in Queen Creek, Arizona. He was filmed asking people to go “peacefully” into the Capitol” on Jan. 5. Somehow, that has placed Epps at the center of a conspiracy theory that says he was an FBI plant who was setting up Trump supporters up to be arrested the next day. The main contention of this claim is that Epps wasn’t arrested because he was “a fed.” The truth seems to be much simpler—Epps wasn’t arrested because, despite what he said on Jan. 5, he doesn’t seem to have entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.

However, not only did Cruz ask questions about Epps during Tuesday’s hearing; those questions are, at the time of this article, being reported as “breaking news” across right-wing media, with treatment that suggests Cruz asking about this conspiracy theory is proof that Epps was indeed some kind of undercover government agent.

That Cruz focused his questioning at the Senate hearing on supporting a conspiracy theory pushed on Carlson’s show isn’t coincidence. It’s an example of how he is taking the groveling from his whipping session on Fox News right back into the Senate chamber.

As Carpenter told CNN, it’s not Cruz’s humiliation that the media should be focusing on, but a level of radicalization that says Republicans do not have to distance themselves from violence. Only Democrats are subject to rebuke. It’s okay to call Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists,” but right wingers can only be “patriots.”

“How that plays out is that President Trump orders troops and tear gas for people who are in Lafayette Square, but when his side goes to the Capitol, they get really sweet messages about how ‘we love you’ and everyone whitewashes what happened.”

Cruz isn’t simply a beaten cur; he’s emblematic of a Republican Party that steps all over itself to prove loyalty to the authoritarian cult’s leader.

It’s funny. But only in a very disturbing way.

Louie Gohmert sued Mike Pence in December 2020 to try to force him to go along with coup

In the last days of December 2020, Politico noted a decidedly odd story. That’s when Rep. Louie Gohmert, along with a group of would-be Donald Trump electors from Arizona, filed suit against Mike Pence—not for violating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, but for following it. And if that doesn’t sound strange enough already, Gohmert was likely acting as a stand-in for Trump.

In an update, Politico ponders why this story has gotten so little attention. And it’s a good question.

The suit against Pence seems to have been a proxy fight in two ways: First, the suit from Gohmert put more pressure on Pence to go along with the coup plan that was being circulated around the White House and briefed to Republicans in Congress. Second, it was a direct attempt to get the Department of Justice to weigh in on the constitutionality of the Electoral Count Act. Scoring points on either of those fronts might seriously advance the hopes of running through Trump’s plan to overthrow the election while giving it a patina of legality.

Despite claims that the plan presented to Republicans by Phil Waldron was not the same as the “official” plan that Mark Meadows, Trump, and attorney John Eastman pressed on Pence in the Oval Office, it’s clear that the critical points of the plan are the same. The details of Gohmert’s suit show that it follows the same basic themes. There was only one coup plan: Have Pence refuse to count enough electoral votes for Joe Biden so he could either claim that Trump was the outright victor or make a case that the election was “in dispute,” giving Trump the pretense to call for a do-over election under military supervision.

Well before Jan. 6, Republicans were out there in public, explaining that scheme in court. It’s just that no one in the media took them seriously.

In that December 2020 lawsuit, Gohmert and company explicitly make the claim that would be repeated in the memos from Eastman and the PowerPoint from Waldron.

"Under the Twelfth Amendment, Defendant Pence alone has the exclusive authority and sole discretion to open and permit the counting of the electoral votes for a given state, and where there are competing slates of electors, or where there is objection to any single slate of electors, to determine which electors’ votes, or whether none, shall be counted," claims the suit.

In other words, Pence, with no other authority or evidence, could determine which states got counted, and which states did not. The 1887 Electoral Count Act, according to the suit, is unconstitutional because it puts limits on that unlimited authority to decide what’s in, and what’s out.

It seems clear at this point that Gohmert was only acting as a stalking horse for Trump. It also seems clear that the real intent of the suit wasn’t to generate any kind of legal precedent, but simply to force Pence to act. Opposing the suit would also mean opposing Trump, and would send an early signal of Pence’s intentions on Jan. 6.

The signal on how all this would play out came just one day later when the Department of Justice stepped in to defend Pence. That came after Gohmert’s attorneys had a chat with Pence’s attorneys, offering what Gohmert’s team described as “a meaningful attempt to resolve the underlying legal issues by agreement, including advising the Vice President's counsel that Plaintiffs intended to seek immediate injunctive relief in the event the parties did not agree.” In other words, Gohmert offered to drop the suit if Pence would just commit to the scheme to overturn the election results. Pence did not sign on.

Gohmert’s suit was rejected by the federal district court in Texas. This was followed by a thumbs down in the court of appeals. In both cases, judges ruled that decorating the suit with the names of people who would have been electors had Trump won did not give Gohmert standing to sue Pence for following the law.

At the time, it was easy to lose Gohmert’s suit in the sea of lawsuits that Trump’s legal team was launching against election results across seven states. The same team of attorneys who sued Pence for Gohmert were also responsible for some of the suits against the election outcome in Arizona—which is a pretty good clue to who was really calling the shots.

But a year later, it’s now clear that this suit was another piece of the plan represented by Eastman’s memo, Waldron’s PowerPoint, and the texts that were delivered to Meadows up to and during the assault on the Capitol. There was just one coup plot. And they were all in on it.

Tracking waves of COVID-19 through 'no smell' complaints made on candle reviews

In an ideal world, COVID-19 tests would be so frequent and ubiquitous that it would be possible to identify all active cases, isolate them for a few days, and snuff out the pandemic like a candle at the end of a long, dark night. However, the fact that we just lived through four years of Donald Trump occupying the White House is a pretty good indicator where this world falls on the “ideal” scale. Suffice to say it’s not exactly a 10.

From the start of the pandemic, governments in the U.S. and elsewhere have looked for ways to detect COVID-19 in a situation where either it’s not possible to do enough testing or where the person in charge is deliberately suppressing the rate of testing. That’s included testing the level of viral particles in sewage, which has repeatedly resulted in wildly inaccurate claims about the percentage of the population infected.

In the pursuit of more and better ways to track the impact and scale of COVID-19, podcaster Drewtoothpastenoticed a potentially significant clue that came along with the wave of omicron cases: a “fresh wave of bad reviews for Yankee Candles.”

For the blissfully unfamiliar, Yankee Candles are a line of highly scented candles usually contained in a jar and sold on a number of large retail sites, including Amazon. It’s not surprising that the reviews of these candles would contain some single-star responses, such as this one from 2018: “Smelled Bad. Both my aunt and her caregiver remarked that all three of the candles smelled ‘cheap,’ they said that ‘they smell like Lysol’ and they're reminiscent of ‘dollar store quality candles.’ Now my aunt is stuck with three terrible smelling candles that she won't use.” The aunt in question had recently had a colostomy, and the review finishes with: “I think we can all agree that the situation must be bad if you prefer the smell of human waste to a product designed to freshen the air.”

That is a bad review. It’s also the second time that poop has made an appearance in this story.

But the recent reviews are somewhat different. Rather than complaining about the overwhelming semi-medicinal scent of these candles, the recent one stars include several that note “no scent” or “didn’t give off much smell.”

In response, political science professor Nick Beauchamp took the dates of recent reviews that rated the candles poorly because they lacked smell and placed them on a graph.

Graph of "no scent" complaints concerning Yankee Candles
Plot of ‘no smell’ complaints for the top three Yankee Candles on Amazon.

If that chart looks vaguely familiar, it could be because of a resemblance to this one.

COVID-19 daily cases in the United States
COVID-19 daily case rates in the United States.

Beauchamp also looked at the data another way, producing this graph showing the percentage of “no smell” reviews when compared to all reviews. This should help eliminate spikes caused by there simply being more candle purchases around the holidays as people seek innocuous gifts for relatives they barely know.

"No smell" reviews for the top three Yankee Candles at Amazon as a percentage of total reiews.
‘No smell’ reviews for the top three Yankee Candles at Amazon as a percentage of total reviews.

That graph may seem like a less than perfect match to the spikes in daily cases. However, there’s also another set of data to compare.

Active cases of COVID-19 in the United States
Active cases of COVID-19 in the United States

That seems … pretty remarkable. But remember, only about 40% of those with symptomatic COVID-19 report a loss of smell or taste. Also, complaints about Yankee Candle not smelling enough are a trailing indicator. And possibly one of the few benefits of the disease.

The James Webb Space Telescope — NASA's big hope and big gamble — is planned for launch on Christmas

NASA and space launch firm Arianespace have confirmed a launch date of December 25, at 7:20 AM Eastern Time, for the James Webb Space Telescope. On Thursday morning, the Ariane 5 rocket, with the telescope folded and stowed inside the payload fairings, left the assembly building at the launch facility in French Guiana and headed toward the pad. All indications are that, after more than two decades of planning, manufacture, setbacks, delays, cost overruns, and the eventual expenditure of over $10 billion, the most powerful instrument ever launched is finally about to take flight.

The complexity of the JWST is astounding. Rather than a single mirror, as in Hubble, Webb will have a 6.5m- (21’) wide mirror composed of 18 hexagonal gold-coated beryllium plates. Because the mirror is too large for any existing rocket, it will travel folded up, and deploy only when the telescope arrives on station. Unlike Hubble, that station won’t be in close orbit around Earth. Instead, Webb is bound for a point 1,500,000 km (930,000 miles) from Earth known as Lagrange Point 2 (L2), a spot where the gravity of the Earth and Sun are balanced so that anything near that spot can remain in orbit, holding position relative to Earth with minimum expenditure of energy.

It’s critical that Webb get away from Earth expressly because it’s an instrument that is designed to work mostly in the infrared—in the range of wavelengths we call “heat.” It’s going 1.5 million kilometers away, to an orbit where the Earth is eternally positioned between the telescope and the sun. There it will set, with its back to both Earth and Sun, as it deploys not just the folding mirror, but a whole series of massive sunshields, designed to keep heat from reaching the instruments. To work, Webb needs to be cold. Very cold. As in −223.2° C (−369.7° F) cold. Any warmer, and the delicate instruments will be overwhelmed; even damaged. One instrument has to be even cooler, just 7° C away from absolute zero, requiring an innovative “cryocooler” that cost $150 million to develop.

The Christmas launch is just the beginning of what NASA describes as “344 single points of failure,” every one of which must go right. There are no second chances. Because where Webb is going, there is no possibility of sending a repair crew.

After Hubble was launched in 1990, scientists discovered that the telescope’s mirror was slightly off, making the instrument’s images blurry and blunting its ability to make discoveries. That original launch of Hubble was supposed to happen in 1983, but the technical challenges that would befuddle the team behind Webb also appeared 30 years earlier, constantly delaying Hubble and requiring additional funds and testing. Despite all that time and testing, they still had an issue.

Starting in 1993 and continuing until 2009, NASA conducted four servicing missions that were, and still are, one of the great triumphs of crewed space flight. In those missions, the telescope was given “corrective lenses” to account for the slight distortion in the mirror. The servicing missions also mounted new and improved instruments, some of which included technology not even available when the telescope was launched. The missions require both the space shuttle and the astronauts to work at the limits of their abilities, and the result of that work were images and data that have generated both wonder and a new understanding of the universe.

