Mark Sumner

Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene's fascism tour gets kicked out of a third venue in a row

The leaders of the Republican Party—Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—have been touring the nation. Whether this is part of Gaetz's plans for expanding his sex trafficking ring, Greene's recruiting drive for terrorists, or simply a cash grab by both, isn't clear (except for the part where it definitely is a cash grab). What is clear is that it's a keen demonstration of the GOP is making a "star" out of anyone who is merely willing to be disgusting on a regular basis.

As a quick reminder, Greene was taken off her House committee assignments for continually promoting the Big Lie in a way that encouraged violence, and downplaying the events of Jan. 6. Meanwhile, Gaetz is under investigation for his involvement in a multi-state scheme to recruit young women, provide them with fake IDs, and jet them around the country for sex in exchange for cash and prizes—a scheme that is complicated by the fact that at least one of these women was underage. Both these things together, and you have the makings of a modern Republican dream team.

The two have been touring the country making appearances that allow their followers to own the libs by showing that they don't care about details like rape or insurrection, so long as they get to hear jokes about Nancy Pelosi and watch Gaetz sputter on in his obsession with AOC. They also have been talking up a proposed political caucus to defend "Anglo-Saxon" culture by strictly limiting immigration.

But a funny thing has happened when it comes to the West Coast edition of the Gaetz and Greene show. Funny in the "ha ha" sense. Because nobody wants them. For the third time in a week, venues have put out the Not Welcome mat, leaving the pair looking for somewhere to gestate their hate supposedly right on the eve of their next appearance.

Lauren Boebert created her own sockpuppet to like her tweets, defend her nonsense and follow AOC

It's always nice to have someone who agrees with you on every point. Someone who will take up your battles for you. And maybe someone who will like or retweet those really weird statements that were maybe just a bit to embarrassing to put your name beside. For Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, that person is Freedom Fighter aka @freedom53597835 aka Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert.

Boebert isn't the first Republican to be caught sockpuppeting to make her opinions seem more popular, to take secret jabs at enemies, or do whatever Boebert is doing when retweeting these posts. Not by a long shot. But there is something particularly interesting about finding out that this Republican has sockpuppet tendencies.

So, Lauren Boebert set up what's clearly a throwaway sockpuppet account to boost her own posts, retweet some decidedly odd comments about men, and to follow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (oh yes, Freedom Fighter follows AOC). But mostly what Boebert's sockpuppet points out is that there's a mystery out there that needs to be solved — and it's all about a date.

Boebert's sockpuppetry was discovered by comedy writer Toby Morton in a way that's almost as hilarious as Morton's work on South Park. In a solid Karen moment, Boebert came to chase Morton away when he was filming a bit at a location that Boebert felt was too close to her Colorado bar. During this encounter Boebert uses her phone to video Morton. But where did that video actually pop out at a time when Boebert wanted to shore up her position in an argument with Morton? From @freedom53597835.

At the moment, Boebert is still feeding posts into the burner account in a hilario-pathetic effort to prove that it's so, so not her burner account. But, as Meidas Touch points out, the discovery of this account from Boebert only fires the starting gun for the real search—her other accounts. In particular, the Freedom Fighter account was created in February, meaning that it was created after the events of Jan. 6 and after Boebert was aware that she had been accused of leading insurgents on tours of the Capitol that were designed to show them how to subvert the building's security.

So the question is not just: How many other such accounts does Boebert have, but what accounts did she have before January 6? Also, since Boebert has already tweeted to say "if this was really Lauren's burner account don't you think it would have a lot more tweets?" that opens the question of how many tweets on this account, and others, Boebert has deleted.

But it is nice to know she's on a first name basis with herself.

CPAC has become the place Republicans go to sit around the campfire and scare themselves sillier

How can we be sure that we've drifted into the Worst Possible Timeline? Because it's always CPAC. Not content with one event in 2021, the Conservative Political Action Conference is on again, with CPAC Part 2, Eclectic Bugaboos now underway in Dallas.

Once upon a time, the History Channel actually had shows about history. The Science Channel had shows that tried to explain science. The Discovery Channel had programming that did not involve people redesigning a cottage, cabin, or breezy loft apartment. In each case, the people behind those platforms seem to have started out with high-minded ideals, with the intention of bringing knowledge to members of the public who were drawn to their channels by the implication behind the name. Then, somewhere along the line, they discovered that they could draw more eyeballs more cheaply with programming where wild-eyed commentators talked about ancient aliens, sincere plumbers spent their off hours searching for ghosts, and perky hosts convinced people that gluing straw to their walls was a good look.

Maybe something similar happened with CPAC. At the very least, Republicans used to act as if the meetings involved a serious transfer of conservative philosophy. Way back when the conferences started in 1974, it was at CPAC that Ronald Reagan gave the first draft of the "shining city on a hill" speech that would later become his signature party trick. There was even the time CPAC organizers ran Richard Spencer out of the building, with the head of the American Conservative Union complaining that the alt-right was everything that conservatives despise.

That was (checks notes) 2017. Though, just to be clear, that same ACU invited Milo Yiannopoulos a year before Spencer was scolded, so the idea that they were actually against racism, misogyny, or xenophobia always seemed like a stunt for the cameras. In any case, they're certainly not hiding any of those sterling qualities at this year's CPAC, an event that must leave guys like Spencer and Yiannopoulos happy to say they're not associated with those extremists.

