Montana Democrats sue state over voting restriction laws they say have 'no legitimate justification'

The Montana Democratic Party is suing the state secretary over two restrictive voting bills that Governor Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed into law on Monday. The party says these laws violate the Montana Constitution.

The bills in question, SB 169 and HB 176, respectively require photo ID to vote and eliminate Election Day voter registration, both measures that state GOP lawmakers argue will make the Treasure State's elections more secure and accurate.

The Montana Democratic Party's complaint, filed on Monday against State Secretary Christi Jacobsen, also a Republican, argues that "there is no legitimate justification" for the bills, "much less any sufficiently weighty state interest to justify their burdens on the fundamental right to vote."

"While these new laws will burden all Montana voters," the plaintiffs continue, "they specifically target the youngest members of the electorate just months after they turned out to vote at record rates [...] They represent the latest round of legislative shadowboxing aimed at imaginary threats to election integrity, and false accusations of election fraud orchestrated by those seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, now weaponized by the Legislature to impede access to the franchise."

According to the secretary of state's office, Montana voters cast a record turnout for the 2020 general election, the highest it's been since 1972. Just under 82 percent of all registered voters cast a ballot. The state saw a particular uptick in voting by young people aged 18-29, with a 40 percent surge since the prior election, as the complaint notes.

The Montana Democratic Party specifically mentioned how both SB 169 and HB 176 will have a pronounced effect on young voters, many of whom are students who rely on student identification cards and same-day registration to cast a ballot. "It is no accident that both the Voter ID Restrictions and the Election Day Registration Ban were passed just months after Montana's youngest voters turned out to vote at record rates," the complaint alleges. "Montana's legislators knew that both the Voter ID Restrictions and the Election Day Registration Ban would place heightened burdens on Montana's youngest voters when it passed both laws."

The bills have sounded alarms within the voting rights advocacy community. Sam Forstag, a Legislative Program Manager at the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, said that the organization has "no data that voter fraud is occurring under the current laws." Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice, a Billings-based nonprofit that works to increase Native American participation and engagement in voting, called the elimination of same-day registration a "slap in the face" and added that SB 169's ID requirement is a "modern-day poll tax."

Nevertheless, Montana GOP officials have staunchly defended the bills. "Montana sets the standards for elections across the country. However, there is always room for improvement, and voter ID and voter-registration deadlines are best practices in protecting the integrity of elections," said Jacobson.

Gianforte echoed the state secretary, saying, "These new laws will help ensure the continued integrity of Montana's elections for years to come."

The bills, just two of countless restrictive voting bills passed by GOP-led states, come just after the Montana legislature and governor's office were swept by Republicans for the first time in 16 years. According to Montana Public Radio, just last year, Republicans flipped multiple seats in the state Senate as well as one seat in the House of Representatives. Some Republicans have reportedly already begun requesting drafts of bills that would loosen gun control measures and restrict access to abortion.

According to Montana Public Radio, the Montana GOP has attempted to implement anti-voting bills before. Back in 2014, the state's GOP caucus tried to eliminate Election Day voter registration despite significant pushback from Democratic colleagues. That referendum failed, with 56 percent of Montana precincts voting against it. "You don't fix administrative problems by turning people away from the polls," then-Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, a Democrat, said at the time. "You just don't do that."

Daily Show's Jordan Klepper goes deep into the MAGAverse — and finds frightening new Trump obsession

Jordan Klepper from the "Daily Show" has embarked on a years-long mission to understand the MAGA world of Donald Trump's most fervent supporters. In a new 35-minute segment, Klepper takes viewers deep into the trenches of the MAGAverse and uncovers the MAGA psyche that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Klepper has described himself on the day of the Capitol insurrection as someone who "just wanted to find some laughs," but found himself in the midst of a rage-filled rally that quickly turned south.

Klepper interviewed a man who described Donald Trump as "our first rock star, superhero president." Another woman, wearing a confederate flag shirt, said, "he's just a peaceful person in general, I think." Many of the supporters admit that he's "rough around the edges," they "don't like how he talks," and "yeah, he's an ass sometimes." But that's all part of his allure, they argued.

Klepper noted that there isn't much that could deter a Trump rally: not bad weather, an impeachment trial, or even a global pandemic called COVID-19. In regards to masks, some said "we're lions not sheep," therefore they won't follow the mask mandate that they argue infringes on their rights.

Some of the conversations went as follows:

"Read the transcript," a MAGA supporter said of the impeachment trial.

"Did you read the transcript?" asked Klepper.

"I didn't have to," he replied.

"But it's important that everyone read the transcript?"