But Hubble is limited. Because its primary instrument is designed mostly to collect visible light (i.e. the same spectrum of light that humans see), it can’t peer back into the earliest eras of the universe. That’s because light tends to get “red-shifted” by the expansion of the universe. Light that was visible light in the first billion years of the universe is now pushed by distance and speed in the deep infrared, making it invisible to Hubble. The size of Hubble’s mirror also limits the resolution of objects that it might pick up, making things like the faint light reflected by planets around other stars outside its reach. And finally, Hubble’s location in Earth’s orbit limits the area of the sky it can search, as well as subjecting the instruments to a wash of light, drastic changes in temperature, and other forms of interference.

Webb is designed to see into the infrared, giving it the ability to detect objects as old as 100 million years after the origin of the universe. Its larger mirror means it can gather more light, allowing it to image objects that are too faint for Hubble. Its distant, protected position will allow it to operate without “light pollution” from Earth and Sun, allowing its observations to be even more sensitive.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope – Official Mission

The Webb isn’t the first large infrared telescope to be sent into space. In 2009, the European Space Agency launched the Herschel Space Observatory as part of a joint mission with NASA. That telescope had a 3.5-meter mirror—larger than Hubble’s, but considerably smaller than that of Webb. Herschel was also sent out to the L2 point, keeping it distant from Earth and not subject to the heating and cooling that happens when satellites in low Earth orbit. However, rather than carrying the series of heat shields that will protect Webb’s instruments, Herschel was cooled by a tank of liquid helium. Four years into the mission, that cooling simply … ran out of cool. The instruments failed on April 29, 2013. Since then, astronomers have been waiting, not-at-all patiently, for the launch that will finally come on Christmas.

After over 25 years of development, the anticipation for Webb is enormous. Hundreds of scientists have constructed theories that are waiting for data from Webb to be tested. Scientists are anticipating the potential to learn about everything from the early days of the universe to the potential for habitable worlds and the nature of dark matter. To say that thousands of careers are dependent on what happens over the next few days is a big underestimate of just how vital this instrument is to astronomers and others around the world.

For a decade, a full quarter of all NASA spending has been dedicated to this one mission. This one tool. With the cost, the complexity, and the out-there orbit, the JWST is a “one shot.” If everything goes right, it could—it will—offer a much deeper understanding of the universe, unprecedented views of the largest and most distant structures, and discoveries that have not yet been contemplated. Or one of the 344 must-pass events will fail. And we get nothing.

There is no chance for a repair mission. There is no back-up Webb waiting in the wings. It launches on Christmas, and it works. Or it fails, and who knows when another opportunity will come.

The Insane Engineering of James Webb

Launch will be far from the end of the perils for JWST. Even though it is scheduled to launch on Christmas Day, it won’t begin to operate until the summer of 2022. Over a six-month period, the telescope, and the “bus” that carries it, will go through that long list of can’t-fail tasks. That includes deploying those enormous, and almost impossibly delicate, sun shields, as well a kind of reverse-origami unfolding of the telescope’s hexagonal mirror tiles.

So while scientists will certainly cheer the launch of JWST and feel enormous relief that it’s finally on its way, this is far from the end. There’s going to be a lot of anticipation, and anxiety, over the next few months as Webb gets ready for its debut.

On Thursday morning, Atlantic space reporter Marina Korin is providing regular updates as the Ariane 5 heads for the pad. Though everything looks good at the moment and the Ariane has proven to be a highly-reliable launch vehicle, there is still the possibility of last-minute delays. NASA has already set up a stream and will provide live coverage of the launch. A wealth of additional information is available on the mission page.

Cross your fingers. And maybe wish upon this rising star.

James Webb Space Telescope Launch — Official NASA

Note: In March of this year, an article in Scientific American called on NASA to find a new name for the James Webb Space Telescope. The observatory is currently named for James Webb, who served as NASA administrator during the Apollo program. However, Webb also worked at the State Department in the 1950s where he involved in psychological warfare during the Cold War. In addition, he engaged in policies, both in the State Department and at NASA, intent on purging LGBT employees and researchers. However, Webb’s role in these policies seems to be one of enforcement, not origination. Other scientists inside and outside of NASA have pushed to preserve his name, praising the role he played in the early space program and his efforts in promoting space-based science. The controversy around the name continues, and there is some possibility that the observatory may be renamed in the future.

Report from House Oversight Committee emphasizes how Trump deliberately suppressed COVID-19 data

On Feb. 25, 2020 Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, gave a somber warning of what lay ahead. Americans, said Dr. Messonier, should expect “disruption to everyday life may be severe.“ She explained that, after looking at the information then available on the novel coronavirus pandemic spreading from China, that she had sat down and held a talk with her own family. “Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It’s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more exactly when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illness.” Two days later, Dr. Messonier was instructed to stop giving press conferences, and essentially sidelined from the handling of the pandemic.

That Donald Trump downplayed the threat represented by COVID-19 and attempted to suppress information related to the scope of the danger, is not exactly a surprise. Whether it was Trump’s claim that there were only 15 cases in the U.S. and that it would soon be down to zero, or the ridicule directed at both scientists and politicians who attempted to be honest with the public, Trump’s actions generated tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. In November, documents were released showing some of the ways Trump and his team worked to silence scientists, hide the recommendations from the CDC and other agencies, and block release of information such as the importance of wearing masks.

And now the House Oversight Committee is back, with an extensive report that compiles both errors and deliberate suppression of the facts. That report shows that Trump was responsible for both “critical failures” and, in what should be the first step in a criminal indictment, "deliberate efforts to undermine the nation's coronavirus response for political purposes,"

Every politician is a position of power is called on to make decisions that can affect lives. Whether that represents a small number of soldiers being tasked with a risky mission, or funds being allocated to repair a bridge crossed by thousands of commuters each day, those decisions can have the most severe consequences.

In the course of events, the pushback against those in charge is generally limited to the political: Make a bad decision, and the threat is losing your seat in the next election. Forcing politicians to stand in front of a court for something they did in office—if that something was not an actual crime, like bribery or extortion—is a genuinely rare event. And it should be.

But what Trump did over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic goes beyond bad decision-making, or even the ugly politics of retribution. We’ve known since last year that Trump’s team repeatedly took actions, not to prevent infections, but to deliberately increase them. We already know that

  • HHS political appointee Paul Alexander demanded that CDC stop publishing scientific reports he believed were damaging to Trump. CDC officials were then ordered to delete Alexander’s emails to cover up this attempt to quash vital public data.
  • Dr, Deborah Birx has confirmed that quack Dr. Scott Atlas was brought into the COVID-19 team specifically to reduce the level of testing across the nation, generating a false impression that case loads were falling.

The new report also shows that Trump’s team did with COVID-19 what they did with every other project while he was in charge: opened it up to corruption and “left the federal government vulnerable to fraud and profiteering.”

How Donald Trump managed the COVID-19 crisis wasn’t a litany of errors. It wasn’t even just a cascade of crimes. It was an attempted genocide, one in which Trump repeatedly took actions designed to cause more deaths out of a mistaken impression that those deaths would mostly affect urban areas in blue states. They didn’t just commit a crime against humanity, they knew it, because they devoted resources to trying to cover up that crime.

What Trump did leading up to Jan. 6 is unforgivable and deserves criminal prosecution. What he did in handling COVID-19 is far worse.

What killed Trump's coup inside the Capitol may have been Trump's insurgency outside the Capitol: analysis

The texts released by the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 show that the White House, Republicans in Congress, and Donald Trump Jr. were all terrified about the insurgents breaching the Capitol. Some were terrified for how it would cost them politically. Some for how the insurgents might harm them physically. Right-wing pundits, hoping to make the best of embarrassing and incriminating information, have hurried to claim that, if Fox News and congressional Republicans were screaming to make it stop, they couldn’t have been in on the insurgency.

However, the latest releases drop several more puzzle pieces into place. The picture of how Donald Trump and the Republican Party planned to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election and install Trump as dictator in everything but name still isn’t quite complete. But what’s there is frightening in both its depth and breadth.

It shows that they had the means of keeping Trump in power, a supposed motivation for their actions, and that they viewed Jan. 6 as an opportunity to put their plans into effect. Only not everyone was playing from the same book, and some of them forgot to synchronize their watches.

This was not a closely held scheme. The plan to refuse to seat electors from states that voted for Joe Biden wasn’t whispered about solely in one White House meeting, where Mike Pence made some kind of heroic stand against Trump, chief of staff Mark Meadows, and attorney John Eastman. The essence of the plan circulated widely among Republicans. Versions of it were batted around by White House staffers and among Trump’s campaign team. They played through themes, scenarios, and alternatives.

A 38-page PowerPoint discussion of all the different ways that Pence could wreck the electoral vote certification on Jan. 6, and how they could put down any attempts to prevent Trump from seizing power, was briefed to Republicans in Congress. Some of those briefed were sill texting elements of the plan back to Meadows even as the assault on the Capitol was underway.

There was a second track to this plan. That was the pseudo-legal track being managed by Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and a revolving cast of others willing to sign their names to lawsuits that vanished as quickly as they appeared. The purpose of this team was to generate theoretical justification for taking action that would overturn one of the cleanest, most closely observed elections in American history. It didn’t matter that this track ran on malicious speculation and deliberate lies, not when there was media—and Republicans in Congress—ready to pretend that it was real. Whether it was Venezuelan dictators, Italian satellites, or just “trash cans of votes,” evidence wasn’t required.

And then there was the third track. That was the Trump rally track. The “wild time” track. The Stop the Steal track being managed by Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander. The purpose of this track was simple enough: It was there to generate anger. Anger that could help justify action. Anger that could bully the reluctant into going along.

On Jan. 6, that anger got ahead of everything else, and the third track turned into a third rail.

Both the “legal” track and the protest track were there, in part, to demonstrate to Republicans inside and outside Congress what it meant to defy Trump. It didn’t matter if it was county-level election officials in Michigan, or the hard-right governor of Georgia: No one was above being named in a lawsuit, or turned into the object of death threats. Anyone could find their home surrounded by angry white militants screaming at their spouse and children, or being labeled across right-wing media as a RINO traitor. All it took was a tweet.

Much of this was visible before the select committee began its work. Or even before Jan. 6. Trump and company were not exactly subtle, nor secretive.

Some of these issues raise real points of concern. Such as: How did multiple members of the Republican Party in Congress receive an extended briefing on methods by which they might illegally overturn the election results, and none of that appeared in the press? It might be too much to think that a Republican in the House would let the media in on what they were up to, but were there no staffers, no observers, no AV guy hired to run the projector who thought the public needed to know what these guys were up to? The idea that Republicans sat through a 38-page PowerPoint on “How to Destroy America” in the week before Jan. 6, and the public didn’t learn about it for 11 months, should be—and is—terrifying.

The coup plans were the means of execution. The legal claims, ridiculous as they were and are, were the justification. But the rally track, the violence track, was the lever to make it all happen.

