Why are Republicans dressing like cartoon supervillains?

After President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday, it was generally agreed across the media that Joe from Scranton had won the evening by masterfully baiting Republicans into showing their asses. The second star of the night, however, was also indisputable: The brilliantly white wool coat with an alpaca fur trim that had the misfortune of being draped over the body of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Look, it was a lovely coat, but its proximity to such a repulsive person created an unmistakable air of comic book supervillainy. It served as a stark reminder that, despite her classless and illiterate demeanor, Greene is actually a wealthy heiress who spent her pre-political life as a woman of leisure. She got compared to a Stephen King monster, a gangster's wife in a mob movie, and, of course, a campy Disney villain.

Alas, even though Greene made the unusual choice of wearing a coat inside, all too many folks assumed she must not know how she looked. "Why is she wearing a white fur coat to the State of the Union address?" Seth Meyers asked on his late night comedy show. He went on to compare her to "a Long Island dance mom about to get her final warning."

But, of course, it's wiser to assume that Greene knew exactly how she looked. Moreover, her ridiculously out-of-place outfit did exactly what it was meant to do: Get her photo on the front of every newspaper and website imaginable. Aso intentional: Drawing scorn from people like Meyers, which she can then repackage as "proof" that she's a victim of the "coastal elite," defined not by money, which she has plenty of, but the fact that they know the difference between the Nazi police and cold tomato soup. Above all else, she wanted to look the part of the villain. Far from being people who are unaware they're the baddies, the MAGA movement is about glorying in their own self-image as political scoundrels.

Greene is far from the only one. Despite their hatred of actual drag queens, the modern GOP has a robust interest in using costumes to create fantasy versions of themselves — and almost always, that fantasy is of someone who is a proud scalawag. The current trend of Republicans dressing like Batman villains can be traced back to dirty trickster and shameless Nixon fan Roger Stone. For instance, he dressed like the antagonist of a Charles Dickens novel for Donald Trump's inauguration.

Trump is more married to his badly fitting suits than he ever has been to one of his wives. However, the White House staff understood the value of sinister costuming choices and used the body of Melania Trump to often send a message of cackling evil.

Since then, the Bond villain method of self-expression has started to really spread through the GOP. Rep. George Santos of New York has a background as a drag queen, but the current fantasy he's serving is "malevolent prep school student in an 80s movie." (Are those even prescription glasses?) After successfully evading an FBI investigation for sex trafficking of minors, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida's hair only seemed to grow taller, turning him into a dead ringer for Cesar Romero's version of The Joker. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, whose fabricated background is drawing Santos comparisons, favors dramatic makeup paired with shiny menswear that looks very much like a cheap knockoff of Annie Lennox's dominatrix stylings in the "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" video.

If this was "RuPaul's Drag Race" and the category was "Sinister Visions," most of these folks would be strong competitors. But they are politicians in D.C., a town where a lot of people deliberately dress terribly so that the voters keep buying the humble-servant-of-the-people routine. For Republicans, especially, looking too stylish has always been a dangerous proposition. Vanity is associated with femininity, and "feminine" is the worst thing you can be in GOP land. Even the women tend to dress more like church ladies than people with real money (which they usually are), lest someone accuse them of having airs.

But MAGA is not interested in the traditional false humility of American politicians. It's a movement dedicated to the darkest desires of American right-wingers. It's about dispensing entirely with pretensions of morality and giving themselves permission to be proud villains. Trump, of course, started things by bragging about how good he is at getting away with crime, from sexual assault to tax fraud. He was backed by an online army of trolls with Pepe-the-frog avatars, who relished their newfound freedom to use politics as cover to harass and abuse people.

By the time the pandemic rolled around, Republicans were so caught up in their Trump-era self-image as vainglorious evildoers that they didn't even hesitate to reject masks, vaccines, or any measures to save human lives. Basic decency has been redefined as being "woke." People like Kyle Rittenhouse and Alex Jones are held up as heroes. One of their most popular pundits is a guy who calls himself "Cat Turd." More Republicans look the part of cartoon villains because that's what they've turned themselves into.

To a certain degree, I get it. Playing the part of the villain can be thrilling. I've long been a fan of goth and punk fashion, both of which get their glamour through transgression. The bad guys in movies are often way more fun than the heroes, from Ursula in "The Little Mermaid" to the characters in pretty much every Martin Scorcese film. The Satanic imagery in Sam Smith and Kim Petras's Grammys performance drew fake outrage from the right, but most people watching it had a good time with the playful blasphemies. Even a shiny good girl like Taylor Swift likes to play at being bad occasionally.

The problem with Republicans, of course, is they aren't actually playing. Their goals are straight evil, from forced childbirth to turning away political refugees to slashing the retirement benefits of seniors to decimating health care. What's shifted in the past few years is a willingness of GOP leaders to wink knowingly about the immorality of their own views. Sure, there's still plenty of effort put into pretending that they want to do heinous things for good reasons. So we still have to sit through disingenuous conservatives feigning "pro-life" reasons for abortion bans, for instance. But, led by shameless criminals like Trump, there's just a lot more trollish approach on the right, one that treats evil like it's just an impish good time. Once "triggering the liberals" became the main political goal, gleeful wickedness became inevitable. Of course, many of them want the costuming to match their self-congratulatory attitude about being the worst.

Scott Perry: The most dangerous insurrectionist in Congress

How does a Republican congressman from central Pennsylvania — who is currently facing a federal investigation after allegedly spitballing ideas for a "paperwork coup" on behalf of Donald Trump — wind up with a committee seat that could allow him to see open Justice Department files about himself? Meet Rep. Scott Perry, the retired Army National Guard brigadier general who is now one of the most powerful members of Congress. He didn't get there alone.

Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers -- including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, of California -- voted unanimously to prevent the Justice Department from accessing Perry's cell phone contents in its wider probe of Donald Trump's 2020 election-subversion efforts.

That's only the latest turn of good luck for the embattled Perry, who's fought the DOJ's effort since the FBI seized his cell phone last August. On Jan. 5, a three-judge appeals court panel -- including two Trump appointees -- put a hold on a lower court's ruling, delaying DOJ access further.

But the House's latest move to back Perry against the DOJ highlights the fact that, unlikely as this may seem, both the far-right House Freedom Caucus he now leads and the Democrats he views as his sworn enemies paved the way for his rise to power.

Sewers to swamps

It seems improbable now that Perry, whose record of wide-swinging claims goes back well before 2020, could have climbed the party ranks so quickly.

Perry once recklessly suggested, on live air, that ISIS was responsible for the 2018 mass shooting in Las Vegas. On another occasion, he accused then-CNN host Chris Cuomo of fabricating the extent of devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017.

In a 2017 town hall meeting, Perry reportedly once blamed pollution on the almighty. While defending proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, Perry criticized the agency's Chesapeake Bay cleanup plans, claiming only certain polluters were targeted while other culprits were unfairly ignored.

"If you are spiritual and you believe in God, one of the violators was God because the forests were providing a certain amount of nitrates and phosphates to the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

That claim, unsurprisingly, was debunked by experts who note that water-side trees provide pollution runoff protection. But his divine deflection may have been less surprising to his constituents.

Perry was running his family's business, Hydrotech Mechanical Services, in 2002 when the company was caught dumping sewage sludge onto the banks of Stony Run Creek in south-central Pennsylvania. The state charged Perry with altering chemical-monitoring documents and he narrowly avoided a felony conviction. Instead, his company paid a $5,000 fine and Perry completed the state's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition in what he called a "last-minute, at-the-courtroom deal that was never supposed to happen, but it did."

It wouldn't be the last time Perry would face accusations of hiding evidence.

Fireside chats

In the months after Trump's 2020 electoral defeat, former chief of staff Mark Meadows kept his office fireplace well-kindled. The fire was lit first thing in the morning by staff, his former aide testified, then heaped with logs throughout the day. And every so often, Meadows would walk over to his fireplace, remove its covering, and throw a few documents into the fire.

Meadows had been the chair of the House Freedom Caucus until 2019, a post Perry now holds, and the two men knew each other well. Perry had begun having meetings with Meadows that December, the aide said, arriving with physical papers and PowerPoint presentations to discuss former Vice President Mike Pence's role in certifying the 2020 election results — and what Perry "believed could happen on Jan. 6."

Eventually, Perry brought a few others to meet with Meadows, the aide said. With the fireplace lit and a room full of warm bodies, Meadows left his office door propped open. The aide saw Perry and the others inside, and saw Meadows again burning documents.

Perry's spokesman has denied he was ever part of these discussions, citing a Jan. 6 tweet from the congressman condemning the violence at the Capitol. But just hours after the attack, Perry joined other Republicans on the House floor in a failed attempt to prevent his own state's electoral votes from being counted. Perry would then spend months parroting Trump's baseless claims of election theft, arguing that Pennsylvania's 7 million votes should be thrown out.

Ultimately, the same aide who saw Perry leave Meadows' office amid the presumed or apparent destruction of documents would testify that Perry was among several members of Congress who had asked for her help in securing a preemptive presidential pardon. Perry has denied this, although not under oath.

Perry's Democratic hall pass

Eventually, members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 events developed a clearer picture of Perry's role in Trump's failed bid to overturn the 2020 election results.

In a trove of texts leaked in December 2022, Perry and Meadows' 2020 exchanges surfaced, illuminating an array of schemes and outlandish notions aimed at reversing Trump's defeat. Perry sent YouTube conspiracy-theory videos about election-meddling Italian satellites, asking Meadows why the Italian government couldn't help the group's cause. Perry suggested seizing voting machines with a "cyber forensic team" after the election, and putting them under lock and key.

Perry went on to urge Meadows to get Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen replaced with a Trump-friendly figure in the DOJ, Jeffrey Clark. After Trump ordered Rosen to declare the election corrupt, Rosen refused. Trump responded by threatening to replace Rosen with Clark, who'd concocted a plan to help overturn the election results, but the then-president backed down from after a fiery meeting where several DOJ officials and Trump's own White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, threatened to quit in response. Those exchanges are now part of the reason the DOJ wants access to Perry's cell phone contents.

But back in July of 2022, House Oversight Committee members knew significantly less about Perry's role. They subpoenaed Perry, who responded by denying the legitimacy of the committee he now sits on, and refused to testify.

The committee's chair at the time, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had the authority to file contempt charges against Perry. But as CNN's Manu Raju reported, Raskin seemed to have "little appetite to refer House Republicans who defy subpoenas to DOJ on contempt charges -- saying it could lead to 'wild goose chases.'

"I don't know that Congress can take a member of Congress to court under the speech or debate clause," Raskin said, referring to Perry's defense that his cell phone conversations were immune from collection. "But our point here is not to come up with, you know, a dozen new dazzling theories to end up in a lot of wild goose chases all over the land."

"Our point is to bring back a report to the American people to Congress about what happened to us," Raskin told Raju.

Rather than facing contempt charges, Perry was referred to the House Ethics Committee, along with other members who refused to obey subpoena orders. But with a Republican majority in the House and Kevin McCarthy holding the speaker's gavel, both the Ethics Committee and the House ethics review office have become partisan chokepoints.

These days, Raskin sees Trump's indictment as imminent.

"We think there will be charges probably on some things we didn't even have, because we don't have all of the prosecutorial resources that the Department of Justice has, and so we think they probably collected a lot more evidence than we got," he told MSNBC on Friday.

Even if Raskin's prediction is correct, Perry's role in Trump's Jan. 6 plans may remain under a shroud of congressional secrecy. The party whose subpoenas he once dodged now, for its own reasons, has Perry's back in his tug-of-war with the DOJ.

On Feb. 23, the DOJ will get its chance to ask an appeals court in Washington for access to Perry's phone contents. House Democratic leaders will once again fight to keep Perry's evidence from coming out at all.

Diversity, 'wokeness' and violent oppression: Lessons of the Tyre Nichols case

The brutal murder of Tyre Nichols by five Black Memphis police officers should be enough to implode the fantasy that identity politics and diversity will solve the social, economic and political decay that besets the United States. Not only are the former officers Black, but the city's police department is headed by Cerelyn Davis, a Black woman. None of this helped Nichols, another victim of a modern-day police lynching.

The militarists, corporatists, oligarchs, politicians, academics and media conglomerates champion identity politics and diversity because it does nothing to address the systemic injustices or the scourge of permanent war that plague the U.S. It is an advertising gimmick, a brand, used to mask mounting social inequality and imperial folly. It busies liberals and the educated with a boutique activism, which is not only ineffectual but exacerbates the divide between the privileged and a working class in deep economic distress. The haves scold the have-nots for their bad manners, racism, linguistic insensitivity and garishness, while ignoring the root causes of their economic distress. The oligarchs could not be happier.

Did the lives of Native Americans improve as a result of the legislation mandating assimilation and the revoking of tribal land titles pushed through by Charles Curtis, the first Native American vice president? Are we better off with Clarence Thomas, who opposes affirmative action, on the Supreme Court, or Victoria Nuland, a war hawk in the State Department? Is our perpetuation of permanent war more palatable because Lloyd Austin, an African American, is the secretary of defense? Is the military more humane because it accepts transgender soldiers? Is social inequality, and the surveillance state that controls it, ameliorated because Sundar Pichai — who was born in India — is the CEO of Google and Alphabet? Has the weapons industry improved because Kathy J. Warden, a woman, is the CEO of Northop Grumman, and another woman, Phebe Novakovic, is the CEO of General Dynamics? Are working families better off with Janet Yellen, who promotes increasing unemployment and "job insecurity" to lower inflation, as secretary of the Treasury? Is the movie industry enhanced when a female director, Kathryn Bigelow, makes "Zero Dark Thirty," which is agitprop for the CIA? Take a look at this recruitment ad put out by the CIA. It sums up the absurdity of where we have ended up.

Colonial regimes find compliant indigenous leaders — "Papa Doc" François Duvalier in Haiti, Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu Sese Seko in the Congo, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran — willing to do their dirty work while they exploit and loot the countries they control. To thwart popular aspirations for justice, colonial police forces routinely carried out atrocities on behalf of the oppressors. The indigenous freedom fighters who fight in support of the poor and the marginalized are usually forced out of power or assassinated, as was the case with Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba and Chilean president Salvador Allende. Lakota chief Sitting Bull was gunned down by members of his own tribe, who served in the reservation's police force at Standing Rock. If you stand with the oppressed, you will almost always end up being treated like the oppressed. This is why the FBI, along with Chicago police, murdered Fred Hampton and was almost certainly involved in the murder of Malcolm X, who referred to impoverished urban neighborhoods as "internal colonies." Militarized police forces in the U.S. function as armies of occupation. The police officers who killed Tyre Nichols are no different from those in reservation and colonial police forces.

We live under a species of corporate colonialism. The engines of white supremacy, which constructed the forms of institutional and economic racism that keep the poor poor, are obscured behind attractive political personalities such as Barack Obama, whom Cornel West called "a Black mascot for Wall Street." These faces of diversity are vetted and selected by the ruling class. Obama was groomed and promoted by the Chicago political machine, one of the dirtiest and most corrupt in the country.

"It's an insult to the organized movements of people these institutions claim to want to include," Glen Ford, the late editor of the Black Agenda Report, told me in 2018. "These institutions write the script. It's their drama. They choose the actors, whatever black, brown, yellow, red faces they want."

Ford called those who promote identity politics "representationalists" who "want to see some Black people represented in all sectors of leadership, in all sectors of society. They want Black scientists. They want Black movie stars. They want Black scholars at Harvard. They want Blacks on Wall Street. But it's just representation. That's it."

The toll taken by corporate capitalism on the people these "representationalists" claim to represent exposes the con. African Americans have lost 40 percent of their wealth since the financial collapse of 2008 from the disproportionate impact of the drop in home equity, predatory loans, foreclosures and job loss. They have the second highest rate of poverty at 21.7 percent, after Native Americans at 25.9 percent, followed by Hispanics at 17.6 percent and whites at 9.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department for Health and Human Services. As of 2021, Black and Native American children lived in poverty at 28 and 25 percent respectively, followed by Hispanic children at 25 percent and white children at 10 percent. Nearly 40 percent of the nation's homeless are African Americans, although Black people make up about 14 percent of our population. This figure does not include people living in dilapidated, overcrowded dwellings or with family or friends due to financial difficulties. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of white people.

Identity politics and diversity allow liberals to wallow in a cloying moral superiority as they castigate, censor and deplatform those who do not linguistically conform to politically correct speech. They are the new Jacobins. This game disguises their passivity in the face of corporate abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war and the curtailment of civil liberties. They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic injustice. They seek to make the ruling class more palatable. With the support of the Democratic Party, the liberal media, academia and social media platforms in Silicon Valley, demonize the victims of the corporate coup d'état and deindustrialization. They make their primary political alliances with those who embrace identity politics, whether they are on Wall Street or in the Pentagon. They are the useful idiots of the billionaire class, moral crusaders who widen the divisions within society that the ruling oligarchs foster to maintain control.

Diversity is important. But diversity, when devoid of a political agenda that fights the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed, is window dressing. It is about incorporating a tiny segment of those marginalized by society into unjust structures to perpetuate them.

A class I taught in a maximum security prison in New Jersey wrote "Caged," a play about their lives. The play ran for nearly a month at the Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey, where it was sold out nearly every night. It was subsequently published by Haymarket Books. The 28 students in the class insisted that the corrections officer in the story not be white. That was too easy, they said. That was a feint that allows people to simplify and mask the oppressive apparatus of banks, corporations, police, courts and the prison system, all of which make diversity hires. These systems of internal exploitation and oppression must be targeted and dismantled, no matter whom they employ.

My book, "Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison," uses the experience of writing the play to tell the stories of my students and impart their profound understanding of the repressive forces and institutions arrayed against them, their families and their communities. You can see my two-part interview with Hugh Hamilton about "Our Class" here and here.

August Wilson's last play, "Radio Golf," foretold where diversity and identity politics devoid of class consciousness were headed. In the play, Harmond Wilks, an Ivy League-educated real estate developer, is about to launch his campaign to become Pittsburgh's first Black mayor. His wife, Mame, is angling to become the governor's press secretary. Wilks, navigating the white man's universe of privilege, business deals, status seeking and the country club game of golf, must sanitize and deny his identity. Roosevelt Hicks, who had been Wilks' college roommate at Cornell and is a vice president at Mellon Bank, is his business partner. Sterling Johnson, whose neighborhood Wilks and Hicks are lobbying to get the city to declare blighted so they can raze it for their multimillion dollar development project, tells Hicks:

You know what you are? It took me a while to figure it out. You a Negro. White people will get confused and call you a ni***r but they don't know like I know. I know the truth of it. I'm a ni***r. Negroes are the worst thing in God's creation. ... A dog knows it's a dog. A cat knows it's a cat. But a Negro don't know he's a Negro. He thinks he's a white man.

Terrible predatory forces are eating away at the country. The corporatists, militarists and political mandarins that serve them are the enemy. It is not our job to make them more appealing, but to destroy them. There are amongst us genuine freedom fighters of all ethnicities and backgrounds whose integrity does not permit them to serve the system of inverted totalitarianism that has destroyed our democracy, impoverished the nation and perpetuated endless wars. Diversity when it serves the oppressed is an asset, but a con when it serves the oppressors.

'She’s not intellectually capable': Knives out in TrumpWorld over Sanders’ “terrible” SOTU response

Prominent supporters of former President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.

Sanders, who served as Trump's White House press secretary, delivered a rebuttal to the president's speech that largely focused on Republican culture war issues and accused Biden of surrendering his presidency to a "woke mob that can't even tell you what a woman is."

"Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn't start and never wanted to fight. Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols, all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is—your freedom of speech. That's not normal. It's crazy, and it's wrong," Sanders said, later adding that the "dividing line in America is no longer between right and left — it's between normal or crazy."

Former chief Trump strategist Steve Bannon lit into Sanders' speech on his "War Room" podcast on Wednesday, criticizing her for failing to mention Trump's name.

"It was an insult to President Trump. She does not exist politically if it was not for President Trump," he said.

Bannon called Sanders' speech "terrible."

"If you're gonna give a counter speech, you gotta talk about important issues," he said. "Don't get me wrong. The wokeism is very important. But it's not quite the heart of the matter right now, right? It's not the heart of the matter. She is not–and the reason is she's just not–she's not intellectually capable of going to the heart of the matter, right? Let's be blunt."

Bannon made the comments while speaking to longtime Trump booster Lou Dobbs, who was fired from the Fox Business Network for spreading false election claims.

Dobbs said the speech was a "great insult" to Trump, complaining that Sanders did not even mention his name when she discussed going on a Christmas visit to Iraq with the former president and the first lady.

"It looked like the Governors Association had written that speech and aligned themselves with Ron DeSantis. It was a shame," Dobbs complained.

"You are right this was like written by Ron DeSantis and the entire RGA," Bannon agreed.

Sanders also drew criticism from her hometown newspaper over her "snarling about wokeness and the radical left."

"It got pretty dark and weird," Austin Bailey wrote in an editorial at the Arkansas Times. "A word salad of talking points and name calling, with some attempts at folksy relatability thrown in, Sanders' rebuttal to Biden's State of the Union address was light on policy, heavy on menace."

Conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, contrasted Biden's speech focused on "the economy and concrete issues" with Sanders' "deep plunge into dystopian culture wars."

"These annual canned rebuttals usually come off as tone-deaf," she wrote in an editorial at the Bulwark, "but with Sanders, there was an additional, unexpected contrast with Biden. She spoke for a dreary 15 minutes — all scripted according to teleprompter, with no audience. Biden spoke for more than an hour, with a teleprompter in front of plenty of hostile Republicans. Biden, 80 years young, rolled with it, tackling every tough subject on his agenda, inviting Republicans to join him at every turn. Sanders, 40 years old, droned on, her entire speech devoted to demonizing Biden."

Former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt accused Sanders of "abusing" viewers with "MAGA lies."

"Sarah Huckabee Sanders positioned herself as the voice of a rising generation of Americans. No thank you," Schmidt said on his podcast. "It was stale. It was old. It was an ugly speech from a lying governor who is unfit for any type of public service."

The superstar MAGA deserves: Why Tucker Carlson and co are rallying around the pathological liar

The political media fascination with Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who appears to have faked approximately 95% of his life, is such that it was inevitable that it would draw a "savvy" backlash piece scolding the press about their priorities. The wannabe party pooper finally emerged last week at the Washington Post in an opinion column headlined, "Real people don't care about George Santos." In it, self-assigned buzzkill David Byler argued "America doesn't seem to care" about Santos, which he can tell based on Google search traffic.

Our nation was founded by puritans, so as soon as people had a laugh over Santos, inevitably someone would shake their finger disapprovingly. But there were some flaws in Byler's argument, starting with his assumption that Santos' own embarrassed constituents are not "real" people. There's also the fact that Google Trends isn't a very exacting measure of interest in a subject, as it only measures if people are searching out information. It doesn't capture people who read articles they saw on social media or directly on a news website. Traffic to stories about Santos is plenty healthy on that front.

But perhaps most importantly, this narrow-minded focus on search traffic ignores what a lot of the sneered-at political observers saw coming a mile away: The imminent George Santos makeover into MAGA's Next Top Superstar.

Santos may not matter to "average" Americans, but his story is being leveraged directly into the right-wing propaganda machine that currently controls the Republican Party. On Thursday night, for instance, Santos was sanctified into the echelon of MAGA saints by the Pope of neo-fascism himself, Tucker Carlson. In a typically dishonest segment on his wildly popular Fox News show, Carlson painted Santos as a hapless victim of the bigoted news media by pretending that the only thing Santos lied about was his volleyball career. (Which is one of the more minor fake careers and hobbies Santos has claimed on his resume.) Media Matters has a sample of the extremely silly diatribe:

It was a tissue of lies constructed to deceive the American people. There was no volleyball scholarship. There was not a single dollar of volleyball scholarship. George Santos made it all up out of whole cloth, out of thin air. George Santos is an ersatz volleyball player. A fraud, a ghoul. People voted for this man believing he had played collegiate volleyball on a scholarship and he hadn't.

And yet tonight ladies and gentlemen, this thief of volleyball glory strides the halls of the United States Congress unimpeded by law enforcement. It's like another insurrection.

Carlson doesn't really have arguments or evidence, but he does do a bang-up impression of someone sarcastically brushing aside nonsense. Except what he's brushing away is usually pretty serious stuff, such as fascist attacks on democracy, attempts to save lives during a pandemic, or, in this case, unbelievable amounts of fraud that look potentially criminal in many cases. With Santos, the number of lies Carlson is ignoring is truly staggering. Santos lied about his resume, his religion, his marriage, his family history, and claimed connections he doesn't have to the Holocaust, 9/11, the Pulse nightclub shooting, and an assassination attempt that appears fictional. It is really no exaggeration to say it's easier to list the things he hasn't lied about (his age and his birthplace in Queens).

But just as Catholic saints get their status through martyrdom, the saints of MAGAdom must get theirs through falsified tales of victimhood at the hands of "woke mobs" or the "fake news media."

People right-wingers hate are alarmed at Santos and his staggering trail of fraud. So if the "libs" have a negative reaction to Santos, in the troll-based logic that drives the modern GOP, that must mean he's their newest champion. And let's just state for the record that, while Byler may not see left-leaning news consumers as "real people," he probably wouldn't say the same about the millions of Trump voters whose entire worldview is shaped by the crap that Fox News pours into their heads every day.

Carlson didn't reach the conclusion that Santos is the latest MAGA idol all on his own. Practically from the moment that Santos's deceit was exposed by the New York Times, Steve Bannon, the Joseph Goebbels-wannabe who frequently sets the GOP agenda with his popular "War Room" podcast, was championing the pathological liar. Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia have also rallied to Santos' side, claiming he's only a target because he's a "fighter." It's unclear who he has ever "fought" for besides himself, but then again, the same could be said of most MAGA figures, from Donald Trump on down.

It's not a mystery why these leaders think the right-wing audience is ready to accept Santos as the next MAGA savior. All that matters to the modern right is "owning the liberals," and who better to do that than someone who lies constantly for no apparent reason other than the sheer thrill of it?

Certainly, Santos seems to grasp that the move that will take him from a low-level con man to the ranks of the richest MAGA grifters is to lean into trolling. So he's been rolling out the standard issue liberal-owning stunts for weeks now: Flashing the white supremacist-aligned "OK" hand signal during a House vote. (He even knew how to do it so it was clear enough to photograph but so quick he could pretend later it wasn't intentional.) Wearing an assault rifle pin while playing dumb about why it offends people to celebrate the preferred weapons of mass shooters. Feeding the press donuts and acting like they had somehow become complicit in the evil by eating them. Getting into Twitter fights with drag queens, who are the favorite punching bag of the authoritarian right. (Santos seems to have a past as a drag queen, as well, but this is just part of a favorite right-wing trolling tactic, to recruit members of a hated minority to speak out against their own.) Dunking on former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., for criticizing him by tweeting "cry about it."

Reports suggest Santos is delighted by all the negative attention he's getting in the press. An exceptionally short-lived aide recorded a conversation in which Santos was dressing him down, and right in the middle of it, Santos suddenly exclaims, "Don Lemon just texted me — I'm sorry, I'm listening to you — Don Lemon just texted me!" Getting his name on CNN, even during a story on how he is the worst, was just that thrilling to Santos.

Santos even hired former Steve Bannon employee and professional troll, Vish Burra, as a top aide. Burra's defense of Santos is cynical and self-congratulatory: The lying is a form of "shitposting," which is internet speak for saying outlandish things to draw outrage and attention. For the Trumpist right, aggressive trolling is what politics is all about.

Imagining that they're outraging the left is what the GOP audience gets out of this. (No one tell them that the left's reaction to Santos is more amusement than genuine fury.) But there's an even darker reason that Carlson, Bannon, Taylor Greene, etc. have decided to rally round Santos: He's very useful as a weapon in their larger war on truth.

As with Trump, it's overly simplistic to look at these people, with their non-stop disinformation, as mere liars. Liars are people who are sincerely trying to deceive people. In many cases, it's not at all evident that right-wing audiences actually believe the asinine B.S. that is rolled out by the likes of Carlson and Bannon. For instance, the "outrage" over M&M spokescandy shoe choices is less sincere anger than it is a collective bit of performance art. Both Carlson and his audience merely pretend to be mad as a way to keep ironic distance from their own weird sexual hang-ups. Similarly, conspiracy theories like Trump's Big Lie are often less about true belief and more about displaying fealty to their tribe.

There's a point to right-wingers constantly saying and "believing" things they know not to be true. It's about devaluing empirical reality. Fascists want "truth" to flow from what the right-wing authority figures say is "true," not from lived experience or verifiable facts. They are trying to construct a world where facts don't matter, and only power does. The first step is getting their tribal community to agree collectively to stop distinguishing between true and false and to only claim to believe what is convenient for their leaders or their cause.

For that goal, Santos is useful. He is living the fascist dream of a man whose entire existence seems unmoored from the power of facts. If the MAGA leaders can turn him into a hero, he'd be a living exemplar of their post-truth yearnings: "Truth" can be whatever you want it to be. After all, right-wingers already hate the way facts — Trump lost the election, COVID-19 is real, LGBTQ people exist — get in the way of their desires. They just need permission to let go of that last tendril of reality and start living purely in their authoritarian fantasy world. Santos shows the way. It's unlikely he will be going away any time soon.

Sam Smith's 'full-on Satan worship' Grammys number sets conservatives into a frantic anti-vax Satanic panic

Conservatives are clutching their pearls in horror over Sam Smith and Kim Petras' cheeky performance at the Grammys.

During Sunday night's ceremony, the pair took center stage to perform their hit song "Unholy," which also won the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The hell-themed showcase featured several red-robed dancers, cages, whips and Smith sporting a top hat adorned with red devil horns.

Naturally, conservative critics took offense at this apparent love letter to the Prince of Darkness and took to Twitter to slam the performance. The comments ranged from interpreting the number as an actual Satanic ritual to – what else? – an attempt to advance the vaccine agenda.

"If as a Christian, you think we are reaching when we talk about the dominance and normalization of Satan worship in pop music, you need discernment," wrote Christian life coach Solomon Buchi. "Sam Smith's performance at the Grammy's last night was satanic, gory. No, it's not art; it's symbolic of who they serve."

Similarly, Human Events editor Ben Kew tweeted, "I know we on the right probably use the word satanic too often but this performance from Sam Smith is literally a tribute to Satan."

Newsman's Benny Johnson also wrote, "The Grammys have gone full-on Satan worship right on prime time TV," before sharing video of said Satan worship to his Twitter flock.

The hellish performance would've been enough to incite criticism, but then it was followed by an ad for sponsor Phizer, which naturally set off the anti-vax right, which has perpetuated the misinformation that the COVID vaccine is the "Mark of the Beast" – you know, the new one after RFID microchips.

Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted, "The Grammy's featured Sam Smith's demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer. And the Satanic Church now has an abortion clinic in NM that requires its patients to perform a satanic ritual before services. American Christians need to get to work."

In the same vein, Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of the right-wing conservative nonprofit organization Turning Point USA, wrote, "The Devil. Brought to you by Pfizer . . ." And Sen. Ted Cruz added that "Pfizer is taking the whole truth in advertising thing pretty literally . . ." before calling the performance "evil."

Conservative influencer Robby Starbuck also wrote, "Sam Smith's satanic performance at the Grammy's ended with a Pfizer commercial. You can't get it more on the nose than that. Pfizer and Hollywood deserve each other."

In an interview with Variety, Petras explained the inspiration behind her Grammy performance with Smith:

"I think a lot of people, honestly, have labeled what I stand for and what Sam stands for as religiously not cool, and I personally grew up wondering about religion and wanting to be a part of it but slowly realizing it didn't want me to be a part of it," she said. "So it's a take on not being able to choose religion. And not being able to live the way that people might want you to live, because as a trans person I'm already not wanted in religion. So we were doing a take on that, and I was hellkeeper Kim."

Petras is also the first transgender woman to win a Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Trump rages after ex-prosecutor reveals 'many bits and pieces of evidence' to indict

Mark Pomerantz, a former senior prosecutor on the Manhattan district attorney's team investigating former President Donald Trump and his organization's business dealings, said there are "many bits and pieces of evidence" the district attorney could use to bring criminal charges against the former president.

Pomerantz made the comments in a "60 Minutes" interview promoting a new book about his time investigating Trump, in which he compares him to John Gotti, the head of the Gambino organized crime family, also known as the "Teflon Don" who died in prison in 2002.

"If you take the exact same conduct — and make it not about Donald Trump and not about a former president of the United States, would the case have been indicted? It would have been indicted in a flat second," Pomerantz told CBS News' Bill Whitaker.

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against Trump, the Trump Organization and his three eldest children, alleging they engaged in a decade-long fraud scheme by using false financial statements related to the company's business to obtain favorable loan and insurance rates and tax breaks.

The allegations come nearly a year after Pomerantz resigned from the DA's office. The release of his new book has prompted pushback from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Bragg's office asked to review the book before its publication to ensure it wouldn't reveal information obtained from a grand jury, CNN reported.

"After closely reviewing all the evidence from Mr. Pomerantz's investigation, I came to the same conclusion as several senior prosecutors involved in the case, and also those I brought on: more work was needed," Bragg said in a statement to CNN. "Put another way, Mr. Pomerantz's plane wasn't ready for takeoff."

In January, a New York judge fined the Trump Organization $1.6 million for running a years-long tax fraud scheme. The Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. were convicted last year of 17 felonies, including tax fraud and falsifying business records. Trump himself was never charged or convicted.

Trump responded to the release of Pomerantz's book with a lengthy rant on Truth Social.

"Wow, the book just put out by Crooked Hillary Clinton's attorney, Mark Pomerantz, is turning out to be a hit on the District Attorney and the 'weak' case 'with many fatal flaws,'" he posted Friday night. "Prosecutors in the D.A.'s Office actually quit in protest in that they thought it was 'irresponsible' and very 'unfair' to 'President Trump.' They also felt they didn't want to rely on a SleazeBag disbarred Lawyer From Hell like Michael Cohen as a witness. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY THOUGHT THE CASE WAS TERRIBLE - A LOSER!"

Trump's lawyer also sent a letter to Pomerantz threatening legal action against the former prosecutor if he releases the book.

The lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said in a statement to CNN that Pomerantz's "desperate attempt to sell books will cost him everything. Not to mention, it is clear that he was very much in the minority in his position that President Trump committed a crime."

After the 60 Minutes interview aired, Trump returned to Truth Social, continuing to attack Pomerantz.

"Pomerantz & his law firm were Clinton's lawyers who then went to work for the D.A. to 'get Trump,' that Pomerantz & his antics make it impossible for me to be treated fairly, & NOBODY WAS HURT!" Trump said.

Pomerantz's book, "The People vs Donald Trump: An Inside Account," will be published on Tuesday. It lays out the complicated investigation into Trump and those close to him who were charged with crimes, according to an advance copy obtained by The New York Times.

"Pomerantz got himself a book deal, and is obsessively spreading falsehoods about me," Trump wrote on Sunday. "With all of this vicious disinformation being revealed by a 'prosecutor,' how can I ever be treated fairly in New York, or anywhere else? End the Witch Hunts!"

How a defunct Trump policy still threatens Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp

For centuries, the Okefenokee Swamp has been a haven for people, animals, and plants. The wilderness, which straddles the Georgia-Florida border, is a mire of winding, midnight waters, giant cypress trees cloaked in Spanish moss, and peat islands floating among alligators and lily pads. The swamp has seen many chapters: It was part of the homelands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation before the Tribe was forcibly removed from Georgia in the 1820s and 1830s. A hundred years later, the swamp came under federal protection as a national wildlife refuge.

Now, yet another chapter may be approaching for the Okefenokee watershed: a titanium mining site.

For years, the Okefenokee Swamp has been warding off Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals, which in 2019 filed for permits for a mining project just outside of the refuge. The company hopes to extract titanium dioxide, which can be used to create bright white pigments used in a wide variety of consumer and industrial products. While the swamp itself is not at risk of being turned into a giant mining pit, the project would result in a 500-by-100-foot pit in the nearby Trail Ridge, which holds the swamp waters in place.

This January, the mine moved one step closer to breaking ground when the Georgia Environmental Protection Division released a draft plan for the development and opened a 60-day period of public comment. The progress was made possible by a short-lived Trump administration rule that created a window of opportunity for industrial projects to proceed along protected waterways — even without a federal permit.

"What we're seeing at Twin Pines is not the only example of waterways that remain at risk because of the prior administration's rule," said Kelly Moser, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, of the Okefenokee Swamp. "It is the most striking example, given that it jeopardizes one of our most iconic and valuable natural resources, but it is not alone."

During Trump's time in office, the federal government rolled back hundreds of environmental protections, enacting many new pro-industry policies. Among those was the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed the protection of the Clean Water Act — aimed at preventing water pollution — from huge swaths of streams and wetlands across the United States.

The rule lasted just over 16 months before it was vacated by a federal judge who cited "fundamental, substantive flaws" in the rule. But the damage had already been done: During that time period, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers reported a three-fold increase in projects that no longer needed federal permits. At least 333 of those projects would have required a permit had it not been for the rule.

Companies were trying to take advantage of "the fast food window" to grab their project clearances, said Stu Gillespie, a supervising senior attorney with Earthjustice. (The nonprofit has been involved in litigation against the Army Corps of Engineers and mining companies as a result of the Navigable Water Protection Rule.) He said these projects are likely to have environmental, cultural and potential health consequences that will play out over decades.

"The harms are irreparable," Gillespie said.

For the Twin Pines mining site, the Trump-era rule meant that for a brief but meaningful window, all the waters associated with the project site were abruptly excluded from federal protection. During that period, the Army Corps of Engineers determined the project only required state approval, a small hill to climb compared to the regulatory mountain that is the federal Clean Water Act, in order to proceed.

As with other projects where all the waters were determined not to be under federal protection during that period, the Corps' decision at Twin Pines has been allowed to stand despite the fact that the rule they were based on is no longer in place. For projects where the federal government still had jurisdiction under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, many of these had to go back to the starting line.

Scientists from the University of Georgia as well as the Fish and Wildlife Administration have warned against the Twin Pines project moving forward. In 2019, in a document obtained by the Defenders of Wildlife and shared with Grist, the Fish and Wildlife listed concerns about the project's impact on water levels in the Okefenokee, increasing the likelihood of fires, and destroying habitats. "The effects of the action may be permanent to the entire 438,000-acre swamp and nearby ecosystems on nearby Trail Ridge," the agency wrote.

Moser called the situation "an absurdity." The Corps "is not protecting critical wetlands that have been waters of the United States and are waters of the United States," she said.