"Yes absolutely."

"But to be clear, you have not read the transcript," Klepper pressed.

"I haven't, no… Don't be a sheep, think for yourself."

"But to be clear, you haven't read it, you just trusted someone else to have read it," Klepper confirms.

"Yes," replied the MAGA supporter.

A few women expressed their distrust of the media, including Fox News, but not including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. A different man described his distrust for the media, but his trust in Donald Trump, Jesus, and Tucker Carlson.

Klepper reinforced that Donald Trump is a brand above anything else, with his face found on flags, shirts, pants, and hats, and his name printed on hot pink, black, red, blue, and tie dye articles of clothing.

The segment concludes with an interview with Edward Young, a fervent Trump supporter who went to more than 50 Trump rallies over the past four years. Young, sporting new fang implants on his canine teeth and a Barron 2052 pin, talked about the comradery and community he found with the MAGAverse, fondly reminiscing on the fun they had.

Klepper interjected that the last Trump rally, the insurrection, was not exactly a lot of fun. Young argued that he had heard reports that one of the rioters who broke into the capitol was an integral member of Antifa. "Some of them are being unfairly persecuted," said Young of the rioters, after Klepper mentioned they tried to kill Nancy Pelosi.

n conclusion, Klepper and Young find a solitary shred of common ground. Young argued that Trump is their William Wallace, and Klepper countered that he wouldn't give him Wallace, but "he's a lot like Mel Gibson." Young couldn't help but agree.

Watch Klepper's adventures below:

Jordan Klepper Fingers The Pulse - Into The MAGAverse: Full Special | The Daily Show

'A stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system': Here's how rich mega-doners hacked US politics

Just 12 megadonors contributed roughly $1 in every 13 dollars spent on recent campaigns for federal office, as well as the political groups that make up the U.S. campaign finance system, according to a new report on the influence of money in politics.

The staggering sum of these contributions — which represent more than $3.4 billion over the last decade — was revealed on Tuesday by Issue One, a nonpartisan group dedicated to reducing "the corrosive influence of big money in politics."

The findings offer a stark quantification of the role that a shrinking number of super-rich megadonors, both individuals and couples, have played in American politics following the Supreme Court's 2009 Citizen's United ruling. According to the report, all 12 of the country's top political donors are white, and the group represents more than a quarter of all donations from the top 100 zip codes by political contributions — which are more likely to skew white and affluent.

"Our government can't be responsive to all Americans if our elected officials are beholden to the elite donor class," Nick Penniman, Issue One's founder and chief executive, said in a statement. He added that Congress should act immediately to "pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone."

The top 12 donors were split equally down the middle among Democrats and Republicans. They were led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Both men self-funded their own Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020, with Bloomberg reportedly putting more than $1 billion and Steyer more than $200 million toward their doomed White House bids.

Top Republican donors included the late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson, his widow who received the Medal of Freedom under former President Donald Trump; shipping magnates Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein; hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Timothy Mellon, the scion of one of America's wealthiest industrial-age families; TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his wife Marlene; as well as hedge fund manager Paul Singer.

On the Democratic side, other top contributors included hedge fund managers Donald Sussman and Jim Simons, media mogul Fred Eychaner and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The list does not include state and local level donations.

These trends lend to a climate where Americans are "losing faith in our democratic institutions," Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee said in a statement. "Congress must urgently act to restrain the growing influence of money in our politics and build a system that truly represents all Americans — not just the wealthy few."

Revealed: Trump's DHS IG blocked a probe into the assault on Lafayette Sq. protest

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general blocked an investigation into the role of the Secret Service in clearing Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of former President Donald Trump's controversial photo-op last June, according to internal documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight.

Joseph Cuffari, a former adviser to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey who was appointed by Trump in 2019, rejected career staffers' recommendation to investigate the Secret Service's involvement in the June 1, 2020, incident, when federal law enforcement used tear gas to forcibly clear peaceful protesters in front of the White House so Trump could take a photo holding up a Bible in front of a church that had been damaged by fire during an earlier protest. Department investigators argued that the probe was "essential" in upholding the duty of the office, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the documents.

The documents show that investigators pushed to probe whether the Secret Service violated its use-of-force policies in the clearing, noting that hundreds of protesters were hit with rubber bullets and chemical irritants. Cuffari shot down the proposed investigation a week later, suggesting that the Secret Service could review the episode themselves and taking investigators "aback," according to the report.

Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, called the decision a "dereliction of duty."

"IGs should make these decisions based on the importance of the matter," he said on Twitter, "not on whether an investigation might offend the President who appointed them."