Bannon and Stone didn’t come into this cold. They had worked on “Stop the Steal” in 2016, with intentions of accusing Democrats of voter fraud in that election. Stone was back with “Stop the Steal” in Florida for 2018, deploying claims that the election there was going to be stolen when it looked like Democrats might pull off a victory in the Senate and governor’s race. They had it ready again in 2020, with Trump, Stone, and others insisting there was going to be massive election fraud months before the election was ever held. Trump underlined all this with claims that the only way he could lose was if there was fraud.

Months before the election, Alexander announced that he was already building out “digital infrastructure” for “Stop the Steal 2020.” That included a database of Trump supporters who could be activated for the purposes of intimidating poll workers and state officials through their “physical presence.” Trump tweeted his own “Stop the Steal!” tweet the same day as Alexander’s announcement, showing the closeness of his efforts and those of the Trump campaign.

After the election, from Pennsylvania, to Georgia, to Arizona, to Michigan, to Nevada, to Wisconsin, Trump’s team launched anger-a-thons that terrorized vote counters and election officials at all levels. Some of these were done on the off chance that they might intimidate an official into actually trying to flip electoral votes. All of them were done to perpetuate the idea that there was “a dispute” over the vote count in these states. That idea was given an enormous boost by attention from the media; primarily Fox News, where the claims of Trump’s legal team aired on a constant loop.

In the days before Jan. 6, the violence track got special attention. Trump had sent a signal to his white supremacist militia supporters, promising them “it will be wild” if they showed up. The Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and other militant groups didn’t show up unprepared. They planned for months, using encrypted platforms like Telegram, where they and worked with neofascist groups supported by Bannon.

In advance of Jan. 6, these groups decided to change up their uniform, appearing in all black. That clothing came in handy for Fox News host Laura Ingraham and a cluster of right-wing radio hosts (including former FEMA director Michael “Brownie” Brown). Even as Ingraham was texting with Mark Meadows, trying to get him to halt the assault on the Capitol, she was back on Fox, insisting to her audience that the black outfits were “not what Trump supporters wear”, and that there were “some reports that antifa was sprinkled throughout the crowd." That same argument was making its way across right-wing radio. Ingraham also insisted to her audience that only “around three dozen” people were involved breaching the Capitol, no matter what they may have seen on their screens.

But there’s another reason that the violence squad was wearing black that day. A Jan. 5 email from Meadows to an unknown party indicated that the National Guard would be standby on Jan. 6 to “protect pro Trump people.” As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch has pointed out, Trump tweeted about antifa twice on Jan. 5, indicating that trouble was expected. Trump had also spoken with the Pentagon when planning events for that day. It was not a coincidence that Mike Flynn’s brother was in position to release, or withhold, National Guard support on that day.

Here’s some selections from a timeline for events that actually happened on Jan. 6:

09:00 AM—Trump rally begins at the Ellipse, with the hanging of banners for the “Save America March.” Rep. Mo Brooks steps up, to deliver a speech in which he demands that those present “fight for America” and calls on them to “kick ass.” Then Rudy Giuliani steps in front of the mic to demand "Let's have a trial by combat.” Even before his speech has ended, the first contingent of Proud Boys leaves the Ellipse area and begins moving toward the Capitol.

12:00 PM—Trump begins his speech at the rally. He promises to march with his supporters to the Capitol, tells them “We are going to have to fight much harder,” that the election outcome is an “egregious assault on our democracy,” and instructs them “You have to show strength.” Shortly after Trump begins speaking, Rep. Paul Gosar sends this tweet, with a hat tip to Ali Alexander.

What happens next is the critical point. A point where both the law, and the coup plan, may have simultaneously exited the scene.

12:30 PM—Though Trump is still speaking, at least 300 Proud Boys are already confronting police at the Capitol. Within minutes, 10,000 to 15,000 more people are marching that way. Before Trump finishes making his promises to the crowd, his supporters have already pushed through the first police barriers. The chief of the Capitol Police makes his first call for help from the National Guard.

1:00 PM—Senators and Pence walk to the House chamber to begin the formal certification of electoral votes.

1:10 PM—Trump finishes his speech, with another call to march on Congress and to give Republicans the “pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

1:12 PM—The list of states being counted reaches Arizona. Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. Ted Cruz immediately object to certifying the results in that state. The House and Senate split apart for two hours of debate over the objection.

1:17 PM—As Trump supporters climb scaffolding, force their way up stairs, and press into the tunnel beneath the House, Lauren Boebert tweets “We are locked in the House Chambers.” and then tweets “The Speaker has been removed from the Chambers.”

1:51 PM—Alex Jones tells the crowd on west side of Capitol to come around to the east side, claiming there is a stage there and that Trump will join them. Some follow Jones, but others began battering the doors and window of the Capitol.

2:11 PM—Insurgents enter the Capitol.

With the insurgents occupying the building, ransacking offices, invading both congressional chambers, carrying off souvenirs, and smearing feces on the walls, Congress doesn’t return to finish the count until 8:06 PM.

When Congress finally reconvened, the Arizona objections were dealt with, the vote continued, then, despite several other objections, Pence announced the results of Biden’s victory.

But consider this alternate timeline:

3:05 PM—Congress completes debate and the session reconvenes to report the results of that discussion. Pence then doesn’t immediately move to count the Arizona votes, but—as both the memo from attorney John Eastman explained, and as was detailed in the coup plan briefed to Congress—Pence insists that Arizona be skipped over, and that the count continue with other states. This soon brings other objections, resulting in Pence either calling for Congress to once again adjourn for separate debates, or adding them to the “in dispute” category.

Meanwhile, outside the Capitol, men dressed in black threaten police and shove against barricades. As Congress continues with the count, and Pence continues to set states aside, Trump calls in the National Guard, insisting that they protect both Trump supporters and Congress from antifa terrorists. When they are deployed, Trump joins Jones and others on the east side of the Capitol, raising the crowd to a fever pitch.

It’s not difficult to see how this day spins out very differently, and more along the lines of the coup scheme, ending with either Pence declaring Trump the winner, or—as Bannon suggested—with Trump announcing a do-over election under military supervision.

The difference in this timeline is that in the second version, Trump’s supporters don’t actually breach the Capitol, or at least don’t do so until after Pence has the chance to declare Arizona in dispute.

And yes, in the real world, Pence did not do that. Instead, he’s been lauded handing over a letter at the beginning of the session indicating that his powers there were limited, and for pushing past objections to reach a Biden victory as the Electoral Count Act demands.

However, Pence’s apparent bold stand, and the reversal of some votes among Republicans in Congress, came after the invasion of the Capitol. It came after Fox News pundits texted warnings that the scenes of violence on television were ruining everything. It came after multiple Republicans had texted Meadows, mostly to let him know they were scared shitless. When the Capitol was breached and Pence led away from the crowd chanting for his death, the Arizona votes had not been counted.

Pence declared Biden the victor in the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol. That he would have done the same thing without hours of America watching Trump’s supporters loot and pillage and threaten—without the audible chants of “hang Mike Pence”—is only an assumption.

Trump had the plan for how he would reverse the election. He had the pretense of a justification. He had a large percentage of Republicans thinking that the election had problems. He had support among Republicans in both the House and Senate to raise the objections that would put his plan in play. But on Jan. 6, it may not have been Pence that generated the point of failure in this plan.

Instead, it seems as if the part of Trump’s plan that was left to Bannon, Stone, and others who sat back to watch from their control room at the Willard Hotel simply moved too fast and too hard. The wild time got too wild.

What sank Trump’s coup inside the Capitol may have been Trump’s insurgency outside the Capitol.

Trump insiders believe Fifth Amendment is the ultimate roadblock. It may just be a speed bump

Hundreds of people may have already spoken to the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, but when it comes to the most memorable names from the Trump White House, what they all have in common is subpoenas and a commitment not to honor them. With Steve Bannon already in court following an indictment for criminal contempt, others seem to be following the same path toward months, or years, of federal court hearings. Only, post-Bannon, the remainder of Trump’s crew of in-house insurgents seem to have landed on a new step designed to make an already syrup-in-January process move even slower: They’re taking the fifth.

First, it was would-be attorney general Jeffrey Clark. Clark informed the committee that he would appear at a deposition but intended to invoke his rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment in response to any questions. That announcement put Clark in the rather unique position of declaring that he could not describe actions he took as a senior member of the Department of Justice without putting himself in peril of criminal charges. Which is … special.

Clark isn’t the only former Trump insider who is latching onto the idea of barricading behind the Fifth Amendment. Politico seems to believe this is a clever move, indicating that this the “most potent strategy” for Trump’s team, arguing that indicting members of the Trump White House after they’ve made a Fifth Amendment plea would be “frivolous.”

But that’s not the way any of this works.

On Clarks’ Gucci-wearing heels came coup-plotting attorney John Eastman. Eastman informed the committee last week that he was refusing to testify or produce documents as requested, again, because doing so would conflict with his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Eastman, who wrote the plan by which Pence could supposedly declare Trump the winner by refusing to count votes for Joe Biden, refused to even appear, and followed this with a 10-page argument that the whole Select Committee is illegitimate.

And once that path was well defined, Roger Stone joined in. Stone’s attorney even went to a higher plane of obfuscation by saying that they were refusing to turn over documents requested, but that their Fifth Amendment claim couldn’t be interpreted as confirmation that these records actually exist. In other words, we’re refusing to give them to you because they would risk criminal indictment … if they existed.

On Thursday, as The New York Times reports, Mark Meadows took some of the same arguments as Eastman and went a step further, suing Nancy Pelosi and the House Select Committee in federal court with claims that the subpoenas issued to Meadows are “overly broad” and that the committee itself doesn’t have legal authority.

The odds that Meadow’s suit will survive even the first preliminary hearing can be described as long. That won’t stop the appeals for dragging on for months. It also won’t stop the Select Committee from moving ahead with a finding of contempt against Meadows that is a shoo-in to pass the full House and head over to the DOJ, where Meadows suit is likely to be viewed for what it is—an attempt to stall the system.

When it comes to Clark, Eastman, and Stone, the folks at Politico feel that the Fifth is their ticket to a perpetual stall. As legal experts make clear, the Fifth Amendment is an “unqualified privilege.” While claims such as executive privilege, or even attorney-client privilege, have limitations and exceptions, the Fifth Amendment has no such boundaries. What it says, in part, is very simple:

No person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself

And the experts cited by Politico apparently feel that, as long as Clark, Eastman, and Stone hold to this claim—either putting them in the chair or getting an indictment on charges of contempt—is all but impossible.

Except, while the Fifth Amendment may be unqualified, it’s also very specific. On television, “I plead the Fifth” is slung around with regularity. In the real world, its use is much more limited.

For one thing, it only allows an individual to refuse to witness against themselves “in any criminal case,” which has widely been held to mean in a courtroom trial. A Fifth Amendment plea also doesn’t provide a witness with the right to avoid appearing before a court or from facing specific questions. The Fifth Amendment isn’t an automatic right, and it’s not all-encompassing. It must be explicitly stated, and it’s up to the witness to tell the court what questions are covered by the claim.