What has been the level of Republican discourse at this CPAC event? Well, there's Madison Cawthorn, the designated heir to Louie Gohmert's traditional role in Congress, explaining the CPAC-truth behind President Biden's talk of asking volunteers to go door-to-door helping to expand vaccine availability. The real plan, according to Cawthorn, is to build a "massive mechanism" that can then be used to "go door-to-door to take your guns" or "door-to-door to take your Bibles."

Honestly, of all the speeches given at this year's CPAC, Cawthorn's may be the most instructive. Because when it comes to "exchanging conservative ideas" in 2021, what that really means is collaborating on the scariest story, whether or not it makes any sense. Cawthorn is demonstrating exactly how this works, and everyone is nodding right along, because what he's saying is absolutely core to the Republican Party — which, as a reminder, has no platform. The Republican Party exists only to hold power and spread fear. That's it.

And if press coverage once resulted in Yiannopoulos being un-invited, and Spencer was on the waggy end of the ACU's bony finger, that is all so 2017. At this year's CPAC, they're not stopping with fascist talkers, they're all in on fascist doers. That includes bringing in Elmer Rhodes. The founder of Oath Keepers not only helped to plan the January 6 insurrection, he called on Donald Trump to make it official by using the Insurrection Act to overturn the election. Which makes Rhodes a hero of the modern party.

And rather than concentrating on candidates for 2024, or even securing the House in 2022, this year's CPAC has a different focus — putting Donald Trump back in the White House in 2021. Where many flawed plans involve what appear to be reasonable steps right up to the point where something magic or illogical is required, this plan starts off with that magic right at step one, as the Q-cult finally reveals their evidence of underground pizza tubes and Nancy Pelosi "melts, like the Wicked Witch of the West" opening the door for Trump to step in as speaker, then impeach both Biden and Harris, then move right into the White House. Elections? What are these elections?

That's not to say some real world topics didn't come up. Like this discussion of the COVID-19 crisis, where the failure to get enough Americans vaccinated to stop the pandemic drew cheers.

Whatever CPAC was intended to be in 1974, this is what is today — a place for Republicans to trade dark fairy tales stewed together from output of Q-boards and cooked to overripe perfection in the Fox News kitchens. It's absolutely ludicrous, infinitely dangerous, and completely poisonous to democracy. And no one even gets their house redesigned.

Trump reportedly 'shocked' his former chief of staff with refusal to stop praising Nazi leader Adolf Hitler

Back in 2017, the inventor of Godwin's Law made it clear that comparing someone to a Nazi, when they are literally praising the Nazis, was completely fair. That came during the sequence of events at Charlottesville, where violent white supremacists marched to Nazi slogans and one deliberately killed peaceful protester Heather Heyer by driving over her with a car. Trump responded by a statement that there were "very fine people" on both sides of the events, then he doubled-down on that statement with a claim that he was only supporting the Nazis in their praise for a Confederate traitor.

In 2018, Trump explicitly declared "I'm a nationalist," in a speech ostensibly supporting Ted Cruz. "You know, they have a word," said Trump. "It sort of became old-fashioned. It's called a nationalist. And I say really, we're not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I am a nationalist. Use that word."

So when The Guardian published an account on Wednesday morning that Trump defended Hitler while on a tour of military cemeteries … is anyone really surprised?

"Hitler," said Trump, "did a lot of good things."

The pro-Hitler conversation is from a book titled Frankly, We Did Win This Election, by Wall Street Journal reported Michael Bender which is slated for publication next week.

On a 2018 trip to Europe in which Trump was supposed to go to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery to visit the graves of 2,300 Americans who were killed in World War I. Instead, Trump skipped out on the visit, claiming it was too wet, while actually telling his advisers that he had no interest in visiting soldiers who were "losers" and "suckers."

During that visit, it was already known that then chief of staff John Kelly tried to explain the circumstances of both World Wars, to explain how the actions taken after World War I contributed to the rise of the Nazis, and how that led to World War II. Trump responded by saying that he "didn't understand why the United States would intervene on the side of the Allies."

But the new book goes further. It explains how Trump "stunned" Kelly by his direct support of Hitler. Kelly reputedly told Trump that he was wrong to support the murderous dictator, "but Trump was undeterred." Instead, Trump kept pointing to how Hitler supposedly pulled Germany out of its economic slump in the 1930s.

Kelly grew explicit in his response, telling Trump, "you cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can't."

Even then, Trump continued to praise Hitler. Kelly was reportedly disgusted, as were other unnamed senior officials who described Trump's "understanding of slavery, Jim Crow, or the Black experience in general post-civil war as vague to nonexistent."

Trump has, according to Kelly, a "stunning disregard for history." But then, why should anyone expect anything else? Trump has been rewarded for ignoring history. He lost no support among Republicans for attacking veterans, prisoners of war, or Gold Star families. He lost no support for his embrace of the term nationalist, or for his often-expressed love for modern-day dictators like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, or Rodrigo Duterte. Trump actively gained support in the party for white supremacist positions that insist that white people are the real victims of racism, and that Blacks and immigrants are not real Americans. The Republican Party is marching ahead with those principles in every state, making rolling back voting rights and villainizing immigrants the cornerstone of their 2022 effort.