Across the country, about an hour south of Tucson, Arizona, another mining complex is already breaking ground as a result of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The Copper World Complex is owned by Hudbay Minerals, a Toronto-based mining company. Just like Twin Pines, the Trump-era rule allowed Hudbay to proceed without the need for a federal permit. Within the complex, ephemeral waterways — dry stream beds that turn into rivers or streams after periods during the monsoon season — weave through the slope of the Santa Rita Mountains. These waterways are essential to maintaining surface water levels of the Santa Cruz River, but were categorically excluded from protection under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule.

Still, the two projects have faced multiple legal stumbling blocks. In June 2022, the Army Corps of Engineers identified the proposals in a memo rescinding its previous determinations as a result of the agency's previous failure to consult local tribes: the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Georgia, and the the Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe in Arizona. But after Twin Pines filed a civil suit, the Corps reinstated its Trump-era determination for that site, putting the fate of the project back in Georgia's hands.

The Corps seems to have applied the same thinking to Hudbay's Arizona mining project. "Unlike Twin Pines, there hasn't been any kind of out-of-court settlement with Hudbay or anything along those lines," said Earthjustice's Gillespie. The progress in the Copper World Mining Complex is "a direct result" of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, he said.

Under the guise of Trump-era guidelines, Hudbay has already begun development in the Santa Rita Mountain range, filling the stream beds that are technically back under federal protection.

In November 2022, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, arguing the agency was in charge of protecting "waters of the United States," such as the freshwater wetlands on which the Twin Pines mining site might be built. But at the state level, there are no Georgia laws protecting freshwater wetlands. "The state has always abdicated that responsibility to the federal government," said hydrologist and University of Georgia professor Rhett Jackson.

In order to proceed, both Twin Pines and Hudbay await only a handful of state permits from Georgia and Arizona, respectively. These permits are related to air quality and groundwater withdrawals, but do not need to address the potential destruction of the waterways in question.

In Arizona, state law restricts its own water department from regulating streams not under federal protection. But the Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into the Copper World site to "determine whether there's been violations to the Clean Water Act," Gillespie said.

In Georgia, the project must first hurdle the 60-day period of public comment, which began January 19, for Twin Pines' draft mining plan. With the fate of the Okefenokee Swamp at risk, voices have risen up against the mine both locally and nationally, with opposition likely to reach a fever pitch over the next few months.

Jackson is one of those opposed to the project. "I have traveled all over the world (29 countries), hiked in many national parks, and worked as a wilderness ranger in the North Cascade Range of Washington State, and I have never seen anything more beautiful than the Okefenokee Swamp," he wrote in an email to Grist.

Meanwhile, Twin Pines sees the period of public comment as a victory: It moves the project forward.

"We are pleased to have reached this important milestone in the permitting process and appreciate the Georgia [Environmental Protection Division] EPD's diligence in evaluating our application," said Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines Minerals, in a statement. "This is a great opportunity for people to learn the truth about what our operations will and will not do, and the absurdity of allegations that our shallow mining-to-land-reclamation process will 'drain the swamp' or harm it in any way."

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division says it hopes to receive thoughtful feedback on the Twin Pines draft plan. "Good comments on the [Mining Land Use Plan] MLUP — additional analysis, data, technical perspectives, mitigation measures, etc. — helps EPD make better decisions and we look forward to the process," said the department's Communications Director, Sara Lips.

The federal government, however, is putting pressure on Georgia to halt the project. In September 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge along with Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia. The pair spoke with over a dozen local leaders about protecting the area, according to WABE. Just two months later, Halaand wrote to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, urging him to halt approval of the mine.

The recommendation is a reminder of how fast the wheels of politics can turn — albeit with lasting environmental consequences. "What the Trump rule did was embolden industry to flout the law, to ignore the science, and to rally around this false approach to protecting waters of the United States," Gillespie said. Furthermore, it gave extractive industries a roadmap for circumventing the federal permitting process for protecting waterways.

We see that companies "are continuing to press those very same arguments," Gillespie said.

'Hyper-partisan attack': Arizona Republicans pushing new voting bills based on conspiracy theories

Arizona's Republican-controlled state legislature advanced bills last month that they claim will improve election transparency — but voting rights advocates worry will actually have the opposite effect.

The state House elections committee last week voted to pass House Bill 2308 – a bill that would bar any future secretary of state from overseeing and confirming the results of an election if they are a candidate. The bill comes after then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs won the gubernatorial election in November.

"There's a lack of confidence from some of my constituents in the election itself," Republican state Rep. Rachel Jones of Tucson, who presented the bill, said during the committee meeting. "I think the optics of that – of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern."

State Rep. Melody Hernandez, a Tempe Democrat, questioned why the bill was being presented now but wasn't a concern when GOP Secretaries of State Ken Bennett and Michele Reagan were on the ballot in 2014 and 2018.

Jones countered that the environment changed after the 2020 election and claimed that "there's a lack of confidence in our election process" now, which brought the issue to the forefront.

When state Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, a Democrat from Laveen, asked her if she had "any concrete evidence that there were any misdeeds from the secretary of state in the 2022 election," Jones responded saying "It was more just the optics."

"It was instilling a lack of confidence in the results of the election," she added.

While there has been no evidence of corruption in the election process, Arizona Republicans have continued to sponsor bills they claim will instill faith in the election system for voters. Citing a survey from Rasmussen Reports, which has a history of Republican-leaning polling, Jones shared that 71% of U.S. voters stated they believed the midterms were "botched" during the committee meeting.

But voting rights organizations raised concerns that advancing such bills can create more uncertainty around the election system and even increase threats against election administrators.

"These are the same people who brought you the 'fraudit' following the 2020 election," a Democratic source who asked to remain anonymous told Salon. "So, it just continues to be more bad-faith conspiracy theories and, frankly, I think voters are tired of it. This has been going on now for two years. And because of it, we've seen so much of violent rhetoric, resulting in threats to the safety of secretaries of state and election administrators up and down the ballot."

The Maricopa County elections office recorded nearly 140 threatening and hostile communications against election workers between July and August of last year, according to Reuters.

Many of these threats stemmed from conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election that were promoted by former President Donald Trump and his allies.

The threats asserted false claims of fake ballots, fixed voting machines and corruption among election officials in the county during the 2020 election.

The same efforts that were used to sow doubt about the election system after the 2020 election are being repeated now, said Hannah Fried, executive director of All Voting is Local and All Voting is Local Action.

"Despite the fact that our elections were overwhelmingly proven to be secure, reliable, trustworthy, there are still going to be efforts to drive mis- [and] disinformation from 2022, and use that as a pretextual basis for passing new laws, and that is exactly what we are seeing in Arizona," Fried added.

The Arizona legislature also passed three other bills, two of which the committee split along party lines.

House Bill 2319 would tell judges to "aggressively" favor an election-law interpretation that provides greater transparency and HB 2322 would put observers appointed by each party in charge of voter signature verification.

Observers would have the ability to challenge the decisions of election workers at polling places, voting centers and other counting facilities.

"Signature verification processes, often, the way they're carried out can be to the detriment of older voters," Fried said. "For example, people whose signatures have changed, you really want to be mindful of any kind of change because it can have a really direct impact on people's right to vote."

Beyond Arizona, other states are also enacting similar efforts to "chip away" at the opportunities that have helped more people access voting, she added.

If these efforts continue to advance in other states, it will allow legislators to strip power from people they didn't agree with, which defeats the purpose of having separate branches of government, a Democratic source told Salon.

"This is a hyper-partisan attack based on the fact that they don't like election results," said Kim Rogers, the executive director of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State. "And I think that Arizona, frankly, has one of the strictest voter fraud guidelines already in the country."

Republicans have pushed out unproven claims of voter fraud when it comes to in-person early voting and voting by mail. Many candidates even made the centerpiece of their campaigns promising to ban some of these efforts.

Republican Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake said she would support slashing early and mail-in voting citing unsubstantiated or disproven claims of widespread voter fraud. When she lost to her Democratic opponent Katie Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes in the midterm election, Lake refused to concede and instead filed a lawsuit against Hobbs and Maricopa County election officials claiming election fraud.

While her suit was dismissed in court last month, her efforts to sow doubt in the integrity of the election system have continued.

Lake came under fire recently for posting photos of voters' signatures on Twitter. Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes asked Attorney General Kris Mayes to investigate her for potentially violating a state law that prohibits "records containing a voter's signature" from being used by another person who isn't the voter.

Even after election workers in Maricopa County were forced into hiding after receiving threats related to the 2022 midterms, Lake has continued to peddle conspiracy theories.

Now, the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature is passing bills fueled by such election conspiracy theories, which Fried pointed out has been a concerted effort to undermine election integrity for the last couple of years.

"There are points of connectivity between all of this," she added. "It's not happening by accident… people who are trying to break our systems are getting smarter about it, and the really kind of over-the-top stuff that we sometimes see getting replaced with things that look reasonable on the surface are not reasonable."

Some scientists think we may be living in a Groundhog Day universe

Something like 13.8 billion years ago, all energy in the universe was condensed into a single point. Until suddenly it wasn't. The resulting detonation was the most massive explosion in all of the universe's history, but from it, energy formed into all matter, atoms, molecules, planets and all life on Earth.

This is the Big Bang theory, a model that explains much of what we observe when we look out at the universe. Between all the stars, galaxies and clouds of gas is cosmic background radiation — heat residue from the Big Bang, which is still faintly visible today, and is one of the most glaring pieces of evidence that the universe started from a single point. Measurements using multiple different tools, including satellites and telescopes, indicate this residue is consistent with models of an explosive birth to our universe.

The universe is still expanding, at a rate of 73 kilometers per second per megaparsec, a metric known as Hubble's constant. You can picture how this works by imagining two dots on a balloon. As the balloon is inflated, the distance between the two dots will increase; fill the balloon with dots, and everything appears to grow further away from everything else over time as the balloon inflates. If the universe is the balloon and the dots are galaxies, this is a good metaphor for how our universe is changing over time.

Many scientists predict that tens of trillions of years from now, the universe will eventually run out of steam and "freeze." This will be the heat death of the universe. Also known as the Big Freeze, this theory describes the ultimate fate of the universe as it approaches maximum entropy. When this threshold is reached, there is no more thermal energy or heat. Stars cannot undergo nuclear fusion, so no life can exist.

But an intriguing alternative, even if it doesn't carry much scientific weight, is that before everything ices over, the universe could fall back again — all the galaxies clumping together, swirling closer and closer instead, until it compacts once again to a point. Astronomers call it the Big Crunch. (Big Bang, Big Crunch… I'm sensing a theme here.) In the distant future, as everything condenses, packing tighter and tighter, it could create the conditions for a Big Bang all over again.

That's the basic premise behind the cyclic or oscillating universe theory, which actually dates back to the 1930s. Even Albert Einstein toyed with the idea of a universe that springs back and forth, dying and expanding, over and over. Not unlike the 1993 romantic comedy "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray as a weatherman stuck in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over, our universe could be repeatedly cycling through different iterations. Crunch, bang, crunch, bang.

Around this time, Richard Chace Tolman, an American physicist and cosmologist, was the first to really popularize this idea, but he initially set out to disprove it. In the early 20th Century, the Big Bang theory wasn't mainstream. Most people believed the universe had always been there and always would be. In fact, for many years, "Big Bang" was used derisively, a way to dismiss how ludicrous the idea was to astronomers. But Tolman noticed that the ratio of hydrogen and helium — the two most abundant elements in the universe — could not have happened in a static universe. An explosion most likely kicked things off.

In 1934, Tolman published his book "Relativity, Thermodynamics, and Cosmology," inspired in part by the descriptions of an expanding universe model first proposed by Edwin Hubble in 1929. He and Hubble actually published together once, a paper describing the expansion of the universe. It's quite clear that stars and galaxies are spreading out like in our balloon metaphor. What was less clear to Tolman and other astronomers was whether or not gravity will eventually pull the universe back together. "He took the possibility of an oscillating universe quite seriously," one biography of Tolman said.

As the Big Bang became accepted scientific theory, the oscillating universe theory faded away. But some physicists, like Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, have picked the idea up again, modified it somewhat and given it new life. A central part of the updated theory has to do with dark energy, a mysterious, not-fully-understood aspect of the universe that is thought to be the driving force behind our expanding universe.

In their 2007 book "Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang," Steinhardt and Turok describe how they came upon this theory by postulating that dark energy could have existed before the Big Bang and is so powerful that it will eventually pull the universe back together using a "springlike" motion that stretches the "branes," a term used in theoretical physics to describe a type of structure in the universe.

"The potential energy would only be noticeable again after nine billion years of expansion had passed and the density of matter and radiation fell below the potential energy," Steinhardt and Turok wrote. "Only then would the springlike potential energy take over again, just as it did before the bang. Once again, it would act like a source of dark energy that causes the stretching of the branes to accelerate, just what we are witnessing today...."

"Of course, if it could happen once, there is nothing to stop the whole process from happening again, and again, and again. The bangs could continue forever," Steinhardt and Turok continued. "Suddenly and inadvertently, we had revived an ancient idea that we had been taught was impossible: a cyclic universe."

If this were true, that means that our universe is on a seemingly endless loop, a cosmic version of Groundhog Day on a rhythm stretching billions or even trillions of years. Nonetheless, the theory isn't widely accepted in science. It would be pretty hard to test oscillating universe theory, as no information would likely survive cycling through a Big Bang or a Big Crunch, though mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has argued that black holes from previous universes may have survived the transition.

There are many models of the universe, though in order for a model to be useful it needs to be testable. The Big Bang theory is the best model we have of the entire universe, how it formed and where it's going. It could be totally wrong, but good luck disproving it. But until we know more about dark energy — arguably the most mysterious of the constituent matter and energy in the universe — we may not have enough evidence pointing to a repeating cycle of universal death and rebirth.

But intriguingly, there may be other universes with different fundamental constants that do have a cyclical quality to them. Of course, the existence of other universes would require the theory of the multiverse to be real. Incidentally, while there are aspects of our universe that hint that we may be living in a multiverse, this, too, is not provable.

Here’s the real reason Republicans are doubling down on abortion bans — even though Roe cost them big

If there was one inescapable takeaway from the midterm elections, it was this: Abortion is a losing issue for Republicans.

Despite reams of historical evidence suggesting November 2022 was going to produce a "red wave," Democrats racked up dramatic wins, seizing state and federal offices and retaining control of the Senate. Much of the post-election data on why was messy— except when it came to abortion. On that issue, study after study showed that support for abortion rights after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June was a major — and often deciding — factor. The implicit political advice to Republicans couldn't be clearer: Back off the draconian abortion restrictions. They've done no such thing, however.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution on Monday calling for more attacks on reproductive rights, arguing that the reason Republicans lost so many races in November was that the party wasn't anti-abortion enough. "Instead of fighting back and exposing Democratic extremism on abortion, many Republican candidates failed to remind Americans of our proud heritage of challenging slavery, segregation, and the forces eroding the family and the sanctity of human life," read the resolution. To fix the problem, the RNC argued, Republicans need to pass even harsher anti-abortion laws, such as banning first trimester abortions. This resolution was one of the first orders of business after Ronna McDaniel won a fourth term as chair of the RNC, showcasing how serious GOP leadership is about doubling down on anti-choice politics.

Why Republicans would want to go harder on an issue that most data shows hurts them at the polls is puzzling, initially. But a new study from PerryUndem, which specializes in crafting nuanced polls that dig into the deeper motivations of American voters, suggests why that might be. Their numbers show that, even as the country has grown more progressive on gender and sexuality, sexist views among Republican voters have only grown more entrenched. In addition, the data makes it clear that the driving force behind anti-abortion policies is a belief that women are not smart or moral enough to be allowed control over their own bodies.

"The research tells us that anti-abortion attitudes" have little to do with "babies or when life begins," Tresa Undem, the co-founder of PerryUndem, told Salon. Instead, "views are about one's fundamental beliefs toward women." When it comes to Republicans, "they hold the most hostile sexist views."

In other words, to keep the GOP base motivated to donate, volunteer, and vote in elections, the Republican party needs to appeal to sexist attitudes. The most effective way to win over misogynist voters is to attack reproductive rights.

As the study shows, the single best predictor of whether someone opposes abortion rights is if they subscribe to negative stereotypes about women and/or are committed to "traditional" gender roles. It's not just that anti-choice respondents were far more likely than pro-choice respondents to believe that "women are too easily offended" or "white men are the most attacked group in the country right now." Abortion opponents were also more likely to deny that it's rape if a man forces himself on his wife. A majority of anti-abortion respondents also believed men understand the biology of abortion better than women do. Over two-thirds of people who support abortion bans agreed "it bothers me when a guy acts like a girl," while only 28% of pro-choice people disliked men they perceive as effeminate.

Feminist writer Jill Filipovic summarized the findings by arguing that Republicans are "almost comically insecure when it comes to gender and gender roles," and tend to view women as "overly-sensitive, irresponsible and immoral, ruining the natural order of things, and in need of male authority."

Undem singled out one poll question in particular, which asked if "there are many irresponsible women who will decide to have an abortion up until the moment of birth." The factually correct answer to this question is "no." As family practitioner Dr. Meera Shah told Salon after failed Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz invoked this myth during a debate, "That's just not something that happens," and it "doesn't even make sense," because you can't "abort" a pregnancy that is full-term. You just deliver the baby.

"It's absurd," Undem said, "to believe that one woman, let alone 'many,' will decide to have an elective abortion, at say 39 weeks carrying around an 8-pound baby, out of irresponsibility." And yet their polling data shows that nearly 8 out of 10 people who oppose abortion rights believe a sexist myth that defies not just medical science, but common sense.

The PerryUndem research comports with another study published in Political Psychology in November, which examines the attitudes about abortion among self-described libertarians, who mostly tend to vote Republican. Researchers found that this group opposed reproductive rights, but only for women. They supported laws giving men veto power over women's abortions, as well as "financial abortion" laws that allow a man to opt out of financially supporting a child if a woman refuses to abort a pregnancy. Libertarians, researchers found, have "support for men's and not women's reproductive autonomy."

These findings help explain why Republican candidate for Georgia's Senate seat, Herschel Walker, lost very little Republican support during the 2022 election, despite widespread reports that he had demanded that two ex-girlfriends get abortions. The issue isn't abortion, but women's autonomy. If the perception is that a man made the abortion choice for a woman, most Republican voters will not hold it against him at the polls.

Sexist stereotypes about things other than abortion often get attached to bills restricting reproductive rights. In Tennessee, for instance, a bill allowing rape victims to get abortions comes with a poison pill provision that will likely prevent most, if not all, requests for the exception: If a patient makes a "false report or statement," they can go to prison for a minimum of three years. But, as journalist Jessica Valenti points out, "women across the country have been accused—and arrested!—for making false reports for reasons as simple as a police officer didn't believe them." So-called "false" allegations are often quite true, but victims get snared by the myth that women make up rape accusations to get revenge or conceal their own sexual activity. In reality, false rape reports are estimated to be about .5% of overall rape numbers. Lying about rape to the authorities is vanishingly rare. Fear of being accused of lying, however, will likely prevent women from seeking help.

On January 15, a Planned Parenthood in Peoria, Illinois was set on fire, causing what the clinic says is over a million dollars in damages. Soon authorities arrested a 32-year-old man named Tyler Massengill who admitted to the arson after initially denying the charges. The reason for the attack he gave? He was still bitter over an ex-girlfriend getting an abortion a full three years ago. Sure enough, reporters soon dug up Massengill's extensive arrest record, which included two charges of domestic battery. Massengill took his behavior to the next level, but, as the PerryUndem data shows, this controlling attitude towards women is all too common, especially among Republican voters.