In general, the Fifth Amendment applies to two groups:

  • A defendant charged with a crime who refuses to testify in their own trial
  • A witness subpoenaed to testify in a criminal trial who refuses to answer specific questions

There is no option here for “witness who refuses to appear” or “witness who issues a blanket refusal to testify.” That’s called contempt.

Even when witnesses are in a position where the Fifth Amendment may apply, attorneys are extremely reluctant to use it. That’s because attorneys are well aware that judges and juries can’t help but read this as a big “I did something wrong” flag, even if they are legally required to give the claim no weight. Supreme Court has made it clear that juries can’t infer guilt solely because a defendant refuses to answer a question … but it never looks good.

Clark, Eastman, and Stone are, of course, unconcerned about how things look. They’re well aware that their supporters don’t really care if they’re lying, and will reward them for refusing to cooperate, even if that refusal is illegal.

However, the idea that Clark, Eastman, and Stone are welcome to some blanket protection is laughable. For one thing, the House Select Committee hearings are not a criminal trial. For another, none of these men is in any sense the defendant of these hearings. In Clark’s paperwork, his attorney argues that he’s eligible to plead the Fifth because members of Congress have accused him of a crime. Again, that’s not what the Amendment, or any related case, says about how this works.

If the evidence before the Select Committee generates a recommendation for an indictment by the Justice Department, and that translates into an actual trial on charges, any of these three will have ample opportunity to refuse to testify in that trial. It’s also possible that any testimony they provided to the committee might be inadmissible in such a trial. In the meantime, it’s entirely unclear that there’s any basis for upholding a Fifth Amendment plea at this point, and certainly not one that excuses a witness from appearing.

But, as with all the other delaying efforts from the insurgents behind Jan. 6, that’s going to play out in court. Slowly.

Trump-appointed judges are pushing a huge right-wing lie in order to block vaccine mandates

In July, President Joe Biden issued a series of rules requiring that federal workers, and workers at companies that receive federal contracts, must be vaccinated. That included health care workers who work for hospitals that receive Medicare or Medicaid payments. However, earlier this month, a three-judge panel in Texas blocked the implementation of the mandate for many large companies. Now, as The Washington Post reports, a federal district judge in Missouri has acted to block even the mandate for health care workers. That includes workers dealing face-to-(hopefully-masked-)face with COVID-19 patients in emergency rooms and workers caring for those most vulnerable to bad outcomes in nursing homes.

What both rulings have in common is simple enough: Trump-appointed judges.

Unsurprisingly, the ruling from District Judge Matthew Schelp is filled with the kind of political language that might be expected from a Trump appointee, with statements including claims that implementing the rule would create a “...politically and economically vast, federalism-altering, and boundary-pushing mandate...” The ruling also flatly accepts unsupported claims by a group of Republican state attorneys, headed by radical right Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt, that the mandate would cause a collapse of the health care system. According to Judge Schelp, it’s the mandate that’s the threat that “significantly understates the burden that its mandate would impose on the ability of health care facilities to provide proper care, and thus, save lives.”

In fact, Judge Schelp ultimately echoes right-wing talking points by claiming that vaccine mandates mean that people will just walk off the job. “The loss of staffing in many instances will result in no care at all,” writes Schelp, “as some facilities will be forced to close altogether.” This isn’t just untrue; it’s a massive lie.

Vaccines work. Vaccine mandates work. And this ruling will directly contribute to the death of Americans. But even that is just one part of what makes this so notably wrongheaded.

Just to make it clear how unjustified this ruling is, Judge Schelp provides two examples of why the mandate is dangerous. One is a single Nebraska anesthesiologist who says he will quit rather than take a shot. The second is a Missouri nursing home where Republican AG Schmitt claims that the administrator says “out of about sixty-five employees, twenty have indicated that they are opposed to taking the vaccine, and if the mandate is imposed, that they will quit.”

The same kind of claim was made about tens of thousands leaving the New York City Police Department. It didn’t happen. And thousands more abandoning the military. It didn’t happen. And planes grounded by crews leaving the airlines. It didn’t happen. In the widely publicized case of a healthcare system in Houston, where headlines blared those 150 workers who quit, they failed to mention that over 99% of workers did not.

If that Missouri nursing home actually lost workers at the same rate as Houston Methodist, which was subject to months of Republican-supported protest and lawsuits, they would lose … not a single person. But judges are still making rulings supported by this kind of claim.

Schelp’s ruling will halt the implementation of mandates across 10 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. This includes some of the states with the lowest vaccination rates, and not surprisingly, the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths.

COVID-19 vaccines work. That effectiveness has been demonstrated both in the thousands who participated in controlled trials and in the relationship between rates of vaccination and rates of serious illness worldwide and within the United States. Multiple long-term surveillance studies continue to show that vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths, even in the face of delta and other variants.

Vaccine mandates work. That’s been demonstrated from the airlines to education to the military, where vaccine requirements have all but eliminated anti-vax holdouts. Despite dire predictions that thousands would walk off the job rather than take a jab, in New York City, only 34 out of over 35,000 police actually went on unpaid leave when they failed to meet vaccine deadlines. A company mandate resulted in at least 99% of United Airline employees getting vaccinated. Schools across the country have seen that mandates increase vaccination for both students and staff.

Mandates have also made a huge difference among health care workers. As NPR reported in September, health care workers were not immune to being influenced by vaccine misinformation and disinformation. As a result, 27% of those on the front lines of the crisis remained unvaccinated just three months ago. Then companies began enforcing mandates. While The New York Times ran headlines such as “Over 150 Texas Hospital Workers Are Fired or Resign Over Vaccine Mandate,” that headline deliberately obscured was the fact that the 153 fired or suspended came from a system that employed just under 25,000. Thanks to a vaccine mandate, Houston Methodist hospitals went from 75% vaccinated, to 99.4% vaccinated. That change absolutely saved lives.

Around the world, differences in vaccination rates are among the biggest factors in determining the number of COVID-19 deaths. In Russia, where vaccination rates are below 40%, despite the home-grown and widely trumpeted “Sputnik” vaccine, death rates have continued to rise dramatically as the delta variant became dominant. Currently, Russia is seeing case fatality rates well above 3%—twice that of the United States. On the other hand, even during the worst of the delta surge, the rate of deaths in Israel, where vaccine rates are higher than in the U.S., stayed well below 1%. And while the daily rate of cases in the U.K. may seem terrible, a combination of widespread testing and a vaccination rate 10% higher than the U.S. means that the case fatality rate there has remained around 0.4% throughout the delta surge.

Around the world, the World Health Organization estimates that between 115,000 and 180,000 health care workers have died from COVID-19. Kaiser Health News found over 3,200 U.S. health care workers had died in just the first year of the pandemic. That number was as of March, well before the delta surge. With a quarter of those workers still unvaccinated as of this fall, misinformation means that thousands more are likely to die—and that’s not considering their families, friends, or others who become infected from contact with these unvaccinated workers dealing directly with COVID-19 infections.

The “burden” imposed by mandates is fantastically small. That’s been demonstrated again and again. However, Republicans—including Judge Schelp—ignore that truth to maintain a pretense that vaccines will either cause massive disruptions or generate widespread walkouts. Neither of which is at all true,

The success enjoyed by Republican attorney generals appealing mandates to Trump-appointed judges will open the floodgates on lawsuits from former employees against companies, universities, hospitals, and local governments that imposed vaccine mandates. The result is likely to be a legal chaos that goes on for years.

The specific means by which Republicans have been fighting these mandates—by arguing that federal agencies don’t have the right to set the rules how such steps are implemented—has much broader implications. Rulings such as those from Judge Schelp are another step in making it impossible for executive branch agencies to effectively implement policy, whether it comes from legislation or executive order.

Finally, the pliancy demonstrated by these Trump-appointed judges is another huge warning for what comes next, when these same attorney generals stand in front of the same judges, to restrict voting, defend gerrymandering, and overturn any election that doesn’t fall their way.

The New York Times and CNN are spreading misinformation designed to scare people about the economy

Prices are up. That's absolutely true. Inflation has increased since the beginning of 2021 at a rate unmatched since 2009. But that's what happens every time a Democratic president drags the economy back out of the ditch where a Republican administration left it. It's not, as the media seems to be insisting, a sign of the apocalypse.

Two weeks ago, CNN ran a segment that was supposedly about how families are "constrained by inflation" and that this is putting "a burden" on their lives. In the segment, CNN's Brianna Keilar throws over to reporter Evan McMorris-Santoro with an expression of deep concern about how inflation is affecting how families "feed their kids." McMorris-Santoro, handily standing in front of a gas station sign, moves directly into how gas is "up by more than a dollar since last year" without noting that the prices in 2020 were heavily depressed by the pandemic. He then goes on to interview his typical American family in Texas—who have nine kids and buy 12 gallons of milk each week.

Most of the criticism about the story has focused on that astounding number. Any family that buys 48 gallons of milk each month is pretty far from typical in our 1.23 children per family on average society. But that's not the problem. And it's not just CNN.

The problem with that original report on CNN isn't the family, and it's not their fondness for milk. The problem is how McMorris-Santoro enthusiastically passes along misinformation without correction.

"I think that probably in June, a dollar was worth a dollar," says the mother in the interview. "And now that dollar is worth about seventy cents."

The inflation rate over the last few months may have been higher than Americans are used to over the last decade, but a dollar in June is actually worth about $0.97. The actual rate of inflation is 10 times smaller than the number that was passed along with comment. McMorris-Santoro doesn't make that correction.

Then comes that citation for a gallon of milk, with a claim that it was $1.99 at some unstated time in the past, but is now $2.79. Both of those prices are not only well below the average cost of a gallon of milk in America, the lower value hasn't been seen since around 1994.

The truth is that milk prices are almost completely divorced from inflation. That's because they are set by Federal Milk Marketing Orders that were last revised in 2000. That system generates a complex, regional pricing system that results in milk being extremely cheap in the Upper Midwest, with prices increasing as you move away from that area—to sites such as Texas. Stores can, and do, advertise and sell milk at lower prices. They do this as a loss leader to bring people into the store. But the actual cost of milk now is lower than it has been for most of the last two decades.

None of this gets explained. Instead, McMorris-Santoro goes to lengths to point out the large consumption of this exceptionally large family. If the numbers provided are accurate, all that milk works out to about $10 a week in extra expense. Or $40 a month.

However, McMorris-Santoro completely fails to mention that, even if the one child the family is fostering isn't included, they would still be receiving at least $2,000 a month in new child tax credits that President Joe Biden began issuing in July. That's right. June, the month that is set up in the interview as the Last Good Month before things went to hell, was actually the last month before they began getting monthly benefits as large as their family.

Inflation over that period wasn't 30%. It was 3%. Milk prices over that period didn't go up $0.80 nationally, they went up by just $0.11. And all of that was a blip compared to the $2,000 check that began rolling out to the family in the interview every single month. But that's not how it got presented.

"Grocery shopping means tough choices right now," voices McMorris-Santoro.

That's followed by a statement from the father in the interview who says, "We're not buying the most healthy stuff, because [the] prices have gone way up. I feel kind of guilty that we can't afford the good things to be healthy also."