Don't expect to see any criticism from Republicans over Trump's statement. Instead, expect them to first claim that it's all made up—then to embrace it.

This Republican lawmaker just used a Jan. 6 lawsuit to promote the lie that inspired the attack

Some time between 7:30 and 8:30 PM on Jan. 5, a person wearing a gray hoodie and pricey Nike Air Max sneakers placed a pipe bomb on the bench outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. They placed another behind the HQ of the Republican National Committee. The discovery of those pipe bombs took place between noon and 1 PM the next day, making them a great distraction for police who were at that moment struggling to respond to Trump supporters smashing through security lines around the Capitol.

Though the primary purpose of those bombs might have been to draw police away from the Capitol, the devices themselves were quite real. Each was made from an 8-inch length of galvanized steel pipe, each contained a generous amount of black powder, and each included a kitchen timer that was designed to explode the device at … actually, that information has not been made public. Six months later, that pipe bomber has not been arrested. If there is an official suspect, that news has not been made public.

The pipe bomber isn't the only person still laughing up their gray cotton sleeve six months after thousands of Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol chanting "Hang Mike Pence," erected a gallows on the Capitol lawn, and went inside to break into congressional offices and hunt members of the House and Senate. Though the very first cases are now coming to trial, many of those involved in Jan. 6 events have not been charged. That includes those most responsible: the politicians who took to the "Stop the Steal" stage and encouraged the attack.

If you've not watched The New York Times' "Day of Rage" video, you should spend 40 minutes doing so now. For all the well-deserved criticism the paper receives, this is a fantastic example of the kind of journalism of which they are still capable. The work the Times has done in putting this together is extremely valuable, and the charges that it makes are well-aimed.

How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol | Visual Investigations www.youtube.com

Six months in, America has seen plenty of stories of insurrectionists pulled into police stations through their own blind hubris. Those staging the attack included a West Virginian legislator who helpfully filmed himself invading the Capitol (including giving his name on camera for anyone who needed confirmation) and a Proud Boys supporter who signed his name on screen.

But, as the Associated Press reports, in spite of hundreds of arrests, a large number of those involved have still not been brought in. The Justice Department is still hunting "scores" of insurrectionists, including many who, like the pipe bomber, were involved in some of the most serious incidents of violence and threat. Some of these people were previously not on police radar as they were not involved in violent extremism before becoming entangled with Trump. Others simply haven't yet been identified, losing themselves in a similar set of thousands dressed in pseudo-military tactical gear and Trump paraphernalia.

But some of those people were right in front of everyone, and their names are well-known. That includes Rep. Mo Brooks, who took the stage that morning to prod the crowd with direct calls for violence. A judge gave Brooks a break today in the lawsuit filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell, ruling that he had not been unresponsive despite avoiding process servers for weeks.

Brooks' Jan. 6 speech included telling the crowd they should "stop at the Capitol" to prevent the a vote that would "turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed and socialist nation on the decline, or they will join us and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft and vote for keeping America great." Brooks then followed up for anyone who might not be clear on what he was saying: "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," said Brooks. "Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you. Are you willing to do the same?" Brooks then repeatedly shouted at the crowd, "Will you fight for America?" before saying, "We, American patriots are going to come right at them!"

Brooks has been insisting that he did nothing wrong, and that this actions that day "represented his district." However, in a new filing connected to his civil suit, Brooks pushed all the blame onto someone else: Donald Trump.

According to the filing from Brooks' attorneys: "Brooks only gave the Ellipse Speech because the White House asked him to, in his capacity as a United States Congressman. But for the White House request, Brooks would not have appeared at the Ellipse Rally." The filing also claims that Brooks coordinated his statements with the White House.

But if this sounds like either Brooks or his attorneys are about to be reasonable … nope. This is the prelude to claims that calls for violence against Congress were completely justified. "The evidence is overwhelming that the Nov. 3, 2020, elections were the subject of voter fraud and election theft on a scale never seen before in America," reads the filing, "and that, if only lawful votes cast by eligible American citizens were counted, Donald Trump should be serving his second term as President of the United States."

Brooks didn't just push the Big Lie from the Stop the Steal stage, he's still pushing it in court. He's not blaming Trump for the insurgency, he's blaming America.

China's largest COVID-19 vaccine isn't preventing spread of new variants

In looking at the issues in South America on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Despite high levels of vaccination in countries like Chile and Uruguay, these nations are at or near record highs for new cases of COVID-19. Statistics from Our World in Data show that these examples are far from alone. Around the world, there are a number of nations that have high levels of vaccination, but continue to have new waves of COVID-19. Meanwhile, there are other nations—the United States among them—that have lower rates of vaccination, but have seen a dramatic drop in cases.

The current situation in the United States, and in other nations that have fallen well short of reaching the level of vaccination needed to restrict community spread, is far from a guarantee of future conditions. It's still possible, even likely, that the U.S. will experience a "fourth wave" of cases in the fall as indoor activities increase and Republican vaccine hesitancy leaves many areas with a high percentage of the population unvaccinated.