These sexist views are "why Republicans can succeed using the rhetoric they do," Undem told Salon. Republicans know that there's no substantive voting constituency for their economic policies. Tapping into this anger over women's economic and social gains allows the party to reach voters who would not be motivated by spending cuts to Social Security or tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. So while most Americans may reject the misogyny that underpins abortion bans, the anti-choice message is tapping a larger group of voters than Republicans could otherwise access. If they give up sexism now, they risk losing their core voters without necessarily getting new ones to replace them. Misogyny has been central to the Republican brand for too long, it turns out, for them to risk changing course now.

Durham investigation goes bust: Why Bill Barr blew up his personal project to expose the deep state

One of the most mysterious chapters of former Attorney General Bill Barr's tenure at the Department of Justice got a little sunlight last week when the New York Times published a deeply reported piece on the Durham Investigation, Donald Trump's "investigation of the Mueller investigation." We knew that Special Counsel John Durham, a man whose reputation was one of seriousness and rectitude, had only brought two prosecutions but failed to win convictions in both. And we knew that there had been turmoil in his office with several people resigning at what seemed to be pivotal moments in the case. But, until now, we didn't know the details — and they are explosive.

The Times story, reported by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, essentially reveals that the investigation which was supposed to blow the lid off of the Russia investigation by proving that it was a "partisan witch hunt," was itself a witch hunt — only on behalf of Trump. Barr was enabling and covering for Trump throughout his tenure as we saw with his preemptive press conference to diminish the Mueller Report and mislead the public as to its conclusions and his willingness to back Trump's strategy to discredit Vote-By Mail during the 2020 campaign. Even when he finally deserted the sinking ship in December of 2020, his letter of resignation showered Trump with praise even as he knew he was plotting to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. But the Durham investigation was his personal project and it turns out that it was a monstrous abuse of power.

The whole point of naming a Special Counsel is to remove the taint of political interference by keeping a distance between the politically appointed Attorney General and the investigation. Barr did not do that. In fact, he directly participated in the probe by traveling overseas to the United Kingdom and Italy with Durham to interrogate their intelligence officials about whether they helped American investigators frame Trump which apparently offended them to no end since they did nothing of the sort. Durham and Barr became bosom buddies, throwing back scotch together at the end of the work day and having dinner on a regular basis. And Barr, who was convinced that the CIA had created the whole "Russia hoax," eagerly ran interference with the Intelligence agencies for him as needed. Evidently, Durham was very taken with Barr and agreed from the get-go that Trump had been set up.

We had previously heard that Barr and Durham went to Italy on some sort of Hardy Boys expedition, but now we learn that they had been told by Italian authorities about some very credible information that Trump had committed serious financial crimes. Barr and Durham realized that it wasn't something they could completely ignore (as much as they probably wanted to) so Barr assigned that case to Durham instead of another prosecutor and opened a criminal investigation. This was then leaked to the public in a way that implied they had found evidence of criminal behavior on the part of the FBI, the intelligence agencies or possibly even Hillary Clinton. They certainly didn't let on that they were investigating Trump.

From what we know, Durham quietly closed that "investigation" without much fuss. Considering the rest of their behavior one can't help but suspect that he and Barr either didn't look too closely or decided that revealing Trump's crimes wasn't worth jeopardizing their crusade to expose the "deep state."

This is stunningly unethical behavior by an Attorney General. But we shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Barr got the job in the first place by sending an unsolicited letter to Trump in which he criticized the Mueller investigation by claiming that a president can't obstruct justice. In fact, Barr pretty clearly believes former president Richard Nixon's famous line "when a president does it it's not illegal" since his view, according to legal expert Marty Lederman, was that "the president has absolute constitutional authority over actions by executive branch officers in carrying out law enforcement powers given to them by Congress." If you ever wondered where Trump got the idea that the Constitution gave him the power to "do whatever I want," look no further than Bill Barr.

He and Durham colluded together for months and came up with zilch. There simply was no evidence that the FBI, DOJ, CIA or the Mueller team had done anything untoward. But that didn't stop Durham. He decided to focus on Trump's bête noire Hillary Clinton and he brought a couple of cases designed to show that she set Trump up with bogus claims of Russian collusion. That blew up in his face too. He's still in business today doing what we don't know, yet Attorney General Merrick Garland doesn't seem to be willing to pull the plug.

As a New York Times op-ed by David Firestonepoints out, this exposè pretty much destroys Barr's attempt to rehabilitate himself with the public. He famously dissed Trump repeatedly in his January 6 Committee testimony and wrote a book in which he turns on his former boss, calling him "detached from reality" and urging Republicans not to nominate him for the presidency in 2024. But he narrows his criticism to the post-election period conveniently forgetting the previous four years of incompetence, corruption and mental instability which Barr encouraged. It's a little too little and way too late.

Unfortunately, while Barr's lame attempt at rehabilitation may have finally been put on ice by these latest revelations, the conspiracy theories that fueled it have not. As Firestone notes:

Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt for proof that these same government offices were "weaponized" against conservatives, an expedition that is likely to be no more effective than Mr. Durham's and Mr. Barr's.

In fact, now that I think about it, this might be the one thing that will make Bill Barr and John Durham look good by comparison. These House extremists will air every half baked, fever dream of twitter randos and QAnon weirdos in public hearings and present them as facts. At least Barr and Durham mostly kept their conspiracy theories to themselves over scotch and prime rib. That's about the best you can say for them

'George Santos’s campaign finance scandal just got a lot worse': watchdog

More than a dozen donors who contributed significant amounts of money to George Santos' 2020 congressional campaign do not appear to exist, an investigation by Mother Jones found.

Santos' campaign reported that Victoria and Jonathan Regor had each contributed $2,800 to his first bid for a House seat, but after searching through various databases, Mother Jones found that no one in the United States with such names exist.

The apparent donors listed their address as 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson Township, New Jersey, but even that was questionable since the numbers on New Mexico Street in Jackson end in the 20s.

Another donor by the name of Stephen Berger, who was included in Santos' 2020 campaign finance reports, contributed $2,500 – the maximum amount.

He was listed as a retiree living on Brandt Road in Brawley, California, but a spokesperson for William Brandt told Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years and "neither he or his wife have made any donations to George Santos. He does not know Stephen Berger nor has Stephen Berger ever lived at…Brandt Road."

The contributions are among more than a dozen major donations to the 2020 Santos campaign for which the name or the address of the donor cannot be confirmed.

Separately, the documents identify that a $2,800 campaign donation was attributed to a friend of Santos, but the person denied making the donation to Mother Jones.

These contributions account for more than $30,000 of the $338,000 the Santos campaign raised from individual donors in 2020, according to Mother Jones.

Under federal campaign finance law, it is illegal to donate money using a false name or the name of someone else.

The newly-elected GOP lawmaker, who has faced repeated calls to resign from Congress for fabricating his resume and lying about his background, received more criticism after the Mother Jones report was released.

"Somehow, George Santos's campaign finance scandal just got a lot worse," the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said on Twitter, questioning whether Santos' donors "even exist."

"If the Santos' campaign fabricated donors, I would expect federal indictments soon," Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias tweeted. "That would be a serious crime and an easy one to prove and prosecute.

"This is a lot of crime," tweeted attorney Max Kennerly, "just piles and piles of crime, all blessed by House Republicans."

Santos has remained under scrutiny after a New York Times investigation revealed that the congressman is not the man he portrayed himself to be in front of voters. From lying about his heritage and falsely claiming to be Jewish to telling stories about his mother being in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Santos keeps making headlines for fabricating his background.

Even as Republicans have called for Santos to resign, the Republican congressman has defended himself and denied most of the allegations being made against him.

"From interviewing clowns to creating fake 'posts' the media continues to down spiral as their attempt to smear me fails," he said on Twitter. "I am getting the job I signed up for done, while you all spiral out of control."

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Are evangelicals distancing from Trump?

There are a lot of discussions in political and even religious circles these days about whether the marriage between Donald Trump and evangelical Christians is officially over. Prominent evangelical leaders are backing away from Trump heading into the 2024 campaign, and Trump is openly disparaging them. I know that's an exciting prospect to many on the left but I promise you: This relationship is not over. The truth is that Trump's evangelical voters love him, and that love is not going away.

This article first appeared in Salon.

It is entirely true that the Republican establishment does not want Trump to win the nomination this time around, and the foremost evangelical leaders probably don't want him either. Gov. Ron DeSantis is the guy they want. He is seen as a solid politician with plenty of charisma and "Christian values," and he loves cruel political theater, like sending planeloads of Latin American migrants to Martha's Vineyard. The problem is that Republican leaders and evangelical pastors only get one vote apiece during the GOP primary season. It's actual Republican voters who will decide.

Remember that when Trump first ran in 2015, almost no evangelical leaders lined up behind him. The Republican establishment probably wanted Jeb Bush to win the nomination, and a number of evangelical leaders preferred Sen. Ted Cruz, who was seen as one of their own. Only after Trump started winning primaries one after another did the evangelical leadership start to get behind him. It was the people that wanted Trump, not any leadership group. Hell, back then there were plenty of Democrats who tried to elevate Trump as the Republican nominee, believing he would lose easily to Hillary Clinton.

At this point, Donald Trump is perceived by the GOP establishment as a three-time loser. In 2018, 2020 and 2022, he was essentially rejected by this country as a whole. But you may have noticed that the primary season is not about the whole country, and on the Republican side it's about the true believers and right-wing activists who are highly motivated to vote. As I see it, most of those people still prefer Trump over DeSantis. Once Trump really starts campaigning, we'll see the polling numbers favor him even more than they do now.

That's equally true for evangelical voters, if not more so. Most of them still love Trump and will show up in large numbers to make sure he wins the nomination. When that happens, suddenly all these evangelical pastors will start talking about what a great president Trump was, and how great he will be again. It's obvious that nearly all Republicans will support him rather than betray their own party, whatever private misgivings they may feel.

Understand that pollsters have never quite been able to predict the voting patterns of evangelicals. These simply are not the type of people who will answer the phone or be honest with some pollster. We have to assume that Trump's 80% support among evangelicals will remain intact as long as he's alive and keeps on running for president. Quite frankly, this is a case of reaping what you sow: Evangelical leaders spent so much time and energy convincing their followers that Trump was the chosen man of God, and they can't take that back so easily.

The relationship between Trump and his evangelical followers is true love, although it pretty much runs in one direction. Sometimes when you love someone that much, you end up staying with them no matter how they treat you. We've all seen it happen. Trump is the equivalent of an abusive, neglectful and hopelessly selfish partner. One of the biggest problems we face in life is that sometimes we love the wrong person.

Democrats have two options to combat this issue. They can simply ignore it, betting that the larger voting public outnumbers the evangelical base and that Trump's window of possibility for winning national elections has closed. I certainly hope that is true. The second option is to recognize that Trump really could win again and do everything to avoid that, by trying to connect to those evangelical voters who may be questioning their loyalty to this abusive boyfriend.

Reaching at least some of those evangelicals can be done. It is not true that the entire 80 percent is head over heels in love with the guy. Many are working families desperate to give a better life to their children. If the left can speak the language of the blue-collar everyday American, without being superior or condescending, some of those voters can be won over. Not so much by specifically targeting evangelicals as by talking to them about issues that unite us all.

Remember that there was a significant chunk of the electorate who voted for Barack Obama twice and then for Trump, and a whole lot of those people were evangelical Christians. At least some of those working-class Trump voters, according to polling at the time, might have been willing to support Bernie Sanders. It's crucial to remember that the voting public is not as predictable as many observers believe, a lesson we learned again in the 2022 midterms. People are complicated, and so are the reasons that drive their votes.

The relationship between Trump and his evangelical followers is true love. But sometimes when you love someone that much, you end up staying with them even when they're abusive, neglectful and hopelessly selfish.

But the hard truth here, which we all have to face, is that the marriage between evangelical voters and Donald Trump is far from over. The leadership will come around once Trump starts winning primaries again. They might not like it but they will support him in the end. My own opinion is that because of this hidden strength among evangelicals, Trump is still capable of winning a national election, and that Democrats must at least attempt to reach a few evangelical voters who feel uncomfortable with him.

Of course it's true that evangelicals generally hold views about abortion and the LGBTQ community that are completely unacceptable to Democrats. I'm not suggesting there's some middle ground on those issues, only that evangelical leaders care about a lot more about those things than ordinary evangelical voters do. They mostly care about taking care of their families and paying the bills, like everybody else. Liberals and progressives can do a much better job at communicating to all voters that Democratic policies on health care and the economy will benefit most Americans in a real and measurable way, while Republican policies are actively harmful.

America is in a very difficult place, but I pray that people begin to understand that our country is not the same as its political leadership. Years ago I had the great privilege of hearing the brilliant poet Maya Angelou speak in person. She told us over and over again that we are all much more similar than we are different, and that we should respect that everyone has a story to tell and veryone deserves to be heard. We all want to be loved, and to love. We all want a better life for our children, to grow old with dignity, and to have a job with value and purpose. Those who voted for Trump or for Bernie or for Obama are not as different as many believe — and sometimes are the very same people. If we can accept that, then just maybe America can finally rid itself of one of the most unhealthy and damaged people ever to enter the political world. Then perhaps evangelicals will finally break it off with their abusive, neglectful and narcissistic boyfriend.

Shameless self-promotion: Media rush to rehabilitate Trump regime as fascists expertly exploit the free press

There is no such thing as "the liberal media."

That is language concocted by the Republican Party and right-wing consultants with the goal of bullying the American news media into being compliant and subservient to the "conservative" agenda.

And they were remarkably successful in achieving that goal.

Decades later it is now an accepted "fact" among America's political class, the general public, and the mainstream news media itself that there is such a thing as "liberal bias" in the news industry. The enduring myth of the "liberal media" is one of many examples of how the American right has successfully weaponized language with a propaganda campaign to shape the country's political terrain in their interests.

Republicans have marketed themselves as defenders of "freedom." In reality, they are authoritarians who support a range of policies that limit human and civil rights.

The Republican Party has created a brand that is based upon "family values." This is fiction. The policies and ideology of the modern GOP are centered upon gutting the social safety net and ending the county's already very weak and still developing social democracy. If they are successful in that agenda, the overall well-being of American families will be greatly diminished.

The "conservative" movement staunchly claims to be "pro-life." This is not true. Their policies and ideology have actually shortened the lives of the American people as seen with health care, gun violence, the global climate crisis and environment, the COVID pandemic, and social inequality more generally.

Former Rep. Newt Gingrich is one of the main architects of the strategy that allowed the Republican Party to win the language wars and the central role of the myth of "the liberal media" in that outcome. In 1995, the media watchdog group FAIR explained how:

Since winning control of Congress, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) has constantly complained about "destructive" and "negative" coverage from the "liberal elite media."… In fact, the new speaker of the House—who once described his goal as "reshaping the entire nation through the news media" (New York Times, 12/14/94)—has given a great deal of thought to the media and how to manipulate them. One Newtonian axiom is "fights make news" (Boston Globe, 11/20/94). Another skill he has taught to Republican candidates through his political organization, GOPAC, is how to create a "shield issue" to deflect criticism…

But the clearest expression of Gingrich's philosophy of media came in a GOPAC memo entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control." Distributed to GOP candidates across the country, the memo's list of words for Democrats and words for Republicans was endorsed by Gingrich in a cover letter: "The words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language." Next time you hear Gingrich complain about media focusing on the negative, refer back to these lists.

In a widely cited 2003 essay at The Nation, media critic and author Eric Alterman said the following about the myth of "the liberal media":

Move over to the mainstream publications and broadcasts often labeled "liberal," and you see how ridiculous the notion of liberal dominance becomes. ….

I could go on, but the point is clear: Conservatives are extremely well represented in every facet of the media. The correlative point is that even the genuine liberal media are not so liberal. And they are no match–either in size, ferocity or commitment–for the massive conservative media structure that, more than ever, determines the shape and scope of our political agenda.

In a careful 1999 study published in the academic journal Communications Research, four scholars examined the use of the "liberal media" argument and discovered a fourfold increase in the number of Americans telling pollsters that they discerned a liberal bias in their news. But a review of the media's actual ideological content, collected and coded over a twelve-year period, offered no corroboration whatever for this view. The obvious conclusion: News consumers were responding to "increasing news coverage of liberal bias media claims, which have been increasingly emanating from Republican Party candidates and officials."

The right is working the refs. And it's working. Much of the public believes a useful but unsupportable myth about the so-called liberal media, and the media themselves have been cowed by conservatives into repeating their nonsensical nostrums virtually nonstop. As the economist/pundit Paul Krugman observes of Republican efforts to bully the media into accepting the party's Orwellian arguments about Social Security privatization: "The next time the administration insists that chocolate is vanilla, much of the media–fearing accusations of liberal bias, trying to create the appearance of 'balance'–won't report that the stuff is actually brown; at best they'll report that some Democrats claim that it's brown."

In the real world of the right-wing media, the pundits are the conservatives' shock troops. Even the ones who constantly complain about alleged liberal control of the media cannot ignore the vast advantage their side enjoys when it comes to airing their views on television, in the opinion pages, on the radio and the Internet.

In total, the mainstream news media is inherently "small c" conservative. As a social institution it prioritizes making money and is averse to change. As such, the American mainstream news media also serves an agenda-setting and boundary-enforcing function that sets limits on the "approved public discourse." In that role, liberal and progressives are routinely silenced out of deference to "conservative" and right-wing voices – however extreme the latter may be.

Because the mainstream news media are aligned with the powerful as a class, they prioritize having access to them in what is a parasitic and symbiotic relationship. In practice, this meant that access to the powerful — especially for DC beltway journalists — is more important than bold truth-telling and consistently speaking truth to power. The conservative nature of the American news media and its institutional bias towards "normalcy" helps to explain why it has been so unable to properly pivot and adapt to the realities of the Age of Trump, rising neofascism, and the country's ongoing democracy crisis. Thus, the continued habit of using obsolete norms such as "bothsideism," an overempahsis on "horserace coverage," an obsession with political personalities instead of systems and power, and an amplification of the controversy of the day instead of on fundamental issues.

One of the most dangerous examples of how the media has been conditioned by the right through the myth of "liberal bias" is how it is now helping to launder the reputations of several Trump regime members and other Republican fascists. In a very high-profile example of reputation laundering, The New York Times — which is routinely attacked by right-wing media for committing the "crime" of "liberal bias" (a baseless and absurd claim) — recently featured a guest opinion essay by former Trump regime advisor and propagandist Kellyanne Conway. Her Times op-ed contained Trump political pornography such as this:

Donald J. Trump shocked the world in 2016 by winning the White House and becoming the first president in U.S. history with no prior military or government experience. He upended the fiction of electability pushed by pundits, the news media and many political consultants, which arrogantly projects who will or will not win long before votes are cast. He focused instead on capturing a majority in the Electoral College, which is how a candidate does or does not win. Not unlike Barack Obama eight years earlier, Mr. Trump exposed the limits of Hillary Clinton's political inevitability and personal likability, connected directly with people, ran an outsider's campaign taking on the establishment, and tapped into the frustrations and aspirations of millions of Americans.