The remainder of the piece focuses on how the family has to clip coupons, look for bargains, and bypass things they'd like to have. That's before the final statement in which we're told that their total bill—$310—would have been "$150 or $200" back in March. In other words, the CNN story is now pushing the idea that there has been 107% inflation since March. No one corrects this. In fact, McMorris-Santoro doubles down, saying that the family is "feeling the inflation squeeze to a tune of an extra hundred dollars a week."

They're not. But even if they were, they would be coming out $400 a week ahead thanks to those child tax credits. So why aren't they able to buy their kids healthier food than they were buying in June?

The reason this interview became infamous may be for the 12 gallons of milk, but it should be disdained for using the Big Two distortions when it comes to selling Americans on a disaster that didn't happen.

  • It treats the exceptional as if it's average.
  • It passes along gross exaggerations without correction.

And all that would be true even if the child tax credit is ignored. Which it shouldn't be.

So … here's a story from The New York Times that ran on Saturday, written by Emma Goldberg, Coral Murphy Marcos, and Kellen Browning. See how it lines up on those points.

That story starts out just like the CNN piece, by telling us that, "The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA." But it fails to point out that those low prices in 2020 were actually the cheapest gas has been in any November since 2008. The article, like many others, starts off by comparing current prices to prices that were depressed by the worst impacts of the pandemic, generating the maximum apparent increase. That's step one.

But that's just a baby step compared to what comes next.

While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.

Where is gas $7.59 a gallon? Not in any state listed by AAA. The most expensive grade in the most expensive state is $5 a gallon. Where does the $7.59 number come from? Who knows. Goldberg, Marcos, and Browning certainly don't bother to provide that information.

But hang on, we're not done.

Aldo McCoy, who owns an auto repair shop in Toms River, watched the numbers on a gas pump flash higher Wednesday as he filled up the tank of his 1963 Chevrolet Impala. He recalled recently filling his 2003 Cadillac Escalade and seeing the price go above $100, where it used to be $45.

This paragraph manages to check both of the Big Two in as many sentences. It not only treats an absolutely exceptional circumstance—a guy who owns a 58-year-old muscle car and a massive 18-year-old SUV as if this makes him a great example, it passes along something this driver "recalls" that simply can't be true.

Even assuming that Mr. McCoy's Escalade topped off at exactly $100, that would make his $45 fill up 222% more expensive than whenever "used to be" might be. How far back do we need to go to get that number? Try 2002. Which would be a year before that Escalade rolled into the showroom.

You might think that a claim that gas prices have increased by 222% might merit at least some incredulity on the part of the Times. Or that such a claim might at least require some definition of how far back "used to be" might be. It does not. Instead, they get right into the burden that this incredible, amazing, increase in price has placed on McCoy and his cohorts.

Mr. McCoy said he and his staff were working more than 15 hours of overtime each week to compensate for the extra money they spent on gas. He has also cut back on his household spending.

Even if you assume McCoy filled his Escalade's 31-gallon tank every week, that would set his hourly salary at $3.67 an hour. And that's overtime. Who knows what he makes in a regular hour. Since McCoy is the owner of the shop, he should really talk to himself about that salary.

Just like the family in the CNN story, here's an ordinary American, in a typical situation, facing a huge and unreasonable burden because of massive inflation. Except it's absolutely none of those things.

Instead, it's Goldberg, Marcos, and Browning passing along unverified numbers, all of which are clearly exaggerated, in the way that generates maximum drama, without bothering to ever check for reasonableness.

Those Big Two points again

  • It treats the exceptional as if it's average.
  • It passes along gross exaggerations without correction.

In both cases, CNN and the TImes avoid directly making false claims themselves. They just let the people they're interviewing make those claims, and let them go uncorrected.

Which makes you wonder how many interviews they went through until they came up with someone who gave them the kind of scare quotes they wanted.

Why getting Joe Manchin’s vote on BBB could come down to one of the weirdest situations of the century

The fate of the Build Back Better legislation, including the future of U.S. participation in attempts to limit the impact of the climate crisis, may depend on one of the weirdest phenomena of the modern world. It's a trend that crosses an outdated technology from a dying market with a still-growing craze which baffles much of the public. And it all comes down to putting money in the pocket of one man.

The outdated industry is coal-powered electrical plants. The growing craze is cryptocurrency. And the man is, of course, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Stitch that all together, and you get a Politico report on how the Grant Town power plant near Morgantown, West Virginia has put forward a proposal to turn itself into a giant, coal-powered, cryptocurrency "mine." If that proposal moves forward, it could ensure that the lone contract that defines Manchin's "coal brokerage firm" will continue to hand him over $500,000 a year for doing very close to nothing. Then maybe we can all have nice things. Or, if the crypto-plant proposal fails, Manchin could still hold the entire bill hostage to his personal interest in fossil fuels.

Not only does all of this represent a massive conflict of interest, the timing of events serves to showcase what may be the height of placing individual greed above the greater good.

Cryptocurrency is a still a phenomenon that leaves many people scratching their heads. Whether it's a Bitcoin or a Sol, cryptocurrency doesn't exist as a block of gold in a vault, a physical coin in a drawer, or a promissory note backed by a government. It's a series of numbers embedded in a blockchain, which is itself a kind of storage system for these numbers that makes it very difficult to falsify or alter information. The numbers can't be guessed, and don't follow a regular pattern. They can only be calculated using a laborious set of equations that can discover the next sequence in a process popularly called "mining." Through mining, new "blocks" of verified transactions are added to the blockchain. Those blocks are owned by the miners.

In the early days, discovering these sequences was relatively easy and could even be done on generic desktop computers. But finding new crypto "coins" rapidly becomes more difficult, and the equations aren't really optimized to work on the kind of generic microprocessors at the heart of most laptops and desktops. Systems expanded to allow many computers to work together in discovering a block. Then computer gamers and graphic artists found that the dedicated graphics cards they needed were simply unavailable, because cryptocurrency miners had discovered that the type of processors on these cards was much better suited to digging up that next coin. That's still true today to some extent, but in large part, crypto mining has moved on to even more specialized hardware, designed expressly to deal with the particular equations involved in uncovering a new transaction. This dedicated hardware has taken crypto mining well beyond the limits of what many early adherents of Bitcoin or other currencies thought to be practical.

Over time, the real cost of mining a new block has become defined by one thing: power. Anyone trying to mine a Bitcoin at home these days is almost certain to spend more money on the power it costs to mine that coin than the coin is actually worth. At the other end of the mining spectrum, rooms full of specialized mining machines, all digging away at the blockchain, consume a lot of energy, but the cost of the power is still lower than the profit that can be returned—especially when the crypto market is surging.

Rather than the cost of power, the availability of power has become a constraint on these high-end mining operations. There are systems out there that need more power than a mid-sized town to handle their ongoing search for that next transaction. So where do they get it? They buy a power plant.

There are some rather ingenious alternatives being put forward—including solar-powered EV charging stations that would use all solar power to mine for cryptocurrency using any excess energy—but all too often, the easiest form of power for the crypto-hungry to find can be defined in one word: coal.

Across the nation and in many parts of the world, coal power plants are closing for the simplest reason: They cost too much. The cost of operating a coal-powered plant is now so far above adding new power in the form of solar or wind, that systems are finding it cheaper to overbuild renewables and close down the aging coal plants. Some plants are being converted to burn natural gas instead. Others are just being shuttered.

A plant that's about to be written off and remaindered is a great target for a crypto operation. Using that dedicated hardware, they can afford the higher cost of the coal-based power. That's led to crypto miners buying up multiple plants in Pennsylvania and in New York. That New York plant had been used as a "peaker" plant, filling in when there was high demand on the grid. Its continuous use in powering crypto mining has reportedly made a nearby glacial lake used to cool the plant "feel like a bathtub."

In the case of the Grant Town plant in West Virginia, operating it for power no longer makes any sense. It's a relatively small power plant, only 80 megawatts. It's also the only plant in the state that still burns "waste coal."

Coal mines often generate a spoil pile of mostly non-coal material that is picked off the conveyor belt, often by hand, and pitched aside. Before the coal is sent to the power plant, it is often sent through a "prep plant," where the coal is crushed to a more uniform size and sent through a series of chemical baths in which the lighter coal floats, while heavier minerals—especially those rich in sulfur—sink. This leaves behind a second spoil pile of waste material.

Producing waste coal requires going back through the spoil piles for coal that was missed the first time. That coal is worse in almost every way than what was produced on the first pass. It contains more non-coal material, lowering the energy output and increasing the amount of ash. It also contains more sulfur and heavy metals, creating toxins that either go up the smokestack or into the coal slurry at the plant.

All coal is dirty, but waste coal is the dirtiest form of coal. Waste coal is what Joe Manchin sells.

Using waste coal made a tiny amount of sense in 2008, when the coal market was at its peak and supply was having a hard time keeping up with demand. It makes no sense now, when a majority of mines have been idled and there is still enormous overcapacity. But Manchin has a contract, and that contract has netted him over $5 million in the last decade.

The result of all this is that Grant Town isn't just the dirtiest plant using the dirtiest fuel, it's also the most expensive plant in the state, in terms of dollars per megawatt. That plant has lost $117 million in just the last five years while paying Manchin $500,000 a year—not even for the waste coal itself, but just to manage the contract that delivers the waste coal.

Joe Manchin is almost singularly responsible for removing $1.8 trillion in funding from the Build Back Better legislation. Thanks to Sen. Manchin's refusal to support the bill as it was originally proposed, dozens of major programs have already been reduced in scope or eliminated completely. Some of the things that were removed—including two years of free community college—seemed like complete no-brainers which would have not only decreased the debt students now face upon emerging from college, but given the U.S. a competitive advantage by creating a more educated work force.

The funds for climate change included in the legislation that just passed the House are much smaller than those included in the original proposal that came from the White House. However, they do include over $500 billion in funds dedicated to expanding the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles. Funds for the creation of the Civilian Climate Corps are also still in there, which would create jobs dedicated to restoring and maintaining lost areas of forest and wetland.

Also still included is a program that will give utilities a bonus for the switching production to renewable power. As Popular Science explains, that program could be a massive game-changer when it comes to transitioning not just coal plants, but also natural gas-powered plants, to solar or wind. Manchin has specifically opposed that program, saying, "Why pay the utilities for something they're going to do anyway, because we're transitioning?"

This is why. Because the program supporting those increased payments is expected to speed the transition by 4% a year. And that adds up.

A 4 percent yearly increase would get the energy mix to about 70 to 80 percent in 2030, whereas business as usual would put Americans around 48 percent by the same date.

If the U.S. is even going to come close to meeting the goals that must be met to ward off the worst of the climate crisis, it needs Manchin to vote for inclusions of the Clean Energy Performance Program as part of Build Back Better.

And getting that vote may depend on whether or not the Grant Town plant gets turned into a dedicated crypto mining plant … all so that Joe Manchin can continue to sell the dirtiest coal, to the dirtiest plant, to line his pocket with the dirtiest money.