Noah Bookbinder, president of the government watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, called for Congress to investigate Cuffari's handling of the matter.

Erica Paulson, a spokeswoman for Cuffari, who remains in charge of the office, told the Post that Cuffari rejected the proposal because he determined that the U.S. Park Police played a larger role in the clearing.

"DHS OIG closely coordinated with Justice and Interior OIGs, who were each planning reviews given the greater presence and participation of their agencies on that day," she said in a statement.

Cuffari likewise blocked an investigation into whether Secret Service had violated federal protocols aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus among employees. Hundreds of Secret Service officers were infected or forced to quarantine after potential exposure, according to the Post, largely because Trump kept traveling to campaign events and holding large gatherings despite the pandemic. Career officials argued that the investigation was necessary because the situation put fellow employees and officials at risk.

Despite the recommendations, the inspector general's office has not investigated any specific Secret Service issues since the Obama administration. The Post previously reported that the number of all investigations under Cuffari had plummeted to the lowest number in nearly two decades.

Paulson told the Post that the decisions were made based on budgetary reasons and risk assessment, and that in both cases it was "determined that resources would have higher impact elsewhere."

"Our office does not have the resources to approve every oversight proposal," Paulson said. "We have less than 400 auditors and inspectors to cover the entire Department of Homeland Security, an agency with almost half a million employees and contractors. Like all IGs, we have to make tough strategic decisions about how to best use our resources for greatest impact across the Department."

But staffers inside the office have complained that Cuffari has been "skittish" about investigations that could "potentially criticize the president's policies or actions," sources told the Post.

"Cuffari pulled his punches on exactly the type of sensitive reviews his office was created to perform," Nick Schwellenbach, a senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, told the Post. "It doesn't look like he's an independent watchdog."

Paulson disputed the claim, arguing that Cuffari had investigated controversial DHS detention facilities used in the Trump administration and other policies.

"Evidence that IG Cuffari does not shy away from politically sensitive topics can be found in numerous DHS OIG published reports, as well as ongoing projects," she said.

Internal documents show, however, that investigators raised alarm over the rising number of coronavirus infections among Secret Service employees and urged an investigation into whether the agency was taking the necessary steps to protect its workers. Cuffari instead suggested limiting the probe to reviewing how the spread of infections was affecting the agency's investigative work rather than its protective assignments, according to the report, even though most of the infections were among Secret Service agents who were compelled to travel in order to secure public spaces for Trump's events. The probe was ultimately scrapped entirely.

Paulson said that the office has "numerous investigations, inspections and audits" that have addressed the risk of coronavirus spread inside DHS.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has been critical of Cuffari's handling of investigations and has called him to testify at a hearing on Wednesday. Thompson previously joined Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., last July in calling for Cuffari and the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate the Lafayette Square incident.

"The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained," the lawmakers said in a letter to Cuffari. "The [Trump] Administration's insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship."

Thompson later criticized Cuffari's handling of investigations into the 2018 deaths of two young migrant children in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol, arguing that the office's report was "inaccurate and misleading," had mischaracterized the cause of death and ignored key details.

"The shortcomings in the OIG's reports on the children who died in CBP custody give me great concern about the ability of the OIG to carry out significant oversight," Thompson said in a letter to Cuffari.

A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Committee said Wednesday's hearing would focus on the new documents.

"We depend on the DHS OIG to hold DHS accountable to the public and Congress," the spokesperson said on Twitter. "For over a year, Chairman [Thompson] has been concerned about the office's willingness to conduct in-depth examinations of sensitive topics."

The real reason Republicans are throwing a fake tantrum about Rep. Maxine Waters

Republican leaders really want to maintain the ridiculous myth that they aren't the party of white supremacy, even as they send out fundraising emails full of winking praise for Tucker Carlson's embrace of what can only be described as a white nationalist conspiracy theory. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona recently unveiled plans for a new Republican caucus called the "America First Caucus," using overtly white nationalist rhetoric like "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions" and "the progeny of European architecture." The failure to wrap their racism up in slightly more subtle coding drew immediate tut-tutting from GOP leadership, with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R.-Calif., tweeting that the GOP is not about "nativist dog whistles."

This is a neat trick McCarthy is pulling. He is redefining the bullhorn that Gosar and Taylor Greene were using as a "dog whistle," setting the subtlety bar so low for racism that anything but a Klan hood and a burning cross is considered "debatable." As Heather "Digby" Parton warned at Salon on Monday, this is "an old strategy by right-wingers that inexorably mainstreams their beliefs in a way that allows many of them to escape responsibility." Republicans let the loudmouths take the heat of public backlash, but exploit the space that the extremists opened up to move ever more in the far-right direction.