But some nations are already seeing a new wave of COVID-19. Driven by the Delta and Gamma variants, health care systems in many South American nations are now taxed at record levels. That's true in nations with vaccination rates significantly higher than in the United States, as well as those where vaccination rates are low. And the reason for this seems to be that the vaccines being used in those nations are simply not working to stop infections.

Part of that is China's fault. Part of it is ours.

When comparing vaccination rates in North and South America, there are some large inequities. The United States is well above one cluster of nations, but significantly below levels in Canada, Chile, and Uruguay.

Vaccination rates in North America and selected South American nations.

But at the same time, North and South America look like not just different continents, but separate worlds when it comes to the rate of new COVID-19 cases. The overlapping rates of vaccination that seem to place both sets of nations on the same playing field break down into two very distinct groups when it comes to the current rate of new cases. In the north, the pandemic might even be seen to be over. In the south, it is very much raging.

North American nations vs. selected South American nations when it comes to daily cases of COVID-19 per capita.

Rather than seeing a decline after the January peak, many of these nations are seeing a new wave that's far worse than previous levels. Uruguay has reached new infection rates equaling 1% of the total population each week. And yet, Uruguay is up there near the top of the chart when it comes to vaccination. Over 62% of its total population has received at least one vaccination. That's almost 10% higher than the United States.

So why is one nation recovering as the other is seeing a huge increase in cases? It's not the number of vaccinations—it's the type of vaccine.

While the United States has seen vaccinations from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, almost all the vaccinations in Uruguay and several other South American nations have been Sinovac, manufactured by China's Sinovac Biotech. The government of Uruguay insists that things are not as bad as those massive number of new cases may make them seem. As Reuters reported earlier this month, health officials in Uruguay claim a 90% reduction in trips to the intensive care among those who have been vaccinated, and a 95% reduction in deaths. But these values may be deceptive, and feeling reassured by them could be dangerous.

As The New York Times reports, over 90 countries are depending largely on Sinovac or other Chinese-developed vaccines. There are multiple reasons for this. One is that China has made these vaccines widely available at little or no cost. As diplomatic gestures go, this beats the heck out of shipping the world more cases of bombs. Another big issue is that not only are other vaccines more costly, they've largely been unavailable. That's because wealthy nations like the United States, the United Kingdom, and members of the European Union have locked up months of the available supply. The availability of some of these vaccines is still restricted even as factories are working full time to meet existing contracts in wealthy nations.

This is starting to change. In part, that's because some nations are now facing a vaccine glut. The United States has already begun distributing vaccines through the United Nations and World Health Organization and has promised 500 million more doses. The other members of the G7 have promised to also add 500 million doses to the table.

But for much of the globe, using vaccines from China has been a necessity, not a choice. Just as in Uruguay, countries like Mongolia, Bahrain, and the Seychelles relied heavily on Sinovac.

These are nations that set out to do the right thing for their people, launching aggressive vaccination campaigns early, and making the efforts in outreach and infrastructure to turn vaccines on shelves into needles in arms. All of these nations have a higher level of vaccination than the United States. All of them have a much higher rate of new cases. In fact, both Bahrain and Seychelles now "beat" the United States in terms of having a high per capita rate of cases across the whole pandemic, with most of those deaths coming after they had achieved good rates of vaccination.

Over the last seven days, WorldOMeters set the rate of new cases per million in the population within Seychelles at an astounding 10,000. Mongolia is over 5,000. Uruguay over 4,000. Meanwhile the United States is at 248, Canada is at 161, and Israel, which has a vaccination rate very close to that of the Seychelles, has a new case rate of just 41.

Have no doubt about it: With over 33 million total cases, no one did worse in handling this pandemic than the United States. China and South Korea, which faced early outbreaks, did better. European nations caught by an unexpected wave of cases did better. Tiny nations like the Seychelles did better.

But relying on Chinese vaccines is now placing nations at grave risk. Not only does the high rate of new cases mean that unrestricted community spread is still happening in nations dependent on Sinovac vaccine, it's far from clear that these nations really are protected against severe outcomes. In terms of deaths per capita, the names at the top of the charts right now are four South American nations (Paraguay, Suriname, Columbia, and Argentina) plus the Seychelles. Despite their higher level of vaccination, the Seychelles has a death rate that's currently 15 times higher than the United States. (However, results in Paraguay—currently topping the charts for daily deaths—can't be blamed on Sinovac. Vaccination rates in the country are less than 6%, and the government there seems to be waiting on a pair of vaccines made by Taiwanese companies, both of which are still undergoing trials.)

It was clear from the beginning that relative to the other vaccines being tested, Sinovac produced a lower immune response. Another Chinese vaccine, CanSino, was even worse. As The Atlantic reports, these vaccines are being pushed beyond their limits by new and more contagious variants.

Delta has gotten so much attention because it has the most troubling collection of traits yet: It is markedly more transmissible than Alpha, can sicken a large proportion of people who have had only one dose of a vaccine (though not those who have had two), and may even cause more severe disease. All of this is enough to be a warning, especially as Delta is now responsible for 10 percent of U.S. cases and rising.