'Fewer than a dozen' uniformed police officers defy NYC vaccine mandate — despite predictions of doom

Over the weekend, thousands of people walked across the Brooklyn Bridge "in support of" police, firefighters, and other municipal employees who oppose the city's vaccine mandate. That protest was one of several that came with dire predictions about the consequences of the mandate. The New York Post (link purposely omitted) has been whining for weeks that the vaccine mandate will mean "fewer cops and more crime," warning that fire stations might be closed, and providing ominous predictions that "People will die in this city" because of vaccine mandates.

And as The Washington Post notes, the heads of five major unions warned that "10,000 unvaccinated police officers" could be pulled off the streets come November 1. It's November 2. So how did things actually go?

So far, the number of NYPD placed on unpaid leave is … 34. Of that, fewer than a dozen are uniformed officers. The rest are civilian staff.

There's a reason that, when Hammurabi wanted to keep people from cutting down trees in Babylon, he didn't offer a poem—he made a law that came with consequences. There's a reason stop lights are not a suggestion. And there's a reason any child entering a Florida elementary school is required to have vaccinations against seven different diseases, including four or five doses of vaccines against some of those diseases.

It's because mandates work. Recommendations, opinions, and proposals are all fine, but to ensure alignment with the public good, no matter how obvious, it takes a mandate. One that carries consequences.

There are still union officials out there waving their hands and predicting dire consequences. As New York's ABC 7 reports, Oren Barzilay, president of the NYC EMS union, is a vaccine skeptic who is was on hand at the bridge protest to provide some genuinely alarming statements.

"All our members were exposed to this disease, and we developed our natural immunity," said Barzilay. "If we have the natural antibodies in our body, is it necessary to really inject something else into our body?"

That's alarming not because of Barzilay's claims that half of EMS workers in the city might walk off the job, but because it's so profoundly ignorant—and because ABC ran that comment, and the comments of other vaccine skeptics, without bothering to provide a single word of correction.

The ABC 7 article is completely typical of how this situation is being presented to the public:

  • There are absolutely no comments from workers or vaccinated officials or from anyone who favors the mandate.
  • There are non-factual claims about "natural immunity" or how the vaccine doesn't work, none of which are countered by providing any facts or statistics.
  • There is an extended quote from a Republican candidate for mayor using this moment as a political lever, but no opposing comment.
  • Everything—everything—in the article is written to heighten the idea that this is a crisis about to topple the city.

As NPR reported last week, vaccine mandates are proving effective over and over. After warnings that airline workers would walk off the job, leaving travelers stranded, 99.5% of United employees were vaccinated before that company's deadline.

Elsewhere, other employers also report success with mandates. Tyson Foods, New York City schools, major hospital systems in Maine and the NBA are among those with vaccination rates topping 90%.

The month before that, the Washington Post showed that when Massachusetts State Police issued a mandate, only one (1) state trooper actually quit rather than take a jab. In North Carolina, 375 hospital workers (out of 35,000) were suspended after refusing to be vaccinated. But then, 200 of those came back and took their vaccine. That's another 99.5% vaccination rate.

Mask mandates work, as well. As Naturereported in May, countries, states, and communities with mandates had higher compliance in using masks, and much better results when it came to cases of COVID-19. Mask mandates directly contributed to dropping community spread by 70% within days in closely monitored German cities. Where mask-wearing was voluntary, results were much less dramatic. Mask mandates—enforced mask mandates—are key to how China pushed back the first wave of disease in that country and has avoided another surge, even against the much more contagious delta variant.

One study showed that a national mandate for wearing masks on the job could have had amazing results in the United States—including a 47% reduction in deaths.

When something is absolutely necessary for public protection, it takes a mandate. And the kind of numbers that these mandates are generating, numbers of 90% and above, are exactly the level of vaccination that's needed to actually bring COVID-19 under control and halt community spread in most areas.

Exposure Of Trump’s coup attempt reveals Steve Bannon as a central figure

When it comes to events surrounding the January 6 insurrection, there are some whose involvement remains unclear. Did Rep. Lauren Boebert lead future insurgents on a tour of the Capitol in order to help them identify the shortest route to the people they wanted to hang? Not certain. There are others who will pretend that their calls to storming the Capitol and spilling a swimming pool of patriotic blood were purely metaphorical. Right, Rep. Mo Brooks?

And then there's Steve Bannon.

The Trump campaign chair, shining with the glow of his last-minute pardon from the fraud he definitely committed, didn't just assist a few would-be Mike Pence-hangers. He didn't just get up there and sound the horn to get out there and fight like there was nothing but a commie-filled America-free tomorrow. He worked to create both the political crisis and the maddened crowd that placed the United States within a few seconds, and a handful of steps, of seeing members of Congress marched to a gallows on the Capitol lawn.

On Friday, Bannon was the undoubtedly proud recipient of one of the first four subpoenas handed out by the House Select Committee. However, giving the head of a Brussels-based fascist movement—tastefully called "The Movement"—a couple of weeks to decide whether he wants to make an appearance before a Congress he dismisses, or a court system he sneers about, seems like far too mild an approach.

Here's a checklist of "fun" Steve Bannon moments, over just the last couple of years.

But that's just the small stuff. Because Bannon's involvement in the events around January 6 easily trumps (yes, pun intended) even trying to abscond with an 800-year-old monastery as a base for bringing down the Catholic church and creating baby Hitlers.

To a large extent, the whole idea of using January. 6 as a lever to tip over democracy came from Bannon. As the recent book Peril reported, Bannon called up Trump on December 30 and told him, "'You've got to call Pence off the f**king ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis."

The point of dragging Pence back—which happened—was to explain how January 6 could be turned into "a reckoning." Bannon explained to Trump how upsetting the prescribed process on January 6 could "cast enough of a shadow over Biden's victory" that it would cause millions of Americans to consider Biden an illegitimate president. They didn't actually have to prove any election fraud. They only had to create a spectacle that would destroy faith in the system.

"People are going to go, 'What the f**k is going on here?'" said Bannon. "We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, f**king bury him."

But it doesn't take going to the pages of a book to discover Bannon's involvement in the attempted overthrow, because Bannon himself just keeps talking about it.

Wow — Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon says on his War Room podcast he met with Trump and Giuliani the night befor…
— Hugo Lowell (@Hugo Lowell)1632417930.0

Bannon met with Trump and Rudy Giuliani in advance of the insurgency, with an open goal of destroying the American government.

As Newsweekreports, Bannon's open admission is that he told the others "it's time to kill the Biden presidency in the crib." On his podcast platform, Bannon went on to brag about the success of his plan, claiming that "42% of the American people think that Biden did not win the presidency legitimately"—a belief supported by the actions on Jan. 6 to deliberately undermine that presidency.

As Professor Lawrence Tribe points out. "It'd be hard to justify DOJ inaction in the face of this rapidly mounting evidence of a criminal conspiracy to commit sedition against the US Government and to give aid and comfort to an insurrection. See 18 USC secs. 2383 & 2384."

Tribe's name has recently been in the news because Trump attorney John Eastman distorted Tribe's past statements in his attempt to declare Trump the "winner" by simply leaving off as many Biden states as it took to get the numbers they wanted. But there's no misinterpreting what Tribe is saying here:

18 U.S. Code § 2383 - Rebellion or insurrection
Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
18 U.S. Code § 2384 - Seditious conspiracy
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

Bannon, Trump, Giuliani, Eastman … they all engaged in a seditious conspiracy, a plan that Bannon spelled out with the declared intent of destroying the lawful government of the United States.

It's worth noting that, in their schemes, neither Bannon nor Eastman even attempted to make a case that Trump had actually won, or that there had been anything like the level of fraud Giuliani was claiming. Both plans were simply to cripple the United States by creating confusion and distrust.

It's almost what you might expect from someone who said this:

"Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

It's past time to stop sending Steve Bannon subpoenas and start sending him to jail. Let Eastman fight with Giuliani over who has be his cellmate.

Internal Trump campaign memo shows Giuliani and Powell knew everything they spewed was a lie

A memo obtained by The New York Times makes clear that the Trump campaign not only spread propaganda and misinformation about the results of the 2020 election, they did so with full knowledge that what they were telling the American people was simply a lie.

Long before Jan. 6, in the days immediately following the election, Trump's team was aware that claims about voting machines made by Dominion and Smartmatic were utterly false. The interal memo, prepared by Trump's communication team, includes a thorough debunking of claims about the software, hardware, origins, and political connections of each company, One by one, everything circulating in the fever swamp of right-wing claims about the election was stood up, and just as quickly shot down.

Despite this, Trump's legal team would step forward six days after that memo was circulated and make exactly the claims they already knew not to be true. That included false claims about how the companies were connected to antifa. False claims about how the software had originated in Venezuela. False claims about the connections between the two companies. False claims about connections to George Soros. And false claims about votes being counted overseas.

Now that memo has surfaced in court papers as part of a defamation lawsuit against Trump's campaign. And a quick look at the information suggests that another, very brief, memo could be written. The title of that memo: Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell are f***ked.

On Nov. 19, 2020, Rudy Giuliani stepped out to deliver another round of nonsense claims, random non sequiturs, and outright lies concerning the 2020 presidential election. It was on this occasion that Giuliani explained the legal basis of his claims about voter fraud. "I know crimes," said the former prosecutor. "I can smell them. You don't have to smell this one, I can prove it to you 18 different ways. I can prove to you that Trump won Pennsylvania by 300,000 votes. I can prove to you that he won Michigan, probably by 50,000 votes." Needless to say, he provided no such proof.

But other than Giuliani's crime-sniffing nose, that press event is mostly remembered for two things.

First, that a steady stream of dark hair dye trickled down Giuliani's face as he spoke, lending his overt lies about how Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had blocked votes in Pennsylvania or how Michigan's most populous county had decertified its vote total an extra air of comic desperation. Again and again, Giuliani threw out numbers along with a claim that he could "prove" some level of malfeasance on the part of election officials and voting machine companies. Again and again, he offered absolutely no proof.

Second, it was at that event that Powell, until then best known for her judge-infuriating defense of disgraced general Michael Flynn, stepped forward to present a jaw-dropping collection of claims that included how Democrats had engaged in a multistate conspiracy to "inject" hundreds of thousands of Biden votes by using voting machines built to appease Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez with the help of wealthy Jew George Soros and sent American votes overseas to servers in Germany, where they could be altered according to orders from antifa. Powell was detailed, if little short of deranged, in her claims about connections between Dominion and Smartmatic, the origins of their systems as a means of ensuring the election of long-dead dictator Hugo Chavez, the control of mysterious figures from antifa, and a connection to this Biden-Venezuelan-Jewish-Cuban-antifa conspiracy and the Clinton Foundation.

The simple amount of hogwash, hooey, and absurdity in the statements from Giuliani and Powell would have been amusing had all that propaganda not been in service of a lie that led directly to the Jan. 6 insurgency and fueled ongoing claims of election fraud now supported by a majority of Republicans. In the course of the morning, Giuliani and Powell managed to hit Every. Single. One. Of the claims that the Trump team had already investigated and found to be false.

It was if they had taken the internal memo and used it as a checklist to be sure they punched every button on the defamation elevator.

Clearly, someone on Trump's team was listening well enough to hear all the alarms that the claims—particularly those made by Powell—were setting off. Just three days later, Giuliani issued a statement in which he made another false claim: "Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own," wrote Giuliani. "She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity."