Proving Parton's theory almost immediately true, McCarthy then threw a massive fake tantrum over comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters. The California Democrat was in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Saturday to support protests against the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright by a police officer, and was asked by reporters what people should do if the jury failed to convict Derek Chauvin, a former police officer accused of murdering George Floyd only miles away.

"We've got to stay on the street, and we've got to get more active. We've got to get more confrontational," Waters answered.

To be excruciatingly clear, no one actually believes that by "confrontational," Waters was speaking about anything but peaceful confrontation. Unlike her Republican colleagues, whose only remaining languages are "bad faith" and "dog whistles," Waters is someone who says what she means and rarely means anything but what she plainly said.

But McCarthy, despite his false claims to believe that his is "the party of more opportunity for all Americans," rushed excitedly to flip out on Waters for genuinely supporting real equality. He falsely accused Waters of "inciting violence in Minneapolis" and demanded that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi punish Waters. His freakout came one day after Taylor Greene released a letter insisting that Congress expel Waters, demonstrating once again that McCarthy and Taylor Greene are really on the same page about most things.

It's not a huge mystery what's going on here, of course. Republican leaders know that their base is hungry for justifications for racism, especially when the news headlines are currently dominated by stories of senseless police violence. Bashing an 82-year-old Black woman and insinuating that she needs to sit down and shut up is plain old racist pandering.

It's also right-wing projection. After all, it was just a few short months ago that Donald Trump quite literally incited what really should be understood as white nationalist insurrection, sending thousands of redhats to storm the U.S. Capitol after spending over two months unsubtly arguing that Black voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit were illegitimate. But most Republican voters support the insurrection and Trump's reasons for inciting it, so their leaders are eager to find some kind of excuse for minimizing what happened there. And pretending that "both sides" are equally violent is the preferred method, even though a big difference between Waters and Trump is that the former never has and never would incite a violent mob to overthrow a legitimate election.

Chauvin's lawyer, Eric Nelson, also disingenuously pounced on Waters' comments, falsely accusing the congresswoman of "intimidation" of the jury and demanding a mistrial. This fits in with his larger defense strategy, which is focused not on trying to prove his client's innocence but instead throwing out a bunch of random race-baiting rationalizations and hoping at least one of the white jurors is shameless enough to grab at it. Whining about Waters is about distracting a potentially Fox News-addled juror and convincing them to focus on their white grievance and not on the evidence against Chauvin. It's a version of what all right-wing media is doing right now. Figures on the right from Tucker Carlson to Ted Cruz are busy pretending that Black anger, not police violence, is the real problem.

The good news is Pelosi is not foolish enough to indulge McCarthy's racist temper tantrum, instead calmly telling reporters, "I don't think she should apologize" and that Waters — as literally everyone knows, even if Republicans pretend otherwise — "talked about 'confrontation' in the manner of the civil rights movement."

Waters was also unperturbed, telling the Grio, "I am not worried that they're going to continue to distort what I say." When it comes to Republicans, Waters added, "this is who they are and this is how they act."

Waters is, of course, right. Republicans, like Chauvin's defense attorney, don't have legitimate arguments and they certainly don't have the facts on their side. All they have left is whining, feigning outrage, and trolling — anything to avoid engaging in rational debate over the issues because that is always a losing space for conservatives. The only way to deal with these bad faith gambits is to minimize engagement (remember the maxim about wrestling with pigs) and instead focus energies on calling out what they are doing and why.

What they are doing: Racist pandering. Why: Because they know full well that they can't win the debate on the merits.

Racist conservatives desperately want to talk about anything but the real issue, which is the continuing problem of police violence and the role that racism plays in fueling it. And if they can paint a Black woman demanding justice as a villain, so much the better for their base that endlessly wants to hear fairy tales about why their ugliest bigotries are justified.

'60 Minutes' faces pushback for giving Oath Keepers a platform to push lies

A segment on CBS News' "60 Minutes" segment about the Oath Keepers, which aired on Sunday evening, has attracted considerable pushback on Twitter and elsewhere from viewers who criticized its reporting on the far-right militia group's role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The exposé from "60 Minutes" correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi highlighted the Oath Keepers' role in organizing the Jan. 6 riot while also highlighting the apparent split between the largest chapter of the Oath Keepers and the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, who launched the organization in March of 2009.