Delta won't be the last variant. Viruses evolve to become more efficient at spreading. That's really the only evolutionary pressure they face. Each human infection gives the virus trillions of opportunities to find a combination that will be more contagious, as well as more evasive of vaccines. Not only are ineffective vaccines that fail to stop infection allowing this evolution to go forward, they could well do what overuse of antibiotics did with bacteria: help to increase vaccine evasion.

Right now, two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines (and one dose of Johnson & Johnson, followed by sufficient time without exposure) seem to be effective against the Delta variant. Sinovac is not. Despite Uruguay's claims that the vaccine has proven highly effective in preventing deaths, that nation is also currently in the top 10 when it comes to COVID-19 deaths per capita. That doesn't mean Sinovac has been effective in preventing deaths, but when the vaccine allows so many cases, a large number of deaths are still going to occur. That's why last week Costa Rica moved to reject delivery of Sinovac, saying that it is "not effective enough." With a vaccination rate of just 30%, Costa Rica could definitely use more vaccine. Also better vaccine. Hopefully, they'll get it.

But still ahead is Africa where, despite many nations having avoided the worst of the pandemic so far, case counts are increasing and vaccination rates remain low. The 1 billion doses of vaccine that the United States and its G7 partners have put forward is … about 4 billion short of what's needed.

First person sentenced in connection with Jan. 6 gets probation — but it's far from over

In the months that have passed since thousands of Donald Trump supporters assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, much of the horror of that day has been replaced by frustration. Trump himself was impeached—for a second time—following the incident, but not only did Republicans refuse to mete out any punishment for Trump's actions, they've made it clear they are all members of team Big Lie.

Additionally, though at least 465 people have been indicted over the events of that day, many of the charges seem to be extremely minor considering what all of America watched unfolding. And no one has yet faced even a judicial slap on the wrist for plowing through police lines, smashing through doors and windows, and prowling the halls of Congress with murder in mind. This may finally be about to change.

As The Washington Post reports, 49-year-old Indiana resident Anna Morgan-Lloyd is expected to be the first person sentenced in relation to the events of Jan. 6 when she steps before a federal judge on Wednesday. But no one should be expecting Morgan-Lloyd to exit the chamber in an orange jumpsuit. Prosecutors have already recommended that she "receive no jail time, perform 40 hours of community service, complete three years of probation, and pay $500 in restitution" for being one of those who invaded the Capitol during the insurgency. And that's before her attorney wrote a letter explaining how she's embarked on a self-education program that included watching Schindler's List. So she may not even go away with a sore wrist.

However, Morgan-Lloyd may be the first to stand before a judge over the events of the insurrection, but she won't be the last. That includes several members of the white supremacist group Oath Keepers, who just learned today that one of their own has agreed to fully cooperate with federal prosecutors.

It may be an odd pairing to see Morgan-Lloyd and Oath Keeper Graydon Young entering the same federal courthouse to attend their respective hearings on the same afternoon. But then, the pair had no trouble mixing on Jan. 6, when the Oath Keeper militia mixed freely with Morgan-Lloyd and the tens of thousands of Trump supporters who stepped over or through security fences and police lines to crowd the Capitol.

Both Morgan-Lloyd and Young were among those who actually entered the building on that day, and while Morgan-Lloyd says, "It was never my intent to help empower people to act violently," it's certainly what she and all the others who marched on the Capitol to stop the electoral count accomplished. Young has no such claim. Violence is exactly why he was there.

As the Orlando Sentinel reported back in March, Young was part of a conspiracy involving at least nine members of the Oath Keepers who planned in advance how they could force their way into the Capitol. The conversations within the group also included encouragement to bring weapons and threats of violence. But mostly what Young wanted prosecutors to know back then was that being in jail was taking a "high toll on his mental well-being."

Young claimed at the time he was "unaware of the nefarious purposes" of the Oath Keepers. Which seems odd, considering that he not only took part in the advanced planning, he showed up on Jan. 6 wearing camo combat gear, including a tactical vest and protective helmet.

In the interval between March and June, there have been numerous reports that Grayson was negotiating with prosecutors as part of a plea deal. On Wednesday that became official, as Grayson attended a hearing where federal prosecutors explained that deal to a judge.

These two hearings represent the first in line, and it should be remembered that these defendants got that spot because of their willingness to cooperate. It could still be months before those facing the biggest charges come before a judge.

Morgan-Lloyd's hearing

At her afternoon hearing, Scott MacFarlane of MSNBC reports that Morgan-Lloyd continued to be apologetic, telling the judge she was "ashamed" of what became "a savage display." But Judge Royce Lamberth seemed disinclined to send the Indiana woman on her way, telling her, "I've struggled with what would be an appropriate sentence." The judge made it clear that "this was not a peaceful demonstration" and it was "not an accident this turned violent." However, the judge did acknowledge that Morgan-Lloyd was owning up to her actions, saying, "Some of these defendants in these cases are not gonna do what you did."

In the end, Judge Lamberth gave Morgan-Lloyd 36 months probation. Which exactly matched the prosecutors' request. Which is bound to be disappointing to many, but the plea she made was only to a single misdemeanor charge of "Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building," That makes this about the lowest ranking of all the cases coming forward.