Some people have never gotten over it. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. There is no vaccine and no booster for it. Cosseted in their social media bubbles and comforted within self-selected communities suffering from sameness, the afflicted disguise their hatred for Mr. Trump as a righteous call for justice or a solemn love of democracy and country. So desperate is the incessant cry to "get Trump!" that millions of otherwise pleasant and productive citizens have become naggingly less so. They ignore the shortcomings, failings and unpopularity of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and abide the casual misstatements of an administration that says the "border is secure," inflation is "transitory," "sanctions are intended to deter" Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and they will "shut down the virus." They've also done precious little to learn and understand what drives the 74 million fellow Americans who were Trump-Pence voters in 2020 and not in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In her New York Times audition for a job on Trump's 2024 presidential campaign, Conway also wrote:

A popular sentiment these days is, "I want the Trump policies without the Trump personality." It is true that limiting the name-calling frees up time and space for persuasion and solutions. Still, it may not be possible to have one without the other. Mr. Trump would remind people that it was a combination of his personality and policies that forced Mexico to help secure our border; structured new trade agreements and renewed manufacturing, mining and energy economies; pushed to get Covid vaccines at warp speed; engaged Kim Jong-un; played hardball with China; routed ISIS and removed Qassim Suleimani, Iran's most powerful military commander; forced NATO countries to increase their defense spending and stared down Mr. Putin before he felt free to invade Ukraine.

When it comes to Donald J. Trump, people see what they wish to see. Much like with the audio debate a few years ago "Do you hear 'Laurel' or 'Yanny'?," what some perceive as an abrasive, scornful man bent on despotism, others see as a candid, resolute leader unflinchingly committed to America's interests.

There were thousands of comments on the New York Times website in response to Conway's column and the publication's decision to allow her such a privileged platform. Based on a cursory review, a good many, if not most of these comments were negative. The Times even featured one such complaint in a letter to the editor:

A diversity of opinions and perspectives is a fantastic goal, and one reason I've been a longtime subscriber. Generally speaking, your opinion guest essays are well written and thoughtful and provide a point of view that makes one examine a topic with fresh eyes.

The opinion from Ms. Conway is not that.

Time and again she employs sloganeering to sling arrows at Democrats and non-Trumpists in an attempt to burnish the reputation of her former boss.

She continues to attempt to turn neighbor against neighbor by perpetuating the othering of Trump detractors and the denial of Mr. Trump's and her attacks on voting, democracy and simple decency.

Hers is not another "opinion"; it is carefully crafted and intentional spin to appeal to people's sense of grievance and to reaffirm the lies and misinformation they are so ready to believe.

Her inclusion in your paper diminishes the quality of debate, and galvanizes a person America would be better off forgetting.

Conway is representative of a larger pattern where such leading news media outlets as the New York Times, CNN, CBS, NBC and others are deciding to amplify and provide a platform for Trumpists, Republican-fascists, and other right-wing anti-democracy voices. They are doing this behind the cover of "fairness" and "balancing" when in reality such a decision is based on fear, profit-maximizing, and strategically positioning themselves to be in good favor with the Republican Party, "conservatives" and other anti-democratic forces as a type of insurance policy and security blanket for what promises to be a very perilous and unsettled future.

In an essay at Medium, journalist and author Wajahat Ali warns that "Even in the face of increased threats and a failed coup, too many journalists in mainstream media outlets will continue to pave the road toward fascism with their 'both sides' coverage." He continues, "Access journalism is a parasitic relationship. Some of these journalists are like small remoras, or shark suckers, who attach to sharks to get to their destination. If they were riding the shark in JAWS, they'd write an article blaming the townspeople for forcing the shark to eat them":

There's a class of journalists belonging to legacy outlets and corporate media who are incapable of shedding their antiquated, toxic skin and adapting to the changing political and cultural landscape where disinformation, white supremacist conspiracy theories, and right-wing stochastic terrorism is the norm. Instead, they chase the North Star, which isn't the truth, but rather access to power, ratings, and a path toward personal success….

Instead of bending the knee to right-wing intimidation, platforming their lies, mainstreaming their hate, and engaging in "both sides" nonsense to create the fiction of symmetry in an utterly asymmetrical reality, these political journalists need to be biased in favor of the truth and democracy.

Ultimately, the American mainstream news media needs to engage in a type of personal inventory and critical self-reflection about its role in democracy and failings (and successes) in the Age of Trump and beyond.In short, it must do better as it strives to live up to the ideals of the Fourth Estate in a democracy. A big step in that direction would be refusing to participate in the reputation laundering and rehabilitation of Trump's regime members and other neo-fascists and enemies of democracy in today's Republican Party and larger right-wing and "conservative" movement.

If the American mainstream news media does not do this necessary and hard work it is just contributing to its own legitimacy crisis and lack of trust among the American people, which in turn means aiding the Republican fascists and other enemies of a free press and democracy.

Pregnant wife faints and gets pinned by flag during Republican's presidential run announcement

Mid-way through a press conference held at the West Virginia State Capitol last Friday, during which Republican Dr. Rollan Roberts II announced his intent to run as a presidential candidate in 2024, his pregnant wife Rebecca fainted behind him.

A video clip of the incident has since circulated on social media, along with comments that the presidential hopeful seemed to have taken longer than one would expect to go check on his wife after she hit the ground just a few feet away from him.

In the clip, the five-months pregnant woman can be seen wobbling on her feet before beginning to fall, at which point a man standing nearby attempts to help, seemingly causing a large American flag in a stand to then fall upon the woman as she lay on the ground.

According to The West Virginia Daily News, medical personnel attended to the woman, after which Roberts II said "Can we give a hand to the medical team for their assistance?"

"I am running for president, not to take us backwards to the way things used to be, and not to reset humanity to some ideology," Roberts II said prior to his wife fainting. "But through principled and disciplined leadership – sound wisdom grounded in truth, and with respect for all people – to lead America in solving the great issues of our day in a way that lays the foundation for our leadership and excellence in the 22nd century."

Roberts II, who is the son of W.Va. State Senator Rollan A. Roberts, R-Raleigh, later said that his wife is fine, having suffered no serious injuries in her fall.

"I prefer a simple, quiet, God-fearing life with my family," Roberts furthered in his speech. "But God had a different plan for me. I did not come from money. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had to go to a regular college – not a fancy one – and I had to pay my own way through school and work."

One tweet from a person after the clip of Roberts II's wife fainting began to circulate presented two questions:

A. Who the hell is Rollan Roberts?
B. How was he THE LAST person to move after his pregnant wife passed out???

"You clearly don't answer to the health needs of your wife," another person chimed in on Twitter. "I'd drop out now, sweetie."

'Would make Alex Jones blush': Republican says land conservation is a plot to 'control' and 'kill' people

Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyo., spewed conspiracy theories about an environmental plan to conserve 30% of US land and waters by 2030 ahead of her election last year.

Speaking at R-CALF, a convention for independent cattle producers, Hageman in August 2021 and 2022 baselessly claimed that conservation plans like the global initiative 30x30 are a government plot led by President Joe Biden to control Americans through starvation.

The congresswoman likened the environmental plans to African dictators starving their people to stay in power.

"Anytime their dictator needed to control the masses and needed to make sure that there would be no uprising, he just starves his people," Hageman said in the previously unreported video. "You can look at Somalia, you can look at the Congo, you can look at country after country after country after country, and what they've done is they control their people with food. That's what 30 x 30 is about. That's what the Green New Deal is about."

The-then candidate's statements are similar to a number of anti-government conspiracy theories shared by anti-public land extremists. Many of these conspiracy theorists have also equated 30x30 with the Holocaust and Stalin's genocide of Ukrainians in the 1930s.

"History repeats, and I think it's being done again," said one 30x30 conspiracy theorist on Facebook. "They did the very same thing in Ukraine, and they intend to do it to us."

In another video, Hageman claimed that 30x30 is the first step towards government-led "starvation" in order to "control" citizens.

"Whenever those leaders want to control the masses, they starve them. They kill them. And that's how they keep control. And that's where the 30 x 30 program is headed," she claimed.

"We need to stop looking at this as preserving the environment," she added. "We need to stop talking about protecting water and natural resources. That isn't what it's about, it's about control. It's about control of you."

This is not the first, or second, time that Hageman has boosted conspiracy theories: she has a long history of espousing misinformation and fighting against conservation and public lands. Hageman proudly bears the nickname "Wicked Witch of the West," which she earned after opposing the Clinton administration's roadless forest rule.

"Harriet Hageman's unhinged conspiracy theories show that her motivations for 'oversight' are completely unrooted in reality," Jordan Schreiber, director of the Energy and Environment program at the left-leaning watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "The next time she alleges wrongdoing remember that she subscribes to a set of falsehoods that would make Alex Jones blush. She cannot be taken seriously as a legislator or an investigator."

During her unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2018, Hageman suggested transferring one million acres of federal land to the state of Wyoming, which would have sold off significant hunting, fishing, and hiking areas, according to a report from The New York Times.

Two months before the midterm election in 2022, Hageman also claimed that the federal government controls too much land in the United States.

"Joe Biden has absolutely no authority whatsoever to try to take more private land out of production and use in this country," she said during a September R-CALF conference. "The federal government already has 612 million acres, and frankly, that's too many."

She further accused the World Wildlife Federation of trying to "destroy the livestock industry," calling them "evil people."

"They will put you out of business if you do not comply with their mandates that are going to be coming down the road," she said of the environmental organization. "They want to either destroy the livestock industry or make sure that it is only the elite that are able to eat beef in the future."

In addition to conspiracy theories, Hageman has also previously shared that she believes regulatory agencies such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management are "destroying our republic."

Republicans blasted as 'hyperbolic hypocrites' for double standard on Biden and Pence documents

Several congressional Republicans are swiftly moving past Tuesday's news that classified documents were discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana home, but still suggest there is something more suspicious about the documents found at President Joe Biden's home and former office.

In a letter to the National Archives, Pence's lawyer Greg Jacobs wrote that there were a small number of classified documents that were "inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home" after Pence's term ended in January 2020.

Outside counsel "with experience in handling classified documents" were hired to conduct the search, which Jacobs says was performed "out of an abundance of caution" after Biden's home was searched.

Some GOP lawmakers have appeared to be more sympathetic to Pence while criticizing Biden.

While appearing on Fox Business on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Biden's situation was "just a mess."

"It is incompetent. It is corrupt," Cruz said. "That is an enormous political problem for the Biden White House."

However, when he was asked about Pence just moments later, Cruz said that the former Republican vice president is "a good man" and that his collection of classified documents was simply "a mistake."

House Republican Conference chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was also quick to distinguish the two cases during a Wednesday news conference.

"In the case of Vice President Mike Pence, he came forward and proactively reached out and is following the process," she said. "In the case of Joe Biden, he has had classified documents going back to his time in the Senate, where he started serving before I was born. So this is a longstanding national security threat."

Stefanik also shared her concern that Biden's son may have had access to the documents, claiming it was a "very important fact that Hunter Biden also had access and used as his home address where those classified documents were improperly and illegally stored."

Other Republicans, who have defended Trump for his hoarding of over hundreds of classified documents in his Mar-a-Lago home, have condemned Biden for keeping documents from his Senate tenure.

"I do not understand how a U.S. senator can take a classified document out of a SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] if they're not stuffing it in their pants or somewhere else," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters Tuesday.

Cruz also called for the FBI to search Hunter Biden's homes and offices to check for more classified documents.

"If these classified materials in particular implicate Burisma, Ukraine, Communist China, payments going to Hunter Biden or Joe Biden's brother or the Biden family, then this shifts from a political problem to a very serious problem of criminal liability and major crimes," Cruz said on Fox Business.

A Senate investigation led by Republicans in 2020 found no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden regarding the latter's work with Burisma Holdings, a private natural gas company in Ukraine.

Cruz and Stefanik have been blasted for their reactions to the two situations, with many critics pointing out the hypocrisy of their statements.

When asked about Pence in his Fox Business interview, Cruz immediately said the story is "still early" and that it is "very different from what Joe Biden has done." Twitter users immediately criticized these remarks.

"Like so many in the @GOP, @SenTedCruz will completely ignore their own party members' actions while attacking the actions of others. Cowards and hypocrites is all you get with conservatives," one user said.

Former Biden staffer Chris Strider tweeted that "Ted Cruz is/was/will always be a joke," and another user called him a "hyperbolic hypocrite."

"It's like 'hypocrisy' punches him square in the face and Ted simply responds with 'thank you sir, may I have some more?'" Myles Davies wrote.

"Can I just say again that Ted Cruz sucks?" tweeted former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh. "He doesn't have the honesty, the decency nor the fair-mindedness to simply say 'It was wrong for Biden to have classified docs at home, and it was wrong for Pence to have classified docs at home' and leave it at that."

Other observers labeled Stefanik's statements during her press conference "soulless" and "shameful."

"These people are unbelievable," replied one user. "How do they not smell what they're shoveling?"

However, not all Republicans were ready to dismiss Pence's handling of classified information.

"It is a serious matter for any government official to mishandle classified documents," tweeted Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "I plan to ask for the same intelligence review and damage assessment to see if there are any national security concerns."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wrote in a tweet that he doesn't believe Biden, Trump or Pence had any "sinister motives," but added that "we have a classified information problem which needs to be fixed."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the top Democrat on the Republican-led House Oversight Committee that is investigating Biden's handling of classified documents, aired out his frustrations with GOP lawmakers in a statement on Tuesday.

According to Raskin, Republicans' "glaring failure to acknowledge that former President Trump refused to cooperate with the government and continually rebuffed calls to turn over thousands of presidential records and hundreds of classified documents" shows that they are "simply not serious about" preserving and protecting presidential records and classified information.

Lauren Boebert's first bill of the year centers on defunding Planned Parenthood

In a press release sent out on Friday, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo announced her first bill of 2023, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act. As detailed in the release, the intent of this bill is to effectively block federal tax dollars from going to Planned Parenthood by redirecting them to community health centers.

"The nation's largest abortion provider has no business receiving taxpayer dollars," Boebert said in a statement issued along with the announcement of the new bill. "Planned Parenthood claims these funds go to healthcare for women, but last year, Planned Parenthood performed a record number of abortions while also reducing the number of well-woman exams and breast cancer screenings it performed. Instead of funding Planned Parenthood, my bill will redirect this funding to community health centers that actually meet the health needs of women across the country."

In response to the news of the bill, Democratic activist Andrew Wortman tweeted out that, contrary to Boebert's statement, "Planned Parenthood provides critical health services to over a million women across the country every year."

Planned Parenthood details on their website just what defunding would look like for them saying "Defunding refers to stopping Planned Parenthood from being able to be reimbursed for providing services to people who rely on Medicaid insurance or who are eligible for free or reduced fee services through the Title X program."

Breaking down how funding is distributed, the organization clears up a few misconceptions highlighting that "Title X and Medicaid insurance are only used to pay for family planning services such as preventive exams, screening
services and birth control. A federal law, the Hyde Amendment, is already in place to block federal funding from going to abortion services and PPWP is audited annually to verify our compliance."

Donald Trump is smothering the religious right

There was a time in American life when it was considered bad manners to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. There were good reasons for that — those subjects tend to get people upset and angry and that's always rough on digestion. But I doubt it was ever something that was practiced much because when people aren't gossiping or talking about work, politics and religion are the most likely topics whether we like it or not. Still, I don't think the merging of religion into partisan politics has ever been quite as thorough as it's been in the past 40 years or so. Sure you can go back in history and see many examples of religious leaders being politically influential from Cotton Mather to Brigham Young to Martin Luther King Jr. And various religious movements have been deeply involved in social reforms forever. But the emergence of the Christian Right under the auspices of organizations like the Moral Majority led by the Reverend Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition was explicitly formed as a faction of the Republican Party for the purpose of electing officials who would carry out their political agenda. That was unusual and it has been wildly successful.

Ironically, the first evangelical president was a Democrat. Jimmy Carter wore his religion on his sleeve – not that it did him any good with the burgeoning conservative evangelical political movement. In 1980, when Carter ran for re-election, two-thirds of white evangelicals voted for the twice-married, un-churched, matinee idol, Ronald Reagan. It was clear even then that the Christian Right was very serious about enshrining their socially conservative beliefs into law and they weren't picky about how they got it done. Until then religion had operated more or less outside the ugly sausage-making of politics and government, then the Christian Right dove in head first. That movement became one of the most, if not the most, dominant political movements of our time. It completely co-opted the GOP, forcing their agenda as a requirement for office and ensuring that their demands cannot be ignored. In a few decades, they managed to get a religious right majority seated on the Supreme Court and even have an active lobbying effort to sway the justices.

Throughout this era, the Democrats spent massive amounts of money and energy trying to win this group over to their side under the belief that since they adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ that they must see the altruistic ethos of progressivism as a strong component of their beliefs. But for forty years they have been rudely rebuffed, just as Jimmy Carter was.

For quite some time there was what I like to call a Religion Industrial Complex whose mission was to scold Democrats for that failure and advise them that all they needed to do was adopt social conservatism and they would win every election. They didn't say it that way, of course. They talked about "outreach" a lot and advised that their politicians should seek "common ground." And abortion was always at the center of it. Back in 2004 columnist Melinda Henneberger wrote:

"The Democrats are likely to lose the Catholic vote in November—and John Kerry could well lose the election as a result. It's about abortion, stupid. And 'choice,' make no mistake, is killing the Democratic Party."

Actually, the Christian right is killing religion in America, bleeding it slowly for quite some time although few seemed to notice.

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out a few years back, during this period of conservative Christian dominance the country has been growing much less religious and studies have found that this is mainly a result of public distaste for the GOP's merging of religious social conservatism with politics. And nothing has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right more than its ecstatic embrace of the lying libertine Donald Trump. They have been among his most fervent admirers, accounting for the single largest bloc of support in the GOP. But a survey of 1,000 US adults conducted back in 2021 found that half of Americans believe evangelical leaders' support of Trump hurt the church's credibility and 25% say that the church's embrace of Trump soured them on participating in religion. They may have won some battles but they're losing the war.

The New York Times reported this week that some conservative evangelical leaders were starting to hedge on supporting Trump in 2024. Big-time Trump supporter Pastor Robert Jeffress appeared publicly with former Vice President Mike Pence last week, prompting Trump to go on the attack. He appeared with commentator David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network and said that such behavior is disloyal after all he's done for them. And he blamed them for the GOP's 2022 midterm losses, suggesting that once they got what they wanted they didn't bother to turn out.

This was not well received by some of the leaders who clearly think that they can do better with a new face like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or maybe former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Ohio evangelical activist Bob Vander Plaats complained, "you're not going to gain any traction by throwing the most loyal base under the bus and shifting blame." The one Christian Right leader the Times quoted agreeing with Trump is the experienced, longtime political operative, Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who thinks Trump is right that the Republicans didn't go on offense and attack the Democrats as abortion extremists — and that until they do, they'll be in trouble on that issue and in trouble at the ballot box.

I won't be surprised if they all end up back in the fold one way or the other. The Times notes that after Trump slammed Jeffers for meeting with Pence, the Pastor went out of his way to smooth those ruffled orange feathers. He explained that while he previously indicated that he would remain neutral, it was only because Trump had not asked for his endorsement which he anticipated he would give because he "is most likely going to be the 2024 nominee." He knows his flock and realized that they would not like anyone dissing their favorite president.

But that won't stop the rest of what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary field from trying to pry them out of his clutches. They will all go out of their way to make the one pitch that gets them out to the polls: they must confirm that conservative Christians are under siege from everyone else in the country, all of whom are trying to destroy everything they care about. Republicans for the last 40 years have basically run on that message and Religious Right voters voted in lockstep with their leaders all that time. But nobody did it quite like Trump. He spoke their language of grievance and resentment in ways that sent a tingle up their legs and they fell in love. There is no evidence they're ready to abandon him for a boring mainstream politician. They finally got what they wanted: a bad boy.