Within the segment, one Oath Keepers member in Arizona, Jim Arroyo, told Alfonsi that the group works closely with law enforcement, since many of the paramilitary organization members are former police officers or ex-military personnel. "Our guys are very experienced. We have active-duty law enforcement in our organization that are helping to train us. We can blend in with our law enforcement, and in fact, in a lot of cases, our training is much more advanced because of our military backgrounds." Arroyo declared during the segment.

According to FBI counterterrorism official Javed Ali, that claim made by Arroyo at least partly holds true: The Oath Keepers have a "large percentage" of members who "have tactical training and operational experience in either the military or law enforcement," he said. "That at least gives them a capability that a lot of other people in this far-right space don't have," Ali added.

Arroyo, the Arizona Oath Keepers leader, later in the interview attempted to distance himself from Rhodes, the founder of the group, who on Jan. 6 was spotted on the Capitol steps and was later found to have helped members of his militia group plot the siege.

"I want to congratulate Stewart Rhodes and his 10 militia buddies for winning first place in the ultimate dumbass contest, because that's what it was," Arroyo said. "That goes against everything we have ever taught, everything we believe in. It was pre-planned; it was pre-staged. Ten guys go and do something stupid, and suddenly we're the devil."

Many on Twitter perceived the segment as allowing Arroyo and other members of the Oath Keepers to divert blame and minimize their role in the events of Jan. 6.

"This is the same group being dismantled at the moment for their role in 1/6, but sure, give them a massive platform and free media. Real fricking brilliant," national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, a partner at the law firm Mark S. Zaid, PC, wrote on Twitter. Former Yahoo News White House reporter Hunter Walker tweeted, "Not sure why the Oath Keepers are being given air time to downplay their role on 1/6."

Sophia Nelson, a contributing editor at the Grio, responded to the segment on Twitter writing, "Shame on CBS for giving this monster a platform and voice."

Marjorie Taylor Greene crossed a line for the GOP — but that's all part of the strategy

If you had any doubts that the Republican Party had a full-blown white nationalist faction ready and willing to let their freak flags fly, the last few weeks have to have disabused you of them. From Fox News' highest rated prime time host Tucker Carlson endorsing the far-right "great replacement" theory on national television to Kevin Williamson of the National Review, following in the tradition of its founder William F. Buckley, theorizing that we need "fewer — but better — voters," it seems as if right-wing extremism is getting a whole lot of airtime.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene put the white icing on Republican's racist cake last week when she floated the idea of the new Trump-supporting American First Caucus, which caused even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to issue a mild rebuke for its obvious references to white power. Among those who said they were part of the project were far-right Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas. The rock has been turned over and all the white supremacists are crawling out, eyes squinting, ready to seize their rightful place in the Republican Party.

Greene's plan was reported by Punchbowl News last Friday as a new group dedicated to following in "President Trump's footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation." This is defined as preserving "Anglo-Saxon political traditions" with a goal of limiting legal immigration "to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation's culture and rule of law." It's unclear exactly how such "respect" can be demonstrated but it's not too hard to imagine. Being a huge Trump supporter certainly wouldn't hurt. It's also interesting that they have moved on from the "Judeo-Christian ethic" trope they used for the last few decades to this weird colonial throwback term "Anglo-Saxon culture," but it's no mystery as to why they would have done that, is it?

One aspect of the agenda that got a lot of attention was its support for infrastructure "that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture." There were plenty of chuckles over that one, imagining what Greene and Gohmert would consider appropriate architecture. After wondering for a bit who they would consider to be their Albert Speer, I realized it was right in front of our nose: the great builder and designer of ostentatious, gold-plated kitsch himself: Donald Trump.

But really, it's less hilarious than it sounds. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Third Reich knows how much importance they attached to the "classical aesthetic" and in recent years there has been a movement among various alt-right types, including Neo-Nazis and Identity Evropa, to take up a new aesthetic as the perfect expression of white culture. Hettie O'Brien of The New Statesman wrote about the trend in 2018:

While the Nazis thought neoclassical architecture an authentic expression of German identity, today's far right updates this doctrine for the social media age. As Stephan Trüby, an architectural historian at the University of Stuttgart, told me, right-wing populists have begun to sharpen their focus on architecture. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party has spawned a revivalist movement of far-right isolationists who revere folk mythology and Saxon castles. Trüby writes that, "Filled with disgust at any kind of metropolitan multicultural way of life," these settlers retreat to rural Germany to rehearse the "preservation of the German Volk". [...]
As Trüby noted, in Germany certain terms camouflage far-right identity politics. "Words like 'tradition' and 'beauty' are used to establish ideas of a unified people and nation, which excludes migrants and many parts of the population." Beauty is infused with connotations of blood, soil and a Volk.