Unfortunately for them, not only had Giuliani introduced Powell and appeared with her in front of the nation's cameras while she went on her everything-but-the-kitchen sink rant; Powell had been introduced by Trump attorney Jenna Ellis as part of "an elite strike team that is working on behalf of the president and the campaign to make sure that our Constitution is protected."

And there was some other fellow. Some guy on Twitter. What did he say?

"I look forward to Mayor Giuliani spearheading the legal effort to defend OUR RIGHT to FREE and FAIR ELECTIONS! Rudy Giuliani, Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, a truly great team, added to our other wonderful lawyers and representatives!"

Within days of Trump's "distancing" from Powell, she was right back at the center of his representation, acting as the lead attorney on lawsuits filed in December and January. Any claim that she was not connected to the Trump campaign is less believable than Hugo Chavez and George Soros counting votes in Spain using an antifa-branded server.

What's absolutely clear is that both Giuliani and Powell were members of Donald Trump's legal team, who not only stepped forward on Nov. 19—and on many other occasions—to make false claims about the 2020 president election, they did so knowingly. In particular, despite having investigated and found the claims about Dominion and Smartmatic absolutely false, Trump's team went on to file at least four lawsuits against the company and publicly accuse it of crimes in statements they were well aware did not reflect reality. Those accusations generated threats of violence about the companies and their employees, as well as interfering in the ability of the companies to do business.

The only real question should be, will Dominion get the pleasure of taking Giuliani's last dime before the FBI finally completes their actions?

And just in case someone thought either of these two was being more sensible these days …

Unvaccinated are 5 times more likely to be infected and 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19

That's it. That's the post. There's really not a whole lot left to say after the headline.

But … a new compilation of available data put together by the CDC shows the stark difference between being vaccinated and unvaccinated in the time of COVID-19. Despite all the news of breakthrough infections, people who have been fully vaccinated are much less likely to get infected. if they do get infected, they're less likely to become seriously ill. These are things that doctors already knew, but it's nice to see these definitive numbers even though the delta variant is now prevalent everywhere.

Vaccinated people are much less likely to get sick from delta. Get. Vaccinated.

If you're reading this site, then the odds are you're already one of the majority of Americans who have been vaccinated. The latest data from Civiqs shows that 91% of Democrats fall in camp "Already Vaccinated," with another 4% saying they intend to be vaccinated. That's the kind of number that keeps measles and mumps in check, and both of those diseases are much more transmissible than any form of COVID-19. If everyone was vaccinated the way Democrats are vaccinated, we would not be having a new wave of infection.

Of course, we are having a new wave of infection; one that, on Friday, saw the U.S. rack up another 171,000 cases and 1,761 deaths. Florida and Texas once again led the way, as Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott continue their neck and neck competition to be the worst governors in America. However, they face some stiff competition from someone who hasn't gotten nearly as much press—Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

Tennessee is home to that school where men followed a doctor into the parking lot and threatened his family because the doctor had the audacity to simply testify and answer questions for school board members. That school, Williamson County, was out all last week after so many kids and staff members came down with COVID-19 that classes became impossible. Good job there.

But that's not all. In a hearing this week, Gov. Lee's ban on school masks went to court after parents of immunocompromised students sued the state for putting their kids in danger. As education site Chalkbeat reports, the attorney for the state argued that schools should use "creative scheduling" to see that those kids could attend classes without encountering any children who were intent on being free to spread disease. Because sure, schools have no problem re-scheduling classes and moving students around based on who is or isn't wearing a mask on a particular day.

It's this kind of creative thinking that has generated such a surge in COVID-cases in the Volunteer (to be sick) State, that Tennessee has actually moved to the top of the pack when it comes to the number of COVID-19 cases by population. For a long time, the Dakotas hung tight to that spot, along with Rhode Island, which got battered in the initial outbreak, but now Tennessee has surged ahead. A full 16.5% of Tennesseans have now tested positive for COVID-19, and with a statewide rate of positive cases at 21%, there's no doubt that number still has room to grow.

But DeSantis is not going to be dismissed so easily. Florida has also surged ahead (literally) of North Dakota and now holds the number two spot with 16.1% of the state's population having tested positive. In terms of raw numbers, it's no competition, Florida has had 3.4 million cases to Tennessee's 1.1 million. Still, it seems that the Sunshine State might have a little trouble making the top of the sickest state chart, since it's positivity rate is down to "only" 14% and it's actually vaccinated at a rate quite a bit higher than Tennessee.

With just 43% of the state's population vaccinated, several counties below 30%, red hot levels of positivity, and Bill Lee running point on terrible policies, it seems there is a good chance that Tennessee might hold onto the crown as America's Sickest State. Congratulations. I guess.

In any case, this is where we are. So take the CDC image above, cut it out, keep it in your pocket, and wave it at everyone you know who might possibly not be vaccinated. With 36% of Republicans still saying no there are, unfortunately, plenty of opportunities.

It really shouldn't take Joe Biden strapping someone down and putting a needle in their arm to make this happen. Common sense should be way, way more than enough. However, the well known problem with common sense is just how uncommon it can be.

Oh, and while 5x better odds than the unvaccinated are great … wear your mask.

DeSantis 'triples down' on fight to protect virus, $5,000 fines for schools that require vaccination

For decades, Florida schools have required vaccinations. The Florida Department of Health currently lists vaccinations against at least seven different diseases that are required for both public schools, private schools, and even daycare facilities. Both students and teachers are required to be vaccinated against everything from polio and pertussis to chickenpox and hepatitis B.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis has informed these same schools—along with every government agency and private business in the state—that they will be fined $5,000 it they ask for proof of vaccination against COVID-19. As WJXT in Jacksonville explains, DeSantis says he doesn't want a "biomedical security state" in which people are forced to produce proof of vaccination. To underscore this desire, Florida's Republican-dominated legislature passed, and DeSantis signed, a bill saying that no business, school, or agency can "require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination."

The maximum fine that bill allows is $5,000. Letters sent this week have made it clear that DeSantis intends to begin fining people the maximum amount immediately. Meanwhile, as WFLA reports, two children died in Florida from COVID-19 on Thursday—including a newborn who was just two weeks old. The director of a pediatric intensive care unit confirmed that children "do get severe conditions and we are seeing more and more of them in the ICU."

DeSantis' actions on both masks and vaccines aren't just unsupportable in terms of science or public health, they're actively destructive. At some point, if a policy looks like it's trying to kill people, and it acts like trying to kill people, it's just trying to kill people.

What did DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske have to say when gloating over the announcement that fines were about to be levied? She offered a very Trumpy "Promises made, promises kept."

If that promise is that DeSantis will do everything possible to promote his profile to the ragged edge of Trump-supporting extremists who are willing to see children get sick rather than require decent public health practices … then yes, that promise was definitely kept.

The absolute proof that the fines against COVID-19 are a triumph of politics over public health can be found on the Department of Health's web site.

These are the requirements for a child entering daycare:

  • Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP)
  • Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV)
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV13)
  • Hepatitis B (Hep B)

Students progressing through the grades are required to have multiple doses of vaccines. In addition, teachers must be regularly tested for tuberculosis, and these tests can be extended to students if there is a positive case in the community.

COVID-19 vaccines are currently available to every teacher, every staff member, and to every student over the age of 12. Every high school, college, and university in Florida could—should—require vaccination for all of the above. Because that would not just save lives at those schools, it would also help to slow the spread of the virus in the broader community. In addition, it would simply make good business sense, as it would help the schools avoid situations where they were forced to shut down after outbreaks sidelined teachers and students—something that has been happening repeatedly. As The Miami Herald reported on Friday, two more districts in the northern part of Florida shut down when teachers, food workers, and bus drivers were all caught up in a "worsening spread" of COVID-19.

Florida continues to be the first or second state in the nation when it comes to new cases of COVID-19. Despite how the state has changed reporting of deaths to make it seem that improvement is always underway, it's clear that Florida is actually logging record numbers of COVID-19 deaths each day. Schools are closing. Children are dying.

Despite a court ruling that DeSantis' blocking school mask mandates is an unconstitutional overreach of his power, DeSantis is both challenging that ruling in court and going ahead with blocking funds to schools that require masks. Now DeSantis is fining schools and private businesses if they ask for proof of vaccination.

There are only possible reasons for this:

  • Ron DeSantis is promoting the spread of COVID-19 because he feels that destroying sound public health practices is beneficial to his political career, no matter the cost in lives or health.
  • Ron DeSantis is promoting the spread of COVID-19 because he enjoys seeing people suffer and die.

Which one of these is worse is open to debate. The objective results of DeSantis policies are not.

Kevin McCarthy is terrified that the truth will come out about his Jan. 6 phone call to Trump

The best solution to investigating the events related to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol would have been a nonpartisan outside commission, which was used several times to examine critical issues and key events. But Republicans shot that effort down in the Senate, using the filibuster to defeat the proposal. With an independent commission off the table, Democrats in the House turned to the next best option: a select committee that would have the authority to reach beyond the limitations of standard committees to collect the evidence necessary to understand the events that led up to a vicious mob of paramilitary white supremacists creeping through the halls of Congress hunting for political opponents to hang.

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi formed the House Select Committee investigating the insurgency, Republicans had another chance to cooperate. Instead, minority leader Kevin McCarthy attempted to sabotage the committee by planting it with people who were not only dedicated to seeing the effort derailed but representatives who are extremely likely to end up as witnesses testifying before that committee.

And now that the committee—the bipartisan committee, which includes two Republicans who defied McCarthy to join in finding the truth—has requested electronic records on Jan. 6 to discover who was communicating with Trump and with the insurgents, McCarthy has stepped in again. Only this time, he's not trying to threaten Pelosi or break the committee. That ship has sailed. This time, McCarthy is threatening telecommunications companies and social media companies, telling them that if they cooperate with the investigation, they will be punished when and if the Republicans return to power.

It's a desperate, ugly ploy—that only shows exactly how terrified Kevin McCarthy is of the truth coming out.

As CNN reports, McCarthy has issued a statement claiming that if the companies turn over information in response to a congressional subpoena, they would be "in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States." However, when asked about what last the companies would be violating, McCarthy had no reply. Instead, he just ended with the ominous threat that "a Republican majority will not forget."

The problem for McCarthy is that federal law lies with the committee, which is fully within its rights to issue subpoenas for records connected to the topic of the investigation. And in fact, the committee hasn't yet asked for telecom records from anyone. Despite McCarthy's blunt attempt to bully companies into noncompliance, all that the committee requests is that telecom companies preserve these records in case they are needed.

Even so, just edging around these requests has already promoted Jim Jordan to get nervous enough to admit that he talked to Donald Trump multiple times on Jan. 6. It now appears that Jordan, along with Matt Gaetz, called Trump while huddled in the House "safe room" and begged him to call off the insurgents.