How Trump exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian right

There was a time in American life when it was considered bad manners to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. There were good reasons for that — those subjects tend to get people upset and angry and that's always rough on digestion. But I doubt it was ever something that was practiced much because when people aren't gossiping or talking about work, politics and religion are the most likely topics whether we like it or not. Still, I don't think the merging of religion into partisan politics has ever been quite as thorough as it's been in the past 40 years or so. Sure you can go back in history and see many examples of religious leaders being politically influential from Cotton Mather to Brigham Young to Martin Luther King Jr. And various religious movements have been deeply involved in social reforms forever. But the emergence of the Christian right under the auspices of organizations like the Moral Majority led by the Reverend Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition was explicitly formed as a faction of the Republican Party for the purpose of electing officials who would carry out their political agenda. That was unusual and it has been wildly successful.

Ironically, the first evangelical president was a Democrat. Jimmy Carter wore his religion on his sleeve – not that it did him any good with the burgeoning conservative evangelical political movement. In 1980, when Carter ran for re-election, two-thirds of white evangelicals voted for the twice-married, un-churched, matinee idol, Ronald Reagan. It was clear even then that the Christian right was very serious about enshrining their socially conservative beliefs into law and they weren't picky about how they got it done. Until then religion had operated more or less outside the ugly sausage-making of politics and government, then the Christian right dove in head first. That movement became one of the most, if not the most, dominant political movements of our time. It completely co-opted the GOP, forcing their agenda as a requirement for office and ensuring that their demands cannot be ignored. In a few decades, they managed to get a religious right majority seated on the Supreme Court and even have an active lobbying effort to sway the justices.

Throughout this era, the Democrats spent massive amounts of money and energy trying to win this group over to their side under the belief that since they adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ that they must see the altruistic ethos of progressivism as a strong component of their beliefs. But for forty years they have been rudely rebuffed, just as Jimmy Carter was.

For quite some time there was what I like to call a Religion Industrial Complex whose mission was to scold Democrats for that failure and advise them that all they needed to do was adopt social conservatism and they would win every election. They didn't say it that way, of course. They talked about "outreach" a lot and advised that their politicians should seek "common ground." And abortion was always at the center of it. Back in 2004 columnist Melinda Henneberger wrote:

"The Democrats are likely to lose the Catholic vote in November—and John Kerry could well lose the election as a result. It's about abortion, stupid. And 'choice,' make no mistake, is killing the Democratic Party."

Actually, the Christian right is killing religion in America, bleeding it slowly for quite some time although few seemed to notice.

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out a few years back, during this period of conservative Christian dominance the country has been growing much less religious and studies have found that this is mainly a result of public distaste for the GOP's merging of religious social conservatism with politics. And nothing has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian right more than its ecstatic embrace of the lying libertine Donald Trump. They have been among his most fervent admirers, accounting for the single largest bloc of support in the GOP. But a survey of 1,000 US adults conducted back in 2021 found that half of Americans believe evangelical leaders' support of Trump hurt the church's credibility and 25% say that the church's embrace of Trump soured them on participating in religion. They may have won some battles but they're losing the war.

The New York Times reported this week that some conservative evangelical leaders were starting to hedge on supporting Trump in 2024. Big-time Trump supporter Pastor Robert Jeffress appeared publicly with former Vice President Mike Pence last week, prompting Trump to go on the attack. He appeared with commentator David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network and said that such behavior is disloyal after all he's done for them. And he blamed them for the GOP's 2022 midterm losses, suggesting that once they got what they wanted they didn't bother to turn out.

This was not well received by some of the leaders who clearly think that they can do better with a new face like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or maybe former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Ohio evangelical activist Bob Vander Plaats complained, "you're not going to gain any traction by throwing the most loyal base under the bus and shifting blame." The one Christian right leader the Times quoted agreeing with Trump is the experienced, longtime political operative, Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who thinks Trump is right that the Republicans didn't go on offense and attack the Democrats as abortion extremists — and that until they do, they'll be in trouble on that issue and in trouble at the ballot box.

I won't be surprised if they all end up back in the fold one way or the other. The Times notes that after Trump slammed Jeffers for meeting with Pence, the Pastor went out of his way to smooth those ruffled orange feathers. He explained that while he previously indicated that he would remain neutral, it was only because Trump had not asked for his endorsement which he anticipated he would give because he "is most likely going to be the 2024 nominee." He knows his flock and realized that they would not like anyone dissing their favorite president.

But that won't stop the rest of what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary field from trying to pry them out of his clutches. They will all go out of their way to make the one pitch that gets them out to the polls: they must confirm that conservative Christians are under siege from everyone else in the country, all of whom are trying to destroy everything they care about. Republicans for the last 40 years have basically run on that message and Religious right voters voted in lockstep with their leaders all that time. But nobody did it quite like Trump. He spoke their language of grievance and resentment in ways that sent a tingle up their legs and they fell in love. There is no evidence they're ready to abandon him for a boring mainstream politician. They finally got what they wanted: a bad boy.

Will Republicans blow up the global economy? They’re sure going to try

We barely had time to catch our breath from the wild spectacle of the Republicans finally electing a speaker when their next spectacle started with a bang. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen abruptly announced that the U.S. will hit the so-called debt ceiling on Jan 19, putting the issue immediately on the front burner. The government can move money around to keep paying its bills until some time next summer, but this is already shaping up to be an exhausting, months-long battle royale. It's probably a good thing that they're getting an early start since the MAGA House majority seems to need some serious remedial instruction on how the world works.

That's not to say that debt-ceiling standoffs are some core tactic of the MAGA movement. In fact, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with no fuss at all. They never felt it necessary to try to persuadeTrump to cut spending, and the Freedom Caucus didn't utter a peep as he massively increased the deficit. These hostage situations are reserved for times when the GOP holds the House and a Democrat is in the White House. Shocking, I know.

This debt ceiling vote is a ritual with no real purpose. The government made the decision during World War I, for reasons that should have been temporary, to require a vote to agree to pay the nation's bills. This makes no sense: Congress already voted to spend the money, so it's ridiculous to require another vote to pay it out. In fact, after the Civil War, the drafters of the 14th Amendment, concerned that Southern Democrats (pretty much the MAGA types of that day and age) would make good on their threat to disavow the national debt incurred during the war, explicitly wrote into the Constitution the words, "the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned."

There were some brief confrontations in earlier years, but it was really Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich who pioneered this modern right-wing terrorist strategy and it was perfected by the Tea Party members during the Obama administration. The Tea Party standoffs in 2011 and 2013 are still vivid in the minds of many in Washington who endured both the battles and the consequences, which were at once political and substantial. Those were among the ugliest fights in modern political memory and came distressingly close to crashing the world economy. This new crew, most of whom were not round for those bruising confrontations, is champing at the bit to see if they can get that done this time.

Not only are payments for necessary services, from Social Security and Medicare to food safety and even the sacred-to-Republicans border security at risk, as the Washington Post's Catherine Rampbell explains, this could tip the entire global economy, already in a fragile state, over into crisis:

Until now, U.S. debt has been considered virtually risk-free. The riskiness of all other assets around the world is benchmarked against the relative safety of U.S. Treasury securities. If the U.S. government reveals itself to be an unreliable borrower, however, expect to see shockwaves course through every other financial market, as many question how safe (or not) those other investments might be. This is the last thing the economy needs amid fears of a global recession.

The bottom line is that this debate is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the Republican Party is even more ridiculous these days, so we are destined to play chicken with the good faith and credit of the U.S. government every time these circumstances present themselves.

It should be noted that all of this was evident when the Democrats still had the House majority, which was more than willing to raise the debt ceiling during December's lame-duck session. Unfortunately, the Diva Twins, meaning Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, refused to eliminate the filibuster or use the budget reconciliation process to get it done.

Luckily, not all Democrats fail to grasp the moment. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii phrased things perfectly, channeling Michael Corleone in "The Godfather Part II," when asked what Democrats might be willing to offer Republicans: "In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing." Regarding demands that Democrats sit down with their opponents at the negotiating table, he replied, "We have to tell them there is no table."

You can't negotiate with people who behave the way these Republicans are behaving. They aren't just delusional but also massively ignorant about what they're attempting to do. Take, for example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, just named to the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees, who said this on Steve Bannon's podcast shortly after the November election:

What we have to do is, Republicans, when we're in control of the purse and we're setting these appropriation bills, and our budget is — we have to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. We have to get spending back under control and we have to do that by any means possible. And if that means a government shutdown, then I'll be calling for a government shutdown. Because this government — and you can see the people support what I'm saying, Steve – because this government shut our country down with those COVID shutdowns.

That is literally gibberish, completely incomprehensible. Rep Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., made an even dumber comment:

That doesn't make any sense either. Our currency is not "devalued," and that's got nothing to do with the debt ceiling in any case. He apparently doesn't even grasp that taking the debt ceiling hostage is about trying to force Democrats to agree to massive spending cuts in the future, in exchange for paying the bills today. Evidently he doesn't want to pay them at all.

Here's some more gibberish from the actual speaker of the House, when asked about Democrats' demands for a clean debt ceiling increase:

Would you just keep doing that? Or would you change the behavior? We're six months away? Why wouldn't we sit down and change this behavior so that we would put ourselves on a more fiscally strong position?

Here's another idea that's always popular on the right — which would be necessary if they really plan to eliminate the national debt completely, as McCarthy apparently promised in his backroom deals during the speakership saga:

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is at least a bit more coherent, recognizing that Republicans may have stepped on the third rail with talk about cutting military spending, which one of the backroom negotiators, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, says was never on the table. Jordan said, "Military cuts could be made by eliminating 'woke policies' & re-examining aid to Ukraine, allowing the government to focus more on troops and weapons systems." There's also been talk about eliminating much of the officer corps, which would be an interesting experiment.

Hilariously, Republicans are trying to spin the impending mess this way:

That's cute, but it's not going to fly. Republicans have already shown the whole country that they are wildly unhinged, and nobody will mistake which party is being reckless and which isn't.

It's also clear that they don't care. Donald Trump, their battered spiritual guru, explains what it's really all about:

It's about putting on a spectacle to own the libs, of course. What else would it be? Trump may have lost some of his mojo but his legacy is secure. The Republican Party is still MAGA all the way down.

Why human civilization may owe its existence to alcohol

To some people, alcohol is a scourge on humanity that can do no good. It's true that booze is directly and indirectly responsible for many pitfalls in society, from drunk driving to increased risk for cancer. But what if alcohol was not merely a vice, but one of the triggers that sparked the dawn of human civilization — in essence, the very thing that shifted us from hunter-gatherers to agrarians?

This is a provocative thesis, and one that might upset Puritans. Yet it has some serious adherents, including philosopher Edward Slingerland. Singerland believes alcohol may have helped shaped human evolution from the very beginning, and continues to have positive benefits for society — beyond providing a socially acceptable form of euphoria.

In his 2021 book, "Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization," Slingerland lays out the case that alcohol may have even been the impetus for humans developing agriculture and complex societies. Slingerland, who is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, has mostly written books on Chinese history and culture.

But this idea so intrigued him that he delved in, finding evidence that, as he writes, "various forms of alcohol were not merely a by-product of the invention of agriculture, but actually a motivation for it — that the first farmers were driven by a desire for beer, not bread." Salon spoke to Slingerland about some of the misconceptions about alcohol's place in human evolution.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

There's seemingly a lot of interest in civilization sort of being formulated from different intoxicants, especially psychedelics. But I think alcohol can kind of be overlooked in that equation. It was sort of there, at the dawn of history, but we don't talk about that. It's not a good thing.

Well, alcohol's not cool right now. Psychedelics are super cool. Cannabis is pretty cool. So I just think alcohol has kind of been overlooked or even devalued, because it's kind of the drug your uncle uses, right? And alcohol has a lot of problems.

I think one of the more justified reasons that people are worried about alcohol is that it has some negatives that drugs like cannabis and psychedelics don't have. It's much more physiologically harmful than either one of those drugs and it's physically addictive in a way that those drugs aren't. There are some justifications for it, but I think it's primarily fashion. Especially among younger generations, alcohol doesn't have as cool a reputation as these other drugs.

Can we discuss a couple examples of how alcohol played a positive role in the evolution of human civilization? You've talked about how fermentation, brewing and that kind of thing are these chemical processes that predate agriculture, and maybe even predate organized religion.

We've known for a really long time about natural fermentation with yeast. The standard story that I always assumed before I started doing research for the book, and that I think most people learn, is that humans invented agriculture, we settled down into large scale societies, we've grown crops. And then at some point, we figured out by accident that if we left our sourdough starter out too long, it will bubble and something interesting would result. And so we kind of discovered fermentation by accident after we had agriculture.

When I started doing the research, I encountered this movement in archaeology that I think is gaining adherence and seems quite plausible. That's called the Beer Before Bread hypothesis. So 13,000 years ago or so, we're coming together, building these monumental religious sites and feasting. And feasting involved eating meat and other kind of high value items, but also drinking beer. Sites like Gobekli Tepe, [the world's oldest surviving permanent human settlement], we don't have direct chemical evidence, but we have these big vats. They were drinking some kind of liquid. And we know from other sites in the area, they were making beer at this time. In some cases beer, probably laced with psychedelics.

So in that respect, the desire to get intoxicated actually directly led to civilization. It's what motivated hunter gatherers to start cultivating crops and settling down. And you see this pattern around the world, not just in the Fertile Crescent but also Mideast, which is now the modern Turkey area, where agriculture first got started.

But if you look around the world, the first cultivated crops tend to be plants that must have been chosen for their psychoactive properties, not for their nutrition properties. And so that's behind this idea that it's this desire to get cognitively altered that motivated hunter gatherers to settle down and start living in these large-scale societies. [Getting intoxicated] is an ancient behavior. And it actually is, is probably one of the motivations for us creating civilization in the first place.

It's really fascinating to think about this. I like to put myself back in that time period and think: why would people start planting plants on purpose? And how do they figure out "oh, this is the seed that's responsible for this behavior. If I put this in the ground, I can expect this later." That whole cognitive development of cause and effect there. There's a sort of pop science belief — I don't know if it has a lot of credibility — but the idea is that wheat domesticated humans, not the other way around.

Yeah, that's Michael Pollan's argument. If you take a plant-eye view of it, you see humans, serving plants and kind of eliminating their enemies and giving them nutrition. One way to look at it is that these plants domesticated us. I think that it's rhetorically kind of a great conceptual turn.

There is a sense in which we domesticated ourselves in the process of domesticating plants. Hunter-gatherers lived pretty varied lifestyles. Geographically they'd wander around, they ate really varied diets. As a member of a group, you would typically engage in a lot of different activities. You would forage, you'd hunt, you'd be cooking. Once you move into an agricultural community, your life often turns takes a turn for the worst.

Your diet gets more monotonous. Your life probably gets more monotonous. You're stuck in the field, sticking little seeds in the ground instead of wandering around, hunting things. You are crowded together with other people in a way that humans never were before. So you're living in much denser communities.

So if we want to talk about the role of alcohol in domesticating humans, one of the ways that it helped us make this transition is that it helps relieve anxiety and stress. If humans were motivated to settle down and start agriculture by the desire to get intoxicated, the act of getting intoxicated also helped them to adapt to this new lifestyle.

Alcohol also helped create group bonds. Another crucial function of alcohol, in my view, is to help humans overcome these cooperation dilemmas we have. When we're cooperating with strangers, which we do all the time in large scale societies, one of the main functions of alcohol is to downregulate our prefrontal cortex [PFC], the very important part of our brain.

This is also the part of the brain that you need in perfect working order if you're going to deceive someone, fake sincerity or try to trick someone. And that's a problem, these cooperation dilemmas, like the prisoner's dilemma, where to succeed, to get the best payoff, you need to trust another person. But in doing that you make yourself vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

We face these type of cooperation dilemmas all the time in everyday life, on large scales and small scales. And one of the ways alcohol helps with these cooperation dilemmas is it makes us both more trusting and more trustworthy. If you drink some alcohol, you downregulate your prefrontal cortex, you're less able to lie.

Lying is a really cognitively complex activity and the PFC is the center of self-control, focus, suppression of emotions and expressions and desires, delayed gratification. You need to have all that in top shape to deceive someone. If I take a couple of shots of tequila, I'm less able to do that. And so you're more likely to trust me and for good reason.

At the same time, alcohol is boosting the production of these chemicals that make us like other people more and make us feel more bonded to other people. So things like serotonin and endorphins. Alcohol played a role in decreasing our stress, in the face of shifting to this very dense agricultural lifestyle, but also helped us genuinely create new bonds with strangers and other people in a way that was important for us to cooperate on large scales.

It's not an accident that anytime you're getting people together who have potentially differing interests or potentially hostile parties get together, the intoxicants come out. Most of the time, it's alcohol. In places where they don't have alcohol, for whatever reason, it's some other intoxicant that has very similar effects. And that's because people have learned that it's a tool that you can use to lower people's cognitive defenses.

I compare it to how we shake hands to show we're not carrying a weapon. In the same way, when you sit down at a negotiating table with somebody and you eat a meal and you drink, you start drinking alcohol. You're basically taking out your prefrontal cortex and putting it on the table and saying, I'm cognitively disarmed. You can trust what I'm saying, it's more likely to be true. It's not an accident that cross-culturally around the world, you see intoxicants coming out in these social situations. People know consciously or not that it's an important tool.

I kind of want to go back even further in human history and evolution, I've heard that something like 10 million years ago, it's theorized that the planet was warming and that was causing a lot of fruit to fall off and ferment. And that it was actually protective that as human primates, we have the enzymes to metabolize alcohol. A lot of mammals don't have that. To them, ethanol is just complete poison. So the fact that we can eat this fruit that was fermenting was a protective factor that enhanced evolution.

So it's certainly the case that we are part of a group of animals that can metabolize [alcohol's main ingredient], ethanol. And not just primates, but birds as well. And the thing that they all have in common is they eat fruit. If you're a fruit eater, you're gonna need to develop these enzymes, because fruit ripens and starts to ferment, and it's going to have some amount of ethanol in it.

We're part of a lineage of primates that adapted to eating fruit that contained ethanol. And there's some theories that there's increased pressure on us to do this once we moved out of trees. And we were living on the floor of these jungles or in scattered grassland and trees. Now we were eating fallen fruit on the ground that's got a lot more ethanol in it.

One of the things about alcohol, that makes it special is that we've got a dedicated machinery in our body to get it out of us as quickly as possible. Part of its usefulness as a drug is that it has a pretty short half-life in our body.

The drunken monkey hypothesis tries to explain why we have a taste for alcohol. Why do we like it? Robert Dudley at University of Berkeley, this is his thesis, that in our evolutionary past, there was an advantage to being able to detect ethanol.

Ethanol is a pretty volatile chemical — it travels long distances, so you can smell alcohol from pretty far away. His theory is that the smell of ethanol was like a dinner gong. We developed this ability to detect ethanol from long distances, we could follow the smell and find this ripe fruit that was a really big calorie package. And that was adaptive and that's why we have a taste for alcohol.

Ethanol is a pretty volatile chemical — it travels long distances, so you can smell alcohol from pretty far away. His theory is that the smell of ethanol was like a dinner gong. We developed this ability to detect ethanol from long distances, we could follow the smell and find this ripe fruit that was a really big calorie package. And that was adaptive and that's why we have a taste for alcohol.