It's not just a European thing. You may recall the marchers in Charlottesville in 2017 were chanting "blood and soil."

Within 24 hours, Greene and Gosar had backtracked on their caucus plan, suddenly claiming that it wasn't really their thing and that a staffer was responsible for an early draft they hadn't approved of. Greene went hysterical on Twitter over the controversy:

Greene's spokesman, Nick Dyer, had issued a statement on Friday saying to "be on the look out for the release of the America First Caucus platform when it's announced to the public very soon." By Saturday he was saying Greene would not be launching anything. In the interim, some members of the most far-right caucus in the House, the Freedom Caucus, which counts Greene and the others as members, had publicly expressed their disapproval.

It's tempting to see that as a sign they were truly appalled by Greene's overt white nationalism. But that's unlikely. This is actually an old strategy by right-wingers that inexorably mainstreams their beliefs in a way that allows many of them to escape responsibility. They do it every few years. Some rump right-wing group organizes itself within the party, attracts some attention for its extremism and then ends up being the tail that wags the dog — at least until another even more right-wing rump group organizes itself and does the same thing, moving the previous group into the mainstream. They usually tend to gain steam when the Democrats are in power.

This goes way back but, as with so much else, it has accelerated since the early 1990s when Newt Gingrich and his backbench wrecking crew took over the GOP after rabble-rousing through the previous decade. They were once the loudmouthed extremists and then suddenly were the mainstream and elected their rabble-rousing leader to be the Speaker of the House. (Listening to former Speaker John Boehner bemoan the rightward surge of the GOP is laughable. He was among those original Gingrich revolutionaries.) Later came the Freedom Caucus, a group known for its obstructionism and "burn the house" down purity. Trump raised them up into the corridors of real power, spawning such GOP superstars as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, R-CA, Jim Jordan, R-OH, and Matt Gaetz, R-FL all of whom are current or former Freedom Caucus members.

With the help of Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene is taking that same strategy to the next level. It works out well for all concerned. By parroting the emergent white nationalist rhetoric being mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson, she manages to raise a lot of money. And by delicately distancing themselves from her, the Freedom Caucus get to appear to be safe to establishment Republicans (just like John Boehner was when he became speaker) who can in turn appeal to the suburban voters who abandoned the party.

I think you can see the problem here.

This latest iteration of far-right wingnuttia is going in a very dangerous direction. I don't think we'll see Marjorie Taylor Greene elected speaker of the House but there's every chance that at some point someone with her toxic ideology will be seen as such a mainstream Republican that he or she is a perfectly viable candidate. Trump already came very close. I honestly don't know how much lower they can go from there.

North Dakota governor signs law allowing Ten Commandments to be posted in public schools

North Dakota GOP Gov. Doug Burnum signed a bill on Thursday authorizing public school teachers to post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, protecting teachers from potential lawsuits that might arise from doing so.

According to AP News, the bill, SB 2308, was passed with broad support from both the GOP-majority state Senate and House. Last month, the measure came under scrutiny after an outcry from attorneys and school officials who warned lawmakers of its dubious Constitutionality. In response, the state House later amended the bill to mandate that historical texts must be displayed alongside the Ten Commandments in order to promote its "cultural" and "historical significance."

As Burgum said in a statement, the bill "clarifies the existing authority in state law that allows a school to display a religious object or document of cultural, legal, or historical significance together with similar documents."

"School boards are already required to develop a policy for the proper display of any religious objects or documents," he continued. "This law supports local control and gives school districts full control over whether to display any religious objects or documents."

The bill's blanket immunity provision protects "school districts, schools, school boards and individual school board members, governing boards and individual governing board members, administrators, principals, teachers, and any other school district employed personnel [...] from any liability for damages resulting from a school's decision to display the ten commandments or permit students to recite the pledge of allegiance."

Last month, state Sen. Janne Myrdal, R, one of the bill's sponsors, told her colleagues in a floor speech that the bill hopes to address many of modern society's ills, including "sex trafficking, child sex abuse and crowded jails." It focuses, however, on "a local control" issue," she added, arguing that "no religion is offended by the Ten Commandments."

The bill has nevertheless drawn widespread criticism from lawmakers and lawyers alike. In February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been tracking the bill, sharply rebuked the bill in a letter to North Dakota's state legislature: "SB 2308 is not only unconstitutional; it is also unnecessary to advance religious freedom in our public schools," it wrote, "Students' rights to engage in religious exercise and expression are already well-protected under current law."