But the real call that McCarthy doesn't want to talk about is the one he made to Trump on Jan. 6. As NBC News reported in February, McCarthy and Trump engaged in an "expletive-filled" call in which McCarthy got pissed off after Trump breezily claimed that it was Antifa ransacking the Capitol. "Who the f—k do you think you are talking to?" McCarthy is reported to have said. But when it came down to getting Trump to halt his followers before they got their hands on a Representative or two, Trump just replied. "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

For a few days following these events, McCarthy maintained his concern about the potential fall of democracy, or at least the potential stretching of his own neck. But within a few weeks, he was at Mar-a-Lago, apologizing to Trump for having the temerity to allow something as unimportance as the continuation of representative democracy to get in the way of Trump's fun.

In response to reporters' questions about that day, McCarthy has given answers like "my conversations with the president are my conversations with the president," which sounds like McCarthy is claiming executive privilege—except he can't. Executive privilege does not extend to conversations held with members of the legislative branch.

The truth is, if the select committee asks telecoms to turn over McCarthy's phone records for that day, they are legally obligated to provide them. Chairman Bennie Thompson has made it clear that the contents of that conversation between Trump and McCarthy are of interest to the committee. At an absolute bare minimum, calls like the one McCarthy and Jordan made show that: 1) Republicans understood that the people attacking the building were not Antifa and were Trump supporters, 2) those Republican representatives believed the insurgents were acting at Trump's request and could be halted by Trump.

If McCarthy is called to testify before the committee, he has two options: testify or claim the right not to testify under the Fifth Amendment. Of course, that second claim would be an admission that McCarthy believes he might be charged with some crime in connection with the events, which would in itself be … not the best look.

Even so, it's a better look than threatening U.S. companies with destruction because they obeyed a legal request. Seems like the best thing these companies, and every other company concerned about the rule of law, can do is to help make sure there never is another Republican majority.

Biden gives a powerful response to critics as US leaves Afghanistan: 'Not going to extend this forever war'

On Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden stepped in front of the cameras to address the nation on the end of the war in Afghanistan. Anyone who turned up the volume expecting Biden to be quietly introspective or spend this time in apologetic contemplation is now deeply regretting that decision, as Biden made what might be the boldest, least political decisions in recent American history — he told the truth, nothing but the truth, and the whole damned ugly truth when it came to ending this war.

A forceful, determined, and deadly serious Biden faced the camera and made it clear that what America has done in the last two decades was largely a mistake. The primary objective of the invasion, ending the haven for al Qaeda, was complete within weeks of the war's outset. The secondary objective, to kill Osama bin Laden, was completed over a decade ago.

This may be the first time that the nation got a speech that wasn't all about justifying the actions in Afghanistan—or any war, for that matter. Biden bluntly spelled out the cost in injuries, the cost in lives, and the incredible cost in dollars that came with every single day of an occupation that no one knew how to "win." Biden made it clear that the only choices he had were to ignore the deal made with the Taliban and go back into Afghanistan with tens of thousands of troops and no end in sight, or to leave as quickly and efficiently as possible.

And in the process, he delivered a solidly pro-military and anti-war speech, celebrating the soldiers for their sacrifice while making it clear that the point of all that sacrifice was not worth it. Biden's message was both strong and unflinching, "I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit," declared the President of the United States.

President Biden delivers remarks on ending the war in Afghanistan — 8/31/

Throughout the speech, Biden repeated the same sets of facts driving home that the soldiers, diplomats, and intelligence teams on the ground had done outstanding work. They had given their all, and they deserve the nation's gratitude. The fault with Afghanistan was not in the military or Afghanistan; it was in Washington D.C., and with an American government that, having locked itself into an undefined task, couldn't find its way to a definitive end.

Until now. If there was any doubt, it has been removed. Joe Biden ended the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Decisively.

And then he took a big red marker and underlined exactly why in a way that may have been shocking to Americans who become accustomed to a soup of lies and platitudes. "To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, 'What is the vital national interest?'" said Biden. "I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan."

Biden was explicit in saying that the mission had started with a purpose but lost that purpose long ago, turning into something that could only generate endless expense in pursuit of an unattainable goal. "We saw a mission of counterterrorism in Afghanistan … morph into a mission of counterinsurgency, nation-building, trying to create a democratic and cohesive and united Afghanistan — something that has never been done in many centuries."

Where Republicans and media—and not just right-wing media—have been taking apart every aspect of the Afghan airlift and wearing out their keys for spelling "chaos" and "disaster," Biden praised all those involved and trumpeted the airlift as both an extraordinary success and another example of how everyone on the ground in Afghanistan had put their lives and hearts into making things right. Biden pushed back on all those who tried to treat the accomplishments of the airlift as anything less than a massive success and again lavished praise on both the military and diplomatic teams involved.

In two decades, no president has been as forthright in explaining the need to take action as Biden was today in describing the end of this war, and no president has been as unflinching in laying out the cost.

"We no longer had a clear purpose in an open-ended mission Afghanistan. I refuse to send another generation of America's sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago," said Biden. "After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan … a cost estimated to be over $300 million a day for twenty years." To underline this astounding number, Biden hit it again. "Yes, the American people should hear this: $300 million a day for two decades."

"What have we lost as a consequence, in terms of opportunities?" asked Biden. "I refuse to continue a war that was no longer in the vital national interest of our people. And most of all, after 800,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan … after 20,744 American servicemen and women injured, and the loss of 2,461 American personnel—including 13 lives lost just this week—I refuse to open another decade of warfare in Afghanistan."

It's not a speech that's likely to get widely replayed. It wasn't a speech full of poetry. It didn't celebrate the glories of war or pound the drum of patriotism. But in many ways, it was the best and most important speech anyone has delivered since the war began. The only problem is that it's a decade too late.

Republicans are pretending there's a cure for COVID-19 so they can justify their monstrous acts

On Tuesday, authorities in Texas revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott had tested positive for COVID-19 after participating in multiple campaign events in which Abbott, along with other Republicans present, neither wore masks nor practiced any social distancing. Those same authorities already made it clear that, though Abbott tested positive, he is not displaying any symptoms related to his infection. Not only that, but Abbott has already told people that he, unlike almost every American, has already received a booster shot of vaccine. So why is Greg Abbott getting a costly treatment available only under an Emergency Use Authorization and intended for those most at risk of developing severe illness?

Abbot's treatment with Regeneron's REGEN-COV monoclonal antibody treatment seems completely contradictory to the EUA under which it was made available. There seems to be no reason a man who is asymptomatic and has already had a booster vaccine shot should be getting this treatment.

Like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Abbott has been pushing Regeneron's treatment as a solution to the COVID crisis. Texas has nine infusion centers in the works. Not all of them are open right now, but they'll be able to handle about 1,350 patients a day when they are. Which is less than 7% of the Texans testing positive for COVID-19 each day. So why was Greg Abbott, whose danger appeared to be low, given access to a treatment denied to 93% of the people in his state? Why should he get something that was not provided to the 17,000 Texans currently hospitalized for COVID-19?

The CDC has currently only authorized boosters for Americans who have serious immune deficiency issues when it comes to the booster shot. Even that authorization only came last week. When or why Abbott got a booster hasn't been revealed. According to NBC News, Abbott's office has not responded to requests for information about how the Texas governor was allowed to get an additional jab unavailable to everyone else.

In Florida, where the second-largest investor in Regeneron also happens to be DeSantis' largest donor, REGEN-COV is currently available to less than 4% of those testing positive for COVID-19 each day. If the treatment were given to all COVID-19 patients, the cost would be more than $80 million per day—just for Texas and Florida.

From the very beginning, the treatment has been provided to Republican politicians with utter disregard for how it is supposed to be administered. Donald Trump got four times the prescribed dose while also on oxygen, which violates the EUA. Chris Christie received the treatment while in hospital—which is a violation of the EUA. Now Greg Abbott is getting REGEN-COV despite a booster shot and no symptoms. And at the same time, a very, very high percentage of Americans infected have absolutely no access to this drug, despite promises from Trump, Abbott, and DeSantis.

A costly treatment that takes hours to administer by IV is never going to be effective in limiting the number of people who need hospitalization from widespread disease. For that, there needs to be something cheap, something that can be administered quickly, something whose efficacy is very high. Fortunately, that something exists. It's called the vaccine.

Even as breakthrough cases increase, vaccination continues to be the most effective means of ensuring that patients don't end up contracting severe illness. In fact, even if every patient did get Regeneron's treatment, its efficacy was 70% in preventing severe illness. That's considerably less effective than vaccines. And the results from Regeneron were from a point before the delta variant became prominent. How effective it is against the delta variant isn't yet clear.

If Regeneron's REGEN-COV were 70% effective on hospitalized patients, that would be fantastic. However, a U.K. study released in June saw a 20% mortality reduction when Regeneron was used in the hospital. That's certainly a genuine benefit, and anyone facing severe COVID-19 would be foolish to turn down the opportunity to receive treatment—even if offered in violation of the EUA. However, it's far from a get-out-of-COVID-free card. REGEN-COV remains costly, uncommon, and utterly unable to address the current crisis.

The problem isn't really with Regeneron's treatment. The problem is how Republicans are using Regeneron's treatment as an excuse to fail in protecting residents of their states. REGEN-COV is a valuable tool, but it does absolutely nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19. In fact, dangling the idea that a cure is available only encourages that spread.

What's needed is vaccination, masks, and social distancing. The chain of transmission has to be broken. Because no matter how many articles are written about how "COVID-19 is here to stay," it simply can't be. We can't learn to live with it. A disease that regularly sends this nation (and every nation) into cycles of ICU-or-death is not a condition that can persist long term. It's a prescription for failure. Of the healthcare system. Of the economy. Of Everything. Big 'E.'

COVID-19 must be fought as an existential threat. The means of waging that battle is clear enough — vaccines, masks, and social distancing. Mask mandates are necessary. Proof of vaccination is necessary. Quarantines are necessary. Testing and case tracking are necessary.

Right now, Republicans are hiding behind Regenron's antibody treatment. Just like they previously hid behind hydroxychloroquine. While REGEN-COV may have the huge advantage of actually generating some benefit, both serve the same purpose—to allow Republican politicians to downplay the costs of the pandemic and encourage people to act as if COVID-19 doesn't exist because a cure is available. But there is no cure. Republicans are still selling the same lie that Trump was pushing when he refused to institute national testing. The same lie that DeSantis pushed when he reopened businesses without meeting any of the guidelines his own team had put down. The same lie that Republican governors from Texas to Tennessee to Florida to Iowa to Arizona are pushing in blocking mask requirements at public schools.

In the bigger scheme of what's happening in the pandemic, Regeneron might as well not exist. It's simply too uncommon, too difficult to administer, and not effective enough to have a significant impact. That's not to say it's not playing a role — only that role is negative. That's because it's being treated as "Cure of the Week" to justify the continuation of monstrous acts.

Don't worry. They'll make another "cure" next week. But in the meantime, let's get answers to a couple of questions:

  • Why did Greg Abbott get a booster shot?
  • Why did Abbott get treatment with REGEN-COV despite that booster and despite having no symptoms?
  • What does Abbott have to say to the 17,000 Texans currently in hospital beds who did not get a chance to receive the treatments he did?
  • Why is he continuing to push people to catch a disease for which there is no actual cure?
@2023 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by