The problem with [this theory] is that there are substances that aren't carcinogenic and aren't going to hurt your liver and cause you to fall off a cliff because you're drunk. But we chose alcohol. So there's got to be something special, something else going on there.

The Lancet and many other medical journals have come out with these papers stating "There's no safe amount of alcohol to ever be consumed." So where does alcohol fit into our present day?

There's the infamous Lancet study and other similar studies that argue that the net effect physiologically of alcohol is, at best, zero, neutral and probably negative. And there's debate about this. But in a way, I don't really care.

Maybe it is the case that it's a net physiological negative. I think what's really stunted our conversations about this is that we're looking at it purely through this medicalized lens and only in terms of physiological impact. And I think that's just the wrong way to look at it.

My conclusion in "Drunk" is that I think alcohol still has positive roles to play if it's used carefully. But that said, I do argue in the book that alcohol is much more dangerous now than it has been for almost all of our evolutionary history.

Alcohol, for almost all of our history, has come with this built-in safety feature, which is that natural fermentation can only get you so far. Alcohol is actually the result of this biological warfare between yeast and bacteria, who are both trying to get these nutrients. So the yeast kill off the bacteria with ethanol. But eventually they shut themselves down, because they're not infinitely resistant to ethanol, they're just more resistant than the bacteria are. That means that fermentation stops and whatever it is, a beer or fruit wine, doesn't get any stronger.

Historically, yeast kind of pooped out pretty early in that process. So grain-based beers would only get to about 2 percent to 3 percent ABV, alcohol by volume. Fruit wines maybe would get a bit stronger. We've been breeding yeast for thousands of years to make them more tolerant of alcohol, so that we could get stronger and stronger beers and wines. But even with all that effort, we haven't gotten that much farther. Some craft beers can get up into the double digits now, wines tend to max out at about 17 percent ABV [alcohol by volume]. But that's still not that strong.

Then, we figured out how to do distillation on a large scale. Distillation is a trick for getting around this natural limitation of fermentation. You take the alcohol that's produced and you refine it, get rid of as much water as possible and you can get to like 90 something percent ABV. You have vodkas that are that strong. Distilled liquors are still just ethanol, but I think it should really be considered a completely different drug. It's so much wildly stronger than naturally fermented beverages, that our bodies are not equipped to handle that. You start doing shots of 90 something proof vodka or tequila, and our physiology is completely overwhelmed. That's more dangerous.

Traditionally, alcohol was always consumed in communal, social, ritual contexts, with built-in rules about drinking, ways to kind of regulate people's consumption rates, ways to stop people when they've had too much. That's another safety feature that's been disabled. Right now from my apartment in Vancouver, I can call my local liquor store and have them deliver a case of tequila to my house. And then I can sit here alone in my house in front of the TV and drink as much of it as I want.

That is also evolutionarily unprecedented. Private access to alcohol is unprecedented. So you combine the two, now we have private access to alcohol, and we have private access to this super powerful, very dangerous form of alcohol. Alcohol has become a more dangerous tool. And so we have to be even more careful about using it than we have been historically.

Why West Coast weather will be chaotic in the future, according to a climate scientist

When I moved to San Francisco in 2013, the state of California was in a drought. As a transplant from the Midwest, I discovered that this manifested itself often at restaurants. Accustomed to water being excessively offered at a restaurant table, I remember waiters telling me that, because of the drought, they were only serving water upon request and in very small quantities. At that moment, I began to understand why Californians bring their own water bottles everywhere.

This week, water is not hard to come by in California. In fact, it's overflowing in the streets around my house as I write this very sentence, flooding my neighbors' houses and businesses. Earlier this week, my power went out because of flooding around electrical equipment; this scenario might have seemed unthinkable a decade ago.

Indeed, California's series of "atmospheric river" storms have splashed across national headlines. From flooding, knocked out trees, power outages and closed highways, the series of storms has caused over $30 billion in damage, according to Bloomberg.

While atmospheric rivers are not a new weather phenomenon in California, the density of such storms this winter is certainly surprising. And given the ways in which climate change has upset normal weather patterns, an obvious question to ask is whether these unusually powerful and destructive west coast storms are connected to the continued emissions of greenhouse gases from human industrial civilization.

To better understand if this is the "new normal" in California— as in weeks of heavy rain that cause damage to much of the state's infrastructure — I interviewed Christine Shields, a climate scientist at The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Can you explain to people who aren't familiar with meteorology what an atmospheric river is?

Shields: Atmospheric rivers are these weather features that transport a lot of water in the atmosphere. So if you think of a river on land, you like to think of it like the Amazon River or the Mississippi River, there's a certain amount of water that goes through these rivers, right? So this is sort of similar except it's water vapor and it's in the sky. And they can hold just as much water as the Amazon or Mississippi rivers. In fact, a typical atmospheric river actually has as much [water] as twice the Amazon River.

So these are really big ways of moving water from lower latitudes to higher latitudes. And for the Western U.S. a very common type of atmospheric river is called a Pineapple Express. And this is called the Pineapple Express because it moves water from like the Hawaiian Island region, which is where you get the word pineapple from, and you move the water from the subtropical region where Hawaii sort of lives across the Pacific Ocean and north to the west coast of North America. And California (and Southern California in particular) get a lot of these Pineapple Express atmospheric rivers.


Yeah and there are two ingredients to an atmospheric river: the water is one ingredient and the wind is another ingredient and the way we measure atmospheric rivers usually takes these two components and sort of condenses it into one metric. And we can quantify how intense these atmospheric rivers are by looking at this combination of wind and water and so it's just a retrofit actually. They're also long and narrow. When you look at it from a satellite picture, you can really pick it out because you can see the clouds associated with the atmospheric river, this narrow band of clouds that are thousands of miles long and hundreds of miles wide.

What is making this specific series of atmospheric rivers really newsworthy right now?

When you have one atmospheric river, it can hold a lot of water content. And even one atmospheric river can actually lift California out of a drought. But what's happening now is what we call families of atmospheric rivers, where it's one right after the other. And the overall weather pattern in the atmosphere is basically the jet stream is just bringing one storm after the other across the Pacific Ocean. We have this jet stream that's just barreling into California. This is something that happens, actually, pretty commonly, maybe not every year, but definitely, you know, there's definitely different instances of this. For example, the year that the Oroville dam collapsed in February of 2017. We're just seeing a really great example of this jet stream in the right position and these families of atmospheric rivers that are just coming one right after the other.

Why have we been hearing more about atmospheric rivers?

The term was actually coined just from an academic standpoint relatively recently, like in the 1990s. These things have always been around. But what we're calling them and how we understand them has changed.

Do you think this is the 'new normal' for California?

As I said, these things have happened in the past and we definitely expect them to happen in the future.

One of the things that I do in terms of climate change research is to try to understand what's going to happen to these types of things in the future. And so if we just separate this out into water and wind again, we know very clearly what's going to happen with atmospheric rivers in terms of the water content. As the global temperature increases, the amount of water that we can evaporate into the atmosphere will also increase. So just by the fact that we have warmer surface temperatures in the troposphere— which is the lower part of the atmosphere — is just guaranteeing that we'll have more water available to atmospheric rivers. So the atmospheric rivers will tend to be definitely wetter, with potentially more intensive rain periods.

But one of the things that is really ongoing research is whether or not the numbers of atmospheric rivers — if there will be more or if there will be less. We're seeing there's research out there, not mine, that suggests that you're going to have more of these, you're gonna have more drought and then more intense rain periods. And so we might be oscillating from more severe drought to super wet, super dry, super wet, super dry — these swings that can be potentially destructive.

'What backroom deals were cut?': GOP rep sounds the alarm on Kevin McCarthy’s MAGA giveaway

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., on Sunday raised concerns about potential "backroom deals" cut by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to secure enough party support to win his election.

McCarthy secured the support of most of the 20 Republicans that had opposed his speaker bid on Friday, finally winning his long-coveted job on the 15th ballot after convincing the remaining six holdouts to vote "present." McCarthy agreed to numerous concessions from the far-right group that have already been reported, but Mace raised concerns about potential dealmaking that has not been made public.

"What I saw last week was a small faction of the 20… trying to cut backroom deals in private, in secret without anyone knowing what else was going on," Mace told CBS News. "And when they did the rules package, at the end of the day, there was only one point that was changed. That was on the motion to vacate. That was the only difference in the package that we're going to be voting on tomorrow that was different from the original package that was proposed. So my question really is today is what backroom deals were cut- did they try to cut?"

Mace called Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of the leading McCarthy foes, a "fraud" for using the stunt to fundraise and accused the dissident group of hypocrisy over their claims that they are "fighting the swamp."

"Then they went and tried to act like you know, like, they actually are the swamp by trying to do these backroom deals," she said. "And we don't know what they got, or didn't get. We haven't seen it. We don't have any idea what promises were made or what gentleman's handshakes were made. We just, we just have no idea at this point. And it does give me quite a bit of heartburn, because that's not what we ran on."

McCarthy agreed to a number of concessions in the proposed House rules package, which will be voted on Monday morning. The package would allow any member to call for a motion to vacate the speaker's chair and remove McCarthy, establishes a select House committee on the "weaponization of the federal government," requires spending cuts to raise the debt ceiling, and votes on bills relating to top right-wing priorities like the border and abortion. A McCarthy-aligned super PAC also agreed not to fund candidates in open Republican primaries in safe red districts and House Freedom Caucus members landed additional committee spots, including on the powerful Rules Committee.

Mace told CBS that she likes the rules package but said she may vote against it due to her concerns about the deal-cutting.

"I support it, but what I don't support is a small number of people trying to get a deal done or deals done for themselves in private, in secret, to get a vote or vote present. I don't support that," she told the outlet, adding that she is "on the fence" about voting in favor of the rules package.

It's unknown what kind of deals may have been cut behind the scenes but Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., revealed to Fox News on Sunday that he got a seat on the House Republican Steering Committee in exchange for his vote for McCarthy. The Steering Committee assigns Republicans to other House committees.

Gaetz, who voted present after leading the campaign against McCarthy, had privately sought the chairmanship of a House Armed Services subcommittee, according to The New York Times. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., pushed to head another subcommittee overseeing domestic spending, according to Politico. Freshman Rep. Andrew Ogles, R-Tenn., demanded a seat on the powerful Financial Services and Judiciary committees, according to Bloomberg.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told NBC News that he was assured that "there are no deals cut about chairmanships" related to the McCarthy vote. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said the demands riled rank-and-file Republicans.

"Nobody should get a chairmanship without earning it," he told the outlet. "When you tell someone, 'Hey, I'll vote for you if you make me a chairman,' that's crap. That pisses us off."

McCarthy after the vote denied that he "promised anything" but Gaetz told reporters that he reversed course after "I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for."

Numerous Republicans have raised concerns that McCarthy conceded too much to the dissident group, undermining his speakership before it even began. Indeed, Gaetz bragged after the vote that McCarthy would be governing in a "straitjacket."

"What we're seeing is the incredibly shrinking speakership," former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told NBC News. "We are diminishing the leadership role of the House," she said.

Former Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told the outlet that the addition of Freedom Caucus Republicans to the committee could pose repeated headaches for the new speaker.

"The reason these people want to be on the Rules Committee is they want to screw things up for McCarthy. They want to micromanage every single thing that he brings to the floor," McGovern said. "He has given everything away, including his dignity, to try to become speaker. And if he becomes speaker, his nightmares just begin. He thinks this is bad — what he's going through right now? He ain't seen nothing yet, based on what he's giving away."

Steve Bannon and MAGA allies promoted fake 'stolen election' claims ahead of Brazil riots

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who played a central role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, praised supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, who stormed the National Congress and other government buildings in Brasilia on Sunday to protest his election loss.

Similar to his claims casting doubt on the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Bannon began spreading baseless rumors and promoting unproven claims about election fraud leading up to the run-off between the far-right Bolsonaro and former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

In different episodes of his "War Room" podcast, Trump's former adviser and his guests repeated false allegations of a "stolen election" and made claims about shadowy forces.

He even promoted the hashtag "#BrazilianSpring" to encourage Bolsonaro supporters to oppose the results. The hashtag trended on Brazilian Twitter several times, The Washington Post reported.

Demonstrators were also photographed holding signs "#BrazilianSpring" and "#BrazilWasStolen" in English, underscoring the close ties between right-wing movements in the U.S. and Brazil, according to the Post.

When rioters broke through a blockade set up by security forces and invaded government buildings on Sunday, Bannon described them as "Brazilian Freedom Fighters" on the conservative social media app Gettr.

"The Criminal Atheistic Marxist Lula stole the Election and the Brazilians know this... now see Lula crackdown like all Communist dictators," Bannon wrote.

One of the leaders of the "Stop the Steal" movement Ali Alexander also echoed similar sentiments, writing, "Do whatever is necessary!" and claimed to have contacts inside the country.

Bannon, who helped former President Donald Trump organize his Jan. 6 mob, told the Post he also advised Brazilian congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president's son, about the power of pro-Bolsonaro protests and potential challenges to the Brazilian election results.

Eduardo Bolsonaro also met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago after the Oct. 30 vote and discussed online censorship and free speech with former Trump campaign spokesman and Gettr CEO Jason Miller, the Post reported.

Election deniers in Brazil have cast suspicion on electronic vote tabulation machines.

Jair Bolsonaro, who has refused to concede his loss and called for his supporters to continue protesting outside of military bases, has made claims about the system not being "100 percent ironclad," according to the New York Times.

"There's always the possibility of something abnormal happening in a fully computerized system," Bolsonaro said after voting.

In November, Eduardo Bolsonaro posted a video of Bannon speaking on his podcast, suggesting that Brazilians should be angry about the use of electronic voting machines in their elections. The clip resurfaced on social media in the wake of the attack in Brasilia.

"Once they start taking and digitizing the elections, once they start going to machines where you can't get paper ballots—you don't have proof of ID, they're taken away from the precincts, they start to centralize it in collection centers—that's all done for one reason," Bannon said. "That's to consistently steal elections because they know they don't have the backing of the people."

A banner displayed by the rioters on Sunday declared "We want the source code" - which reflected the rumors that electronic voting machines were programmed or hacked to steal Bolsonaro's victory, The BBC reported.

Several prominent Brazilian Twitter accounts that pushed out election denial conspiracy theories were also reinstated on Twitter after the election and following the ownership of Elon Musk, according to BBC analysis.

'Acting in bad faith': Trump lawyer in 'judge’s sights' over courtroom stunts and 'frivolous' claims

The judge overseeing New York Attorney General Letitia James' $250 million civil lawsuit against former President Donald Trump said he is prepared to sanction his attorneys if they don't stop their bad-faith delay tactics.

Judge Arthur Engoron refused to dismiss the case against the Trump Organization for business and tax fraud, saying he was unmoved by the arguments repeatedly given by Trump attorneys Alina Habba, Christopher Kise and Clifford Robert.

Habba in particular has "found herself in this judge's sights, after repeatedly trading barbs with him in court in a manner rarely seen in the profession—frequently interrupting him on the bench, accusing him of unfairly siding against the former president, and making snide remarks about his law clerk," The Daily Beast's Jose Pagliery reported.

Trump's own legal team has quietly criticized Habba's behavior, urging her to cut the theatrics and save it for her many appearances on right-wing TV channels, according to the report.

Legal ethics scholars say it's unusual for legal proceedings to be this dramatic. New York University law school professor Stephen Gillers told The Daily Beast that a situation such as this is "quite rare."

"The lawyers have to worry not only about monetary sanctions, which may not be as much of a worry, but also court discipline that can lead to a public censure, license suspension or disbarment," Gillers said.

In an email to Trump's attorneys on Wednesday, Engoron said he "is considering imposing sanctions for frivolous litigation" over Trump's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. On Friday, he issued an order rejecting their request to dismiss the case, noting that a "sophisticated defense counsel should have known better."

Engoron made clear he is growing tired of the lawyers' delay tactics, writing in the email that "reading these arguments was, to quote the baseball sage Lawrence Peter ('Yogi') Berra, 'Deja vu all over again.'"

New York Law School professor Rebecca Roiphe told The Daily Beast that Trump's lawyers' repeated claims are a "signal to the court that they are acting in bad faith."

"Courts do sanction lawyers when they believe the lawyers are abusing the courts in this way," the legal ethics expert said.

While Engoron's email was a strong warning of what is to come, he did not explicitly name the lawyers or their possible punishment.

James celebrated the news in a statement on Friday, pointing out how Trump's delay tactics are nearing their end.

"Once again, Donald Trump's attempts to evade the law have been rejected," James said. "We sued Mr. Trump because we found that he engaged in years of extensive financial fraud to enrich himself and cheat the system."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCarthy debacle comes with a lesson: There's a downside to being a party of fascist trolls

It's been entertaining, in a dark sort of way, watching the mainstream media try to explain what is fueling the conflict between Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Republicans' supposed leader, and the 20 or so members of his own caucus who are preventing him from becoming House speaker. The New York Times called the anti-McCarthy faction "ultraconservative" and the Washington Post noted that most are full-on election deniers. Not only are these euphemisms for what they actually are — a bunch of fascists — it also falsely implies that the disagreement is ideological. It's not. McCarthy is in full agreement with the anti-democratic views of this group. He was among the 147 House Republicans who voted to overturn the 2020 election in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol attack. While McCarthy was initially cranky about the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, he has done everything in his power to shield the powerful conspirators who incited it, including Donald Trump himself, from any accountability.

There's no real daylight between the foaming-at-the-mouth fascists and McCarthy, much less other GOP leaders like Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, a shameless coup booster and reborn Trump loyalist, and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who once described himself as "David Duke without the baggage." Recognizing this, some political observers have started describing the fight as "personal," as if the anti-Kevins just don't like the guy. But that's not plausible either, since the common factor uniting the 20 or 21 holdouts is not personality type but the fact that they come from safe seats in deep-red districts. These folks are far more worried about losing a primary to someone who runs on a more-fascist-than-thou platform than about losing to a Democrat.

After McCarthy failed to win the speakership three times on Tuesday, the punishment continued on Wednesday. Those whom Team McCarthy dubbed the "Taliban 20" aligned with Democrats on the "let Kevin suffer" platform, allowing the voting to resume. After three more tedious roll-call votes in which absolutely nothing changed — except that the renegades are now voting for Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, not Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — the House adjourned again with no speaker, no assigned committees, no members actually sworn in. (Actually, it adjourned twice, after briefly reconvening on Wednesday night.) Presumably they'll try again on Thursday, and perhaps some kind of deal will be struck, although no one seems to have a viable theory of what that will be.

So if this godawful mess is not personal or ideological, then what is it? Ultimately, it's not about Kevin McCarthy at all. It's about the Republican Party's self-conception in its exciting new fascist iteration (which was forged under Donald Trump but doesn't really have much to do with him either). Fascism needs to be understood less as an ideological movement and more as a movement devoted to the worship of power for its own sake, and also a dramatic aesthetic of constant warfare and performative purification of an ever-narrower conception of the body politic.

Those are big words, and I apologize, but here's a simpler way to put it: Fascists are a bunch of trolls who are never satisfied. They must always prove their power by ganging up on someone who's been cast as an "outsider." As the Atlantic's Adam Serwer famously observed, "The cruelty is the point." Most of the time, the targets are racial and sexual minorities, liberals or immigrants. But sometimes, that restless need to constantly bully someone manifests in purification rituals, where a once-trusted or even beloved insider is deemed an outsider who must be ritually purged. It's just Kevin McCarthy's turn in the proverbial barrel, though he almost certainly hasn't helped his cause by constantly debasing himself before the hardliners. He's marked himself as a weenie, and that just makes his tormentors enjoy watching him suffer even more.