The ACLU also noted that courts have struck down similar measures in the past, arguing that it cannot "be reconciled with federal precedent in North Dakota." Back in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Ten Commandments "are undeniably a sacred text" and "the pre-eminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature."

The bill does not legally require that teachers post the Ten Commandments in classrooms, but rather, protects teachers' decision to do so, likening a similar bill passed in the Arkansas state legislature passed this month, which stipulates that science teachers "may teach creationism as a theory of how the earth came to exist," as Salon reported last week.

According to AP News, proponents of the North Dakota bill speculate that if it is challenged at the federal level, it may see support from the judiciary, which made a marked rightward shift during the Trump administration.

'Unconscionable': How progressive blowback moved Biden on refugees

President Joe Biden angered progressives so much when the White House announced week that it would keep former President Donald Trump's historically low cap on refugee admissions despite vowing to increase the number by more than 400% after taking office that he was forced to walk it all back within hours.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had formally notified Congress that the cap would be lifted for this year on February 12. But Biden, at first ignoring growing pressure from Democrats to lift the cap, signed an emergency presidential declaration on Friday keeping the number of refugees for the Trump-era refugee cap at 15,000 just two months after promising to raise it to 62,500. The U.S. accepted nearly 85,000 refugees the year before Trump's election.

Friday's declaration was meant to speed up the processing of refugees approved for admission but an administration official told CNN that Biden will not lift the cap at all this year despite repeated assurances from the White House that the president remains committed to his promise. The move comes as the United States is on pace to admit the fewest number of refugees in modern history despite Biden's repeated vow to reverse his predecessor's policies, which Democrats decried for years as racist and xenophobic.

"It is simply unacceptable and unconscionable that the Biden administration is not immediately repealing Donald Trump's harmful, xenophobic, and racist refugee cap that cruelly restricts refugee admissions to a historic low," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement on Friday. "By failing to sign an Emergency Presidential Declaration to lift Trump's historically low refugee cap, President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity," she added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Biden's failure to keep his promise was "completely and utterly unacceptable."

"Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise," she tweeted. "Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, [including] the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong."

Biden's former presidential primary foe Julian Castro called out Biden over reports that the decision was made due to political "optics" surrounding the border influx.

"This is a bad decision," he said on Twitter. "Trump gutted our refugee program, a cornerstone of our global leadership and values. His polices can't be the default we carry on—especially for the sake of 'optics.'"

By Saturday, Biden was telling reporters: "We're gonna increase the numbers."

The White House had already backtracked late on Friday, announcing that Biden would set a "final, increased" refugee cap by mid-May. It's unclear why Biden reversed his campaign position on the refugee cap within a matter of weeks after taking office but a senior administration official told The New York Times that the administration was concerned that the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border has "already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services." Of course, asylum seekers at the border are processed through a wholly separate system than refugees fleeing persecution and violence overseas.

An administration official told The Times that Friday's executive action would reverse a Trump-era policy that disqualified most Muslim and African refugees and allow the administration to fill all 15,000 available refugee slots, though it will leave thousands of fully vetted refugees stranded at camps around the world. The U.S. was previously on pace to accept fewer than 5,000 refugees this fiscal year.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday the refugee program needed to be rebuilt. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Friday's action was "just the beginning."

"This step lifts the restrictions put in place by prior Administration on where refugees can come from," she tweeted. "We need to rebuild resettlement program and we are committed to continuing to increase refugee numbers."

But there are already "over 35,000 refugees have already been vetted and cleared for arrival, and over 100,000 are in the pipeline often waiting years to be reunited with their loved ones," argued David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, an humanitarian aid group.

Friday's reversal stunned refugee rights groups who expected the administration to follow through on its promise.

"We are reaching out to the White House to understand why this figure is a fraction of what the administration committed to in congressional consultations," Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, who heads the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle refugees, told NPR. "We know we find ourselves in challenging times, but we pray President Biden will fulfill his pledge to return the U.S. to our position of global leadership on refugee resettlement."

Biden's directive came on the same day that a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the US as a refugee, called on Biden to immediately lift the cap.

"Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration's full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration," the letter said. "But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also urged the administration to "recognize [its] moral responsibility" in admitting refugees.

"I think right now we have, well, it's a very few thousand, and we have to increase that number," she said Thursday.

Biden similarly argued that restoring the refugee program was imperative when he entered office, vowing to quickly lift the cap for this year and double the number to 125,000 for the fiscal year beginning in October.

"The United States' moral leadership on refugee issues was a point of bipartisan consensus for so many decades when I first got here," he said in February. "It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that's precisely what we're going to do."