Judge Lamberth did take time out to complain about "some Members of Congress" who were "re-writing history" when they compared the events of Jan. 6 to a "tourist visit." That would be you, Rep. Andrew Clyde.

Young's hearing

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News reporter Zoe Tillman was on hand for Grayson Young's brief appearance before Judge Amit Mehta. Young stood in front of the judge and pleaded guilty to two counts (out of a considerably larger indictment). He pleaded to felony charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding. The two charges together have a combined maximum sentence of 25 years; however the judge tells Young that he should expect a sentence between 63 and 78 months based on his cooperation and accepting responsibility for his actions. Five to six years is not nothing, but it's certainly better than what Young might have received if he failed to make a deal.

Young then waived his right to counsel and agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors. That includes interviews with law enforcement officials and testifying before a federal grand jury. Judge Mehta noted that Young's jail time could be further reduced if prosecutors are pleased with his cooperation.

As David Neiwert reported back in February, the Oath Keepers played a critical role in organizing the events of the Jan. 6 insurgency. The groups were spread across multiple states, and discussed bringing "heavy weapons" to the event. They also have connections to Roger Stone, Alex Jones, and organizers of the "Stop the Steal" rally. Young himself was one of the Oath Keepers who acted as a bodyguard for Stone on Jan. 5.

Houston hospital group fires 153 employees who refused vaccination

Nobody really should have been surprised about what's happened at Houston Methodist health care locations. For weeks, it's been clear that the administration was going to stick to its guns in insisting that all employees be vaccinated. It's been just as clear that vaccine hesitancy remains high, especially among Republicans. So, what started as a single member of the senior administrative staff being suspended when he refused to take a vaccine, has continued to expand until The Washington Post now reports that 153 people have now resigned or been fired because they would not take a vaccine.

That sounds like a large number, but considering that the organization has 24,947 employees who did get vaccinated, the ousted group amounts to well below 1% of the staff. However, this case is being examined closely, and made a cause by anti-vax groups, because the argument at the heart of this dispute are already being repeated at locations across the nation. And as schools head back into session for the fall, the precedents being tested here are certain to resurface again and again.

So, can an employer require employees to be vaccinated? Yes. This has always been the case. All sorts of businesses have long required that potential employees be tested for a variety of diseases, and can require vaccination as part of the terms of employment. In May, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made it clear that this extends to requiring COVID-19 vaccinations.

But what about the contention that employers can't require someone to take an "experimental drug." The answer to that is simple: None of the available COVID-19 vaccines are experimental drugs.

The term "experimental drug" has a straightforward definition from the National Institutes of Health. It's a substance that has been tested in the lab, and is now ready to head to testing in humans. That is—it's ready for Phase 1 trials. Experimental drugs are sometimes given to people not involved in trials in the most dire circumstances. For example, a number of treatments still undergoing human trials have been extended to patients with conditions where no known treatment exists. The drug adrabetadex, featured in the Daily Kos series on children with Niemann-Pick type C, is an experimental drug that has been extended outside of trials through exactly such a "compassionate use" program.

However, all the vaccines available have completed their human trials. The vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all been through Phase 1 testing for safety, Phase 2 testing for determining potency and dosage, and Phase 3 testing to determine efficacy. They were all recommended for approval by both internal boards at the FDA, and the FDA's notoriously picky advisory committee of external experts.

In addition, those vaccines have been distributed to hundreds of millions of patients, all under the watch of a system that has continued to look at the potential for any associated risks. The tightness of that system was well demonstrated earlier this year when administration of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was temporarily suspended when there was a potential connection made to a small number of cases involving blood clots. That suspension was only lifted after an extensive—and for many who were waiting for vaccination at the time, frustrating—safety review.

It's a safe bet that, should some employer somewhere require employees to take an experimental drug, that this would not hold up in court. However, in no sense are the COVID-19 vaccines "experimental drugs." What stands between these drugs and full FDA approval is not any technical hurdle or safety information. It's all there.

Which is why an earlier attempt by 117 members of the Houston Methodist staff to sue over the vaccine policy, with claims about being used as "guinea pigs," and claims that requiring vaccination "violates the Nuremberg Code," were swiftly dismissed by a federal district judge. "This is not coercion," wrote the Republican-appointed judge. "Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer."

But the terms used in the complaint by the Houston Medical staff—phrases such as "Methodist Hospital is forcing its employees to be human 'guinea pigs'" and "requires the employee to subject themselves to medical experimentation" and calling the vaccines "experimental COVID-19 mRNA gene modification injections"—are all over right-wing media. Alex Jones has helped to lead protests at the organization's hospitals. Fox News has frequently tossed around the same terminology, and Fox hosts such as Tucker Carlson have been all in on the idea that requiring a COVID vaccination parallels the actions of Nazis.

These cases claiming that the vaccines are "experimental drugs" will continue to lose in court, because they are technically, legally, and ethically wrong. However, the false information being spread on right-wing media will have an impact. In particular, expect school systems that really should be requiring vaccination of all employees, and children over the age of 12, to hold back from life-saving actions because they've been scared off by inaccurate claims and ugly lies meant to demonize doing the right thing.