The Trump era has, understandably, led to a nonstop and frustrating debate over what exactly "fascism" is. I favor the famous 1995 essay by Italian philosopher Umberto Eco, who argued that fascism is a movement of "rigid discombobulation, a structured confusion," replete with contradictions and incoherencies, and yet that "emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations."

In other words, fascism is about vibes more than fleshed-out ideas. Very, very authoritarian vibes. One big reason we can identify Republicans as fascist now is because while their appetite for power knows no end, their willingness to govern — that is, to use power to achieve substantive ends — has diminished to nothing. It's all vibes and no ideas, beyond an inchoate loathing of anyone they deem too dark-skinned, too queer or too literate to be truly American.

In his "Ur-Fascism" essay, Eco laid out 14 features of fascism, which add up not to a coherent political philosophy so much as a series of antisocial impulses. It's worth reading in its entirety, but the McCarthy debacle illustrates some of Eco's most important observations: Fascism is deliberately irrational. Indeed, it makes a fetish of irrationality. It's a "cult of action for action's sake" that believes thinking before acting "is a form of emasculation." The fascist believes that "life is permanent warfare" and therefore there must always be an enemy to struggle against. That's why fascists love conspiracy theories. Their "followers must feel besieged," and since they have no real oppressors to rail against, they make up imaginary ones.

After Trump's coup failed and the red wave of the midterms didn't materialize, Republicans are turning on each other. Even healthy political parties tend to have periods of recrimination after suffering bitter defeats. For the dysfunctional Republicans, however, this anger is being refracted through their increasingly fascist worldview, which is paranoid, irrational and hostile to democracy. That's why the demands made by the anti-McCarthy faction are incomprehensible and seem to change by the hour. The mentality that "life is permanent warfare" leads to the party's desire to constantly purify itself of the enemy within, in this case the despised "RINOs." But as more and more RINOs get purged, the definition becomes more expansive and maintaining party purity becomes almost impossible. Eventually, craven sycophants like McCarthy are rechristened as RINOs and thrown overboard. There is no endpoint where the party has finally cleansed itself.

Watching Republicans tear each other apart like this isn't just entertaining, but also useful. Fascists are always itching for a fight. Under Trump, that energy was directed outwardly at their perceived enemies: Democrats, liberal "elites," immigrants, LGBTQ people and eventually democracy itself. But as this House leadership fight has shown, fascists will also turn on each other like a bunch of weasels in a sack. With any luck, they tear themselves apart before they can tear democracy down.

Nancy Pelosi may not be the House Democrats' leader anymore, but her party are responding to this clown show in a way that shows they retain the unity and clarity of purpose Pelosi typically brought to their caucus. They are resisting the centrist punditry that insists Democrats have a responsibility to swoop in and protect Republicans from their own worst elements, as if saving their most vicious opponents from their own mistakes were somehow the same thing as saving democracy. We saw this impulse most recently in the media reaction to Democratic campaign ads highlighting the MAGA bonafides of certain far-right candidates to GOP primary voters, believing those kinds of radicals would be easier to beat in a general election. Those media criticisms were based on the shaky assumption that fire-breathing fascists are a bigger threat to democracy than supposed "mainstream" Republicans like McCarthy, who share their anti-democratic views but can play moderate in front of the cameras.

Well, the strategy of sowing internal discord among Republicans is working pretty well so far. A lot of the GOP's most egregious nuts lost their elections. Those who made it across the finish line are currently in the process of blowing their party up. Democrats are wise to continue refusing to bail Republicans out of their own mess. Even though Kevin McCarthy is the fascist crowd's newest piñata, that doesn't mean it's good for Democrats or democracy if he secures the speaker's gavel. He has no interest in governing. The plan, if we want to call it that, was to ignore legislation and appoint lots of House committees to spread conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and other political foes. McCarthy was also expected to use threats about the debt ceiling and a possible government shutdown in a pointless and destructive effort to force cuts in Social Security and Medicare. By far the best thing for democracy is if the Republicans simply implode and their nefarious schemes never come to fruition.

Frankly, I think that's why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just did a friendly bipartisan event with Biden in Kentucky, highlighting the benefits of infrastructure spending. Not long ago, McConnell would have done everything in his power to keep a Democratic president from getting credit for a popular program. He may now be starting to see the downside to this nihilistic approach to politics, which threatens to consume his entire party.

It's more than likely, however, that the Kentucky event will only sow more intra-party discord, further enraging the burn-it-all-down types and turning them even more forcefully against GOP leadership. Republicans may control the House, but they can't control their own worst impulses. Meanwhile, Dark Brandon and the Democrats continue to flip the politics of fascist trolling back in the GOP's face. Democracy is still at risk, make no mistake. But it now seems possible that its enemies may tear their own house down before they get the chance to destroy ours.

New research shows that Donald Trump’s fascist attacks on democracy may have backfired

The internet and social media are a type of experience machine.

At their worst, the internet and social media function as a self-reinforcing echo chamber and closed episteme in which many people confuse huge amounts of free and otherwise readily available "information" and "content" with true knowledge and hard-earned expertise.

The Algorithm is designed to keep "users" "engaged" by amplifying negative emotions and feelings of conflict where individuals who are experiencing emotional and spiritual emptiness, loneliness and other unmet human needs are stimulated into an endless if not compulsive cycle of clicks, scrolling, posts, comments, "likes", "shares" and other reactions. To that point, people who engage in "compulsive" internet use are more likely to exhibit the "Dark Triad" traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

In many ways, rage, anger and other negative emotions and behavior are the currency (and business model) of social media and the internet.

A 2021 Pew Research survey showed that 31 percent of American adults report being "constantly" online.

In a new essay at TomDispatch (republished at Salon) investigative journalist Andy Kroll reflects on what he learned researching conspiracy theories online and the toxic seductive power and allure of such spaces:

A confession: on a few of those late nights spent in the online ruins, I caught myself starting to nod along with some of the wild-eyed nonsense I was reading. Maybe I found a particular Reddit thread surprisingly convincing. Maybe the post in question had sprinkled a few verifiable facts amid the nonsense to make me think, Huh? Maybe my sixth cup of coffee and lack of sleep had so weakened my mental safeguards that madness itself began to seem at least faintly reasonable. When I felt such heretical thoughts seep into my stream of consciousness, I took it as a sure sign that I should log off and go to bed.

Thinking back on those moments, I admit that the first feeling I have is pure and utter embarrassment. I'm an investigative reporter. I make a living dealing in facts, data and vetted information. Heck, my first job in journalism was as a full-time, trained fact-checker. I should be impervious to the demented siren song of conspiracy theories, right?

The correct answer is indeed: Right. And yet……

That frictionless glide from one post to the next, video after video, tweet upon tweet, plays tricks on the mind. Spend enough time in that realm and even the most absurd theories and narratives start to acquire the patina of logic, the ring of reason. How else to explain the sheer number of QAnon adherents — one in five Americans, according to an analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute — who believe that a secret cabal of pedophile elites, including Tom Hanks and Oprah, run the world, or that the Earth is indeed flat, or that the moon landing more than half a century ago was faked, no matter what news broadcaster Walter Cronkite might have said at the time?

Kroll continues:

Put simply, we don't stand a chance against the social media companies. Fueled by highly sophisticated algorithms that maximize "engagement" at all costs by feeding users ever more inflammatory content, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the rest of them don't simply entertain, inform, or "connect" us. As New York Times reporter Max Fisher writes in his book "The Chaos Machine," "This technology exerts such a powerful pull on our psychology and our identity, and is so pervasive in our lives, that it changes how we think, behave, and relate to one another. The effect, multiplied across billions of users, has been to change society itself."

Spending so much time burrowing into such websites, I came away with a deep sense of just how addictive they are. More than that, they rewire your mind in real-time. I felt it myself. I fear that there's no path out of our strange, increasingly conspiratorial moment, filled with viral lies and rampant disinformation, without rewriting the algorithms that increasingly govern our lives.

As seen on Jan. 6 and throughout the Age of Trump and the global democracy crisis, the internet and social media are a playground and a type of force multiplier for right-wing extremists including fascists, conspiracists, terrorists, religious fundamentalists, white supremacists and other malign actors to organize and plan, as well as to radicalize and recruit new members.

Donald Trump embodies the worst of human behavior. As the leader of a political cult movement, he has given his followers permission to be their true horrible selves. Fascism and other types of illiberal politics are those antisocial and antihuman emotions and impulses harnessed in the form of a reactionary revolutionary destructive political project.

To that end, Trump, the Republican fascists, and the larger white right were able to use the internet and social media to grow their base of support into a movement comprised of many tens of millions of (white) Americans. As many democracy experts and other observers have concluded, Trump's rise to power was empowered by the internet, social media, and how the American right wing has spent several decades creating a parallel media machine and other institutions that together function as a type of alternate universe for its followers.

Democrats, liberals, progressives and other pro-democracy Americans have no such equivalent countervailing force.

Writing at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, journalist Alan Miller offers this context:

The 2016 presidential election was a watershed in the evolution of misinformation and disinformation. It was also a breakthrough in public awareness of the scope and impact of harmful misinformation online and of the kaleidoscope of bad actors who produce it.

The public learned how much the companies running the platforms knew (especially Facebook), and how little they had been willing to do to curb it. The public also found out about the Russians' aggressive disinformation campaign to influence the election's outcome, pit Americans against each other, and undermine faith in democracy.

All these forces were at play before Donald Trump became president, but he relentlessly exploited and exacerbated them with constant prevarications and attacks on the news media. When journalists sought to hold him accountable, he dismissed their reporting as "fake news." He systematically eroded political norms and the rule of law. He spread harmful falsehoods about COVID-19 that cost an untold number of lives. And he undermined his supporters' faith in the election process.

Having gone from "alternative facts" (a phrase that entered the lexicon just two days after Trump's inauguration) to alternative realities upon his contentious departure from office, Americans now not only cannot agree on what the facts are; they cannot even agree on what a fact is.

This poses one of the great challenges of our time, because facts are the central nervous system of public life. They are the basis for what is taught in schools. For scientific inquiry and findings. For the legal system and jurisprudence. For societal debates and decisions about what constitutes effective public policy.
And facts most certainly are not partisan. If they are in trouble, we are on the path not only to an information dystopia, but very possibly to autocracy.

Trump, the Republican fascists and their allies were able to use the internet and social media to take control of the White House and other governing institutions as part of a much larger and ongoing assault on American democracy and freedom.

During the midterms, enough Americans voted to slow down the Republican fascists' assault on democracy and freedom. The Democrats would maintain control of the Senate. Instead of a clear majority in the House, the much-discussed "red tide" largely dissipated, leaving the Republican Party with a tenuous majority.

Recent research by Shaun Bowler, Miguel Carreras and Jennifer L. Merolla, which is featured in the journal Political Research Quarterly, suggests that the results of the midterm elections are a sign that Trump's power to use social media and the internet as part of his war on American democracy has been diminishing over time. Moreover, Trump's attempts to mobilize Republican voters and his cultists online may have actually helped the Democrats in the midterms.

Writing at PsyPost, Eric Dolan summarizes these findings:

Carreras and his colleagues found limited evidence that exposure to some of Trump's rhetoric moved people in a more anti-democratic direction. Independent participants who read Trump's attack on Congress tended to be more supportive of the idea of the president disregarding Congress and the courts. Trump's attack the media also lead to a greater endorsement of the president disregarding Congress among Republicans. These effects were mostly reversed among Democrats.

But the researchers found no evidence that exposure to Trump's tweets attacking the media, Congress, or the courts influenced attitudes regarding support for democracy. Those exposed to the control tweet were just as likely as those exposed to Trump's attacks to agree with the statement "Democracy may have problems, but it is better than any other form of government."

Trump's tweets attacking the media, Congress, or the courts also appeared to have no impact on support for strong leaders among Republican participants but decreased support for strong leaders among Democratic participants. In addition, those exposed to Trump's attack on the media were more likely to disagree with the statement "When the press publishes inaccurate information about the government, the president should be able to remove their license," an effect that was largely driven by Democrats.

"The key finding is that Trump's undemocratic messages in 2019 (a series of Tweets attacking other liberal institutions) did not lead to an erosion of democratic attitudes. On the contrary, the results suggest there is significant pushback against anti-democratic messages, especially among Democrats," Carreras told PsyPost.

Carreras concludes: "Our results add an important caveat to the literature on polarization and democratic erosion in the United States. Previous studies have emphasized the risk posed by partisan polarization for citizens' attachment to democratic norms. One possible silver lining of partisan polarization is that it can lead supporters of a pro-democracy outparty (i.e., the Democratic party during the Trump administration) to coalesce around democratic norms to fight against authoritarian excesses by the incumbent party."

This research complements the findings by Jon Green, William Hobbs, Stefan McCabe, and David Lazer as recently published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that right-wing conspiracy theories about the Big Lie and "stolen elections" are correlated with lowerturnout for Republican candidates in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff election and increased voting for Democratic candidates.

The abstract of "Online engagement with 2020 election misinformation and turnout in the 2021 Georgia runoff election" summarizes these findings as: "Liking or sharing messages opposed to conspiracy theories was associated with higher turnout than expected in the runoff election, and those who liked or shared tweets promoting fraud-related conspiracy theories were slightly less likely to vote."

At their best, the internet, social media and other digital technologies can be used to improve the human condition by providing information and facilitating communication and coordination in ways, that until very recently, were viewed as almost impossible. Unfortunately, those same traits have empowered malign actors and other anti-social and anti-human forces to attack and subvert democracy and the good society.

As many democracy experts and other watchdogs have repeatedly warned, the ability of the internet and social media and other technologies to exercise an outsized and often profoundly negative impact on society – and to do so under the near exclusive and accountability-free control of corporations and other private actors – highlights the need for more transparency, public accountability and regulation of such technology.

The future of global democracy (and society) may literally depend on how we collectively decide how much and in what ways the internet and social media, and these new technologies more broadly, should influence our lives, futures, and relationships to one another -- and the powerful.

Legal experts: Was there a conspiracy to keep Cassidy Hutchinson quiet?

The September transcripts of star witness Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony before the House Jan. 6 committee read like a script for a sequel to "Goodfellas," Martin Scorsese's legendary crime film.

In May 2022, Hutchinson, a former top aide to Mark Meadows, who was Donald Trump's final White House chief of staff, gave the committee some of its most incriminating testimony against Trump.

But that damning testimony came in Hutchinson's third interview with the committee, only after she did a complete course correction. In two earlier sessions with the committee, she had apparently adhered to the advice of her then-lawyer, Stefan Passantino, that she answer "I don't recall" to virtually every question the committee asked — advice that led her to deny recalling things she had in fact recalled.

Soon after her blockbuster interview in May, she replaced Passantino with new lawyers and gave the committee further interviews in September. It is those interviews that we focus on here.

For anyone not accustomed to reading 195-page court documents, the September transcripts reveal a pattern of conduct that points to what appears to have been a conspiracy to suppress the truth that this key witness ultimately revealed.

Here are some important facts to keep in mind:

Passantino was a former White House ethics lawyer under Trump. Shortly after the Jan. 6 committee's Dec. 22 release of Hutchinson's September testimony, Passantino resigned from his law firm. He has denied wrongdoing; his side of the story is yet to be told.

What made Hutchinson's September testimony so devastating is the picture that emerges from six pieces of her story that, taken together, suggest a well-orchestrated effort to hide the truth from the House committee and thus the American people.

First: According to Hutchinson, it was months into Passantino's representation that he let slip that "Trump World" was the source of his compensation for serving as her attorney. Absent Hutchinson's informed consent, a palpable conflict of interest arises from Trump or his circle pulling the purse strings of the lawyer supposedly representing a key witness in a congressional investigation into Trump's role in disrupting the peaceful transition of power.

That conflict was brought into stark relief by Hutchinson's testimony that, in her very first conversation with Passantino, she had specifically asked him who was paying him. His reply: "[W]e're not telling people where funding is coming from right now."

Second: Hutchinson testified that Passantino made a revealing statement bearing on the early concern she had expressed about whom the person serving as "her" lawyer was actually representing. Later, according to Hutchinson, Passantino advised her: "We just want to focus on protecting the president."

Third: Hutchinson described an especially telling exchange that took place at a crucial break in her first committee interview: According to Hutchinson, she told Passantino in a panic, "I'm fucked. I just lied." She explained that she had testified "I don't recall" regarding things she in fact recalled perfectly well. Passantino sought to reassure her, insisting that she was "doing the right thing," adding, "We're all really proud of you."

Fourth: Over what Hutchinson testified was her objection, Passantino discussed her committee interviews with his "Trump World" law partners, including Justin Clark, who represented Trump himself. Passantino also said he would be alerting George Terwilliger and John S. Moran, lawyers for Mark Meadows, of the date of her second committee interview.

In short order, Hutchinson described receiving a phone call from Ben Williamson, Meadows' spokesperson, just before her second interview. According to Hutchinson, Williamson said, "Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you're loyal and he knows you'll do the right thing tomorrow and that you're going to protect him and the boss."

Fifth: Hutchinson said that after her third interview with the committee, Passantino recommended that she simply defy the committee's subpoena; he told her she needn't fear prosecution for such defiance, however unlawful. The Justice Department, he reminded her, had just announced that it was declining to prosecute Meadows and Dan Scavino, Trump's former social media director, for flouting the committee's subpoenas.

Her resistance to Trump World's pressure to stay silent distinguishes her from several Trump allies who defied subpoenas.

Under federal law, a person can face a 20-year sentence if convicted of witness tampering, the crime of "corruptly persuad[ing]" a witness "to withhold testimony ... from an official proceeding" or attempting to induce a witness to "evade legal process" with the intent to do so.

In addition, witness tampering to cover up responsibility for a prior crime subjects the tamperers to potential additional charges as accessories to the offenses they tried to help hide.

Sixth: According to her September interviews, after Hutchinson told Passantino she was out of work, he and various other Trump allies had dangled a range of financial opportunities in front of her with the apparent purpose of luring her to testify favorably, if she testified at all.

Tellingly, the timing of those offers often coincided with Hutchinson's committee interviews.

Case in point: It was the morning before her first committee interview that Passantino told Hutchinson he wanted to talk to her soon about job possibilities. And it was shortly before her second committee interview that he told her, "[W]e'll find you something in Trump world. ... We're going to get you taken care of."

Hutchinson also described how, the day before that interview, Trump lawyer Justin Clark, Passantino's then-law partner, "sent [her] a text message ... to try to schedule a call [in which] we could talk about job opportunities."

Hutchinson said that between her second and third interviews, she received a text from yet another Trump lawyer, Pam Bondi, telling Hutchinson to "call Matt next week. He has a job for you." The reference was apparently to Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. Hutchinson quoted Bondi's text as saying that she'd "just had dinner with POTUS" and Schlapp that night.

As if that hadn't been enough, Hutchinson testified that on the morning of her third interview, Passantino told her about two job opportunities he said he would follow up on after that interview.

The upshot of these and other such incidents to which Hutchinson testified in September is the unmistakable appearance of coordinated and carefully timed actions by multiple people meant to keep Hutchinson from speaking honestly to the committee — what the law refers to, when proven, as a conspiracy.

Hutchinson's testimony should be wrapped in the yellow police tape used to protect crime scenes. Without doubt, a prosecutor's scrutiny is needed. No one is above the law.

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