The International Rescue Committee released a report earlier this month detailing the decimation of the refugee program under Trump, who slashed the cap from 110,000 when he entered office to 45,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019, and 18,000 in 2020. Miliband, the group's president, told CNN on Friday it was "deeply disappointing" that Biden chose to maintain one of Trump's most controversial policies.

"The rightful erasure of discriminatory admissions categories does not dispense with the need for a higher number of refugees to be admitted," he said.

Immigration groups also sounded the alarm over the Biden administration's confiscation of land across the Southern border stemming from legal battles over Trump's border wall.

Biden launched a 60-day federal review of resources used for the wall on his first day in office but the review has not been completed and there is no timeline for its conclusion despite the March 20 deadline. Mayorkas reportedly told DHS employees that Biden's halt "leaves room to make decisions" on finishing some "gaps in the wall." And the Justice Department has continued to seize land from families with about 140 pending eminent domain cases still active, Politico reported.

Biden vowed on the campaign trail that his administration would not build "another foot of wall" and vowed that he would "withdraw the lawsuits" and was "not going to confiscate the land." But the DOJ said in a court filing last month that Biden's first-day proclamation "left open the possibility that some aspects of the project may resume" and the department is still trying to seize private property. Just this week, the government seized six acres of land in Hidalgo County, Texas from one family.

"DOJ sought continuances in pending cases, including in this case, in which the government had previously filed motions for possession of land on the southwest border in light of President Biden's proclamation terminating the national emergency at the southern border of the United States and directing 'a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall,'" a DOJ official told Politico.

Jose Alfredo Cavazos, whose family's land was seized in the case, told Politico he was "very disappointed" by the Biden administration's reversal.

"I thought when he said no more wall that we would get no more wall. But apparently not," he said.

"I'm ... very, very disappointed in Joe Biden. I thought he was a man of his word but apparently he's not keeping his word," added Reynaldo Anzaldua Cavazos, another member of the family. "He said not one more foot of wall and no land forfeitures. We took him at his word and we want him to keep his word."

Scientists calculated how many T. Rexes lived on Earth — here's how

The Tyrannosaurus rex is perhaps the most iconic of all the dinosaurs, immortalized in film, children's toys and silly Halloween costumes. Its name translates into "king of the tyrant lizards," and its fearsome profile makes it clear why: T. Rex had a massive head, powerful jaws, razor-sharp teeth and a whip-like tail. (Although its puny arms are a comic contrast to the rest of its visage.) The T. Rex is believed to have been one of the largest land carnivores of all time, more than 40 feet long and 12 feet tall at the hips.

But like many extinct animals, it is hard to know just how much of a threat the T. Rex was during its reign. (Notably, for years there was debate over whether T. Rex was a predator or scavenger, though recently the scientific consensus tilts towards predator.) Were they as common as rabbits, or highly dispersed predators like snow leopards?

A group of scientists led by University of California Museum of Paleontology director Charles R. Marshall set out to answer just that. They believe they can now roughly estimate how many T. Rexes roamed the planet.

Their estimate is roughly 2.5 billion specimens that roamed Earth collectively during their existence, which lasted a few million years. (They would likely have lived more generations if not for the extinction event likely caused by either a meteor or comet 66 million years ago.)

The researchers, who published their findings in Science Magazine, estimate that the abundances of T. Rexes at any given period was roughly 20,000 individuals, and that they lived for roughly 127,000 generations. To put that in context with today's predator populations, that 20,000 number is comparable to today's African lion population, which conservationists estimate at 25,000.

The scientists arrived at their estimate using a wide range of data. For one thing, they took into account a principle known as Damuth's Law, which holds that species with larger body sizes will usually have lower average population densities. Because this formula includes individuals in a species that had not reached their maximum size, the scientists used an estimate for "postjuvenile individuals" — the T. Rex equivalent of an angsty teenager. (Now there is a sobering thought.) Once they had that information, they multiplied it by the estimated geographic area where paleontologists believe the monstrous beasts once roamed. They then incorporated what we know about when the T. Rex lived, although the scientists acknowledge that this figure is particularly unclear "because of the poor temporal control on most T. rex fossil localities and because there is a substantial dinosaur preservational gap below the oldest T. rex fossils."

Since experts believe based on fossil evidence that they lived for anywhere from 1.2 million years to 3.6 million years, the team settled on the mean figure of 2.4 million years. From there, they plugged in other numbers until they eventually arrived at their estimates.

Despite their short reign over the planet — one regrettably cut short by the Cretaceous-Triassic Boundary Extinction Event — the fact that another bipedal predator would perform a census of them 66 million years later speaks to their cultural immortality.


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