'Pure insanity': DOJ emails show what officials really thought of election fraud conspiracy theories

On Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee released a set of selected documents demonstrating the level of pressure that Donald Trump applied in his efforts to pressure the DOJ into investigating claims of election fraud. Part of that was pressure Trump applied to William Barr's replacement over a whole series of claims that were absolutely bizarre. That included no less than three letters directed to the DOJ that insisted that votes had been changed by Italian satellites. It's not clear if any of these satellites was also carrying Jewish space lasers.

But it does mean that then chief of staff Mark Meadows sent letters, in both English and Italian, to the DOJ ordering them to investigate a claim that "Leonardo Aerospace, at Pescara facility, using advanced military encryption capabilities, changed the U.S. election result from President Trump to Joe Biden." This switch was "conducted by the head of the IT department" in coordination with the CIA. It's a claim so ludicrous that it barely merited a mention when it surfaced back in January. Reuters took the time to write up a fact check debunking "Italygate," but it honestly passed by unnoticed by most sometime between claims of intervention by dead Venezuelan dictators, and that time thousands of Trump supporters swarmed the Capitol looking for blood.

But Meadows didn't just pass this letter on to the DOJ with a laugh, he pressed them about this at least three times. That was far from the worst thing that happened over the post election period. As the letters confirm, Trump and Meadows made it crystal clear they expected the DOJ to play their part in wrecking democracy.

In December, William Barr official stepped away from his spot. As Trump prepared to appoint acting replacements, he made sure that the first thing they saw was claims about election fraud. These emails were not just "here's something I want you to investigate." The emails contained talking points that asserted "a Cover-up is Happening regarding the voting machines in Michigan," and, "Michigan cannot certify for Biden." These emails were distributed both to Rosen and to U.S. attorneys in Michigan, and these emails actually hit Rosen's inbox in the hour right before he was officially announced, making it clear that Trump believed his first job was to get in there and break democracy.

After naming Rosen as acting attorney general, and Jeffery Clark as assistant attorney general, Trump then met with them both and pressured them to actively contest the results of the election in several states. Following that meeting, Meadows directed Rosen to have Clark look into supposed issues with signatures in Fulton County, Georgia. Meadows then helpfully sent Clark the cell phone of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak, so he could involve Pak in this "investigation."

Within days, Clark was working with Trump in a plan to oust the just-appointed acting attorney general, and replace him with Clark, who would then proceed to have the DOJ intervene in the election directly. That plan fell through when audio was released of Trump attempting to pressure the Georgia secretary of state into lying about the results. On the Atlanta end, Pak resigned after being pressured by the White House to get on board with claims that there were fraudulent votes in Fulton County. His decision to leave is clearly difficult for him in the sense that he understands the importance of his role as U.S. attorney. However, it also seems easy, in the sense that he knows Trump is pushing him to a place he cannot go.

In what might be the most jaw-dropping effort, two days before the Georgia plan unraveled, Trump tried to push Rosen into having the DOJ take a case directly to the Supreme Court to "nullify the election." This plan involved a legal brief directed at the Court asking them to "declare that the Electoral College votes cast" in six states that President Trump lost "cannot be counted." The brief also asked that the Court order a "special election" giving Trump a do-over.

And as if attempting to simply get the Supreme Court to throw out the whole election wasn't enough, Meadows also passed along at least five conspiracy theories for the DOJ to investigate. That included not just the letters about the Italian satellite scheme (which seems to be connected to a disgruntled former employee under indictment for cyber crimes against the company), but a link to a YouTube video explaining the whole strange conspiracy theory. It was this letter in particular that generated a very special response from acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue. His reply: "Pure insanity." The person behind that YouTube video turned out to be, of course, working with Rudy Giuliani. Which would seem to confirm Donoghue's opinion.

If the pressure was audacious in scope—from demands to investigate a single county, to an attempt to have the DOJ join in to nullify the whole election—it was also amazing in its range. Voting machines in New Mexico. Signatures in Georgia. Satellites in Italy. It seemed there was no rumor or claim that Trump wasn't willing to push, even when it came with no supporting evidence. And in Italian.

As a result of all this, the Oversight Committee will seek testimony from Meadows, Clark, Donoghue, and Pak, along with former associate deputy attorney general Patrick Hovakimian. Bringing in Clark would definitely be a popcorn opportunity, as his scheme to conduct an internal coup at DOJ, oust Rosen, then somehow have the DOJ itself nullify the election is begging to be explained. Considering what Donoghue wrote on the day, it would be interesting what he thinks now about the whole enterprise. And considering that Pak determined that he had to resign his position as U.S. attorney rather than participate in this farce, his testimony might be particularly compelling.

In short—these would be a very interesting set of interviews. If they will appear when, as is certain, Trump tries to assert some form of post-executive privilege. If the House wants to hear them speak, then there has to be a willingness to not just issue subpoenas, but follow through.

Texas power prices are skyrocketing again. The people in charge say they have no idea why

Apparently, wind turbines can also freeze when it gets hot. Or at least, after a deadly outage that left much of Texas in the dark over the winter, the Texas energy grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is once again warning that Texans need to cut back on energy use, or face the possibility of a new extended outage.

It's a situation that will surely lead Republicans to howl once again about the unreliability of renewable power. However, just as in the winter outage, wind and solar are actually performing at a rate above projections. The real problem comes because of "power plant outages," according to ERCOT. That would be the coal and natural gas plants that make up 64% of Texas' electrical energy mix. The energy management organization describes those outages as "unexpected," but it's providing no additional details.

Even at the time it was occurring, it was clear that the primary cause of the outage during the winter was a cascade failure of fossil fuel plants—and especially of natural gas. But what's happening now isn't so much a feature of natural gas as it is a function of Texas' "conservative" politics. The winter outage may not have generated much electricity, but it generated windfall profits for power companies, who sucked in more profit in two days than they made in the rest of the year.

That's happening again. In less than a week, peak period electricity prices in Texas have increased over 10,000%. Pricing at several locations has exceeded $2,000 per megawatt hour. That means that even as residents brace for blackouts, they're set to receive another round of soaring bills.

But don't worry. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is right on those things things that matter—building a wall, censoring textbooks, and restricting the right to vote.

The problem in Texas is that the great majority of the state was purposely cut off from neighboring grids. That's because Texas Republicans wanted to create a little experiment in capitalism where electrical providers have every incentive to build just enough power to meet every day demands, and not enough to meet exceptional circumstances. Because power prices in Texas—the original home of Enron—are allowed to float on instantaneous market pricing, the cost to consumers is exquisitely sensitive to energy supply and demand. That means that, in addition to seeing power out for days, watching as their homes were ruined by frozen water pipes, and dealing with a clean up that isn't covered by insurance, Texans were left paying massive energy bills after electricity over the winter rose to $9,000 per megawatt-hour.

This is exactly how the system is designed to work. It's not just an example of disaster capitalism, it's an example of capitalism that creates disasters by design.

Which makes what's going on at the moment especially interesting. As the Texas Tribune reports, while those ERCOT messages warn that there are unexpected plant outages, they don't have a reason for those outages. In fact, the senior director of planning for ERCOT says, "I don't have any potential reasons that I can share at this time. It is not consistent with fleet performance that we have seen over the last few summers."

To make that clear: Texas is warning people to use less power, and prices are running wild, and the people that are supposed to manage the power grid are saying that not only don't they have a reason for why so many plants are going offline at the same time, it's "not consistent" with past behavior.

And 80% of the outages are from natural gas and coal-burning steam plants. ERCOT notes that these plants usually go offline several times for maintenance during a typical period in the summer. Despite not having a cause, the effect is clear enough. A week ago, the highest price for electricity was $17 per megawatt-hour. By Sunday, that had increased to $150. By Tuesday, it was averaging $1,464 with spikes above $2,000.

What would it look like if power companies were deliberately manipulating the market by taking plants offline to create an artificial shortage? It would look one hell of a lot like this.

At the moment, ERCOT rates the potential for prolonged outages as low. However, electricity demand hit record highs on Monday as temperatures in the high 90s settled in across the state. And that's before a powerful heat wave sweeps across the Southwest in coming days. As The Guardian reports, the brunt of that heat wave will be felt in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Some areas are expecting temperatures in excess of 120° F. That heat wave is also expected to bring with it increased risk of fires across the region, and will serve to exacerbate the area's already extreme drought.

When the Texas grid collapsed in the winter, Texas Republicans—led by Gov. Greg Abbott—leaned hard into their well-honed finger-pointing skills. There were claims that the outage was caused by frozen wind turbines (it wasn't), by the Green New Deal (which has never even been voted on, much less passed), and by federal government regulations (that don't exist). Former energy secretary Rick Perry put on his very serious glasses to say that Texans, "would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business." And yes, it must have been a great comfort to those with ruined houses and five-figure power bills, to know that they were free of those regulations that elsewhere keep the lights on and prevented companies from exploiting an emergency.

It was surely super comforting to the family of an 11-year-old boy who died of hypothermia while huddled under blankets during the midst of the outage. Or the family of an 8-year-old girl who died of carbon monoxide poisoning as her family tried to set up an unfamiliar generator. The outage generated more than 500 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. All of them surely proud that they had kept the federal government out of their business.

As his state was shivering, Abbott went on Fox News to give his insights to Sean Hannity. Which were perfectly predictable. The outage, he said, showed how renewable energy and the Green New Deal "would be a deadly deal for the United States of America." Abbott then blamed all of the outage on wind and solar which—again—were performing at above predicted levels for the time of year. In the winter outage, just like the current shortage, the problem was with the fossil fuel plants, which had "unexpected outages" both then, and now.

But Abbott has certainly stayed busy in the intervening months. As Yahoo News reports, he's signed an "1836 Project" bill requiring students to be given a "patriotic education" into the "state's values." As The Texas Tribune reports, Republicans have also passed a bill to limit early voting, nearly eliminate voting by mail, limit the number of polling locations, increase ID requirements, and overall make it much more difficult to vote—in cities, though not so much in rural areas. And as the Houston Chronicle reports, Abbott has now informed the citizens of Texas that he will spend billions to take up the Trump mantle by promising (and failing) to build a wall across the southern border.

So Texas can't have electricity, or democracy, but gets a big boost in propaganda and xenophobia. All of that is going to really help Texans keep their cool when the A/C stops.

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